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, July 31, 2013


Mario Chang, Brandon Cedel and Ying Fang
Regular readers know by now how enthusiastic we are about members of the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program of The Metropolitan Opera. Three of them presented a dazzling recital last night in the Jackie Robinson Park, making the trek to Harlem a mere...walk in the park.  Our rapt attention was rewarded with a flood of favorites, arias we know and love and of which we never can get enough.  Unfortunately, singing out of doors dictates amplification but the singers did well in compensating for the distortion.  But the superb accompaniment by Bradley Moore was made to sound pretty awful.

Beautiful and glamorous Ying Fang, whose development we have observed all through her years at Juilliard, brought her multiple gifts to several arias and duets.  She evinces a flexible and diamantine coloratura with a fearless upper register, making elaborate embellishments sound like child's play; scale passages, trills and fioritura are tossed off with ease and seeming spontaneity. There is no doubting her musicality and phrasing.  These gifts are accompanied by an abundance of personal charm that audiences respond to with delight and wild applause.  She used her acting skills within the context of each aria or duet to create a believable character--the flirtatious Norina of Donizetti's Don Pasquale, a not so naive Zerlina in Mozart's Don Giovanni, Handel's heroines, a Gilbert and Sullivan soubrette ("Poor wand'ring one" from The Pirates of Penzance) and an impassioned Maria from Bernstein's West Side Story.  Each wonderful, each different in color.

Barihunk Brandon Cedel (isn't that designation getting over-worked?) has been winning awards left and right and tonight's performance showed us why.  He has a sturdy and sizable bass-baritone that he uses with artistry and to great advantage.  He slipped easily from the humor of Leporello's "Catalogue Aria" into the louche seductiveness of Don Giovanni in "Là ci darem la mano"; he had no problem seducing Zerlina or the audience.  We were all of us ready to "andiam"!  He had low notes to spare for "Vi ravviso, o luoghi ameni" from Bellini's La Sonnambula.  His performance of Copland's "Simple Gifts" was exactly that, unaffected and simple--simply moving.

Tenor Mario Chang got better as the evening moved along.  At first he seemed to be pushing his forte in the upper register, causing him to go sharp. The amplification was not kind.  But when he got to Sorozabal's "No puede ser" from La Tabernera del Puerto he sounded like the Mario Chang that we know and love with his warm tenor in firm hand.  He finished the program singing a lovely romantic duet with Ms. Fang, "Tonight" from Bernstein's West Side Story, sending us off into the dusk with happy faces.

© meche kroop

Sunday, July 21, 2013


Michael Lenard James and NaTasha Yvette Williams  (photo by Carol Rosegg)
Forgive our adding an exclamation point to the title of the show; it expresses our enthusiasm for this original contemporary musical that shares with American musicals of days gone by some savvy storytelling and tuneful music.  We recall from long ago a course we took called The History of Jazz.  We learned that jazz began in New Orleans and was carried up the Mississippi River to St. Louis and Chicago.  At first the tale was only words on a page; later it was the records we listened to as we traced the evolution of a genuine American art form.  But now?

Storyville! (sorry, can't help it) at the York Theatre shows us how it happened.  As any writer will tell you, showing is better than telling.  This musical illustrates the events surrounding the demolition of a seedy part of New Orleans, not far from The Latin Quarter, inhabited by people of color who made music and ran brothels--women who sold their bodies and the sailors who bought their love. The year is 1917 but no mention is made of WWI.

The book by Ed Bullins is a fine one, telling the story of one Butch "Cobra" Brown (Kyle Robert Carter) a trumpet player and ex-prizefighter who arrives in Storyville, hoping to find a job in a band.  He comes up against the crooked Mayor Mickey Mulligan (D.C. Anderson) and Hot Licks Sam (Michael Lenard James) who wants no competition; he falls in love with the proud and talented Tigre Savoy (Zakiya Young) who holds herself for music alone and arouses the spite of the other young women in the "sporting house".  Narration of the story is provided by Countess Willy Danger (Ernestine Jackson) who dresses in men's formal attire.  Local color is provided by Mama Magique (NaTasha Yvette Williams) who casts a mean voodoo spell.

