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.

Friday, May 30, 2014


Gorgeous Gloria, as sketched by Doug Fitch

You have exactly two opportunities to catch Gloria--a Pig Tale at the Metropolitan Museum of Art:  tonight at 7:00 and Sunday at 2:00.  Since this is the first contemporary piece that left us happy and artistically fulfilled, we want you to share our joy. By some mysterious magic, all the elements of music, story and design came together in a delightful barnyard stew.

The fine music by the Viennese composer HK Gruber has the jazzy and raucous flavor of German cabaret mixed with French comic opera.  One could not have asked for a better performance than that given by Juilliard's AXIOM ensemble comprising a solo violin and harp, two percussionists, and lots of wind instruments including our beloved bass clarinet, tuba, flugelhorn and several varieties of saxophone.  As conductor, the eminent Alan Gilbert not only led the ensemble but joined in the fun.  There was a stunning moment at the end of Act I when the musicians quit the ensemble one by one, leaving only the violinist bowing away at her instrument.  One could not help thinking of Poulenc's Dialogue des Carmelites.

The libretto by Rudolf Herfurtner is a lot more sanguine than Janacek's  well known The Cunning Little Vixen, making it suitable for children.  The story concerns a very beautiful pig named Gloria who has glorious golden curls.  She is, as they say, "pretty as a pig-ture" and, like Cunegonde in Bernstein's Candide, she knows it.  But she is different from her swinish family and feels lonely and rejected.  At the end of Act I, she dreams of her Prince Charming and the music becomes absolutely luminous.

But the man she expects to rescue her from her sad state turns out to be (YIKES!) a farmer who means to butcher her.  And then the REAL prince charming shows up, a wild boar named Rodrigo, and comes to her rescue.  In the epilogue, there is a family of piglets and Rodrigo feels.....trapped.

The success of this whimsical tale rests upon the artistic design and for this we must thank the director, costume designer and co-set designer Doug Fitch.  The masks were witty and, realized by Anna Yates, outstandingly effective, allowing the singers voices to emerge successfully while still conveying pigs and boar, not to mention the frogs and birds and sausages.

About those singers we have nothing but praise.  Each of the five cast members assumed many roles.  Soprano Lauren Snouffer made a winsome pig and tenor Alexander Lewis shone in the role of the farmer/butcher.  Mezzo Brenda Patterson and baritone Carlton Ford were also excellent while bass Kevin Burdette almost stole the show as a sexy wild boar with a most effective boar's head around his torso which nodded when he moved his pelvis.

We loved the chorus of frogs and the duet for sausages.

Co-Set Designer was Kate Noll and Lighting Designer was Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew.  The fairy-tale designs were colorful and apropos.

We have only one small criticism.  The English diction left much to be desired and, although the gist of the story was easy to understand, we missed a lot of the dialogue which we think was probably too clever to be missed.  We would have appreciated projected titles or, even better, to have heard the work in it's original German since it is a work of singular Austrian flavor.  There is no point in presenting a work in translation if the English is not crystal clear.  The English version was by Amanda Holden.  Maestro Gilbert warned us at the beginning that we might not understand the animals who were speaking gibberish, but that was only a small part of the libretto.

This work was part of the New York Philharmonic Biennial Festival and a worthy entry.  Giants are Small was founded in 2007 by the above-mentioned Doug Fitch and the Swiss filmmaker and producer Edouard Getaz with multimedia entrepreneur Frédéric Gumy.  We can barely wait to see what they come up with next.

© meche kroop

Thursday, May 29, 2014


Alessandra Ferri and Fredrika Brillembourg--Photo by Richard Termine
As part of the New York Philharmonic Biennial, the estimable Gotham Chamber Opera is presenting an avant-garde music-theater piece based on Edgar Allen Poe's chilling poem The Raven.  It can be considered a perfect piece for a festival--original, challenging and outside the customary artistic limits.  Two pages of the program were required for Conductor and Artistic Director Neal Goren and Director/Choreographer/Set Designer Luca Veggetti to explain their inspiration and artistic goals.

We were left wondering at what point in our cultural history music became sound, dance became movement, and singing became vocalizing.  The capacity audience seemed to appreciate the event to a greater extent than we did, leaving us feeling like an old fogey with our 19th c. ears.  The anxiety and horror of Poe's poetry was successfully conveyed but that was not enough to leave us feeling artistically fulfilled.

Toshio Hosokawa's music, while not to our taste, was beautifully played by the Gotham Chamber Opera Orchestra.  But watching the singer and dancer moving around the stage only made us miss Alessandra Ferri's luminous and deeply affecting dancing with ABT.  Mezzo Fredrika Brillembourg's vocalizing--at first, artificial speech, then sprechstimme, made us wonder at the enormous effort she must have made to learn the work.  As is common in contemporary music there was no melodic line to hold onto.

The two women, dressed in identical dull gray pants and sweatshirts (Costume Design by Peter Speliopoulos) were sometimes apart and sometimes together, leaning on one another or entwining in some manner.  The most visually interesting moment of the hour-long work came when Ms. Ferri's shadow seemed to walk away from her as she lay curled up on the floor--a piece of staging legerdemain.

The manner in which the poem was recited and then sung did not make the words clear and the lighting was such that the projected titles were unclear.   It was an advantage to have been familiar with the poem.

There was a "curtain-raiser" of music by André Caplet based on another story by Poe entitled Conte fantastique: Le Masque de la Mort rouge.  Caplet's music, while not particularly melodic, offered interesting textures and was, again, beautifully played by a string quartet augmented by harp. The style was impressionistic and reminded us of Ravel.  We are indeed a big fan of this expressive instrument and Sivan Magen made it sing with gorgeous ascending and descending scales and shimmering arpeggios.

Unfortunately, we do not enjoy every event we write about but we would never dare to criticize its merit because it is not our taste.  We save our brickbats for poor performances.  This work may be exactly your cup of tea and you are invited to comment below if you wish.

© meche kroop

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


Krysty Swnn, Elisabeth Stevens, Dominick Rodriguez, Lee Poulis, Sable Rivera, Kevin Thompson nd Matthew Curran  

Of all the versions of Giuseppi's Verdi's Don Carlo, we prefer the Modena version of 1886 and that is just the version we heard last night when the Martha Cardona Theater presented a concert performance at the National Opera Center.  Founder Daniel Cardona wants us to hear opera sung by great voices and has a knack for finding and casting them.  Freed from sets and costumes, we can focus exclusively on the sound.  How pleased we were to hear the opera sung in Italian; there are those who favor the original French but we personally prefer the sound of Italian.

Don Carlo is a long demanding opera which amply rewards the listener's sitzfleisch with gorgeous melodies, shattering arias, harmonically stirring duets and intricate ensembles.  Musical Director Sean Kelly handled the piano accompaniment with great care and skill.

Verdi transports us to 16th c. Spain when King Fillipo II rules his empire with an iron hand, subjugating the miserable citizens of Flanders.  He in turn is ruled by the Grand Inquisitor from whom no one is safe. 

Mr. Cardona wisely included the important first act in which Fillipo's son Carlo (tenor Dominick Rodriguez) meets his intended bride Elisabetta (soprano Elisabeth Stevens) at Fontainbleu.  This sets up the action for the rest of the opera and explains Carlo's despair when his father decides to marry her himself.  It also gives the couple a not-to-be-missed duet "Che mai fate voi?"

But the opera is not just a story of unfulfilled romantic longing but also a story of Filippo's refusal to grant political freedom to the Flemish (nice parallel with today's news) and his despair that Elisabetta has never loved him.  Indeed, his aria "Ella giammai m'amò" is the bass' opportunity to evoke a modicum of sympathy for this detestable character who consults with the Grand Inquisitor about how he can eliminate his son! Their scene was sinister and chilling; its success was enhanced by the very different colorings of their equally impressive bass voices--Matthew Curran as Fillipo and Kevin Thompson as the Grand Inquisitor.

There were other equally riveting scenes.  Mezzo Krysty Swann in the role of Princess Eboli used her rich voice effectively in the garden scene, singing a lovely duet with the page Tebaldo, sung by Sable Rivera.  Her handling of the melisma in the Moorish melody was exquisite.

The expression "chewing up the scenery", had there been any, would have applied to her aria "O don fatale" in which her remorse for betraying the queen is expressed, along with blame for her beauty which has led to the sin of pride. 

Our favorite character in this opera, and perhaps one of our favorite baritone roles, is Rodrigo, the Marquis of Posa; in a performance in which vocal color must express so much feeling, Lee Poulis sang with intense involvement and utterly convinced us of his loyalty to Carlo and his unselfish wish to help the Flemish.

