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.

Monday, March 31, 2014


Cristina Stanescu and Theo Lebow
It was a dark and stormy night.  It was the perfect night for Schubert's Die Winterreise, a journey we have made and enjoyed dozens of times; but we'd never made the journey with Theo Lebow and Cristina Stanescu.  Could anything new be wrung from this well-worn but beloved 1827 song cycle?  A resounding "YES" is the answer.

Mr. Lebow has a sweet and youthful tenor, perfect for expressing the intense drama of a youth dealing with a lost love.  His interpretation was fearless as he plumbed the depths of despair and unrelenting isolation with interludes of brief false hope. The wanderer he limned bordered on psychosis.  For all Mr. Lebow's immersion in the text, he never lost sight of the music.  His superb technique with its fine phrasing and exquisite dynamic control were never obvious but used to serve the music.  His gestures were apt but never overdone.

In Cristina Stanescu, Mr. Lebow found the perfect piano partner.  Although the current season is Spring, it was obvious that the two artists spent a long winter working together.  They seemed to breathe in and out at the same time.  Her pianism reflected every one of the allegorical elements of nature mentioned in the text--dogs barking, streams running, trees rustling, crows cawing and the mail coach passing; we even heard the last leaf quivering and about to fall from the tree.  Rhythms were crisp and clean.  There were times when she stretched a pause for a split second and we held our breath.

It seemed as if our artists were channeling Schubert and the poet Wilhelm Müller.  Had they been in the audience we are sure they would have wept as we did; it was impossible not to connect with past losses and sorrows.  This is not a performance we will soon forget and neither will the capacity audience who braved the rain to attend.  The two artists well deserved the prolonged standing ovation.  Bravi!!!

© meche kroop

Sunday, March 30, 2014


Michael Anderson, Christine Price, Justin Austin (photo by Brian Hatton)
Lyndon England, Hannah Dishman (photo by Brian Hatton)

Juan del Bosco, Caroline Braga (photo by Brian Hatton)

A rewarding and highly entertaining production of Cavalli's La Doriclea  was presented by the Manhattan School of Music Senior Opera Theater.  Baroque opera can be tedious but, in the right hands, it can be a lot of fun.  The hands belong to Dona D. Vaughn and Jorge Parodi.  Ms. Vaughn directed with a sureness born of experience--experience in telling a story and experience in pulling meaningful performances out of the singers, most of whom were seniors with a few graduate students thrown in for good measure.

Maestro Parodi's hands are another thing altogether, and if you could tear your eyes away from the riveting stage action you would be entranced by the balletic moves as he pulled superb performances from his musicians, most of whom were graduate students.  The talented theorboist was guest artist Carlos Cuestas.

This 1645 opera, with libretto by Giovanni Faustini (who collaborated with Francesco Cavalli on nine operas) is one of about a dozen surviving Venetian operas from the first half of the 17th c. The influence of Monteverdi is evident.  It suffered a delay in performance due to censorship. Why?  Probably it had something to do with the gender hijinks.

The heroine Doriclea (Christine Price) in male military garb fights alongside her husband Tigrane, King of Armenia (Michael Anderson). Arsacian King Artabano (Juan del Bosco), whose soldier Surena (Nicholas Smith) has taken her captive, has a sister Eurinda (Caroline Braga), who falls in love with Doriclea (disguised as "Cyrus") and is ready to forsake her fiancé Farnace (Megan Mikailovna Samarin in a pants role).

Adding delightful comic relief are Eurinda's maid Melloe (Hannah Dishman) who, at one point tried to attack someone with a cucumber, and Farnace's page Orindo (Lyndon England) who doesn't have to do much but cross the stage to evoke laughter.  The two have a cute duet together in which Melloe expresses the wish to experience love and Orindo expresses his cynical view of women.

On a more severe note, Sabari (Justin Austin in fine voice) a man who knows that "Cyrus" is really a woman, tries to seduce her.  When rejected he accuses her of adultery as revenge.  Confusing?  Only on paper.  Ms. Vaughn made everything clear onstage.

To complicate matters still further, Act I has a prologue in which character traits are anthropomorphized.  Ambition (Margaret Woolums) is depicted wearing a blindfold.  (Get it?)    Virtue (Sara Hope Ptachik) despairs over losing out to Vice.  (In nearly four centuries, has anything changed?)  Ignorance (Marina Lombardi) disguises herself in Virtue's garments.  In some lovely melismatic singing, Glory (Sheila Houlahan) introduces the story.

Before Act I ends, Venus (Amanda Grafton) rouses her clan of cupids, clad in pink undies with hot pink wigs, with a stirring battle cry and then promises her favors to Mercury (Mark Zhaoming Seah)  whose celestial home is the balcony of the Ades performing space.  At the end of Act II, she has a charming duet with the virile Mars (Cameron Johnson) after threatening to attack his palace with her troop of "Amorini".

We have probably omitted a few characters in this wonderful piece and for this we apologize.  Everyone sang well and acted their parts with gusto.  A few performances were outstanding.  There was a touching duet between Mr. Anderson and Ms. Price at the opening of the opera when she is too wounded to move on and begs him to kill her.  Ms. Price also has a lovely lament at the beginning of Act III.

Ms. Braga made a highly expressive address to the audience about her love for Farnace before meeting "Cyrus" and a marvelous duet with Ms. Samarin when they reconcile at the end of the opera.  We liked the scene at court in which Ms. Braga becomes besotted with "Cyrus" (the disguised Doriclea) and Ms. Dishman becomes the counterbalancing voice of reason, reminding her of her betrothal to Farnace.

The simple set and effective lighting were by Kate Ashton.  There were some jagged mountains in the rear and some clouds overhead and a fine tent for the Arsacian king.  During the garden scene some arches interlaced with flowers sufficed.

Costumes by Summer Lee Jack were apt and well executed.  Gods and goddesses looked very Roman with lots of draping.  Mars looked exactly the way one would imagine and Mercury had a winged helmet. The Arsacians looked vaguely Middle-Eastern with Eurinda and her brother Artabano appearing very royal.

We have no evidence that La Doriclea has been performed since it's opening in Venice but if anyone else had discovered it and performed it we doubt that it could have been done any better.  What a privilege to have seen a work that survived nearly 400 years.  Mankind is still struggling with gender ambiguity, fickle lovers and senseless wars. We don't need modern dress to appreciate the contemporary relevance.

