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.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015


Baritone Mark Rucker

Lauren Flanigan's annual fundraiser to benefit the homeless was held Monday in its new home--the acoustically superlative St. Paul's Church on 86th and West End Ave.  Admission to this star-spangled event is by donation of blanket, warm coat, groceries, or cash. Audience members are treated to one gorgeous aria after another performed by Ms. Flanigan's many friends, most of whom are stars from the Met, as is the fine coach/accompanist Kamal Khan who serves as Music Director.

As if this were not enough, the Ebony Ecumenical Ensemble, directed by Bettye Forbes, was there to raise the roof with their spirited song stylings. The audience responded to "Go Tell it on the Mountain" with rhythmic applause.

New this year was a fine group of young singers Ms. Flanigan calls The Flaniganizers, nine lovely young women, each one of whom had something special to offer, each telling about how Ms. Flanigan had helped her career before launching into her aria. They were all delightful!

Ms. Flanigan herself performed the intense scene from Act II of Puccini's Tosca, in which poor Florio Tosca must listen to poor Mario Cavaradossi (Raúl Melo) being tortured offstage while she builds up enough hate for the evil Scarpia (Louis Otey) to want to murder him. If anyone can do "intense" better than Ms. Flanigan, we'd like to hear about it!

Mr. Melo also gave us a fine aria from Puccini's La Fanciulla del West and baritone Mark Rucker, accompanied beautifully by his wife Sadie, shone in "Nemico della patria" from Andrea Chénier, showing every ounce of disdain for his ironic sentence.

There was yet more Puccini as soprano Jasmine Muhammad sang "Donde lieta usci" from La Bohème.

Among so many splendid performances we also enjoyed tenor Brian Anderson's performance of "De' miei bollenti spiriti" from Verdi's La Traviata and tenor Ryan MacPherson's "Parmi veder le lagrime" from Verdi's Rigoletto. 

Ms. Flanigan was the welcoming host for the evening's entertainment and Stewart Desmond, Executive Director of the West Side Campaign Against Hunger, spoke briefly but movingly of his campaign's successes. In a remarkable move for a food pantry, the hungry get to enter this pantry and select the foods they like, as if they were in a grocery store.

We couldn't help thinking that Mayor DiBlasio would have done better to hire Mr. Desmond as consultant instead of paying a quarter of a million dollars to the fella that wasn't doing his job in the first place. We'll put our faith in the private sector any day of the week!

(c) meche kroop

Monday, December 21, 2015


David Gordon, Emily Gu Siegel, and Larry Long

We all know where great matches are made; Chelsea Opera joined forces with Kindred Spirits to produce a fine family-oriented Christmas entertainment--Bending Towards the Light...A Jazz Nativity.  Chelsea Opera is well known to us and has been reviewed by us many times; we have spent many evenings enjoying their productions.  Kindred Spirits is new to us; it was created to educate through music. Their Children's Jazz Choirs educate inner city children, teaching them songs of the great American composers.

The jazz artists on the program, although unknown to us,  seem to be famous in their field and the source of a great deal of energy, shaking the rafters of Christ and St. Stephen's Episcopal Church. We spotted drums and piano, trombone and trumpet, and more types of saxophone than we ever knew existed.  They seemed analogous to the several fachs of the human voice. Moreover, we spotted a teeny tiny trombone! We even witnessed some wildly competitive tap dancing.

This was a highly American version of the nativity story. When we first arrived in New York, we recall attending Dave Brubeck's "La Fiesta de la Posada".  Lo and behold, there was Brubeck's arrangement of "God's Love Made Visible" played on the piano by Adam Asarnow.

But the loveliest song was "Bending Towards the Light".  Early in the program it was sung by Chelsea Opera's own Leonarda Priore, substituting for the absent Deborah Voigt who could not have sung it any better. We think of Ms. Priore as an opera singer but she clearly has a way with jazz as well, in this arrangement by Anne Phillips who also conducted and performed as a Guardian Angel.

An adorable youngster, pictured above, gave it a second hearing.  Music by Bob Kindred, lyrics by Henry Timm and Anne Phillips. It's penultimate iteration was sung by the company and the final one was performed by the band. We were glad that this jazz was pre-Ornette Coleman and quite listenable. We heard some fine scat-singing as well.

The program was first presented in 1985 at St. Peter's Lutheran Church and since that time has been performed at St. Bartholomew's, the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, Avery Fisher Hall (a name we choose to preserve in spite of the renaming), Birdland, B.B. King's (in Spanish), and venues all over the United States.  Last night it was co-produced by Ms. Priore, Lynne Hayden-Findlay and Ms. Phillips.

It was quite a celebration and a perfect example of synergy, when forces combine to create something that is unique and greater than the sum of its parts.

(c) meche kroop

Thursday, December 17, 2015


Sarah Mikulski, Joshua Arky, Brian Michael Moore, Young Kwang Yoo, Maestro Thomas Muraco, Yulan Piao, Woo Yong Yoon, Edwin Davis, and Ü Lee

One doesn't generally get to hear a Verdi opera at a music conservatory, but last night we were fortunate enough to hear Luisa Miller at Manhattan School of Music. Presenting a Verdi opera with such a young cast was a risky enterprise but the risk paid off in spades. The evening was a stunning success with first rate musical values.

The opera had its premiere in 1849, thus belonging to the earlier portion of Verdi's "middle period", before his success with Rigoletto. The libretto by Salvadore Cammarano was based on Friedrich von Schiller's play Kabale und Liebe (Intrigue and Love).  It is not part of the standard repertory but we admire it greatly. Like so many operas composed by Verdi, there is a strong emphasis on a father/daughter relationship.

The two fathers could not be more different, but they share one important feature.  Each loves his child and wants the best for him/her. Miller want his daughter to be happy and his only concern is whether the man to whom she pledged her love will be honest and faithful. The Count de Walter wants his son to be privileged and powerful. He has chosen Rodolfo's bride--The Duchess Federica, and will stop at nothing to tear his son away from Luisa, Miller's daughter.

The opera is overflowing with gorgeous melodies. There are arias aplenty and duets for all possible  fach combinations, plus stunning trios and quartets to bring the acts to a close. As the innocent Luisa, soprano Yulan Piao sang with  terrific technique and enough dramatic intensity to get us to care about her character. She has a brilliant instrument and fine Italianate phrasing. The coloratura was so impressive we were thinking "There's a budding Queen of the Night!"

