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, November 30, 2013


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

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

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

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

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

© meche kroop

Monday, November 25, 2013


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

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

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

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

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

© meche kroop

Sunday, November 24, 2013


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

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

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

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

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

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

© meche kroop

Thursday, November 21, 2013


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

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

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

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

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

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

© meche kroop

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


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

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

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

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

© meche kroop

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


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

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

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

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

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

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

© meche kroop

Friday, November 15, 2013


Anna Caterina Antonacci (photo by Magalie Bouchet)
At least one thousand tapers burned brightly in the background while soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci burned as brightly onstage at the Rose Theater, as part of the White Light Festival of Lincoln Center. Accompanied by soloists of the orchestra Les Siècles who offered several works by Marini before the vocal pieces, in between and afterward, Ms. Antonacci gave a performance that was visually stunning, dramatically riveting and vocally perfect.  The artistry of the staging lifted the evening way beyond the concept of a vocal recital.

The music dates back nearly four centuries but sounded fresh and original. The opening piece  Giramo's "Lamento della pazza" (the lament of a crazy woman) offered Ms. Antonacci the opportunity to express  a variety of moods suffered by a woman made mad by love. A tribute to the artistry of Ms. A. is the depth of feeling evoked by her intensity.  She appeared disheveled and barefoot, but attired in an ivory gown suggestive of the baroque period; toward the end, she upturned a series of buckets of water downstage; the water reflected the myriad lights upstage.

Following an instrumental Sinfonia, Ms. A. sang the sorrowful "Lamento d'Ariannna" by Monteverdi in which the abandoned Ariadne laments her lost love Theseus.  This is the only surviving element of Monteverdi's opera  L'Arianna and contains "Lasciatemi Morire" which would be familiar to any singer versed in the baroque repertory.  It was shattering.

Another instrumental Sinfonia was interposed before Ms. A. sang the cantata "Lagrime mie, a che vi trattenete".  What captured our interest about this work is that it was composed (and probably sung) by Barbara Strozzi; how rare it was for a woman to have her compositions published in that epoch!  Not only that but Strozzi was presenting the point of view of a man spurned by his lover.

The final work on the program involved a change of costume.  Gone was the gorgeous gown and Ms. A. appeared in a black tunic and pants, vaguely suggestive of a knight's attire.  She performed Monteverdi's "Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda" which was written for the 1624 carnival in Venice.  In this major work, with text taken from Tasso's epic poem about the First Crusade, a Christian knight unknowingly kills Clorinda, the Saracen woman he loves, who has disguised herself as a warrior.  Ms. A.  conveyed the voice of the narrator as well as the individual combatants.  Sword in hand, she enacted the pitched battle between the two.  We were spellbound.

The program notes went into quite a bit of detail about various aspects of the compositions of that period; composers created a revolutionary musical vocabulary to intensify the dramatic situation which was considered quite an innovation.  The emotionality of the works stands in stark contrast to our post-modern coolness and irony. These works are downright raw!  One could not escape feeling involved.

Era la Notte premiered in 2006 and has been performed by Ms. A. all over Europe.  This was the American premiere and we were grateful to have the opportunity to experience Ms. A.'s deeply committed artistry and intense expressivity.  The work was conceived for her by Director Juliette Deschamps with lighting by Dominique Bruguière and set design by Cécile Degos.  The evocative costuming was by Christian Lacroix.  Johannes Keller conducted from the harpsichord while Manuel de Grange played the theorbo.  Violins were bowed by Sébastien Richaud and Rachel Rowntree; viola da gamba by François Joubert-Caillet, cello by Julien Barre and contrabass by Christian Staude.

This work ran barely over an hour but left us with a feeling of having been transported to another time and place.  The rain fell onstage at the end, extinguishing most of the candles, but the feelings evoked in us could not be extinguished.  It was a memorable event.

© meche kroop

Thursday, November 14, 2013


Michael Fennelly, Juan Jose de Leon, James Edgar Knight, Avery Amereau, Nian Wang, Tracy Cox, Murray Rosenthal
Opera Index has a lengthy history of supporting young opera singers and has gotten countless of them on the path to stardom.  Last night at the annual membership party, members were treated to a recital of arias by five of them--five promising artists on their way up, accompanied by pianist Michael Fennelly and introduced by President Murray Rosenthal.  It would be an understatement to say that the audience was appreciative; there was a loud chorus of bravos and bravas after each one.