The music (by Mildred Kayden who wrote some fine lyrics to match) is beyond tuneful; toe-tapping and humming seemed about right. All of the songs were music to our ears, so to speak, but a couple numbers were memorable.  "The Funeral" opens the show in true N'awlins style. "Back O'Town Rag" got everyone moving.  "The Blue Book" let the "ladies of the evening" (Karen Burthwright, Dameka Hayes, and Leajato Robinson) strut their stuff.  Ms. Young has a lovely ballad "Riffs and Breaks" as well as a fine duet with Mr. Carter "What's For Real".  Spoiler alert!  Although the piece begins with a funeral, it ends happily for all, except for the charmingly slimy boulevardier Baron Fontainebleau (Carl Wallnau) who doesn't get the girl.  Pianist William Foster McDaniel was Music Director of the seven-piece jazz band which never let up on the energy.

Director Bill Castellino served the piece well and kept the action moving along.  Each song rose out of the action and never failed to seem motivated.  The single set was created by Producing Artistic Director James Morgan--a small stage on one side, a bar on the other--and everything just as seedy as one might expect.  The dazzling costumes by Nicole Wee fitted each character to the proverbial "T".  Michael Gottlieb's lighting was effective, as was Mercedes Ellington's choreography.  We have been known to express some violent objections to over-amplification; not so here.  Janie Bullard's Sound Design permitted the singers to be understood above the music without hurting the ears.

It is well worth noting that The York Theatre Company is the only theater in New York that is committed to developing and producing new musical theatre works and has been doing so for over forty years.  Rediscovering musical gems of the past is also part of their mission.  Storyville will be performed until August 17th and we predict that tickets will be hard to get.  Don't miss out!

© meche kroop

Saturday, July 20, 2013


We cut our teeth on the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty and grew up with the Disney motion picture; as an adult we grew to love the ballet with its "rose adagio".  But we never thought we would hear an opera of this touching tale.  Leave it to 13-year-old wunderkind Benjamin Perry Wenzelberg to write one!  Mr. W. is no flash in the pan.  This young man, a Juilliard pre-college student, got his operatic start in the children's chorus at The Metropolitan Opera and is no novice at composing; he also plays several instruments.  Do we have a 21st c. Mozart here?

Last night we had the rare pleasure of hearing a reading of Act I of The Sleeping Beauty, presented by Chelsea Opera, a lively small company that has the wisdom to recognize and foster his rare talent.  Indeed, the concert was presented in memory of Nicholas S. Priore, Esq. and introduced The Nicholas S. Priore New Possibilities Fund (donations accepted). Pending Mr. W.'s orchestration, to be heard next January, the reading was accompanied on the piano by Guest Music Director Lidiya Yankovskaya who tackled the original and captivating score with gusto. 

Mr. W.'s music offers what much contemporary operatic writing lacks--it is, most importantly, tuneful.  The vocal writing held our interest from beginning to end and was not only tailored to each individual character but was "singable", likely because Mr. W. has such a strong vocal background.  If we had only heard the embellishments he wrote for Princess Rosamond, convincingly performed by soprano Elisabeth Halliday on the syllable "Ah!" and those he wrote for The Frog, which he himself performed, we would have been convinced of his gifts.  He cites his major influences as Britten, Debussy and the bel canto composers.  As lovers of the bel canto repertory, we confess to hearing that influence most ardently.

Ms. Halliday made a lovely teenaged princess and Mr. W. made a fine frog, leaping onstage and then transforming himself into a prophet, both in gesture and musically.  Another outstanding performance was by dramatic soprano Alexandra LoBianco who used her large steely voice and her acting skills to perform the role of The Evil Wise Woman.  Notable was the menacing music in the piano that accompanied her terrifying aria.  No less wonderful was soprano Anna Noggle who portrayed The Last Wise Woman (otherwise known to balletomanes as The Lilac Fairy) with a moving tenderness, music to match, natch!  Soprano Lara Ryan and baritone Justin Ryan sang the Queen and the King--duets of yearning for the opening, in which a child is wished for, a lovely aria for The Queen along the same lines, and exclamations of joy when her pregnancy is heralded by the Frog/Prophet. 

The chorus of eight portrayed the Citizens of the Realm and Mr. W. writes as well for them as he does for the central roles.  His harmonies are interesting, and so are his dissonances.  The opera opens with a heraldic statement of open fifths and we could easily imagine the horns taking that part.  Mr. W. has a mere 6 months to finish orchestrating Act I and we have already marked the date on our calendar--January 17th to be exact.  How exciting it is to be around at the birth of a new work and to watch it grow up!

It will be similarly exciting to watch Mr. W. grow up.  When asked what he will do when his treble voice changes, he replied that someone else will have to sing The Frog!

