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.

Thursday, August 29, 2013


From under the shelter of the Naumberg Bandshell (which we fought so hard to preserve from demolition some time ago) world-famous soprano Renée Fleming introduced seven dazzling young singers who kept the audience in their seats through an hour of rain and some competing cacophony from another recital taking place just behind at Summerstage.  There is no audience more dedicated than the New York opera fan!  The only disappointment of the evening was its brevity; just after the rain abated, the concert, in honor of the late Richard Tucker's 100th Birthday, was cut short without explanation. Everything we did get to hear was like a generous gift and it felt greedy to have wanted the rest of it.

With seven stars from the Tucker firmament, we could not choose the brightest. The Foundation sure knows how to pick 'em; each one had won an award from The Foundation within the past few years.  All of them are living up to their potential.  Accompaniment by Brian Zeger was just as wonderful as one might expect; he has a great instinct for letting the voice shine forth.

Glamor couple soprano Ailyn Pérez and tenor Stephen Costello led off with the love duet from Act I of Verdi's Rigoletto.  He was seductive and she was seduced, falling under the spell of his ringing tenor and bewitching us with her shy glances and clear bright voice.  They made it sound not only easy but spontaneous.

Wendy Bryn Harmer, fresh from the Seattle Ring, gave a soaring account of Carlisle Floyd's "Ain't it a Pretty Night" from Susannah.

Have we heard a better delivery of Mozart's "Dalla sua pace" from Don Giovanni?  We think not!  Tenor Paul Appleby's bright clear tenor and committed delivery were remarkable and San Diego is fortunate to have him playing Don Ottavio in the near future.  It is the perfect role for him.

Coloratura soprano Erin Morley let loose with some impressive singing in the challenging "Doll Song" from Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffman.  The devilish upward leaps were astonishingly accurate, even at the very top of the register. Moreover her fine acting garnered giggles from the audience, especially when Maestro Zeger "wound her up".

Bass-baritone Brandon Cedel delivered a fine "Vi ravisso" from Bellini's La Sonnambula.  His gorgeous legato phrasing and evenness throughout the register have surely secured him a place among the group fulfilling their promise.

Mezzo Jamie Barton tackled "Acerba voluttà" from Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur as if it were a piece of cake.   Her creamy lush voice and intense stage presence were a joy to behold.

Although we love Ms. Perez and Mr. Costello together with their marvelous chemistry and blending of voices, we were also delighted to hear each one in a solo.  Mr. Costello sang "Parmi veder le lagrime" also from Rigoletto and Ms. Perez ended the evening with a passionate rendition of "Ah, fors'e lui" and "Sempre libera" from Verdi's La Traviata.  She employed her thrilling voice and acting skills to demonstrate Violetta's ambivalence about succumbing to romance.  We were totally won over.

Three cheers for The Richard Tucker Music Foundation for supporting young singers with awards and performance opportunities and for enriching New York's cultural life to such a great extent.  The Foundation was set up in 1975 to honor the late Richard Tucker and his memory is being well-served. Contributions to The Foundation are possible on their website.

© meche kroop

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


Cullen Gandy and Abigail Santos--photo by Elizabeth Payne
A major highlight of our 10-day experience of Santa Fe Opera were the Apprentice Scenes Programs, given on two successive Sunday evenings.  These superb emerging artists were chosen with a great deal of care from a huge pool of applicants.  Only 43 singers were accepted into the Apprentice Program; each and every one demonstrated singing and acting skills beyond their years.  A lucky few will return soon in major roles, as baritone Zachary Nelson did to star in Nozze di Figaro.  But for this particular group, they got to appear onstage as choristers and in smaller parts, as noted in five prior reviews.  However, on these two incomparable Sunday evenings the Apprentices had the opportunity to appear in fully staged scenes.

The Act II sextet from Mozart's Don Giovanni opened the first evening.  Michael Shell's direction and Glenn Lewis' musical direction showed the 6 artists off to good advantage with André Courville singing Leporello with poise and confidence, Julia Ebner as Donna Elvira, David Blalock as Don Ottavio, Abigail Mitchell as Donna Anna, Hailey Clark as Zerlina and Matthew Scollin as Masetto.  The action kept moving and the voices blended magnificently.

Following were some delightfully entertaining scenes from Berlioz' Béatrice et Bénédict with the distinctive voice of Theo Lebow as Bénédict, Joshua Conyers as Claudio, Patrick Guetti as Don Pedro and Jared Bybee as Leonato.  Louisa Muller directed with panache, staging the scene on a golf course with costumes (Brianna Fristoe) reflecting the Jazz Age.

The next scene was from Donizetti's Don Pasquale with Benjamin Sieverding very convincing, in spite of his youth, as the eponymous hero.  Wig and Makeup Designer Amanda Clark deserves some credit for this.  Rachel Hall portrayed Norina,  Jonathan Winell was heard as Ernesto and Andrew Lovato as Dr. Malatesta.  There were laughs aplenty.

Ms. Mitchell was seen again as Manon in the following scene from Hans Werner Henze's Boulevard Solitude which involved some rather stratospheric writing which did nothing to take our affection away from Puccini's or Massenet's version of the same tale.  Ricardo Rivera was wonderfully slimy as Lescaut and the other roles were performed by Jonathan Blalock and Christian Sanders.

