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.

Friday, August 31, 2012


Elina Garanca

A vocally superior Cenerentola could not be imagined than the one presented by The Metropolitan Opera on HD.  The young Rossini (age 25) followed the success of Il Barbiere di Siviglia with this sprightly melodic work which reminds one of....guess what?...the aforementioned.  Gorgeous melodies tumble out one after another with all the excitement of youth and success.  The madcap ensembles for which Rossini is famous bring several scenes to a close.  Rapid-fire patter songs are given to the basses.  We are meant to be smiling throughout and smile we did, with the exception of a couple of longueurs which can be attributed to the libretto of Jacopo Ferretti, loosely based on the fairy tale.  Gone are the fairy godmother, the pumpkin, the shoe and the wicked stepmother.  Instead we have the kind-hearted Alidoro who doubles as her guardian angel and a beggar who tests the heroine's generosity.

Latvian mezzo Elina Garanca is a spunky Cinderella who enjoys tormenting her nasty vain stepsisters (Rachelle Durkin as Clorinda and Patricia Risley as Tisbe) by singing the lament "Una volta c'e un re" over and over again as the opera opens.  She closes the opera with the well-known and cheerful "Non piu mesta".  Between those two show stoppers this beautiful singer invests every phrase with meaning and full round sound.  The fioritura tickles the ear.  American tenor Lawrence Brownlee makes some thrilling sounds as Don Ramiro, the prince; every note in his runs evinces pinpoint accuracy.  But is he princely?  Well, no!  It certainly doesn't help that he is a head shorter than his Cinderella, nor is he assisted by good acting.  His facial expressions range from anxious to angry to pained. Whereas Ms. Garanca convinces us that she falls in love with the little prince on first sight, even though he is masquerading as his valet Dandini, Mr. Brownlee shows no such chemistry toward her, fetching as she is.  There is no law that says a prince should be taller than his beloved, or even of the same racial background; still, one expects the prince to be, well, charming is the word we use.  As in Prince Charming.  Mr. B. came across as more relaxed in his duet with his valet.

Vocal honors are also awarded for the Don Magnifico of Alessandro Corbelli who portrays the nasty greedy stepfather who disparages Cinderella at every turn and makes us laugh at the same time.  Likewise, the Dandini of Simone Alberghini is hilarious.  Both men are called upon to overplay a bit.  John Relyea is excellent as Alidoro in all three incarnations.  The physical comedy is also a bit overdone with the two disdainful and competitive stepsisters; their voices were perfect for the roles.

The 1997 production of Cesare Lievi takes the tone of a cartoon and it does wear thin.  Maurizio Balo did the sets, also cartoonish, and the costumes, strangely updated to the Erte period.  The excellent Met choristers wear bowler hats and look like something out of a Magritte painting.  None of these directorial conceits matter very much since we are watching a comedy.  But they seem tired and tedious.

Maurizio Benini led a brisk reading of the score, which is both frivolous and incredibly artistic.  Gary Halvorson directed the HD and at times we thought he chose his camera angles to minimize the height disparity between Brownlee and Garanca.
He did not succeed.  There are many opera lovers who are able to close their eyes to visual shortcomings (OUCH) but we are not amongst them.

(c) meche kroop

Thursday, August 30, 2012


Karita Mattila

Thanks to the magic of HD, we are able to relive the electrifying performance of dramatic soprano Karita Mattila as Strauss' heroine Salome in his 1905 opera of the same name.  Although Ms. Mattila's ability to convince us that she is a spoiled 16-year-old is lessened by the closeups of the HD, we are nonetheless grateful for the opportunity to hear her totally committed exhibition of power, vocal range and lyricism.  It is unlikely that a singer will emerge in our time who could do it any better.

The opera itself is musically audacious and dramatically single-minded with no subplots to distract us from the forward thrust.  It is a distasteful story about four repulsive characters.  Salome's character has been hopelessly warped by whatever experiences she has had at the hands of her nasty manipulative mother Herodias (Ildiko Komlosi) and licentious leering stepfather Herod (Kim Begley).  Jochanaan (Juha Uusitalo), whose head Salome demands in return for gratifying Herod's importuning her to dance, is a misogynistic, pompous, hectoring and judgmental bore.  The captain Narraboth (Joseph Kaiser) is driven to suicide by his unrequited lust for the beautiful princess of Judea.