© meche kroop

Thursday, July 18, 2013


What great event would get a huge crowd of New Yorkers to stand in line for hours in the middle of a cruel heat wave?  A recital of favorite arias from favorite operas sung by favorite stars, that's what!  Soprano Erin Morley, mezzo Isabel Leonard and tenor Stephen Costello have been the shooting stars in the Metropolitan Opera firmament and they completely lived up to their promise at Central Park SummerStage Tuesday night in a program that will be repeated Friday evening in Brooklyn Bridge Park.  The fireworks at the Philharmonic concert on Monday night were nothing compared with the fireworks onstage as these three artists, accompanied by Bradley Moore, defied the weather and gave us all they had to give.

Ms. Morley has a clear pure sound that thrills the nerve endings and a sweet warmth in her personality that allows her to portray the heroines of her fach in a most winning manner.  Ms. Leonard has a most distinctive mezzo sound, rich and full throated, as well as a piquant personality that lends her characterizations variety and originality.  Mr. Costello has a superb instrument and may be the tenor we have been waiting for--if only he did not push his high notes. 

We enjoyed him the most in "Questa o quella" from Verdi's Rigoletto which fit his voice like the proverbial glove.  Perhaps his success as Percy in the Met's Anna Bolena gave him the impetus to pursue the bel canto repertory but we hear him more as a spinto.  He negotiated the high C's in "Ah! mes amis" from Donizetti's La Fille du Regiment but the effort was palpable.  The high note in "Salut!, demeure chaste et pure" from Gounod's Faust needed to be floated, not pushed.  Aside from that, he sounded glorious in his musicality and phrasing.  We'd hate to see him ruin his gorgeous instrument!

Ms. Leonard showed off the flexibility of her instrument and her charm as an actress in "Una voce poco fa" from Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia.  Her embellishments were astonishing.  She departed from the world of opera with two favorite Spanish songs, something she does particularly well--Montsalvatge's tender lullaby and Valverde's lively "Clavelitos".

Ms. Morley handled the coloratura of Olympia's song from Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann with ease and was very funny, being wheeled on and offstage in a cart.  She was particularly winsome in her rose presentation duet with Ms. Leonard--an ardent Count Refrano.

Confirming my contention that some Broadway musical are operas, our three stars movingly performed selections from Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story to close the program.  One could not have asked for anything more.  But more was to come.

Mr. Costello sang "Core 'ngrato" by Cardillo and sang it marvelously, with passion and beauty of tone.  Ms. Morley and Ms. Leonard joined their gorgeous voices in perfect harmony for "Oh, belle nuit" from the Venice scene of Les Contes d'Hoffman.  And thus, the worst night of the year was transformed into Une Belle Nuit! 

© meche kroop


Charles Weaver (photo by Manning Gurney)
We've said it before and we'll say it again.  Jessica Gould, Founder and Artistic Director of Salon/Sanctuary Concerts, has some of the most original programming around town and has expanded our musical taste in exciting new directions.

Last night, we were introduced to some beautiful pieces for the baroque guitar, performed by lutenist, singer, vocal coach and director Charles Weaver, well known in early music circles.  The composer, Santiago de Murcia, was born in Madrid in 1673 and died there in 1739.  Although it is not likely that he visited the New World, his music was known there and his manuscripts have been discovered in Mexico.  We of the United States would do well to remember that the New World was predominantly Spanish for a good long while!  There is always an interesting historical context to Salon/Sanctuary evenings.

The first set of pieces were traditional Spanish dances; the second set comprised a classical suite of International dances, some of which were transcriptions of pieces Archangelo Corelli wrote for violin.  We especially enjoyed the rapid fingerwork of the Giga.  For the final set Mr. Weaver played some rather more revolutionary pieces derived from dances of Africa and some of Spain's colonies.  One of these purported to imitate the sound of trumpets; indeed the arpeggiation and the echo effects did remind us of the types of melodies generally assigned to that instrument.

Following the recital, there was a great deal of audience interest expressed toward the unique instrument. What we now call the baroque guitar was originally known simply as a guitar and began life as a folk instrument, as opposed to the courtly lute; it can be considered the parent of the modern day guitar.  Mr. Weaver's instrument is beautiful and highly decorated with a latticework design covering the hole. This early version has 9 strings.  There are 4 pairs of strings, tuned in unison or in octaves, and a solo string for the treble.  Today, most strings are plastic instead of the original sheep's gut.  The frets are movable; the strings are plucked, not strummed. 

The fine evening was capped by a tasting of Spanish wines and cheeses, hosted by Serendipity Wines.  So, we "went for baroque" and felt well rewarded for bearing the brunt of the heat wave.

