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.

Saturday, September 28, 2013


Miles Mykkanen, Djordje Nesic, Markus Beam, Inna Dukach, Jennifer Rivera
Opera America is celebrating its one-year anniversary in high style.  A welcome addition to the New York music universe, Opera America makes its home on Seventh Ave on the seventh floor.  Lucky sevens!  Their state of the art facility is designed to support artists and to serve the community, witness this Sunday's "Neighborhood Opera Day", an open house packed with events from 11AM until 6PM.  The facilities provide for singers and accompanists with rehearsal studios, an acoustically first-rate performance hall, seminars, coaching, auditions and opportunities for networking.

It was in this performance hall that we enjoyed a diverse program of song last night, performed by four gifted singers and one collaborative pianist Djordje Nesic who served them all well.  Versatile tenor Miles Mykkanen always makes a stunning program opener and last night was no exception.  He's a great opener because he gets the audience's rapt attention with his intense commitment to the material and a slightly quirky sense of humor.  He chose John Musto's "It's just as I imagined" in which Mark Campbell's lyrics tell us exactly why it is so wonderful to be in New York where "You simply can't be stranger than anyone else".  That really nailed it!  Later in the program he sang "Something's coming" from Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story and captured every ounce of excitement, with a magnificent crescendo at the end.

Bringing down the house with her smashing voice and original embellishments, mezzo Jennifer Rivera put as much of herself into "Una voce poco fa" (from Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia) as she must have done when she made her debut as Rosina at the Berlin Staatsoper.  We have missed this New York City Opera star while she was wowing Europe and were thrilled to have the opportunity to hear her again.  On a gentler note, she performed "Oh...It's joy, isn't it?" from Robert Aldridge's Elmer Gantry; her sincerity reflected the song's spirituality.

Baritone Markus Beam has a nice round sound with a pleasing vibrato; he ranged from solemn in "O du mein holder Abendstern" from Wagner's Tannhäuser to joyful in Gilbert and Sullivan's "I am the Pirate King" from The Pirates of Penzance.  No one has ever done as much for English opera as G&S and Mr. Beam did justice to this very ironic song.

Soprano Inna Dukach has an exciting and penetrating sound; she scored with "Depuis le jour" from Charpentier's Louise.  She abandoned herself to the joy of Charpentier's lyrics but kept in full control of a stunning messa di voce.  On a livelier note she performed the "Czardas" from Die Fledermaus.

The evening comprised more than solos; Mr. Mykkanen and Mr. Beam performed "Au fond du temple saint" from Bizet's Les Pêcheurs de Perles, of which we never tire.  When they sang "Elle est fuit" Mr. B. conveyed the feeling of loss while Mr. M. seemed to hold out some hope.  It was an interesting contrast.

"Soave sia il vento" from Mozart's Così fan Tutte gave soprano, mezzo and baritone an opportunity to blend their voices in stunning harmony; collaborative pianist Djordje Nesic got an opportunity to create all kinds of interesting ripples in the piano.  The ensemble of four closed the program with the "Brindisi" from Verdi's La Traviata, setting up the audience for the glasses of bubbly waiting for them in the foyer.  But not before an encore of "New York, New York" by Kander and Ebb.

We look forward to more thrilling evenings of song at Opera America.  This is what makes New York New York!

© meche kroop

Thursday, September 26, 2013


Tracy Cox
Maureen Zoltek

Opera America did well to inaugurate their Emerging Artist Recital Series in collaboration with the Music Academy of the West's 2012 Song Competition Winners.  Marilyn Horne herself was present to introduce the two lovely ladies who performed a recital worth boasting about.

Accompanied with consummate artistry and sensitivity by collaborative pianist Maureen Zoltek, dramatic soprano Tracy Cox let loose with a huge creamy voice, eminently suited to the Verdi and Strauss that she performed side by side in the first half of the program.  Ms. Cox broke the "one set, one composer" mold and inventively paired a song by Verdi with one by Strauss, counting on a unity of theme to bind them together.  Verdi's "In solitaria stanza" was paired with Strauss' "Die Nacht", one of our personal favorites.  "Stornello", one of our favorite Verdi songs was performed with convincing humor and paired with Strauss' "Die Verschwiegenen".  "Il Tramonto" by Verdi was well-matched with Strauss' "Heimkehr".  Strauss' charming "Muttertanderlei" stood in opposition to Verdi's  tragic "La Seduzione".  Two "drinking songs" closed the first half of the program--Strauss' romantic "Heimliche aufforderung" and Verdi's "Brindisi" in which the wine itself is the love object.