Bizet's Carmen was updated to the Roaring Twenties with Kelly Hill in the title role; Jenna Siladie and Kate Tombaugh delighted as Frasquita and Mercédès with Reuben L. Lillie and Jubal Joslyn as the very amusing Le Dancaire and Le Remendado.  It was an interesting concept and high in entertainment value.

We loved Jennifer Panara as the page Isolier in Rossini's Le Comte Ory with Jonathan Blalock as Le Comte.  Truth to tell, we enjoyed the scene more than the version we saw at The Metropolitan Opera.

An incomprehensible scene from Handel's Ariodante was beautifully sung by John Viscardi, Rachel Hall, Julia Ebner, Joshua Conyers and Sarah Mesko.

The evening ended with a smashing scene from Verdi's Falstaff.  Meg Page and Alice Ford were performed by Samantha Korbey and Shelley Jackson, while Mistress Quickly was sung by Katherine McGookey.  The young lovers Nannetta and Fenton were winningly performed by tiny Abigail Santos and tall Cullen Gandy who galumphed hysterically around the stage with a butterfly net.  Ricardo Rivera sang Ford and the two lowlifes Bardolfo and Pistola were sung by Christopher Sierra and Rocky Sellers.  The action was successfully staged in the 1950's and the "merry wives" were having a coffee klatch.  It was a marvelous scene with which to end a marvelous evening!

The program was so worthwhile that we postponed our departure long enough to catch the first half of the following Sunday's program.  The deeply disturbing opening scene from Strauss' Elektra was staged by Louisa Muller in a room full of sewing machines, with the gossiping maidservants portrayed by Sishel Claverie, Kelly Hill, Samantha Korbey, Abigail Santos and Rebecca Witty.  Lacy Sauter sang the role of the Overseer.  Dramatically and vocally riveting, it was!

Following was a most convincing scene from Britten's Billy Budd with John Viscardi showing vocal chops and total role committment as Captain Vere, Jared Bybee a very sympathetic Billy Budd who, losing his ability to speak under stress, attacks and kills the evil John Claggart, finely sung by Adam Lau.

We were thrilled to learn that the Bell Song from Delibes' Lakme would be on the program.  Lindsay Russell did not disappoint; she handled the elaborate vocal line with complete assurance.  Matthew Scollin was severe as her father Nilakantha and sang the role splendidly.

The last scene we were privileged to see was from Smetana's The Bartered Bride which we had heard sung only in Czech, which we preferred to this version in English.  In any event, it was finely done by Yoni Rose, Jennifer Panara, André Courville, Rocky Sellers, Jenna Siladie, Jared Bybee and Hailey Clark.

We were sadly obliged to slip out during intermission to catch our red-eye flight back to New York and truly regretted missing some of our favorite scenes from Johann Strauss' Die Fledermaus, Handel's Giulio Cesare, Douglas J. Cuomo's Doubt and Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri.  We are quite sure that they were all superb.  We left feeling sorry for audiences who did not get to see these wonderful young artists.  We hope to see many of them in the future in larger roles.

© meche kroop

Monday, August 26, 2013


Joyce DiDonato--photo by Ken Howard
Here you see the lovely mezzo Joyce DiDonato standing on the moors of Scotland with a painted backdrop of the sky.  Wait!  She's standing on the stage set of La Donna del Lago at the Santa Fe Opera and the SKY is REAL, seen through the proscenium.  Rossini sure had a thing for the mezzo voice and Ms. DiDonato made the most out of the master's gorgeous bel canto vocal lines. Her embellishments were as accurate as any we've heard and her trill gave us a thrill.

Here she portrays Elena in Andrea Leone Tottola's adaptation of Sir Walter Scott's poem "The Lady of the Lake"--given an Italian flavor of course.  Elena is the daughter of one Duglas d'Angus (performed by deeply resonant bass Wayne Tigges) who was once the tutor of Giacomo V--King James of Scotland; he has, at the time of the opera, joined the Highland Clan, opposed to James' rule.  He has plans for Elena to wed Rodrigo di Dhu, the fierce chief of this clan.  Elena has other ideas; she is in love with the more gentle Malcolm Groeme, portrayed by mezzo Marianna Pizzolato, who sings like an angel and looks nothing like a man.  The love duet between the two of them was one of the evening's highlights.

Fortunately, Rodrigo gets killed in an uprising and the only other rival for her hand is the king himself who, disguised as Umberto, has met her, accepted her hospitality and fallen in love with her also.  (And who wouldn't fall in love with the beautiful and charming Ms. DiDonato!)  It is the king's respect for Elena that finally heals the rift so that peace in Scotland is achieved.

Lawrence Brownlee sang the role of the king and René Barbera the role of the ill-fated Rodrigo.  Both tenors have beautiful voices for the most part but both fell into the "tenor trap" of pushing their top notes instead of floating them, lending a harsh sound to otherwise fine bel canto singing.

We enjoyed seeing several apprentices onstage in smaller roles.  Soprano Lacy Sauter made a fine Albina--an interesting variation on the customary situation in which a mezzo is the confidante of the star soprano.  David Blalock and Joshua Dennis portrayed servants.