© meche kroop

Saturday, March 29, 2014


Alex McKissick, Nicolette Mavroleon
Kurt Kanazawa, Virginie Verrez, Laura Levoir, Jessine Johnson

Lachlan Glen, Theo Hoffman, Leann Osterkamp, Mary-Elizabeth O'Neill
A week of recitals at Juilliard have left us reeling with pleasure. There wasn't a mediocre singer in the bunch; all were promising but some seem to have a better sense of what suits their particular voices and interpretive skills.  It takes a lot of courage to introduce a new work or to choose songs that are rarely performed.  Sometimes a gem is discovered and sometimes we are left realizing why a particular work has been neglected.  (Anyone who has worked with Steven Blier knows of his gifts for choosing songs and finding the right singer to inhabit them.)

Let us begin with Theo Hoffman whose third-year undergraduate status tells us absolutely nothing about his prodigious talents.  His generous smoky baritone was heard twice on Thursday.  At the Vocal Arts Department's Liederabend (an all-Schumann program) he sang in perfect German four lovely lieder, perfectly modulated in volume and word-coloring.  He was accompanied by the fine Ari Livne.

And two hours later he was onstage at his third-year recital with the amazing Lachlan Glen (whose new CD we will be reviewing shortly) as piano partner, making music out of some songs in English that we did not expect to enjoy; it is testament to the talents of these two artists that we found ourselves loving the material.

Mr. Hoffman has preternatural stage poise and dramatic chops; he can really bring a song to life.  He drew selections from the oeuvre of Jonathan Dove, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Benjamin Britten, John Musto, Samuel Barber, Rufus Wainwright and Marc Blitzstein.  One cannot go wrong with poetry by Alfred Tennyson, Robert Louis Stevenson or William Butler Yeats.  But the big surprise was Rufus Wainwright's "True Loves" and Marc Blitzstein's "Stay in My Arms". Both men composed their own texts and both songs were pure delight.  As encore, Mr. Hoffman sang Noel Coward's "Uncle Harry", a reprise of his success at a recital at the National Opera Center. What fun!!!

Sharing the program was mezzo Mary-Elizabeth O'Neill whom we enjoyed in those wonderful Schubert songs from Gesänge aus Wilhelm Meister.  She was just the right interpreter for these songs of the mysterious Mignon.  We were somewhat less enchanted by her choice of Mirabai Songs, John Harbison's setting of texts by Robert Bly.  The writing for piano was difficult and dense, performed well by the fine collaborative pianist Leann Osterkamp, but the vocal line was spare and not melodic.  The work obviously meant a great deal to Ms. O'Neill but we found ourselves incapable of caring about the Hindu princess who left her family to devote herself body and soul to Lord Krishna, although Ms. O'Neill's diction in English was easily understood.

To return now to the all-Schumann Liederabend, we enjoyed baritone Kurt Kanazawa, accompanied by Joseph Yungen, having a great deal of fun with his choices.  His light and pleasing baritone sounded wonderful and seemed particularly suited to songs about seduction--"The Hidalgo" for example.  He is one of those singers who uses his body and facial expression to good advantage, as in his imitating the ladies of Seville with their fans and mantillas.  What a storyteller!

Soprano Laura LeVoir with her piano partner Zsolt Balogh sounded especially fine in "Der Sandmann", "Schmetterling" and "Schneeglöckchen", singing with lightness, delicacy and charm.

Jessine Johnson has a larger voice that was well suited to the tragic "Der Soldat" and the scary "Muttertraum".  The Rückert lied "Mein schöner Stern" was equally impressive.  Siyi Fang followed along with her as piano partner, contributing to the apt interpretations.

Mezzo Virginie Verrez, accompanied by Miles Fellenberg, undertook the very sad Gedichte der Königin Maria Stuart.  Her very textured voice was expressive and she demonstrated exquisite phrasing, dynamic control and word coloring.  We were moved and enthralled.

Soprano Nicolette Mavroleon and tenor Alex McKissick shared a third-year recital and made a fine showing, the most amazing part of which was their versatility.  Just a few days earlier we heard them both singing in a cabaret (also reviewed here) and were impressed with the ease with which they shifted gears.

We always love Dvořák and were thrilled that Ms. Mavroleon chose to sing a quartet of his songs, three of which were about unfulfilled love.  We especially loved the typical Czech melody of "My heart often becomes mournful".  Piano partner Valeriya Polunina captured the mood perfectly.

She also sang a Schubert concert aria in Italian that was filled with emotion--"Vedi quanto adoro ancora ingrato!"  How wonderful to discover a new side of Schubert; we would not have recognized it as Schubert.  Two songs by Rimsky-Korsakov followed and we were blown away by the erotic "A Midsummer Night's Dream".

Tenor Alex McKissick essayed selections from Die Schöne Müllerin which we have always considered to be best sung by a young man.  He conveyed enthusiasm and contentment, tenderness and exultation. We liked the way he changed color for the various voices in "Am Feierabend".

He has a facility for Spanish and did a fine job conveying the insecurity of the serenader in "Te quiero, Morena" from the zarzuela El Trust de los Tenorios by José Serrano.  José Padilla's "Princesita" had a lovely melody.  Raymond Wong was his able accompanist.

A week spent at Juilliard provided a lifetime of musical memories!

© meche kroop

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


Art Williford, Valeriya Polunina, Eva Gheorghiu, Angela Vallone
For Voce di Meche, the greatest pleasure of Springtime is not the budding of the trees but rather the budding of vocal talent.  This is the time of year when music students get to give recitals.  We can think of no greater seasonal satisfaction  than witnessing these young artists whose full flowering we anticipate in the years to come.  It is a long journey for them and this is but one crucial step.

There will be more reviews this week but let us focus on last night's satisfying recital at Juilliard where we heard two fine sopranos, both students of Edith Wiens.

Eva Gheorghiu (no relation to Angela) has a crystalline tone and a fine sense of drama.  She performed two very different arias: "Frère! Voyez!" from Jules Massenet's Werther and "Prendi, per me sei libero" from Gaetano Donizetti's  L'Elisir d'Amore.  In the first, young Sophie tries to cheer up the morose Werther and Ms. Gheorghiu captured the spirit and nailed the French diction.

In the latter, Adina lets Nemorino know that she has bought back his military contract and that she loves him; she tells him with flights of rapturous coloratura, leaving us enraptured.

A quintet of songs by Prokofiev which she herself translated  permitted her to demonstrate a lovely diminuendo  and strength in the lower register.  Valeriya Polunina accompanied with a light sensitive touch and fleet fingering.

Soprano Angela Vallone, working with the excellent collaborative pianist Art Williford, performed songs in Russian, French and Swedish.  We just saw her three days earlier performing in a cabaret and were impressed by her versatility. 