The second half of the program included Mark Carlson's setting of four sonnets by Pablo Neruda, of which our favorites were "Cuando yo muera" and "Reposa con tu sueño".  The very dramatic "La Dame de Monte Carlo", Poulenc's setting of Jean Cocteau's text, gave Ms. Cox the opportunity to demonstrate her acting chops which are significant.  The closing work was fun; Gabriel Kahane's setting of some very amusing Craigslist ads; one was of a very neurotic man seeking female companionship and the other was of a person seeking a roommate and offering a very cheap rent if only the roommate would tolerate his rather peculiar affliction.  Ms. Cox made the most of these songs to the delight of the audience.

Ms. Cox has a stage presence as commanding as her voice.  She knows just when to widen her eyes or wrinkle her nose and yet nothing is studied or artificial; it all seems to come out of her connection with the material.  Her connection with the audience is equally impressive.  Her huge voice just fills up the room, making all the molecules of oxygen vibrate.  There is a thrill in the listening and we hear Wagner in her future.  Could this be the Wagnerian we are all waiting for?

© meche kroop

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Robert Brubaker and Sarah Joy Miller (photo by Stephanie Berger)
We had a grand time at Anna Nicole, what we hope will NOT be New York City Opera's swan song at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.  Yes, it is vulgar, offensive, filthy and trashy but it is also vastly entertaining, something we cannot say for most contemporary opera.  Pursuing the line of thought from our review of The Heirs of Tantalus, every culture has its mythology.  In present day USA, our mythology has lots to do with celebrity--people who are famous for being famous.  We wonder what motivates them to make the worst possible self-destructive decisions; we watch them as we watch aerialists on the high wire, just waiting for them to fall.  These celebrities seem to carry the weight of our own secret wishes for fame and fortune; if our lives are boring we can focus on the continual excitement we believe they experience.

So, the story of Anna Nicole Smith's rise and fall is compelling.  It is a tribute to the impressive gifts of Sarah Joy Miller whose breakout performance as the eponymous heroine leaves us feeling sympathy rather than contempt for this misguided creature.  Likewise, the performance of Robert Brubaker left us feeling nothing but compassion for J. Howard Marshall II, the very wealthy and very elderly man Anna Nicole married.

Act I chronicles her escape from a small backwater town and a trailer-trash family to the bright lights of Houston (!) where a dead end job and a dead end marriage leave her wanting more.  There is a wonderful scene in a gaudy Gentlemen's Club where the audience learns the difference between strippers and lap dancers from a quartet of lovely ladies of the latter persuasion.  A trio of pole-dancers perform in the background.  The language is, well, salty, as befits the environment.  The goal of these gals is to snag a wealthy guy and, after purchasing a pair of huge breasts  from Doctor Yes (Richard Troxell) Anna succeeds.  A quartet of women in the office bemoaning their underendowment is a highlight.  Another highlight was our heroine prancing on a red carpet and singing about her Jimmy Choo's.

The huge mammaries are said to have caused dreadful back pain requiring abundant medication to which Anna gets addicted.  Her charmed life with her generous new husband ends when he dies and life is downhill from there.  During an instrumental interlude, ten years pass and Anna gets fat and falls under the spell of her attorney/friend/lover Stern (Rod Gilfry).  She fails to get any funds from the Marshall family and becomes a bad joke.  The laughter heard constantly from the audience during Act I fades away as we see Anna paying the price for trying to live out her dream, now a nightmare.

Her mother Virgie was played by Susan Bickley and her abusive father by James Barbour.  Aunt Kay was played by Mary Testa and John Easterlin was fine as Larry King.  There was not a single performance that fell short of superb.  The chorus, led by Chorus master Bruce Stasyna, was excellent.  Set design by Miriam Buether and Costume design by Nicky Gillibrand were equally clever and brimming with fabulousness.  Direction by Richard Gerard Jones kept everything moving in the spirit of the piece.  Aletta Collins' choreography added to the mix.

