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.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


Maestro Steven Blier has the Midas touch; everything he touches turns to gold.  As Artistic Director of New York Festival of Song, as pianist and arranger, as performer and raconteur, he never fails to delight.  Last night's program at Merkin Hall was a case in point.  Few of us have paid attention to the music remembered from college days but Mr. Blier paid attention to the music of Jacques Brel and Charles Trénet from a half-century ago.  It is difficult to believe that this youthful wizard is celebrating 40 years of performing onstage.

To those in the audience who delighted in this music in their youth, the recital was a delicious exercise in nostalgia.  To those who were not familiar with these songs, it was a revelation.  Mr. Blier at the piano was joined by two singers, the charming and VERY French mezzo Marie Lenormand and Philippe Pierce, a tenor with matinée idol good looks.  To complete the party, there was accordionist Bill Schimmel and guitarist Greg Utzig who also played the banjo and an instrument resembling an electronic lute.

The program opened with Mr. Pierce singing Brel's "La Valse à Mille Temps".  Maestro Blier introduced each and every song with an interesting piece of information.  Apparently, Brel was quite a rebel and was not immediately accepted but eventually won adoration both in France and in the United States.  It is hard to imagine not being won over by this powerful song that grows in speed, emotion and dissonance until the singer becomes quite breathless.

The two singers were most enjoyable in "Les Paumés du Petit Matin" a duet about dissipated youth, trust fund kids who sleep all day and party all night.  (Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.)    For Ms. Lenormand's "Rosa", we learned the meaning of the cryptic words.  An amusing duet "Les Bourgeois" followed in which we saw an event from the point of view of some rude youths and some staid lawyers.  "Madeleine" is a sad tale of a man who waits every night for a woman who never shows up.  Many of the songs were sad and dealt with disappointed love.  Ms. Lenormand's "Ne Me Quitte Pas" revealed heartbreaking neediness.  The duet "Le Diable" in which the devil enjoys all the wars, bombs on train tracks, materialism and economic inequality.  It sounded rather contemporary, n'est-ce-pas?

The Trénet songs were rather more upbeat.  "J'ai Ta Main" had a swingy accompaniment but "Vous Qui Passez Sans Me Voir" revealed the songwriter's loneliness.  "J'ai Connu de Vous" had a jazzy score and "J'ai Mordu Dans le Fruit de la Vie" referenced Mr. Trénet's sly admission of homosexuality.  The familiarity of the melody in "La Mer" delighted the audience and "Grand-maman C'est New York" made everyone laugh.  Apparently, when one dies and goes to heaven one learns that heaven is...New York!  And indeed it is heaven when we have such wonderful music and such superb performers to bring it to life.

(c) meche kroop

Monday, February 18, 2013


Dimitri Dover, Samantha Malk, Abigail Levis, Jonathan Estabrooks
Another splendid evening of Schubert lieder drew us out of our cozy home on a bitter cold evening and sent us back out on the street with lots of warmth in our heart.  How fortunate to have two marvelous mezzos and a brilliant baritone interpreting more of Schubert's glorious music.  We are always impressed by the wealth of vocal talent unearthed by Artistic Directors Jonathan Ware and Lachlan Glen.  Since both of them are doing exciting things in Europe this week, we had a chance to hear two other excellent piano partners--Dimitri Dover and Brent Funderburk who departed before the photo could be organized.

The program for the evening comprised Schubert's settings of poetry by August von Platen-Hallermuende, Franz Xaver Schlechta von Wschehrd (just try to wrap your mouth around that name), Ludwig Gotthard Kosegarten, Johann Friedrich Rochlitz and Karl Gottfried Ritter von Leitner.  Whatever the poetry, Schubert's settings illuminate the imagery.

Abigail Levis used her lovely voice and personality to enliven Mr. von Platen-Hallermuende's two sad songs of disappointed love, and went on to Mr. Schlechta's sad "Auf einen Kirchhof" with its many mood shifts.  We loved the ballad "Des Frauleins Liebeslauschen" and were taken with Mr. Funderburk's piano accompaniment in "Aus Diego Manazares".

Samantha Malk, accompanied by Mr. Dover, continued with a selection of lieder, setting of poetry by Mr. Kosegarten.  Ms. Malk has a fully developed mezzo sound and interpreted the songs with deep feeling and fine German diction.