His is a crucial role in the opera since he must support Carlo and also try to establish his loyalty in service to the crown while riskily pleading the cause of the Flemish.  He has a fine duet with Carlo in Act II "Dio, che nell'alma infondere amor" and another in Act IV "Per me giunto è il dì supremo" when he sacrifices his life for his friend. Who could not be moved by "Io morrò, ma lieto in core"?

After Elisabetta's aria "Tu, che le vanità", movingly sung by Ms. Stevens, she is joined by Carlo for the final duet in which they hope to meet in a better world, replacing the hope for joy in the material world heard in Act I.

Mr. Rodriguez's fine tenor carried the title role in fine style.  There was not a performance of less than stellar quality.  Mr. Cardona favors big voices, the kind one rarely gets to hear in small companies casting young singers.  These concert presentations gives them an opportunity to sing roles that they will likely get to sing at the Met in the future.

With such a fine feast of Verdi, getting an "amuse-oreille" before the opera began was nearly overkill but it gave us an opportunity to hear two more outstanding voices in previews of upcoming operas, accompanied by Jestin Pieper. You would do well to add to your calendar three events for this summer.

On June 17th, soprano Michelle Trovato will sing Liu in Puccini's Turandot.  We heard her "Signor, ascolta" last night and were impressed.  On June 28th, Zhanna Alkhazova will sing Tatiana in Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin.  We heard an excerpt from the Letter Scene and, on that basis alone, urge you to attend.  And on July 3rd, a little birdie told us that Massenet's Werther is in the works.  This is welcome news for the vocally barren summer season in New York.  Three cheers for Martha Cardona Opera!

© meche kroop

Sunday, May 25, 2014


Sheena Ramirez, Jonathan Fox Powers, Richard Holmes, William Remmers, Erica Rome, Emily Geller, Victor Ziccardi and Cristiane Young
One of the songs from Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe concerned one De Bellville, a polymath who was "kicked upstairs" to the House of Lords after delivering "inconvenient speeches" on the floor of the House of Commons.  Sadly, this song has been lost to us but we have our very own polymath on hand in the person of William Remmers.

Mr. Remmers founded Utopia Opera three years ago and currently occupies positions as Stage Director and Music Director.  Moreover he was favorably reviewed by us for his conducting of Der Freischutz.   Last night as host of the Second Annual Fundraising Gala at the National Opera Center, he greeted the audience and then joined the terrific pianist Erica Rome for the four-handed overture, and then sang the role of The Lord Chancellor.  We have nothing but good things to say about his fine voice and acting and his very funny style.  He is unique.

The production itself was an absolute delight.  Gilbert and Sullivan always strike us as the Rogers and Hammerstein of the 19th c.  Contemporary composers could certainly take a page from their book!  How rare it is to have artists who understand how to make the most of the English language.

Iolanthe was written at the height of their popularity and skill, the seventh of fourteen collaborations.  It is an hilarious satire of British politics that is, in many ways, relevant to our very own Congress and the recent Occupy Wall Street movement.  In this comic opera, a simple shepherd Strephon is in love with Phyllis, the ward of The Lord Chancellor who wants to marry her himself.  Does this perhaps remind you of, say, Il Barbiere di Siviglia?

Strephon, sung by the fine baritone Jonathan Fox Powers, is the 25 year-old son of the fairy Iolanthe and a mortal (guess who!). Iolanthe has been banished by the Queen of the Fairies for breaking the fairy law against just such a union.

The lovely Phyllis, performed by the fine soprano Sheena Ramirez, doesn't believe that Iolanthe could be Strephon's mother because, as a fairy, Iolanthe doesn't age and appears to be but 18 years old. In the revelation scene we couldn't help thinking of the similar scene in Nozze di Figaro when Suzana repeats "Su madre?  Su madre?".  In the title role, mezzo Emily Geller sang superbly and created a most sympathetic character.

There are many twists and turns in the plot and lots of memorable melodies.  We cannot forget the male chorus' rendition of "Loudly Let the Trumpets Bray".  The diction was so fine that we will excuse the chorus members who sang holding their scores.

The Lord Chancellor entered to music sounding very much like a tribute to Bach and Mr. Remmers' patter songs brought grins from ear to ear.  We loved "When I Went to the Bar" especially the repeated phrase "Said I To Myself, Said I".

Ms. Ramirez and Mr. Powers had some beautiful love duets and Ms. Geller was very moving in her solo "My Lord, a Suppliant At Your Feet".  As Queen of the Fairies, contralto Cristiane Young provided comic relief at every turn. Simply to hear her repeating the word "frogs" with various intonations was enough to send us into the LMAO state.

Three very graceful and spirited young women, Kelsey Peters, Eva Parr and Laura Yumi Snell were perfectly cast as the fairies Celia, Leila and Fleta.  They not only sang but had some charming ballet moves as well.

Richard Holmes sang the role of the Earl of Mountararat and Victor Ziccardi performed the Earl of Tolloller.  The two were very amusing as they competed for the position of Phyllis' nobly born husband.  Robert BK Dewar was Private Willis of the Grenadier Guards.

The costumes were lovely and apropos.  There was no set except for what one created in the eyes of the mind, but none was needed. With acting and singing that fine, nothing was missed.

This is the only opera company we know of that lets their audience choose the operas.  The last one of this season will be Verdi's Falstaff on June 27th and 28th.  Next year's choices are Carlyle Floyd's Susannah, Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri, a double bill of Sullivan's comedy The Zoo (WHAT?  NO GILBERT) with Ravel's L'Enfant et les Sortilèges and finally Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos.  Get on board soon to avoid missing out.

© meche kroop

Friday, May 23, 2014


Adriana Velinova, Ethan Nanev and Miloslav Antonov

If you thought the treasures referred to Bulgarian music you would be wrong.  We have no doubt that Bulgaria has produced some fine treasures in that category but the treasures we are writing about are the Bulgarian artists who entertained us so royally last night at the Weill Recital Hall.

How many great Bulgarian singers can you name?  Tomova-Sintow?  Dimitrova? Ghiaurov? Kasarova?  Pendatchanska? Stoyanova?  Well, now you have two more to add to the list--soprano Adriana Velinova and baritone Miloslav Antonov, both in graduate programs at Mannes College The New School for Music.  We will discuss the marvelous pianist Ethan Nanev later.

Ms. Velinova has a warm and welcoming stage presence and an instrument as bright and shiny as a new penny but more gold than copper in worth.  She soared through Richard Strauss' "Ich trage meine Minne" and "Heimliche Aufforderung".  There was a lovely contrast between the gentle "L'invitation au voyage" and the anguished "Le manoir de Rosemonde", both by Henri Duparc.

But our favorites were in her final set:  Rachmaninoff's "Ne poj, krasavica, primne", the ultimate heartbreaking song of homesickness, with its very Russian melody and Tchaikovsky's "Skazhi, o chem v teni vetvey".  That these songs were our favorites is is not surprising since the Bulgarian language is close to Russian and singers are often more at home in their native tongue.  Lest you think there was no Bulgarian song on the program, we add that Ms. Velinova sang a charming Bulgarian folk song by Pancho (!) Vladigerov about a youth winking at an unreceptive girl.

Mr. Antonov was at his most impressive in two songs by Franz Liszt which he sang with fine dynamic control and dramatic validity.  In "Pace non trovo" he sang with expansive Italianate passion and a nice change of color in the central more tender section.  In "Die drei Zigeuner" he became a colorful storyteller using ample gesture which compensated for the lack of text in the program.

We also loved his performance of Rachmaninoff's "Spring Waters" in which we could feel the welcome onset of Spring as everything icy is melting.  In a welcome encore, he was joined by Ms. Velinova for"Lippen schweigen"  the romantic duet from Franz Lehar's Die lustige Witwe.

Now, as to that pianist, the versatile Ethan Nanev.  He not only accompanied the singers but also performed Modest Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.  The stately prelude "Promenade" leads to some apt musical descriptions of paintings in a gallery; it was uncanny how well one could see with one's ears!

The first painting "Gnomus" was unsettling with its descending motives and jittery rhythms.  "The Old Castle" achieved a mysterious feel with its minor key and dynamic variety.  But our favorite was the vivacious "Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks" which we would love to see animated by Disney Studios!

"The Market at Limoge" was filled with activity and Mr. Nanev's fleet fingers did it justice; "Catacombe" was somber in nature.  It is a wonderful piece of music to show off a pianist's skill and artistry in coloring.  Mr. Nanev studied with Pavlina Dokovska who was actually the host for the evening.

Three treasures from Bulgaria!  We in the audience struck it rich!

© meche kroop

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


Tomoko Nakayama an Zhiguang Hong
An enthusiastic crowd welcomed bass-baritone Zhiguang Hong to the stage of the Bruno Walter Auditorium which was packed to overflowing.  At the end of the recital, Mr. Hong was gifted with no less than five huge bouquets of flowers.  What a superb way to celebrate Mr. Hong's achievement of a Master's of Music Degree from Mannes College of Music.