The program opened with Tracy Cox singing "Pace, pace mio dio" from La Forza del Destino, one of our personal Verdi favorites.  Ms. Cox has a sizable soprano and an expressive quality that gives us goosebumps, not to mention a marvelous messa di voce and a big "money note".  It is easy to see why this Young Artist at LA Opera has been wining competitions all over and, as she matures and harnesses that big voice, a Wagnerian future may be down the road.

Mezzo Nian Wang gave a polished performance of the Violin Aria from Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffman, using her fine French to convey the composer's intentions with remarkable communicative skills.  The training she received from Martina Arroyo's Prelude to Performance Program was evident.

Tenor James Edgar Knight, also a graduate of the same program, has a warm romantic sound that was perfectly suited to Lehar's "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" from The Land of Smiles.  His training in musical theater as well as in opera makes him a double-threat.  His dynamism engaged the audience and drew us in.  He seemed to change the colors of his voice with great ease, but we are sure it took a lot of study and work to achieve that flow.

Mezzo Avery Amereau delighted us with a sound as rich and warm as a cup of espresso.  In "Connais-tu le pays?" from Thomas' Mignon, she sounded rich and yet delicate.  We are looking forward to hearing more from this young artist whose French diction was impressive.

Tenor Juan Jose de Leon chose the right aria to dazzle the delighted members of Opera Index--"Ah! Mes amis, quel jour de fête!" from Donizetti's La Fille du Regiment.  His secure high C's were tossed off with ease; we speculated that this aria was what won him so many awards.

These five singers won Emerging Artist Awards and Encouragement Awards.  Many other awards were given at the Opera Index 2013 Vocal Competition and their achievements will be celebrated at future events.  It is easy and not at all costly to join Opera Index and one can thereby support these stunning singers and participate in the many membership events.  We recommend it highly.

© meche kroop

Friday, November 8, 2013


Kirsten Scott, Liana Guberman and Boya Wei
Did we really spend an hour on the subway and cross the Gowanus Canal to hear a (reported) 100 minute version of Mozart's masterpiece Le Nozze di Figaro?  Yes, we did.  Was it worth it?  YES!  We would have traveled twice as far.  Was it really a severely truncated version?  No, it clocked in at nearly three hours and the judicious editing did nothing to impair the musical cohesiveness nor the comprehension of the delightfully silly plot.  The only things missing were bios of the artists (about whom we wish to know more) and the harpsichord continuo.  Music Director Laetitia Ruccolo did just fine on an electronic keyboard.   Conductor Dean Buck had the 20-piece orchestra well in hand, or in baton as was the case.  The young maestro started Loft Opera with singer/producer Daniel Ellis-Ferris and we feel glad to have gotten on board in time for this weekend's performance and sad to have missed their first effort--Don Giovanni.

The yearling company has succeeded on two counts; artistically and socially.  In an epoch in which young people have shown very little interest in this art form, it was heartening to see a loft bursting at the seams with twenty-somethings who might have been encouraged by the presence of Brooklyn Brewery beer which could be consumed during the performance; but their enthusiasm for the performance knew no bounds and the whoops, cheers and applause at the end left no doubt that they were well on the pathway to opera addiction.

The seats were benches but we weren't squirming.  The shoestring set was nothing more than a chair, a bench, a table.  The costumes made a modest attempt at evoking Spain.  But the commitment of the singers was total.  They had so much fun performing; it was only exceeded by the fun the audience had watching.  Comic turns were everywhere, especially in the case of character tenor Francisco Corredor who put a very personal stamp on the roles of Don Basilio and Don Curzio who had a very funny stutter.

The eponymous hero, sung by Pnini Grubner, was a charming Figaro with his "Se vuol ballare".  His Susanna was the adorable Boya Wei who won our hearts; her final aria "Deh vieni, non tardar" was lovely.  Liana Guberman made a dignified Countess and sang "Dove sono" even better than "Porgi amor".  The philandering Count was sung by Suchan Kim whose spiteful and clueless nature was another source of great amusement.  Kirsten Scott made an appealing Cherubino and did justice to "Non so piu" and "Voi qui sapete".  Yoojin Lee performed the role of Marcellina, making the rapid change from wanting Figaro for her husband to accepting him as her long lost son.  Producer Daniel Ellis-Ferris put in an appearance as the gardener Antonio and also as Don Bartolo who is obliged to accept Figaro as his son and to marry Marcellina.  Larisa Martinez made a winsome Barbarina.