Mr. Dover accompanied baritone Jonathan Estabrooks and both excelled during "Fischerweise" in which the subject of the verse can catch all manner of fish, but not the shepherdess standing on the shore. "Totengraber-Weise", the gravedigger's song, was understandably less cheerful!  Mr. Estabrooks' fine baritone and compassionate interpretation made every song come alive.

Anyone who loves Schubert will find uplift in these recitals.  If you attended one of them, you surely have returned for more.  And if for any reason you have overlooked them, you will regret the lost opportunity to hear every one of Schubert's 600-plus songs.  The next recital will be 6PM on 2/24 at Central Presbyterian Church, 64th and Park Avenue.

(c) meche kroop

Sunday, February 17, 2013


All we were expecting was an evening of opera scenes but we got so much more.  Possibly inspired by the Metropolitan Opera's creation of Enchanted Island, a pastiche of arias and ensembles by baroque composers, Director Jennifer Shorstein created her own pastiche of arias and ensembles by 19th c. French composers entitled The Masked Ball.  The setting was a contemporary cocktail party with the men in dinner jackets and the women in multihued satin dresses.  As the young partygoers interacted with one another, arias and duets by Gounod, Massenet and Offenbach were pressed into delightful service.

The other pleasant surprise was the presence of the New York Opera Exchange Orchestra, led by Maestro David Liebowitz.  As the program notes pointed out, a community orchestra in New York City that focuses solely on the operatic repertoire is a rare thing.  The mostly young musicians played with enthusiasm and talent, matched by the enthusiasm and talent of the young singers who seem to be on the cusp of major careers, already singing in companies around the United States and Europe.

Gounod's soprano roles are all exciting ones and thus the women all had opportunities to shine in their respective roles.  Rebecca Shorstein's fioritura in "Je veux vivre" from Gounod's Roméo et Juliette was dazzling in its accuracy.  Kendra Berensten's duets with the fine tenor Aaron Short from the same opera were no less wonderful.  Rebecca Henry's fine mezzo in Siebel's "Faites lui mes aveux" from Gounod's Faust seemed delightfully different since she sang it as a woman.  Emily Lockhart's soprano was perfectly suited to "Ah! Je ris de me voir" as she received a jewel box from her suitor.  Courtney Ross' "N'est-ce-plus ma main?" from Massenet's Manon was performed superbly with lots of seductive moves that left her Des Grieux (wonderful tenor Jonathan Winell) all aquiver.   Their voices blended beautifully and delighted the ear.  Bronwyn White was an adorable Olympia and attacked the stratospheric tessitura fearlessly.  There was a very funny moment when she collapsed (in this case, not as a mechanical doll running down but as a live woman who maybe had drunk to excess) and was given a slap on the derrière and carried offstage.

We heard sturdy baritone Kendrew Heriveaux as Mercutio in "Mab la reine des mensonges"; baritone Joseph Beckwith gave Mephistopheles just the right amount of menace in "Vous qui faites l'endormie"; baritone Alex Boyd made a severe Valentin in "Avant de quitter ces lieux"; tenor Scott Ingham was a most seductive Faust in "Salut! Demeure chaste et pure".

That all the partygoers onstage interacted with one another and came across as real people with different personalities made the evening so much more appealing than a mere succession of arias.  We applaud the innovation and were gratified to see so many young people in the audience, many of them not experienced opera goers, but all enjoying themselves.  We are looking forward to New York Opera Exchange's May presentation of Don Giovani set in our nation's capitol.  What will Artistic Director Justin Werner and General Manager Francesca Reindel think of next???

(c) meche kroop

Friday, February 15, 2013


Deanna Breiwick, Tobias Greenhalgh, Jeongcheol Cha
What fun we had at Juilliard last night where Donizetti's comic masterpiece Don Pasquale was presented by artists from Juilliard Opera and Juilliard Orchestra.  The story is right out of the commedia dell'arte tradition--a foolish old man wants to marry and gets his comeuppance.  In most productions, we feel great sympathy for the disinherited nephew Ernesto who is so in love with the poor  Norina that he refuses to marry the rich bride his uncle favors, thereby provoking the uncle to seek a bride and produce an heir.

But, in this case, Jeongcheol Cha created such a sympathetic character that our sympathies shifted toward him and less toward the slacker nephew, portrayed by Javier Abreu, a rather unprepossessing fellow who appeared unworthy of the beautiful and spunky Norina, performed by Deanna Breiwick.  The crafty Doctor Malatesta, portrayed by the too young and too handsome Tobias Greenhalgh, initiates a plan to show Don Pasquale how awful marriage is by presenting Norina as his convent-raised sister Sofronia, the perfect wife.  Naturally as soon as the fake marriage contract is signed, Norina proceeds to go through the Don's fortune and to demolish his self-esteem with her wanton ways.  There was a very moving moment when Norina realized how she has injured her future father-in-law; remorse was written all over Ms. Breiwick's lovely face.

