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.

Thursday, April 30, 2015


Jana McIntyre, Christopher S. Lilley, and Lisa Barone

Paull-Anthony Keightley

There was a great deal of fun to be had at Manhattan School of Music last night when Mozart's opera Die Zauberflöte (actually a singspiel) was presented with an excellent cast, featuring star-making turns by bass-baritone Paull-Anthony Keightley as Papageno, one of Planet Opera's most endearing characters, and soprano Jana McIntyre as Queen of the Night.  We have seen Mr. Keightley's Papageno before at New York Opera Exchange and it would be fair to say that he owns the role. As adept at comic timing as he is talented at singing, his shtick kept the audience in stitches.

Ms. McIntyre is new to us but we definitely want to hear more of this compelling coloratura whose vocal fireworks were marked by accuracy and artistry. The rapid-fire embellishments came across without any slurring; every note was well articulated.

As Prince Tamino, tenor Christopher S. Lilley sang with a plush tone and enviable legato; he never pushed for his top notes. His romantic partner, Princess Pamina, was given a fine portrayal by Addie Hamilton who has a lovely sweet soprano; she articulated the embellishments nicely.

As Sarastro, bass Shi Li presented a solid tone with depth of coloring. We only wished that the lines he spoke in English were as clear as the German that he sang. As The Speaker, bass Scott Russell left nothing to be desired.

We always love the Three Ladies as they argue over who gets to stay behind and watch over the unconscious Prince. Last night, sopranos Alaysha Fox and Kelsey Fredriksen and mezzo Lisa Barone were superb and their trio was exceptional.

We were also quite taken with the Three Spirits, here portrayed by EphiGenia Kastanas, Crystal Glenn and Hannah Dishman as three giggly prep school boys. Their trio is marked by gorgeous harmonies.

As the evil head servant Monostatos, K'idar Miller captured both the malice and the humor.  His face-off with Papagena was hilarious.

Soprano Carina DiGianfilippo made a perky Papagena without making as much out of the role as one would hope. Her speaking voice when she approaches Papageno pretending to be an old lady was nothing if not irritating and sounded more like a screech owl than an old woman.

The chorus was exemplary and much credit goes to Chorus Master Miriam Charney.  We'd also like to give props to Diction Coach Marianne Barrett. When we don't need to read the titles we know whom to credit!

The production was an adventure in and of itself and required explanation by Director Jay Lesenger in the program. It was helpful to learn in the pre-performance lecture that the audiences of 1791 did not expect their "magical operas" to make sense.--helpful because we have been trying to make sense of this opera since the first time we saw it.  So, the fact that Mr. Lesenger's production did not make much sense did not interfere with our enjoyment.

We appreciated the additional English dialogue however. We were also tickled by the notion that Pamina and Papageno were half-siblings. Moreover, that the Queen of the Night was enraged because her late husband turned his power over to Sarastro, which fueled her wish for revenge.  And we always thought she was a good woman trying to protect her daughter!

There were directorial choices that, while fun, seemed to make even less sense than other productions. The production team went for a 1960's look with a touch of sci-fi thrown in.  The monster slain by the Three Ladies was a robot. The priests in the temple were wearing identical suits and ties, sitting around a table in a board room, leaving us to wonder how corporate America could be a symbol for Reason, Nature and Wisdom!

Within the parameters of the setting, the costumes by B. G. Fitzgerald were apt with special compliments for the black and silver creation for the Queen of the Night. The simple set by Steven Capone and Ron Kadri comprised an eye-catching 7-pointed gold star and large discs in gold and silver which were raised and lowered to symbolize the ascendancy of lightness (wisdom) over darkness.

George Manahan did his customary excellent work leading the MSM Orchestra. Mozart's profusion of melodies is notable for limning each character. He wrote this work as a favor for his friend the impressario and singer Emanuel Schikaneder who wrote the libretto and played the role of Papageno. We have no way of knowing how he played it but we'll happily settle for Mr. Keightley.

Should you wish to share the joy, the same cast will perform the Sunday matinée and on Friday night a different cast will take over. We were fortunate enough to hear a few members of that cast perform during the pre-performance lecture and found tenor Oliver Sewell to be a fine Tamino; soprano Eunmi Park did a splendid job of revealing the Queen of the Night's subtle changes of intention.

And if you can't snag a ticket we urge you to watch Ingmar Bergman's magical film of Die Zauberflöte, filmed in 1975.

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, April 29, 2015


Theo Lebow, Michael Barrett, Corinne Winters and Alexey Lavrov with Steven Blier at the piano

We have just spent a couple hours reading Steven Blier's program notes from last night's New York Festival of Song recital Letters from Spain: A World of Song in Spanish Poetry. Mr. Blier's talents go way beyond playing the piano, arranging, translating, curating and coaching young singers.  He is also an educator and has generously shared the fruits of his research. We learned a great deal about Europe's fascination with Iberian poetry and the many composers who set diverse works to music, from the simplest folk melodies to the most elaborate compositional efforts.

We have simple taste and favor folk melodies that tickle the ear and stick in the brain. That being said, the entire program was worthwhile and the three singers, while not Spanish, did a superlative job of transmitting the Spanish flavor. It is not only Russian music that delves into suffering; they have plenty of competition from Spain in its cante jondo.

One of the most fascinating items on the program was the opening song "Todos duermen, corazón" which Robert Schumann set to music in its German translation--known as "In der Nacht". But Mr. Blier observed that the scansion of the original Spanish worked equally well with the music and that is what we heard; and that was what charmed us. Soprano Corinne Winters and tenor Theo Lebow joined voices in gorgeous harmony which alternated with overlapping melodies. Schumann's piano writing here sounded strangely baroque. We loved it!

Baritone Alexey Lavrov poured his passion into another Schumann song, this one in the German of Emanuel von Geibel--"Geständnis". Mr. Lavrov does passion very well as we learned in Tchaikovsky's "Don Juan's Serenade", a setting of text by Tolstoy. One can't go wrong with Tolstoy! Lest one conclude that Mr. Lavrov only sings passionate songs, a charming Shostakovich song "Little Stars" was given every ounce of humor called for, in what began life as a folk song.

This was by far our favorite Shostakovich song since the following ones struck us as a bit ponderous or filled with suffering. Nonetheless, the melismatic singing in "Farewell Granada!" was absolutely amazing.

Ms. Winters's singing was captivating. Her delivery is slightly on the side of restraint and we found her very much in tune with Hugo Wolf whose "Geh', Geliebter, geh' jetzt", is yet another adaptation of Spanish poetry by von Geibel. The singer in the song is bidding a reluctant farewell to her lover at dawn in order to avoid scandal. 

We also thrilled to her delivery of "Se equivocó la paloma" one of several songs by the Argentinian Carlos Guastavino, of whom we cannot hear enough. This song is a setting of text by the Spanish writer Rafael Alberti who fled Spain for Argentina. Mr. Blier, always wonderful at shedding light on the songs he curates, introduced the song by explaining that the dove in the song was not romantically deceived but politically deceived. 

Her performance of the next two Guastavino songs was no less wonderful--the austere "La palomita" and "Elegía" with its heraldic sound in the piano. Perhaps it was our imagination but we thought Ms. Winters sang it with an Argentinian accent! There was no mistaking the Catalonian dialect of "Elegía eterna" by the beloved Enrique Granados. In this song, every element of nature is in love with another element that favors yet another.  No love is requited. Ms. Winters sang it with deep feeling.

