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.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015


Rainer Armbrust, Jelena Banković, Gina Perregrino, Antonina Chekhovskaya, Christopher Georgetti, Dorothy Gal, Zayra Ruiz, and Sandra Hamaoui

Having greatly enjoyed the evening of arias presented by the International Vocal Arts Institute last Thursday (scroll down if you missed it) we were eager to hear how the talented young artists would fare with an evening of lieder and mélodies. Although many of the necessary skills overlap, the requirements for the latter differ from the former. 

In opera, an artist can succeed on the basis of a beautiful voice and good technique. For lieder, a deeply personal understanding of the text and the ability to draw the audience in are minimum requirements. The ability to access one's own feelings and communicate them to the audience so that they share the feelings are what distinguishes a great lieder singer. We have seen/heard some major stars of the opera world fail to achieve this difficult task.

We take pleasure in reporting that the students in the IVAI Summer Institute showed great promise in this challenging art form. Since the text achieves prominence in these works, the singer must be scrupulous in diction. These young artists appear to have benefited from the daily coaching sessions, with only an occasional avoidance of the final "ch" in German to detract from otherwise excellent diction.

Again, we were very impressed with soprano Sandra  Hamaoui (the Juliette of last Thursday) who performed "Absence" from Berlioz' Les Nuits d'été. Her well-focused voice was under fine dynamic control and the heartfelt communication of longing entranced us. We were so drawn in that we forgot where we were!

From the same cycle, soprano Jelena Banković sang "Villanelle" with piquant personality and high spirits. What a contrast from her performance as the tortured maiden in "Gretchen am Spinnrade" earlier in the program; she began seated and as the song built to a stunning climax she rose from her chair and then collapsed in despair at the end.  Simply riveting!

We have not heard mezzo-soprano Gina Perregrino sing in some time and was delighted to hear her sing "Le spectre de la rose". Her French phrasing was scented with the perfume of the spirit of the rose. Very fragrant indeed!
Soprano Dorothy Gal made more of an impression than she had the other night when she breathed life into "L'île inconnue" just as the poet speaks of filling the sails of a boat.

Another singer who made more of an impression last night was baritone Lawson Anderson who limned the sorrowful colors of Hugo Wolf's "Verborgenheit" and provided necessary variety by means of dynamic control.

We had never heard soprano Aine Hakamatsuka before but she sang one of our favorite Wolf songs--"Das verlassene Mägdelein". She completely captured the daily tedium and vague unhappiness of the young woman and on "plötzlich" all the colors changed when she recalled the masculine source of her misery and flashes of anger emerged.  So powerful!  The far more cheerful "Er ist's" allowed her to exhibit completely different vocal colors.

Mezzo-soprano Georgia Burashko did some fine work in Schumann's "In der Fremde", the challenging opening song of his Liederkreis with it's lonely feeling and changes of key. (Strangely the translation provided was for the other "In der fremde" which is song #8.)  In a totally different mood was "Waldegespräch" in which she captured the sense of menace; we hoped to hear a bit more contrast of color between the voices of the man and the Lorelei and a clearer  "ch" at the end of the words. 

In "Die Rose, die Lilie, die Taube", light tenor Mattheus Coura showed all the impetuosity of a young man who idolizes his girl, perhaps in the way that Schumann worshipped his Clara.  It felt delightfully spontaneous.

Tenor Christopher Eaglin possesses a heavier instrument and his songs were wisely chosen.  He sang "Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome" and then "Ich grolle nicht", both also from Schumann's Liederkreis. He sure knows how to sustain a tone to the end of the phrase.

There was only one bass-baritone on the program and he is a born storyteller. He sang Schumann's "Die beiden Grenadiere" with fine diction and expressiveness of voice, face, and gesture. Vocal coloring sustained interest throughout.

Several more young artists were on the excellent program--sopranos Yulan Piao, Antonina Chekhovskaya (reviewed last Thursday), and Kimberly Merrill, mezzo Zayra Ruiz (reviewed last Thursday), and tenors Zachary Rubens and Christopher Georgetti. All impressed us and merit further hearings.

Accompaniment was excellent and provided by Rainer Armbrust whose piano postlude in "Er ist's" was dazzling.  the effective staging was done by Joshua Major who had several singers seated onstage at once, listening raptly to whomever was singing. It produced a more dramatic effect than one usually experiences at a lieder recital but, paradoxically felt casual, as if we were at a musicale in Schumann's parlor.

There will be a final recital on Wednesday and we regret that we have a prior engagement. We urge you to go hear these fine young artists.

(c) meche kroop

Monday, June 29, 2015


Veronica Loiacono, Jodi Karem, Judith Fredricks, Edgar Jaramillo, Percy Martinez and Michael Fennelly at the piano

One could not imagine a better way to end a summer weekend than celebrating the joys of Spanish music with impresario Judith Fredricks who always comes up with an interesting program and the finest of artists to perform it. The theme of last night's recital was music from the Spanish world--not just from Spain but from Latin America as well.

The majority of the program was carried by soprano Veronica Loiacono who has all the Latin verve and passion to put the songs across.  Regular readers will recall our affection for zarzuela and Ms. Loiacono gave satisfaction on all accounts. Not only does she have a great instrument under exquisite control but the stylish moves necessary to convey stories of love desired, love won, love lost, or love regained.

We enjoyed "Cancion de la Paloma" from Barbieri's El Barberillo de lavapies, a zarzuela we would dearly love to hear in its entirety. On a quieter note, Guastavino's "La rosa y el sauce" has a tender tune and a depth of feeling that smacks of lamentation. The song ends in a vocalise that allowed one to appreciate Ms. Loiacono's purity of sound.

