We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012


Brian Jagde

 Amanda Echalaz

Most of the time when a substitution is announced, there is an outcry of disappointment.  Not so this time, when celebrated young tenor Brian Jagde assumed the role of Cavaradossi in Santa Fe Opera's excellent production of Puccini's Tosca.  Scheduled to sing the role at the San Francisco Opera next season, Mr. Jagde stepped in with aplomb, singing with admirable luminosity and acting the part with consummate conviction.  Having enjoyed his performance as Elemer in Strauss' Arabella a few nights ago, we were thrilled with the opportunity to hear him in a major role. His voice warmed up beautifully and his "E lucevan le stelle" was heartbreaking.  His vocal and dramatic skills were perfectly matched with those of his Florio Tosca, the South African soprano Amanda Echalaz.  The two of them were completely convincing in their attraction to one another, such that we admit to a bit of weeping at the final curtain.

Equally impressive was baritone  Raymond Aceto in the role of Scarpia, one of the most hateful villains in all of operadom.  Slimy, oily, evil, powerful and extremely dangerous, this Scarpia was also seductive.  All of these qualities were superbly created with vocal and dramatic finesse.  Smaller roles were well cast and well performed; we especially enjoyed the Sacristan of Dale Travis whom we had previously enjoyed as Count Waldner in Arabella.  He added appreciable notes of humor in his portrayal, snitching food and wine from Cavaradossi's picnic basket and singing with his mouth full; this comic relief did well in setting off the tragedy to come.  Zachary Nelson excelled as the frightened Cesare Angelotti whom Cavaradossi was trying to help. Dennis Petersen was appropriately scary as the police agent Spoletta.

Much credit must be given to director Stephen Barlow for retaining validity of time and place, thus honoring the intentions of Puccini and his librettists Giuseppe Giacosa and Luigi Illica.  The director's notes state that he did a successful production updated to London in the 60's but we are personally grateful that the Santa Fe production reverted to authenticity.  The production was traditional but there were some interesting twists which we are reluctant to reveal but which clarified some of the plot holes.  All of the stage business was apt and relevant, contributing the forward momentum.  Indeed, this is one opera in which economy is evident--there is not a wasted action or word or note.

Costumes and sets by Yannis Thavoris suited the story and provided beauty as well.  Sets were simple but did the job of suggesting the Church of Sant' Andrea del Valle, the Farnese Palace and Castel Sant' Angelo.  In line with the theme of the opera--the destruction of art by politics--we see the golden cupola overturned.
In honor of Santa Fe, Tosca's gown in Act II is rendered in turquoise, rather than the customary red, and what a gorgeous gown it is!  The scene in Act II allowed Tosca to demonstrate her extreme ambivalence toward killing Scarpia, much as Act I permitted Cavaradossi to demonstrate his being torn between Tosca's demands for attention and the needs of the fugitive Angelotti.

Musical values were up to their customary high standards.  The reknowned conductor Frederic Chaslin led the orchestra through their paces and kept the tension at the correctly high level without ever rushing or overpowering the singers.

Although we find comparisons odious for the most part, we can't help mentioning how much more we enjoyed this production compared with the latest incarnation of Tosca at the Metropolitan Opera.  And you can quote me on that!  We calls 'em as we sees/hears 'em!

(c) meche kroop

Sunday, July 29, 2012

NICOLE CABELLl--from the heart

It is always evident when a singer communicates from the heart.  Such was the case at The Santa Fe Concert Association's Festival of Song when glamorous soprano Nicole Cabell gave a warm interpretation of two Ricky Ian Gordon song cycles accompanied by Mr. Gordon himself at the piano, both artists deeply immersed in both their artistry and their abilities to communicate with the audience.  The poetry, chosen by Mr. Gordon, was by African-American poet Langston Hughes, remarkable for its conciseness and (!) lines that rhymed, which was graceful to the ear.  The moods vary from sorrow to exaltation and Ms. Cabell's ability to convey this variety was remarkable.  We particularly admired "In the Time of Silver Rain" which might do for rain what Beethoven's sonata did for moonlight.  The romanticism of "Love Song for Antonia" was followed by the bouncy "Port Town" which involved the seduction of a sailor boy.  "Song for a Dark Girl" conveyed the tragedy of a lynching.  And that was only the first cycle.