Mr. Lebow gave alternating delicacy and passion to Hugo Wolf's "Qué producirá mi Dios" evincing astute dynamic control. He also sang a set of songs drawn from William Bolcom's Canciones de Lorca. The dense piano writing required two pianos and four hands in "Alba" with Michael Barrett joining Mr. Blier. The piano writing in "Soneta de la dulce queja" was contrastingly spare. Mr. Lebow adapted his voice readily. We enjoyed the dance rhythm of "El poeta llega a la Habana".

"Zorongo", another poem by Garcia Lorca was set by Anton Garcia Abril, a 20th c. composer. Mr. Lavrov did justice to the passion and the tenderness as Lorca wrote of his love for a man--quite a risky situation in his time and place.

The Renaissance chant "Ay, trista vida corporal!" was sung a capella by Mr. Lebow to stunning effect. The melismatic parts revealed an Arabic influence.

The ensemble joined for the lighthearted tonadilla "El tripili" from an 18th c. zarzuela and for the beautiful encore "Anhelo", Guastavino's setting of a text by Domingo Zerpa. It was a simple folky tune and just our cup of ....sangria!

(c) meche kroop

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


Brennan Hall, Anya Matanovič, Kiera Duffy, and Hadleigh Adams

If you attended Händel's Orlando last night at the WhiteboxLab/Sound Lounge and closed your eyes you would have heard five truly magnificent voices and a wonderful chamber orchestra making marvelous music. But then you might have missed the point.

Director R.B. Schlather has taken on an ambitious project--presenting three Händel operas adapted from Ludovico Ariosto's epic Orlando Furioso. We thoroughly enjoyed the first entry Alcina (review available from our archives by using the search bar) and were eager for his Orlando, composed by Händel in 1733. This groundbreaking opera was not a popular success at that time and lay dormant for over two centuries.  It's first American appearance was at Carnegie Hall in 1971.

Popular success arrived this week at the WhiteboxLab/Sound Lounge. Mr. Schlather's idea was to bring opera downtown and to highlight the actual process of creation of the opera as well as the final product. Rehearsals were live-streamed and also open to the public. Sadly, our schedule permitted only attendance for the live performance.

The playing area ran the length of the long room on an elevated platform with the seating of the audience in similar configuration so no one was far from the "stage". To the rear was the excellent chamber orchestra, sensitively led by Music Director Geoffrey McDonald who magically managed to define all the instrumental lines--using only his bare expressive hands and, at one point, exhibiting his bare chest as well. The listening experience was like getting close to a fabric and being able to recognize each thread composing the pattern. 

Instruments of the baroque period were in evidence and continuo was provided by harpsichordist Elliot Figg. There were some magical moments as when soprano Anya Matanovič in the role of Dorinda produced a stunning trill and the harpsichord echoed her trill. When Angelica (soprano Kiera Duffy) and Medoro (countertenor Brennan Hall) reminisce about the woods where they first fell in love, woodland sounds could be heard in the orchestra.

The story is silly and a straight presentation would never fly. The knight Orlando is obsessively in love with the princess Angelica who (of course) loves another--the Moorish prince Medoro whose wounds she healed in the cave of the shepherdess Dorinda.  Of course, Dorinda also loves Medoro. Orlando (countertenor Drew Minter) goes mad but is restored by the magician Zoroaster, performed by baritone Hadleigh Adams, who had enough strength in the lower register to qualify as a bass-baritone.

Mr. Schlather's daring direction and Terese Wadden's costume design presented these characters as denizens of downtown when downtown was delightfully decadent. Mr. Minter appeared as a derelict in pajamas under his street clothes and a raincoat on top. He looked frightfully seedy and disheveled. No wonder Angelica didn't love him! His last act aria "Vaghe pupille" was movingly delivered.

The role of Angelica was performed by Kiera Duffy whose bright soprano handily nailed Händel's embellishments. There was something uniquely affecting about the timbre of her voice with its just-right vibrato. She wore a short fur, straight out of a 70's thrift shop.

Dorinda's character was finely portrayed by Anya Matanovič; her lustrous soprano nicely served the character. When she sang about a nightingale in "Quando spieghi tuoi tormenti" she sounded like one. She sat for a long period of time behind a potted palm dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. Her consolation prize for losing Medora was....a Yankees pin and a cake provided by Zoroaster which she iced in blue. Musically, the trio "Consolati, o bella" for the two sopranos and Mr. Hall, was one of the highlights.

Zoroaster, being a magician, appeared in many guises, among them a Hell's Angel type motorcycle dude, Santa Claus, and a patissier. Then he appeared in a "onesie" looking like a serpent. Then he showed up in white body paint.  None of this distracted from his marvelously resonant voice as he sang "Sorge infausta una procella", another musical highlight.

Medoro merited no such costume extravagance, dressed simply in casual street clothes. His countertenor is sweet, pure, and youthful. His marvelous aria "Verdi allori" showed off his musicianship as well as his voice.

Paul Tate dePoo designed the set--a simple wooden bench with five spaces--and JAX Messenger was responsible for the apt lighting. Excellent titles by Jude Tietjen were projected on the far right and far left walls.  This was uncomfortable to negotiate but fortunately the singers' Italian diction was so fine that the titles became superfluous.

The opera concludes with Zoroaster having restored Orlando's sanity and successfully  gotten him to follow Mars instead of Venus. We left the Whitebox space somewhat dazzled and eager for the third entry in the trilogy--Ariodante. We are always overjoyed to see new iterations of old forms. Stay tuned!

(c) meche kroop

Sunday, April 26, 2015


Rama and Dakshina Vaidyanathan

Under the auspices of the World Music Institute, an absorbing program of Indian dance was presented at the New York University Skirball Center for the Performing Arts. We were completely entranced for the better part of two hours by the two gorgeous women, their resplendent costumes and the intensity of their movements.

The choreography by Rama Vaidyanathan seemed a perfect blend of the traditional and the modern, the spiritual and the worldly. The music was provided by four musicians from India. Most impressive was the flute of Rajat Prasanna whose teasing melodies were underscored by the percussion of Nattuvangam; the Mridangam (a type of drum) was played by Ramamoorthy Sriganesh and the chanting, some of it in Sanskrit, was provided by Dr. S. Vasudevan and K. Venkateshwaran. We heard the sound of an harmonium but we didn't see one onstage.

We know very little about this type of dance but we watched with rapt attention and observed how important is the articulation of joints in the fingers, wrist and neck. Every little movement seems to convey meaning, even the eyes.  We also noticed that the fingertips and the soles of the feet are stained red to emphasize the hand movements and the foot stamping.

There were movements that took our breath away, one of which involved graceful twirling of the wrists until the form of a lotus was created.

Looking very much like sisters, the two women are mother and daughter. Our favorite piece was "Protect and Set Free" in which a mother contemplates three parables that help her to let her daughter grow up and leave. The scenes of her braiding her daughter's hair (in pantomime) and showing the resemblance of their faces in an imaginary mirror were very touching.

Our second favorite piece was a Varnam (the most elaborate of the Bharatanatyam repertoire) in which Rama expresses her passion and devotion for Lord Siva. The hand gestures and body movements clearly suggested the text of the poetry which she read to the audience before the dance. She saw Siva as remote as the heavens and the mountaintops and wanted to draw him closer so that they might sway together and their hearts beat as one.  Only in the Hindu culture can sexuality, sensuality, and spirituality become united!

We see how traditional forms can be augmented with modern touches without losing authenticity. These women are artists of the highest degree. Their performance left us artistically and spiritually nourished.

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, April 25, 2015


Virginie Verrez, Takaoki Onishi and Ying Fang (photo by Ken Howard)

Le Nozze di Figaro, if not our favorite opera, is at least in the top five. We have seen it perhaps 30 times in our opera going lifetime.  We have always enjoyed it but we have never thrilled to it as much as last night when Juilliard Opera presented it with the perfect cast, meaningful direction by Stephen Wadsworth, and spirited conducting by Gary Thor Wedow, who brought out every nuance of Mozart's glorious score.