The spirited "De España vengo" from Luna's El Niño Judio scored a big hit, and the soprano's performance of duets with tenor Percy Martinez was impressive in "Torero quiero ser" from Penella's El Gato montés as well as in "El día que me quieras" from the  20th c. tango by Carlos Gardel and Alfredo Le Pera.

Mr. Martinez, a full throated and expansive singer, delighted the audience with his solos as well; "Raquel" from Guerrero's El huésped del sevillano and, even better, the famous "No puede ser" from Sorozabal's La tabernera del puerto. The latter permitted Mr. Martinez to show different vocal colors in the bitter A section and the contrasting reflective B section. He also sang the romantic "Júrame" by María Mendez Grever, Mexico's first famous female composer.  Another excellent selection was "Hasta la guitarra llora" by Ayarza de Morales.

The knockout tenor Edgar Jaramillo (recently reviewed as Mario Cavaradossi in Chelsea Opera's production of Puccini's Tosca) charmed us with the old standard "Cielito Lindo" by Mendoza y Cortes.  Mr. Jaramillo instinctively knows how to build a song to a stunning climax and how to communicate every emotion.

Not only is his voice delightful to the ear but his emotions come right from the heart and produce a very special feel in the listener. Just listen to the gentleness of  "Por ti sere" by Lovland and Graham.  One could just melt!  It took us about 10 seconds to realize that "A mi manera" was a Spanish translation of "I Did it My Way", which sounds good in any language.

Pianist Michael Fennelly not only accompanied with his customary skill but also got to show off some impressive pianistic skills in a couple of solos--Vladimir Horowitz' frenzied "Carmen Variations" (wonderfully played but not adding much to our love of the Bizet opera) and, far more appealing, the first part of "Goyescas", composed by  Enrique Granados' when he was only 25.

And now we come to the best part! The multi-talented Ms. Loiacono introduced an opera entitled Cartas Marcadas and the aforementioned trio of singers were joined by mezzo-soprano Jodi Karem for a performance of selections therefrom; the opera actually had a collective of four composers of which Ms. Loiacono is one. It's about time we heard music with a singable vocal line and, for this, we believe her to be responsible.

Mr. Fennelly played the overture and several selections followed. The plot sounds intriguing--a philosophical game of immortality played like poker. Judging by what we heard last night, we believe a full production of Cartas Marcadas would be very well received by the opera community. Fascinating plot! Singable tunes! Is there an adventuresome small company out there available to listen to the music and read the libretto? We surely hope so.

The evening ended with the group performing Agustín Lara's "Granada". Ms. Fredricks' events are casual--held cabaret style at tables with wine served. We would be remiss if we failed to mention a very special event at the Metropolitan Room on October 5th at 7:00. There will be special surprises and an interesting twist. Save the date and we will tell more later.

(c) meche kroop

Sunday, June 28, 2015


Steve Wallace, JoAnna Marie Ford, and Janinah Burnett (photo by Regina Fleming)

Harry Lawrence Freeman surely cast a posthumous spell on Planet Opera this weekend.  In spite of a driving rain, hopeful opera lovers snaked up Broadway from the Miller Theater trying to cop tickets to Voodoo, his forgotten masterpiece. We lucky ones who gained admission experienced an unforgettable evening of music, marked by originality, beauty, and spirit. 

The presentation of Mr. Freeman's opera was initiated some years back with the scholarship of producer Annie Holt who discovered the manuscript, donated to the Columbia library by Mr. Freeman's family. Ms. Holt was determined to bring it to life and now serves as Executive Artistic Director of Morningside Opera, which partnered with Harlem Opera Theater and The Harlem Chamber Players to offer New York City a concert version of Voodoo.  It was a perfect storm of creativity, easily outdoing the storm outside the theater.

Mr. Freeman composed the eclectic score which seamlessly integrated classical music, jazz, folk tunes and spirituals. The orchestration had many original touches and made generous use of percussion, lower strings, and tuba to foreshadow tragedy as well as the banjo for more joyful moments, and the harp for romantic ones. The Harlem Chamber Players, guided by Maestro Gregory Hopkins (also Artistic Director of The Harlem Opera Theater), tackled the score with gusto and fine musicianship.

Mr. Freeman also wrote the libretto which seemed stilted in places and given over to dialect in other places. After the work's premiere in 1928 it lay dormant until just now and we are delighted over its second life. The story also ends with an attempted resurrection, but let's begin at the beginning.

The tale begins just after the Civil War, a period known as Reconstruction. In this case, it seems as if the former slaves are still picking cotton on a plantation in Louisiana. A stunning chorus opens the work and Maestro Hopkins pulled a moving performance from the well-rehearsed chorus.  Diction could not be faulted.

Voodoo Queen Lolo (sung by the compelling soprano Janinah Burnett) is friends from childhood with the beautiful Cleota (sung by the sparkly-voiced soprano JoAnna Marie Ford). They have a lovely duet. Mando (sung by the fine tenor Steve Wallace) is Cleota's lover but a tragic triangle is forming because whatever Lolo wants, Lolo takes--and what she wants is Mando. 

When Mando purchases a protective amulet from Fojo, the voodoo priest (sung by powerful baritone Barry L. Robinson), Lolo snatches it away from Cleota. Mr. Wallace sings a winning serenade to Cleota but Lolo threatens their happiness. They laugh at her but they don't get the last laugh.