As her lover Rodolfo, Woo Yong Yoon was ardent and used his lyric tenor well, without any of the pushing that bothers us so much in young tenors. His love duets with Ms. Piao were marked by singular harmonic beauty.

As the Duchess that Count de Walter wants his son to marry, mezzo-soprano Ü Lee was resplendent both vocally and dramatically.  Her rich chocolate instrument was employed to great dramatic effect as she created a multi-dimensional character--a woman who has loved Rodolfo since childhood and is suffering a major disappointment that he loves another woman, and yet not at all vengeful toward her rival. The facial expressions and gestures she used as she went through a panoply of emotions were arresting; one could not take one's eyes off her. This gifted artist is also a coach, conductor, pianist, and composer. Additionally she is developing music software.  She is an alumna of MSM, while the other artists are all graduate students.

We were also impressed by baritone Young Kwang Yoo who played Miller, the devoted caring father of Luisa. Their duets were no less fine than those of Gilda and Rigoletto. He has a nice full baritone and an effective stage presence.

As Walter, the sneaky manipulative and threatening father of Rodolfo, bass Joshua Arky showed admirable vocal flexibility for this fach. The only thing that would take his performance to the next level would be some physical flexibility. Even a character we hate has to move around the stage with grace.

As the nasty henchman Wurm, bass Edwin Davis succeeded in creating one of those characters one loves to hate. His bass has a juicier sound than Mr. Arky's and the contrast between the two basses was one of those casting miracles that we love.

Soprano Sarah Mikulski sounded lovely in the small role of Laura and Brian Michael Moore stepped in for an ailing Timothy Lanigan in the other small role of Un Contadino. Please note that the casting for Friday night is different and that Mr. Moore will be singing Rodolfo--ensuring that the experience will be as fine as last night's was.

Maestro Thomas Muraco did a fine job of preparing these young artists for the performance. The maestro conducts with his expressive hands and one can observe him breathing along and silently singing along with them. The score was arranged for two pianos four hands (Jeremy Chan and Jonathan Heaney) with parts taken by the keyboard (Jia Jun Hong doing the organ stuff) and clarinet (Adam Gallob). The melodic lines given to the clarinet were wonderfully played.

The chorus sang well. There was no attempt at costuming or sets. They would have been superfluous. The evening was about the music and we consider it a 100% success. You have one chance to experience this rare treat on Friday night at 7:30, IF you can get tickets. Last night the standby line stretched all the way down the hall. Word must have gotten out!

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


Faustine de Mones, Jiin Jung, Dorothy Gal, and Brianna Han
Last night at Mannes School of Music we heard An Evening of French Music, performed by Voice Major and Collaborative Piano Students. We are familiar with evenings coached by Christina Stanescu who directs the Collaborative Piano Department at Mannes. The performances are always topnotch. The recital began with a singing of "La Marseillaise"!

Soprano Faustine de Mones is a native speaker of French while soprano Dorothy Gal is not. A native speaker of French might have been able to tell the difference; we could not. We have been listening to Ms. Gal for some time since she has studied at Glenn Morton's French immersion program L'Art du Chant Francais. She just keeps getting better and better.

She sang Debussy's "Beau Soir" with fine diction and lovely phrasing; the warmth of her instrument lent a special flavor to the text. She continued with Duparc's "Chanson Triste" during which we noticed the fine arpeggios of collaborative pianist Brianna Han who has a light touch on the keys, just right for delicate French chansons.

Moving from chanson to aria, the pair performed "Allons, il le faut...Adieu, notre petite table" from Massenet's Manon, an aria filled with regret and misgivings.  No misgivings about the performance however!  Quite lovely, especially when Ms. Gal's singing became more expansive. Additionally, the aria offered her the opportunity to express the feelings by means of dynamic variation.

While Ms. Gal is a rather self-contained artist, Ms. de Mones is quite expressive. She opened with Trois poèmes de Louise de Vilmorin, set by Poulenc. The text is a bit more obscure but we enjoyed the suggestive conclusion of "Le garçon de Liège". Ms. de Mones also chose an aria from Manon--"Je suis encore tout étourdie" from Act I.  In this aria, Manon is still an innocent girl on her way to the convent and our singer succeeded in conveying the excitement of her first trip. This young lady has a lively personality and a winning onstage presence. Jiin Jung was her fine piano partner.

Tenor John Ramseyer (who left before the group photo) has a fine vibrato that lends an interesting texture to his voice. He kept up the long delicate line of Duparc's Phidylé right until the climax on "ton meilleur baiser"when he opened up his voice. We further enjoyed "Adieu, Mignon" from Ambroise Thomas' Mignon, an opera based on Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Lehrjahre, which also inspired settings by Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Liszt, and Wolf. Mr. Ramseyer conveyed the sensitivity of a tender farewell.

And what was the special treat we alluded to in the title? The famous Thomas Grubb, educator, coach, collaborative pianist, and author of Singing in French: a Manual of French Diction and French Vocal Repertoire, performed L'histoire de Babar le petit elephant; he gave a dramatic reading of the text by Jean de Brunhoff, punctuated and enhanced by Poulenc's piano interludes. If we want to talk about impeccable French, this was it. His delivery was spellbinding.

We didn't always see the connection between the text and the music but definitely preferred the more lyrical interludes when Babar rode on his mother's back, when he was adopted by the old lady, when he remembered his mother, when he hosted his cousins, and when he bid farewell to the old lady. We also liked the dance music for his wedding and the peaceful music at the end when night fell.

Mr. Grubb's illustrious presence can be credited to the Art Song Preservation Society which is aptly named. Artists and audiences alike are well served by their activities.

(c) meche kroop

Tuesday, December 15, 2015


Joshua Breitzer, Donna Breitzer, Alex Mansoori, Miles Mykkanen, Lauren Worsham, and Theo Hoffman

By now we know what to expect from a NYFOS cabaret at Henry's Restaurant--a warm welcome from host Henry, lively patter from Steven Blier, cleverly curated songs, and delicious performances from talented young singers. An extra measure of joy can be had when we bring a newbie or two just to share their delight in experiencing the event for the first time.

The annual Xmas cabaret--"A Goyishe Christmas to You!"--comprises yuletide music by Jewish composers. We loved it last year and we loved it even more this year. Lucky are those who discovered it five years ago!