Maestro Stephen Lord conducted with high spirits and Paul Curran directed with a sure hand, making sense out of a confusing plot.   Costumes by Kevin Knight were appropriate to time and place; his sets were spare and lit by Duane Schuler to emphasize the gloom.  The chorus sang beautifully under the director of Susanne Sheston.

We understand that this production will appear at the Metropolitan Opera in a couple years.  How wonderful that New Yorkers will get to enjoy one of Rossini's lesser known operas.  Just don't expect the sunset!

© meche kroop

Saturday, August 24, 2013


Lisette Oropesa, Zachary Nelson, Susanna Phillips, Daniel Okulitch--photo by Ken Howard
When the Santa Fe Opera gets it right the delight factor is a 9.9 on the Richter Scale.  Perfect casting and a fine production are responsible for the enormous success of Nozze di Figaro.  High art embellished with great entertainment values?  That's what opera should be but often isn't.  One can always tell when this magic occurs.  Members of the audience walk around with big grins during intermissions and on the way home.

In a fortuitous confluence of casting wisdom, the entire cast operated as an ensemble.  We felt as if we were visiting an aristocratic household in which the inhabitants had known each other for years and were familiar with each other's quirks.

One could not have asked for a better Figaro than fast-rising baritone Zachary Nelson who was an apprentice at SFO just last year!  His fine expressive voice is matched only by his spot-on acting choices.  "Se vuol ballare" never sounded so good; this is a lovable Figaro!  His Susana was an equally wonderful Lisette Oropesa whom we have enjoyed long before she graced the stage at The Metropolitan Opera.  Her silver soprano and the spunky character she created were a great match with her Figaro.  Her love for her husband showed through in her "Deh vieni non tardar".

Just as perfect was the pairing of lovely soprano Susanna Phillips as the neglected Countess whose "Porgi Amor" brought tears to our eyes, as did her "Dove sono".  Her Count was portrayed by the handsome Daniel Okulitch, his elegant and aristocratic appearance joining with his resonant bass-baritone to create an entitled aristocrat whom young women would not work too hard to fight off.  He excelled at demonstrating the Count's cluelessness.

Mezzo Emily Fons did a splendid job in the trouser role of Cherubino--looking amazingly like a hormonal youth and throwing herself into her "Non so piu" and "Voi che sapete" with excellent breathless phrasing that somehow managed not to lose its legato line.  Bass-baritone Dale Travis was effective as the pompous Dr. Bartolo who must go through even more changes than the Count during the course of the bridal day.  Mezzo Susanne Mentzer delighted as the snarky housekeeper Marcellina who also must make an attitudinal about-face.  Tenor Keith Jameson, who always turns in a fine performance, was true to form as the slimy Don Basilio.

Apprentice Rachel Hall was just as adorable as Barbarina should be and has a promising voice.  We hope to hear more of her.  As her bibulous father Antonio we heard apprentice Adam Lau who was so effectively made up that we didn't recognize him.  Apprentice Jonathan Winell sang the role of Don Curzio and apprentices Lindsay Russell and Samantha Korbey appeared as bridesmaids.  We just love seeing apprentices onstage!

John Nelson conducted Mozart's endlessly melodic music with appropriate elan.  Bruce Donnell directed with a sure hand.  Susanne Sheston ensured that the chorus sang beautifully.  Sets and Costumes by Paul Brown hit the mark consistently.  But whoever was responsible for Ms. Phillips' wig in Act III should be forced to wear it in public!  EWWW!

And one final quibble in a 99% wonderful production by Jonathan Kent--all that flower picking and replacing has GOT to GO.  All that stage business during the overture gives the impression that someone didn't trust the audience to enjoy Mozart's masterpiece without some eye candy.

© meche kroop


Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble's summer season has given us a very good look at the "glory that was Rome".  LOL!  Murder, abuse of power, treachery and seduction abound. But Mozart the Humanist, writing La Clemenza di Tito a century and a half after Monteverdi, ends his final opera with forgiveness.  In the photo above, at the glorious conclusion of this opera seria, the Emperor Titus, here called Tito, forgives Sesto and Vitellia who had plotted to assassinate him.

Mezzo Hilary Ginther impressed us with a lovely and unique quality to her voice and a dramatically valid portrayal of the weak-willed Sesto who was putty in the hands of Vitellia; the vengeful woman, feeling rejected as a marital partner by Tito, would do anything to destroy his happiness, although he is, by all evidence, a public spirited and generous ruler.  The role was sung by soprano Elana Gleason who used her stunning looks and equally stunning voice to good effect.  Tenor Timothy Stoddard brought his vocal gifts to the role of Tito and portrayed him as fair-minded and yet a ruler of authority.

Sesto's sister Servilia was beautifully sung by soprano Rachel Zatcoff and her lover, the self-sacrificing Annio, by mezzo Allison Waggener who demonstrated a fine legato in her phrasing.  Bass Brendan Stone was forceful as Publio.  Effective in the ensemble were Heather Gerban, Kristina Malinauskaite, Sanford Eliot Schimel and Charles Williamson.