The second cycle, entitled "Genius Child", was introduced by Mr. Gordon with a quote about how geniuses can be and often are misunderstood.  We particularly liked "Genius Child" and "To Be Somebody" about the dreams of children.  The sadness of "Troubled Woman" and "Strange Hurt" let us know about some female suffering.  To end on a more sanguine note, we heard the delightful "Joy".

The enthusiasm and ambition of Joseph Illick, Executive and Artistic Director of the Santa Fe Concert Association, knows no bounds and this series "Festival of Song" will be repeated next summer, with even more performances-- if he and we have anything to say about it.  We regret having missed what we heard was a brilliant recital by soprano Leah Crocetto last Sunday and deplore the fact that our travel schedule will prevent us from hearing a recital by the much sought after bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni.  But that shouldn't stop YOU from being there!  Mr. P.  will be singing lieder by Schubert and Liszt as well as canzone from Rossini.

Let it be noted that the SFCA also brought half a dozen artists from the New York City Ballet to Santa Fe for a Festival of Dance.  Santa Fe is surely the place to be in the summer!

(c) meche kroop


Well known for scheduling operas by Strauss in their delightful summer season, the Santa Fe Opera came through this summer with a delightful presentation of Arabella, a truly Viennese confection, the ultimate collaboration of Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal.  The weather was perfect, the singing glorious and the conducting by Sir Andrew Davis of Strauss' melodic but conversational score could not be faulted as massive orchestral forces were employed to bring out the master's lavishly complex harmonies.

Soprano Erin Wall, well remembered from her performance of Daphne, did a fine job interpreting the role of the eponymous heroine, a most sought after debutante from a newly enobled family, the Waldners.  Much of the opera involves the not very welcomed courtship of her by her many suitors.  Tenor Zach Borichevsky not only sang with fine Straussian style but created a most sympathetic character as Matteo, a young officer beloved by Arabella's sister Zdenka but pining after Arabella.  Zdenka, in an interesting twist, has been raised as a boy to save her parents the expense of "coming out".  Until the third act "reveal", poor Matteo thinks of the young man as Zdenko, his only friend.

The theme of the opera would seem to be the farewell Arabella makes of her girlhood at the Fasching Ball and her assumption of the role of adult in romantic partnership with Mandryka whom she spies from the window and with whom she falls instantly in love.  Fortuitously, Mandryka is the nephew of an old army buddy of Count Waldner and an acceptable suitor;  the Count has gambled away the family fortunes and Mandryka is a wealthy landowner.  The first act offers the listener a marvelous duet between the two men; Count Waldner is superbly portrayed by bass-baritone Dale Travis while Mandryka is well sung by baritone Mark Delavan.  There is a slight sense of unbelievability in the romance between Arabella and Mandryka since their duet in Act II simply lacks connection and chemistry and his character is portrayed without any charm.  All of Arabella's suitors are wealthy and charming and it is difficult to understand her choice.  But then, the heart wants what the heart wants and who are we to judge!

In a charming and superbly sung performance as  Zdenka, soprano  Heidi Stober, well remembered from Platee, won our hearts and thunderous applause from the audience.  Kiri Deonarine thrilled us with her coloratura in the role of Fiakermilli.  Mezzo Victoria Livengood made a fine and funny Countess Waldner and baritone Brian Jagde was impressive as Count Elemer, one of Arabella's many suitors.  We were pleased to see Jonathan Michie, well remembered from Albert Herring as Dominik, one of Arabella's suitors.

The production, directed by Tim Albery, was updated without any valid dramatic reason, from the 1860's, chosen by the creators, to about 1920, judging by the Poiret type costumes.  The costumes and sets by David Finn were lovely but lacking in color.  Wigs were ill-fitting and unbecoming.  Dramatic fluidity  seemed somewhat lacking and the final act which is supposed to take place in the Waldner home seems to take place in some ill-defined area of the hotel.  It can be annoying when such liberties of time and place are chosen.  But that is a small reservation in what amounted to a delightful evening.