What impresses most about Mr. Hong is his confident stage presence and his heroic style.  He commanded the stage completely in R. Vaughan Williams' Songs of Travel which he sang with authority.  We noticed right away his strength in the lower register.  His collaborative pianist, Tomoko Nakayama, accompanied his "Let Beauty Awake" with some lovely arpeggios.

He was even more commanding in "See the raging flames arise" from Handel's Joshua with its challenging fioritura; his strong full instrument was used to good advantage.  Again, Ms. Nakayama played beautifully in the piano prelude.  Mr. Hong's English diction was beautifully clear.

Three songs from Verdi's Sei Romanze followed, "More, elisa, lo stanco poeta", "In solitaria stanza" and "Deh, pietoso, o Addolorata".  Although his voice sounded fine, we wanted a bit more Italianate style.

In the second half of the program, we heard three songs by Henri Duparc.  We were delighted to hear a more gentle aspect to his voice in "Phidylé" but when he sang  "Le Manoir de rosemonde", we realized that his strengths lie in the more heroic oeuvre.  In "La vague et la cloche" we loved the storm created by Ms. Nakayama on the piano.

Most impressive were the four songs by Schubert which ended the program.  In "Wasserflut" from Winterreise Mr. Hong showed more variety and depth of feeling than in the prior songs.  We found it quite moving and hoped that this promising young artist will continue to work on adding more variety to the other songs in his repertory--variety of dynamics and color.

The final song,"Erlkönig", astonished us because EVERYTHING was there.  His ability to loosen up and tell the story while acting the parts of the narrator, the reassuring father, the frightened child and the eerily seductive Erlkönig made the performance chilling and gripping in its intensity. Each character's voice was colored differently. He also used his body effectively.  

This made us think that Mr. Hong's future lies on the opera stage.  Indeed, he has a number of important opera engagements coming up.  In any case, we would be happy to learn that he is working on his French and German diction which did not quite live up to the standards set by his excellent English.

The audience demanded encores and encores we got!  As one might expect, Mr. Hong was far more relaxed in his native tongue and the two Mandarin folk songs we heard delighted us no end.  Wild applause brought on one final encore "This Nearly Was Mine" from Rogers and Hammerstein's South Pacific.

© meche kroop

Sunday, May 18, 2014


Samantha Guevrekian, Zhanna Alkhazova, Kelly Griffin and Kristen Choi

Daniel Cardona, Founder and Artistic Director of The Martha Cardona Theater has a knack for finding gifted young singers who can handle the heavier repertoire.  Last night we enjoyed hearing a group of talented artists with big voices which literally begged for a large hall.  Although accompanied by "only" a piano we could imagine their voices soaring above or tearing right through a large orchestra.  Musical Director Keith Chambers brought out things in his piano reduction that sometimes pass us by when played by a full orchestra.

Only one of the singers was known to us.  Russian-American soprano Zhanna Alkhazova is a veritable force of nature, like a hurricane; never losing her firm grasp on solid technique, she invests each aria with the passion we want to hear at the opera.  We have heard her as Donna Elvira (review can be found by entering her name in the search bar) and was happy to learn that her French in Jules Massenet's "Il est doux, il est bon" from Hérodiade was just as fine as her Italian in "D'Oreste, d'Ajace" from Mozart's Idomeneo.  With arias of two different moods, she used her skills at word coloring to fine advantage, tender in one and fierce in the other.

Soprano Kelly Griffin has a substantial instrument as well, singing "Pace, pace mio Dio!" from Verdi's La Forza del Destino with deep involvement, building to a powerful anguished climax.  In "Ritorna vincitor!" from Verdi's Aida, she created a most believable character, tortured by ambivalence.  Would it be love or familial loyalty that wins out? 

The second half of the program was devoted to scenes from Puccini's Madama Butterfly and Soprano Samantha Guevrekian made a sensational Cio-Cio San, a role she will perform this summer at The Glimmerglass Festival.  We predict a huge success, judging by how well she sang  "Un bel di" which she performed without a score, letting the audience into her deluded feelings of hopefulness. 

Fortunately, Kristen Choi, the mezzo who sang Suzuki in the Flower duet, will be in the cast with her.  Ms. Choi has a rich mezzo sound, especially in the lower range and the two of them not only harmonized beautifully but faced each other and created a real relationship.

In the love duet from Puccini's Madama Butterfly, Kyle Van Schoonhoven sang the role of Lt. Pinkerton.  He has a sweet tenor with a lovely resonance and gave a well-modulated performance, hampered only by being "on the book".  Having created a considerable amount of engagement in spite of this impediment, we can imagine how superb he will be without it.

In "Io so che sue dolore" Pinkerton is admonished by Sharpless (John Boehr) and in "Addio fiorito assil" he effectively expresses remorse.  Mr. Van Schoonhoven handled the mood changes nicely injecting his voice with different colors.

By the end "Tu, tu piccolo" (Ms. Guevrekian, off the book) we were close to tears, always a good sign for this opera!

We heard more from baritone John Boehr earlier in the evening when he sang "Mein Sehnen, mein Wähnen"; although we understood the words, we thought his pronunciation could be polished up a bit.  In the role of Silvio in Leocavallo's "E allor perchè", he was persuasive as he pressured Nedda (Ms. Guevrekian) to run away with him.  They harmonized beautifully in a very sweet ending, hampered only by the presence of music stands.  Readers know how strongly we feel about this; singers are prevented from making contact with each other and with the audience to the fullest extent.  We are sure there are reasons, perhaps lack of time for preparation.  But we stand our ground!

Tenor Thomas Dehorney sang "De' miei bollenti spiriti" from Verdi's La Traviata which we had just heard the night before.  Mr. Dehorney has a lovely quality in his voice and some fine phrasing.  All he needs to do to really shine is to loosen up his body.  He was more expressive in Ernesto De Curtis' "Non ti scordar di me" with an impressive crescendo at the climax.

© meche kroop

Saturday, May 17, 2014


Nadia Petrella (photo by John Solis)

We do a lot of sitting on benches in chilly industrial spaces and on hard wooden pews in churches and on uncomfortable metal bridge chairs; the payoff is getting to hear some wonderful voices of young artists on the way up.  These young artists are not jaded and don't fly in from Europe or Russia to do their thing and leave.  They work hard as an ensemble and manifest the freshness and enthusiasm that we so greatly admire.

Last night we were privileged to attend the latest entry by New York Opera Exchange which has had a most successful season.  The production was of Verdi's La Traviata and the thrill came from two cast members who nailed their roles.

Soprano Nadia Petrella turned in a heartfelt performance in the title role.  She has an exciting instrument that seems to do her bidding without effort; the fioritura never seemed to be done for effect but rather seemed to come out of her emotions. Her "Ah, fors'è lui" was so compelling that the audience burst into applause before she could continue with "Sempre libera".  This arresting cabaletta left no doubt about her ambivalence.  Will it be love or frivolous fun?

It was all there--diction, phrasing, accuracy--in sum, a memorable performance.  This is a character who loves life and must go through all the stages of grief--denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  Ms. Petrella's dramatic gifts revealed them all; impressively her vocal output never wavered.

Baritone Roberto Borgatti was equally impressive as Germont, especially since this was the first time he sang a role he was born to sing.  He has a substantial voice, great technique and dramatic chops to match.  His arias in Act II were so fine!  In "Pura siccome un angelo" he must convince Violetta to give up Alfredo.  In "Di Provenza il mar, il suol" he must console his son and persuade him to return to his family.  He succeeded on both counts.
We particularly enjoyed his interpretation.  He did not come across as a mean man, just one who is protective of his family. He limned the character's growth from disapproval to empathy in a way that made perfect dramatic sense.  We loved the scene in which he shames his son for his ugly behavior toward Violetta.

The role of Alfredo was sung by tenor Lindell O. Carter and, sorry to say, his portrayal missed the mark.  It would not have stood out as disappointing were the other principals not so superb.  We wondered whether he may have been cast at a later time than the others because there was a lack of connection.  In the first act the lack of chemistry between him and Violetta made us wonder why she would prefer him to the Baron.  An enormous suspension of disbelief was necessary to imagine him as an infatuated young man.

His acting was wooden and his intonation was not always accurate.  He gave the impression of insecurity.  In the third act he was much more convincing in his bitterness and anger.  For the most part however, he seemed to be staring off into space, or perhaps watching the conductor for cues, rather than connecting with the other singers.

