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.

Monday, December 23, 2013


Juan Pablo Jofre and his bandoneón
We rarely review instrumental music but we make an exception for JP Jofre whose bandoneón literally sings in his hands; it sings of Argentina's culture, it's people and its history.  Invented in 1840 by German instrument dealer Heinrich Band, it was brought to the New World by sailors and laborers and rapidly established itself in the milonga, precursor to the tango.

It is popular not only in Argentina but also in Uruguay and (surprise!) Lithuania.  In the 20th c. it was popularized by Astor Piazzolla.  It is somewhat related to the concertina but played very differently from the accordion.

In the hands of Mr. Jofre, the bandoneón becomes an extension of his body and the playing a kind of dance.  Yesterday Mr. Jofre appeared at the Somethin' Jazz Club, a charming and intimate venue in East Midtown, with a group he calls the Hard Tango Chamber Band, comprising Daniela Candillari on piano, Fung Chern Hwei on violin, Jessica Meyer on viola and Ron Wasserman on bass.  Guest artists were Amy Kang on cello and Sita Chay on violin.

We think of jazz as largely improvised, making it difficult to think of this music as jazz inasmuch as all the parts are scored.  Aside from a piece by Mr. Piazzolla, one by Mr. Wasserman and an arrangement of The Beatles' "I Am the Walrus",  all the music was composed by Mr. Jofre himself.

This is serious music with many moods and colors, finely shaped melodies and driving rhythms.  It feels highly influenced by the tango but it isn't dance music.  It is music to listen to and to feel.

Mr. J.'s bandoneón is a beautiful instrument of ebony wood with delicate inlays of mother-of-pearl.  When Mr. J. plays it becomes a part of his body and the music comes from the heart.  We were delighted to share the experience.

© meche kroop

Saturday, December 21, 2013


Soprano Lauren Flanigan and Friends
The cost of admission was a cast-off warm winter coat or a bag of groceries; the reward was 2 1/2 hours spent with Lauren Flanigan and Friends who sang their hearts out to benefit the homeless.  Our beloved soprano has created this event for the past 19 years and the proceedings are always invested with holiday spirit in the best sense of the word.

Tenor Brian Anderson lent his sweet tenor to Handel's "Comfort Ye" from the Messiah.  Later in the program he showed his Broadway chops in "Bring Him Home" from C. M. Schönberg's Les Miserables. We were delighted to see soprano Olga Makarina onstage and to hear her bright flexible voice in "O luce di quest'anima" from Donizetti's Linda di Chamounix; her voice seems made for bel canto.  Of course, she would be wonderful in Russian and sang a duet from Tchaikovsky's Pique Dame with mezzo Dina El; the two voices complimented each other so well!

Veteran bass Kevin Langan sang "Elle ne m'aime pas!" from Verdi's original French version of Don Carlos, showing the King's disillusionment and anger.  Newcomer to New York, tenor Bray Wilkins, sang "Kuda, kuda" from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin with as much depth of feeling as we have ever heard and a gorgeous messa di voce. Raul Melo was also on hand and used his fine powerful tenor to great advantage in "Donna non vidi mai" from Puccini's Manon Lescaut, and later in "Nessun dorma" from Turandot.

Mezzo Eve Gigliotti sang an aria from Tchaikovsky's The Maid of Orleans and was somewhat hampered in her connection with the audience by her use of the music stand.  In her delightful performance of Bernstein's "Build My House" from Peter Pan she sang without the stand and it made a huge difference in her relatedness.

South African bass Musa Ngqungwana (this is NOT pronounced the way it is spelled!) impressed us with his huge round sound in the "Catalog Aria" from Mozart's Don Giovanni.  Laquita Mitchell used her silvery soprano well in "Mercè, dilette amiche" from Verdi's I Vespri Siciliani making us want to hear the full opera at the earliest opportunity.  She has a lovely command of the fioritura and a trill to thrill.  Bass-baritone Eric Owens graced the stage with "Che mai vegg'io" from Verdi's Ernani; hearing his fine artistry is always a special treat.  Kamal Khan was the supportive collaborative pianist, serving each singer well.

As if all this were not enough, the Ebony Ecumenical Ensemble, directed by Betty Forbes, made their annual appearance with some good down home gospel music and a number in an African language with percussion that was rhythmic and stirring.

Some special young friends of Ms. Flanigan, pictured above, sang a selection of holiday songs; one of them just knocked our socks off. Jorell Williams sang "Santa Ain't Black" by Rachel Peters; the lyrics were so funny we have requested them.

Sadly, we had to miss Miss Flanigan's selections since we had volunteered to set up the post-performance reception a few blocks away.  Ms. Flanigan has graciously offered to indulge us by performing earlier on the program next year!  We plan on reminding her, never fear.

© meche kroop

Friday, December 20, 2013


Lindemann Young Artist Development Program Concert at The Juilliard School
Could an evening have been more bubbly, more sparkling?  No way. Our admiration and affection for the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program is no secret.  Although Peter Gelb, General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera, introduced the young artists on last night's program as "works in progress", we beg to differ. This is a group of extremely talented and highly trained artists; any opera house would be honored to have them onstage.  Indeed they have already sung in many venues around the world.  If they lack anything it is "name recognition" and we all know that big names sell tickets. Do we mean that there is no room for growth?  Of course not!  Artists should always keep growing and expanding.

Last night's program was well designed and gave the Patrons of The Met an opportunity to see these young artists in a varied program of scenes which were presented in an interesting format with each scene blending seamlessly with the one before and after.  The opening scene was from Mozart's La Clemenza Di Tito, conducted by Daniel Stewart and directed by Stephen Wadsworth.  Soprano Mary-Jane Lee was perfect as the seductive and manipulative Vitellia with mezzo Cecelia Hall in the pants role of Sesto, the object of her manipulations.  The duet between the two was marked by gorgeous harmonies; the fioritura was perfect.  Mezzo Samantha Hankey was equally effective as Annio.  Ekaterina Deleu accompanied the recitativo on the harpsichord and Nimrod David Pfeffer gave excellent support on the piano.

Ms. Hall remained onstage for the next scene from Handel's Orlando in which she sang the role of the eponymous hero.  The bass role of Zoroastro the Magician was magnificently handled by Brandon Cedel singing "Sorge infausta una procella" with Bryan Wagorn doing his customary fine work on the piano.  And how we enjoyed Benjamin Bliss' sweet tenor in "Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön" from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte!

Two bel canto scenes followed.  Ms. Hall reappeared, this time in a stylish gown, as Rosina in Rossini's Il Barbiere Di Siviglia.  David Paul directed this very funny scene in which Rosina and Figaro get to demonstrate the many facets of their relationship.  Baritone Yunpeng Wang made a marvelously funny and sly Figaro drawing laughs from the audience.  Mr. Stewart conducted and Mr. Pfeffer accompanied.

In a scene from Donizetti's Don Pasquale, bass Ryan Speedo Green made a sympathetic titular character while baritone Alexey Lavrov performed the role of the wily Dr. Malatesta.  Both men demonstrated superlative flexibility in the patter verses.  The scene was well directed by Mr. Wadsworth and finely conducted by Mr. Stewart.  Ms. Deleu accompanied effectively.

Ms. Hall returned for two stunning arias sung in fine French.  She was saucy and sultry as Elle in Messager's "J'ai deux amants" from L'Amour Masqué and convincingly angry as Concepción in Ravel's L'Heure Espagnole.  Mary Birnbaum directed both scenes and the amazing Lachlan Glen accompanied, as they did in Giordano's Andrea Chénier which followed.  The role of Carlo Gérard gave Mr. Wang an opportunity to show his serious side in this powerful deeply felt performance.  Not only can he be hilarious but he can be lyrically expressive.

It's been quite a while since we've heard Prince Andrei's philosophical musings in Prokofiev's War and Peace and we delighted in Alexey Lavrov's moving exploration of the Russian soul with Ms. Deleu on the piano.

Two scenes from Verdi operas followed.  Simon Boccanegra is one of our favorites and we thoroughly enjoyed the highly dramatic scene in which Boccanegra's nemesis Paolo (Mr. Green) produces great anguish in Gabriele Adorno (the wonderful tenor Mario Chang) by accusing the latter's lover Amelia (Ms. Lee) of cheating.  What tension they created!  Mr. Paul directed this intense scene and Mr. Glen kept the tension going in the piano.  Mr. Wadsworth directed the next scene from Ernani, another dramatically intense one; Mr. Green portrayed the unloved De Silva with Ms. Lee as his unloving fiancée.  Her two suitors in this scene of confrontation were excellently played by Mr. Chang as Ernani and Mr. Lavrov as the Emperor of Spain.