All the voices measured up and we particularly enjoyed the duet between Susanna and the Countess whose voices blended beautifully.  Ensembles were similarly well-balanced.  The opera was directed by Carlos Conde.  The audience was so close to the playing area that we felt like members of the Count's household.  This operatic intimacy is rare and to be cherished.

You could not do any better than to cross the Gowanus Canal this weekend; the opera will be performed again Friday and Saturday night.  It deserves the wide audience it attracted and we hope there will still be tickets left for YOU!

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


Ned Rorem, Michael Barrett, Andrew Garland, Steven Blier, Kate Lindsey
There is music that we adored on first hearing and there is music that we had to get to know in order to appreciate.  Tchaikovsky is in the first category; Mahler is in the second.  Likewise with songs. Schubert thrilled us on first hearing, rooted as we are in the 19th c. Twentieth century songs in English have never been our favorites but, under the guidance of Steven Blier and the New York Festival of Song, we have been broadening our horizons over the past year.  Last night's tribute to Ned Rorem on his 90th birthday offered many delights; we were surprised to have enjoyed the evening so thoroughly.  Most of the songs were composed by Mr. Rorem, but some were by his teachers and colleagues.

Mr. Blier's enthusiastic narration and fascinating anecdotes added immeasurably to our experience but the songs themselves offered interesting harmonies and singable melodies.  The superb singers, mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey and baritone Andrew Garland, made wonderful sense of the lyrics and their enthusiasm was infectious. Mr. Blier's and Michael Barrett's accompaniments contributed equally.  Mr. Blier and Mr. Rorem have a long and profound association and both are Francophiles; Mr. Rorem was inspired by Ravel and Poulenc among others.  In every song, the language is clear and the text well served by the vocal line.

We are particularly fond of duets and the opening one "From whence cometh song?", a setting of a text by Theodore Roethke was a fine introduction and a moving one.   For us, the most interesting duet was a unique setting of Robert Browning's "Life in a Love" with its overlapping voices.  Or was it the final song of the evening "A birthday" with text by Christina Georgina Rossetti?

Mr. Garland was especially memorable in "The Lordly Hudson" (text by Paul Goodman) and concluded the song with a beautifully controlled crescendo.  In Barber's "I hear an army", with text by James Joyce, he let loose his powerful baritone.  But he was ever so gentle in Marc Blitzstein's "Emily", which may have been the most moving song of the evening.

Ms. Lindsey was adorable in Virgil Thomson's "Sigh no more, ladies" from Five Shakespeare Songs, singing through slowly and meaningfully the first time and friskily the second.  She was equally charming in Emily Dickinson's "Dear March, come in!" from Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson, set by Aaron Copland.  In "Rain in Spring", setting of a text by Paul Goodman, the final line sung by Ms. Lindsey "Falling without haste or strain" was a perfect description of her singing.  But my favorite song in that set was a setting of Gertrude Stein's "I am Rose" which she imbued with scintillating personality.

Mr. Blier and Mr. Barrett shared accompanying duties.  We especially enjoyed the syncopated jazzy piano in Mr. Rorem's "Alleluia", played by Mr. Barrett and the achingly simple pianism of Mr. Blier in Rorem's "Little Elegy".  It needs scarcely be mentioned that the youthful Mr. Rorem (still going strong) composes all kinds of music, not just song--but it does need to be mentioned that he has written several books which Mr. Blier, in his own inimitable manner, assures us are quite racy.  Mr. Rorem once admitted to being a "pretty thing" in his youth.  He still is.

We left with an enhanced appreciation of the songs of Mr. Rorem and his associates, thanks to Mr. Blier's astute curating.  We doubt, however, that we can persuade him to love Schubert's lieder as much as we do, since he confessed that they do not thrill him.  Oh well.

© meche kroop

Monday, November 4, 2013


Bradley Moore and Jamie Barton
Inaugurating an exciting new series at the Schimmel Center of Pace University--called Voce at Pace--was the astonishing mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, fresh from her stunning success as Aldagisa in Bellini's Norma at The Metropolitan Opera.  Ms. Barton has been making quite a name for herself since winning the Met National Council Auditions six years ago.  A Richard Tucker Career Grant followed. And now the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition, both Main and Song Prizes.

