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, October 13, 2015


Mikaela Bennett, Amanda Lynn Bottoms, Thomas West, Gerard Schneider, and Theo Hoffman

Appearing at Henry's Restaurant several times a year are special cabaret evenings hosted by pianist/arranger/teacher/raconteur and all-around wonderful person Steven Blier.  Such is the fame of these evenings that the house is invariably packed with music lovers of every stripe.

Last night was the opening of the season and seasonal it was. Entitled "Fall Colors" the program allowed five wonderful operatic voices the opportunity to expand their presentation into the world of cabaret. Songs are generally chosen by Mr. Blier and the singers themselves; Mr. Blier introduces each song with interesting tidbits of information and accompanies the singers.

Baritone Theo Hoffman was there, fresh off a plane from Atlanta where he performed the role of Schaunard in Puccini's La Bohême (wish we'd been there)--to critical acclaim. How astonishing and delightful to hear him cover Paul McCartney's romantic ballad "Here, There, and Everywhere", putting his own spin on the beautiful song, floating the final note in a gorgeous pianissimo.

Even better was his delivery of Steven Sondheim's "Talent", sung with warmth and humor-- in memory of James Marcus. We also enjoyed the sad "Lonely Town" with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Comden and Green. We've been following Mr. Hoffman's career for a few years and he just keeps getting better and better.

Another voice known to us from Juilliard is that of Amanda Lynn Bottoms.  She too was asked to stretch her artistry in new directions. Accompanied by the talented percussionist Josh Vonderheide on bongo drums, she sang a Cuban song from the 1930's--"Lamento esclavo" by Eliseo Grenet/Aurelio Riancho. The pathos of this song found a counterpart in her performance of the spirited and sexy "Palmira" by Moises Simóns. We always love Spanish songs and were delighted to hear different sides of her artistry.

Equally versatile in her performance was a young lady new to us. Mikaela Bennett is but a sophomore at Juilliard and already a poised and accomplished performer with a stunning voice and the ability to form a deep connection with the material. She was equally proficient with the jazzy style of Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer's "Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home" and their bluesy ballad "I Had Myself a True Love" from St. Louis Woman.

But we were most moved by Adam Guettel's "The Light in the Piazza" (from the show of the same name) in which she totally stepped into the role of the young woman dazzled by Italy and the romantic awakening she lacked words to describe.

No evening is complete without a duet and we just loved hearing Ms. Bennett and Ms. Bottoms singing the suggestive "Two Ladies in the Shade of the Banana Tree" from House of Flowers. It is hard to believe that a show by Harold Arlen and Truman Capote did not have a huge success.

There was another newcomer on the program, recently arrived from Down Under and making his New York debut; he is already on his way to becoming an audience favorite. Gerard Schneider sang "I've Got a Right to Sing the Blues" by Harold Arlen/Ted Koehler.

His next song was a challenging one, having been written  originally for clarinet, by Ralph Burns and adapted for voice and piano by Woody Herman/Johnny Mercer.The 1949 "Early Autumn" is a wistful ballad and Mr. Blier's piano deftly added the image of falling leaves.

For the finale, Mr. Blier abandoned the piano and turned the entire performance over to Mr. Schneider who accompanied himself on the ukulele for "I'll See You in My Dreams" by Isham Jones/Gus Kahn. The audience loved it!

Another newcomer, Thomas West, introduced the program with the song we never tire of --"Sing for Your Supper" by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart.

The encore came as a total surprise, an arrangement by Mr. Blier of Smoky Robinson's "You Really Got a Hold on Me", sung as a barbershop quartet by the ensemble. Oh, what fun!!!!

Not to worry if you missed this extraordinary evening.  There will be several more, as well as New York Festival of Song's regular season at Merkin Hall.  Stay tuned!

(c) meche kroop

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