Monday, July 15, 2013


Joseph Brent and Nian Wang in Les Contes d'Hoffman (photo by Jen Joyce Davis)

Maggie Sczekan and Javier Bernardo in L'Elisir d'Amore 
(photo by Jen Joyce Davis)
It is said that one can have too much champagne but one can never have enough.  That is the way we feel about opera--but only when it is sparkly, bubbly and tasty.  Such was the case when Prelude to Performance reprised the two operas from earlier this week, with different casts.  We hesitate to call them "the second cast".  They were second to none--just different.  Although the directors of each opera set the tone and the staging, each performer seemed to offer a slightly different interpretation of the character he/she portrayed.  It was clear that each one brought something individual to the interpretation, be it physical or emotional.

On Saturday night we greatly enjoyed a second performance of Les Contes d'Hoffman.  In the starring role, Joseph Brent used his fine tenor to great advantage and held our attention with his commanding stage presence.  Nian Wang was a rather different Muse; she had a more "masculine" presence than Kirsten Scott on Thursday; it was clear that she held sway over Hoffman without any cajoling.  She was forceful in her singing and acting and showed an ill temper when he didn't follow her lead.  Not a "better" interpretation but different and interesting.

Eui Jin Kim took on the role of the villains; he was rather scary and reminded one of a vampire with his resonant singing and menacing manner.  Marcos Cuevas performed all the servant roles in a satisfying manner and Richard Bozic was a less jolly Luther and a more tender father to Antonia.  Spalanzani was portrayed by Esteban Cordero.

As Olympia, Sharon Cheng handled the fioritura with aplomb and clarity of sound; Janani Sridhar sang Antonia and Brandie Sutton was the seductive and wily Giulietta.  Not a single performance fell short of the excellence we have come to expect from Prelude to Performance and we look forward to hearing about the future successes of these artists on the verge of major breakthroughs.

So...was anything different about Saturday night's performance?  We noticed that the chorus, under the direction of Nicholas Fox, was even tighter.  We had the luxury of paying more attention to the costumes, admiring the elegant silver and black fin de siecle gowns on the women and the carnevale masks in the Venice scene.  We observed how clear the French diction was and learned from the French diction coach Susan Stout how she began with the program participants long before the six-week rehearsal and coaching period started, emphasizing the communicative aspects over precise French pronunciation.  We were able to appreciate the blocking of the tavern scene with its boisterous student horseplay. We realized the contribution of the lighting (uncredited) which changed when Hoffman entered a trance state and when his nemeses appeared.  Second viewings have immense value!

Sunday's L'Elisir d'Amore also offered new delights.  Tenor Javier Bernardo not only sang Nemorino with beautiful tone and phrasing but created a character who was not as goofy and awkward as James Edgar Knight but intensely shy and the prototype of a man who just tries too hard.  He succeeded in getting the audience to really want him to "get the girl".  And he, of course, did.  His Adina, Maggie Sczekan, with her adorable presence and beautiful fioritura, dropped ample hints of Adina's fickleness which gave way to an awareness of her affection for Nemorino.  She gave every evidence of her disdain for Belcore (well sung and acted in wonderfully arrogant style by Carlos Saenz) so that we knew she was only using him to get Nemorino to "man up" and court her appropriately.

The colorful role of Dulcamara was sung by the handsome slim Stephen K. Foster who slipped into the role so effectively that we were sure there was an error in the program.  Shelbey Snyder made a delightful Giannetta.  Again, the chorus, under the direction of Noby Ishida, seemed even better than on Friday.  The maidens of the village seemed to each have her own identity but joined in song and action as a unit.  As excellent as was the French diction in Hoffman, the Italian, coached by Sergio Stefani, was crystal clear, making the words understandable to anyone with a minimal knowledge of the language.

Four operas in four days and we are intoxicated-- but could easily down another flute!

© meche kroop

Saturday, July 13, 2013


Yunnie Park and James Knight (photo by Jen Joyce Davis)
We must have drunk the love potion ourselves, having fallen completely in love with the Prelude to Performance production of L'Elisir d'Amore.  This is arguably (or inarguably) Donizetti's most famous opera and a wonderful "beginner's opera".  Number 12 on the list of most frequently performed operas, Donizetti is said to have composed it in an astonishing month's time!  Felice Romani wrote the charming libretto, based on Le Philtre, a play by Eugene Scribe . Significantly, Donizetti himself escaped serving in the Austrian military when a wealthy woman purchased his military service.  (Recall that before Il Risorgimento, large parts of Italy were ruled by the Austrians.)   The opera premiered in Milan in 1832 and seems never to have left the repertory.