(c) meche kroop

Thursday, July 26, 2012


No star in the sky dazzled with as much brilliance as the glamorous Danielle de Niese at the Central Park Summer Stage last night.  A favorite of ours since her days in the Lindemann program, Ms. de Niese just keeps getting better and better, her voice as sparkling as crystal and matched by some mighty fine interpretations and some gracious hosting of the first evening of the Metropolitan Opera's Summer Recital Series.  Our favorite moment was hearing for the first time a concert aria composed by Mozart to accommodate the wishes of a soprano who wanted to replace his "Deh Vieni" from Nozze di Figaro--as Ms. N. explained before singing--"something with a lot of high and low notes".  She was equally fine in several arias and duets by Donizetti, so light-heartedly perfect for a warm summer evening.  Likewise for her "O mio babbino caro" from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi which surely made all the men in the audience want to satisfy her wishes.  The coloratura was always quick and clean.

Partnered by venerable bass-baritone John Del Carlo in duets from Don Pasquale and L'Elisir d'Amore, not a shred of drama was lost; in the absence of sets and costumes, it is all up to the singers and, so good were they that the mind's eye supplied what was missing. Mr. Del Carlo commanded the stage in "A un dottor della mia sorte" from Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Dan Saunders accompanied and the orchestra went unmissed.  Tenor Dimitri Pittas sang with equal  dramatic intensity and some truly lovely diminuendi.  Sadly, he tended to push his high notes instead of floating them.  Not that the attentive audience had any reservations, judging by the applause for his "Una furtiva lagrima".  His duet from L'Elisir d'Amore with Mr. Del Carlo was hilarious.

These outdoor events are generally plagued by much distraction from munchers, quaffers and texters.  Let it be said that even opera neophytes who applauded in the middle of arias were more than usually attentive.  That's what happens when such stellar beings take the stage.  There are more performances to watch out for.  Take note.  Don't say we didn't tell you!

(c) meche kroop

Sunday, July 15, 2012


All that in a comedy!  We know what treachery, deceit and betrayal look like in the 21st c. but to learn what they looked like in the 18th c. we must put our eyes and ears in the hands of Mozart and Da Ponte who explored those very issues in the comedy Cosi fan Tutte.  We have sat through this opera countless times, most unthankfully when the director updated the story to the mid 20th c. and placed it in a diner in Queens, and recently when it was updated to contemporary times and placed in a Wall Street firm.  We did not appreciate being spoon fed the notion that interaction between the sexes has not changed.

Fortuitously, director Kay Walker Castaldo has presented the story the way it was written but has put her personal stamp on the Prelude to Performance production at Hunter College.  Ms. Castaldo had enough original ideas for two productions and most of them added to our understanding and enjoyment.  The overture was visualized for us by a framing device that seemed to show a troop of actors bustling about preparing for the performance.  One wished to have returned to this situation at the close!  A non-singing role was added-- that of a sourpuss dueña played in travesti by Oliver Wolf; along with the presence of crosses, this emphasized the notion that we were in an upper class  Catholic home where two sisters will be tempted into misbehavior by two devilish presences, that of the cynical Don Alfonso, effectively portrayed and sung by bass-baritone André Courville and that of the charmingly sassy ladies' maid Despina, splendidly acted and sung by soprano Mizuho Takeshita.  These morally loose characters were made far more appealing than the strict black-garbed guardian of morality.

One realizes soon what the director was going for--a battle between love and lust.  Originally, the two sisters Fiordiligi, sung by bell-voiced soprano Clara Heikyung Yu and Dorabella, sung and engagingly acted by mezzo Yiselle S. Blum are betrothed respectively to the tall handsome Guglielmo, richly sung and acted by Steven LaBrie and the adorable blond Ferrando, sung by sweet-voiced tenor Rogelio B. Peñaverde.  Having wagered with the devil incarnate Don Alfonso over the fidelity of their sweethearts, they woo each other's intended.  By Act II, the minimal but consummately effective set (credited to Peter Harrison) was awash in symbolism of The Fall.  Trees and flowerpots were overturned; there was a basket of apples; Dorabella and Guglielmo are snuggling (or snogging) under a blanket.  Bad boy Mozart would have loved it!