Act II involves the celebration of a festival and rare archival footage of dances of that period is projected on a screen; the banjo plucks a merry tune.  The community seems to have two forms of religious expression. Lolo's Christian parents attempt to pull her away from the practice of voodoo without success. Mama Chloe (the generous voiced mezzo Crystal Charles) has a moving aria in the form of a vocalise.  Father Ephraham (baritone Darian Worrell) likewise laments for his unrepentant daughter. Zeke (tenor James R. Hopkins III) makes a play for Lolo but she rejects him.

Act III was the most compelling part of the evening. The chorus entered in feathered headdresses while Lolo was decked out in turban and face paint, looking just as one would imagine a voodoo queen to look. Fogo's face was scarily painted black and white and the two invoked magic spirits and the Snake God. Cleota has been abducted and given the choice of death or giving up Mando;she will not relent. She is apparently killed by Lolo's voodoo magic but Mando shoots the snake and Chloe resurrects Cleota with holy water. But Lolo kills her again with voodoo magic and Mando shoots Lolo.

By this time, there is onstage pandemonium with wild orchestral textures and choral shrieking. One could be forgiven for forgetting that one was sitting in a theater in 2015. We were completely taken up by the onstage drama--good opera will do that! People kill for love and die for love! This is not the Age of Irony.

The singers were all superb and transcended the use of music stands to achieve dramatic validity; Melissa Crespo did a fine job directing. Rear projections by Caite Hevner Kemp suggested various scenes around the plantation and by some kind of modern magic, layered on a steamboat chugging on the Mississippi and scary flashes of lightning in the voodoo ritual. The outstanding make-up and third act costumes were by Everett Suttle.

Although the African-American experience has a great effect in our own time on the worlds of art, music and fashion, we have difficulty naming operas that dealt with the African-American experience. Scott Joplin's Treemonisha lay dormant from 1910 until it received a production in 1972!  Porgy and Bess was not to come along until 1936 but that was composed by Gershwin, a Caucasian man. Voodoo was part of the Harlem Renaissance. Perhaps it's time for a Second Renaissance.  We wonder whether there are any more undiscovered masterpieces waiting to be discovered.

(c) meche kroop

Friday, June 26, 2015


International Vocal Arts Institute at Mannes College, the New School for Music

We love getting acquainted with programs that share our interest in promoting the growth and development of young singers. The International Vocal Arts Institute is holding their program in New York for the first time, in partnership with Mannes College. And a fine partnership it is!

IVAI was brought into being in 1986 by Co-Founders Joan Dornemann as Artistic Director and Paul Nadler as Music Director--another fine partnership. Ms. Dornemann's coaching is legendary and Maestro Nadler's conducting has delighted us often at the Met, particularly in Dvorak's Rusalka and Gounod's Roméo et Juiliette. 
For two weeks the students, chosen by audition, receive daily master classes by some of the finest teachers in New York (Ken Benson and Ira Siff among many others) as well as several performance opportunities. Last night's recital of arias, duets and a trio demonstrated some fine work by students who have been working on technique, role preparation and interpretation, diction and acting, as well as career development.

All the singers were well worth hearing but a few stood out for various reason. The very young soprano Sandra Hamaoui, partnered by tenor Evanivaldo Correa Serrano, performed "Nuit d'hyménée" from Gounod's Roméo et Juliette with such an abundance of adolescent passion that we became oblivious to matters of technique. Her bright soprano melded perfectly with Mr. Serrano's robust tenor and the acting was electrifying. What a convincing portrayal! There was no hint of self-consciousness or staginess.  Regarding Mr. Serrano, he sounds like the product of that fine Mexican teaching that brought us Rolando Villazon.

In terms of versatility, we were highly impressed by another Mexican artist--mezzo-soprano Zayra Ruiz who knocked our socks off with our favorite zarzuela number "Las Carceleras" from Ruperto Chapi's Las Hijas del Zebedeo. Her performance was compelling and full of sazón. Could this be the same Zayra Ruiz who played the ambivalent Dorabella being wooed by Guglielmo (the fine ardent baritone Lawson Anderson) in the duet "Il core vi dono" from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte? Apparently she is one of those special singers who can readily slip into and out of a role.

Matching her in versatility was soprano Antonina Chekhovskaya who used her generous instrument and finely tuned dramatic sense to portray a reckless young woman and a wise and experienced aristocrat. Her Tatiana in Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin was filled with passion and trepidation; she employed facial and body gesture along with word coloring and dynamic variety to make this long scene seem brief. Later, she distinguished herself with her regal and generous bearing as the Marschallin in Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier.

The final trio "Hab' mir's gelobt" is one of the most gorgeous trios ever written with each character expressing a different set of emotions on a different vocal line--everything coming together in a dense and satisfying texture. Gina Perregrino's lovely mezzo and Meechot Marrero's light soprano added to the picture.

Harmonious vocal blending was also in evidence when mezzo Michelle Siemens as Cornelia and mezzo Jooyeon Song as Sesto performed the sad duet "Son nata a lagrimar" from Handel's Giulio Cesare. The tenderness between mother and son was moving.

We have reviewed bass Pnini Gruber on prior occasions and have always enjoyed his performance. Last night we adored his Don Pasquale as he negotiated with baritone Edward Cleary's Dr. Malatesta in "Fra da una parta" from Donizetti's opera of the same name. He was so effectively funny that we would consider this his signature role. In spite of his youth he went beyond stereotype and conveyed every shade of his character's nature.