Mr. Cha's sturdy bass-baritone served him well in the bel canto style; Mr. Greenhalgh who, in spite of his matinee idol looks and youth, created a dashing image of a doctor who manages to pull off the stunt with panache; his baritone was most pleasant to the ear.  Ms. Breiwick, whose gorgeous golden locks were hidden under a dowdy brown wig, used her lustrous soprano and superior technique to illuminate the coloratura passages with distinction.  Just listen to that liquid silver trill!  Mr. Abreu has a sweet but small tenor and failed to enlist our sympathies for his character.

In a bit of luxury casting, some of Juilliard's finest singers composed the ensemble.  In Swinging Sixties wigs and costumes we had fun trying to recognize them.

The conductor Stephen Lord and the director James Robinson were imported from St. Louis; we were not impressed.  Donizetti's music must sparkle like a diamond and what we heard sounded more like a rhinestone.  Not bad, just a bit lackluster.  The Juilliard Orchestra has sounded better on other occasions.

As far as the direction goes, we saw no reason to place the story in the 1960's, a decade no more relevant to our lives today than the time period in which Donizetti and librettist Giovanni Ruffini placed the action.  This anachronism left us in a disjointed frame of mind when horses and coaches were mentioned.  We were not outraged as we are when serious classics are trashed, just mildly irritated.  There should be a point and there isn't one.  To make matters worse, there were even more contemporary touches like the personal trainer and the green juice drink that didn't belong to the 60's at all.  That being said, these funny bits were....funny.

Set designer Shoko Kambara created a beautiful set for the Don's home with overstuffed furniture and burnished wooden walls that made us think we were going to see an epoch-valid production.  When Norina has the home redecorated, everything appeared to be of the art deco period, another anachronism.

Costumes by Amanda Seymour were colorful and apropos the period.  Still, we were left wondering why Norina, appearing as the modest Sofronia in a black dress, would be wearing bright shiny red stilettos.  In sum, this was a production in which one would do well to forget dramatic logic and just listen to the delightful young artists as they embark on what promises to be some very illustrious careers on the opera stage.

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, February 9, 2013


Susanna Phillips             Myra Huang                             
It's astonishing how a gifted artist can bring you to appreciate works you never enjoyed before!  We will come to that but let's begin at the end of the completely satisfying recital given at the perfectly intimate Weill Recital Hall.  Toward the end of the encore, Peter DeRose's "Deep Purple", Ms. Phillips lost control of her emotions and could barely finish, eyes swimming with tears.  Having established incredible rapport with the audience all evening and having explained that her grandfather had sung that song for her about her grandmother, it came as no surprise that the audience went right along on her journey.  The standing ovation from the audience, fugitives from the blizzard outside, exceeded the standing ovation she received after the final set of songs.

And what a set that was!  Ms. Phillips clearly enjoyed singing the selections from Do You Sing, Mr. Twain? by the late Gordon Myers.  Eight pithy aphorisms were rather simply set with the exception of the final one, "On Rules of Writing" an ironic piece extolling brevity but marked by florid pianism and vocalism exceeding that of the baroque and bel canto periods.  Ms. Phillips and her dazzling piano partner Myra Huang had a ball with this as did the audience.

In fine French style, the pair delighted us with four Chausson songs, each a delicate gem, all sad and nostalgic.  Equally fine were "Ellens Gesang I, II and III" by Schubert, settings from Sir Walter Scott's The Lady of the Lake, the final selection being the famous "Ave Maria".  These were followed by Alban Berg's Sieben frühe Lieder, songs we have previously found rather inaccessible.  Ms. Phillips' and Ms. Huang's artistry managed to bring out melodic elements heretofore unnoticed and we were filled with delight and gratitude; we are looking forward to hearing them again.  We do wish, however, that Ms. Phillips would pay more attention to the final consonants in German.  The d's and t's were firmly enunciated but the final "en"s were sometimes lost which would drive a native German speaker a bit crazy.

Our two artists spent a great deal of time and effort on Olivier Messsiaen's  Poemes pour Mi, Book II.  They are obviously highly meaningful to the pair but were somewhat less enchanting to us, both in subject matter and musical values.  Those who read Voce di Meche regularly will recall how essential melody is to our ears.  Still, we were riveted by the sincerity of the performance and would be willing to give the songs a second hearing.  Indeed, there are many works that grow on one with successive exposures.