With so much talent onstage it is difficult to single out any one performer; all worked together as an ensemble.  There are, however, some memorable stage pictures.  As the curtain rose we saw a silhouette of one of the performers vividly outlined against a yellow-lit backdrop.  When the opera itself began, we witnessed Don Alfonso, Ferrando and Guglielmo being bounced along in an invisible coach.  The trio were so good at this that we could actually see the coach in our mind's eye.  Another image we won't soon forget is the entrance of the two men pretending to be Albanians, dressed to the nines in the most outlandish and yet wildly becoming costumes (credited to Charles Caine whom we have decided is one of the best in the business).  Yet another is the struggle on the face of Dorabella as she contemplated giving in to her lust for the disguised Guglielmo and thereby betraying her love for Ferrando.  We further enjoyed the set changes being performed by a quartet of housemaids, each one of which had a personality of her own.

If we have a cavil or two, it might be that occasionally the always hilarious stage business occurred during a major aria and distracted one's attention from the singer.  Also, it seemed excessive to toss the dueña over a wall to get rid of her.  The sybolism was clear but it reminded us too much of poor Falstaff being tossed into the Thames the previous night.

We particularly enjoyed the spacious pacing of Maestro Steven White which gave the uniformly talented singers space to caress the vowels.  This is not to say that the action lagged in any way; on the contrary, the action moved right along.

This will become the Cosi against which all our future Cosi's will be measured, just as last night's Falstaff did.  We are clamoring for more of these exceptional evenings. And yes, this is a love letter to Martina Arroyo who has made such a remarkable difference in the New York City opera scene.  MWAH!

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, July 14, 2012


It is with no small degree of embarrassment that we confess to not appreciating the charms of Verdi's final opera--not until tonight, that is.  Under the stewardship of Artistic Director Martina Arroyo, the program Prelude to Performance once again provided a matchless evening of entertainment, fun and artistic merit to a delighted audience as well as performance opportunities to young singers at the cusp of major careers.  Now how does she do all this????

By doing what the Metropolitan Opera, with all its vast resources, cannot.  She hires the best talent in the business to coach and direct the young performers in a concentrated program; the ensemble feeling is evident from one moment to the next.  We were privileged to attend several master classes and gratified to see how the young artists put their new skills to good use.

Under the astute direction of Matthew Lata, the story made complete sense and every character was well-rounded and believable.  Falstaff, as portrayed by the generously proportioned (voice as well as girth) Robert Kerr (photographed by Jen Joyce Davis and seen above), was not just a self-deluding has-been and a figure of scorn; he became an object for our empathy as well.  His two down-at-the-heels henchmen, ably sung and hilariously performed by tenor Christopher Longo (Bardolfo) and bass Christian Zaremba (Pistola), kept us in stitches with their hijinks. 

Mezzo Nichole Ashley Peyreigne had a marvelously resonant voice and impressive comedic skills as Dame Quickly; we were impressed by the variety of tone she gave to her salutations to Falstaff--"Reverenza" never sounded so good.  We were dazzled by the spine-tingling soprano of Nicole Haslett whom we first heard and enjoyed in The Ghosts of Versailles; she gave an outstanding interpretation of a young woman trying to learn something about life from the older housewives--Dame Quickly, Meg Page (a fine mezzo Kiri Parker) and her mother Alice Ford (an equally fine Allyson Herman whom we remember well from Summer and Smoke at Manhattan School of Music).  Tenor Brandon Snook, belying his youthful good looks, was made up to look like the cranky old fogey Dr. Caius and sang with distinction.  Tenor Youngchul Park, well known to Prelude audiences, was a likable Fenton and did a fine job with one of the very few arias in Falstaff--the meltingly beautiful "Dal labbro il canto".  The other aria, sung by baritone Matthew Gamble as Mr. Ford was equally delightful to hear.

Fortunately, Mr. Lata, unlike some of the new directors hired by the Met, made no self-serving attempts to alter time and place.  This is very much a 16th c. tale and the Elizabethan costumes designed by Charles Caine were dazzling.  See photo of Mr. Kerr's  Falstaff above.  Not much scenery was necessary but Peter Harrison used a few pieces to convey a sense of atmosphere.  We especially enjoyed the laundry hanging out to dry which provided a playground and hiding place for Fenton and Nannetta as they sang their love duet.  The illusion of being alongside the Thames was abetted by the subtle lighting of Traci Klainer Polimeni.  We loved the scene of Falstaff and his page (Natan Mulady) swimming down the river and climbing out which was augmented later by the illusion of Fenton poling his way downstream.