We go along with the saying that "There are no small roles".  Indeed, soprano Kendra Berentsen turned in a most believable performance as Annina, devoted servant of Violetta.  Tenor Victor Starsky did a fine job as Gastone and mezzo Ann Louise Glasser was just about perfect as Flora.  Her scenes with Violetta were utterly convincing.

Bass-baritone Colin Whiteman made a sympathetic Dr. Grenvil and bass-baritone  Javier Ortiz portrayed the Marchese with style.  Baritone Nicholas Wiggins was commanding as the Baron.  These are all singers we look forward to hearing in upcoming productions.

Alden Gatt was Music Director and Conductor David Leibowitz put the large orchestra through their paces without ever drowning out the singers, even though there was no pit for the orchestra.  The acoustics of the church hall made the force of the brass section rather intense.  We heard a gorgeous oboe solo in the "Addio del passato bei sogni ridenti".

Co-directors Jennifer Bushinger and Justin Werner had a "concept" that almost worked.  The 19th c. Parisian setting envisioned by Verdi was updated to the 1940's and the locale changed to Italy.  Violetta was supposed to be an aristocrat who has become a courtesan to support herself.  Germont père et fils were transmogrified into members of the U.S. military.

What did NOT work were the disjunctions between libretto and titles and the anachronisms.  Let us consider a few.  There were no duels in Italy in the 20th c.  American soldiers did not come from Provence.  When the chorus (a superb chorus we might add) sings the rowdy songs of Carnevale and the titles say that they are celebrating the end of World War II, we feel duped.  Perhaps if you had never seen the opera and didn't know Italian you may not have noticed it.

Sadly, we confess that we are not color-blind.  It would not have disturbed us if Germont and Alfredo were both portrayed by African-American singers.  But it did bother us that father and son were, well, so unalike.  Others may not have noticed. And if there were still Italian aristocrats in the 1940's who retained their titles, we do not think they would be black.

What we DID like about the direction was the opening tableau vivant during the overture in which the major characters enact the same scene we will see at the close of the opera.  And we liked the scenes of Annina helping Violetta dress for the party.  It revealed a great deal about the feelings the two women had for each other that justified the tender nursing care received by Violetta in the final act.  The death scene brought tears to our eyes and that is always a good sign!

Set Design by James McSweeney was minimalistic--a fireplace, a couch and an escritoire.  Costume Design by Taylor Mills was apropos and effective.

There will be one more performance, a matinée on Sunday, very worth your while.  We are already marking our calendars for the next season when NYOE will be presenting Johann Strauss' delightful Die Fledermaus, Donizetti's Lucia i Lammermoor and Bizet's Carmen--happily, all done in the original language.

© meche kroop

Thursday, May 15, 2014


Addie Hamilton, Sarah Tupper Daniels, Marley Dove, Cameron Johnson, Christopher Lilley, Chelsea Nectow, Kendrick Pifer, Jacob Lewis Smith, Kim Johansen--photo by
Brian Hatton
Manhattan School of Music's American Musical Theater Ensemble has yet another hit to lure lovers of musical theater away from BROADWAY and up to 122nd and Broadway.  A treasure trove of songs by the terrifically talented Jeff Blumenkrantz has been shaped into a revue conceived and directed by Carolyn Marlow.  Although there isn't a "plot" there is definitely a story to tell since each of the characters has a relationship with the others. The show gets off to a rousing start with the ensemble singing the cleverest lyrics advising audience members how to behave.  Not only was it a clever number but it was effective.  Not a single phone rang and no one rummaged through a purse or unwrapped a cough drop!

Set and Lighting Designer Shawn Kaufman has set the first act in a coffee shop with a barista named Miles (Jody Hinkley) who appears to suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder and sings the very funny "Everything is Better When It's Clean".  This setting allows the characters to come and interact with each other and leave.  The action takes place over the course of a year with each month bringing new events.

Act II is set in a gay bar called 50 Shades of Gay.  The bartender Kevin (Piers Portfolio) reprises Miles' lovelorn ballad from Act I "Hold My Hand".  One wants to stand up and cheer that these two souls have found each other. Not everyone is romantically lucky but Alysha (Kendrick Pifer) who opens the show hilariously obsessing about her weight in "This Will Be the Year" winds up connecting with the lovelorn Paul (Christopher Lilley) at a wedding which she is trying to get through by getting drunk in "Drink My Way".

Devoted Maxime (Kim Johansen) is unable to get the time and attention he wants from author Becky (Chelsie Nectow) in "Steal Away" and by Act II, they have separated and she is exploring her potential in "I'm Free".  In a funny bit, she enlists members of the audience to help her overcome her slacker procrastination.

Meanwhile the very cheerful Mary (Sarah Tupper Daniels) leaves her dead end job as a toll collector and starts doing voice-overs for porn, earning enough money to furnish her apartment.  Her "Welcome to My Apartment" is one of the funniest songs in the show.

Her brother Kyle (Cameron Johnson) is the saddest character in the show since he is unable to get over the death of his partner in "It Can't Be".  Having just seen Mr. Johnson in a fine comedic role in Haydn's Orlando Paladino at MSM, we were astonished to see his dramatic range.  He bitterly mocks his sister's pollyana-ish attitude in "Choose Happy".  His is one of those angry depressions--the "mean reds", not the blues.

Sixteen-year-old Meg (Marley Dove) is not at all sweet and torments her mother Victoria (Addie Hamilton).  Her gay brother Jason is consistently hilarious as he sings about his new crush in "spencersgt@yahoo.com" and even more hilarious in the title song "Moving Right Along", a duet with Miles whom he has dragged to 50 Shades of Gay.  Who has observed a horde of potential partners without criticizing them mercilessly!?  One poor victim was "dorky, porky, not NewYorky".  That should give you some idea of the cleverness of Mr. Blumenkrantz' lyrics.

But words cannot convey the catchiness of his music which works beautifully with the lyrics.  Musical Direction for the show was by Shane Schag who played the piano.  Grace Ho performed the cello part with Connor Schultze on bass, Aaron Patterson on "reeds" and Guilhem Flouzat as percussionist.  The excellent orchestrations were done by Josh Freilich.

How surprising to read the program notes and to learn that the singers were all students--from a freshman to some graduate students!  It was surprising because they all performed with professional attention to vocal demands and were completely dramatically convincing. We have seen shows on and off-Broadway that were not half so wonderful as Moving Right Along.

What made this show even more special was the way it tapped into so many contemporary issues: parent-child stress, romantic disappointment, growing up, achieving independence, loss and finding the right partner.  The humor of the songs and the immense effectiveness of the cast made it easy to see oneself and one's friends represented onstage.  There is one more performance tonight.  You couldn't spend a better evening anywhere else.

© meche kroop

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


Bretton Brown and Pureum Jo

Right on the heels of yesterday's impressive recital comes yet another one.  Soprano Pureum Jo is getting her Masters of Music Degree from Juilliard and presented a recital that she wanted to be "fun".  And there was plenty of fun for both singer and audience.  But there was also some serious material on the program.  Both the fun stuff and the serious stuff were equally admirable.  Whatever she sings, Ms. Jo lives within the song; her background in opera carries over so that facial expression, vocal expression and body movement are all of a piece.

There was something very ardent about her performance of spiritual songs.  We have never been particularly fond of spirituals but Ms. Jo made two of Harry Burleigh's songs memorable, especially with the slow tempo and dynamic variety which she brought to "Deep River".  Cesar Franck's "Panis Angelicus" is always a treat, especially since it was accompanied by the fine cellist Sang Jun Yhee.  Luigi Luzzi's "Ave Maria"  is perhaps not heard as often as Schubert's setting but was very lovely to listen to, especially as Ms. Jo sang it.

After the spiritual songs came a set of fanciful songs about witches!  In Richard Strauss' "Junghexenlied", Ms. Jo conveyed an elfin quality; her wonderful collaborative pianist Bretton Brown gave his all to the very apt accompaniment.  Wolf's "Nixe Binsefuss" and the spirited "Hexenlied" followed, all sung with involvement, meaning and excellent diction.

A pair of well-chosen love songs included the beloved "A Chloris" by Reynaldo Hahn, earnestly sung,  and a rather seductive "Je Te Veux" by Eric Satie which Ms. Jo invested with a cabaret style.

Two Rossini songs allowed Ms. Jo to demonstrate her fine bel canto technique with accurate and elaborate embellishments.  "Aragonese" was sung like an operatic aria complete with a stunning cadenza.  The frisky "La Danza" with its tongue twisting text was accompanied by Ms. Jo dancing in a variety of styles with a bunch of her classmates joining her onstage.  Now THAT was FUN!

In such a well designed and beautifully executed program, it is difficult to say which part was the best; but to our ears, Tchaikovsky's "Was I not a little blade of grass?" had a depth of feeling that broke our heart.  It is the metaphor-heavy lament of a young woman married off to an old man she does not love.  Ms. Jo's voice soared up into the stratosphere in a goose-bump-inducing finale.