The eponymous Henry introduced the evening with a few words about ecumenism. The Upper West Side includes people of every persuasion. This event brings the community together in celebration of the holiday season and spices it all up with a sense of humor.

Steven Blier curates and arranges the songs and shares fascinating tidbits about the composers. The singers, who rightfully adore this icon of the musical world, put heart and soul and a little extra into making the evening a rousing success. The stresses of the world outside dissolve in a puddle of good will. Everyone leaves grinning.

The Rodgers and Hart song "Sing for Your Supper" from the 1938 hit The Boys from Syracuse opens every NYFOS After Hours show at Henry's.  This time it was sung by Thomas West.

We heard songs serious and songs silly, each one delivered with passion and panache. On the serious side, Felix Mendelssohn's music for a cantata provided for the harmonious quartet of "Hark the Herald Angels Sing". 

Baritone Theo Hoffman invested each verse of Tormé's "The Christmas Song" (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire--THAT Xmas song) with vibrant color while Mr. Blier's piano dazzled us.  Cabaret star Lauren Worsham led the company in a beautiful arrangement of Irving Berlin's "White Christmas".

But it was the silly songs that stole the show.  Our favorite was "Candle in My Window"by Howard Levitsky and Marc Miller (who were in the audience), hilariously performed by Alex Mansoori. This song spoofs Jewish people who celebrate Xmas and the justifications they come up with.  The best line is "Bless the Christian and the Jew, bless the other guys too, and God Bless the Christmas Jew". Knowing laughter rippled through the audience.

Mr. Mansoori was equally funny in David Friedman's "My Simple Christmas Wish" when he sang about wanting to be rich, famous, and powerful--without making any efforts. We might add that Mr. Mansoori was equally effective in Livingston and Evans' "Silver Bells". Maestro Blier let us in on the fact that Jay Livingston was born Jacob Levinson and the song refers to the Salvation Army bells and references the fact that Jews are known for their charity towards the poor. He also made sure we heard the bells in the piano.

Husband /wife team Cantor Joshua and Donna Breitzer sang a funny version of Frank Loesser's "Baby, It's Cold Outside"--in Yiddish! This miracle of translation was accomplished by one Binyumen Schaechter and Mr. Blier made sure there was a funny spin put on it. Mr. Breitzer also sang "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" in Yiddish, cracking up the audience. This Johnny Marks song was arranged by Kugelplex and Breitzer himself and was accompanied by Alan Kay playing a very Klezmer inflected clarinet.

Speaking of funny spins, it would not be a Steven Blier event without a gay tweak to the program. In this case it was the pairing of tenor Miles Mykkanen and baritone Theo Hoffman singing a very gay version of Bernard and Smith's "Winter Wonderland". It was clever.  It was romantic.  We loved it. They made a swell and harmonious couple, LOL.

Mr. Mykkanen has an outsize personality and a unique timbre to his voice that made his rendition of Loesser's "Let it Snow" quite an event.  Mr. Kay accompanied on the clarinet.

Every recital should have a Tom Lehrer song and this one did--"Hanukkah in Santa Monica" with Breitzer and Kay taking the lead and the company contributing funny lines we wish we could remember.

Breitzer and Worsham did a funny duet that was new to us--Roy Zimmerman's "Don't Let Gramma Cook Christmas Dinner". The multi-talented Breitzer accompanied on the guitar. It reminded us of relatives who try very very hard but are just lousy cooks. The song employed hyperbole to great effect.

We don't want to forget Ms. Worsham's plaintive delivery of Loesser's 1947 hit "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve" in which she bent the notes to fine emotional effect. Mr. Kay made fine contributions on his clarinet and Blier shared a very personal and touching reminiscence of a highly special New Year's Eve in his life--a warm and fuzzy story. 

Perhaps next Xmas you will attend and hear this story. We are keeping it close to our heart!

(c) meche kroop

Monday, December 14, 2015


Carmine M. Alfiero and Marisan Corsino

We just spent over 2 1/2 hours (without intermission) listening to budding artists at Weill Recital Hall in a winner's recital produced by the American Fine Arts Festival, now in their twelfth year of providing performance opportunities by means of audition.

This is our first experience with AFAF and we are unable to find much information on their website and there is almost nothing in their program. Consequently we can say little about the performers, particularly since there were errors in the programming, not to mention misspelling of names. The young woman given the task of verbally announcing such changes was inaudible, even from the front row.  Never mind.  Let's get to the performances.

There were two standouts in the vocal area. Mezzo soprano Marisan Corsino, winner of the Russian Seasons Competition, demonstrated skills in both art song and opera. In what sounded to us like excellent Russian, she sang "The Soldier's Wife" by Rachmaninoff, a tale filled with grief. Ms. Corsino is a self-contained artist and used the colors of her voice, rather than gesture.  In Polina's aria from Tchaikovsky's Pique Dame, she employed her entire register all the way down to a deep affecting bottom.

Soprano Becca Conviser is a very different sort of singer, making ample use of facial expression and gesture. She has a big voice and tackled "Dich Teure Halle" from Richard Wagner's Tannhaüser. It was a rousing success. She also performed "Tutte nel cor vi sento" from Mozart's Idomeneo and did just fine negotiating the tortuous skips up from the very bottom to the upper register.

We also liked Shubhangi Amitkumar Das' coloratura in Händel's "Rejoice Greatly O Daughter of Zion", which she followed up with Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Think of Me" from Phantom of the Opera.

There were several other singers on the program, most of them not really performance-ready. We do understand that such recitals as these are meant to provide such experience but there are certain basics that should had been taught, even how to smile at the audience and how to take a bow. These youngsters rushed on and off the stage. There was nothing in the program to tell what age group they belonged to but we suspect that most were far younger than they appeared. Lavish gowns and high heels lead an audience member to expect a more polished performance. Furthermore, the pieces chosen (by whom??) for them to sing were often beyond their capabilities.

There were lots of instrumentalists on the program (over two dozen budding artists and their accompanists) and some of them were quite wonderful. It seems as if the voice is the most difficult instrument to master, since some of the instrumentalists were quite young and yet quite accomplished. The program opened with Lauren Elizabeth Kim playing Four Tales by Medtner. She appeared to be under 10 years of age but played with admirable assurance.

Young violinist Rhys Evans played "Sicilienne and Rigaudon" by Fritz Kreisler.  Not only did he play beautifully but we suspect that his accompanist was his sister. She had a touching rapport with him. We wished the program had been more explicit.