But this is opera and we find ourselves delaying a discussion of the music.  We found Mark-Anthony Turnage's music to be accessible but insufficiently tuneful, as is generally the case in contemporary opera.  There was so much happening dramatically that it was easy to ignore the music with the exception of the orchestral interlude during which we enjoyed the conducting of Steven Sloane.  The libretto by Richard Thomas got some points for rhyming but lost some by not scanning well.  There were some wonderful moments when the phrasing and the music worked together to fine effect but there were other moments when the music and lyrics failed to support one another, giving the impression of having been translated from another language with phrasing that undercut the rhyme scheme.

Nonetheless, we were royally entertained by the excellent production values and are happy to call Anna Nicole a "musical entertainment".

© meche kroop


Ms. Worsham, Mr. Brancy, Mr. Greenhalgh, Mr. Bielfield, Ms. Winters, and Mr. Bliss
The fall music season has gotten off to a dazzling start this past week with a major boost from Steven Blier whose New York Festival of Song always gives us something to celebrate.  Performing at Henry's, the consummately hospitable Upper West Side institution known for yummy food and professional service, Maestro Blier brought his crew of wildly talented young singers to entertain the overflowing crowd with a selection of songs suited to the season.

Mr. Blier wears many hats and wears all of the them well, with a jauntiness that makes everyone feel good and fall instantly in love with him.  He hosts the event, narrates with charming anecdotes, arranges the music and performs at the piano; but, most importantly perhaps, he seeks out just the right singers to suit his upbeat style.

The evening began with a big bonus--the inimitable Miles Mykkanen performing "Sing for your Supper" from The Boys from Syracuse by Rogers and Hart.  His charming persona was the perfect start for the evening and "Sing for your Supper" will now be he title for all the NYFOS evenings at Henry's.

Leading off the programmed part of the evening was tenor Kyle Bielfield whose seductive voice made "Dream with Me"...well...dreamy!  This lovely romantic song was composed by Leonard Bernstein with lyrics by Comden and Green.  (You will hear more from us in the near future about Mr. B's newly-released CD with Lachlan Glen which is already topping the charts.)  Mr. Bielfield was joined by barihunk (OH, NO, we didn't just say that!) Tobias Greenhalgh for the spirited "Rumba Blanca" by Armando Oréfiche.  The always wonderful baritone John Brancy, newly back in NY after some major successes abroad, sang Marc Blitzstein's "Stay in My Arms" and was just as wonderfully listenable later in the program in Cole Porter's "Night and Day".

The women on the program were no less delightful.  Corinne Winters sang Xavier Montsalvatge's "Paisatge del Montseny" and Jésus Guridi's folk poem "Cómo quieres que adivine" which suited her voice to a "T".  Lauren Worsham was absolutely adorable in two timely songs about auditions, as Mr. Blier pointed out that autumn in New York is all about auditions.  Ms. Worsham has a fine sense of theater and we in the audience were given a hefty dose of what it's like to go to open calls.

Mr. Greenhalgh made some really good music with Kurt Weill's setting of Maxwell Anderson's text in "September Song" which Mr. Blier said he had neglected for many years after a hefty overdose.  It was indeed time to revive this nostalgic number.

Tenor Ben Bliss played guitar and sang "Forever My Friend" by Ray LaMontagne, following which he sang "Au fond du temple saint" with Mr. Greenhalgh and we almost fell off our chair in amazement to hear this gorgeous operatic voice.  Regular readers will have no doubt which song we preferred.  Just sayin'.

The satisfying evening was brought to a close with the entire cast singing Vernon Duke's "Autumn in New York";  summer is over and we have ushered in the autumn in high style.  These delightful evenings of fine food, wonderful music and good fellowship fill up fast and we promise to let you know about the next "Sing for Your Supper" event in enough time to get your table at Henry's.