We also enjoyed soprano Yulan Piao's sweet Mimi with tenor Fanyong Du a shade too forceful as Rodolfo in the Act I duet from Puccini's La Bohème. Soprano Barbara Kits sang the beautiful aria "Mercé, dilette amiche" from Verdi's I Vespri Siciliani. Soprano Dorothy Gal sang Manon in her first meeting with Des Grieux (Nenad Čiča) in Massenet's Manon.

Mozart's operas were well represented. Soprano Shannon Jones sang Susanna to baritone Edward Cleary's Count Almaviva in a duet from Nozze di Figaro; in "Crudel! Perché finora" she pulls him into a trap. From his Don Giovanni, we heard baritone Matthew Gamble doing his best to woo soprano Samarie Alicea as Zerlina in "La ci darem la mano".

Maestro Nadler himself conducted.  Accompanists were Brian Eads, Chun-wei Kang, and Dmitri Glivinskiy. Scenes were effectively staged by Joshua Major and Pat Diamond. It was a splendid evening and we will be attending another performance next week so stay tuned for more. When this program ends, another institute will be held by IVAI in Montreal. To visit IVAI's website and see the list of alumni was a revelation. So many highly accomplished artists have passed through their program!

(c) meche kroop

Thursday, June 25, 2015


Brandie Sutton and Reri Grist 

Marisan Corsino and Reri Grist

Renowned soprano and esteemed teacher Reri Grist was introduced by Martina Arroyo as a friend of fifty years duration, an announcement that evoked torrents of applause from the audience-- eager to hear the divine Ms. Grist coach young singers--part of the Prelude to Performance program.

We have previously noted that each master teacher seems to focus on one thing above all others and Ms. Grist's focus was largely on a forward sound placement. Each of the four students in her master class benefited by bringing the voice up and forward and out of the throat. This was particularly valuable in descending vocal lines.

If you love Puccini's Madama Butterfly as much as we do, you will not want to miss soprano Brandie Sutton's performance as Cio-Cio San on July 9th and 11th at Hunter College. Her glorious instrument soared in the final act aria "Che tua madre" and needed only a few hints from Ms. Grist--hints that made all the difference. In this case, Ms. Grist asked Ms. Sutton to use the initial consonant to help project the "ah" sound into the mask, achieving a rounder sound. A gentle boost from the diaphragm was also helpful.

Donizetti's Fille du Regiment will be performed on July 10th and 12th (matinée) and soprano Claire Coolen will be covering the role of Marie.  We never wish ill on a performer but if Ms. Coolen manages to sing one of the performances we would be thrilled to hear her. She sang "Chacun le sait" with panache and spunk and brilliant tone.  She was coached to take her time between phrases. 

Tenor Jon Jurgens gave full voice to "Addio fiorito asil", Lt. Pinkerton's final act aria from Madama Butterfly, a role he is covering.  He was coached to "cool it" in Ms. Grist's well-chosen phrase--to save his voice and not push.  Our own thoughts were along the same lines. We wanted him to start more gently and build to a climax when he realizes how vilely he has behaved toward Butterfly. Using his diaphragm helped him to get up and out of his throat.

Mezzo-soprano Marisan Corsino, the Suzuki cover, sang "Una voce poco fa" from Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia. At first, she delivered it to the audience and Ms. Grist coached her to pretend she was singing it to her image in the mirror, which made a world of difference. Moving around the stage also helped to eliminate the presentational quality. Another great suggestion was to achieve more variety when a phrase is repeated several times. A bit of playfulness with the rhythm added still more to the performance.

Soprano Maria Brea, who is cast as Marie on July 10th and 12th sang "Par le rang et par l'opulence" from Act II of Fille du Regiment. Ms. Grist worked with her on character interpretation and when the aria was performed with purity and simplicity it became not just a beautiful tone but a meaningful portrayal.

Tenor Alexander Wook Lee, who will be singing Goro in Madama Butterfly, did not need any help in the acting department. He sang Beppe's serenade (as Arlecchino) to Nedda (as Columbina) from Leoncavallo's Pagliacci, with an abundance of humor and personality. He received good coaching from Ms. Grist on increasing his support on the high notes, getting the song up and out of his throat. The tips on vowel modification were also helpful.

Ms. Grist taught with warmth, generosity, and humor. Accompanist Ed Bak did the usual fine job of supporting each singer. We noticed he has a special affinity for Puccini.

The prolonged period of individualized and group coaching ensures that the performances of these two beloved operas are guaranteed to delight the audience as they do every summer. We urge you to get your tickets quickly before they are all gone.

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


Hyona Kim and Carol Vaness

The Prelude to Performance participants selected for Carol Vaness' master class Monday night had the benefit of some tough love. The highly esteemed soprano has a great deal to offer a young singer; she approached each one with loving support and very intense criticism. She began with the old "I'm just offering some suggestions that may be useful or not"....but her authoritative and persistent approach yielded impressive results in just 30 minutes or so.

Each and every master class seems to have a theme, generally depending upon a special concern of the teacher. Ms. Vaness is a stickler, and rightly so, for accurate Italian diction--singing the correct vowel as well as observing doubled consonants. A deficiency in Italian diction seemed to plague all the students and it is well that they were made aware of this early in the training.  By "showtime", they should all be perfetto. 