Natalie Lin delighted us with her cello performance of selections from Tchaikovsky's Variations on a Rococco Theme.  Julia Angelov was poised on the violin, playing part 3 of  Bruch's Violin Concerto No. 1. 

Jacob Katz excelled in a couple of Chopin's challenging Etudes. Evangeline Gao tacked Liszt's Etude No. 3 and played beautifully.  Evgeni Petrichev drew some wonderful colors from an Etude by Rachmaninoff. We also heard a guest artist from Russia--Nikita Galaktionov--who polished off a pair of Etudes by Scriabin and won our heart with Prelude #2 by Gershwin, filling it with jazzy styling.

Finally we wish to call attention to a pianist from Russia who captured all the anxiety of Prokofiev's Sonata #3 in A minor, and managed to come up smiling. No one else smiled all evening; these youngsters were all so serious! It was heartwarming to witness one who enjoyed performing.

(c) meche kroop

Sunday, December 13, 2015


Dawn Gierling Milatin and Johnny Almeida in Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker  (photo by Travis Magee)
The ballet by Tchaikovsky presented around town every holiday season has an interesting history. The original source is a story by E.T.A Hoffman entitled "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King"; Alexander Dumas père adapted it as "The Tale of the Nutcracker". When Tchaikovsky was commissioned to write an opera and a ballet for the Imperial Theater in St. Petersburg, he chose the Dumas tale to pair with his final opera Iolanta (which we recently saw at the Met with Anna Netrebko and Piotr Beczala). What a strange double bill that must have been!

Dumas' story had to be pared down. Marius Petipa was the original choreographer and at some point Lev Ivanov took over. They knew exactly what they wanted musically and Tchaikovsky delivered. It premiered in 1892 at the Imperial Mariinsky Theater. Although the music was beloved right from the start, the choreography was widely criticized.

Many choreographers have set the ballet since then but we are partial to the once created by Michael Chernov of the Gelsey Kirkland Ballet, of which he and Ms. Kirkland are Co-Artistic Directors. We have always found the New York City Ballet version, choreographed by Balanchine, to be somewhat tedious. The one we saw last night thrilled us and held our attention for a solid two hours. We first saw it last holiday season and couldn't wait for a second viewing.

What made it special was not just the choreography and the dancing, but the intimacy. The company has found a new home in Dumbo and the comfortable seating with great sight lines permits the audience to feel involved in the heroine's family life. In this time period when we are best by chaos, fear, and anger, it was a special treat to be transported to a kinder, gentler world.

Mr. Chernov's version opens with the introduction of the members of Clara's family. Clara (Dawn Geirling Militan) is clearly a "good girl" and gets positive attention while her brother Fritz (Koki Yamaguchi) is naughty and jealous. Several charming details were created to get this across including a scene with the lamplighter. Fritz can be sulky and competitive. But how that boy can dance!

The family is having a Xmas party and the guests have dressed up for the occasion. The parents drink toasts, socialize, and dance with elegance.  Meanwhile, the children open their gifts--mostly dolls for the girls and tin horns and toy rifles for the boys. They play as children will. The boys are rambunctious and Fritz manages to annoy his grandparents (Alexandra Lawler and Samuel Humphreys) by tooting his horn. Frau Stahlbaum (Katrina Crawford) feels faint and is tenderly given smelling salts. Herr Stahlbaum (Simon Xu) is a gracious host.

Family friend and children's godfather Drosselmeyer (dance instructor Akop Akopian) arrives with a magic show--a large clock with figures that emerge and dance -- Columbine (Nina Yoshida) and Harlequin (Erez Milatin) as well as a Death figure, representing Mortal Time (Keisuke Nishkawa). The dancing is exciting, but made even more so by the dramatic background and the enchantment of the children by this "magic".

Clara is presented with a special gift, a nutcracker, which Fritz promptly breaks.  The kindly Drosselmeyer, obviously enchanted by Clara, fixes it for her and bandages the wound with a scarf.

After the guests leave and the toys are put away, Clara falls asleep under the tree with her special gift.

Utilizing what psychiatrists call the "day residue"--events from the day before that infiltrate and inspire the dream world--Clara's unconscious weaves a dream.  She is surrounded by some pretty scary mice but the nutcracker comes to life to defend her, utilizing an army of toy soldiers left in the cabinet.

He becomes a prince (Johnny Almeida) who takes her to a magical kingdom. This is the part in which we hear all the famous music Tchaikovsky composed--the very music that so greatly affected us when we were little and got us interested in classical music. Unfortunately, the price one pays for the intimacy of the production is the use of recorded music instead of the full orchestra which one would enjoy in a larger house. We were more than willing to pay that price!

Although the music is a suite and generally arranged according to the choreographer's intention, we are always happy to hear the Spanish Dance, the Chinese Dance, the Russian Dance (Trepak), and the Arabian Dance. These character dances were a delight to behold.

The Waltz of the Flowers and the Dance of the Reed Flutes were beautifully choreographed, as was the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy with its use of celesta and bass clarinet, lovely even on recording.

The corps danced magnificently and, being so perfectly in unison, gave evidence of rigorous rehearsal. In the Snowflake scene (choreographed by Vasili Vainonen and staged by Lyubov Fominich) the women floated like snowflakes.  Our only criticism is that they landed heavily and loudly, which may have been the fault of the floor.

As the lead couple, Ms. Militan and Mr. Almeida made a perfect couple. The choreography included several adagios and some challenging variations, all performed with precision and artistry. Ms. Militan is not only graceful and strongly centered but she is a superb actress. We were ready to believe that she was about 14 years old and fantasizing about her first love. Mr. Almeida was a reliable partner as well as a superb and technically accomplished soloist. There were all the classical moves and lifts that we love and miss in contemporary choreography.

There were so many special moments but we particularly enjoyed the corps of angels who glided smoothly across the floor, looking much like Russian icons.

The Costume and Set Design was adapted by Michael Chernov and we know not from what they were adapted by they were by all accounts splendid, particularly the costumes for the party scene and those for the character dancers.

It was indeed an incomparable evening, and well worth the trip to Brooklyn. There will be five more performances, one today and four next week--December 17, 18, 19, and 20. Although children will love it, you will not need a child accompanying you to enjoy this one.