Tenor Anthony Kalil then sang one of the best tenor arias written by Puccini--"E lucevan le stelle" from Tosca.  Mr. Kalil sang it with heartbreaking passion and in true Italianate style. One could fairly smell the garlic!  Following that was the comic sextet from Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro in which Figaro discovers his parentage.  We enjoyed hearing Mr. Glen on the harpsichord as he accompanied Ms. Hankey and Mr. Green as the newly discovered parents, Mr. Wang as the foiled Count Almaviva, the adorable Ying Fang as the baffled Susanna, Brandon Cedel as Figaro himself, and a very funny Mr. Bliss as the notary Don Curzio.  Mary Birnbaum directed with a sure hand and Mr. Stewart conducted the  ensemble.

The final scene was from Haydn's L'Incontro Improvviso, an opera heretofore unknown to us.  Listening to the gorgeous trio of blended voices (Ms. Fang as the Princess of Persia with Ms. Lee and Ms. Hall as her two best friends) we were made to want more of this opera.

We must not fail to mention the presentation of a scene from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, the scene in which both men have been mistakenly enchanted to desire the formerly rejected Helena and to reject Hermia.  No, there was no music.  We think we know why it was included.  It answered our mental question "How did these singers get to be such good actors?"  We imagine that they get superb instruction in the dramatic arts as part of the curriculum.  The scene was directed by Stephen Wadsworth and performed by Ms. Lee, Ms. Fang, Mr. Bliss and Mr. Cedel.

After the recital the audience joined the artists for champagne which perfectly matched the effervescence of the evening.

© meche kroop

Thursday, December 19, 2013


Maestro Thomas Muraco and the cast of Hansel and Gretel at Manhattan School of Music
We like to ask people we meet to name their favorite opera.  No one has ever named Engelbert Humperdink's Hänsel und Gretel and we find that curious.  It is gloriously melodic with many tunes derived from German folk music; the story is charming and based on a fairy tale by the brothers Grimm; it has a happy ending; it offers some excellent roles for sopranos, mezzos and a baritone; and it doesn't require a tenor!  Not that we have anything against tenors.

It was 1891 when the composer's sister Adelheid Wette (sounds like a good name for one of the Walkyries) suggested she set some of her poetry to music and he wound up writing a full-fledged opera.  In 1893 none other than Richard Strauss conducted it, followed soon after by Gustav Mahler.  It found its way to the USA by the following year and has been in the repertory ever since.  We have mostly heard it sung around Christmas time and in English, perhaps so that children could attend; we have nothing against children (well, not much) but were delighted to hear the opera sung in German at the Manhattan School of Music, conducted by none other than the celebrated Maestro Thomas Muraco.  Just watching his intense involvement and enthusiasm left no doubt that he loves this work as much as we do.

In place of an orchestra, the accompaniment was provided by two pianists, George Hemcher and Kira Whiting, with significant contributions from harpist Yeon Hwa Chung and violinist Jacob Bass. There is a satisfying cohesion to this work with themes occurring and reoccurring throughout the evening.  The overture begins with a statement of the Abendsegen, the Evening Prayer, followed by a plethora of contrasting themes which are developed in a manner suggestive of the first movement of a symphony.  We even heard echoes of Schubert's "Ave Maria".

Maestro Muraco's Opera Repertoire Ensemble has some pretty amazing performers on its roster.  We heard seven fine young singers last night and if you are fortunate enough to acquire tickets for Friday night you will hear six different ones with only one repeat--Helena Brown,m a big girl with a big voice making a big impression as the Witch.  The girl has other talents, having done a creditable job on the make-up for the Sandman (Jessica Fishenfeld) and the Dew Fairy (Cherissia Williams) as well as for herself.

Gretel was sung by soprano Bryn Holdsworth, dressed in a pinafore, coiffed in braids and pouring out some gorgeous sounds. Hänsel was finely sung by Kendra Broom who wore one of those ubiquitous animal hats and was totally convincing as a boy.  The two "children" behaved just as siblings do in real life--squabbling, teasing, complaining about doing chores and being hungry; it had a most authentic feel.  When the step-mother (Elizabeth Novella) comes home, she is tired and cranky and feeling guilty about her hungry children.  She sends them to the forest to pick berries.

And then....father comes home drunk (BOO!) but loaded down with goodies (YAY!) since he has sold all his brooms.  Baritone Sol Jin gave a superlative performance with a warm rich sound to his voice and impressive stage presence.  The German diction was so accurate that one scarcely needed to glance at the titles.

The angels that watched over the children were dressed all in white and made a fine chorus.  The production was altogether excellent and we recommend it highly.  Maybe we will run into YOU next week or next month and ask YOU to name your favorite opera.  It just might be this one!

© meche kroop

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


John Brancy, Theo Hoffman, Judy Kaye, Joshua Breitzer, Lauren Worsham, Joshua Jeremiah
Last night wasn't the first time Steven Blier's New York Festival of Song presented his program of yuletide songs by Jewish composers but it was a first time for us; it will not be the last since we plan on making this an annual celebration.  The musical selections were all over the map from serious to giggle-worthy.  The singers were all superb and Mr. Blier at the piano assumed his many equally winning roles of pianist, arranger and raconteur.  Although the songs could stand on their own, his narration took the experience to a whole 'nother level.  As was the case at the last event held at Henry's (a more-than-pleasant restaurant on the Upper West Side) the program was introduced by the versatile tenor Miles Mykkanen performing "Sing for Your Supper" from Rogers and Hart's 1938 musical The Boys from Syracuse.  We were completely enthralled by his charming delivery.

The program opened with the gleeful "God Bless the Christmas Jews" by Levitsky/Miller performed by well-known Broadway star Judy Kaye and operatic baritone Joshua Jeremiah who got right into the mood with none of the affectations heard in most crossover performances.  It was just a funny song delivered with personality and wit.  If that song was the funniest, the most serious one was baritone John Brancy's deeply felt "O Holy Night" by Adolphe Adam, a composer Mr. Blier pronounced Jewish with some rather tenuous evidence.  No matter.  Mr. Brancy sang it in English and then in French.  We have never heard Mr. Brancy sing anything without total commitment to the text; we were deeply moved.  His delivery of Walter Kent/Kim Gannon's "I'll Be Home or Christmas" was no less involved, coming as it did from Mr. Brancy's warm heart.

Lauren Worsham's light silvery soprano fairly gleamed in Jule Styne/Bob Merrill's "I'm Naïve" and her duet with Mr. Jeremiah (Frank Loesser's "Baby, It's Cold Outside" from Neptune's Daughter) was charming and finely acted.

Alan Kaye was on hand with his Klezmer clarinet while Cantor Joshua Breitzer performed  Johnny Marks' "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" as you've never heard it before.  You're probably sick to death of hearing it played in supermarkets and malls since Halloween but if you've never heard it sung in Yiddish, you haven't lived.  The audience roared with big belly laughs.

Roy Zimmerman's "Don't Let Gramma Cook Christmas Dinner" was performed by Ms. Worsham and Mr. Breitzer with guitar accompaniment.  In a world where everyone brags about their grandmother's cooking it was quite amusing to hear people sing about their fears of being poisoned by their untalented nana.

Ms. Kaye got everyone laughing even harder as she sang David Friedman's "My Simple Christmas Wish"; it was a wish to be rich and powerful and famous--nothing simpler than that!  Another giggle-getter was Felix Bernard/Richard B. Smith's old chestnut "Winter Wonderland" archly delivered by Mr. Brancy and Mr. Jeremiah.  We will never hear that song again the same way!

Baritone Theo Hoffman is at an earlier stage of his career than the rest of the cast; if we didn't tell you that you never would have guessed that he is still a Juilliard undergraduate.  His delivery of Mel Tormé's "Christmas Song" was completely professional and polished to a high sheen.  It made us want to find a fire and roast some chestnuts.  His sincerity eliminated all sense of cliché.

The evening ended with the cast joining together for Irving Berlin's "White Christmas".  Indeed, it will probably snow tomorrow but we will be warmed by memories of another marvelous evening spent with NYFOS.  We heard songs that were new to us and old chestnuts that were given new imaginative life.  YAY!