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's "The Nightingale and the Rose" has the most exotic melody and delighted the ear.  In Rachmaninoff's  lavish "In the silence of the mysterious night", Ms. Vallone allowed the passionate sentiment into her voice to fine effect.

A pair of Debussy songs--"Regret" and "Paysage Sentimental" were delivered in fine French that was understandable without the printed text.

But where Ms. Vallone truly shone was in the concluding set of songs by Jean Sibelius with which she clearly connected.  We have always loved "Var det en dröm?" but it was "Flickan kom ifrån sin älsklings mote" that truly spoke (or, rather, sang) to us because of her deep involvement.

Stay tuned for more "buds" tomorrow!

© meche kroop

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


Christopher Colmenero and Vanessa Isiguen
The climax of last night's recital at Mannes College the New School for Music was the first act love duet between Butterfly and Pinkerton "Vogliatemi bene" from Puccini's Madama Butterfly.  Soprano Vanessa Isiguen and tenor Christopher Colmenero were so fine that we wished they would go on and on into the night.  Ms. Isiguen has an enviable instrument that manages to be bright and rich at the same time.  Mr. Colmenero has a sizable instrument that has the texture of a baritone.  Rarely have we heard a tenor so substantial in the lower register.

Some singers use their bodies expressively and others prefer to keep still and use only their voices.  We confess to a preference for the former and the only thing we would have added to Mr. Colmenero's fine performance would be some gestures of expression.  But that is a personal preference.

By a strange coincidence, the tenor's first set--selections from Brahm's rarely performed Magalone Romanzen-- were performed this season by the Brooklyn Art Song Society and we were delighted to hear them again.  (Readers who missed the review can find it by using the search function.)  Moving readily from the bombastic "Traun! Bogen und pfeil" to the sorrowful "Muss es eine trennung geben" and the hopeful "Wie froh und Frisch", he demonstrated a variety of vocal color.

His second set, by yet another strange coincidence, was "Max's Aria" from Carl Maria von Weber's Der Freischutz, the presentation of which by Utopia Opera we had just reviewed.  This is an introspective aria in which Max considers the risks he is taking to win his lady love.  It was finely sung.  Mr. Colmenero's effective collaborative pianist was Alla Michtein.

Later he did justice to Ralph Vaughan Williams Songs of Travel, of which our favorite was "Youth and Love" in which he showed a lovely vibrato in the pianissimo parts.  His English diction was just as good as his German.

Ms. Isiguen did a commendable job with Claude Debussy's Ariettes Oubliées.  She completely captured the French style and the sensuality of "C'est l'extase langoureuse".  Her voice opened up superbly at the top and filled the room with some great overtones.  Sophia Muñoz accompanied in fine style.

Of the three excellent Rachmaninoff songs, we enjoyed the passion of "Francesca's Aria" from Francesca da Rimini but absolutely swooned over the very timely "Spring Waters" in which we could experience the murmuring of the Spring run-off both in voice and piano.

Although we have enjoyed operas presented by Mannes at Hunter College, we have not been on the Mannes campus since our days spent studying composition with David Tcimpidis.  It was good to be back to see the origins of so many singers we have recently admired.  We expect Ms. Isiguen and Mr. Colmenero to join them.

© meche kroop

Sunday, March 23, 2014


Front Row:  Alex McKissick and Miles Mykkanen  --  Back Row: Nicolette Mavroleon, Lacey Jo Benter, Angela Vallone, Elliott Carlton Hines, Dan K. Kurland, Michael Chiarello
The Juilliard Vocal Arts Department is not just about opera, just in case you didn't know.  The talented artists who call that department home are equally adept at contemporary music, and we don't mean those tedious unmusical settings of awful poetry.  We mean lively American songs that relate to contemporary experience, the kind of songs that singers of lesser talent perform with (yikes!) amplification.  Not these artists!  Their glorious and finely trained voices just sang it out.

The songs were well curated to reflect the kinds of things we are interested in--love, fulfilled and frustrated, and life in our wonderful city in all its glory and occasionally loathsome complexity.  The black box theater was bare except for a quartet of cafe tables, chairs and two step ladders.  Jeanne Slater can be credited with some mighty fine directing and choreography. 

The ensemble got the evening off to a rip-roaring start.  We loved the manner in which they performed Stephen Sondheim's "Another Hundred People" from Company; the energy level was through the roof and conveyed all the excitement of life in the Big Apple.  "Coffee in a Cardboard Cup" from John Kander and Fred Ebb's 70, Girls 70 likewise expressed the frantic nature of New York existence in a most charming way.

Tenors Miles Mykkanen and Alex McKissick were joined by baritone Elliott Carlton Hines for the delightful trio "One Track Mind" from Marvin Hamlisch and Craig Carnelia's Sweet Smell of Success.  Sopranos Nicolette Mavroleon and Angela Vallone joined voices with mezzo Lacey Jo Benter for a very funny rendition of "Forget About the Boy" from Thoroughly Modern Millie by Jeanine Tesori and Dick Scanlan.  The interactions were so well directed it felt like overhearing your friends.  What woman has not tried to console a broken-hearted BFF who was dumped by some guy!

The duets were equally inspired.  One could chuckle over the friendship between Mr. McKissick and Ms. Vallone as she tried to talk him out of making a fool of himself in "Coffee" from Joshua Salzman and Ryan Cunningham's I Love You Because.  The touching "What Do We Do It For?" from the same show was movingly performed by Ms. Benter and Mr. Mykkanen.

Solos were not neglected.  From Lin-Manuel Miranda's In the Heights, Ms. Mavroleon used her excellent voice to sing "It Won't be Long Now" and Mr. Hines used his fine baritone to sing the romantic "When I First Saw You" from Henry Krieger and Tom Eyen's Dreamgirls.

On the funnier side, the marvelous Mr. Mykkanen was all over the stage with "The Life of the Party" from Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party.  He truly IS the life of the party and the ensemble joining him for "Wild, Wild Party" seemed totally organic as if his performance had roused them.

Mr. McKissick's fine solo was the defensive "What Do I Need with Love" from Thoroughly Modern Millie; Ms. Benter's solo told a wonderful story about what women face in "Expectations of a Man" by Joathan Reid Gealt, but her story had a twist at the end.  Ms. Vallone sang the moving and satisfying "A Way Back to Then" from Jeff Bowen's [title of show].

There were other ensemble pieces that we will cherish long after the evening has passed: "West End Avenue" from Stephen Schwartz' The Magic Show  which struck very close to home (so to speak) and Sondheim's "What More Do I Need" from Saturday Night.  And from his Merrily We Roll Along the song "Our Time" closed the evening in fine style.  For these impressive artists, it truly is "their time".