Mr. Wadsworth elicited the humanity of the characters in all their fullness without ever stooping to cliché. As the entitled aristocrat Count Almaviva, baritone Takaoki Onishi created a character who was not a monster, just a man of his time in times that were changing. He showed the frustration and bewilderment of a man confronting servants unwilling to do his bidding and a wife who found a way to deal with his philandering--with the servants' help, of course. Mr. Onishi's singing is always topnotch, bursting with musicality and richly textured sound.

His nemesis Cherubino was so convincingly portrayed by mezzo-soprano Virginia Verrez that we forgot it was a travesti role. Her lustrous voice was unhampered by the demands of the character. This was a very hormonal youth ("Non so più cosa son") and his lust for the Countess was unmistakable. Anyone who has read the final entry of Beaumarchais' trilogy knows that the two of them conceived a child.  But this is the first time we have ever seen the two of them making out in bed! At the end, it was obvious that he did NOT want to marry Barbarina!

That the Countess finds him irresistible was made clear by the excellent soprano Alexandra Razskazoff. We recently saw this opera at the Metropolitan Opera, in which we found the Countess bland and lacking dignity.  Not so here! Ms. Razskazoff managed to show us the spunky Rosina she had been, the beaten down wife she had become, and her growth into the dignified woman in control.

As Figaro, bass-baritone Thesele Kemane gave vocal evidence of being in control of every situation.  Dramatically, he showed the wit and the cleverness the role demands and needed only a touch of additional charm and humor to make his characterization complete.

Aside from the theme of shifting power structure, there is much that Beaumarchais had to say about love and its varying manifestations. Figaro and Susanna represent faithful romantic love with its accompanying fear of loss, manifested by jealousy. Soprano Ying Fang created a completely lovable and resourceful Susanna. Her bright soprano was employed successfully to support the interpretation. Her facial expressions while being pawed by the Count were priceless.

The Count and Countess of course represent love gone sour. He is a consistent philanderer and she is repairing her damaged self-esteem (What a "Dové sono"!) with the young page Cherubino. The Count's contrition at the end ("Contessa perdono") is stretched out and held back for as long as possible, leaving us in the audience thinking "Get down on your knees already and apologize!"

More surprising is the ambivalent affection between Marcellina, superbly sung and acted by undergraduate (!) mezzo-soprano Samantha Hankey and Bartolo, impressively performed by bass Önay Köse. His Bartolo was not detestable but rather likeable. He too is a victim of his epoch and his grudge against the Count is understandable ("La vendetta"). This pair of performers made it believable that they had once had an intimate relationship. Perhaps he still cares for her or perhaps he is making the best of the situation when he agrees to marry her. On her part, she is a bit seductive toward him, perhaps to gain his support or perhaps she really cares for him.

One of the most astounding surprises of the evening was witnessing tenor Miles Mykkanen's creation of the role of Don Basilio. This character is a dandy, a gossip and a panderer and yet Mr, Mykkanen made him deliciously appealing. We should not have been surprised because this versatile artist always does something original.

Tenor Aaron Mor, also an undergraduate, fulfilled the requirements of the role of Don Curzio the magistrate.  The scene of the court case was hilarious with each character jumping up to make his point.

Bass-baritone Tyler Zimmerman offered ample comic relief as Antonio the gardener. He conveyed bibulousness and righteous indignation very well.

Soprano Liv Redpath made a sweet Barbarina but was not given much to do dramatically.

The chorus did beautifully, coached by David Moody and the Juilliard Orchestra did justice to Mozart's melodic music.

The fact that we scarcely recognized these singers with whom we are well acquainted is tribute to the excellent wig and makeup design of Tom Watson. Camille Assaf's costume designs could not have been better. We will long remember the Count's opulent yellow dressing gown and the Countess' lavish gowns, as well as Susanna's wedding dress. The quiet colors for the rest of the cast were apropos.

The set design by Charlie Corcoran faithfully recreated a palacio outside of Seville. The servants' room was rather bare and being made ready for occupancy. The Countess' room was opulent with period furniture. David Lander's lighting was apt and unobtrusive.

We have run out of superlatives. We do believe we have seen a Nozze di Figaro against which all future ones will be measured. The production managed to be faithful to Mozart's music and Beaumarchais' drama, adding new insights to our perception of the work.  And that's exactly what we want from opera!

(c) meche kroop

Friday, April 24, 2015


The cast of Naughty Marietta

Over the past few years we have been made aware of a couple small companies in New York City that present operettas; thankfully Victor Herbert Renaissance Project Live! (VHRP LIVE!) has just crossed our radar screen.  We say "thankfully" because we just passed a completely delightful evening with them getting acquainted with a very naughty girl named Marietta who first delighted audiences in 1910.

We are not a member of the group that finds these works outmoded, any more than we would call a Renoir "outdated". We can only express our joy that the ambitious Alyce Mott has seen fit to share the works of Mr. Herbert with present day audiences.

Ms. Mott is the Founder and Artistic Director of VHRP LIVE! and has also written a new pocket libretto for Mr. Herbert's tuneful operetta. The story was narrated by Georga Osborne who appeared in the speaking role of Marie Le Valleau, a voodoo queen of late 18th c. New Orleans. Ms. Mott's libretto has made some nips and tucks that serve to move the story along and eliminate unnecessary distractions.

Musical values were grand all around with conductor Michael Thomas moving things along and pianist Wilson Southerland excellently playing the overture and intermezzo, as well as supporting the superb singers.

Soprano Sarah Caldwell Smith excelled as the eponymous Marietta, a runaway Italian contessa, recently escaped from a French convent.  Her sparkly bright instrument was perfect for the role and she effectively portrayed a spunky young woman who was going to create her own future.

Tenor Glenn Seven Allen sang beautifully as Captain Richard Warrington, leader of a group of rangers sent by General George Washington to arrest a pirate plaguing the territory.  He was most effective as Marietta's love interest.

His competition was Etienne Grandet, the son of the Lieutenant Governor, actually none other than the pirate himself, sharing his booty with his father. Baritone Justin Ryan sang and acted up a storm.

His quadroon mistress Adah was wonderfully played by soprano Vira Slywotzky whose larger darker soprano lent itself to the role and gave gravitas to her fear of being sold when Etienne tired of her.

Comic relief was provided by David Seatter whose song "Sweet By and By" reminded us of a Gilbert and Sullivan number. Further comic relief was on hand courtesy of Stephen Faulk who portrayed the Captain's aide Simon O'Hara with a brogue as thick as molasses. Nathan Brian was amusing as Rudolfo who owned the marionette theater and gave disguise and employment to Marietta, pretending she was his long-lost son.

If the plot sounds confusing, rest assured that in the performance everything was made clear. Although we were fascinated by the politics of the period, one didn't need to be in order to appreciate the fun and the music. In fact, this is very close to the period in history John Guare illuminated in his play A Free Man of Color, which we saw half a dozen times!  

New Orleans changed hands a couple times before the Louisiana Purchase and at this time it was owned by Spain but dominated by the French. It was a free-wheeling time with ample sophistication and wealth. But it was also a time when people of color were bought and sold. A beautiful quadroon like Adah could expect to be set up in a house with beautiful clothes and jewelry. Just this little bit of knowledge served to enhance our appreciation.

Some musical highlights were "Taisez Vous" sung by the Rangers and the "casquette girls", women given dowries by the King of France so they could come to the New World and find husbands--(Natalie Ballenger, Katherine Corle, Mitchell Roe, and Matthew Wages).