ⓒ meche kroop

Sunday, December 15, 2013


Areti Giovanou, Georgios Argeratos, Emilia Diakopoulou, Stefanos Koroneos
It is always exciting to discover vocal music we haven't heard before especially if it's in a language unfamiliar to us.  Yesterday we had the good fortune to be invited to a recital of Greek music produced by Diphono which was easily understood to mean "two voices". The two voices belong to tenor Georgios Argeratos and baritone Stefanos Koroneos. They were joined by collaborative pianist Areti Giovanou and guest artist soprano Emilia Diakopoulou.

The program contained neither biographical information nor translations so the comments will be based solely on our own experience and what precious little we gleaned from Wikipedia.  Most of the songs on the program were composed by Manos Hatzidakis who is best known as a composer of movie music.  He himself is purported to have said that for himself he composes art songs and he composes popular music to survive.  "Never on Sunday" is arguably his best known work.  We would not wish to put a label on the songs we heard yesterday but they were gloriously melodic and convincingly sung by both tenor and baritone.  Our readers know how much we love duets and the one that opened the program was sung in gorgeous harmony by Mr. Argeratos and Mr. Koroneos.  We had never imagined that the Greek language was so singable with beautiful vowels.  Ms. Giovanou's piano matched the singers with appropriate dramatics or delicacy as called for.

Only one song by N. Hatziapostolou ("Poverty") was on the program and it was performed by Mr. A.; we were surprised by its syncopated rhythm and cheerful mood, rather different from the sadness of the earlier set.  We were reminded of the habañera or perhaps a tango.  Connection with the material was heard throughout but connection with the audience is also important and, for this song, Mr. A. stepped away from the music stand and formed that connection which we truly appreciated.

A song by N. Lambelet seemed to be in an exotic mode, not major or minor but something we could not quite identify.

The recital closed with some songs by Tosti.  His Sette Canzoni Popolari Abruzzesi are a collection of simple unpretentious songs meant to be performed at home; they were delightful.   Ms. Diakopoulou joined Mr. Argeratos for "L'Alba separa dala luce l'Ombra".  We also enjoyed Mr. K.'s delivery of "L'Ultima Canzone" in which he used considerable rubata to wring every ounce of emotion from the text.

The recital closed with some Christmas carols sung in Greek and in English.  It was a delightful afternoon and we consider it an introduction to Greek song, more of which we would like to hear.

© meche kroop


Fasolt and Fafner present the finished house to Wotan and his Family
The Ring Cycle, Richard Wagner's gesamtkunstwerk, comprises 16 hours of thrilling music and an epic mythological story covering many generations in the lives of the gods.  Could this work be condensed into two hours and be meaningful?  We were delighted to learn that the production of The Ring of the Nibelung by the Salzburg Marionette Theater was a satisfying venture, although Wagner's larger-than-life characters were performed by knee-high marionettes.

As told in this production, the story of power and greed and love (both faithful and traitorous) is almost as Wagner wrote it although there were some notable omissions and alterations.  The gods were played by beautifully articulated marionettes who had the same power as artistically done animation; after awhile, one accepts them as "real characters".  In this case, Wotan and his clan are depicted as a powerful and beautiful Hollywood family driving around in a vintage convertible; they have over-extended their credit to have a magnificent new home built by some Eastern European laborers, the giants Fasolt and Fafner who are played by real people (Christiani Wetter and Tim Oberliessen).  When they cannot pay up the giants seize Freia, goddess of youth and beauty.  To see the helpless marionette struggling in the hands of the giants is to be seized with terror.  Seriously!  Loge is depicted as a "fixer" in a red-sequined jacket; he negotiates the deal which replaces Freia with the hard-won Rheingold stolen by Alberich from the Rheinmaidens,  those beautiful swimmers seen at the beginning.

Another striking scene was Siegmund's withdrawal of Nothung from the tree trunk in Hunding's hut.  Short shrift was given to the "Du bist der Lenz" but there was cowboy Siegmund kidnapping the willing Sieglinde on his chopper.  Brünnhilde's futile plea for Siegmund's life and her sending Sieglinde off on Grane (a horse as emotionally moving as the one in War Horse) were other affecting moments.  We loved the Walkyries depicted as the high kickers of Radio City Music Hall. The scene in which Wotan removes Brünnhilde's godly status and surrounds her with a ring of fire was excellently depicted.

The youth Siegfried, born to the dying Sieglinde, is characterized as a punk-y youth in athletic attire.  No longer do we have to suspend disbelief watching a portly middle-aged heldentenor.  He forges his father's sword and abandons his step-father Mime (the part where Siegfried hears Mime's murderous thoughts is omitted); he slays the dragon and finds his aunt Brünnhilde and awakens her with a kiss and passionate embrace.  He leaves her with a kiss and a promise and makes his way to the Gibichung palace (Rhine journey omitted) where under the influence of the evil Hagen (son of Alberich) siblings Gunther and Gutrune, played by the same real actors, trick him into forgetting Brünnhilde.  He is drugged and made to fall for Gutrune and to disguise himself and win Brünnhilde for Gunter.  Hagen plots to recover the cursed ring and kills Siegfried.  Brünnhilde figures everything out and  destroys the world.  We return once again to the Rhinemaidens who are happy to have their golden treasure restored.

This story was well-told in the two hour time period with the two actors providing narration, sometimes a bit too clever in the Austrian style of humor and redundantly told in overhead titles.  There were jokes aplenty about feminism.  This was indeed a light-hearted telling.  How amazing to see the marionettes interacting with the narrators when the latter took on roles as giants or mortals.

But The Ring is not just a compelling story, it is a piece of music without equal and this is where a two-hour version can't begin to convey the majesty of Wagner's meisterwerk.  Having heard over a dozen Ring Cycles, we were able to appreciate the brief snatches of music taken from one of the best recordings available--Sir Georg Solti and the Vienna Philharmonic.  (Among many remarkable singers were heard George London, Kirsten Flagstad, Birgit Nilsson, Christa Ludwig and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.)  But what was appreciated by those in the audience who came to see a puppet-show?  Did they pick up on the leitmotiven? Were they inspired to listen to the entire cycle?  We cannot say but we surely hope that their appetites were piqued.

It was a worthy undertaking and we applaud Director Carl Philip von Maldeghem and Designer Christian Floeren.  We have never seen marionettes to equal these since our last visit to Salzburg.  We further applaud the puppeteers who maneuvered the marionettes in a life-like fashion where realism was indicated and had them flying through the air or swimming according to the story.

© meche kroop

Saturday, December 14, 2013


Political Rally in Virgil Thomson's The Mother of Us All
Photo by Carol Rosegg
How Dona D. Vaughn, Artistic Director of the Manhattan School of Music Opera Theater, took Gertrude Stein's incomprehensible word salad and made a dramatically valid production out of it was a source of great amazement to us; our curiosity was rewarded by Ms. Vaughn herself who shared the secret with us. She first staged the work as a play, asking each singer to create a valid character with a backstory and motivation and to perform off the book.  It was only then that the music was added.  This device worked wonders; the stage was filled with a plethora of interesting characters interacting with one another such that the characters  overwhelmed any need for plot.

There's the composer of The Mother of Us All, Virgil Thomson (portrayed by Chad Sonka) onstage with Gertrude Stein, the poet and librettist (portrayed by Megan Gillis); they are narrating the opening scene of the opera in a "she said" format as if they were doing the creating right on the spot.  The audience is immediately drawn into the story.  But there isn't much of a story.  Susan B. Anthony, convincingly portrayed by mezzo Noragh Devlin, was a feminist who fought valiantly for women's right to vote; it was a long uphill battle which she eventually won in spite of overwhelming male resistance.

There were two Civil War soldiers, Jo the Loiterer, sung by winning tenor Alexander Frankel and his sidekick Chris the Citizen (baritone Cameron Johnson).  There was the spunky Indiana Elliot (mezzo Gina Perregrino) who marries Jo but won't take his name until he takes hers.  There was the proud John Adams (tenor Carlton Moe) who is in love with the nearly blind Constance Fletcher (soprano Addison Hamilton)  but will not get down on his knee for her, until he does.  There is Daniel Webster (bass Scott Russell) who is infatuated with a ghost Angel More (soprano Kasia Borowiec).  There are the embattled pair Andrew Johnson and Thaddeus Stevens (tenors Thomas Mulder and James Ludlum); and wasn't that Ulysses S. Grant (bass-baritone Kim Johansen)  and bass-baritone Nicholas Smith as the severe Anthony Comstock.  Swanning around the stage in a gorgeous gold satin gown and huge hat was none other than Lillian Russell (soprano Margaret Newcomb).  And that's only half the cast!
Ms. Stein peopled the opera with historical characters from different periods, fictional characters, and people she knew as well--feminists and intellectuals.