Finally we were most impressed by the fine-tuned conducting of Maestro Willie Anthony Waters who pulled some fine playing from his pickup orchestra.  There is one more performance on Sunday afternoon and one could do no better on a stuffy day in New York City than to drag one's fatigued body up to Hunter College and to fill your ears with Verdi's swan song and your heart with laughter.  If we had one operatic wish (and we have not yet shared this with Ms. Arroyo) it would be to have her productions all year round.  As it is, one must wait for the dog days of summer--but the experience is worth waiting for.  You will see us tonight at Cosi fan Tutte which promises to be equally rewarding.  Come and revel!

(c) meche kroop

Monday, July 2, 2012


The Dicapo Opera Theatre has managed to fill the house with music and laughter during its extended run of Frank Loesser's The Most Happy Fella--so much so that we were reminded of our long-held wish that one of New York City's small opera companies would fill in one of the gaps in our opera scene.  At the time we expressed this opinion, South Pacific was filling the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center night after night.  BUT, big but here, they used amplification; Dicapo does not.  It is a comfortably intimate house that seats but 200 and, in this case, involved a cast who moved gracefully from opera to "a Broadway sound" without any feeling of noblesse oblige.  These singers brought the show to life without making any compromises.  Reflecting on what we previously wrote about what comprises an opera, we consider this an opera, especially when it is sung by good voices and without miking.

As the eponymous hero, baritone Michael Corvino gave a most committed performance.  He was completely believable as the lonely Italian vintner establishing himself in Napa Valley, CA in the mid 20th c.  He absolutely oozed garlic.  His sister Marie was gorgeously sung by mezzo Lisa Chavez, who, while very much looking the part did not have an old-country accent at all, leading us to speculate on how she managed to lose it!

The San Francisco waitress with whom Tony falls in love and whom he calls "Rosabella" was winningly acted and impressively sung by soprano Molly Mustonen.  The big issue that this couple must deal with involves a series of betrayals and ultimate forgiveness.  Tony woos Rosabella by mail with a photograph of a much younger and handsomer man, his foreman Joe, in which role Peter Kendall Clark gave a persuasively cocky performance that benefited from his generous baritone voice.  His solo "Joey, Joey" was moving and went a long way toward establishing his character.

In a blind rage at the deception, Rosabella behaves badly, marries Tony anyway but has an intimate encounter with Joe which results in a pregnancy.  Tony also has his issues.  Fear of Rosabella's discovery of his deception leads him to have a driving accident and he is carried home in very bad shape for the wedding.  How these two flawed human beings resolve their issues leads us to care for them and want them to be together in spite of Marie's warnings about the difference in their ages.  Marie wants Tony to be an old man she can look after and is threatened by Rosabella's taking over her duties.

This is serious stuff but comic relief is provided by Rosabella's friend Cleo (the delightful belter Lauren Hoffmeier) and Tony's employee Herman (the hilarious Brance Cornelius) who somehow manage to get together also. Their show-stopping number "Big D" won our hearts. As if this weren't sufficient to keep us smiling, we also heard some wonderful ensemble work in "Standing on the Corner" and, our personal favorite "Abbondanza".

That delicious word just about sums up the entire production.  An abundance of good singing, good acting, good storytelling and good music provided by (gasp!) a full orchestra, ably conducted by Maestro Pacien Mazzagatti.  For unknown reasons, the orchestra was not in the pit but onstage behind the singers.  John Farrell is credited with the set design which consisted of nothing but a few benches and a table; more was not necessary.  Costumes by Julie Wyma were apropos the period.  Francine Harman was responsible for the choreography which we truly enjoyed in the "Big D" number.  General director Michael Capasso did better as Stage Director than he did as an actor portraying the manager of the San Francisco restaurant where Rosabella was working.

We thank him and Diane Martindale, the Artistic Director, for showing us a realization of our dream--to see an American musical treated as the opera which we believe it to be.  With pleasure we noted that next season's roster includes Kismet.  We are filled with anticipation.

(c) meche kroop