Ms. Caldwell Smith led the company in "Italian Street Song" filled with coloratura fireworks. Her duet with Mr. Allen "It Never, Never Can Be Love" was outstanding. Ms. Slywotzky had a delightful duet with Mr. Faulk --"If I Were Anybody Else But Me". Mr. Ryan's solo "You Marry A Marionette" was deliciously witty.

Of course the finale was the peak of the evening--"Ah Sweet Mystery of Life". Captain Dick has helped Marietta finish her unfinished song and the couple who tried hard not to fall in love has been united. Adah has been purchased by Captain Dick and freed. And now the audience can leave the theater feeling really really good.

(c) meche kroop

Thursday, April 23, 2015


Mitsuko Uchida and Dorothea Röschmann

Highly celebrated in Europe but too little heard in the United States, soprano Dorothea Röschmann made a welcome appearance at Carnegie Hall last night with equally celebrated Mitsuko Uchida as her collaborative pianist.

The all-German program focused on two song cycles by Robert Schumann, both composed in 1840, during that very productive year when he won the court case permitting him to marry his beloved Clara.

The evening's program began with his Liederkreis, Op.39, a dozen songs of varying moods, one lovelier than the next. Ms. Röschmann's burnished soprano is flawless and focused throughout the registers and her musicianship is undeniable. There is something elegant and tasteful about her manner. One could call it unassuming.

There were times when we wished for more drama in the storytelling, as in "Waldegespräch"; we longed to hear the difference in coloring between the words of the rider and the words of the Loreley. 

Ms. Uchida is a highly sensitive accompanist and often we heard more of the mood of the song in her piano. In "Mondnacht" she made moonlight audible, to our delight. "Auf einer Burg" had the right haunting feeling. The searching atmosphere of several songs was unmistakable and emotionally affecting.

The ending of "Im Walde" was given a chill by both artists who lent their skills to the storytelling.

The storytelling of the final work on the program grew in power. Frauenliebe und leben, Op.42 is one of our favorites and we are always happy to see it on a program. The challenge for the singer is to convince us that she is a young girl still playing games with her sisters who then grows into womanhood during the course of the cycle.

The timbre of Ms. Röschmann's instrument is very suited to melancholy and grief. She was incredibly moving in the final tragic "Nun hast du mir den ersten Schmerz getan" but she was less believable as the excited young girl who falls head over heels in love with a man.

She did inject a dose of excitement into "Ich kann's nicht fassen, nicht glauben" but we wanted to hear a different color when the girl gives voice to the man's words "Ich bin auf ewig dein". We enjoyed the serious tenor of "Du Ring an meinem Finger" as the woman realizes the import of her engagement. Similarly we appreciated the quiet joy as she let her husband know of her pregnancy in "Süsser Freund, du blickest".

In between the two Schumann cycles we heard Alban Berg's Sieben frühe Lieder which we have recently come to appreciate, thanks to a recital two weeks ago by Mary-Jane Lee (review archived). Ms. Röschmann furthered our appreciation, thanks to a sensitive delivery that captured the elusive quality of the songs.

We particularly enjoyed "Die Nachtigall" because of its haunting melody; we got goosebumps when Ms. Röschmann sang the phrase "Die Rosen aufgesprungen". "Im Zimmer" we loved for its atmosphere; the piano did a great job of emulating dancing flames from the little red fire.

It was during the encores that we most enjoyed Ms. Röschmann. She removed some of the restraints and let loose with a shattering performance of Schubert's "Nur wer die sehnsucht kennt" and Stern Auditorium was filled with more emotion and a greater amplitude of sound than was heard all evening. As if this were not enough, it was followed by "Kennst du das Land", set by Hugo Wolf.  One can never go wrong with the Mignonlieder from Goethe's Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre!

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


THE HOT BOX GIRLS (photo by Travis Chantar)

Could sex sell opera?  That was the question on our mind before attending last night's performance of L'Opera Burlesque at the intimate and glamorous venue of Duane Park. To put this to the test, we invited a gentleman friend who had never seen or heard an opera. 

A further question plagued us.  Would we, devoted operaphile, be distracted by the extra ingredient? Would nudity diminish the artistic impact?  You won't have to read to the end of the review to learn the answer.

Our friend wants to hear more opera and we enjoyed the show enormously. A woman can be talented as a singer and also skilled as an ecdysiast. We are never surprised by multi-talented people. One of our dearest friends is both ballet dancer and actress.

Had the voices been second rate we would have been rather judgmental but, truth to tell, each performer displayed superb vocal skills and lost nothing by shedding her clothes.  And what clothes!  

Thanks to splendid costuming by Angela Huff, these lovely ladies began each aria in period costume and ended in pasties and g-string. If one had closed one's eyes, one would have experienced an unamplified recital of favorite arias but one would have missed some visual delights. Not all young opera singers could pull this off but clearly these gals have multiple assets, no pun intended.

The most unforgettable performance was a fan dance performed by Trixie La Fée (Francesca Caviglia) who wielded red ostrich feathers in a gorgeously graceful manner during which mezzo-soprano Zara Zuela (Maria Elena Armijo) sang "Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix" from Samson et Dalila by Camille Saint-Saëns.

Ms. Caviglia showed her vocal chops most gloriously in "V'adoro pupille" from Händel's Giulio Cesare, leaving her slinky gown behind to wind up in nothing more than body jewelry.

Our favorite number by Dixie DeLight (Kacey Cardin) was "Ah! Non credea mirarti" from Vincenzo Bellini's bel canto masterpiece La Sonnambula in which our diva entered in a trancelike state, strewing rosepetals.

Sean D'Leer (Melanie Long) opened the program with the popular "Una voce poco fa" from Gioacchino Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia. The elaborate wig came off along with the period costume.

The male roles were assumed by one Sir Lance-a-lot (Bradley Lassiter) who did justice to "O vin, dissipe la tristesse" from Ambroise Thomas' Hamlet, while stripping down to his skivvies.

For the grand finale, we heard the Champagne Chorus from Johann Straus II's Die Fledermaus in which the cast members circulated around the room toasting with audience members.  What fun!

Accompanying on the piano was Seth Weinstein, whose nom de scène was Count Von Bang-it-out. His versatility was impressive as he readily switched from classical mode to Broadway mode. Hostess for the evening was Cookie Cavendish (Charlotte Thun-Hoherstein).

If this description tempts you, you can learn more at www.lOperaBurlesque.com and www.HotBoxGirls.com.  We understand there are frequent performances at Duane Park and in Europe, often with a rotating cast of "hot girls" and a different selection of arias.

The concept is that of Rebecca Greenstein of Opera Moderne and we are so glad she has taken us out of our comfort zone.  The audience was young and we applaud any and all means of bringing young people to opera.  Bravissime tutte.

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, April 18, 2015


Lachlan Glen and Ben Bliss

Our writing skills are insufficient to do justice to the artistry we witnessed onstage yesterday at the recital of the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program. We felt enthralled for 80 short minutes and wanted more. How do we find the words to convey what it's like to have one's heart and soul swept away in torrents of music? We may fail but we must make the effort.

Tenor Ben Bliss has a remarkable instrument, the timbre of which has a near magical effect on the very cells of the body. The phrase "liquid balm" comes to mind. One hears the tone and it's as if one is in touch with the music of the spheres.

Add to this the musicianship--the phrasing, the diction, the pacing--and every song became a mini-opera. Mr. Bliss seems to be so involved with the emotional tone of each song and conveys it so successfully that it becomes a shared experience. We sat with moist eyes, partly from the sheer beauty we heard and partly from identifying with the emotions in many of the songs.