Maestro Christopher Fecteau conducted the Dell'Arte Opera Festival Orchestra from the harpsichord, playing the Continuo.  They gave a tight performance; we cannot help but single out the clarinet playing of Samuel Marques whose tone on the basset horn was thrilling in the way that only a basset horn can thrill.  We do love those low notes!

As is the case with this company, production values focus on the singers with sets and costumes playing second banana.  Nina Bova dressed the singers in military costumes for the men and more or less contemporary dress for the women. Stage Director Walker Lewis moved the performers around in a meaningful motivated way and provided some interesting "stage business".  For example,  Vitellia's flights of fioritura were accompanied by Sesto nibbling on her neck.  Hot!

We especially enjoyed a duet between Annio and Servilio and the final gorgeous ensemble when all is forgiven.  We confess that we have never loved this opera on the big stage, but here, in the mid-size 13th St. Theatre, the work came across as an intimate drama between members of the court; we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, and you can as well because there is one more performance tonight.

© meche kroop

Thursday, August 22, 2013


David Daniels, Composer Theodore Morrison, Heidi Stober and Director Kevin Newbury--photo by Ken Howard
Much of contemporary opera comes across as theater with music and Theodore Morrison's fine new opera Oscar, premiered at Santa Fe Opera, is just that.  The text has been adapted by John Cox from quotations by Oscar Wilde himself and by his contemporaries.  It is a sad story of persecution of homosexuals by the British justice system.  The story telling makes it clear that Mr. Wilde contributed to his own downfall by letting his love for "Bosie" (Lord Alfred Douglas) cloud his judgement.  His pretty young lover had a big grudge against his father The Marquess of Queensberry and used Wilde badly by pushing him to sue his father for libel.  This resulted in Wilde's conviction for committing "acts of gross indecency" resulting in a two year sentence to hard labor and solitary confinement.  By the end of the opera, our hero has become a broken man but enlarged in spirit such that he is admitted by Walt Whitman into the hall of literary immortals.

Director Kevin Newbury did a fine job of limning the story.  Conductor Evan Rogister conducted briskly.  The music is powerful and is in many places closely allied with the words but not always; at times it seemed as if Morrison were trying for an ironic effect.  There are some arresting uses of winds, percussion and harp.

The set by David Korins with lighting design by Rick Fisher created some vivid images suitable to the story.  The very Victorian Redding Gaol where Wilde was imprisoned was frighteningly convincing.  Costumes by David C. Woolard were appropriately Victorian.

Famous countertenor David Daniels was convincing as the eponymous hero; indeed it appears that the role was written for him.  There are vocal melismatics reminiscent of Handel.  There is a wonderful warm scene in Wilde's friend Ada Leverson's nursery which she has offered to him when he has been denied lodging all over London.  Soprano Heidi Stober portrays this character beautifully and their singing about Wilde's preference for absinthe is delightful.  In this scene they are joined by Wilde's other friend Frank Harris, sung by the always excellent William Burden.

Another wonderful scene--this one upsetting, not delightful--occurs in the prison the night before a man will be hung and the inmates are mad with anxiety; this was a case in which the music reinforced the text.  As awful as the prison was, Wilde did enjoy a modest period of kindness from a kindly warder named Thomas Martin, sympathetically portrayed by fast-rising baritone Ricardo Rivera, also seen as an unpleasant hotel manager who refuses Wilde lodging. 

The scene in which Wilde's show trial is staged as a farce with nursery toys re-enacting the proceedings is a directorial marvel.  The very funny bass Kevin Burdette portrayed Mr. Justice Sir Alfred Wills and the Jury Foreman was portrayed by Reuben Lillie.  Mr. Burdette was also seen as the vicious Colonel Isaacson who ran Reading Gaol with an iron fist.

The prologue and epilogue featured a fine Dwayne Croft as the American poet Walt Whitman who befriended Wilde.

Several apprentices appeared in smaller roles--Patrick Guetti as a pompous butler, Yoni Rose as a bailiff, Aaron Pegram and Benjamin Sieverding as detectives and prison warders--the latter joined by David Blalock as patients in the infirmary.

Having the role of "Bosie" taken by a dancer instead of a singer was an interesting decision and Reed Luplau was a fine casting choice.  Choreography was by Sean Curran.  So, instead of some love duets between Wilde and Bosie, we got to watch some fine ballet because Bosie's image appeared regularly to Wilde.  Although Bosie managed to forget Wilde and leave the country, Wilde remained deeply affected by his love for Bosie.

This was a worthy entry into the world of contemporary opera and we were glad for the opportunity to attend its premiere.

© meche kroop

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


Anna Farysej and Nacole Palmer--photo by Brian Long
Perhaps the mayhem and immorality under the Roman Emperor Nero resonates with our current political climate.  Indeed we have seen three versions of Monteverdi's 1643 masterpiece L'incoronazione di Poppea in the past year.  On the other hand, its recent popularity may be due only to the beauty and expressivity of the music.

Last night at the intimate 13th Street Theatre, Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble presented their version as part of their Tenth Anniversary Season, and a fine version it was!  The cast we saw only performed that singular night; we felt privileged to be in the sold-out house to hear some amazing young voices advancing in their careers, helped along by the intense instruction and guidance of Dell'Arte Ensemble.  Artistic Director Maestro Christopher Fecteau has a knack for selecting promising young performers and guiding them into the next stage of their careers.