Two lovely ladies worked on the Flower Duet "Tutti i fiori" from Puccini's Madama Butterfly which will be performed July 8th and 9th. The voices of soprano Xela Pinkerton (what a coincidence!) and mezzo Marisan Corsino blended beautifully. The astute coaching worked on the dramatic requirements of the scene--the excitement of Pinkerton's arrival--and how to put more energy into the scene with the use of hands and body. Puccinian style was also covered with the desirability of rubato, stretching out certain lines. The two vocal lines must intertwine and each character relate to the other.

Tenor Taehwan Ku profited by some coaching on Lt. Pinkerton's "Addio, fiorito asil", which he will sing in the performanceHis character needed to be more self-centered and motivation maintained in between the sung phrases. More color was encouraged as well as a more flexible phrasing with "money notes" extended. More portamenti were called for. Double consonants must be observed.

Continuing with Puccini, baritone Hangzhi Yao (who will be singing Bonzo) offered "Minnie, dalla mia casa son partito" from Fanciulla del West and Mr. Yao was encouraged to consider Sheriff Rance's motivation (more lust than love). He began singing too sweetly but after the coaching sounded more like a horny sheriff. He also learned not to close his eyes lest he lose contact with the audience. There was more work on Italian diction and also on word coloring, all of it helpful.

Mezzo Hyona Kim, who will be singing Suzuki, got some coaching on Verdi. Her electrifying performance of "Condotta ell'era in ceppi" from Il Trovatore did not prevent her from getting some very strict coaching including vowels, maintenance of tone through to the end of the phrase, and awareness of what the orchestra is doing. We liked the stretching out of "figlio mio".

Baritone Young Kwang Yoo, whose role will be Sharpless, sang one of our favorite baritone arias "Io morro, ma lieto in core" from Verdi's Don Carlo.  It was pointed out to him that Rodrigo is dying and the therefore not moving around much. He worked on taking his time and staying "on the voice" even when singing pianissimo.

Finally, Lindsay Mecher, who will be singing Kate Pinkerton, sang "Una voce poco fa" from Rossini's  Il barbiere di Siviglia. She learned to make the rhythm snappier, to correct the vowels, to put energy into the repetitive phrases and, above all, to be playful, using both body and face. 

Each singer brought to the class an excellent voice and a willingness to accept criticism. Each singer worked hard in the class and changed significantly. We are in a state of high anticipation to hear how these gorgeous voices, heard at the beginning of their intense training, will sound by the time of the performance. 

(c) meche kroop

Friday, June 12, 2015


David Leisner and Michael Kelly

Although we have heard some atrocities passed off as transcriptions, this was definitely not the case last night when baritone (we'd call him a barihunk but the overworked appellation has lost its meaning) Michael Kelly joined forces with guitarist extraordinaire David Leisner for a riveting performance of our favorite song cycle, Franz Schubert's Die Schöne Müllerin.  Mr. Leisner, a performing and recording artist of great renown, transcribed it himself and it owes no apologies to the piano from which it was borrowed. Had Schubert himself been in the room we think he would have been mighty pleased.

Wilhelm Müller composed the poetry in 1820 and Schubert set it over the next couple years, premiering it in 1823. Typical of German Romanticism, it concerns a youth wandering the countryside, presumably to find his pathway in life. A brook, which becomes a main character in the poetry, leads him to a mill where he finds work as an apprentice, falls in love with the boss' daughter, loses her to a hunter, and drowns himself in the brook.

This tale involves myriad emotions and Mr. Kelly's involvement was so deep and so intense that we felt every single one of them along with him--the carefree opening gives way to a sense of purpose, the joy of working, feelings of inadequacy, romantic longing, hopefulness, elation, anxiety, jealousy, anger, and ultimately despair. 

Mr. Kelly has a beautiful baritone but what distinguished his performance was the manner in which he employed it. The phrasing was faultless, the German diction crisp and clear in spite of a nearly Italianate legato, and the word coloring went beyond any we have heard before. It seemed as if he were painting with his voice.

This is truly a young man's cycle and we do not agree with those who believe that a man needs decades of experience to sing it well.  In our opinion, a young man is closer to the intense feelings of infatuation, of wanting to impress the idealized love object, of the despair of crushed aspirations. How vivid Mr. Kelly made it all seem! It was so real we wanted to shout out "Don't do it!  Don't throw yourself in the brook! Other lovers will come along." It was similar to the feeling we have when Siegfried refuses to give the ring back to the Rhinemaidens and we want to shout "Give it back, Siegfried, give it back!"  That kind of involvement is rare!!!

We are sure that the preparation involved in presenting this cycle was extensive.  So how did Mr.Kelly make it seem so spontaneous? This we cannot answer; such is the mystery of art.  But in our post-ironic age where disappointed lovers shrug and say "next" or "whatever" this sort of emotionality seems rapturous.

And what of the guitar arrangement? It was accomplished by Mr. Leisner himself and struck us as a masterpiece in its own right. Just as the piano originally assumed the role of emphasizing the emotional content, so did the guitar; we loved the softness of its voice and heard new things in the music.  We were held rapt for over an hour and wanted the performance never to stop. That's ART!

The recital was presented by SongFusion and lieder lovers are welcome to support their fine work on Fractured Atlas.org. You do want to hear more of this quality of work, don't you?  You do!

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


David Blalock, Rod Nelman, and Monica Yunus

It comes as no surprise that the innovative On Site Opera has come up with yet another daring idea--The Figaro Project--presenting all three Beaumarchais-based operas over a period of three years. Forget Rossini, forget Mozart, forget Corigliano. The three "alternates" are Giovanni Paisiello, Marcos Portugal and Darius Milhaud.