To add to the intensity of the experience we had the piano partnering of Lachlan Glen who touches the keys and thereby touches the heart. He seemed to become one with the instrument and brings forth joy and sorrow, delicacy and passion, each in its own turn.

The first half of the program included songs of Vincenzo Bellini and Ottorini Respighi. The three canzone by Bellini are well known to us and much loved. "Malinconia, Ninfa gentile", "Vanne, o rosa fortuna", and "Ma rendi pur contento", which was rendered with great delicacy. We are sure that Bellini would have loved the interpretations which were imbued with a great variety of color.

As far as the Respighi songs, they belong to the category of songs that we've heard that never made much of an impression on us. All that was changed by Mr. Bliss and Mr. Glen who took them to an entirely new level. 

In "Pioggia", the poet (Vittoria Aganoor Pompilj) speaks of "il tumulto dei colori" and Mr. Bliss sang in such a tumult of colors!  In "Nebbie" the lonely unloved feelings of the poet (Ada Negri) came through with such clarity that we wept. The gradual crescendo led to feelings of near horror at the conclusion. We have written before about how a deeply felt performance can change the way we feel about a song and such was the case.

Franz Liszt's "Pace non trovo" from Tre Sonetti di Petrarca was filled with passion and clearly illustrated the poet's bafflement over his contradictory feelings towards the mysterious Laura. Each feeling came through by means of adept and artistic word coloring. There was a suspenseful pause just before the final pair of lines ("In questo stato son") in which we realized we were holding our breath!

The second half of the program included the participation of The Kleio Quartet: violinists Christina Bouey and Clare Semes, violist Isabel Hagen, and cellist Madeline Fayette. Ralph Vaughan Williams composed the evocative On Wenlock Edge in 1908, scored for tenor, piano and string quartet. The influence of Maurice Ravel is marked. The text is from A.E. Housman's A Shropshire Lad.

The instrumental effects are poignant and add greatly to the tenor's storytelling. We heard "From far, from eve and morning", followed by the very sorrowful " 'Is my team ploughing" in which the texture of cello and piano alternated with the voices of the violins and viola. Mr. Bliss brought out the chilling end, as a storyteller must.

Mr. Glen employed his piano artistry well in "Bredon Hill"; there was no missing the pealing of the church bells. This sad tale had the violins weeping.  And we wept along.

Mr. Glen had his chance to shine in his performance of Ravel's "Jeux d'eau" for solo piano. He addressed the audience and shared that the piece represents the river goddess laughing as the waters of the Fountain of Versaille tickle her. Needless to say, our ears were equally tickled as Mr. Glen's fingers tickled the ivories.  What a performance!

The program closed with a few unusual choices. Mr. Bliss began "As I went down to the river to pray" a capella and with great simplicity.  Then the piano entered and each verse grew in fervor. It became a work of wonder.

Ann Ronnel's "Willow weep for me" was followed by "Orange colored sky" by Milton De Lugg and Willie Stein, a jazzy number that Mr. Bliss sang with flair and more than enough facility with "scat".

As encore we heard in impeccable German the luscious arietta "Magische Töne" from Karl Goldmark's 1875 opera Die Königen von Saba. The music and the words are equally seductive and Mr. Bliss floated the notes of his upper register in a lingering pianissimo. We could feel the "milde abendluft".  Pure Bliss!

(c) meche kroop

Friday, April 17, 2015


Babette Hierholzer, Robert Osborne, Lydia Ciaputa, and Conor Chinitz

We were trying to figure out why we were lately hearing so much music related to the character of Don Quixote and learned that this is the 400th anniversary of the publication of Part II of Miguel Cervantes' masterpiece. This figure has inspired choreographers and composers since the work was published. Obviously the word "quixotic" came from the eponymous character.

Last night in the grand hall of The Hispanic Society, against a backdrop of centuries of Spanish art, bass-baritone Robert Osborne brought this character to musical life in an involving and ultimately moving program which he conceived and created--a program entitled Don Quixote in Music.

The first part of the program was devoted to the 1712 cantata by Jean-Baptiste Morin entitled Dom Quixotte which Mr. Osborne sang in French, so clearly enunciated that we understood every word. Accompanied by violinist Judson Griffin playing an instrument as old as the Cervantes' work (!), cellist David Bakamjian, and harpsichordist Alexandra Snyder Dunbar, his rich voice was well employed in the descriptive recitativi, 

The arias, on the other hand, seemed to be the very words spoken by Don Q. Following a lovely theme in the violin, the section "Mort de Dom Quixotte" seemed to be in march tempo. The sad effects were achieved by color without a trace of sentimentality.

The second half of the program was more dramatic as Mr. Osborne was assisted into some very authentic appearing armor and cape by Sancho Panza, portrayed by Conor Chinitz. When he donned the helmet and picked up the halberd, he looked astonishingly like Don Q. himself. With his sharply chiseled features he cut a fine figure.

Alternating works by several composers, both vocal and instrumental, followed a line from the hero's departure through to his death. Interestingly none of the works were written in Spanish although some Spanish composers have composed such works.

We greatly enjoyed the early 20th c. songs by Jacques Ibert, particularly the "Chanson du départ" which had a distinctly Spanish flavor, as did his lovely "Chanson à Dulcinée".

Maurice Ravel's "Chanson à boire" lent a note of comic relief.  It's a rowdy song we never tire of hearing and it was fun seeing our hero passing out on the floor.  In contrast, Mr. Osborne delivered the moving and spiritual "Chanson épique" on his knees in prayerful pose.

Selections from Jules Massenet's late opera, the 1910 Don Quichotte, a comédie-héroïque, included the "Sérénade de Don Quichotte" in which accompanying pianist Babette Hierholzer effectively brought out the octave tremoli. The final scene of his death was most effectively rendered in "Écoute, mon ami, je me sens bien malade". Although she appeared only briefly as Dulcinée, singing from the balcony above, soprano Lydia Ciaputa sounded ethereal while Conor Chinitz sounded earthy as Sancho Panza.

The only music that didn't seem to advance the plot much was that composed by the 11-year-old Erich Wolfgang Korngold. There was nothing about these instrumental pieces that seemed related to the story but they did give evidence of the success that lay down the road and, more importantly, let us enjoy the fine playing of Ms. Hierholzer.

This was the second time this week that we have enjoyed a work created to tell a story, using a pastiche of music.(See review entitled Discovering Mrs. Rossini.). It is a marvelous genre, one which we thoroughly enjoyed and hope to hear more of.

As we exited the gorgeous Hispanic Society building we smiled at the statue of our hero casting a shadow on the wall

(c) meche kroop

Monday, April 13, 2015



Yesterday's recital of winners of The Gerda Lissner Foundation International Vocal Competition offered immeasurable delights. Somehow it felt more like a celebration than a recital. We celebrate the largess of the foundation that awarded a most generous $238,000 this year to 17 young artists who were chosen from among the 330 who auditioned.

We celebrate the rapid ascent of these dedicated young singers who put in so much time and effort to share their love of opera with the grateful audience.  And we also celebrate the fact that we are a community, a family of opera lovers who can gather together and share our joy.

The host for the evening was Brian Kellow, Features Editor of Opera News. The well-loved Diana Soviero presented a lifetime achievement award to Lenore Rosenberg who, among many other gifts, is a fine judge of competitions worldwide.  She spoke briefly but every word she said was valuable and we wish to quote her.

What she said was "It's not the kind of voice a person has but the kind of person who has the voice." She spoke about the balance among vocal quality, technique, and expressiveness.  She spoke about the single mindedness that makes for success in this difficult field.  The ones who make it are those who never consider an alternative career. They sing because they must.  That's what they do! She gave us a lot to think about and we are grateful for it.