That this all worked so well was due to the incredible amount of effort put into forming the ensemble and to the fine production values.  Erhard Rom designed the simple set--classical columns, an American flag, a desk, a chair, a table, a Picasso portrait of Ms. Stein.  Tracy Dorman designed the effective and colorful costumes. Francis Patrelle was the choreographer.

But this is, after all, an opera so what about the musical values?  Mr. Thomson's music was given a frisky performance by the Manhattan School of Music Orchestra conducted by the esteemed Steven Osgood.  The music is nothing if not tuneful and such accessibility is uncommon in 20th c. opera; we heard a lot of "Americana"--folk tunes and dance music, much of it seeming to come from an earlier time as befit the story.  The voices were excellent and were used to limn the characters.  There is not a thing about the production to fault.

There is one performance left on Sunday at 2:30.  Snag a ticket if you can.  This is opera as entertainnment!

© meche kroop

Friday, December 13, 2013


Raquel Gonzalez, Nicolette Mavroleon, Tyler Zimmerman, Benjamin Lund, Joseph Eletto and Takaoki Onishi
For lovers of Russian music, Juilliard was the place to be last night. The greater part of the Liederabend was devoted to Russian songs sung by students from the Ellen and James S. Marcus Institute for Vocal Arts and Collaborative Piano Departments, all coached by the gifted pianist/coach Natalia Katyukova who made sure that every participant was on top of his/her game.  It added so much to the experience that each singer introduced him/herself and spoke a little about the songs he/she would sing.  Russian composers and songs are not as well known as German and French songs so the education was most welcome.

Bass-baritone Tyler Zimmerman introduced his songs by explaining which came from the classical period and which from the romantic period.  All were beautifully handled with full emotional value given to the pessimism of the Russian soul.  Edward Kim's collaborative piano was subtly supportive as the melancholy of the Dargomyzhsky gave way to the high drama in the Taneyev.

Soprano Nicolette Mavroleon's songs by Prokofiev came from a later period and we are pleased to report that there was no shortage of melody.  We loved the way her voice opened up in the upper register. Kyung Hee Kim's piano was supportive all the way and one could hear the throbbing of the heart in the final song "The Grey-Eyed King".

The Sviridov songs belonged clearly to the 20th c. and were infinitely more melodic than most music of the period.  Accompanied by Zsolt Balogh, baritone Joseph Eletto used his fine voice with great connection to the text, be it sad ("The Bride") or strange ("O homeland").

The most familiar songs of the evening were those of Rachmaninoff, sung by baritone Takaoki Onishi who throws his powerful voice and deep feeling into everything he sings.  Before singing, he told about his coaching with Obratsova in Japan and related how he would like to sing these songs for her.  To our ears, he sounded very inspired in "I was with her", "The Dream", and best of all "Spring torrents".  Raymond Wong was his fine piano partner.

Before moving on to more Russian pleasures, we must give full credit to the non-Russian part of the Liederabend.  Stellar soprano Raquel Gonzalez sang in two dialects that looked rather strange on the page of translations but, to our ears, sounded very recognizable.  Osvaldo Golijov's "Lúa Descolorida" was sung in Galician (from NW Spain) and gave Ms. G. an opportunity to vocalize in the stratospheric upper register and also to give full measure to the low notes.  Three selections from Canteloube's lovely Chants d'Auvergne, sung in Occitan (a dialect of French) ended on a humorous note.  Ari Livne was her excellent piano partner.

Last but not least were some 20th c. songs of Guastavino, sung by baritone Benjamin Lund, accompanied by Jung A. Bang.  Mr. Lund described the marriage of folk melody, dance rhythms and romantic stylings achieved by this composer known as "the Argentinian Schubert".  His delivery absolutely lived up to the description, even employing the Argentinian pronunciation.  "La rosa y el sauce" was particularly moving.
Maestro Larry Rachleff and pianist Hanbo Liu

Returning now to the Russian theme, we followed our delightful introduction to Russian songs with another Juilliard event at Alice Tully Hall where the Juilliard Orchestra was conducted by the expressive Larry Rachleff who has hands you cannot take your eyes off--unless you were watching the equally agile hands of pianist Hanbo Liu who gave a passionate reading of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18.  The melodies were lavish and tumbled out one after the other, passing gracefully from orchestra to piano and back again.  We were thinking how vocal these melodies were, after hearing Mr. Onishi's Rachmaninoff songs an hour earlier.  And then we read the program notes.  Looks like that idea was not original! Lovers of popular music may have recognized what I missed.

The Rachmaninoff was followed by Dvořák's impressive Symphony No. 7 in D minor, largely inspired by Brahms and lacking the nationalistic character of the so-called Symphony of the New World.

© meche kroop

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Melissa Errico & Campbell Scott
Jessica Gould & Tony Boutté

Photos by Stephen de las Heras

How thrilling it was to occupy the same space occupied by our third president Thomas Jefferson--to hear the story of his lengthy epistolary romance with Maria Cosway, to hear music she wrote for him, to learn about the private life of this great man of The Enlightenment.  In a site-specific work taking place in a room at Fraunces Tavern in Lower Manhattan, Salon Sanctuary Concerts presented "More Between Heaven and Earth", an interdisciplinary performance conceived and curated by Jessica Gould, with script and direction by Erica Gould.  The authentic costumes and wigs were by Deborah Wright Houston.

The time straddled the turn of the 19th c.  and the events took place in Paris and London.  Jefferson and Cosway, a multiply gifted married woman, met in 1786 in Paris and carried on a correspondence for the next four decades, with a brief reunion and a lengthy break.  There was clearly a meeting of the minds, a sharing of souls, and perhaps some heartbreak involved. The script did not make clear whether the romance was consummated physically but that matters little.  Her marriage and his duties to the newly born United States of America were insurmountable obstacles.  There is no love like forbidden love!

Actress Judith Hawking narrated the story with a wink and a twinkle in her eye.  Beautiful Melissa Errico gave an excellent portrayal of Maria Cosway and was quite moving in her performance of songs that this amateur musician composed.  We have never seen them in books of baroque or classical songs but would wish to learn them; they are quite excellent in their directness and simplicity, especially "Ogni dolce aura".  The great man himself was brought to sympathetic life by actor Campbell Scott.

Vocal honors were shared by Jessica Gould herself who lent her powerful soprano to the aria "Cesse cruel amour"  (from Sacchini's opera Dardanus which Jefferson and Cosway had seen together) and tenor Tony Boutté  who sang "Jours heureux" from the same opera.  More excerpts were to follow with much appreciative applause from the audience who sat along the perimeter of the historical room.

Music was provided by members of The Sebastians; leader and harpsichordist Jeffrey Grossman accompanied the singers and also played a lovely solo by Jacques Duphly entitled La Medée; violinist Daniel Lee joined him for the Adagio from Archangelo Corelli's Sonata in G minor.

© meche kroop


Hyesang Park, Monica Huggett
We came to Alice Tully Hall last night to hear the lovely Hyesang Park sing Mozart's 1787 concert aria "Bella mia fiamma...Resta, o cara" K.528; the lovely soprano, resplendent in a gold sequined gown, used her fine voice and intense dramatic skills to illuminate Michele Scarcone's text in which the mortal Titano, who has fallen in love with the goddess Proserpina, must be sacrificed so that she can wed Pluto.  This has been arranged by Proserpina's mother Ceres;  just lookin' out for her daughter's future!  Ms. Park managed to invest each repetition of the phrase "Quest'affanno, questo passo è terribile per me" with a new variation of anguish.  This fine artist is a graduate student at the Marcus Institute for Vocal Arts and we will look forward to hearing her again soon.

But one aria does not a concert make so let us touch briefly on the rest of the program hoping our readers will forgive any and all ignorance of early music.  Juilliard 415 was founded four years ago and is Juilliard's principal period-instrument ensemble.  We enjoyed hearing them recently at the Radamisto but know less about these interesting instruments than we do about the voice.  We were particularly interested in the winds; it appears that the horns and trumpets have no keys.  We hope to learn how the sounds are made, wondering if they are more difficult to play. The orchestra sounds quite different from an orchestra of modern instruments and the balance among the sections is different.