The story is a straightforward one.  Nemorino is a simple fellow in love with Adina, an educated landowner.  His opening aria "Quanto è bella, quanto è cara!" illuminates his devotion to her.  It takes two acts to win her over and, when he does, his famous aria "Una furtiva lagrima" is unmatched in its expression of unbridled joy.  Mr. Knight's performance was emotional and included a stunning messa di voce. To make this simple story engaging, we in the audience need to care deeply for this shy and awkward everyman who dares to dream beyond his station in life.  And we need to believe that the rejecting Adina has enough wisdom and strength of character to recognize the value of his loyalty, devotion and honesty.

This the young artists conveyed brilliantly.  James Edgar Knight was a loveable simpleton, awkward and ingenuous.  (Appearing awkward onstage was a masterpiece of acting for the suave and handsome tenor.)  Coloratura soprano Yunnie Park created a spunky Adina and convinced us that she had a soft spot in her heart for Nemorino, one that she did a great job at hiding until his popularity with the local maidens  (predicated upon his receiving a huge inheritance) evoked her jealousy.  Often we do not recognize the value of what comes to us easily until we are threatened with its loss!  This she conveyed with brilliant bursts of fioritura, pinpoint in its accuracy and thrilling in its speed.

Figuring in the plot as well are two comic figures--the pompous Sargent Belcore stylishly sung by baritone Jorell Williams and the outlandish Doctor Dulcamara performed by an excellent bass Ignacio Gama.  Belcore is passing through town and falls for Adina and begs for her hand in marriage; she agrees to make Nemorino jealous.

Dr. Dulcamara is a traveling huckster/con man, peddling a worthless elixir designed to cure everyone's ills.  His aria "Udite o rustici" was persuasive and well performed.  Nemorino asks for his help in wooing Adina and is sold a bottle of wine which he is told will make him irresistible to women.  Too broke to pay for a second bottle, he sells himself to Belcore as a recruit.  The scene between him and Belcore was exceedingly well directed (Tara Faircloth directed the entire opera with a sure hand) with postures and gestures echoing one another while the dialog showed the differences in their character and goals.

Nemorino realizes that Adina loves him when he sees a tear in her eye and Adina realizes she loves him when she is made aware of his sacrifice (military duty).  She purchases his military contract so he can stay on the land he loves and presumably marry her.  We get the "happily ever after" and walk out with a big smile.

Willie Anthony Waters conducted in fine bel canto style.  Charles Caine designed the costumes in fine mid-19th c. style with the typical happy peasants in colorful attire.  But it is Dulcamara's costume that took the cake.  He was done up in bright pink and turquoise with outlandish medals and a giant feather in his cap.  And let's not forget the pink spats!  Noby Ishida led the chorus of village maidens and they added significantly to the production.  Maria Brea was delightful as Adina's friend Giannetta.

This is opera as it is meant to be--transporting us to another time and place by means of authenticity.  We have seen many many productions of this opera, even one set in the Wild West in the 50's with Dulcamara arriving in a Cadillac convertible and Adina being the owner of a diner.  It didn't work.  (Adina is the town lettrice in Act I.  The peasants who work her land are illiterate.  It's the 19th c.! )  Updating operas does NOT make them more relevant.  We speak out in favor of authenticity!  And now we step down from our soap box to tell you that the
opera will be presented again on Sunday at 2PM at Hunter College.  You will hear a different but equally wonderful cast singing Donizetti's gorgeous melodies.  You too will have partaken of the Elixir of Love.

© meche kroop

Friday, July 12, 2013


Won Whi Choi and Kirsten Scott (photo by Jen Joyce Davis)
At world famous opera houses, singers fly in from all over the world, generally experienced in the role for which they have been hired; they have the briefest of rehearsal times.  Not so at Martina Arroyo's Prelude to Performance, a program she began a decade ago.  Participants in the program are chosen by audition from a large field of applicants and given scholarships; they spend a considerable period of time in concentrated study, focusing mainly on character development and authenticity.  Coaches and master teachers help them hone their skills.  The results are impressive.  The young singers, many on the cusp of major careers, work together as an ensemble and give a performance of convincing authenticity.