Excellent accompaniment was provided by Musical Director Dan K. Kurland at the piano with Michael Chiarello on bass and Andrew Funcheon on drums.  By the end of the show we were grinning from ear to ear and suffused with good feelings.  So superb was this show that it could be transplanted intact to Broadway.  Now why didn't someone think of that!

© meche kroop

Saturday, March 22, 2014


Alex Charlie Boyd, Bryce Smith, Mary Ann Stewart, William Remmers, Shawn Thuris, Sarah Moulton Faux
Most opera lovers have heard of Carl Maria von Weber's opera Der Freischütz; some have heard a recording of it; few have actually seen it performed.  Thanks to Director/Conductor William Remmers and Utopia Opera we can now say that we have seen it performed.  You can as well if you get yourself to Lang Hall at Hunter College tonight at 7:30.  This 1821 work is considered to have launched German Romanticism; it is replete with romance, religion and superstition--both in the text and in the music.

Under the colorful conducting of Mr. Remmers the overture began softly and grew in power.  On the right third of the stage was the orchestra, comprising a string quartet, a bass, a pair of flutes, a pair of clarinets, a pair of oboes, a bassoon, a trumpet, and--this being a work about hunters--a quartet of horns.  The melodies were tuneful and the balance was only somewhat flawed by the cheek-by-jowl arrangement of the musicians.  Still, it was a treat to hear a live orchestra.

The opera concerns a junior hunter named Max (tenor Shawn Thuris) who is in line to inherit the title of Head Huntsman from Cuno (bass Jay Gould) and to marry Cuno's daughter Agathe (the substantial soprano Mary Ann Stewart, who has an impressive vibrato among other assets). 

The frenemy Caspar, another junior huntsman (convincingly evil bass Bryce Smith) has sold his soul to the devil, here called Samiel the Wild Huntsman.  When poor Max loses a shooting match to the pompous wealthy peasant Kilian (baritone Matthew Walsh) he goes into "testosterone failure", losing his confidence and the right to marry Agathe. 

But wait!  Caspar has the solution.  He promises Max a magic bullet to win the shooting match with the nefarious intention of swapping Max's soul for a few years grace for himself from Samiel.  Although some of the cast will be different tonight, Mr. Smith will be on hand delivering some contrasting arias, a drinking song in the tavern and an aria far more dire.

Agathe has been given blessings and white roses from a Hermit (bass Jonathan Dauermann).  She is morose and fearful about some bad omens and is cheered and comforted by her cousin Ännchen (bright-voiced soprano Sarah Moulton Faux) whose light-hearted arias are in delightful contrast with the anxiety ridden state of Agathe's.  They have a lovely duet together in which their voices blend beautifully.And that is all of the plot we are going to share with you except that there is a Prince Ottokar (baritone Alex Charlie Boyd) who appears in the final scene.

Staging was simple for the most part but the scene in the Wolf's Glen involved some highly imaginative effects and ghostly apparitions.  The music was appositely eerie.

German diction was fine throughout; there was some dialogue spoken in English as well. There were no sets and costumes were minimal, although we did get a kick out of Kilian's authentic lederhosen and the Prince's military garb. With fine musical values, we scarcely missed the trimmings.

What distinguishes Utopia Opera is that it is truly an audience-centric institution.  Productions are chosen by vote!  June 27th and 28th Verdi's Falstaff will be presented and next year's programming comprises Carlisle Floyd's Susannah, Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri, a Ravel/Sullivan double bill, and Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos.  Ambitious?  Of course!  We expect nothing less from Utopia Opera in what will be their fourth season. 

© meche kroop

Friday, March 21, 2014


Daniel Fung, Önay Köse, Emmett O'Hanlon
The three Juilliard artists performing at the Vocal Arts Honors Recital last night at Alice Tully Hall are all deserving of the honors bestowed.  Bass Önay Köse stepped in for the unfortunately indisposed soprano Hyesang Park and turned in a fine performance; baritone Emmett O'Hanlon is just a compelling stage animal; pianist Daniel Fung, who played for both, gave superlative support.  Both singers were nominated by their respective teachers to audition for a panel of judges; they chose their own material.

Mr. Köse opened the program with Drei Lieder nach Gedichten von Michelangelo by Hugo Wolf.  Mr. Köse employed his sturdy bass in these profoundly philosophical songs with a large sound that filled the hall with vibrations; but he is also capable of delicacy when called for by the text.  His resonant voice reminded us of stout or porter--dark, rich, heavy in texture.  His German diction left nothing to be desired.

From Modest Mussorgsky, he selected three of the Songs and Dances of Death which we heard him perform almost a year ago.  We especially liked what he did with "Lullaby"; he colored the soothing words of Death with gentleness to relieve a suffering child; he colored the mother's voice very differently, showing her panic.  (We recently heard a famous bass sing these songs and were disappointed that he had missed that opportunity.)  We do not recall Mr. Köse using a music stand last year and hope he will not use one the next time.  Our best guess is that it had something to do with his last minute substitution.

In "Trepak", Mr. Fung had his opportunity to show off some very fine pianistic technique.

Baritone Emmett O'Hanlon seemed delighted to present the second and lighter half of the evening and captivated the audience with a full measure of stage presence.  Maurice Ravel's Don Quichotte à Dulcinée is frequently done but we never tire of its variety and charm.  Mr. O'Hanlon used his body and gestures to complement his fine voice; he definitely knows how to get a song across.  The audience was already chortling before he opened his mouth for the wonderful "Chanson à Boire".

From Ralph Vaughan Williams' Songs of Travel, Mr. O'Hanlon chose two, of which our favorite was "The Roadside Fire".  It seems as if the lovely text by Robert Louis Stevenson with its rhymed couplets inspired some fine melodic writing.  It's a pleasure to report that Mr. O'Hanlon's English was just as intelligible as his French was in the Ravel.

Lee Hoiby's "Last Letter Home" has a most moving text, enough to convince anyone to be a pacifist.  But we fail to see that Mr. Hoiby's music made it any more moving.  On the other hand, Mr. O'Hanlon's delivery was magnificently intense.

Three Strauss songs closed the program: the beloved "Allerseelen", the soul-stirring "Die Nacht" and "Lied an meinen Sohn" which was new to us.  German diction and phrasing were admirable. In the last song, Mr. Fung created quite a storm in the piano, just as he earlier created  an atmosphere of gemütlichkeit in "The Roadside Fire".