The accepted pitch of the "A" is 415, hence the name of the ensemble.  Hearing Mozart's Overture to Le Nozze di Figaro was like hearing it for the first time.  Was this how Mozart heard it?  In Beethoven's 1800 Symphony No. l in C major, Op. 21 we heard echoes of Mozart and Hayden that we hadn't heard before.  Beethoven was feeling his way in the symphonic genre and trying out some new things--standing on the shoulders of giants made him VERY tall.  We especially enjoyed the second movement with its repetition of a particularly lovely melody that reminded us of a folk song as it bounced around from one section of the orchestra to another.

Johannes Matthias Sperger's Concerto for Double Bass in C minor was performed by Pippa Macmillan.  We had always thought of the bass as a section that anchored the orchestra with its low rumble but had never considered it as a solo instrument.  Herr Sperger was a distinguished bass player as well as a composer and clearly he wrote this concerto to showcase his instrument.  The program notes told us that open Viennese tuning was used, meaning that the instrument was tuned in C.  Much of the passagework took place on the upper strings and often quite close to the bridge.  What would have been called fleet fingering on a violin might be called fleet "arming" since the notes seemed to be rather far apart; Ms. Macmillan's agility was impressive.  The ensemble is conducted with great skill and energy by the highly esteemed Monica Huggett of the Juilliard Historical Performance faculty; she serves also as first violin.

© meche kroop

Sunday, December 8, 2013


Carlos Monzon, Madison Marie McIntosh, Elias Notas, Alexandra LoBianco, Zhanna Alkhazova, William Browning, Kian Freitas, Benjamin Robinson

The Martha Cardona Theater was established four years ago by Daniel Cardona with a mission of producing opera for the people at affordable prices and providing opportunities for young singers.  We just now discovered them when we were invited to review their concert version of Mozart's Don Giovanni; in view of the excellence of this production we now consider ourselves a fan.  The eight singers were excellently chosen, as was the conductor Tyson Deaton and the accompanist Tristan Cano who capably dealt with the many different styles of music Mozart saw fit to  lavish upon this tale of a rogue who meets his end at the hands of the ghost of a man he killed in a duel--the Commendatore who was defending his daughter Donna Anna.  The libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte invests this tragic tale with a great deal of comedy, none of which was overlooked by the agile cast of singers.
Mozart's portentous opening chords are followed immediately by the humorous remarks of the Don's much-abused servant Leporello.  Baritone Carlos Monzon missed none of the wry humor and sang with an admirable depth and breadth of tone.  The Don then enters the scene, full of himself, with Donna Anna in hot pursuit; she is determined to learn the identity of her would-be attacker.  A glorious trio in perfect balance establishes the relationship of the characters.  Baritone William Browning made a fine Don both vocally and dramatically.  Soprano Alexandra LoBianco has a large and pleasing sound and created a sympathetic character; who could not feel for her grief at losing her father!  Her stalwart and loyal fiancé Don Ottavio (tenor Benjamin Robinson) is there to console her with his sweet voice.  The tenor has two fine arias--"Dalla sua pace" and the difficult "Il mio tesoro" in which he demonstrated fine breath control.  Donna Anna was remarkable in "Non mi dir".

Enter Donna Elvira, a role which requires a large sound; soprano Zhanna Alkhazova fulfilled the requirements of the role to perfection.  She has been seduced and abandoned by the Don and pursues him throughout the opera.  Her "Mi tradito" was superb as she did a fine job of limning the ambivalence Donna Elvira has toward her love object.  A high point of the opera is Leporello's delivery of the so-called Catalogue Aria in which he disabuses Donna E. of her romantic notions.  The Don has seduced thousands of women!  Interestingly, during the course of this opera he never succeeds; but oh, how he tries!

His next attempted conquest is that of the naive peasant girl Zerlina on the day of her marriage to Masetto.  Soprano Madison Marie McIntosh has the adorable appearance and bright young sound needed for this role and bass-baritone Kian Freitas was excellent as the ironic and suspicious Masetto.  Zerlina has two charming arias in which she succeeds in manipulating Masetto out of his moods--"Batti, batti" and "Vedrai carino".  The famous duet with the Don "La ci darem la mano" was well handled.  Bass Elias Notus had a commanding presence as Il Commendatore.

The diction was exemplary; at certain points the sur-titles went missing but not a word was lost.

There will be one more opportunity to experience this superb cast who will be performing the opera at Symphony Space on Thursday, December 12th.  Consider this event to be highly recommended.

© meche kroop

Saturday, December 7, 2013


Leonarda Priore, Benjamin Perry Wenzelberg, Lynne Hayden-Findlay
Leonarda Priore, co-founder of Chelsea Opera, has honored the memory of her brother Nicholas, an attorney and a singer who died prematurely, with evenings of song and also by establishing a fund called New Possibilities.  Young musical prodigy Benjamin Perry Wenzelberg is the first recipient.  The two singers joined hands in both the physical realm and the spiritual realm in last night's concert.

Most affecting and most in tune with the memorial was Ms. Priore's performance of Ottorino Respighi's "Il Tramonto".  The text by Percy Bysshe Shelley involves a man dying too young and seemed heartbreakingly relevant.  Accompanying Ms. Priore was the Chelsea Opera String Quartet, comprising Marc Uys and Bruno Peña on violin, Jen Herman on viola and Troy Chang on cello.  It isn't often that one hears a work for string quartet and mezzo so this was a special treat.  The quartet was well-balanced throughout and also did a lovely job with Ennio Morriccone's love theme from Cinema Paradiso.

The remainder of the evening transpired in varying styles--a lovely folk song adapted by Carl Stommen that was moving in its simplicity; the "Pie Jesu" from Andrew Lloyd Webber's Requiem in which Mr. Wenzelberg's treble blended beautifully with Ms. Priore's mezzo; Mr. Wenzelberg's exuberant solo of "Rejoice Greatly" from Handel's Messiah, in which he dazzled the audience with his pinpoint fioritura; a jazz-inflected "Bending Towards the Light" from A Jazz Nativity by Bob Kindred with lyrics by Anne Phillips and Henry Timm; and several selections from the world of Broadway and cabaret.

Ms. Priore has a broad background and handled the diverse styles without compromising any of the material.  Jule Styne's "Winter Was Warm" suited her voice particularly well.  The two singers blended beautifully in the duet "See the Light" by Alan Menken.  There were some fine selections by Stephen Schwartz, David Friedman and Irving Berlin.  When we saw Wicked on Broadway it was so heavily amplified that we couldn't understand the lyrics.  Last night we were able to hear and understand and appreciate them.

The evening closed with a surprise guest; Lynn Hayden-Findlay, co-founder of Chelsea Opera, emerged from her "retirement" to sing Jerry Herman's "Bosom Buddies" from Mame.  It was absolutely delicious!  Bill Doherty did a magnificent job accompanying throughout the evening.

The Chelsea Opera has been encouraging and supporting Mr. Wenzelberg for about four years now and is currently, through the Nicholas S. Priore New Possibilities Fund, helping to launch Mr. W.'s opera The Sleeping Beauty.  We were there for the piano/vocal reading and will be there on January 17th for the young composer's orchestral reading.  And you should be there as well!

© meche kroop

Friday, December 6, 2013


Ricardo Herrera, Corinne Winters, Jeffrey Picon, Leonardo Granados, Steven Blier, Michael Barrett
Just like the popular drink, last night's NYFOS recital "Cubans in Paris, Cubans at Home" was suffused with sweetness and strong spirits, with a touch of tartness.  It was a tasty draft and an intoxicating one.

When Artistic Director Steven Blier puts a program together you can count on an entertaining evening that is also instructive.  If you only listened to the music you could leave happy, but if you paid attention to Mr. Blier's charming narration you would have learned more about the culture and history that produced the music than you ever dreamed of, and you would have learned it painlessly.  And if you read the program notes you will know more than most people.

We had only been aware of the 1959 revolution that overthrew the corrupt dictator Fulgencio Batista and installed Fidel Castro; but before Batista, Cuba was in the hands of the repressive Gerardo Machado and many of Cuba's musicians, composers and performers alike, fled the violent Machadistas and a Cuba impoverished by the hemispheric economic collapse.  Paris welcomed them with open arms.