The first thing you notice about Ms. Barton is the poise with which she commands the stage.  There is not a whiff of arrogance but rather a sureness that says "I have a great gift and I am delighted to be sharing it with you today".  And share she did!  The capacity audience was so enthusiastic that they applauded every number.  It was remarkable how cell phones were permanently silenced, candies remained wrapped, coughs were stifled, and whispering was nonexistent.  In an artist of this caliber, there is nothing left to say about her superlative voice.  What one notices is her skill at relating to the audience.

The program opened with Purcell's "Music for a While" adapted by Benjamin Britten; indeed, all our cares were beguiled.  A set of songs by Brahms followed, each one in a different mood.  The playfulness of "Ständchen" was followed by the passion of "Meine Liebe ist Grün"; "Unbewegte, laue Luft" began dreamily but became ardent.  Ms. Barton captured the two voices in "Von ewiger Liebe", the concerned young man and his resolute sweetheart.

The Sibelius songs that followed were equally enthralling.  "Svarta Rosor" had a bitter flavor while "Säf, säf, süsa" was dirgelike.  We have heard the popular "Flickan kom ifrån sin älsklings möte" numerous times but Ms. Barton made it new again as she gave voice to the questioning mother and the evasive daughter.  "Marssnön" is a gentle song about a late snowfall delaying the onset of Spring.  "Var det en dråm?" was filled with melancholy and nostalgia.  So many colors in her voice!

The second half of the program comprised songs by Charles Ives and Edward Elgar.  Twentieth century songs in English will never make it to our Top Twenty list but we happily admit that Ms. Barton made sense out of poetry that we favor not at all.  Actually "Memories Very Pleasant and Very Sad" rather delighted us.  Ms. B. milked every drop of childhood excitement from "We're sitting in the opera house" and actually whistled!  The sad memory about a threadbare tune associated with a dead uncle was given a full measure of grief.

In Elgar's "Sea Slumber Song" Ms. B. got a chance to show off her powerful lower register, and in "The Swimmer" to show off her big money note at the end.  Her reknowned collaborative pianist Bradley Moore was supportive throughout and we enjoyed his rippling piano in "In Haven".

The first encore was "Never Never Land" from Peter Pan--music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Comden and Green.  Yes, Virginia, an opera singer can sing a Broadway tune without sounding affected!  Drawing the afternoon to a stunning close was "Stella del Marinar" from Ponchielli's La Gioconda.  Major WOW!

There will be two more impressive singers in this series; watch out for tenor Paul Appleby on January 26th and Nadine Sierra on February 9th.  We cannot imagine better choices and are thrilled to have a new vocal series in New York City.  This one is well worth the trip downtown.

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Sunday, November 3, 2013


Scott Ingham and Kendra Berentsen-photo by Jacob Lopez
In Shakespeare's play, we are moved by the language; in Sir Kenneth MacMillan's ballet, the choreography gives us thrill after thrill; in Charles Gounod's opera Roméo et Juliette, the music goes straight to the heart.  As presented by the New York Opera Exchange this past weekend, we were presented with a modern dress version performed by some superb young artists and the New York Opera Exchange Orchestra, conducted by David Leibowitz.

Gounod's music always relates to the emotions of the scene and serves to augment the feelings.  The overture is portentous and has some interesting fugue-like figures originating with Concertmaster Suxiao Sue Yang.  We want to commend the chorus (comprising singers with smaller roles) for such fine diction.  French is one of the more difficult languages to sing clearly and, in this case, every word was understood.  We wondered who coached them--perhaps Music Director Alden Gatt?

We were very impressed with soprano Kendra Berentsen who made an innocent and vulnerable Juliette, expressing her emotions with a room-filling sound and beautiful phrasing.  The challenging aria "Je veux vivre" is filled with trills, thrills and scales, none of which daunted her; her easeful upper register resonated gloriously.  The harmonies with her Roméo were delightful and emphasized the chemistry between the two.  Tenor Scott Ingham was superb in that role, demonstrating a powerful sound and some top-notes that were free of the strain so often heard in young tenors.  We loved his "Ah! Lève-toi soleil". We eagerly awaited the softer orchestral passages in the final scene in order to hear what he sounded like at reduced volume.