As an encore, we heard Dvořak's "Song to the Moon" from Rusalka which Ms. Jo sang exquisitely.  We were fantasizing that Renée Fleming was there conducting a master class and that she said, "Ms. Jo, you nailed it.  I have nothing more to add."  Well, let us hope that we will soon hear Ms. Jo sing the role at the Metropolitan Opera.

Ⓒ meche kroop

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


Art Williford and Laura LeVoir
When we hear young singers we naturally have higher expectations of those further along in their career than we do of, let us say, undergraduates.  But sometimes we hear someone whose performance exceeds their level of education.  Such was the case last night when soprano Laura LeVoir, about to receive her Bachelor of Music Degree from Juilliard,  captivated our eyes and ears with a completely stage-worthy and accomplished performance.

Equally adept in Italian, German, French and English Ms. Levoir seemed ready to captivate any audience with her secure vocal technique, poise and consistently fine diction.  She has a warm and welcoming stage presence that seems to invite you into her world of song.

She opened the program, accompanied by the excellent collaborative pianist Art Williford, with three Italian songs.  In Vincenzo Bellini's "Vaga luna, che inargenti", she made the most of the long and luscious vocal lines we love so well.  We don't recall hearing Verdi's "Ad una stella" or Puccini's "Sole e amore" on many recital programs but we certainly want to hear them again.

Accompanied by Zsolt Balogh, she next sang selections from Robert Schuman's Liederalbum für die Jungend.  These are charming songs about the sandman, shepherds, a butterfly, a snowdrop and the welcome arrival of Spring.  Ms. Levoir makes a fine story-teller but never lets the dramatic emphasis interfere with her superb vocal technique. 

For "Viola" Schubert's lengthy tale of the arrival of Spring and the lonely snowdrop, Mr. Williford returned and provided sensitive piano interludes between the many verses.  His playing was sensitive and supportive throughout indicating a fine sense of partnership with Ms. Levoir.

The three delicate French songs which followed had all been translated by Ms. LeVoir herself and fulfilled all the Gallic requirements; the vocal line was even without any troubling emphases and the diction was perfect.  One was by André Caplet, one by Lili Boulanger and one by Francis Poulenc.

The program closed with selections from Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson set by Aaron Copland.  Mr. Williford had some interesting moments on the piano in "Nature, the gentlest mother" and Ms. LeVoir created a wonderful moment in "Why do they shut me out of Heaven?"  But our favorite was the last song "Going to Heaven!" which hints at the loss of children and was very moving.

The audience was thrilled throughout and showered Ms. Levoir with applause and roses.  Thus, an encore was earned--George and Ira Gershwin's 1937 hit "They Can't Take That Away From Me".  Ms. LeVoir graciously thanked the audience and her family, her teacher Edith Bers and all the people who contributed to her growth.  They can be Very.  Very.  Proud!  This is a young woman to watch!  We had the same feeling the first time we heard Isabel Leonard sing and expect no lesser success of Ms. LeVoir.

© meche kroop

Monday, May 12, 2014


Gyu Yeon Shim, Rachael Braunstein, Jimin Lee, Margaret Newcomb, Paull-Anthony Keightley
Whether any mothers of these five promising artists were in the audience we do not know.  But if they were, we are quite sure they would have been proud of their offspring who are finishing up their year at Manhattan School of Music--some graduating and others finishing their first post-graduate year, two of them familiar to us and three of them new.  We were happy to be a maternal stand-in.

Collaborative pianist Jimin Lee demonstrated consummate expressiveness in her playing and admirable flexibility working with diverse materials and singers with varied styles.  It was a program designed, we believe, to show off these qualities.

Mr. Keightley (does that rhyme with knightly?) whose Papageno we so greatly admired, showed a very different side of himself in Schumann's profound song cycle Dichterliebe.  His German diction was just about perfect and allowed us to give his performance our full attention, instead of looking at translations.  But Mr. Keightley's attention was divided between his score and his audience.  It would not be honest to deny that this was distracting.  We are sure there was a good reason for it but we have criticized some very famous singers for this misdemeanor.  Granted, it is NOT a felony!

He has a fine baritone and uses it well.  We particularly enjoyed the livelier songs like "Die Rose, die Lilie, die Taube, die Sonne" and "Aus alten Märchen winkt es".  Both baritone and piano shared a lovely crescendo and decrescendo in "Ich hab' in Traum geweinet".  The sense of drama in "Die alten, bösen Lieder" was in fine contrast with a lovely pianissimo.

It is too early to assign a singer to a particular category but, at this point, we will offer an opinion that Mr. K. belongs on the opera stage where his larger-than-life personality and agility can achieve full expression.  Perhaps grim material is too restraining.

Soprano Gyu Yeon Shim had only three songs to touch our heart and she succeeded.  She sang Amy Marcy Cheney Beach's Three Browning Songs, op. 44.  She has a light and well-focused soprano with a pleasing vibrato and sings without visible effort.  We were especially fond of "I send my heart up to thee!"

Mezzo Rachael Braunstein sang Three Songs, op.45 by Samuel Barber with a rich sound and fine diction.  We favored "A green lowland of pianos" in which she captured all the surreal humor that the poet (Czeslaw Milosz) had in mind.  We believe Milosz' verse was based on that of the Polish Jerzy Harasymowicz.

Closing the program was soprano Margaret Newcomb who pleases us every time she performs.  She sang selections from Kurt Weill's The Seven Deadly Sins.  She succeeded in bringing out the drama of the two Anna's by employing different voices.  She did particularly well acting out the seductiveness of "Pride" with a louche appearing Mr. Keightley.  We would someday love to hear her sing the entire roster of Sins--and we would especially love it if she sang Brecht's original text in German.  We are not sure whose translation was used but we felt a disjunction between the words and the musical phrasing.  This is so often the case and begs for presentation in the original language to avoid such awkwardness.

It was a fine recital and we look forward to future hearings of these promising artists.

© meche kroop

Saturday, May 10, 2014


Florian Boesch and Malcolm Martineau
This year alone we have reviewed Schubert's searing song cycle Winterreise several times (all reviews can be found through the search bar) and each time, save one, we have heard it anew; we have never grown tired of it and never will.  Such is the genius of Franz Schubert's music and Wilhelm Müller's poetry.

One might think of the music and text as a blueprint with each artist attempting to construct a personal edifice therefrom.  Last night at Weill Recital Hall Austrian baritone and English pianist Malcolm Martineau put a highly personal stamp on the work.

The cycle of poems traces the wintry wanderings of a jilted lover who undergoes extreme emotional distress similar to Elizabeth Kübler-Ross' so-called "stages" of grief which, in fact, are not discreet and always overlap.  The songs contain a balance between nostalgia, melancholy, vain hopefulness, anger, despair and resignation.

Mr. Boesch's idiosyncratic interpretation leaned rather heavily on the side of anger, especially in the first half of the cycle, shortchanging the balance that we believe was intended.  Nearly every song ended with an outburst of bitterness or anger.

It was not until mid-cycle in "Frühlingstraum" (one of our favorite songs), when we heard the intended alternation between the pleasure of the dreaming poet and the pain he feels upon awakening, that we could appreciate Mr. Boesch's more delicate side. The artistic choices in the second half of the program offered more variety and balance.

Mr. Boesch has a magnificent instrument and, although we have never heard his Wozzeck, we are sure he excels in that role. His innate sense of theatrics allowed him to color words and to create variety in the strophic songs from one verse to the next.  At times however he leaned a bit too strenuously on certain words, creating excessive emphasis.

Mr. Martineau was equally intense and propulsive at the piano with great variety in his dynamics.  He played full out in the preludes and postludes but he was supportive and restrained while Mr. Boesch was singing.  The attention of the audience was as rapt as the performances were intense; we just felt this performance to be slightly heavy-handed.  Still, it was a valid and operatic interpretation of a man's descent into madness.

© meche kroop

Thursday, May 8, 2014


Mario Chang, Paul Han, Shirin Eskandani, Maya Lahyani, Alexey Lavrov, Alison King, Ryan Speedo Green, Joseph Dennis  
Renowned for their generosity in supporting young singers, the Gerda Lissner Foundation hosted a festive evening at the New York Athletic Club last night honoring beloved soprano Diana Soviero.  Foundation President Stephen De Maio introduced Brian Kellow, Features Editor of Opera News, who served as host. Eight winners of the 2014 International Vocal Competition provided the entertainment. The judges did a fine job in selecting these very talented artists.

Israeli mezzo Maya Lahyani opened the recital with a vibrant performance of the well-known "Habanera" from Bizet's Carmen.  Ms. Lahyani has a rich true mezzo sound and a fine way of getting a song across.