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, December 12, 2015


Eunjin Jung, Kidon Choi, Pavel Sulyandziga, Sara Papini, Matthew Cossack

L'Elisir d'Amore is the perfect opera for a young cast. Gaetano Donizetti filled it to the brim with memorable melodies; librettist Felice Romani peopled it with characters that embody all the struggles of young love. Nemorino is a shy fellow in love with the vivacious and fickle Adina. She treats him dismissively as the young tend to do with those who put them on a pedestal.

To make him jealous she agrees to wed an arrogant army officer. In desperation, he buys a love potion from the traveling "doctor" Dulcamara. The potion is just Bordeaux and he gets very tipsy.  Meanwhile, the young ladies of the town learn that he has inherited a great deal of money and surround him with attention. He believes it's because of the love potion. Now it's Adina's turn to get jealous.

Of course, it all works out in the end and we leave the theater grinning from ear to ear.  The Mannes Opera gave Donizetti's 1832 comic masterpiece (which Donizetti tossed off in six weeks) a fine production at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. This just happens to be a fine comfortable theater with great sight lines but there is something strange about it's bi-level orchestra pit.

The strings are just a bit lower than the audience, with the winds behind and a level below that. Artistic Director and Conductor Maestro Joseph Colaneri conducted The Mannes Orchestra which turned in a well-balanced performance. The strings lay down a luscious carpet of sound with important contributions from the winds, particularly in Nemorino's big aria "Una furtiva lagrima", marked by some lovely arpeggios on the harp (Elena Caramihai).

The singers are all graduate level students at Mannes School of Music, which is part of The New School. Each and every one turned in a stellar performance and seems headed for a fine future in the opera world. The lead couple--soprano Sara Papini as Adina and tenor Pavel Sulyandziga as Nemorino--were perfectly cast and completely convincing in their acting. Adina is spunky and full of personality; Nemorino is shy and unassuming. Their body language told a great deal about their characters.

Similarly, the outrageous character of Dr. Dulcamara was well portrayed by bass-baritone Kidon Choi who manifested no difficulty with the wide range. As the self-important Belcore, baritone Matthew Cossack was admirable. Eunjin Jung was a pert Giannetta.

The direction of Laura Alley kept things moving forward nicely with plenty of appropriate stage business. Costume Designer Helen E. Rodgers duplicated the fashions of the 50's quite accurately, even dressing Adina in a poodle skirt. But, may we ask, how does setting this opera in the 1950's make it more relevant? We wondered how many people in the audience were alive 60 years ago!

Instead of a wealthy landowner, Adina is now the proprietor of a pasticceria in Little Italy. Roger Hanna's painted set, representing a street corner, was so accurate that we recognized the locale! We are convinced he copied Caffé Roma on Broome St. (If we are wrong we will atone by eating a dozen sfogliatelle!)

The chorus sings about sitting in the shade near a stream!  Other references in the libretto have been mistranslated to allow for Dr. Dulcamara to be driving a "snazzy car". We could justify the presence of military personnel because the time period coincided with the Korean war. But how do we account for Sergeant Belcore carrying around enlistment papers in his pocket and paying cash to Nemorino to enlist? We suppose most people would just overlook these anachronisms but they do bother us, purists as we are. But they didn't bother us enough to spoil the fun.

Mr. Sulyandziga's "Una furtiva lagrima" was delivered with his hands in his pockets, every nuance coming strictly from his voice. Never have we ever wanted so much to see a guy get the girl!

(c) meche kroop


Daniel Fung and Matthew Swensen

If we don't get weepy when hearing Franz Schubert's masterpiece Die Schöne Müllerin, we generally feel there is something wrong with the singer. There was nothing wrong with the performance given by tenor Matthew Swensen at Juilliard yesterday.  And there was everything right about it.

We live in an epoch of "whatever"; not even a teenage "emo" boy would kill himself over a romantic disappointment.  But Wilhelm Müller's German Romantic poetry has genuine pathos; it is not manipulative like so much that we hear today that is over-sentimentalized

Müller's poetry rhymes and scans; it inspired some of Schubert's most cherished melodies. When we hear contemporary composers utilizing contemporary texts, we cannot exult.

From the very first poem we can identify with a young man filled with enthusiasm over the possibilities he will encounter on his wanderjahre. We can feel excited when he finds work and when he falls in love. We can share his exultation over winning his love object. We hurt when he is tossed aside for a more promising love object.  We feel compassion when he seeks comfort in nature, even as he plans to end his life.  We feel all this because of Schubert's prodigious gifts. But we feel it only when the singer immerses himself in the text and the music.

This was accomplished by Mr. Swenson. No emotion was left unexplored.  It was not just that each song has a different emotional tone; there are shifts within each song and changes from major to minor as the moodily sensitive narrator has new thoughts about his situation, each producing a new feeling.

We couldn't help recalling what we learned from Ms. DiDonato's master class yesterday--the part about feeling the harmonies under the vocal line and coloring it appropriately. We particularly admired, in "Am Feierabend",  the way he colored the words of the Miller and the words of the Miller's daughter.

With a performance this intense, one tends to forget all about technique; the artistry trumps everything. Still, we noticed that Mr. Swensen has an unusual instrument.  It is not that sweet tenor we hear in so many young voices--the Nemorino, the Fenton, the Tamino.  No, this is a more substantial voice with a lot of texture and overtones. Perhaps we have a Duke here, a Rodolfo, an Alfredo.

Shall we indulge in a bit of nit-picking? To take this performance from a 4 star to a 5 star, we would want Mr. Swensen to stop holding onto the piano.  In all fairness, he did not do it all that much; but it made a big difference every time he released his hold and stepped forward to the audience. And just one more thing.  On occasion, he tended to drop the final consonant.  Otherwise, his German was excellent and the vowels were accurate.  But we like the final crisp endings to a word and a sentence. We speculate that he was so involved emotionally that he forgot.

As far as Daniel Fung's collaborative piano, he played it as well as one would hope. Although they performed very well as a team, we missed the sense that the two of them were breathing together. It is a small point but we are looking for that fifth star!

(c) meche kroop

Friday, December 11, 2015


Diane Lesser, Gustavo Ahualli, Anna Belén Gómez, Anna Tonna, Borja Mariño, and Anna de la Paz
Enrique Granados died tragically and prematurely a century ago; he spent the last months of his life right here in New York City, a time period which saw the premiere of his opera Goyescas at the Metropolitan Opera. (Bare Opera presented this work just a couple weeks ago and our review can be found by typing Goyescas in the search bar.)