We heard sixteen singers in a space of two hours and, although everyone was at least good and most were excellent, a few stood out for various reasons. Sometimes it's someone we've never heard. Sometimes it's someone we have been writing about for several years and have always loved. And sometimes it's someone who has made great strides since we heard them last.

The first singer who comes to mind is Mingjie Lei. And why? Because his delivery of "Una furtiva lagrima" produced una furtiva lagrima in our eye! We have heard Donizetti's star-making aria from L'Elisir d'Amore countless times but never felt such an identification with Nemorino.  Mr. Lei's Nemorino didn't come across as a doofus but as a very real person who is about to realize his deepest dream. We saw the situation through his very eyes.

Soprano Kiri Deonarine dazzled our ears with "The Bell Song" from Delibes' Lakme. It was the sheer force of her technique coupled with a singular coloratura instrument that blew us away. Such pinpoint accuracy in her wild flights into the stratosphere! Such perfectly executed trills and scales and fioritura !

Marina Costa-Jackson impressed us with her versatility. We have reviewed her often and love the generous amplitude of her voice, her assurance onstage and the way she slips into her character as she did into that of Amelia in Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera. The sad aria "Morró, ma prima in grazia" affected us deeply.

Bass Patrick Guetti tackled the severity of "Il lacerato spirito" from Verdi's Simone Boccanegra with aplomb and fearlessness. The note he ended on, at the very bottom of his register, was unforgettable. He is still very young for a bass and has enormous potential.

We admired baritone Jared Bybee's Rodrigo in "Io morro" from Verdi's Don Carlo.  The sense of dying for a higher purpose came through clearly in his stunning performance.

Baritone John Viscardi threw himself into Figaro's "Largo al factotum" from Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia and used the entire stage and his ample dramatic skills to create a complex character overwhelmed by his own busyness. (Oh, how we could relate!)

Lovely mezzo-soprano J'nai Bridges brought out all the delicacy of "O ma lyre immortelle" from Gounod's Sapho. She has a wonderful instrument that she employs judiciously, carefully modulating both volume and color.

We loved the gracious phrasing baritone Jarrett Lee Ott brought to "Mein Sehnen, mein Wähnen" from Korngold's Die Tote Stadt. We understood every single word of his flawless German diction.

Soprano Nicole Hazlett made the perfect fairy godmother in Massenet's Cendrillon. Her "Ah! douce enfant" was shimmery and ethereal.

Soprano Kirsten Mackinnon filled the air with chills and thrills as she performed the "Jewel Song" from Gounod's Faust.  Her French diction was excellent, even at the top. We do so love good coloratura!

Bass Wei Wu gave a solid rendition of the stately "O Isis und Osiris" from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte.  His sizable voice filled the hall and sounded far more impressive than it did yesterday in the small recital hall of the American Opera Center.

Baritone Michael Adams is a stage animal--totally assured with both the Russian language and with his character Tomsky from Tchaikovsky's Pique Dame. We look forward to hearing him at the Santa Fe Opera this summer.

Baritone Reginald Smith Jr. stood out for his convincing performance as The Emperor Jones in the eponymous opera by Gruenberg.

We have not distinguished between the various levels of prizes awarded. That information is available elsewhere and matters little to us. What matters to us is the opportunity to share a glorious experience with our fellow opera lovers.

(c) meche kroop

Sunday, April 12, 2015


Thor Abjornsson, Katie Andrews, Ashley Galvani Bell, Augusta Caso, Luigi Rizzo, and Lucy Yates

The life of Isabella Colbran would make a wonderful opera, if only we had a Rossini-equivalent composer to do her justice! Born in Madrid in 1785 she achieved fame as a singer by the age of 20 and became the prima donna of Il Teatro di San Carlo in Naples where she inspired Gioacchino Rossini to create several operas that are still being performed today. They were married for several years.

Sergio Ragni's book, Isabella Colbran, Isabella Rossini (which we have not read) was used as the basis for an enthralling musical performance presented by Divaria Productions at the perfectly sized auditorium of the Sheen Center.

The speaking part of the impressario of Il Teatro di San Carlo, one Domenico Barbaia, was played by Luigi Rizzo, who narrated the events. The arias were finely sung by soprano Ashley Galvani Bell and mezzo-soprano Augusta Caso. It was said that Ms. Colbran's voice could not be replaced by just one singer; she was said to be a soprano sfogato, a mezzo soprano with a very high extension. Tenor Thor Abjornsson sang the male roles and we enjoyed everything about his voice with one exception. He tended to push his voice when going for volume at the upper register.

Not only did we get to hear arias and duets from operas by Rossini, but arias from operas by Carafa and songs composed by Ms. Colbran herself which were quite lovely. Accompanying on the piano was the multi-talented Lucy Yates and the extraordinary harpist Katie Andrews.  We found ourselves in bel canto heaven.

Ms. Caso evinced great skill in this genre in her performance of "Quanto è grato all'alma mia...questo core" from Elisabetta Regina D'Inghilterra, with its fireworks of fioritura. We half expected the company of firefighters to return! (The start of the evening was delayed due to an evacuation of the building relating to a gas leak. We consider the artists to be real troopers, one and all.  The show must go on and it did!) We are sure no one in the audience failed to notice the similarity of the cabaletta to that of Rosina in Il Barbiere di Siviglia--"Una voce poco fa".

From the same opera, Ms. Caso sang a lovely duet with Mr. Abjornsson--"Perché mai destin crudel".  Ms. Bell joined her later for an exciting duet from La Donna del Lago with Ms. Caso performing the pants role of Malcolm. Ms. Bell and Mr. Abjornsson sang a lovely duet from Armida.

From Carafa's opera Gabriella di Vergy, Ms. Bell sang the sad "Perché non chiusu al di". From Carafa's Medea, Mr. Abjornsson sang "I dolci contenti".

Ms. Colbran's compositions delighted the ear and Ms. Andrews harp brought out all the pathos she wrote into them. One hears a great deal of romantic suffering in the text and in the music. Ms. Caso shone in "T'intendo si mio core".  Ms. Bell delighted in "Quel cor che mi prometti" accompanied by the piano and in "Povero cor tu palpiti" accompanied by the harp.

The musical values were high all around and the storytelling was effective. The set was simple--a velvet settee, two bentwood chairs and a table, with harp and piano in full view. Costuming was simple. The work was directed by Ignacio Garcia-Bustelo.

It was a most enjoyable evening that left us wanting more. Should a reader know a good old-fashioned composer, do propose this interesting woman as a subject for an opera. She deserves one!

(c) meche kroop


Tomoko Nakayama, Michael Brandenburg, Aleksandra Romano, Keriann Otaño, Raquel González, and Wei Wu

As part of Opera America's Emerging Artist Recital Series, the Washington National Opera's Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program presented an enjoyable recital in the intimate auditorium of the National Opera Center. We love the experience of hearing singers up close and personal.

The five singers and sole pianist were chosen from among the ten singers and two pianists who take part in the two-year program, currently experiencing its 13th season. The emerging artists in the program are given lessons, coaching, career counseling, and performance opportunities.

We were overjoyed to hear soprano Raquel González once more; we have missed her since her Juilliard days. In impeccable French and with radiant warmth, she sang a pair of songs by Reynaldo Hahn and one by Alfred Bachelet. She wisely scaled her voice to the size of the room and channeled all that love of nature.

The other singers were new to us. Soprano Kerriann Otaño also sang of nature and Spring--but she sang in Russian.  These Rachmaninoff songs, given their Russian nature, were more passionate. In "O You, My Grain-Field", the poet uses the wheat as a metaphor for his thoughts. Such torment was relieved by the joyful "Spring Waters" which we have heard at least three times this week and never tire of.