© meche kroop

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


Theo Hoffman, Annie Rosen, Olivia Betzen, Miles Mykkanen
Sometimes the singer "makes" the song; he or she puts an interesting new spin on a song we never liked much or have grown tired of.  Sometimes the song "makes" the singer; it is so well written that it brings out the best in the one who sings it.  And sometimes both singer and song are perfectly matched.  Such is the case when recital wizard Steven Blier creates an evening of song for the New York Festival of Song, of which he is Artistic Director.  He always has an unusual theme in mind and always curates just the right songs and finds the right singers to bring them to life.

The theme of last night's recital was travel.  Composers who used texts describing adventures in other more exotic lands were given a hearing, for example Anton Rubinstein's setting of a text by Friedrich Martin von Bodenstedt "Gelb rollt mir zu Füssen" based on an Azerbaijani text describing Persia.  Now that's rather international in scope!

The recital was a culmination of a weeklong professional training residency at the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts and the five rising stars on the program appeared to have had a great deal of fun along with their prodigious efforts.  The joy they felt in singing was contagious; we comprised a happy audience.

Coming out on top of the collection of songs were those by Cole Porter and Noël Coward; the English language lends itself so well to humor!  The remarkable tenor Miles Mykkanen, who has acting chops to match his matchless voice, gave a performance of "The Kling-Kling Bird on the Divi-Divi Tree" that is unlikely to be equalled.  It beggars description.  You will just have to attend tonight's repeat performance at 7:00 and you will likely write us a thank you note for the recommendation.

The marvelous baritone Theo Hoffman, not to be outdone, gave an hilarious performance of Coward's "Uncle Harry", not missing a single opportunity to draw giggles from the audience.  Both of these versatile artists joined forces for Hoagy Carmichael's "Hong Kong Blues", while Mr. Blier accompanied them with some very jazzy riffs on the piano.

Mr. Hoffman showed his serious side in Carlos Guastavino's "Pampamapa, aire de Huella" which expresses the pain of exile.  He sang it in perfect Argentinian dialect with some admirable melismatic singing.  It was heartbreaking.

Soprano Olivia Betzen is new to us but we will be very happy to hear more of her.  Her performance of Georges Bizet's "Adieux de l'hôtesse arabe" (one of the few songs on the program with which we are familiar) was delivered with sensuality and a fine trill.  We also enjoyed her performance of Enrique Granados' "Callejeo"; we are always delighted with zarzuela and tonadillas.

Mezzo-soprano Annie Rosen, also new to us, was delightful in William Bolcom's "To My Old Addresses" in which Leann Osterkamp (who shared accompanying with Mr. Blier) got an opportunity to show off her skill at the piano.  Ms. Rosen was heart-wrenching in the desperate "J'attends un navire" by Kurt Weill.

The four singers and Ms. Osterkamp worked very well as an ensemble.  We particularly enjoyed Coward's "In a bar on the Piccolo Marina" for its raunchy English music hall humor.  In Wilhelm Stenhammar's "I seraillets have" their harmonies teased the ear with pleasure, as they also did in the encore, Frank Loesser's "Slow Boat to China".

In an all-too-brief 90 minutes we were transported to South America and Europe, Scandinavia, India, Asia and the Middle-East--all without fighting for space in an overhead compartment.  Viva NYFOS, and ....thanks for the memories.

© meche kroop

Sunday, March 16, 2014


Mario Antonio Marra and John Brancy
When the judges of the Marilyn Horne Song Competition chose baritone John Brancy and pianist Mario Antonio Marra as their 2013 winners they chose extraordinarily well.  This pair made magic yesterday in their recital at the National Opera Center.  When Mr. Brancy performs Robert Schumann's Dichterliebe at Carnegie Hall (no doubt he will have that opportunity), we will sit there smugly knowing that we heard it in the intimate environment that the work demands.

Mr. Brancy is a born storyteller and sings from a place deep within; he sings in an expressive manner that never panders to the audience but rather invites the audience to join him on his profound inward journey.  Unlike Schubert's song cycles, Dichterliebe is an inner journey.  There is no leierman, no miller, no brook, no frost on the window.  There is just the singer and his tale of a love lost, indeed lost rather early in the cycle. 

The remainder of the cycle relates the varying emotions he feels as he works through the loss; we experience with him the stages of anger, grief, bitterness, despair and ultimately acceptance as he confines his old songs to an hyperbolic coffin given a burial at sea.  Mr. Brancy and Mr. Marra plumbed every emotional depth leaving us feeling emotionally wrung out but artistically satisfied.

We welcomed the respite of intermission to restore our equanimity.  Three songs by Dvořák followed and we recalled an evening at Juilliard when we spent an evening listening to and growing accustomed to the sound of the difficult Czech language.  The effort spent in learning to sing in Czech yielded a big bonus for the listener since the songs are beyond lovely.

The first two were settings of Greek poems about mothers and sons.  In the first, a woman is learning of her son's successes in destroying Turkish pashas and armies and the second related the tale of a shepherd who disobeys his mother's advice and plays his pipes for the Nereids.  A third song entitled "Cypresses" was about the pains of love and had some gorgeous melodies typical of the composer's nationalistic bent.

Following this we heard the premiere of Force, an impressive work commissioned by Gary Portadin--a collaboration between composer Chris Kapica, poet Robert Corsini and Mr. Brancy.  In a universe of ugly and meaningless contemporary poetry which has been set to equally ugly and meaningless music, this work shines as brightly as Jupiter in the night sky.  The theme of man overcoming a mechanistic world and achieving identity through creative self-definition is a worthwhile subject for exploration.  Mr. Corsini's poetry rhymes (!) and scans (!!) and Mr. Kapica's music expresses and augments the ideas both the mechanistic ones and the spiritual ones, challenging the listener without hurting the ears.  Mr. Brancy's performance seemed to come from a very profound place.

The program concluded with three 20th c. American songs that were given the same attention and respect as lieder.  In each case Mr. Marra played with the songs in his own superb arrangements that tickled the ear.  In Hoagy Carmichael's "The Nearness of You" Mr. Brancy's beautiful baritone caressed each word as Mr. Marra's digits caressed the keys of the piano.  We heard some truly gorgeous floated top notes.

Jerome Kern's "The Folks Who Live on the Hill" was given a jazzy treatment by Mr. Marra in beautiful counterpoint to Mr. Brancy's sincerity.  Cole Porter's "Night and Day" offered a fine sense of fun with twinkles in the eyes. 