Tenor Joseph Dennis showed good dynamic control in "Salut, demeure, chaste et pure" from Gounod's Faust; he succeeded in creating variety from one verse to the next.

Soprano Alison King has a lovely vibrato that she employed in "Iolanta's Arioso" from Tchaikovsky's Iolanta.  We liked the way her energy built to the climax and hope to hear her perform the entire opera in the future.

Tenor Paul Han did some lovely singing in "Fantaisie aux divins mensonges" from Delibes' Lakmé which he invested with great feeling, exhibiting an enviably delicate pianissimo.  We loved the way he floated his high notes without any strain.

The program next moved to the first prize winners.  Mezzo Shirin Eskandani has mastered the bel canto style of which we are so very fond.  Her "Non più mesta" from Rossini's  La Cenerentola was marked by accuracy in the runs and some unusual and finely executed embellishments.

Baritone Alexey Lavrov, well known from the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, gave a musical and marvelously well-modulated performance of "Vy mne pisali" from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin.  His interpretation presented the title character the way we have always thought of him--not overwhelmingly arrogant or cruel but a bit severe in his instruction of the immature Tatiana, as if he were an older brother setting her straight.

Bass-baritone Ryan Speedo Green, also well-known from the Lindemann program, conveyed the blustery humor of Osmin in "Solche hergelaufne Laffen" from Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail".  He can create a wonderful character without any sacrifice of musicality or tone production, making it all appear natural and effortless.

Grand prize winner Mario Chang gave an electrifying performance of "Ella mi fu rapita" from Verdi's Rigoletto.  It was a strong and generous Italianate performance that gave everything Verdi asked for.  A wonderful cadenza capped the presentation.

Accompanying pianists were Arlene Shrut and Jonathan Kelly.

We remain grateful as ever to The Gerda Lissner Foundation for the generous support they give to young artists.

© meche kroop

Wednesday, May 7, 2014


Ben Spierman, Lyssandra Stephenson and Perri Sussman
Made in America is a political opera cycle and one's appreciation for the work rests upon one's willingness to accept the opera stage as a bully pulpit.  The event--"Episode1: The Interview"-- was a co-production of Sonya Rice of OperaOggiNY and Diane Kaldany of the St. Bart's Episcopal Peace Fellowship.

Polymath Thomas Lawrence Toscano, Artistic Director and Founder of OperaOGGINY  served as composer, conductor and librettist.  Last night we witnessed the first of a series of one-act events, each with a theme:  Episode 2 will tackle Big Pharma; Episode 3, fracking; Episode 4, police shootings of young black males; Episode 5, the plight of veterans.

"Episode I: The Interview" has the achievement of peace in Israel as its theme.  The three characters are Alzubra, an American woman married to a Muslim man, Anat, an Israeli mother, and an Army Public Affairs Officer who has been assigned to question the women the better to understand the organization they have formed called MuJeLif--Muslim and Jewish Women for Life.

The women tell their stories of how they each lost two children in two very different tragedies, both laid at the doorstep of the good old USA which has provided arms to Israel and drones that kill innocent children.

Mostly due to the greater intelligibility of lower voices, it was easier to understand the unofficial sympathy of the PAO officer, believably acted and sung by Ben Spierman and the sad story of Alzubra, sung by Perri Sussman whose rich mezzo was a highlight of the evening.  Soprano Lyssandra Stephenson has a fine voice and was convincing in her support of Alzubra who seemed to be suffering more; but her high-lying vocal lines did not permit much understanding of her story.

Overall, we liked the dramatic and vocal aspects of the brief evening and found the piano music, performed by Alessandro Simone, to be interesting for the most part, often given a Middle-Eastern slant, and closely linked to the emotions being expressed.  Like most contemporary opera writing, the vocal lines were not particularly memorable, the problem lying largely in the sound and rhythm of the English language; Broadway writers, however shallow, seem to have the knack that serious composers do not.  The libretto was just not very singable.

That being said, we loved the duets between the two women whose voices rose in affecting harmonies.  The prayers the women offered seemed of a more musical nature than the rest of the singing which might just as well have been spoken. Although the tale is a tragic one, the ending is hopeful.  The two women sang a lovely duet that scans and rhymes!

Never underestimate the power of women to effect change.  (Nor the power of men to create the problems in the first place.) The final scene was of the meeting of MuJeLif and we spied a group of women off to the side wearing head scarves, presumably members of MuJeLif.  We were all set for a final chorus but none came.  Perhaps Maestro Toscano would consider adding one!

The subject is of inestimable worth but one that lends itself more to journalism or theater.  We remain unconvinced that opera is a suitable vehicle to move peoples' beliefs or to promote activism.  Perhaps Giuseppi Verdi's massive choruses about liberty motivated the Italian people in the Risorgimento.  But that was another time and another country.  Today we go to the opera to be entertained!

© meche kroop

Tuesday, May 6, 2014


Mary Feminear, James Knight, Hannah McDermott, Alexander McKissick, Avery Amereau, Josph Eletto, Benjamin Lund and Steven Blier
It was the final "Sing for your Supper" of the season--therefore a bittersweet occasion as the young stars of NYFOS AFTER HOURS made their final appearance before departing for various young artists programs around the world.  We have taken so much pleasure in their performances all year, we wish them well in their summer programs and we can hardly wait for their return.

Last night's program centered on the lyrics of P.G. Wodehouse as set by Jerome Kern, with a couple songs by Cole Porter thrown in for good measure.  Steven Blier (Pianist, Arranger and Host) gave us the lowdown on Mr. Wodehouse's primness and Cole Porter's raciness.  He described Kern's music as akin to Schubert's and indeed, tenor Alexander McKissick's performance of "Go Little Boat" from Miss 1917 struck us as deeply as any of Schubert's lieder.

Baritone Benjamin Lund's artistry in "The Land Where the Good Songs Go" from the same work was equally beautiful.  Could this show really be nearly a century old?  We wish we could see it reprised one day but only if it were done with the same sincerity we heard from Mr. Lund and Mr. McKissick.

Soprano Mary Feminear allowed her sincerity to shine through as well in her lovely performance of the original "Bill", which began life in another show before winding up in Showboat.

Avery Amereau used her dusky mezzo to great advantage in "Siren's Song" from Leave It To Jane.  To add to the overall effect she dressed herself as a flapper!  It was delightful.

Baritone Joseph Eletto sang "My Castle in the Air" from Miss Springtime with the most affecting vibrato and phrasing. He was joined by the very funny tenor James Knight for an hilarious duet from the same show entitled "Saturday Night" about a woman who began the week with virtuous intention but whose "virtue sprang a leak" by the end of the week.  Priceless!  Mr. Knight's solo "Napoleon" from Have a Heart was LMAO funny, not only from the lyrics and his comedic style but also from the fact that he is 6'4".

There were other funny songs--mezzo Hannah McDermott delighted with "Cleopatterer" from Leave it to Jane.  Mr. Wodehouse could certainly come up with some clever rhymes.  She was just as delightful in the opening trio with Mr. Knight and Mr. Lund from the same show--"Sir Galahad', the message of which, strangely enough, did not sound at all dated.

More humor, and perhaps one of the funniest songs on the program, could be found in "We're Crooks" in which Mr. McKissick and Mr. Lund adopted heavy wise-guy accents.  What made the song very timely were the references to Congress and Wall Street as being too crooked for the crooks' taste!

Mr. Blier considers Jerome Kern to be rather refined and Cole Porter to be rather risqué.  The two songs chosen to be on the program to represent Mr. Porter were "You're the Top" and "Anything Goes", both of which were performed by the ensemble.  It appeared that they enjoyed themselves as much as the audience.

This entire affair was staged by the brilliant director Mary Birnbaum, ensuring that each song's dramatic potential was mined.  One doesn't get this quality in the typical cabaret show!

It was a most enjoyable evening and an introduction to many songs we had never met before but of which we were delighted to make the acquaintance.  The only thing missing was Miles Mykkanen singing "Sing for Your Supper".

 © meche kroop

Monday, May 5, 2014


Maestro Thomas Muraco with cast of I Capuleti e i Montecchi: Shi Li, Carlton Moe, Noragh Devlin, Kasia Borowiec and Scott Russell

If Bellini stands for a delicious brunch drink in your lexicon, you probably won't relate to Maestro Thomas Muraco's admirable production of Vincenzo Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi at the Manhattan School of Music.  But if you adore bel canto as much as we do you will get yourself to tonight's performance at 7:30 in the Ades Performance Space.