Mezzo-soprano Aleksandra Romano also sang in Russian with a resonant and pleasingly penetrating sound. Tchaikovsky must have written more songs than we'd ever imagined because we have rarely heard the same one twice. There was an abundance of bitterness and sorrow in "Over Burning Ashes" but "The Sun Has Set" was a tender romance.

Tenor Michael Brandenburg performed three well-known songs from the Richard Strauss oeuvre: the persuasive "Cäcilie" the exuberant "Zueignung", and the tragic "Befreit" in which the singer must convey the sorrow of a man losing his youngish wife. The words speak of acceptance and even joy but the pain must also come through.

Bass Wei Wu introduced us to the other Chansons de Don Quichotte--those written by Jacques Ibert to text by Pierre de Ronsard. It was in this set that we heard what collaborative pianist Tomoko Nakayama could do. She totally captured the flavor of Spain. We will be reviewing a program called Don Quixote in Music this Thursday at the Hispanic Society and wonder whether these songs will be included!

The second half of the program was devoted to American songs, mainly from the Broadway genre. We were over the moon hearing these gems sung unamplified by such superior voices. All five singers were onstage together and interacted with one another, lending a naturalistic feel. Michael Heaston directed with panache.

Ms. González sang  Jerome Kern's "The Siren's Song" and astonished us with her versatility. We never knew she had a coquettish side and it tickled us. Mr. Brandenburg sang Nicholas Brodszky's "Be My Love" and sang it to all three women in turn. Although it was written to be sung to a "one and only", portraying the singer as a Don Juan was a delightfully fresh approach.

Ms. Otaño was really funny in the William Bolcom's bluesy "Toothbrush Time" about a woman who can't wait to get rid of her sleep-over date. Ms. Romano sang Bolcom's "Amor" without saying anything new, but she sang it engagingly.

Mr. Wu was convincing in "This Nearly Was Mine" from Rodgers/Hammerstein's South Pacific. The program ended with the entire cast singing "It's a Grand Night for Singing" and indeed it was!

How wonderful that New York could welcome these visitors from the nation's capitol. We hope they came back soon.

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, April 11, 2015


Sophia Muñoz and Avery Amereau

Let us begin by saying that we love Avery Amereau's voice.  We have enjoyed listening to her as she made her way through the Juilliard Vocal Arts Department and last night's recital marked her upcoming achievement of a Master of Music degree. So many singers who are billed as mezzo-sopranos sound like sopranos who don't have the high notes; not so Ms. Amereau whose voice reminds us of a creamy chocolate stout, or maybe a Guinness. It is a very special voice.  A true mezzo.

Last night we heard her sing Bellini with a warm Italianate song, Poulenc with fine French diction, Brahms in perfect German, and English in an emotionally demanding piece by Britten.

Bellini's songs require a long sustained line and Ms. Amereau's phrasing was just right. We loved the choice of songs which were all familiar to us. "Malinconia, ninfa gentile" has such a lilting melody but perhaps our favorite was "Dolente immagine di Fille mia" with its sorrowful image. The long lines were beautifully embellished.

In "L'abbandono" we appreciated the phrasing and dynamic control. In "Torna, vezossa Fillide", Ms. Amereau gave equal attention to tempi and to color, especially at the transition from major to minor key, as did Ms. Muñoz.

Poulenc's Banalités are always fun and we generally seem to favor the shorter ones like the languorous "Hôtel" and "Voyage à Paris", filled as it is with charm and excitement. In "Sanglots" we heard some really fine piano work from Ms. Muñoz.

Thanks to Ms. Amereau's programming skills, we heard for the first time (and hope it won't be for the last time) Two Songs for Viola and Alto, Op. 91 by Brahms. With the fortunate participation of violist Matthew Lipman we heard "Gestillte Sehnsucht" and "Die ihr schwebet" with its two catchy melodies, one in the viola and the other in the voice.  Supported by Ms. Muñoz on the piano, the artists played off one another to the delight of our happy ears.

Our ears were not so happy with Britten's Phaedra. Readers may have anticipated that this 20th c. work would not be our favorite. It was very intense and we could admire the artist's delivery without wanting to hear it again. It is an emotionally demanding work and Ms. Amereau had the goods to deliver. We just didn't think Greek tragedy required such a musical interpretation. The words could have done as well in a dramatic reading.

We are happy to report that Ms. Amereau can be seen and heard in Carmen at the New York Opera Exchange, coming up in May. We are seriously excited about this and hope you will be as well. Watch on our Facebook page (Voce di Meche) for further announcements.

(c) meche kroop


Lachlan Glen, Dimitri Dover, Brandon Cedel, and Mary-Jane Lee

We await the annual Lindemann Recitals with great anticipation and we have never been disappointed.  Yesterday's recital was filled with delights both familiar and new. As much as we love to be turned on to works we've never heard, we get even greater pleasure when an artist gets us to understand works we've never favored.

Such was the case when soprano Mary-Jane Lee sang Alban Berg's Sieben Frühe Lieder, accompanied by Dimitri Dover. We have always found these songs inaccessible but Ms. Lee, by some alchemical process, managed to get inside the songs and to convey what we have never heard before. 

Ms. Lee has a soaring soprano that dazzles in the upper register.  But she also has an engaging manner and musicianship that made sense of Berg's strange vocal lines; they became rather haunting. Although our favorite will always be the melodic "Die Nachtigall" we also enjoyed the gemütlich atmosphere of "Im Zimmer".

Mr. Dover's immense contribution was to bring out the connection between the vocal line and the piano part. We also enjoyed his fine pianism in a later set of Rachmaninoff songs.  In "At night in my Garden" he established the mood of the sad weeping willow even before Ms. Lee began to tell the tale. His playing of the prelude of "In the silence of the secret night" was lavishly romantic.

As far as Ms. Lee's Russian diction, our Russian-speaking companion declared it very good.  Surely it sounded just fine to us!

The other artists on the program also excelled.  Bass-baritone Brandon Cedel formed a perfect partnership with collaborative pianist Lachlan Glen; they seemed to inhale and exhale in unison and we would swear that Mr. Glen was singing along in his head!

The most challenging work on the program was Schumann's lengthy ballad "Belsatzar" and Mr. Cedel confirmed our confidence in him as a master storyteller. The tale he told was one written by Heinrich Heine about an evil king and some mysterious handwriting on the wall. We still have goosebumps.

Mr. Cedel has a wonderful instrument of depth and amplitude with a finely textured vibrato, so different from the burly type. This allows him to sing more delicate songs like those in his first set which he performed with refinement and polish, achieving expressiveness with an economy of gesture.

We have never heard a man sing Mahler's  "Liebst du um Schönheit" and never even thought of it, but Mr. Cedel's delivery was heartfelt and meaningful. We loved Mr. Glen's pianistic passion in Schumann's "Requiem", quite a change from the delicate sensitivity displayed in the other songs.

This perfect pair closed the recital with a trio of Mahler songs. We have never had a problem relating to Mahler's output so we just relaxed and enjoyed "Um Mitternacht" with the haunting minor thirds in the piano. Mahler was surely inspired by Friedrich Rückert's poetry.

In "Urlicht" the piano and voice both reflected a depth of spiritual feeling. The pace was leisurely but the colors shifted rapidly. The final song was "Revelge" a story of the horrors of war told in march tempo. Mr. Glen's piano became wild and passionate. Mr. Cedel's performance was chilling in its effect. We believe that Mahler wanted us to feel horrified and the artists succeeded admirably.

All four artists have earned awards and recognition here and abroad. But what really matters to the audience is how they perform onstage at that particular moment. No one left disappointed.