© meche kroop

Monday, September 23, 2013


The honorable Maestra Eve Queler was honored Sunday afternoon by the Musicians Emergency Fund in a thrilling recital involving her "family and friends".  If you love hearing artists on the brink of stardom as much as we do, you were there and shared our joy in witnessing their well-deserved and enthusiastic applause.

The four rising stars, prize winners all, were soprano Sydney Mancasola, tenor Diego Silva, tenor John Viscardi and baritone Takaoki Onishi--all helped along their career pathway by Maestra Queler.  Their performances yesterday indicated that they were each more than worthy of her attention.

The first half of the program was heavily weighted in the bel canto direction, to our delight.  Mr. Onishi distinguished himself with his superb control of dynamics in "O Lisbona" from Donizetti's Don Sebastiano.  Mr. Silva lent his sweet tenor to "A te, o cara" from I Puritani, spinning out Bellini's long gorgeous melodies with excellent phrasing.  Ms. Mancasola showed a fine facility for French in arias from Massenet's Manon; her diamantine voice was focused and her acting convincing--this Manon truly conveyed the impression of abandon.  Sticking with Massenet, Mr. Viscardi, with his warm sound and excellent French, gave a moving version of "Pourquoi me réveiller" from Werther

The only German aria on the program was Korngold's "Tanzlied" from Die Tote Stadt; Mr. Onishi demonstrated a facility with German as well as with the waltz rhythm.  "Angelo casto e bel" from Donizetti's Il Duca d'Alba gave Mr. Silva an opportunity to show off his impressive Italianate quality.  Ms. Mancasola returned with a deeply felt rendition of "O quante volte" from Bellini's I Capuleti ed i Montecchi; she set the air to vibrating in the receptive Alice Tully Hall.  Mr. Viscardi brought this part of the program to a rousing close with Offenbach's Kleinzach song from Les Contes d'Hoffman.

But no, it was not over yet!  Ms. Queler's daughter Liz came onstage with her husband Seth Farber and their son Joey.  The audience was treated to three selections from a project of theirs entitled The Edna Project in which they set poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay with Mr. Farber playing a jazzy piano score,  Liz Q. playing guitar and mandolin with a folky flavor and young Joey providing the rhythm.  It was an unexpected treat, particularly since the music and words supported each other to an impressive extent.  This is not something we hear often in contemporary music.  We were delighted with the three-part harmony.  If only every American family could make music like this!

The second half of the program was devoted primarily to Verdi.  Mr. Onishi's "Per me giunto...O Carlo, ascolta" was performed with enough baritonal heft that we can readily see him as the next Verdi baritone, which, in our eyes, is far more important than being a "barihunk", although the handsome Mr. Onishi readily qualifies for that designation as well.  Four selections from Rigoletto followed and Mr. Viscardi made a fine arrogant Duke, causing the audience to go wild.  Ms. Mancasola made a lovely Gilda and negotiated the tricky upward leaps, trills and fioritura of "Caro nome" with consummate aplomb.  In her duet with Mr Silva, the two of them had a touching chemistry and ear-pleasing vocal blending.

Ending the program with Bizet's "Au fond du temple saint" from Les Pêcheurs de Perles was a masterstroke; Mr. Silva and Mr. Onishi made a fine pair.  But the concert was not yet over!  All the singers joined for "Libiamo" from Verdi's La Traviata and we left Alice Tull Hall ready to toast to pleasure in all its forms.

© meche kroop

Sunday, September 22, 2013


We wonder what to call an original event synthesizing mythology, music and history;  we will just call it "wonderful".  When the multi-talented Gould Gals come up with an idea for one of their Salon/Sanctuary Concerts we just know it will be thoroughly researched, well-cast, effectively produced, enlightening and always entertaining.  Last night's event at the Broad Street Ballroom was all of the above.

The premise for The Heirs of Tantalus was that some of the more lurid events of Ancient Roman history bore interesting parallels with Greek mythology (leading one to wonder whether our own culture re-enacts the myths of our own past.)  Specifically Nero's murder of Agrippina paralleled Orestes' murder of his mother Clytemnestra in The Oresteia.  There are still parts of the world where revenge and retaliation take precedence over rationality; the work is highly relevant.