As an encore, Stephen Foster's "Beautiful Dreamer" was sung in tribute to Marilyn Horne.  How many times we have listened to her sing this treasure on You Tube!  It was the perfect end to a magical recital.  We will fall into bed with some beautiful dreams of a well-spent evening.

© meche kroop

Saturday, March 15, 2014


Bryan Wagorn, Lachlan Glen, Yunpeng Wang, Mary-Jane Lee
We get accustomed to hearing a favorite piece of music and we sit smugly waiting to have our taste reconfirmed.  But occasionally we are presented with this piece of music and hear it more intensely; the work doesn't have to be performed in a radically different way but we are so marked by the performance that we want to keep that performance close to our hearts and not have it spoiled by a further hearing of lesser quality.  We suppose one could call this a "definitive" performance.

Such was the case last night at a Lindemann recital when baritone Yunpeng Wang and pianist Lachlan Glen performed Gustav Mahler's Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen.  Such was the resonance between these two gifted artists, both in their first year in the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, that we were caught breathless and shaken to the core. 

Mr. Wang's large round sound was even throughout his range and exhibited great power in the low notes; the word coloring was impressive--"traurig" was never sadder, nor "süss" ever sweeter nor "dunkles" ever darker.  Mr. Glen's piano milked every drop of emotion and color from these songs, painting an aural picture in a perfectly modulated performance that evoked birdsong and sunshine, the woe of loss, a silvery laugh, and ultimately the peace of acceptance at the end, trailing off into sleep.  It was stunning.

This astonishingly well-matched pair of artists also did a fine job with two selections from Franz Liszt's Tre sonetti di Petrarca--the tumultuous "Pace non trovo" and the sweet "I vidi in terra angelici costumi".  Mr. Wang's Italian was just as perfect as his German and Mr. Glen is just a beautiful beast at the piano. 

By no means do we mean to give short shrift to the other superb pair on the program.  Bryan Wagorn's artistry at the piano is remarkable and we have delighted in it for his three years as a Lindemann artist.  He has a special skill for collaboration with a variety of singers and tonight he played with soprano Mary-Jane Lee who appears to have a splendid career ahead of her.  She has it all--glamorous good looks and a voice of distinctive timbre, sounding at times like a mezzo with ringing top notes.  She sang Richard Strauss' Vier Letzte Lieder in which the composer set texts by Herman Hesse and Joseph Karl von Eichendorff, the last three of which are about sleep, dying, loss and mourning.  We wondered if the composer's choices were influenced by his anticipation of his own life ending.

Ms. Lee sang them well, exhibiting the beautiful high notes that Strauss loved so well and some lovely melismatic singing.  Mr. Wagorn's postlude in "Im Abendrot" was a work of art in and of itself.  The performance was very different from the spirited performance of Benjamin Britten's Cabaret Songs, setting of texts by W. H. Auden.  It seemed to us that Ms. Lee had as much fun singing them as Britten did setting them; she really knows how to get a song across with charm and style.  We found Auden's texts a bit frivolous and awkward in their scanning and rhymes but perhaps not meant to be taken seriously.

© meche kroop


Thursday, March 13, 2014


Natalie Dessay (photo by Simon Fowler)
The glamorous coloratura soprano Natalie Dessay proved last night at Carnegie Hall that art and glamour can not only coexist but can add luster to one another.  Clad in a stunning silver gown of arresting proportion, this superstar with a silvery voice kept a capacity audience spellbound for two hours with a delicious menu of lieder and chansons.

The most impressive aspects of this New York debut recital were twofold.  Firstly, Ms. Dessay's partnership with pianist Philippe Cassard was extraordinarily impressive; the sensitivity of one to the other reminded us of a dance.  Secondly, Ms. Dessay yielded to the muse and submerged her outsized personality in service to the music.  We know of no better Marie (Donizetti's Fille du Regiment) than Ms. Dessay and we have seen her put her very personal stamp on other roles as well but last night was all about the music.  Not only was every word and phrase given its due but her musicality shone forth.

She opened with four songs by Clara Schumann that truly deserve a wider audience.  The two settings of texts by Friedrich Rückert were particularly memorable:  "Liebst du um Schönheit", famously set by Gustav Mahler, was no less lovely for being unfamiliar to our ears and "Er ist gekommen" swept us along with its intense passion.

Three lovely songs by Johannes Brahms followed and Mr. Cassard's piano made audible the sounds of birds and rustling trees.  In the set of Strauss songs, we were particularly take by Ms. Dessay's performance of "Die Nacht" with its mysterious nocturnal imagery and fear of loss.  The German was utterly intelligible in every case.

Four French composers were presented and we found Ms. Dessay's finely focused sound to be especially suited to these delicate gems.  Henri Duparc and Gabriel Fauré were contemporaries and their chansons are of an ethereal nature; Duparc composed only 16 of these precious pearls whereas Fauré contributed about one hundred to the canon.

We have always loved Duparc's setting of Baudelaire's "L'invitation au voyage" and Ms. Dessay certainly conveyed every nuance while Mr. Cassard's piano expressed the underlying elements of nature.  The phrase "luxe, calme, et volupté" still sticks in the mind.  In the Fauré group, we were delighted by the familiar "Mandoline"

Debussy came along a bit later but was also entranced by Symbolist poetry.  We were introduced to "La romance d'Ariel", a setting of a text by Paul Bourget, as the last chanson on the program and we fell immediately in love with it; Ms. Dessay let loose with silver showers of coloratura that provoked goosebumps.

She did not ignore the 20th c.; Francis Poulenc composed Fiançailles pour rire  at the onset of World War II, settings of texts by Louise de Vilmorin.  The meanings are often elusive and the accompaniment a bit spare.  Although we enjoyed the piano imitating the violin in "Violon", our favorite was the clever play on words of "Il vole"; the reflection of the sun on the shiny surface symbolizes the cheese in the fable "Le corbeau et le renard" with the scissor standing in for the beak of the crow.  Ms. Dessay's rapid-fire and sassy delivery offered many delights.

As encores, Ms. Dessay performed Debussy's "Clair de Lune", Rachmaninoff's "How Fair This Spot" and "Tu m'as donné le plus doux rêve" from Leo Délibes' Lakmé.  One could not have asked for more!

© meche kroop

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


Julia Bullock (photo by Christian Steiner)
What a pleasure to see a lovely young woman step onstage and hold the audience fast for two hours.  Soprano Julia Bullock was a budding star the first time we heard her and now she has blossomed into an artist of great stage presence and in full command of her prodigious assets.  With communication this involving, we do not even notice the flawless technique, just the connection with the material and with the audience.  Young Concert Artists could not have chosen better.  Collaborative pianist Renate Rohlfing was also a fine choice, switching styles as readily as Ms. Bullock.