The Hispanic Society of America presented a delightful evening of his music and dance in a program entitled "From Barcelona with Passion: Enrique Granados in New York". There is a strong connection--the society awarded him the Silver Medal; he donated an autographed manuscript of Goyescas to the Society's library; and he autographed a column in the great room of this magnificent building, which houses a most worthwhile art collection.

The program included a great deal of his music with which we were familiar, but presented the way Granados originally wrote it.  For example, the first of Doce tonadillas al estilo antiguo, "La maja de Goya", opens with a recitation accompanied by piano--a somewhat picaresque story (probably apocryphal) about the famous painter who knew how to appreciate female beauty. It was delivered dramatically with appropriate emphasis by mezzo-soprano Anna Tonno. We'd never heard it before.

With the exception on "El majo olvidado" which was sung by Argentinean baritone Gustavo Ahualli, the remainder of the tonadillas were sung by Ms. Tonno alternating with soprano Anna Belén Gómez. Both women have lovely voices and the ability to get across the emotional tone of the song. Singing without scores, they were able to make great contact with the audience.  Unfortunately Mr. Ahualli was on the book the entire evening, relying solely on his powerful instrument. We were surprised to learn that he sings opera because we did not feel a dramatic connection.

Our favorite part of this group was the light-hearted and satirically titled duet "Las currutacas modestas" sung by Ms. Belén Gómez and Ms. Tonna. We have never heard this sung as it was written and were delighted by the mellifluous harmonies and the flirtatious nature of the performance.

Ms. Tonna gave a superlative performance of "Callejeo", a song about a desperate maja who cannot find her majo.

We also enjoyed the contribution of the English Horn, played by Diane Lesser, which added greatly to the beauty of "La maja dolorosa, No. 1". Borja Mariño's piano was exceptionally fine throughout with much marcato and staccato playing that successfully imitated the guitar.

We also heard Canciones amatorias, of which our favorite was the lively "Iban al pinar", sung by Ms. Belén Gómez. Mr. Mariño's piano was particularly lovely in "Mañanica era".

His piano also stood out in "La boyra", excerpted from Four Songs for Male Voice. We wanted so much to experience a little more drama from Mr. Ahualli, especially in "Dia y noche de Diego ronda" which seemed to cry out for a show of personality.  Perhaps if he sang "off the book" he would be freer to be more expressive.

The presence of dancer Anna de la Paz was an unexpected treat. Her first number was "Danza de los ojos verdes" which Granados composed for the dancer Antonia Mercé, known as "La Argentina" because her parents were dancers on tour in Argentina when she was born. An interesting tidbit is that her costume was designed by Ignacio Zuolaga, a famous Spanish painter. This very dress was reproduced for Sra. de la Paz for tonight's performance. She danced with a fan, but for her second number, the "Intermezzo" from Goyescas, she employed castanets and percussive foot work which was thrilling to hear. She is a dancer of great grace and style!

As encore, the three singers performed Elegia eterna with its gorgeous melodies.

Due to the fact that Granados' death was a century ago, and his birth a century and a half ago, there will be many more celebrations of his oeuvre. Information can be obtained from the City University of New York Foundation for Iberian Music.

(c) meche kroop


Theo Hoffman and Joyce DiDonato

Master classes give us a thrill like no other and the ones given by mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato are always a special event. Her astuteness in diagnosing the singular thing that will take a student from a four-star performance to a five-star performance is remarkable. Furthermore, her warm and engaging manner promotes a special bonding with the student, a trust that allows them to take risks.

We confess that we would have been satisfied with the four-star performance. It being Juilliard Vocal Arts Department, we daresay that their pre-coaching performance is superior to most singers. However, it was only after we heard the difference made by her coaching that we realized how much better the student sounded. These are no ordinary students; they are working on their Master's degree and already singing all over the world and delighting audiences here and abroad. They collect awards and grants the way most people collect knick-knacks.

Baritone Theo Hoffman is a case in point. He sang an audition piece that we are sure is responsible for his getting a lot of work--"Dorma ancora o son desto" from Claudio Monteverdi's 1640 opera Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria.  In this introspective recitativo-like aria from Act I, the hero (usually sung by a tenor) awakens on the beach. Mr. Hoffman sang it with such depth of feeling that we were deeply moved. He used his impressive instrument with agility and dynamic variety.

This was not enough for Ms. DiDonato! She worked with Mr. Hoffman on being IN the harmony of the "orchestra", singing INTO what was going on underneath the vocal line, in this case the marvelous piano work of William Kelley whom we much admire. This is an exquisitely fine point about which we knew very little.  We so greatly appreciated the opportunity to learn along with Mr. Hoffman about playing with the "temperament" of the note.  And we always thought a note was a note!  Oh, no!  That's where the color comes from.  Great lesson for Mr. Hoffman and for us.

We do love the counter-tenor fach and have enjoyed Jakub Józef Orliński's voice on a number of occasions. His instrument sounds like the voice of an angel, if one tries to imagine what that would sound like.  He sang "Agitato da fiere tempeste" from Händel's Oreste and impressed us, and Ms. DiDonato, with his musicality. She observed that he sang it like an instrumentalist.

But that was not enough. She was looking for some legato passages to work on and asked him to sing his other selection "Vedro con mio diletto" from Vivaldi's Giustino. She picked up some tension and resistance that she tackled by dancing him around the stage. She worked with him on releasing the breath and sighing it out without effort. He could work on this by slurring instead of singing each note.  Indeed it made a difference as he relaxed his effort and achieved a more spontaneous sound.

Soprano Christine Price tackled a difficult Mozart aria--"Ach, ich liebte" from Die Entführung aus dem Serail.  Most of the lesson revolved around using the mental image of opening up spaces in the mask, thereby keeping the voice out of the throat.

Mezzo-soprano Samantha Hankey worked diligently on "Allez, laissez-moi seul" from Massenet's Cendrillon.  Most of the work was on moving the energy. It was helpful when Ms. DiDonato spun Ms. Hankey around the stage. Perhaps this strategy works so well because the singer is distracted from making efforts toward perfection. She was further instructed to keep strictly to the tempo, to keep moving forward and through the consonants to the end of the phrase.