Jurgen Flimm's production is nonsensically updated to modern times.  Set and Costume Designer Santo Loquasto has given us something that looks like a yacht surrounded by paper-doll sand dunes on which perch black figures with white wings.  The action seems to be taking place on the top deck of this yacht.  Banquet guests are in contemporary gowns while the servants and guards seem to have escaped from a biblical epic.

Never mind all that.  The power of the work lies in Strauss' daring score, conducted on the HD by Patrick Summers, and on the unforgettable performance of Ms. Mattila.  Her Dance of the Seven Veils was weirdly choreographed by Doug Varone as a vampy excursion with several men in dinner suits serving as "chorus boys".  Again, Barbara Willis Sweete directed the HD with an eye toward showing the audience what is important.  We found the final scene of Salome kissing Jochanaan's bloody head far more shocking than the dance.  Welcome to the 21st century!

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


Ryan Speedo Green
Paul Appleby
A concert honoring the legacy of famous American tenor Richard Tucker was presented last night by the Richard Tucker Music Foundation at the beautifully restored historic Eldridge Street Synagogue.  Following a number of liturgical pieces, two rising stars of the opera firmament sang two arias apiece that showcased the very artistry that led to their receiving support from the Foundation.  Each prefaced his selection by thanking the Foundation and telling how their careers had been fostered. 

Tenor Paul Appleby began with a lovely lyrical outpouring of legato phrasing in "Un aura amorosa" from Mozart's Cosi fan Tutte (in English, no less) and followed with Lensky's heartbreaking aria "Kuda, kuda" from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, happily, in Russian.

Bass-baritone Ryan Speedo Green used his velvety voice to great advantage in "Come dal ciel precipita", Banco's fearful aria from Verdi's Macbeth.  His second selection was a perfect complement, the humorous aria about gossip from Il Barbiere di Siviglia--"La calunnia e un venticello".

Both men were in fine voice and expertly accompanied by the incomparable Brian Zeger.  Our one quibble is that the Richard Tucker Foundation seems to have a predilection for beautiful houses of worship with abysmal acoustics.  The synagogue is over a century old and has been lovingly restored, but it is still resonating with the voices of generations of cantors!

(c) meche kroop

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Equaled in awfulness only by the horrendous Stephan Grogler 2004 production at the Santa Fe Opera also starring superstar coloratura Natalie Dessay, the 2008 production directed by Mary Zimmerman for The Metropolitan Opera made one wonder who was doing the sleepwalking.  Another concept opera loaded down with directorial ego and post-modern irony, Ms. Zimmerman chose to set the opera in modern dress as (how original!) an opera within an opera.  This led to much audience bafflement as to what was "really" happening and what was being rehearsed as the stars seemed to be going through the same loss of trust in real life as Amina and Elvino were enduring in the opera.

Bellini's gorgeous melodies were forced to take a back seat to actorial and directorial shenanigans which were forced upon an innocent opera from an innocent epoch.  "Rape!" I wished to cry out when I saw the opera four years ago.  HD director Barbara Willis Sweete did what she could to make sense of the confusion but all one could really do was to close one's eyes and let Bellini take over.  Ms. Dessay and star tenor Juan Diego Florez made some fine sounds when they weren't acting out tantrums of one ilk or the other and the usually fine Met chorus was given a ridiculous collective tantrum of ripping up musical scores and overturning furniture at the conclusion of Act I.  If one stayed for Act II which many folks did not, things went downhill.

Evelino Pido conducted. Jennifer Black sang the role of Lisa, Michele Pertusi assayed the role of Rodolfo, and Jane Bunnell sang the Mother.  This disaster is what happens when a work of art is mistrusted and disrespected.  Whatever possessed the Met to compound the felony by preserving this meretricious production on HD?

(c) meche kroop

Monday, August 27, 2012



The HD of Mozart's masterpiece played last night at Lincoln Center offered a bit of improvement regarding the rather staid Michael Grandage production reviewed last November and repeated below.  Again, Barbara Willis Sweete's fine HD direction gave us some good looks at the humorous byplay between the menacing Don G and the badly abused Leporello, as well as highlighting the lovely period-appropriate costuming.  Unfortunately, the barely serviceable unit set (both by Christopher Oram) gave little indication of place.  Apparently, all the aristocrats occupy the same tenement in some vaguely European country.  Nonetheless, we enjoyed the closeups of the fine cast.  But for the award of Best Don G productions of the decade, we tend to think back on the Juilliard Opera Center production and the Prelude to Performance of Martina Arroyo.