Paisiello's librettist for Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Giuseppe Petrosellini, hewed rather more closely than did Rossini's librettist Cesare Sterbini to the Beaumarchais comedy; the love interest between Rosina and "Lindoro" (Count Almaviva in disguise) was given more weight than the cleverness of the famed barber. The work premiered in 1782 and was wildly popular. Rossini's version did not enter the opera stage until 1816 and it took a long time for it to supplant the Paisiello. Today, Rossini's version is preeminent and Paisiello's has faded into obscurity.

Thanks to On Site Opera, this oversight has been remedied and we spent a delightful evening revisiting the story with "new" music at a particularly apt venue that added to the enjoyment.  We began the evening sitting in the courtyard of the Fabbri Mansion which dates back a century and has been landmarked. The singers were finely costumed by Candida K. Nichols in garb of that same period.

The sweet-voiced tenor David Blalock as Count Almaviva is nervously trying to serenade Rosina, the cloistered ward of the controlling Dr. Bartolo. Figaro, portrayed by baritone Andrew Wilkowske, is here a musician who has fallen on hard times and has taken up barbering. He and the Count recognize each other and set the plot in motion.

In Paisiello's version there is no band hired for the serenade but we did not feel at all cheated since the music coming from the chamber orchestra  was so delightful. Newly appointed Music Director Geoffrey McDonald (much enjoyed on prior occasions at the White Box Center's Alcina and Gotham Chamber Opera's El Gato con Botas) led a chamber orchestra comprising a string quartet augmented by woodwinds and a guitar which handled the recitativi better than any harpsichord.

At a balcony overhead, the doors parted and the lovely soprano Monica Yunus stepped out. We felt like part of the action, perhaps a neighbor witnessing the serenade. We love the idea of a site-specific work and the Fabbri Mansion worked perfectly well. One could see into the mansion from which emerged the foolish and controlling Dr. Bartolo who is cutting back on Rosina's fresh air privileges. Rod Nelman's hearty bass-baritone was perfect for the buffo role.

Also emerging from the mansion were two servants who provided plenty of comedy with their snuff-dipping, sneezing, and yawning. Baritone Benjamin Bloomfield portrayed Svegliato and later, lavishly bewigged, the notary who marries Rosina and the Count. In this production, the tenor role of Giovinetto was sung by the adorable soprano Jessica Rose Futran who kept us laughing.

When the action moved inside, the audience was ushered into the library of the mansion and seated along the two long sides of the room. Everyone had a good view of the action and many were involved in the performance to a small extent. We felt grateful to On Site Opera for taking us out of the theater and into a place that felt real.  A few props sufficed and the entire affair was subtly and effectively lit by Shawn Kaufman.

The dapper Don Basilio was portrayed by bass-baritone Isaiah Musik-Ayala who lived up to his name. "La Calunnia" was well sung but not nearly as well-developed as Rossini's version.

The scenes were pretty much the same as in the Rossini version and the melodies were charming. Every voice effectively expressed the character and the Italian was so fine that the projected titles were scarcely necessary. Clearly, leaving the concert hall requires no sacrifice of musical or dramatic values. General and Artistic Director Eric Einhorn has earned our admiration and respect. When we could tear our attention away from the action, we glanced around the room and saw rows of smiling faces.  Does one see that at the Met?

We can scarcely wait for next year's Nozze di Figaro, written by Marcos Portugal in 1800 and never before seen in North America. The following year we will get to see La Mère Coupable, written by Darius Milhaud.

If you move quickly you may be able to snag a seat for one of the three remaining performances on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Last night there was not a seat to be had. On Site Opera has only been around for a couple years but word has gotten out. We know quality when we see/hear it.

(c) meche kroop

Monday, June 8, 2015


Chungfeng Li coached by Maestro Richard Bonynge

A few fortunate folk got to sit in on Maestro Richard Bonynge's master class, presented as part of the intensive training given to the lucky young singers participating in Martina Arroyo's Prelude to Performance program.

The famous conductor and recording artist speaks softly and carries a big stick!  No, not the baton; we mean it figuratively. He is quiet but very firm, insisting the students repeat the same phrase until they get it right. An acknowledged bel canto specialist, his gentle corrections made a noticeable difference in the students' performances. He is not at all like other master teachers who fawn all over the students telling them how marvelous they are and suggesting they add just one tiny thing "if it works for you". 

No! Mo. Bonynge does not even listen to the entire aria. He will stop a student immediately and get to work. He is not there to praise and support but to teach. There was a theme running through the afternoon. Almost all the singers were trying too hard; they were going for volume and big effects and Mo. Bonynge persuaded them to "bring it down a notch". This is bel canto and going for the "bel" seemed to be the message.

Maria Brea opened the program with "Par le rang et par l'opulence" from Donizetti's Fille du Regiment, which will be presented at Hunter College on July 10th and 12th, the culmination of the months of work by the students in the program. Ms. Brea worked hard on observing the piano markings on the score.  Master and student also worked on extending the vowels and achieving more flow through the cadenza.

Hyo Chang An sang "Pour me rapprocher Marie" from the same opera and was instructed to work on his legato and to lighten up the finally "e" at the end of several words. This was another theme on which we heard a great deal. Singers were mistakenly emphasizing that final syllable and were instructed to just touch it. He was also instructed to control the decrescendo in the descending scale passage and to open the vowels a bit more

Karolina Pilou has a large deep voice with an interesting quality. She sang "Fia dunque vero?...O mio Fernando" from Donizetti's La Favorita. She was instructed to eliminate the crescendi and the extra breaths which she consequently wouldn't require. She was also taught to not rush or push and to save something for the cabaletta.