Bellini's lengthy vocal lines were conducted by Maestro Muraco without a baton, his expressive hands making balletic movements through space.  The reduction of the score was apparently a group creation and was so effective that the orchestra was never missed.  Ronny Michael Greenberg and Jie Yi performed on two pianos with Yeon Hwa Chung making significant contributions on the harp.  Elizabeth Harraman's French horn and Michael Dee's clarinet had some marvelously melodic lines of their own.

The libretto by Felice Romani harked back to earlier Italian versions of the story of star-crossed lovers than the Shakespeare play.  Wisely, extraneous characters were eliminated to focus on five main characters and their interaction.  The story became immediate, personal and affecting.  It was all meat and no fat.

Interestingly, and typical of Italian opera of the period, the enmity between Romeo and Juliet's family has been securely placed in the realm of a political power struggle--the struggle between the Guelphs and the Ghibellines. There is nothing evil about Tebaldo; he just loves Giulietta and wants to marry her.  Romeo is not a hot-headed teenager; he is a successful warrior who killed Capellio's son on the battlefield and is now suing for peace.  Lorenzo is not a monk but a physician in the Capulet household and sympathetic to the young lovers.  No nurse.  No servants.  No best friends.  No Paris.  No mother. No Prince.

The role of Romeo was superlatively sung by mezzo Noragh Devlin, much praised in earlier reviews (available through the search bar).  She fully lived up to her reputation and created an ardent and sympathetic character.  She negotiated the fioritura as well as the long legato lines; she was equally splendid in her duets with Giulietta.

Soprano Kasia Borowiec was equally impressive as Giulietta.  She has a bright soprano with just the right amount of vibrato and her embellishments were accurate.  She too created a winsome character that we could care about.  She was especially moving as she weighed her familial duty against her love for Romeo who wanted to elope with her.

Tebaldo, as described above, was also a sympathetic character, especially as sung by the fine tenor Carlton Moe who had some outstanding arias in Act I and an interesting duet with Romeo in Act II when he expresses remorse about contributing to Giulietta's death.

The role of Lorenzo was well sung by bass-baritone Scott Russell who probably has low notes to spare; bass Shi Li delivered the goods in the role of Giulietta's father Capellio.

An all-male chorus was onstage throughout to narrate the action and was joined by a female chorus at the end, lamenting the heroine's demise during the funeral cortege; this mournful scene was accompanied by stunning harp arpeggios.

That there was no panic accompanying the occasional disappearance of the titles is a fine tribute to Stephano Baldasseroni, the Italian diction coach.  Even the chorus was totally comprehensible, a characteristic that we have only heard when listening to the Donald Palumbo-coached Metropolitan Opera chorus.  Since Maestro Muraco was responsible for the chorus preparation, he gets extra props.

Although this is a concert presentation, the drama comes from the music and there is no shortage of drama.  Listen for a fortuitous horn solo in Act I and a stunning back-and-forth duet between Giulietta and the clarinet as she expresses her ambivalence.  Listen for the faltering heartbeat in Act II when Giulietta drinks the poison.  Another duet between Romeo and the clarinet delights the ear in the tomb scene.

Until yesterday, our favorite version of R&J has been the Kenneth MacMillan ballet set to Prokofiev's music.  Now that Alessandra Ferri and Julio Bocca are no longer dancing those roles, our new favorite version is this one.  Go and enjoy!

© meche kroop

Sunday, May 4, 2014


Gaële Le Roi, Kelly Ballou, Olivier Baumont, Laetitia de beck Spitzer, David Newman, Andrew Appel, Donna Fournier, and Ryan Brown
Ever since Opera Lafayette brought their imaginative opera double-bill to the Rose Theater in January (review can be found by using the search bar) we have eagerly awaited their return.  Friday night at Weill Recital Hall, they presented Part I of Celebrating Rameau: The Salon.  We will have to wait until next fall for Part II which will be a staged premiere of Rameau's ballet héroïque-- Les Fêtes de l'Hymen et de l'Amour ou Les Dieux d'Égypte.

Our experience with opera by Jean-Philippe Rameau is confined to a production of Platée in Santa Fe in 2007 and one several years earlier at the New York City Opera which we enjoyed tremendously.

Part I could be considered an appetizer; it was a red-letter day for lovers of Rameau.  Two superbly talented harpsichordists, Olivier Baumont and Andrew Appel, joined by Conductor and Artistic Director Ryan Brown on violin and Donna Fournier on viol, treated the audience to several interesting works and also accompanied the four singers--Gaële Le Roi, Kelly Ballou, Laetitia de beck Spitzer and David Newman.

Of the instrumental portion of the evening we were most impressed by some dances from Les Indes Galantes transcribed for two harpsichords; the textures were most compelling.  We would have loved to have seen the various dances performed by baroque dancers.

The vocal music was what we came to hear and the well-chosen singers brought Rameau's music to vivid life. The spectacle on stage was arresting: Baritone David Newman wore a suit and tie, Ms. Le Roi wore lingerie, Ms. Ballou wore office attire and Ms. Spitzer wore an evening gown!  We did not even try to fathom this but just enjoyed the splendid voices.

Mr. Newman sang an Air from the cantata Thétis to open the program and joined the women later on for three canons of which, we were told, the translations were too racy to print.  Naturally, that piqued our curiosity no end but careful listening provided nothing more than a few hints!

Ms. Ballou employed her lovely soprano for the romantic "L'Amante préoccupée"; "No, non le dieu qui sait aimer" sung by Ms. Spitzer, was of a more spirited nature; "Duo Bacchique" allowed Mr. Walker and Ms. Le Roi to exhibit their humorous sides.

The final work on the program was the Cantate pour le Jour de la Saint Louis, an expressive work in which Ms. Le Roi used her highly focused soprano to good advantage, accompanied by Mr. Beaumont and the strings.

It was a brief evening and a true "amuse bouche" as we wait for October 9th and the aforementioned premiere.  The date is already on our calendar.  How fortunate we are to have the D.C. based Opera Lafayette exploring the 18th c. French repertoire and playing it for us New Yorkers on period instruments.

ⓒ meche kroop

Saturday, May 3, 2014


Eric Owens and Julia Bullock (photo by Ken Howard)
Every master class seems to have its own theme and Eric Owens' class Wednesday afternoon at Juilliard did not depart from the program.  The engaging bass-baritone has a folksy manner that puts students at ease; he was never critical and never insisted that his way was the right way.  He just suggested other options to see if they worked for them.  Students were reassured that their performances were excellent (which they were) and that he was just being "nit-picky".

The theme for the class seemed to be various means of establishing a legato line while keeping the voice centered.  A useful exercise is to sing only the vowels and to keep them all aligned.  Yes, you can try this at home!

Baritone Takaoki Onishi sang "Hai gia vita la causa" from Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro.  We think he did just fine conveying the arrogance of the entitled (pun intended) Count but Mr. Owens moved him even further in that direction, suggesting that he "see the wheels turning" in the character's mind.  All this, of course, while sticking strictly to the rhythm of the recitativo.

Soprano Julia Bullock sang Wolf's "Der Knabe und das Immlein" from the Mörike Lieder.  Teacher and student worked together as only two perfectionists could on bringing a bel canto technique into the German language by singing through the consonants and easing into the vowels.  Once the technique becomes incorporated, it can be forgotten.

Önay Köse, with the same type of voice as Mr. Owens, sang "Che mai veggio" from Verdi's Ernani.  Mr. Owens persuaded him to stop going for color and to stop trying to sound older. He was encouraged to not worry about making a pretty sound but to use a simple uncolored and non-operatic tone.  The two of them worked on placement of the sound in the mask.

Soprano Mary Feminear sang "Sempre libera" from Verdi's La Traviata.  They worked on keeping the sound centered throughout the range without "spreading".  One useful trick that helped was to bend the knees when going for the high note.  Keeping the trill in the same place was stressed.

The accompanists for the class were Dimitri Dover, Daniel Fung and Art Williford.  One couldn't help but admire the way they could just pick up at any point of the aria.    Time was left at the end for a Q and A.  Mr. Owens had the opportunity of telling a very young singer to enjoy his Mozart in the "Here and Now".  Bass-baritones have long careers and should not rush into heavier roles.

It was a most enjoyable and educational class, not only for the four singers but also for the audience.

© meche kroop


Ryan Speedo Green, Ekaterina Deleu, Alexey Lavrov

Recitals by artists in the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program are always a special treat and yesterday's recital was no exception.  We were treated to an hour and a half of lieder and arias by baritone Alexey Lavrov and bass-baritone Ryan Speedo Green, partnered by collaborative pianist Ekaterina Deleu.

We have watched these artists develop in the program and by this time we have run out of superlatives.  Having paid close attention to Eric Owens' master class the day before we were able to appreciate two voices with their vowels centered and lined up in perfect legato lines.  When singers are so totally secure in their technique, there is the artistry of communication to be appreciated.