In all four students we noticed subtle improvements that were very gratifying. The Collaborative Piano Department provided the wonderful Mr. Kelley who played for all the singers except for Mr. Orliński, whose piano partner was Michal Biel. They make a great team.

(c) meche kroop

Thursday, December 10, 2015


Brittany Nickell, Abigail Shapiro, Timothy Murray, and Anna Dugan (photo by Carol Rosegg)

What an ambitious task was taken on by the Manhattan School of Music Opera Theater; we are happy to report that Conrad Susa's opera Dangerous Liaisons was given a terrific production by their young singers and their artistic team. It was sheer theatrical magic to convert an epistolary novel, written by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos in 1782--and to make it visually and dramatically interesting.

We have not read it but we well recall the 1988 movie which we have seen more than once. The scandalous tale of dissolute pre-Revolution France also inspired several stage adaptations, the most notable being that by Christopher Hampton, several films, and a ballet which we wish we had seen.

In 1992, the San Francisco Opera gave the commission to Conrad Susa and the opera was presented with Thomas Hampson as Valmont, Renee Fleming as Madame de Tourvel, and Frederica von Stade as Madame de Merteuil. It has been rarely produced since then but was seen in New York about seven years ago, when DiCapo Opera gave it a production that critics found static and boring. This production was anything but static and boring.

The story is a cynical one, the tale of a malicious pair of aristocrats who get their jollies from seducing and manipulating others. We are told nothing of the background of Vicomte de Valmont to explain his need to deflower virgins and seduce married women.  As far as his "friend with benefits",  Madame de Merteuil, our only clue is that she feels shortchanged in her role as a woman.  She protests that men get what they want while women take what they can get.

Soprano Anna Dugan is splendid in this role, as is her counterpart baritone Timothy Murray. They managed to hide their sinister motives behind a veneer of courtly behavior, plotting under the watchful gaze of their fellow aristocrats. The opera opens at the grand estate of Madame de Rosemonde outside Paris. Mezzo Noragh Devlin sang and acted this role to perfection. She loves her nephew Valmont but suspects he is there more to do mischief than to see her.

Valmont is preoccupied by the seduction of a pious married woman Madame de Tourvel, convincingly played by soprano Abigail Shapiro. However, he is persuaded to do Merteuil's bidding by the promise of sexual favors.

Merteuil wants revenge against a lover who discarded her by getting Valmont to deflower the man's intended bride, the 15-year-old Cécile de Volanges, fresh out of a convent, and marvelously portrayed by soprano Janet Todd.

Meanwhile, Cécile has fallen in love with her harp instructor, the Chevalier de Danceny, convincingly played by Kiwi tenor Oliver Sewell. Her mother Madame de Volanges (the fine soprano Brittany Nickell) must break up this romance because Danceny is a commoner and the intended husband is a well to do aristocrat. She is worried about the wrong fox in this hen house!

Merteuil pretends to be Cécile's friend and confidant but betrays her and takes Danceny as her lover. Valmont rapes Cécile under the guise of instructing her in the art of love, and simulates friendship for Danceny.

Madame de Tourvel struggles against her urges but, religious woman that she is, sees the possibility of redeeming Valmont and he plays along until she weakens. He then cruelly dumps her under the tutelage of Merteuil who writes his lines for him. "It is not my fault", he keeps repeating, sounding every bit like our antique MacIntosh Blueberry when it crashed.

We have given enough spoilers but you can imagine how unfortunate the ending will be for all concerned.

Dona D. Vaughn's direction could not have been any better. It is too bad that DiCapo's production was perceived as static. This production was anything but. Erhard Rom's set comprised decorated vertical panels that slid from side to side, creating a lavish drawing room, various bedrooms, a woodland walk, and a convent. Several scenes took place side by side.  For example, Merteuil might be writing a letter at her desk on one side with Valmont reading it aloud in his own room on the other side.

Costume designer Tracy Dorman outdid herself as one can see in the above photo. Each design revealed something about the character and the color palette matched the season of the year in which the act took place. The overall effect, complimented by Dave Bova's wig and makeup design, achieved verisimilitude.

Since this is an opera, we must discuss the music. Frankly, Susa's music did nothing for us; but one must take our opinion with the following grain of salt. We rarely enjoy late 20th c. music. Susa's music is mostly tonal but there was no beauty in it; there was power and discordancy but it all sounded the same.

The libretto by Philip Littell (who never wrote an opera libretto before) comprised dialogue in rhymed couplets (good) but came across as doggerel (bad). The recitativi supporting the dialogue were jagged and unmusical. There were plenty coloratura vocalises but they seemed to be randomly inserted without characterological justification.

Perhaps the English language does not inspire beautiful phrases of music.  As a matter of fact, we conferred with our opera-loving companion during intermission regarding who might have created a better opera from this story. It should have been in French, inasmuch as the story is so quintessentially Gallic.  Gounod?  Massenet?

The problem with the vocal line was that the tessitura was uncomfortably high.  The singers handled it beautifully but it is not the most attractive range to listen to for two hours. It might appeal to those who enjoyed Thomas Ades' Tempest, which we did not.

Interestingly, the English diction was far better than expected, credit going to a lot of hard work on the part of the singers and Diction Coach Kathryn LaBouff who made sure every vicious word counted. Happily, there were surtitles in case one missed something.

Valmont and Merteuil each had a sort of aria, or rather a monologue, in which they explained something about themselves.  But the best parts musically were the trios and duets in which the various voices balanced beautifully.

George Manahan led the orchestra through a reduction of Susa's score created by composer-arranger Randol Bass. We can only imagine how this dense and difficult music must have sounded before it was reduced.

The final scene made use of a wonderful chorus, under the direction of Miriam Charney. Brittany Bellacosa portrayed Emilie, Michael Gracco played Monsieur Bertrand, and servants were played by Amy Yarham, Christian Thurston, and Ashley Alden. Father Anselm was Robert Orbach.

This same superb cast will perform the Sunday matinée and a different cast will perform Friday evening.  Having heard some of the Friday night cast at the opera preview, let us reassure you that their vocal and dramatic skills are just as fine.

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, December 9, 2015


Paul Appleby, Michael Barrett, Sari Gruber, Steven Blier, Andrew Garland, Theo Hoffman, and Charles Yang
"No song is safe from us" is the motto of the New York Festival of Song, hereinafter referred to as NYFOS. Spending an evening with Steven Blier and his crew is always an adventure and invariably draws a crowd bursting with enthusiasm.  Last night's recital of songs by Schubert paired with those by The Beatles was totally in that mold.