Last night's program began with a popular song of 1853 by José White entitled "La Bella Cubana", the theme of which reminded us of "The Girl from Ipanema".  Tenor Jeffrey Picón and baritone Ricardo Herrera  sang this duet to soprano Corinne Winters, praising her beauty.  The gorgeous melody was definitely inspired by the bel canto period, which may explain its being our favorite song of the evening. This may be the only song that Mr. White wrote; he was a child prodigy and a violinist who studied at the Paris Conservatoire.

The rest of the evening's program focused on the first half of the 20th c.  Racial tensions ran high in Cuba and music was one way to bridge the gap between the Caucasians and the Afro-Cubanos who were descended from slaves.  Accompanied by the percussion of Leonardo Granados, Ms. Winters sang Eliso Grenet's "Lamento esclavo", a rather gentle protest song of a slave of the Lucumi tribe; Mr. Picón sang a lament of a Karabali man "Canto Karabali" by the well-known Ernesto Lecuona, accompanied by both Mr. Blier and Associate Artistic Director Michael Barrett.  Both performances were moving.

The two men sang a funny duet by Alejandro Garcia Caturla which dealt with the pain of a man trying to meet American girls and striking out because he'd never learned to speak English.

Zarzuela has always been a major delight to us and we fondly recall an evening spent with Opera Hispanica, listening to a panel of experts discussing its origins.  It's been a very long time since we had the pleasure of hearing and seeing a complete zarzuela; hearing excerpts of a few last night gave us great pleasure.  Cuban zarzuelas were a means of dealing with the social and racial tensions of the 30's.  We loved Mr. Herrera's heartfelt performance of "Mi vida es cantar" from La Virgen Morena and Ms. Winters and Mr. Picón's charming duet "Yo vivi soñando en un cuartico" from Lecuona's Rosa la China.

But our favorites were excerpts from Toi C'est Moi by Moisés Simons.  The gentlemen's duet had a lively music hall feel and Ms. Winters' "C'est ça la vie" was an arresting take on the Carmen story in which Carmen kills a cheating Escamillo.

Most surprising were the final songs on the program: "Guarina" written by Sindo Garay, an illiterate Cuban-Indian, to his daughter, and "Son de la Loma" by another untrained musician.  In every case, Cuban music is rhythmically vital, making it difficult to stay seated.

Like the drink, it all went down easily.  Happily, we are not left with a hangover but we are left with a desire for more.

© meche kroop

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


Pierre Ferreyra-Mansilla, Nathan Haller, Angela Vallone, Brian Zeger, Jessine Johnson, Samantha Hankey, Eric Jurenas
A Juilliard Songfest last night at Alice Tully Hall offered an opportunity to get your fill of Benjamin Britten's songs, curated by Artistic Director Brian Zeger who also lent his prodigious talent as collaborative pianist.  The ten singers are in various stages of training at the Marcus Institute for Vocal Arts but we dare you to distinguish between the graduate students and the undergraduates; all have superb voices and stage presence to spare.

The opening piece on the program turned out to be our personal favorite, the 1952 Canticle II: Abraham and Isaac, Op. 51.  We first heard this work a year ago at Chelsea Opera in a fully staged and costumed version with young Benjamin Perry Wenzelberg doing more than justice to the role of the young Isaac about to be sacrificed by his father.  Tonight in this role we heard counter-tenor Eric Jurenas with tenor Miles Mykkanen as Abraham in a semi-staged performance that worked beautifully, both vocally and dramatically.  The most arresting singing was the voice of God produced by the two men singing in the most amazing unison.

The other major work on the program comprised Songs and Proverbs of William Blake, written in 1965 for Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
1965.  Last night this vocally demanding material was finely handled by two exemplary baritones--Theo Hoffman whose fine work is familiar to us and Kurt Kanazawa whom we had never heard before but look forward to hearing again.

The remainder of the program consisted of a grouping of sorrowful folk songs and a grouping of joyful ones.  We particularly liked tenor William Goforth's connection with the text in "At the mid hour of night" and Mr. Kanazawa's humorous complaint "Lord! I married me a wife". Tenor Nathan Haller gave a moving performance of "The Children".  Tenor Michael St. Peter demonstrated a lovely vocal quality in the strophic "O Waly, Waly", standing out against the chordal accompaniment.

In the set of joyful songs, we particularly enjoyed Mr. Haller's performance of "Bonny at Morn".  Mr. Jurenas' performance of "The Miller of Dee" was set against piano work by Mr. Zeger that left no doubt that mill wheels were turning.  Mr. St. Peter's strophic "Plough Boy" was pure delight.

Several songs were accompanied by the guitar of Pierre Ferreyra-Mansilla who seemed to have a very personal relationship with his instrument.  Our favorite was the jaunty "Sailor Boy" sung by Mr. Haller.  The program was not entirely male; sopranos Jessine Johnson and Angela Vallone and mezzo Samantha Hankey made valuable contributions to both groups of folk songs.  Ms. Vallone sang "The Big Chariot" and "How sweet the answer". The closing number of the evening was a duet "Underneath the Abject Willow" performed by Ms. Johnson and Ms. Hankey.  Their voices blended splendidly and y'all know how much we love duets!

If you didn't get your fill of Britten last night, don't despair.  It's his centennial and you will have many more opportunities.

© meche kroop

Monday, December 2, 2013


Dominic Armstrong, Michael Brofman, Ty Jones, John Brancy, Peter Dugan
Yesterday's recital by the Brooklyn Art Song Society offered a number of delights--the opportunity to hear a rarely performed song cycle composed by Brahms in the 1860's, two gifted lieder interpreters and two equally impressive piano partners, plus the dramatic narration of plummy-voiced actor Ty Jones.  The song cycle Die Schöne Magelone is a setting of texts by Johann Ludwig Tieck--a group of intentionally archaic poems telling a somewhat extended tale of a medieval knight, Count Peter of Provence, his courtship of Princess Magelone of Naples, and the trials and tribulations of their separation and eventual reuniting. There are interesting symbolic elements, including three golden rings given Peter by his mother that he bestows upon Magelone only to have them wind up in the belly of a fish back at Peter's chateau. Shades of Des Knaben Wunderhorn!

There are 15 lovely songs in all; the narration was translated into English and recited by Mr. Jones while the songs themselves served to express the feelings of longing, love, sorrow and joy.  George London Foundation winners tenor Dominic Armstrong and baritone John Brancy performed the songs with beautiful tone and phrasing as well as total commitment to the material.  We noticed just one tiny flaw in Mr. Armstrong's performance which a non-speaker of German would not have observed.  "Ich" appears in so many German words and was often rendered as "ick"; this should be remedied. Otherwise, both singers had a fine command of the language.

Mr. Brancy was accompanied by Peter Dugan whose expressive pianism worked very well with Mr. Brancy's heartfelt delivery.  When Sir Peter gallops away from home, Brahms has provided a galloping rhythm in the piano.  In "Sind es Schmerzen, sind es Freuden" the two artists matched each other in sweetness.  In "Ruhe, Sussliebchen im Schatten" the lilt of this tender lullaby with its descending line reminded us of a barcarolle.  For "Wie schnell verschwindet" Mr. Brancy surprised us by singing the voice of the princess with its stratospheric tessitura in falsetto.

Mr. Armstrong's piano partner was Michael Brofman himself, Artistic Director of the Brooklyn Art Song Society.  They distinguished themselves in the strophic "Liebe kam aus fernen Landen" and in the two sanguine penultimate songs "Geliebter, wo zaudert" and "Wie froh und frisch mein Sinn sich hebt".

If you were unfortunate enough to have missed this stellar afternoon, there are a number of recordings and we recommend those by Peter Schrier and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.  There will be several more recitals this season by the ambitious Brooklyn Art Song Society and if you are a lover of lieder, you are sure to be satisfied.

© meche kroop

Saturday, November 30, 2013


Julia Bullock (photo by Christian Steiner)
It is quite a thrill to see someone onstage at Carnegie Hall, someone whose growth you have witnessed from days at Juilliard, and to see her knock the socks off a different audience.  The lovely Julia Bullock has distinguished herself on the opera stage, as a recitalist and last night contributed her special talents to Broadway Classics at Carnegie Hall.