Spencer Hamilton performed "Ah! mes amis....Pour mon âme" and he too had to work on decreasing his force and increasing the tonal beauty with rounder vowels. It seemed that pushing the end of the phrases was not at all helpful.

Claire Coolen and Jacopo Buora performed the duet "La voilà...Au bruit de la guerre" from Fille du Regiment and again we heard quite a bit about lightening up the final "e". We began to wonder whether another coach had insisted that they all work on emphasizing it! Ms. Coolen worked on eliminating the crescendo on her trills and indeed they sounded much better. Her vowels also needed to be rounder.

Chungfeng Li sang "La calunnia è un venticello" from Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia. He sang it so well that he was not interrupted. The only suggestion he got was to pay attention to doubled consonants, a feature of Italian to which all singers should attend.

A lot of Mo. Bonynge's corrections were performed by the use of his expressive hands which meant that his often inaudible words were unnecessary. We got his very important messages. At the piano, Ed Bak performed in true yeoman fashion, serving each singer and his/her material.

Each singer progressed and we hope they will continue to work on these corrections that made such a difference in their performances. Tickets to Madam Butterfly and Fille du Regiment are going fast and if you plan on being in town in July, these two operas could make a profound difference in an operatically barren summer.

(c) meche kroop

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Amaya Arberas and Laurine Celeste Fox

We love Spanish music (y'all know that already) and we love soprano Amaya Arberas (past reviews archived and available through use of the Search Bar).  We had a transcendent moment yesterday during her performance of excerpts from Manuel de Falla's Siete Canciones Populares Españolas. Although originally composed for voice and piano in 1914, conductor Laurine Celeste Fox had orchestrated the work to be performed by the Symphony of the City of New York.

At this moment, Ms. Arberas was putting her entire heart and soul into "Asturianas", with support from double bassist Richard Ostrovsky.  Ms. Arberas and Ms. Fox made eye contact, apparently both feeling the depth of sorrow of this folk song and communicating it so intensely that we broke into tears.  Now THAT'S music-making!

Having changed the order of the songs, they followed with an equally intense "Polo" which sang of a different type of grief, one layered with anger toward the disappointing beloved.

The other selections were also excellently sung in true Castilian Spanish and the orchestration was nothing short of brilliant. The lullaby "Nana" was particularly lovely.

The remainder of the afternoon program held our interest and amounted to a most worthwhile way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Maestra Fox has a balletic conducting style which she uses to get the most out of the string orchestra. There was an appreciable clarity of line and differentiation of voicing.

The program opener was the "Preludio" from Heitor Villa-Lobos' Bachianas Brasileiras No. 4, played with mucho sabor. We have a preference for the early works of most composers, filled as they are with gusto. Edward Elgar's Serenade for Strings in E minor, Op. 20 falls into that category. We enjoyed the memorable theme of the first movement in 6/8 rhythm.

Joaquin Turina's  Rapsodia Sinfónica in E-flat Major, Op. 66 was performed by the excellent pianist Martin Söderberg whose crisp attack and lyrical arpeggios were equally impressive and were accompanied by descending sighing figures in the violins.

The final work on the program comprised the world premiere performance of Anna Cazurra's Gran Tango, Op. 73.  The compelling rhythms of the introduction made us want to get up and dance but the Broadway Presbyterian Church seemed to be lacking a dance floor! The danceable theme yielded to a more abstract section and the remainder was enlivened by some pizzicato playing in the violins.  It was altogether enjoyable and thankfully not like most contemporary compositions.

We were most pleased to discover a new (new to us) conductor whose presence on the podium was as close to electrifying as one could imagine.  We hope to hear more from her and the Symphony of the City of New York, whose mission is to attract new audiences with unrepresented repertoire.

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Caroline Miller, Angela Dinkelman, Jazmin DeRice, Rebecca Paul, and Adam Klein

It is astonishing that the small and scrappy Utopia Opera would even consider mounting a challenging opera like Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos. It is even more astonishing that they succeeded admirably, presenting a highly entertaining and honorable production of this century old work. But then company founder and director William Remmers is undauntable and unflappable in the face of any challenge. His motto must be "Bring it On!"

Hugo von Hofmannsthal's libretto is replete with humor but bears serious undertones. We are in the home of "the richest man in Vienna" who has planned an evening's entertainment involving a new work by a young composer, an opéra seria about Ariadne, abandoned on the island of Naxos by her lover Theseus. This is to be followed by a light entertainment of the opéra comique genre involving commedia del'arte characters. We are led to consider a society's concern with "high art" versus "low art". We are not the first generation to face this choice.

In order to be finished in time for the 9:00 fireworks, it has been decided at the last minute to present the two works on the same stage at the same time--a preposterous notion of course but a juxtaposition leading to some interesting situations when the flirtatious Zerbinetta (Jessica Philpot) tries to get the suicidal Ariadne (Rebecca Paul) to cheer up and find a new lover. Ariadne longs for death and the arrival of the god Bacchus (Adam Klein) is mistaken for Hermès who will take her to the underworld.

The music is lush, complex, and heavily orchestrated. Happily, the live orchestra, conducted by polymath Mr. Remmers, was up to the challenge and the textures of Christopher Fecteau's orchestral reduction ensured that nothing was lost.

The parts were well cast, for the most part, and the sizable voices did justice to the work. Elizabeth Bouk was dramatically convincing as the neophyte composer who was understandably furious about the trashing of her work but somewhat mollified by the attentions of Zerbinetta.