Witness the plenitude of bright shining sopranos who mastered the art of baroque singing without compromising their acting skills.  As Poppea, Anna Farysej created a character who was more ambitious than evil; she lured Nero (an excellent Nacole Palmer) with abundant wiles and overt sexuality to abandon his "infertile and frigid" wife Ottavia, portrayed by strong mezzo Heather Antonissen, so that she Poppea could become Empress.  Ottavia gets to sing a heartbreaking lament to which any 21st c. discarded wife could relate.  To paraphrase, "We give birth to men who then torment and abuse us."

In opposition we had the rejected lover Ottone, played by counter-tenor Jeffrey Mandelbaum (who is at a more advanced stage of his career, having graced the stage of The Metropolitan Opera); Ottone was solicited by Ottavia to murder Poppea.  To this end he has enlisted the assistance of the kooky and pliant Drusilla, performed by the adorable Noelle McMurtry who lends him her clothes as a disguise.

The ending is not exactly tragic.  Drusilla and Ottone fall all over themselves trying to take the blame for the failed murder attempt to protect the other but Nerone does not slaughter them; in an act of clemency he sends them into exile along with his discarded wife.  That Poppea and Nerone are portrayed more favorably than in history books tells us something about the 17th c. audience.  Indeed Amore herself (an effective Briana Sakamoto) ensures that they have a happy ending, singing a gorgeous duet to close the opera; Amore himself, the blind child-god, has triumphed over the bickering Fortuna (a funny Amaranta Viera) and Virtu (the very young and talented Sarah Ann Duffy) who each claimed primacy over the other in controlling human history.  But no, in the end, it's all about LOVE.  Using the three gods as a framing device drives the point home.

The only tragedy in this opera is the death of Seneca, Ottavia's tutor, ordered by Poppea to eliminate a roadblock in her path.  This is also an artistic tragedy because it takes place in Act II and we wanted to hear more of bass Hans Tashjian who beguiled us with his superb singing and strong stage presence.

In an unusual casting move, mezzo Melissa Kelly, a fine singer and actress, portrayed both Arnalta (Poppea's nurse) and Nutrice (Ottavia's nurse).  Her funny bit came when she sang about her elevation of status as the nurse of the new Empress.  In smaller roles, we heard Ray Calderon, Nicholas Connolly, Edwin Vega and Nathan Letourneau.  All sang well.

The backbone of this excellent production was Monteverdi's gorgeous music, played by The Sebastians, a baroque ensemble led by harpsichordist Jeff Grossman.  The captivating theorbos and lutes were played by John Lenti and Charles Weaver while the heavenly harpist was Christa Patton.  Rounding out the ensemble were violinists Daniel S. Lee and Dongmyung Ahn with Ezra Seltzer playing the cello.

Stage Director Victoria Crutchfield and Costume Designer Nina Bova, obviously working with a very small budget, managed to create the illusion of more.  This placed the emphasis on the singers and the music which was a good thing.  We applaud Dell'Arte Ensemble not only for nurturing young singers but also for putting great art onstage with modest ticket prices, allowing New Yorkers unfamiliar with opera to dip their collective toes in the operatic waters and giving New Yorkers who are familiar with opera the opportunity to see operas that have gone unproduced at the Met.  There are a couple more performances of "L'incoronazione di Poppea" and one couldn't spend a better evening.

© meche kroop

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


Brenda Rae as Violetta: photo by Ken Howard
The valiant courtesan Violetta was sung by the valiant soprano Brenda Rae whose gorgeous singing compensated for the abominable production of La Traviata directed by Laurent Pelly.  We were moved to find our notes from four years ago to see if memory served us correctly.  We had heard that some of the directorial excesses had been corrected.  True, some of the antics of Act I with Natalie Desssay cartwheeling over the cement blocks onstage did not happen but that was not enough to make this production at all palatable.  Mr. Pelly's "concept" was and still is way off the mark.

Violetta must have the nobility of character written into the libretto of Francesco Maria Piave and the music of Giuseppe Verdi.  She is a courtesan, something akin to a "kept woman".  She was never meant to be a cheap whore.  She led a life devoted to pleasure--champagne, dancing, gracing the arm of a nobleman.  Portraying her circle as debauched is just plain wrong.

The set design by Chantal Thomas is ugly and uncomfortable for the singers who must jump from concrete boulder to concrete boulder in Act I.  Their behavior was lewd in a very modern way with gratuitous and public sex acts that belied the original story. A wag of my acquaintance thought the partygoers were dancing on their tombstones.  Tongue in cheek?  Maybe.  Maybe not.

And why would Germont père and Germont fils, having traveled a ways to reconcile on Violetta's deathbed, abandon her as she dies?  Nothing about this production rang true; nothing was believable.  Such excesses were so alienating that it was difficult to focus on the gorgeous music, conducted by Leo Hussain.