Special mention must be made of baritone Nicholas A. Wiggins who performed the role of Mercutio as well as we have ever heard it.  The "Ballad of Queen Mab" was superb.  Mezzo Rebecca Henry made the most of her role as Gertrude, Juliet's nurse.  Initially she was quite disapproving of her charge's romance but she comes around to a place of empathy.  In the pants role of Stephano, mezzo Sarah Miller gave a spirited performance and sang "Que fais-tu blanche tourtourelle?" with a lovely sound and fine vibrato.

Bass-baritone Colin Whiteman was fine as Frère Laurent, Victor Starsky sang the role of Tybalt, Joseph Palarca performed the role of Benvolio, Joseph Beckwith was a kindly father Capulet and Javier Ortiz was Paris.

We were delighted to observe the youthful nature of the audience; perhaps they related more to the contemporary clothing (costumes?).  We, sadly, did not.  The story is a window into another century and another country.  It could not have happened in the USA in present times.  We did not miss the swordplay but we did miss the authenticity.  For example, a sleeping potion would not be given by a cleric to his parishioner whereas a friar would have known all about herbs and potions.  Similarly we found the bizarre headdresses used to replace the masks at the ball to be a distracting touch; indeed Juiette was obliged to wear a schooner on her head!  But these are minor quibbles when the overall production and musical values were so excellent.  The production was directed by Andreas Hager.  We are looking forward to Die Zauberflöte in February!

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Saturday, November 2, 2013


Mitchell Lyon, Bretton Brown, Elizabeth Sutphen
Once more, a "cocktail hour" spent at Juilliard was more intoxicating than a cocktail.  This "six à sept" was notable by the fact that it comprised only Italian canzone and that the singers were coached by Diego Tornelli.  When all of the actors in a play are terrific, we generally acknowledge the brilliance of the director.  When all the singers are terrific, some credit must go to the coach.

The lovely soprano Elizabeth Sutphen opened the program, along with her collaborative pianist Bretton Brown, singing Rossini's "L'invito"; she has a fine vibrato in her voice with an open-throated upper register and a warm sincere stage presence.  In Ponchielli's "Piangea", Robynn Quinnett's violin wept along with the sad text.  In Ponchielli's "Eternamente", Mitchell Lyon's cello made some beautiful harmonies with her voice.  We have enjoyed witnessing Ms. Sutphen's growth as an artist on her way through Juilliard.

The same could be said for tenor Nathan Haller, whose piano partner was Valeriya Polunina.  He gave a rather subdued performance of Verdi's "Non t'accostare all'urna", a song of bitterness that we have cherished as one of Verdi's best songs; he was absolutely undaunted by the low notes, starting pianissimo and building to a passionate crescendo.  He followed up with some Tosti songs; we thought that "Ideale" suited his voice perfectly and observed a deep connection with the text and a sustained mood.  In Respighi's "Invito alla danza", he loosened up and evinced a lot of charm.

Also on the program were some singers we had not heard before but hope to hear again.  Tenor Hyunho Yoo, accompanied by Miles Fellenberg, sang Cimara's "Non più" with a sweet sound and legato phrasing.  He also sang a few songs by Castelnuovo-Tedesco, our favorite of which was "Al tè", a charming song with a lighthearted text describing conversation around a tea table.  But we noticed the most connection with the text when Mr. Yoo sang about nature, as in Davico's "O maggio bello" in a later set.  Mr. Fellenberg shone in Campogalliani's "Piangete occhi".

Also new to us was mezzo Avery Amereau who sang early 20th c. canzone by Santoliquido.  Ms. Amereau has a true mezzo sound, and a most agreeable one at that, in contrast with many young mezzo-sopranos who tend to sound like sopranos with low notes.  We liked the way her voice opened up when she sang the passionate "L'incontro".  Her pianist was Art Williford and they worked well together.

The program closed with baritone Elliott Hines, accompanied by Siyi Fang who has a lovely delicate touch, performing songs from several different periods.   Calestani's 17th c. "Accorta lusinghiera" was the earliest and Castelnuovo-Tedesco's charming "Nova angeletta" the most modern.  Mr. Hines seemed as comfortable with the baroque as with the "modern".  The final work on the program was Schubert's "Il traditor deluso"; had we not read the program we would never have recognized Schubert's compositional hand.  What a surprise!

We left Paul Hall feeling as if we'd taken a course in the history and evolution of canzone.  We also observed the value of having the singer do his/her own translations.  This was a real Halloween treat, the only "trick" being the Schubert!

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