Notable were the three nymphs who sang in gorgeous harmony, reminding us that Richard Wagner had considerable influence on Strauss.  Sopranos Angela Dinkelman as Naiad and Caroline Miller as Echo were joined by mezzo-soprano Jazmin DeRice as Dryade. Not only were they gorgeously costumed (wardrobe by Eric Lamp) and spectacularly made up by Rachel Estabrook, but they sported long ribbons from each finger which somehow made us think of the Rhinemädchens.

The difficult music for the three leads was well-performed and the smaller roles were as well. Zerbinetta's companions Truffaldino (Roman Laba), Scaramuccio (Samuel Themer), Brighella (Gilad Paz who also sang the role of the dance master), and Harlekin (Jonathan Rohr who sang a fine duet with Ms. Philpot)--all of them added horseplay and humor.

Veteran baritone Richard Holmes did a fine job as the Music Master who tried to console the young composer with the wisdom that age brings. One does best to accept what one cannot change! The officious Major-Domo, a spoken role, was well handled by David Seatter. Stage Director Benjamin Spierman took on the role of a Lackey and also translated the excellent titles. Notably, everyone's German was comprehensible.

Fortunately for New York opera lovers, there will be THREE more performances, one tonight and again next Friday and Saturday nights--all at 7:30 at Hunter College. Tickets are very modestly priced for this quality of work. Don't miss an opportunity to hear some stirringly conducted music and a finely directed drama.

(c) meche kroop

Friday, June 5, 2015


Hugo Vera, Thomas Woodman, and Edgar Jaramillo (photo by Robert J. Saferstein)
Regina Grimaldi (photo by Robert J. Saferstein)

Why do we love Puccini's Tosca so much? For starters, the melodramatic story moves forward at a rapid pace with no ridiculous twists and turns or irrelevant side-plots. The characters, although larger than life, have emotions with which we can identify--love, lust, terror, protectiveness, rage, and defiance.

The power mad Baron Scarpia will stop at nothing to possess the famous singer Floria Tosca. She is in love with the church painter Mario Cavaradossi, and her intense jealousy is turned against her by Scarpia. Mario is a good soul, torn between fear of the authorities and the wish to protect his friend Cesare Angelotti, in political disfavor and hunted by the police.

We had just read Fred Plotkin's persuasive argument against titles at the opera and last night at Chelsea Opera's production, we had an opportunity to enjoy Tosca as a site-specific work without titles, focusing instead, as Mr. Plotkin suggested, on the music.

Fortunately, we are sufficiently familiar with Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa's superb libretto that we did not need the titles.  We are not sure how audience members felt if they were not so familiar with the story, but we suspect that Lynne Hayden-Findlay's direction and the fine acting of the ensemble made everything clear.

Thus it was that we were able to focus our attention strictly on the music and how well Puccini's melodies followed the words of the libretto. We also appreciated a certain unity of the score with motives occurring and recurring and bouncing between singer and orchestra.

Conductor Samuel McCoy is of the restrained type but that was no impediment to his pulling an arresting propulsive performance from the excellent Chelsea Opera Chamber Orchestra. Karen Stern's harp frequently compelled our attention.

The singers all gave honorable performances. As the eponymous heroine, soprano Regina Grimaldi used all her assets in a deeply moving performance.  There was a generosity to her acting that managed to match the amplitude of her voice. Since her performance was perfumed with that "garlic" that we love, let us call it "l'abbondanza". Every facial expression and bodily gesture was consonant and à propos. Her "Vissi d'Arte" was memorable.

On the same page was tenor Edgar Jaramillo who always sings from deep within his soul and evokes our sympathy for whatever character he portrays. Here, he created a character we could believe in, every emotion showing on his expressive face and in his expressive voice. He has a warm Latin sound with excellent phrasing. "E lucevan le stelle" was heartbreaking.

Bass-baritone Thomas Woodman as the evil Baron Scarpia, Chief of Police,  leered while his agent Spoletta (tenor Hugo Vera) sneered. Both of them were so convincing that we felt fear just sitting there on those hard wooden pews.  (Yes, that is the price one pays for enjoying such excellent productions by the Chelsea Opera).

We also enjoyed bass-baritone Brace Negron's frantic performance as the terror-stricken Angelotti. Baritone Jared Guest made a fine jailor in the third act while bass-baritone Luis Alvarado created a believable Sacristan in the first act. Baritone James Shaffran sang the role of another police agent. Benjamin Barham-Wiese appeared as the shepherd whose simple solo introduces the third act. For unknown reasons, he sang onstage but may as well have been an offstage voice.

The staging of the opera made good use of St. Peter's Church, what with the private chapel for Angelotti to hide in, candles, and crosses; everything was put to good use. This served to foster the illusion that the first act was happening in real time and a real place.

Not only did Ms. Hayden-Findlay do a great job directing but also with the costume design, with major contributions from the Theater Development Fund costume collection. There was no doubt that we were in the early 19th c.; the opera premiered at the beginning of the 20th c. and here we are enjoying it in the 21st c.  The minimal set was provided by Leonarda Priore who, along with Ms. Hayden-Findlay co-founded Chelsea Opera over a decade ago.

The chorus made a significant contribution, led by Chorus Master Dean William Buck who is better known as the Conductor of Loft Opera.

There will be an afternoon performance on Saturday but tickets are scarce. Word has gotten out about Chelsea Opera's splendid productions and the church was packed from front to back.

(c) meche kroop