Brenda Rae's soprano is luscious and her pianissimo singing is outstanding;  we believe she did her best with what the director wanted of her.  Michael Fabiano as Alfredo got lost in the hubbub of Act I and did not project much chemistry with Violetta.  It could not be believed that he was "crushing" on her for a year and finally met her.  His voice picked up some steam in Act II but the damage was done.  Jennifer Panara was excellent as Flora.  Jonathan Michie made a fine presence as Violetta's unloving lover Baron Douphol.  Roland Wood as Germont père sounded best in his duet with Violetta in Act II.  But if he underwent much character change by Act IV, it was difficult to tell.  Keith Jameson always turns in a fine performance and did so here as Gastone.  Apprentice André Courville did well as the Marquis d'Obigny.

Mr. Pelly's costumes looked like contemporary high fashion in Act I; I understood that the openings were designed to facilitate sex acts but this is not something we believe happened in that epoch except behind closed doors--not at parties.   This was not an atmosphere from which a well-born young man would choose a woman with whom to fall hopelessly in love.

Although no one was credited with wig and makeup design, we found both atrocious.  Brenda Rae is a beautiful woman and she was horribly bewigged, even in Act I when Violetta is meant to be at the top of her form.  We understand that a dying woman might look truly awful in Act IV but there's awful and there's AWFUL.

We do acknowledge that there are people who enjoyed the production but we are not of that ilk.  We hope this production will be retired and a more genuine and believable production of this (our favorite opera!) be mounted in the future.

© meche kroop


Susan Graham and Paul Appleby (photo by Ken Howard)
When the divine Susan Graham is onstage with the equally divine Paul Appleby, comedic chemistry takes over.  Last year we might have called Mr. Appleby "up and coming" but by now he is well-established for his warm inviting tone and dramatic excellence.  But who knew he had comedic chops?

Offenbach's La Grande Duchesse de Gerolstein is a trifle, a cream puff filled with air that could collapse if it were roughly handled.  Not so here!  The work was affectionately and gently handled by Director Lee Blakely.  There is nothing here to sink your teeth into but there is plenty to get the corners of your mouth to turn up.  We dare you to try to wipe the grin off your face.

The story concerns one very domineering Duchess who refuses her suitor, the pink-suited Prince Paul -- hilariously portrayed by the versatile baritone Jonathan Michie (who apprenticed at SFO for two years)-- in favor of Fritz, a very clumsy private in the army whom she elevates to general.  One can imagine the irate reaction of General Boum, hilariously portrayed by bass Kevin Burdette who has a real flair for Offenbach (seen in that composer's  La Périchole at New York City Opera) who gets successively demoted as Fritz gets promoted.  Mr. Appleby has major fun portraying Fritz who is transformed from a bumbling private into a confident general. 

His sweetheart was beautifully sung by lovely soprano Anya Matanovič. The Baron Puck was performed by a funny Aaron Pegram, a character tenor of great talent.  We were further delighted to see several apprentices onstage, doing justice to their roles as Baron Grog (Jared Bybee), a notary (Dan Kempson), an aide-de-camp (Theo Lebow) and bridesmaids (Shelley Jackson, Julia Ebner, Sarah Mesko and Sishel Claverie).

The wild onstage antics and sight gags are so effective that it is easy to lose sight of the glorious singing onstage but mezzo Ms. Graham never disappoints and throws herself into the outrageous role with delicious abandon.  We loved the chorus lineup of soldiers collapsing like dominoes and we loved the sound they produced (thanks to Chorus Master Susanne Sheston).  We laughed ourselves silly over Fritz' going into battle on a wooden pyramid masquerading as a horse.  We loved the seduction scene between clueless Fritz and the predatory Duchess.  Other scenes that captured our fancy include the group of women reading letters from their soldier sweethearts and Fritz describing his triumph over the enemy by getting them drunk. 

The frothy melodies kept the orchestra on their collective toes, conducted in true Gallic style by Maestro Emmanuel Villaume.  Scenic design by Adrian Linford was effective, as was lighting by Rick Fisher.  Dazzling period costumes and resplendent officer's uniforms were by Jo van Schuppen. We would be remiss not to mention the no-holds-barred choreography by Peggy Hickey; it seemed to us the dancers had as much fun as the singers, dancing the can-can with wild abandon.  Oh how the audience of 1867 must have loved that!  But the audience of 2013 loved it no less.

Dialogue by Mr. Blakeley was spoken in English; songs were sung in French.  Diction was excellent on all accounts.  Our only tiny quibble was setting the piece in a military academy when it is clearly an army outpost.  To have a Duchess, you would have had to have a European army.  We do not think that this "adjustment" made the piece any more relevant to a contemporary audience.