No such forbearance was needed for the set of songs by Enrique Granados!  We adore the sound and style of the Spanish language and the attention the composer gave to melody.  The performance was charming and during the final selection, Ms. Huang distinguished herself with some very vibrant piano playing.

Taken as a whole, the recital was finely structured--some well-known favorites, some lesser-known works by well-known composers, some challenging pieces, some accessible ones, and some we've never heard before.  We have observed Ms. Phillips' artistic growth for several year now and and have always enjoyed her performances on the opera stage.  Indeed, we are anticipating a splendid performance as the Countess in Le nozze di Figaro in Santa Fe this summer.  But it was a special treat to see her on the recital stage, being her charming engaging self.

(c) meche kroop

Monday, February 4, 2013


Schubert@Co. has reached the approximate midpoint of their perusal of Franz Schubert's output of 600 plus songs without any evidence of flagging enthusiasm and with ever increasing quality of talent.  Artistic directors and collaborative pianists Jonathan Ware and Lachlan Glen seem to have no difficulty assembling as talented a group of young Schubert interpreters as one could wish for and have arranged some rather stellar evenings for us Schubert lovers to enjoy.

Last night's recital was a case in point.  Settings of poetry by Johann Gabriel Seidl, Franz von Schober, Johann Gaudenz von Salis-Seewis, Friedrich Schiller and Wilhelm Müller/Helmina von Chezy were presented to the lieder lovers who eschewed the Super Bowl in favor of ART.  Lovely soprano Pureum Jo opened the program with a pair of settings of poetry by Seidl and another pair with poetry by Schober.  Ms. Jo always delivers deeply felt interpretations with eloquent phrasing, ear-pleasing resonance and some crystalline top notes.  Mr. Glen contributed some outstanding pianism that matched the profound mood changes from joyful to troubled.  Schober's "Vergissmeinnicht" is a charming song with changes of key and mode about a young girl's awakening to womanhood.  Mr. Glen captured it all and we loved it.

Mezzo Jazimina Macneil must have profited greatly by her summer at the Franz Schubert Institut since she showed a fine Schubertian style and a true mezzo sound in more songs by Schober and Seidl.  Some of the songs were incredibly sad but "Die Männer sind méchant" is a somewhat more lighthearted look at a different type of female awakening--that of awakening to the realization that men are unfaithful.  Mr. Ware excelled at capturing the rhythmic tread of the wanderer in "Der Wanderer an den Mond".

Tenor Cullen Gandy, in an unusual artistic decision, sang the deliciously ironic song of a young woman who keeps telling her lover all the things they will enjoy together but that she cannot love him because her mother warned her about love.  His pleasant tenor lands softly on the ear.  We are looking forward to hearing him in Santa Fe this coming summer where he will be an Apprentice Artist, a wonderful springboard for his career.

Tenor Miles Mykkanen, who also attended the Franz Schubert Institut, continues to delight us with his performance-ready voice and style.  He always shows amazing insight into the material and brought to life some settings of poetry by Salis-Seewis that we might not have otherwise enjoyed.  Perhaps Schubert was fonder of Seidl and Schober?

Baritone Philip Stoddard, like Mr. Mykkanen still an undergraduate, shows talent beyond his years of age and years of training.  The colors of his voice were very manly and his delivery powerful in Schober's "Schiffers Scheidelied" and "Jägers Liebeslied".  As convincing was his delivery, we urge Mr. Stoddard not to contemplate giving up singing for hunting and fishing!  

Mezzo Tammy Coil seemed alone in her lack of involvement with the material and the audience.  Some singers are able to be involved even when singing from the book but in this case we were somewhat disappointed.  We would welcome the opportunity to hear her again when she is more familiar with the material.  Furthermore we missed hearing any mezzo quality in her voice.

The evening ended on a high note with a delightful performance of "Der Hirt auf dem Felsen", one of our personal favorites.  Soprano Lilla Heinrich-Szasz performed the strenuous yodel-like vocal line with consistency of tone throughout the register, opening to a beautiful top.  In this lied, the clarinet serves to echo the vocal line and Jonathan Cohen did so with fine phrasing.  Mr. Ware's piano supported both in grand style.  The final verse conveyed the listener past the loneliness and sorrow right into the joy of anticipated Spring, which we too shared on this cold winter night.

(c) meche kroop