(c) meche kroop

Friday, April 10, 2015

Joe Eletto and Bretton Brown

With a stunning synergy between singer and collaborative pianist, fast-rising baritone Joe Eletto and piano wizard Bretton Brown presented a ravishing recital last night at Juilliard. Mr. Eletto is getting his Masters of Music degree and the recital was evidence of hard work layered onto innate talent.

The quality that struck us most about Mr. Eletto is his ability to mine each song for the gold of personal and idiosyncratic interpretation. Sometimes we hear a song so many times that our ears get fatigued and we don't really hear it.  A fresh interpretation that gets us to hear the song anew is always welcome.

Let us take, for example, our favorite song of Robert Schumann's Liededrkreis, composed ten years after his famous year of prodigious songwriting. "Waldesgespräch" tells the story of a man riding through the woods late at night and encountering a witch--the "hexe Loreley". We have always heard it sung as if the man were a lecher and Loreley getting her revenge.  Mr. Eletto portrayed the man as an innocent and Loreley as a very nasty witch preying on men.  A fresh approach!

Mr. Eletto doesn't just sing a song.  He appears to live it. From the same cycle he actually appeared to be keeping a secret in "Die Stille". The entire cycle was filled with meaning and drama, just what we wanted from an 18th c. Romantic composer who availed himself of the best poetry around--in this case by Joseph Eichendorff. To add to the pleasure, Mr. Brown brought out the sound of the wind in the treetops in  "Schöne Fremde".

We could spill a lot of ink on each of these marvelous songs but there were other delights on the program which had a theme--an exploration of the manifestations of love. Mr. Eletto generously provided program notes comprising biographies of the composers and the poets as well as information on the particular cycles on the program.

He opened the program with a trio of selections from Mendelssohn's Sechs Gesänge. In the rather cheerful "Es lauschte das Laub so dunkelgrün" he brought out the sadness of the third stanza and similarly revealed all the moods of the letter-writer in "Die Liebende schreibt".

In Maurice Ravel's Don Quichotte à Dulcinée, he acted up a storm although it never felt like acting; it felt as if he were spontaneously living it, and living it in consistently fine French, for which he has great facility. The devotion of "Chanson Romanesque" was followed by the prayerful "Chanson épique" and the rowdy "Chanson á boire" in which Mr. Brown's piano played a most important part.

Obsessive love was represented by Liszt's Tre Sonetti del Petrarca in which the 14th c. poet expresses undying and unrequited love for the mysterious Laura. In "Pace non trovo" Mr. Eletto seemed to experience more fire and ice than Cherubino does in "Non so più".

The celebrated contemporary composer John Musto wrote a cycle of songs entitled Viva Sweet Love in which he set two songs by e.e.cummings and three by James Laughlin.  We liked all five poems but did not think the music, while interesting, did much to add to the poetry which, to our way of thinking, did not require music. But he wrote them and Mr. Eletto sang them well. Perhaps our favorite was "As is the Sea Marvelous" written by Cummings, as was "Sweet Spring".

By the lesser known Laughlin, we preferred  "You came as a thought" which, while brief, seemed meaningful. "Rome: In the Café" told an interesting story whereas the lengthier "Sweet Spring" didn't have much to say.

With all of the intense drama onstage and all the profound emotions experienced, we did not fail to notice Mr. Eletto's vocal gifts.  His resonant baritone never called attention to itself but was always used to serve the music.  His phrasing was so natural that it seemed just part of his breathing. This gifted artist should go far!

(c) meche kroop


Mary-Elizabeth  O'Neill, Jessine Johnson, James Edgar Knight, Fan Jia, and Sophia Kaminski

A recital this special does credit not only to the artists but to the coach; so let us acknowledge Gina Levinson right at the beginning. It has taken us longer to appreciate Russian song than songs in the languages that we speak and understand. It never struck us as a particularly beautiful language, but from the hearts, voices and hands of these young Juilliard artists it was suffused with beauty.

The dramatic skills were notable all around and each singer used gesture and body language to get the text across, without ever losing vocal artistry.  Each collaborative pianist conveyed the intention of the composer to paint vivid pictures that dazzled the mind's eye.

A particular knockout was mezzo-soprano Mary-Elizabeth O'Neill who conveyed us to a 19th c. nursery with a little girl and her doll, a nanny, a hobby horse, a naughty cat, and an even naughtier little boy. We wonder if Modest Mussorgsky, who wrote his own text, was writing from his own experience.

But there was no doubt that Ms. O'Neill was very much in touch with the text herself and we were not surprised to learn that she did her own translations. Readers must know by now that we are not a fan of "park and bark" and love it when a singer uses her entire body to get a song across. The image of Ms. O'Neill galloping around the stage on her imaginary hobby horse is one that we will not soon forget.

The colors of her voice were manipulated to distinguish between the nanny and the child and later the child and his mother. All this was accomplished without losing tone or phrasing. Kathryn Felt at the piano joined in the fun and left us smiling until our cheeks hurt.

Gorgeously melodic songs by Tchaikovsky, of the same generation as Mussorgsky, appeared twice on the program. What a surprise to learn that the lovely soprano Sophia Kaminski is still an undergraduate. She clearly demonstrated how Tchaikovsky's melodies followed the rhythm of the language and her clear bright voice floated on the surface of the melody with a fine and pleasing vibrato.

In the strophic song "Was I not like the grass in the field?" she brought out the plaintive lament of a young girl married off to an old man she did not love.  It was heartbreaking. In the rhythmic"A Gypsy Song" she had the opportunity to show a more light-hearted side as a young woman who has no problem bidding adieu to her most recent lover. Her collaborative pianist William Kelley was particularly fine in this song.

Baritone Fan Jia, accompanied by Hea Youn Chung, was equally impressive in another set of Tchaikovsky songs. He began the set with the beautiful "No, only he who has known".  Although the text is attributed to one Lev Mey, we are sure they were Goethe's words from Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, which were also set by Schubert and Beethoven.

Mr. Jia sang it beautifully with plenty of the requisite pathos and longing. There is a tender texture to his instrument that makes it most powerful when his sings pianissimo. He was accompanied by Hea Youn Chung and the pair made quite an impression with these lovely songs. Our second favorite was "Believe it not, my friend" with text by Tolstoy. We do believe that our affection for 19th c. composers has much to do with their choice of text to set.

James Edgar Knight performed some fine songs by Rachmaninoff who composed a generation after the aforementioned composers. His songs are wildly passionate and Mr. Knight used his tenor in a manner that emphasized this passion. Our favorite was the popular "Do not sing, my beauty, to me", the haunting melody referencing Russian suffering. Ava Nazar is always a fine and sensitive accompanist, here bringing out the pathos.

It was a bit of a relief to hear the more wistful "A Dream" in which Mr. Knight brought it down a notch. The hopeful and seasonable "Spring Waters" ended the set.  Mr. Knight seems to taste the words he sings, which we love.  We would love his performances even more if he relaxed his high notes a bit. His voice is very powerful!

The program closed with a set of songs by Shostakovich from Satires. The impressive soprano Jessine Johnson explained that Shostakovich composed them during the postwar economic depression of the 20th c. The playfulness on the surface is actually ironic.

The music is more modern than the earlier music we prefer but Ms. Johnson sang the songs with clarity, style and involvement, which brought us into the music.  We particularly liked the irony of a "better future" in "Descendants".  Her accompanist HoJae Lee was particularly fine in that song.

Every visit to Juilliard presents fresh delights for the ear and this recital yesterday was a real winner. Hearing this superb music sung and played by these gifted young artists has brought us to a newer and more profound appreciation of Russian song. Our companion at the recital, completely new to vocal recitals, has become a fan of the art song. And that's saying something!

(c) meche kroop