© meche kroop

Saturday, August 17, 2013


A supremely talented group of eight apprentices from the Santa Fe Opera presented a parade of popular arias as a summer community concert at First Presbyterian Church. The 43 apprentices were chosen from 450 applicants and one can only conclude that the young singers who made the cut were chosen for their vocal artistry combined with dramatic skills and an ability to communicate with the audience. Heard at the opera house in small roles and in the chorus, these artists are also given a chance to shine at various events, chief among which are the two Sunday Apprentice Recitals. But this afternoon's recital was a special treat, allowing the listener to get up close and personal. The parade of performances was led by soprano Lacy Sauter who sang Mozart's "Alleluia" in a pure bright soprano with excellent mastery of the fioritura. Her upper register manifested a large open feeling and the "B" section an effective change of color and mood. Tenor Jonathan Blalock followed with the serenade "Ecco ridente in cielo" from Rossini's Barber of Seville. His pleasing voice was augmented by a lot of heart and soul which is a basic minimum requirement if you want a lady to descend from her balcony! Mezzo Sarah Mesko sang "Oh, dischiuso e il firmamento!" from Verdi's Nabucco with a rich chocolatey sound. Mezzo Samantha Korbey has a big ringing sound and gave an excellent performance of "Sein wir wieder gut" from Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos, marred only slightly by some very aggressive piano playing by accompanist Kirt Pavitt. Since he supported the singers well in every other case, one can only assume that he was carried away by Strauss' luscious music. Soprano Hailey Clark invested "Che il bel sogno di Doretta" from Puccini's La Rondine with a great deal of charm and employed her big ringing upper register to fine effect. Bringing down the house (the church, actually) was Ricardo Rivera's swaggering Escamillo from Bizet's Carmen. His sizable baritone was used with confidence and authority; his manner was hypnotic and it was easy to understand how he lured Carmen away from Don Jose. Tenor Yoni Rose has a lovely color to his voice and sang "Che gelida manina" from Puccini's La Boheme with fine legato phrasing, closing with a distinctive diminuendo. We particularly enjoyed the duet "Belle nuit, o nuit d'amour" from Offenbach's Tales of Hoffman, sung by Hailey Clark and Sarah Mesko; the voices blended beautifully. Similarly, the quartet from Act III of Verdi's Rigoletto was stirringly sung by Ms. Korbey, Ms. Sauter, Mr. Rose and Mr. Rivera. Flutist Daniel James provided an instrumental interlude with the gently melodic "Pastorale" by Germaine Tailleferre. The program ended with baritone Jared Bybee singing The Lord's Prayer with deeply felt sentiment and gorgeous phrasing. AND--"America" sung by the entire ensemble. One could not have imagined a more fulfilling recital! Bravi tutti!

Friday, August 16, 2013


The worthy Santa Fe Concert Association continued it's Festival of Song Wednesday with a galvanizing recital by tenor Michael Fabiano. Mr.Fabiano wisely chose a mixed program of art songs and operatic arias which he delivered with passiionate intensity, to the delight of the audience at the Scottish Rite Temple. Mr. Fabiano has a generous Italianate sound and seems to connect deeply with his material without courting the audience. He opened with "Questa o quella" from Verdi's Rigoletto which fully conveyed the Duke's arrogance and licentiousness. Following, he sang two songs by Henri Duparc; "La Vie Anterieure" opened with dellicacy but soon became intense. Joseph Illick on the piano had a chance to shine here and, in "Phidyle", the tenor manifested a gorgeous messa di voce. Two songs by Richard Strauss followed and Mr. Fabiano's performance of "Zueignung" was markedly different from that of Mr. Appleby's last Sunday. In Caecilie, the singer seemed to be suffering deeply from his passion. Puccini's "Mentia l'avviso" followed and then two passionate songs by Tosti. In "L'ultima canzone" (more suffering) our tenor showed a facility at the bottom of his register. A wonderful aria from Verdi's Il Corsaro was followed by a strong cabaletta, following which the tenor portrayed the haunted hero of Puccini's Le Villi in "Torna ai felici di". The audience demanded two encores and Mr. F. performed Federico's Lament from Cilea's L'Arlesiana followed by "Nessun Dorma" from Puccini's Turandot. It was a stunning recital and the only thing missing was something light-hearted.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