Mr. Green opened with two arias from Handel's Siro, re di Persia.  His command of the material was masterful.  In "Gelido, in ogni vena" he conveyed grief in a most moving manner; in "Se il mio paterno amore", taken at a livelier tempo, his character's anger was disturbing.

Mr. Lavrov performed Schumann's Dichterliebe better than we have ever heard it sung.  He imbued Heinrich Heine's poetry with Russian passion; we felt as if we were glimpsing the soul of the poet.  A disappointed lover goes through many phases and all were captured--from the joy of "Im wunderschönen Monat Mai" to the resignation of "Die alten, bösen Lieder".  In between there was plenty of irony in "Ich grolle nicht" and in "Ein Jüngling liebt ein Mädchen".  Perhaps the saddest one was "Ich hab' im Traum geweinet" in which Mr. Lavrov invested each verse of the strophic poem with a different shade of sorrow.

Mr. Green next sang Drei Lieder nach Gedichten von Michelangelo; he sang with power and authority.  If Mr. Green's compelling singing cannot get us to love these Wolf settings it is likely that we never will love them.  They are dark and philosophical and his voice is suited to them but we find Wolf's vocal line less compelling than the piano writing.  That being said, he sang them well and there was a lovely decrescendo at the end.

We were far more impressed with the high drama of Assur's aria from Rossini's Semiramide --"Sì, vi sarà vendetta...Deh! ti ferma".  Assur goes from vengefulness to terror to relief to boldness.  Mr. Green captured every nuance.

Mr. Lavrov returned for an encore--Cesare Andrea Bixio's "Parlami d'amore Mariu".  We love the way he caresses each and every word.  He is truly a stage animal and uses not only vocal color but his entire body to bring the audience into the world of the song.

Mr. Green's encore could have been a cliché but it was anything but.  "Ol' Man River" from Jerome Kern's Showboat was given a sincere and nuanced reading that was terribly moving.  It will not be "soon forgotten".

Kudos to Ms. Deleu for a fine job accompanying two very different singers with very different styles.

© meche kroop

Thursday, May 1, 2014


The splendid cast of Orlando Paladino (photo by Carol Rosegg)
We have never taken kindly to updating the tragedies of the classic repertory but to take an all-but-forgotten opera and to dress it in new clothes (so to speak) can be not only forgiven but celebrated.

We have never seen/heard an opera at Manhattan School of Music that we haven't enjoyed but their production of Joseph Haydn's Orlando Paladino absolutely blew us away with its originality and creativity.  The chorus has been eliminated along with extraneous characters and the entire affair has been tightened up to a brisk 2 1/2 hours that absolutely flew by.

The libretto by Nunziato Porta was based on another libretto by P. A. Guglielmi which was, in turn, inspired by Ariosto's 16th c. epic poem Orlando furioso.  Poor Ariosto would not have been able to recognize his own work.  But the music is a constant.

Astute director Robin Guarino settled on a concept of presenting the work as a reality show.  She was inspired by an article in the New Yorker by Andrew Marantz describing the impact on our culture of technology, surveillance, reality television and instant celebrity, particularly as it affects psychosis.  If you recall a film called The Truman Show about a man who lives his life inside a TV show, you will get the concept.

So...gone are the shepherds and palaces and woods.  Scenic Designer Laura Jellinek has created the set of a reality TV show with cameras in place and techies running around setting things up.  Some of them are characters in the opera.  This provides an opportunity to skewer the cult of celebrity as the stars preen and pose or sulk and look bored between "takes".  We wouldn't want to spoil the fun by telling you about all the sight gags.

Lighting Designer Mark Barton has used brightly colored washes of light to highlight the content of each scene and Gabriel Berry's costumes are witty and a propos.

The story is simple but made complicated.  Angelica (the divine soprano Leela Subramaniam) is in love with Medoro (excellent tenor Thomas Mulder).  Rodomonte (big beautiful baritone Kidon Choi) also cares for her and would protect her from the certifiably crazy and delusional Orlando (terrific tenor Elliott Paige). 

His squire Pasquale is, in this case, one of the techies and performed by the incomparable scene-stealer baritone Cameron Johnson whose body is as flexible as his voice.  He has a romance going with Eurilla, no longer a shepherdess but here the script girl; soprano Kerstin Bauer creates a winsome character with a lovely voice.  The sorceress Alcina has been transformed into an elegant and powerful player who solves all the problems, including ordering ECT for the uncontrollably mad Orlando.  This is a perfect role for the stunning soprano Margaret Newcombe. The final scene takes place in a mental hospital.

This hilarious silliness is accompanied by Haydn's gorgeous tunes.  Conductor Christian Capocaccia brought the fine MSM musicians to a peak of performance with Marcello Cormio providing the continuo.  Vocal performances were universally superb with arias, duets and ensembles to add variety.  The frantic septet made one think of Rossini and the final moralistic summing up reminded one of Mozart.

The same superlative cast will perform at the Sunday matinee but if you are inclined to attend Friday night, you have our assurance that you won't be disappointed.  We had the opportunity at the pre-performance presentation to hear Jessica Grzanna and Terence Stone sing a tender love duet and baritone Xiaomeng Zhang give a different but equally wonderful interpretation of the combative Rodomonte.  We also heard cover Paul-Anthony Keightley sing a wonderful Pasquale with a great deal of personality.

It was interesting to learn how Ms. Guarino evoked such authentic performances from the singers.  She had them translate their parts and to speak them in contemporary lingo.  It apparently worked incredibly well.

To anyone who doesn't believe that opera can be fun, we recommend this production as a remedial experience.  Were we not otherwise committed, we would return for the next two performances.  We recommend that you beg, borrow or steal a ticket.  Performances of such high value do not happen every weekend!

© meche kroop


Julia Bullock (photo by Karli Cadel)
Co-hosted by the beloved Artist Directors of New York Festival of Song (hereinafter referred to as NYFOS) Steven Blier and Michael Barrett and glamorous diva Jessye Norman, a gala evening celebrating Leonard Bernstein was held at the perfectly sized Weill Recital Hall.  After all, our Lenny was founding advisor of NYFOS.  And a celebration it was indeed.

The evening comprised reminiscences by his daughter Jamie Bernstein and many of the artists who worked with him throughout his career and performances by some of them as well.  But for us, the real magic occurred as we witnessed the younger generation, so well-supported by NYFOS,  interpreting his glorious and enduring music. 

The evening opened with an "amuse bouche"; the adorable Lauren Worsham adopted a little-girl persona to sing his l942 "I Hate Music".  The evening ended with the dazzling Julia Bullock singing "Somewhere" from his 1957 musical West Side Story.  We have heard this song countless times but never have we heard it sung with such profound sincerity and lack of artifice--natural and unamplified  with magnificent vocal technique that disappeared into the overall effect.

For the occasion, five highly talented young men were assembled and dubbed "The NYFOS Jets" to sing the hilarious "Officer Krupke", also from West Side Story.  We know these fellas from the opera stage so it was deliriously funny to see them take on Stephen Sondheim's endlessly clever lyrics.  Theo Hoffman had the role of Action, a juvenile delinquent; Tobias Greenhalgh , Officer Krupke; Tim McDevitt, the Judge; Miles Mykkanen, the social worker; and Adrian Rosas, the psychiatrist.

In contrast with this humor was the ironic and dissonant "The Love of My Life" from Arias and Barcarolles, the 1988 work  premiered and recorded by Mr. Blier and Mr. Barrett and sung here by baritone Kurt Ollmann who also sang the soulful "Lonely Town" from the 1944 musical On the Town and joined Judy Kaye for the "Love Duet" from Arias and Barcarolles.

The very funny Ms. Kaye also sang the pungently humorous "I am Easily Assimilated" from the 1956 oft-revised Candide.  This happens to be one of our two favorite English language operas (the other being Gershwin's Porgy and Bess).  We have seen it in opera houses and on Broadway but we had never heard until Monday night the song "We Are Women" which was beautifully sung by Ms. Worsham and the equally delightful Annie Rosen.  It's a marvelous song which we hope to hear many times over.

The renowned Barbara Cook was on hand with reminiscences of her audition for Mr. Bernstein and a song as well--the lovely "Some Other Time" from On the Town.  Further reminiscences were shared by the regal Jessye Norman and the down-to earth Marilyn Horne who told a funny story about Richard Tucker and the Verdi Requiem when Maestro Bernstein was on the podium.  At one point, Ms. Horne burst into glorious song!

Matthew Epstein also shared his memories and Stephen Sondheim sang a gag song he wrote to music appropriated from Kurt Weill on the occasion of the Maestro's 70th Birthday.

It was a splendid celebration of a brilliant man of music who conducted, composed, educated and entranced.

 © meche kroop