We do not go to the opera to learn about current events and politics; we go to be transported to another time and place.  This goal is best achieved by supporting the intentions of the composer and librettist and this is something at which Prelude to Performance excels.  We do not see machine guns, cell phones or black leather coats.  We see what audiences saw when the opera was first premiered.  In the case of Les Contes d'Hoffman, that was 1881 at the Opéra Comique.  Jacques Offenbach had seen a play entitled Les Contes Fantastique d'Hoffman, written in 1851 by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré, which had woven together a number of stories written by E.T.A. Hoffman between 1814 and 1819; he chose Mr. Barbier as his librettist.  Poor Mr. Offenbach died shortly before the premiere and had not finished orchestrating the work.  Fervent musical scholarship has nearly succeeded in eliminating the spurious changes to the work and come up with a definitive version.

The framework of the story is the character Hoffman recounting the three great loves of his life and his realization that his current lady love, the diva Stella, is an amalgam of all three-- the young girl, the musician and the courtesan.  The theme of the story is the devotion of the artist to his craft versus the pursuit of love.  The character The Muse takes on the identity of Hoffman's best friend Nicklausse and takes part in all three of his adventures, always trying to rescue him from his ill-fated romantic adventures so that he may devote his life to art.  Each act has a villain, the personification of evil and Hoffman's nemesis.

In last night's cast, tenor Won Whi Choi impressed us with his beautiful singing and convincing acting.  His Hoffman was well into his cups during the Prologue, doing a memorable rendition of "Kleinzach"; he created a sympathetic poet who cannot take care of himself and really needs The Muse to bail him out.  The power of his voice grew as the evening progressed and he shone both in his arias and in his duets.

As The Muse, Kirsten Scott created a winning character and sang with a lovely evenness of tone throughout her register.  One sensed the worthiness of her motives and the resourcefulness of her strategies.  We particularly enjoyed her "Violin Aria".

As the perennial heavy, bass-baritone Yuriy Yurchuk was evil personified.  In the tavern scene, he was the arrogant Councillor Lindorf who plots to steal the Prima Donna Stella away from Hoffman.  In the Olympia act, he portrayed the nasty Dr. Coppelius who sells Hoffman the magic glasses that make him see the doll as a real woman.  In the Antonia act, he is the wicked Dr. Miracle who causes Antonia's death.  In the Giulietta act he is the evil magician who bribes Giulietta with a diamond in order to steal Hoffman's reflection.  In every case, he created a different color of evil.  Let us not fail to mention the richness of his voice.  This man has low notes to spare!

One more character appears in every act as a servant and tenor Francisco Corredor deserves to be singled out for his contribution as comic relief.  His Cochenille moved as mechanically as Olympia causing the audience to burst into laughter; he was again hilarious as the hearing-impaired Frantz who would really prefer singing and dancing to serving Dr. Crespel.  In the Giulietta scene he portrayed Pitichinaccio.

Bass Benjamin Bloomfield made a fine Luther, absorbing all the good natured taunts of the students.  He appeared again as Crespel, Antonia's possessive father and later as Schlémil, one of Giulietta's lovers.  Again, he excelled at creating different characters.

Originally, the three important women's roles were sung by the same soprano and this is occasionally done in modern times.  Nonetheless, due to the drastically different types of voices called for, it seems better to cast each role with a different soprano.  Last night we loved the finely honed coloratura of Mizuho Takeshita as Olympia the mechanical doll.  A superb lyric soprano Lenora Green was affecting as Antonia who loves Hoffman and loves singing and must make a choice.  The larger voice of Tamara Rusqué was perfect for the wily courtesan Giulietta.

Walker Jermaine Jackson made a fine Spalanzani; Samuel Thompson did equally well as Hermann; Chantelle Grant sang the voice of Antonia's mother; and Meroe Khalia Adeeb made a great diva in the role of Stella.

Robert Lyall conducted and we heard some fine sounds, especially from the woodwinds and horns.  We appreciated the directorial choices of E. Loren Meeker who kept the action moving and told the story cleanly without any directorial conceits.  Costume design by Charles Caine was exactly right, as were Wig and Makeup Design by Steven Horak who did especially well with the villain roles.

The set design was not credited but the entire opera took place in Luther's Nurenberg tavern with half-timbered walls.  It was simple and it worked.  The three "Tales" utilized a minimum of furniture which brought the attention to the singers.  The singers were the stars last night.  Even the chorus, directed by Nicholas Fox, shone brightly.  The opera will be repeated Saturday night and we are eager to see the other cast.  We expect they will put as much magic in the magic realism as last night's cast.

© meche kroop