Musical research by Jessica Gould was responsible for some fine selections from works by baroque composers--mostly from Handel's Agrippina and Monteverdi's  L'Incoronazione di Poppea.  Ms. Gould herself employed her generous soprano in  solos and in some fine duets with countertenor José Lemos.  We particularly enjoyed the stunning harmonies in the duet "Pur ti miro" from L'Incoronazione di Poppea.

Narration and dramatic readings from Suetonius, Aeschylus and Euripides were adapted by Erica Gould and spoken by fine actors Steven Rattazzi and Ethan Peck, both of whom hit exactly the right tone.  Female roles were portrayed by Rosalyn Coleman Williams who seemed to overact to some extent.  The wonderful resonance of the performing space made the amplification of the actors seem unnecessary and unwelcome.

Stage direction by Erica Gould was interesting but also led to much swiveling around in the chairs to see who was speaking at the rear of the audience space.  Fortunately, the singing took place on an elevated stage which also held the ravishingly talented musicians--The Sebastians Chamber Players, conducted from the harpsichord by Jory Vinikour.  We enjoyed the fine playing of Deborah Fox on the theorbo.

Costumes by Lara de Bruijn were effective, as was lighting by Alexis Caldwell.  It was a stimulating evening and sent us out into the night with many thoughts about the mythology of our own cultural past (The Wild West, the gunslinger, the resourceful pioneer) and how that influences our present day politics.  Many thanks to the Gould Gals!

© meche kroop

Saturday, September 21, 2013


Ms. Bachrach, Mr. Brofman, Ms. Beattie, Mr. An, Mr. Djupstom, Mr. Snook
We can never pass up an opportunity to hear Johannes Brahm's song cycles Liebeslieder Op.52 and Neues Liebeslieder Op.65.  It's been about three years since we last heard them and were absolutely thrilled to learn that the estimable  Brooklyn Art Song Society (BASS) were performing them as Part I of "Clara, Robert and Johannes", an exploration of songs composed by Brahms and the Schumanns.  Most music lovers know about Brahms' unrequited love for Clara Schumann who presumably remained faithful to Robert even after his death.  But no one REALLY knows what transpired; one can only speculate.  It isn't necessary to know the details in order to appreciate this gorgeous four-part harmony and two-handed piano.

Last night we heard soprano Kristina Bachrach, mezzo Jennifer Beattie, tenor Brandon Snook and bass Paul An, sensitively partnered by pianists Michael Djupstom and Michael Brofman, the latter the Artistic Director of BASS.  The voices blended beautifully--most often in four-part harmony; yet we also had opportunities to hear each member of the quartet in solo, or in duet, most notably in the second half of the program. 

The 33 songs are settings of brief poems by Georg Frederich Daumer and involve many changes of moods: infatuation, rejection, pursuit, avoidance, relinquishment, succumbing, hopefulness and disappointment.  Perhaps music has changed a great deal over the years but the vicissitudes of love have not.  It was Brahms' genius that transformed these rhymed couplets into music of melodic, harmonic and rhythmic variety.

Ms. Bachrach had the lion's share of solos and invested each with appropriate emotion.  Ms. Beattie was particularly moving in "Wohl schön bewandt" as the woman whose lover recently finds her invisible.  Mr. Snook had a fine solo in "Ich kose süss mit der and der" as a man who goes from one woman to the next while always yearning for the unavailable one.  Mr. An's sturdy bass impressed with "Ihr shwarzen Augen".

Our calendar is already marked for Part II on October 5th --Frauenlieben und Leben, as well as the complete liederbuch of Clara.  Likewise for Part III on November 17th when Robert's Myrthen will be performed.  If you love lieder as much as we do, you will mark your calendars as well.

© meche kroop

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


Johan Botha and Renée Fleming in Othello--photo by Ken Howard
Can an HD surpass the live performance from which it is derived?  That is the question we asked ourselves repeatedly during the 10-night HD Festival offered by The Metropolitan Opera outdoors at Lincoln Center.  In many cases, we answered in the affirmative.  Last summer we wrote about the Live in HD Directors who, by judicious use of varied camera angles and closeups, were able to direct our attention to details which often go unseen in live performances.  We continue our admiration of the fine work of Gary Halvorson, Barbara Willis Sweete and Matthew Diamond.