Helmed by Artistic Director Joseph Illick, the Santa Fe Concert Association has taken advantage of Paul Appleby's presence in Santa Fe and presented him in an incomparable recital last Sunday. For his theme, Mr. Appleby chose "Serenades". One thinks of a serenade as a song designed to get the listener to join the serenader. Mr. Appleby did exactly that. His friendly unassuming manner invariably invites the members of the audience to join him on his journey. We loved the way he introduced each serenade; this was of great benefit to those in the audience who may have been less familiar with the songs than we are. His sweet ringing tenor was put to fine use in the opening song, Schubert's Standchen" from his cycle Schwanengesang. Accompanied by Mr. Illick himself, the tempo was taken rather slowly and this tender but passionate verse by Ludwig Rellstab took on a new darker meaning with the artists' emphasis on the major/minor shifts. On the other hand, Brahm's sunny "Standchen" was performed with lighthearted humor. Hugo Wolf's "Das Standchen" was the only one of the group that was retrospective; an elderly man observes with nostalgia a young man serenading his beloved. Strauss' more familiar serenade was filled with the anticipation of a joyful reunion. All four of these serenades were performed with a deep connection to the material, a responsiveness to the audience and a delightful intimacy that worked well with the small-sized hall at the Scottish Rite Center. Mr. Appleby's German was impeccable. His French was equally fine in the delicate "Serenade Florentine" by Henri Duparc--a song in an entirely different mood that Mr. Appleby conveyed beautifully with a complete change of color. Carlo Pedrotti's "Serenata" was of a different ilk, seductive as only Italian can be. Mascagni's "Serenata", on the other hand, was performed with a sense of mystery. There was nothing mysterious about Tchaikovsky's "Don Juan's Serenade". Here the singer must deliver Tolstoy's intense verses with true Russian passion. The poet is more demanding than seductive and ready to die in a duel for his love object. Mr. Appleby handled every one of these diverse moods with consummate artistry. The major work of the recital and perhaps the inspiration for it as well was Britten's "Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings" the score of which Mr. Illick himself reduced for string quintet and horn. This cycle comprises a setting of a collection of poems by various British poets. There was a great deal going on within the instrumentalists which tended to distract from the singing. We were particularly taken with an opening horn call played on a "natural horn", the valveless ancestor of the modern French Horn, which displays a bright and distinctive sound. Played by Gabriella Finck, the stirring horn call was happily heard at the close of the piece--this time from up in the balcony. There was considerable pizzicato playing, not only in the strings but also on the horn. As an encore, Mr. Appleby sang an aubade--a song sung at dawn. The hero of Lalo's opera Le Roi d'Ys is making a full-throated address to his beloved in anticipation of their wedding. It was a fine conclusion to a stellar recital. We have observed Mr. A's growth as an artist over the past few years and have never heard him give a performance that was shy of excellence. We are looking forward to seeing him onstage at the Santa Fe Opera as he performs the role of Fritz in Offenbach's La Grande Duchesse de Gerolstein. This recital is only the first program in SFCA's Festival of Song. Lest we leave you thinking that is all that SFCA does, let it be known that this worthy organization brings all kinds of notable musicians to Santa Fe, not to mention ballet and lectures. Moreover, they have established programs to bring art education to schools in the area and provide scholarships. The "City Different" is fortunate to have such an institution. Stay tuned for more reviews!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


The cast of "Arias to Die For"
Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble is celebrating its tenth anniversary season with two operas opening this week (more on that later) and also by honoring the talents of some promising young singers who were cast in smaller roles or as covers in the upcoming productions of Mozart's La clemenza di Tito and Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea.  What an abundance of talent we heard at last night's "Arias to Die For" at the intimate 13th St. Theatre.

The program was well chosen to highlight each performer and comprised some favorite well-known arias as well as some that are not often heard.  Many of the choices were highly ambitious.  Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble is well known for choosing promising young singers and nurturing their talent with seminars, coaching and master classes--then giving them the opportunity to perform a new role for a grateful public which appreciates the modest ticket prices and enjoys the opportunity of discovering a new voice.

Take for example the lovely rich mezzo of Milica Nikcevic who sang "Mura felici" from Rossini's La Donna del Lago and "Acerba voluttà" from Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur.  This is a sizable voice that, with appropriate training, could offer the same thrills as that of Stephanie Blythe or Marilyn Horne.  As another example, take Edwin Vega whose sweet Italianate tenor was put to good use in the Italian Singer's aria from Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier.  We were delighted to be introduced to their special talents and hope to hear more of them.

The evening featured a number of light-voiced sopranos whose focused tone made them a pleasure to hear.  We particularly enjoyed Samarie Alicea-Feulien's "Caro Nome" from Verdi's Rigoletto; her voice and personal charm made that aria a perfect choice.  Anna Farysej's bright soprano was attractive in Mozart's "Padre, germani" from Idomeneo, as was Kathleen Jasinskas'in "Non si da follia maggiore" from Rossini's Il Turca in Italia.  Embellishments were well-negotiated and connection with the audience was evident.

Mezzo Heather Gerban had a lovely vibrato in "Che farò senza Euridice" from Gluck's Orpheo ed Euridice while mezzo Allison Waggener tackled "Smanie implacabili" from Mozart's Cosi fan Tutte.  Mezzo Heather Antonissen was convincing in "Se Romeo, t'uccise un figlio" from Bellini's I Capuleti ed i Montecchi.  Soprano Kristina Malinauskaite sang "Regnava nel silenzio" from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor and a Tosti song "Sogno".

The male singers were equally interesting.  Tenor Charles Williamson sang "Deh miei bollenti spiriti" from Verdi's La Traviata with some lovely phrasing and a Donaudy song "Amorosi miei giorni".  Tenor Caleb Stokes focused on Puccini with "Ch'ella mi creda" from La Fanciulla del West as well as the despairing "Hai ben ragione" from Il Tabarro. Baritone Nicholas Connolly sang Silvio's aria from Leoncavallo's Pagliacci.  Bass-baritone Sanford Schimel certainly had the acting chops for "Il lacerato spirito" from Verdi's Simon Boccanegra; he ended on an impressive low note.  Tenor Nathan Létourneau got a nice hand for his performance of "Una furtiva lagrima" from Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore.

Maestri Christopher Fecteau and John Spencer IV did some fine accompanying on the piano.  May we add that each singer introduced his/her aria with a concise summary of the aria and its place in the opera.  This is welcome news for opera newbies which Dell'Arte does so well at bringing into the opera fold, and for those whose Italian is sub-par.  The entire evening had the flavor of a salon for friends, fans and family.  If your interest has been titillated, be sure to take a look at www.dellarteopera.org for performance dates.  You won't be disappointed!

© meche kroop