Her two songs were performed in her own personal style--sincere and authentic without a trace of calculation or pandering to the audience. Nor did we get a whiff of "crossover" affectation that makes opera singers sound pompous when they assay the popular repertory.  In fact she treated both songs with the same respect that she has treated operatic arias.  In Frederick Loewe's "I Could Have Danced All Night" from the 1956 My Fair Lady (lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner) her enthusiasm was so catching she made us want to get up and dance.  From Leonard Bernstein's 1957 opus West Side Story (lyrics by Stephen Sondheim) she sang "Somewhere" with the deepest feeling of idealistic longing.  The beauty of her sound and musicality left no doubt that this artist can sing anything.

One further element that contributed to our pleasure was her careful use of the microphone.  We are seriously prejudiced against amplification and have no doubt that Ms. Bullock's superlative voice would have easily carried to the balcony without amplification; fortunately she knew how not to overwhelm or distort her beautiful natural sound.  Not so the other singers.  They did what Broadway singers are expected to do.  Cheyenne Jackson, Phillip Boykin and Carolee Carmello gave rather more calculated performances with lots of amplification and lots of emoting; it was just what the audience wanted.  Songs from West Side Story, Finian's Rainbow, Guys and Dolls, Fiddler on the Roof, The Sound of Music, Candide, Porgy and Bess, Show Boat, Man of La Mancha, Kiss Me Kate, Les Misérables and Funny Girl were performed and the audience loved every one of the 90 minutes.

Craig Arnold conducted the New York City Chamber Orchestra, which was larger than a Broadway pit orchestra and yet never sounded quite "in tune" with the material they were playing.  The Manhattan Chorale sang the "Sabbath Prayer" from Fiddler on the Roof and the "Morning Hymn" from The Sound of Music as well as the Epilogue from Titanic.  A half-dozen dancers, choreographed by Sean McKnight, spun and twirled to the Overture to Candide.

It was a fine opportunity for folks who enjoyed mid-20th c. American Musical Theater to reconnect with their favorite songs; there was no shortage of audience appreciation.

© meche kroop

Monday, November 25, 2013


Christa Hylton, Georgios Papadimitriou, John Schenkel-photo by Steve Faust
We never tire of Mozart and Nozze di Figaro may just be our favorite.  Otherwise why would we have spent an hour on the subway (each way) to catch Regina Opera Company's final performance?  Was it worth the trip?  Yes it was.  The opera was presented in its entirety with every line of recitative intact.  The opera itself is a perfect marriage of music and text with an endless stream of melodies, marvelous opportunities for singers to show their stuff in glorious arias, sympathetic characters and trenchant social commentary.    Although several characters created by Lorenzo da Ponte seem derived from commedia del'arte, the master's hand is evident as he limns their humanity, flaws and all, and develops their respective characters over the course of the opera.  If any reader has read or seen the Beaumarchais plays from which Da Ponte derived his libretto, we hope you will comment below.  We saw his Marriage of Figaro last season at the Pearl Theater and enjoyed it thoroughly but still prefer the opera.

The Regina Opera's sets (by Director Linda Lehr) were simple but workable and the same could be said for the costumes.  The casting was astute and there were some fine performances to enjoy.  As the eponymous hero, bass-baritone Georgios Papadimitriou was outstanding, both vocally and dramatically; he created a Figaro who was charming and wily, completely focused on outwitting Count Almaviva (baritone Julian Whitley) who was intent on obstructing Figaro's marriage. Clever Susanna was sung by the adorable Jenny Ribeiro whose "Deh vieni non tardar" was incredibly beautiful and taken at a slow tempo; the audience burst into applause prematurely and nearly missed her magnificent cadenza.  The sad and neglected Countess Almaviva was well sung by Christina Rohm who deserved the large round of applause she got for "Dove sono".

Another splendid performance was turned in by mezzo Danielle Horta as Cherubino, pleasing the audience with her "Non so più" and "Voi che sapete".  As Marcellina, mezzo Christa Hylton  had us giggling every time she came onstage with her ridiculous hat with yellow feathers and her expressive face.  She handled the transition from the vengeful creditor who wanted her "pound of flesh" from Figaro to his generous loving mother without missing a beat.  Another hilarious performance was given by tenor Alejandro Salvia as the foppish Don Basilio, sporting a bright pink wig and turquoise satin breeches--a vision to be sure.

Bass-baritone John Schenkel was a most convincing Dr. Bartolo but had some problems projecting his voice.  This might be due to the split-level pit, an unfortunate situation due to a lack of space (strings at conductor-level and winds buried behind and below) .  Another consequence of this situation was a degree of imbalance in the orchestra which was conducted by Maestro Scott Jackson Wiley. There was, however, no imbalance among the voices in the gorgeous duets and ensembles.

Antonio was played by Gene Howard and his daughter Barbarina by Nicole Leone.  Don Curzio was performed by Brian Ribeiro.  Special mention must be made of the fine chorus.

© meche kroop

Sunday, November 24, 2013


Elena (Anna Farysej)
New York is blessed with three fine music schools, each of which provides splendid opportunities for opera lovers.  The Manhattan School of Music Opera Theater, under the artistic direction of Dona D. Vaughn, presented a fine program of scenes from four very different operas.  The program demonstrated the depth and breadth of talent in every voice range and several different styles; it will be repeated Sunday at 2:30.

This collection of gems was entitled "Love and Other Mistakes"; but believe us when we tell you that the only mistake would be missing it.  The opening scene represented serious romantic courtship with Cupid himself putting in an appearance.  Gluck is perhaps better known for his Orfeo but, if this scene is representative of his Paride ed Elena, the latter deserves a full production.  It is a scene of Paris' courtship of the beautiful Helen and soprano Anna Farysej had the physical and vocal beauty for the role.  Beautifully gowned in apricot and gold, her bright soprano was perfect for the woman being earnestly courted by Paris, the excellent mezzo Elsa Quéron.  Cupid was well sung by Aine Hakamatsuka.  Piano and harpsichord were joined by cellist Patrick Hopkins.

The second scene was Hindemith's Sancta Susanna, a strange piece about religious devotion corrupted by profane lust.  The libretto by August Stramm was as disturbing as the music.  The set consisted of a red drape with a large gold Christ on the Cross.  Mezzo Helena Brown with her stunningly large round sound was Sister Klementia, witness to the decompensation of Susanna, well sung by soprano Kerstin Bauer.  There are no arias and no melodies but the music is held together by a motif repeated in different keys.

Papa Buonafede (Tobias Klassen) tied in knots
The third scene was from Joseph Haydn's Il Mondo della luna and the libretto by Carlo Goldoni was right out of the commedia del'arte tradition in which wily servants outwit an old man who is an obstacle to young love.  In this case, a father has two daughters who wish to marry; the trickery involved a sleeping potion and papa's being convinced that he was visiting the moon in which everyone spoke a different language and observed different customs, including of course unchaperoned visits between the daughters and their lovers.  There were sight gags galore, wonderful tuneful music, colorful sets and costumes.  The excellent singers were Tobias Klassen as Papa Buonafede, Stephen Steffens and Lyndon England as the suitors, Julia Mendelsohn and Gyu Yeo Shim as the daughters, and Christopher Lilley and Yingying Liu as the wily servants who posed as King and Queen bearing toilet plungers and toilet brushes as scepters.  You get the picture.

The final scene was Three Sisters who are not Sisters--Ned Rorem's setting of a text by Gertrude Stein.  The story had something to do with a murder game and was totally incomprehensible but made into quite a lark by clever staging.  Every singer wore the same costume of a neon pink wig, a moustache, a striped tee-shirt and jeans with suspenders.  The set comprised a wall with five doors through which the five cast members and also the chorus emerged and disappeared, bearing guns and knives.  Pure nonsense but fun to watch since the staging by Richard Gammon was so effective.  Mr. Gammon used a great deal of body movement in all of the works and if the singers did not study dance they gave the impression that they had.  Hannah DeBlock, Brittany Nickell, Yajie Chen, Andrew Zimmermann and Devon Morin were the murderers/victims.  Who could say?

Marcello Cormio conducted the evening, Carolyn Mraz designed the colorful sets and Barbara Samuels designed the effective lighting.  The dazzling costumes were designed by Jonathan Knipscher.  The audience had a swell time and so will you!