At the opera house, those sitting in the first few rows of the orchestra see intimate details that others miss; similarly, those in the balcony get a great stage picture plus a view of the orchestra that cannot be appreciated by those down front.  But are there drawbacks to opera on HD?  Of course.  Not every singer looks good in extreme closeup; some make funny faces while they sing, some overact to a great degree, some just look very different from how we imagine the character "should" look.

Let us take a closer look!  In Willy Decker's unfortunate production of La Traviata, (yes, it is striking but it is cold, in spite of Ms. Dessay's regrettable over-acting) Gary Halvorson's focus on closeups was able to remove the distractions of that ugly giant clock, the omnipresent "Dr. Death", and the egregiously inappropriate behavior of Flora's friends.  The emphasis on the intimate interactions was a welcome relief.

Mr. Halvorson's direction of Mary Zimmerman's Lucia di Lammermoor wisely showed Daniel Ostling's moody sets to fine advantage as well as many details of the wedding scene including Anna Netrebko's indifferent and distracted behavior during the photography.  Yet scenes of intimate interaction showed up well in closeups and generated deep feelings for the characters.

In Thomas Adès' The Tempest, Mr. Halvorson's direction focused on the lavish sets by Jasmine Catudal and the imaginative costuming by Kym Barrett, making the evening worthwhile, even if one loathed the screechy vocal writing.  If you ignored the music, you could almost imagine being at a performance of Cirque du Soleil.

Elijah Moshinsky's wonderful production of Otello didn't need much help but Ms. Sweete was right on target.  There were moments early in the opera that revealed much about Iago's character that we never noticed when seeing the opera live.  Closeups of Johan Botha and Renée Fleming revealed a pair of devoted lovers, making the end that much more tragic.

Robert Lepage's La Damnation de Faust was unsuccessful in the house.  The action took place upstage in one of those cubby-hole sets that always make us think of Joseph Cornell's boxes; little could be discerned.  But, with Ms. Sweete's fine HD Direction, we could actually witness what was taking place back there.  We may not have liked it but at least we did not have the frustration of trying to guess about it.

Maria Stuarda is a rather static opera; character development is everything and there is not even much scenery to highlight.  Mr. Halvorson wisely gave us lots of closeups to enjoy the intensely committed portrayals of Elza van den Heever as Queen Elizabeth and Joyce DiDonato as Mary Stuart.

Laurent Pelly's Manon is an ugly production and almost beyond redemption.  Chantal Thomas' sets are of the post-modern type and give us nothing to suggest time and place, just cement walls without a cobblestone in sight in Act I.  We are afraid that this one was just beyond redemption.

David Alden's Un Ballo in Maschera suffered from the same syndrome and nothing could distract us from the inappropriate concept, awful sets by Paul Steinberg, and off-the-mark costumes by Brigitte Reiffenstuel.  But Matthew Diamond's closeups of poor Kathleen Kim's white tuxedo with wings gave us the relief of a few chuckles.

About Sonja Frisell's tried and true Aida, we have nothing but good things to say and Mr. Halvorson's HD Direction gave us the large cinematic picture during the Triumphal March (although we would have happily chosen to look elsewhere during Alexei Ratmansky's inapposite choreography); but during the important arias, duets and trios we got the closeups that we wanted.

One final advantage of the HD productions is the elimination of l-o-n-g intermissions which are necessary in the house.  Some operas seem tedious and disjointed in house but maintain their dramatic thrust when intermissions are eliminated.  We further enjoyed closeups of the orchestra during the overtures.  There was a moment during Lucia's mad scene when we were dying to witness the playing of the glass armonica.

And so the HD Festival has drawn to a close.  We saw the good, the bad and the ugly.  But we never heard a singer give anything less than a fine performance.  The Met Orchestra sounded topnotch, as did The Met Chorus.  For that we are grateful, as well as for the fine contributions of the HD Directors.  However, before returning to the fold of Met subscribers, we will wait until the pendulum swings back toward productions more faithful to the intentions of the original creators.  Just call us old-fashioned!

© meche kroop