Let us begin at the end when Ms. Bullock brought the audience to their collective feet with her well chosen encore, "Somewhere" from Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story (lyrics by Stephen Sondheim).  The moving but non-histrionic delivery confirmed our impression that the work is truly an opera.  There was not a hint of distasteful cross-over compromises.

The entire second half of the program put Ms. Bullock's interpretive gifts to use.  Her hommage to Josephine Baker was charming, sassy and life-affirming.  The two women both originated in St. Louis; one couldn't help thinking how times have changed in our lifetime.  Ms. Baker had fled American prejudice to find fame and adulation in Paris whereas Ms. Bullock can enjoy fame and adulation right here in New York.

The songs were arranged by Jeremy Siskind.  We especially enjoyed the sensual "Madiana" by Mairiotte Almaby, Vincent Scotto's gorgeous melodic line in "J'ai deux amours" and the funny/sad lyrics of Léo Lelièvre's "Si j'étais blanche".  Mr. Siskind also arranged three further songs.  Oscar Brown, Jr.'s "Brown Baby", Billy Taylor's "I Wish I Knew How It Feels to be Free" and Harry T. Burleigh's "Little David".  All were delivered with deep feeling and appropriate simplicity.

Three selections from Xavier Montsalvatge's Cinco canciones negras served to make us want to hear the other two!  The menace present in "Chévere" was well limned as was the underlying pain in the tender lullaby "Canción de cuna para dormir a un negrito", with the rumbling bass of Renate Rohlfing's piano conveying the troubled emotions of the mother.

We wish we had had the same pleasure from the first half of the program.  Ms. Bullock was courageous in choosing some very difficult and grim material which she sang with deep conviction; it was just not our taste.  To begin the evening, three songs by Luciano Berio were sung, interleaved with two very brief songs by Rossini from his post-opera writing period.  There must have been a point to this alternation which we did not grasp; we only knew we preferred the Rossini by a long shot.

Young Concert Artists Composer-in-Residence David Hertzberg, inspired by Ms. Bullock, wrote a piece which was premiered last night entitled Ablutions of Oblivion.  Ms. Bullock negotiated the wide leaps of register with ease and showed admirable word coloring in the plentiful descriptions of wind and leaves and bare places in Wallace Stevens' poetry.  The text was supposed to "express dichotomous states of sensory oblivion".  What???  Were it not for Ms. Bullock's fine delivery we would have longed for some sensory oblivion for ourselves.

We could not find anything to like about selections from Olivier Messiaen's works and would be happy never to hear them again.  That being said, there was nothing disappointing about Ms. Bullock's impassioned performance and fine French.  She clearly connected with every song on the program and we were only sorry that we lacked appreciation.  She could sing the phone book and hold our attention.  We kept thinking "Loved the singer, hated the song".

© meche kroop

Sunday, March 9, 2014


John Relyea and Lori Guilbeau
"Some Enchanted Evening" was chosen by soprano Lori Guilbeau and bass John Relyea for their encore duet at the George London Foundation recital this afternoon.  Thanks to Daylight Savings Time, it became an enchanted afternoon with marvelous Warren Jones at the keyboard keeping pace with the artists.

We remember Miss Guilbeau as a promising young voice from her days at Manhattan School of Music and are happy to report that she has fulfilled that promise, opening the program with a stirring rendition of "Dich, teure Halle" from Richard Wagner's Tannhäuser. Her sizable soprano filled the hall at the Morgan Library--and then some.  Not only is the instrument one to celebrate but the feelings were up front and personal as she rejoiced over her lover's imminent arrival.  No wonder her career has taken off!

We are not great fans of Samuel Barber but we admired the crisp diction that made his English words totally understandable in "Give me some music" from Antony and Cleopatra; Ms. Guilbeau's acting chops were on fine display as she brought the seductive Cleopatra to musical life.  We preferred Ms. Guilbeau's choice of Rachmaninoff's Midsummer Nights.  "Lilacs" was sung and played with delicate filigree; "To Her" was filled with sad longing; "The Pied Piper" was suitably jaunty and the passionate and familiar "Spring Water" seemed quite timely.  In the final offering of the recital, "Or siam soli...Una donna son io" from Verdi's Forza del Destino we loved the way she portrayed the desperate Leonora seeking refuge from the guardian at the monastery, stunningly portrayed by Mr. Relyea whose booming base lent authority to the role.

We liked Mr. Relyea best in this operatic role, much as we loved his portrayal of The Water Sprite in Dvořak's Russalka, just seen at The Metropolitan Opera.  He is as well known as a recitalist as he is on the opera stage and we did enjoy his performance of Mussorgsky's Songs and Dances of Death in which he employed his sizable bass to good advantage.  The songs involve Death as a character who comes to relieve the suffering of a sick child, then as a knight to rescue a sick young woman, then as a woman to escort an elderly drunk to his final rest and ultimately to gloat over all the bodies in a battlefield. Thinking of Schubert's "Erlkonig", we would have liked a little more variety of color between the two characters in the first song as the mother dialogues with Death.

Mr. Relyea's choice of Strauss songs appeared to us as unfortunate. Our ears yearned for a far higher register than a bass can muster! Nonetheless, we greatly enjoyed Mr. Jones piano and the variety of colors he evinced.

The many pleasures of the afternoon served to overcome the lassitude engendered by the sleep deficit caused by the onset of Daylight Savings Time and we emerged into the still-sunny afternoon with a lighter step.

© meche kroop


Anton Amendariz
Amaya Arberas
Ashley Bell
Eliam Ramos

José Daniel Mojica

We always jump at the chance to hear zarzuela; when we were alerted to a production of José Serrano's La Dolorosa we knew there was no place we would rather be on Saturday night.  That it was being produced by a small company heretofore unknown to us--Divaria Productions--was an added inducement.  That one of the four leading roles was being performed by Amaya Arberas whom we reviewed twice before (see archive) sealed the deal.

The somewhat abridged production was mounted in collaboration with the Spanish company La Rioja Lirica and was charmingly introduced by Mr. Angel Capellán from the Spanish consulate who discussed this uniquely Spanish art form, filled with vitality and passion.  For those readers unfamiliar with zarzuela, it is the Spanish counterpart to operetta and was very popular in Latin American countries from about the mid 19th c. to the mid 20th c.  The plots can be funny or tragic but the music is always glorious.