© meche kroop

Thursday, November 21, 2013


John Holiday and Virginie Verrez (photo by Nan Melville)
Radamisto was the first opera composed by G. F. Handel for the Royal Academy of Music.  It was a great success in 1720 and was rewritten substantially to accommodate a different cast.  Then it lay dormant for two centuries.  No doubt it is being revived in present days due to the availability of so many superb countertenors.  (We would not be surprised if someone told us that The Department of Vocal Arts at Juilliard chose this opera as a vehicle for the brilliant countertenor John Holliday--but no one did.)  The vocal fireworks were evident from the start but it was Mr. Holiday's rapid fire fioritura that stole the show--and there was a lot of show to steal.  We will not neglect to mention how moving his singing was in the slow passages.  What a thrill to hear a young singer in a starring role, so gifted at presto and adagio both.

Radamisto is kind and good and devoted to his wife Zenobia, a role sung with grace and total commitment by the glamorous Virginie Verrez.  Offering a huge contrast to their devotion is the tyrannical Tiridate, King of Armenia, and his unhappy neglected wife Polissena.  Bass-baritone Aubrey Allicock made a splendid villain and utilized his large round sound to great advantage.  Polissena was stunningly portrayed by soprano Mary Feminear who was able to convince us that she so loved her cheating husband that she would stand by his side even when he was ready to kill her brother Radamisto and their father Farasmane, well-sung by bass Elliott Carlton Hines.

Tiridate's two commanders were likewise brilliantly sung by two superb sopranos in pants roles--Pureum Jo impressed with her magnificent coloratura and Elizabeth Sutphen with her sublime phrasing.  It would be fair to say that the casting and performance were perfect--and how often can one say that?

Handel's music was performed by Juilliard415, the school's principal period-instrument ensemble.  Conducted expressively by Julian Wachner with Patrick Jones at the harpsichord, the sound was magnificently enveloping.  The instruments would have appeared unfamiliar to those unexposed to baroque music, especially the winds.  We were tempted to spend more time watching Kevin Payne playing the exotic theorbo but we couldn't take our eyes and ears off the singers.

The story is loosely based on history and nothing much happens; the libretto is attributed to Nicola Francesco Haym.  It's mostly a case of off-again on-again murder because Tiridate would do anything to acquire Zenobia and threats are made and withdrawn many times.  Thinking of the piece as a character study is more useful, but even then Tiridate's last minute relenting seems psychologically invalid.  The absence of action was quite a challenge for Director James Darrah to deal with and we drew the same conclusion when we saw the opera in Santa Fe in 2008:  it's all about the singing.  Some of the invented movement was puzzling but the alternative would be to have the singers just stand there and sing.  There were several arias that we'd love to hear as "stand-alones"; chief among them were "Cara sposa" and "Ombra cara".  We do love love songs!

Sets and lighting were attributed to Emily Anne MacDonald and Cameron Jaye Mock.  Although the set was minimal--a few chairs against a wall--the lighting was effective.  When Zenobia throws herself into the river, blue ripples washed over the stage.  When splendor was called for the dominant lighting was golden.  Visual interest depended upon Costume Designer Sara Jean Tosetti's glamorous gowns and regal costumes for the men.  We are replete with ear and eye candy.

© meche kroop

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


It is likely that few of us have ever heard Franco Alfano's 1921 Sakùntala, although there are a couple recordings extant.  Likewise, you will probably not get an opportunity in the future.  But thanks to Duane D. Printz, Founding Executive and Artistic Director of Teatro Grattacielo, a significant number of us opera fanatics got the chance to hear it last night in concert version at the Skirball Center of NYU.  And concert version was definitely the way to go, since Mr. Alfano's libretto, based on a 4th c. Sanskrit play, is rather silly by 21st c. standards, and lacking in dramatic action.  A King, while on a hunt, runs into the beautiful protectress of a hermitage, the eponymous heroine.  He falls in love with her, woos her, marries her, impregnates her and then abandons her.  She is too depressed to fulfill her duties and is cursed by an old priest, so that when she takes herself to court her husband fails to recognize her and she drowns herself.  Those early 20th c. heroines lacked our 21st c. self-preservation skills that has us gals just writing off the bums and moving on!

OK, the plot is scanty but oh, the music!  Gorgeous shimmering textures are used to convey the exoticism of the locale and Maestro Israel Gursky conducted the massive orchestral forces at his disposal with great aplomb.  But these massive orchestral forces tended occasionally to overwhelm the singers who at times struggled to be heard; this lead to an occasional forced sound, especially in the upper registers, particularly at moments of maximum emotionalism.  Tenor Raul Melo did his best to rise above the huge waves of sound but sometimes sank below the waves.  The high tessitura likewise offered challenges to soprano Michelle Johnson in the titular role, leaving scant room for the subtlety and variety of color of which she is capable.

Sakùntala's friends were sung by soprano Asako Tamura and mezzo-soprano Shirin Eskandani whose rich voice provided the biggest thrills of the evening, not to mention applause that sounded as loud as the orchestra.  It appeared that the lower voices succeeded better in every case.  Three basses handled their vocal duties well: Ashraf Sewailam in the role of the priest Durvasas , Damian Savarino as Harita, one of the ascetics and Young Bok Kim as Sakùntala's father.  Baritone Peter Kendall Clark distinguished himself as the King's Equerry.  Tenor Kirk Dougherty sang the role of the young hermit who seemed to be the sidekick of Harita.

We overheard a few members of the audience saying that they refused to follow the libretto, which had been beautifully translated by Ms. Printz herself, and just closed their eyes and listened to the glorious music. One audience member has both recordings of the opera and counts it as a masterpiece of realismo. That the opera was produced on the radio comes as no surprise.  We were grateful to have an opportunity to hear this rarity.

© meche kroop

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


Charles Williamson, David Anchel, Hans Tasjian, Michael Morrow, Lauren Onsrud, Jason Plourde
Heard several years ago at the Met, we have wondered how and why Luisa Miller vanished from the repertory and were thrilled to learn that Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble would present this thrilling opera in concert version.  Coming from Verdi's middle period, with a libretto by Salvatore Cammarano, adapted from a Schiller story, this is a true mid 19th c. potboiler with political intrigue, frustrated love, murder and suicide.  The more cool ironic contemporary opera we see, the more we crave passion and melodrama.  Luisa Miller has that in spades.

Poor Luisa is in love with "Carlos", not knowing that he is Rodolfo,the son of her father's enemy Count Walter.  The slimy and appropriately yclept Wurm has the hots for lovely Luisa and plots with Count Walter to destroy the romance by extorting a letter from her denying her love for Rodolfo.  The Count agrees because he wants his son to marry the Duchess Federica, a childhood friend.  The injured Rodolfo drinks poison and gives some to Luisa.  End of story.

But there is more going on here than meets the eye and ear.  Verdi wrote many operas dealing with the father-daughter relationship and it is notable that Miller only wants his daughter to be happy whereas Count Walter want to control and manipulate his son to fulfill his own wishes.  The concept of letting one's daughter choose her own spouse must have seemed revolutionary in Verdi's time.

The music is gorgeous and was well-played by Andrew Sun at the piano.  The roles were well cast and the singers all did a fine job, conducted by Christopher Fecteau, Artistic Director of the company, who decided to present this opera when blessed with a generous supply of singers able to do the job.  Tenor Michael Morrow invested Rodolfo's arias with a lot of color and had a lovely ardent sound. Baritone Jason Plourde made a sympathetic Miller. Renowned bass David Anchel (yes, Matthew's father) was striking and forceful as Count Walter.  Bass Hans Tashjian was chilling as the evil Wurm. We couldn't help thinking of Sparafucile.  As a matter of fact, we saw the perfect cast for Rigoletto up there onstage and hope that Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble will consider doing that next season--but not in Las Vegas!

On the female side, we enjoyed mezzo Kathryn Allyn in the low-lying role of Federica.  As far as the eponymous heroine, we got to enjoy three excellent sopranos, a different one in each act. Monica Niemi was perfect for Act I in which Luisa is a sweet innocent girl in love. The more powerful soprano Andrea Chinedu Nwoke has a larger richer voice and a mature sound that was perfect for the second act and Lauren Onsrud had the chops to handle the death scene in Act III.

We loved the Luisa-Rodolfo duet in Act I and also the duet between Rodolfo and Federica.  The act ended with a stunning quartet.  In Act II we thrilled to the father-son duet and the father-daughter duet in Act III.  The final trio was heartbreaking.  No one can break your heart like Verdi.

© meche kroop