La Dolorosa is a love story--young innocent love between Perico (tenor Anton Armendariz Diaz) and Nicasia (soprano Amaya Arberas) and ambivalent mature love between Dolores (soprano Ashley Bell) and Rafael (José Daniel Mojica).  Dolores and Rafael were sweethearts from the same village where she was seduced and abandoned by someone else.  The broken-hearted Rafael had come to a monastery where he is painting a portrait of the Virgin who has Dolores' face.

Fate has arranged that Dolores has wandered far from home with her newborn and has collapsed on the road where she is rescued by a local couple, José and Juana.  Perico, Rafael's apprentice, recognizes her resemblance to the portrait. The remainder of the story is how Rafael comes to realize that his motivation to protect this woman and her baby is greater than his devotion to spiritual pursuits.  The Prior (Eliam Fuentes) is a humanist and accepts Rafael's departure. We cannot help wondering how the Spain of 1930 reacted to such a rejection of religion and embracing of humanism.

The performances were, in every case, first-rate.  Soprano Ashley Bell has a fine full voice that is strong in the lower register and brilliant in the upper register.  She was convincing as the dishonored woman and sang especially well in a glorious duet with Rafael in Act II.  She is also the President of Divaria Productions.

Soprano Amaya Arberas has a bright resonant instrument which she uses well.  She was particularly charming in a duet with Perico in which they plan their wedding.

Tenor José Daniel Mojica has a sweet generous voice that is filled with sazón, the Spanish equivalent of the garlic in the voice of an Italian tenor.  He created a sympathetic portrait of a man unable to forget his lost love and struggling with his own ambivalence --religious obligation versus a secular and humanistic life.  He was particularly moving in his confessional aria towards the end; this would make a wonderful stand-alone concert aria.

Tenor Anton Armendariz Diaz made a fine Perico, the none-too-bright assistant to the painter Rafael.  Not only does he have a pleasing voice but he also served as director.

The only low voice in this zarzuela was that of El Prior, played by Eliam Fuentes whose bass-baritone filled the bill nicely.  His compassionate demeanor was in counterpoint to that of the rigid close-minded Lucas (non-singer Ngo Okafor) who thought Rafael was under the influence of Satan.

The work was performed in the magnificent basilica of the original St. Patrick's Cathedral in Soho, dating to the early 19th c.  This historic landmark has a major asset--the only large 19th c. pipe organ left in the U.S. in its original space.  Its 2500 pipes, expertly  played by Jared Lamenzo, provided much of the accompaniment with pianist Marnie Laird supplying the remainder.

The acoustics of the basilica were kinder to the singers than to the actors, although Rafael Abolafia came across well as José.  As Juana his wife, Nana Gouvea was excessively histrionic and her words were swallowed up in the vast space.

Special mention must be made of the  Basilica Schola which served as the chorus under the direction of Joshua South.

Saturday, March 8, 2014


Ekaterina Deleu and Mario Chang
Having witnessed Mario Chang's growth through three seasons at the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, we are pleased to report that this young tenor is well on his way toward stardom.  He has a gorgeous instrument that exudes the promise of a dramatic tenor; he has a nearly flawless technique; his expressive Italianate style and diction are enviable; his contact with the audience has grown immeasureably.

Accompanied by the lovely pianist Ekaterina Deleu who kept pace with him in fine partnership, Mr. Chang opened the program with a Mozart concert aria "Misero! O sogno...Aura, che intorno"...K. 431.  His voice came across with consummate power and Ms. Deleu's piano technique was crisp.

The color of that aria is despairing and we were happy that the following set comprised selections from the prolific Reynaldo Hahn's Venezia, sung in Venetian dialect.  We heard Mr. Chang sing these songs a year ago when his contact with the audience was impaired by the use of a music stand.  Happily, Mr. Chang has now totally mastered the material and delivered the songs with great style and connection.  We especially enjoyed the jaunty "Che pecà!" and Ms. Deleu's rocking barcarolle style in the first few selections.

In "La mia letizia infondere" from Verdi's I Lombardi, Mr. Chang exhibited evenness throughout the register and a generosity of sound at the top.  His dramatic instincts served him well in this gloriously romantic aria and just as well in "Ed anche Beppe amo" from Mascagni's L'amico Fritz.

But perhaps the best was saved for last as Mr. Chang threw himself into an aria from Doña Francisquita, a zarzuela by Amadeu Vives I Roig, - "Por el humo se sabe".  The singer is torn between his love for one woman and his passion for another; Mr. Chang's story-telling skills were shown to great advantage.

"Sin tu amor" by Miguel Sandoval was delivered with intensity and a flamenco inflection.

As encore, Mr. Chang offered "Dein ist mein ganzes herz" from Franz Lehár's Das Land des Lachelns, an aria made famous by Richard Tauber.  (Our only tiny quibble of the evening was a dropping of the final "ich" in a few words.)  This passionate aria brought Mr. Chang's devoted fans to their feet for a well-deserved standing ovation.

© meche kroop

Friday, March 7, 2014


Matthias Goerne (photo by Marco Borggreve)
With a large dark baritone sound reminiscent of a glass of stout, Matthias Goerne held the Carnegie Hall audience spellbound for over an hour as he performed Schubert's deeply moving song-cycle Die Schöne Müllerin.  The most impressive aspect of the recital was how incredibly in tune with each other were Mr. Goerne and his collaborative pianist Christoph Eschenbach.  It would be fair to say that no subtlety in Wilhelm Müller's text went unrevealed, nor was any phrase not mined and explored.

We have heard this meisterwerk time and time again and have always heard something new in it as each interpreter finds something within to add to the words and notes on the printed page.  The tale is a simple one and typical of 19th c. German Romanticism; a young lad sets out on what may have been his wanderjahre guided by a brook in which he confides his thoughts and feelings; he gets himself a job as an apprentice to a miller, falls in love with the miller's daughter, loses her to a robust hunter and drowns himself in the brook.

What makes the work interesting is the wide range of emotions the lad experiences, all of which are reflected in music of astounding variety and lyricism.  We hear optimism and despair, pride and shame, curiosity and energy, confusion and anger, sometimes even within the same song.  The other major feature is the way the piano writing paints an aural picture for the listener; we hear the babbling of the brook, the roaring of the mill wheel and the warbling of the lark.

Mr. Goerne took on the role of the lad with complete abandon, investing every song with high drama. We were particularly moved by the softer gentler songs.   If we should utter a sole complaint, it would be that his body movement was a bit excessive and distracting.  We are sure his dramatic instincts will serve him well at The Metropolitan Opera as he takes over for an ailing Thomas Hampson in Wozzeck!

© meche kroop