Schubert's songs have the power to touch us deeply even after nearly two centuries.  Songs by the Beatles have endured for half a century and also touch us deeply. But there are important differences. What Schubert wrote is "on the page".  Any singer/pianist combination could perform what's on the page and we would instantly recognize the song; the differences would lie only in how well they performed it. One cannot "cover" a Schubert song.

In the case of The Beatles, one thinks more about their performances, recorded or live (if you were lucky enough and old enough to witness)--the total gestalt--not just the words and melody, but the arrangements, orchestration, electronic effects, and percussion.  But, above all, the recognizable timbre of their voices. You can "cover" a Beatles song but you cannot duplicate it.

The idea for last night's program at Merkin Hall came from Theo Hoffman and publicist Aleba Gartner; Mr. Blier picked it up and ran with it, arranging the songs of The Beatles to be paired on the program with lieder by Schubert based on a corresponding theme. Apparently the entire crew contributed to the design and execution.

Each song by The Beatles sounded new and fresh--in some cases nearly unrecognizable; it is amazing what happens when focus is shifted to the melody and the lyrics, with Mr. Blier's jazzy arrangements underneath. For example, in a pairing whose theme was "a missing woman", outstanding tenor Paul Appleby sang a dramatically interesting rendition of Schubert's "Alinde", giving various colors to the uneasy young man, the reaper, the fisherman, and the hunter.  Following was John Lennon's "Julia" with piano and Mr. Yang's plucked violin as the sole accompaniments.

Sensational soprano Sari Gruber performed Schubert's "Im Frühling" which was paired with "Yesterday", movingly sung by Mr. Appleby. The theme appeared to be that of lost love. Our opinion is that ballads by The Beatles best lend themselves to adaptation as pure song.

The theme of art as a comfort in times of turmoil was well addressed by multi-talented baritone Theo Hoffman accompanying himself on the guitar in Schubert's "Du bist die Ruh" which was paired with George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", performed by Ms. Gruber accompanied by guitar and Mr. Yang's violin.

The theme of wandering was explored with Schubert's lilting "Der Wanderer an den Mond" sung by the talented baritone Andrew Garland; this was paired with "She's Leaving Home", performed by Mr. Garland and Ms. Gruber.

There were several other interesting pairings and a very special duet--"If I Fell in Love with You" performed by Mr. Appleby and Mr. Garland.  It wouldn't be a NYFOS show if there weren't something with a homosexual twist.  This added an interesting new layer and delighted the audience.

There was not supposed to be an encore--but there was.  And perhaps it was the best part of the program.  In honor of Mr. Blier's recent birthday the entire cast joined forces for "When I'm 64" with Mr. Garland taking over the piano and inserting multiple riffs of some of Schubert's most famous and beloved lieder. It ended the evening on a joyful note.

It scarcely needs to be said that all the singers sang magnificently and did justice to the material; similarly it is redundant to comment on Mr. Blier's charming narration and the excellent piano playing of himself and Michael Barrett.  Charles Yang and his creativity on the violin and the surprising things he did with his electric violin (what unearthly sounds we heard!) added greatly to the success of the program.

(c) meche kroop

Sunday, December 6, 2015


Eva Giorgi, Bonnie Frauenthal, and Martin Everall

How often does one have unmitigated fun at the opera?  If you can't remember the last time, get yourself to Hunter College (Lang Recital Hall) for Utopia Opera's production of W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan's Princess Ida.  You will hear great music, laugh at funny dialogue, witness an episode of cross-dressing (gasp!) and laugh yourself silly.  And why not!!!

Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote a narrative poem in 1847 which inspired William Gilbert to adapt it as a play in 1870, utilizing music by Rossini and Offenbach. But the operetta we enjoyed last night, directed and conducted by that OTHER William (Remmers), required all new music by Arthur Sullivan. It was written at the midpoint of their Savoy partnership and is the only one of this oeuvre that is written in iambic pentameter.

Tennyson's poem, the play, and the operetta all satirize themes that were important in the second half of the 19th c. --Darwinian evolution, feminism, and the radical idea of educating women! Indeed, Tennyson wrote "The Princess" just when Queens College was opened to educate  women.

The play involves the lovely Princess Ida (beautifully sung by Bonnie Frauenthal) who refuses to go through with the marriage contracted for her when she was a year old. She has established a university for women from which men are barred.  She is adamant.  (The alternative name for the operetta is Castle Adamant.)

Her intended husband, Prince Hilarion (sweet-voiced tenor Mitchell Roe), along with his two companions-- Cyril (tenor Matthew Hughes who has the comedic style of Nathan Lane) and Florian (baritone Matthew Walsh)--must infiltrate the university dressed as women.

Princess Ida's father King Gama (played hilariously by comic baritone Martin Everall) is being held hostage by Hilarion's father King Hildebrand (bass-baritone Jack Anderson White), along with King Gama's three apelike sons Arac (Ben Cohen), Scynthius (Jonathan Dauermann), and Guron (Spencer Leopold-Cohen)--to ensure fulfillment of the contract.

The funniest lines of the libretto belong to King Gama and Mr. Everall's delivery of patter was sensational as he tries to describe why no one likes him.  (We LOVED him!).  Great amusement was provided by Lady Blanche (mezzo-soprano Eva Giorgi) who is the very strict Professor of Abstract Sciences. Her song "Come Mighty Must" was a real show-stopper. She is a most unpleasant character who wants to take control of the university.

We also enjoyed soprano Mary Langston as Lady Psyche, Professor of Humanities, and Melissa Serluco whose character falls in love with Florian, just as Lady Psyche falls for Cyril.  There is plenty of lyric romanticism along with the funny patter and it was difficult to keep a straight face.

The best part of the performance was that every role was well cast and the entire cast seemed to be having major fun.  Although the level of artistry was professional all around, the enthusiasm and involvement made us think of a school or camp performance. And we mean that in the best possible way.

Mr. Remmers conducted his chamber orchestra and wardrobe was attributed to Eric Lamp and Angel Betancourt. There was no scenery and none was needed.  The evening was all about performance.

If you cannot make today's 3:00 matinée, you will have two chances next weekend. It would be a sad thing, a VERY sad thing to miss this rarely produced operetta.

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, December 5, 2015


Tara Erraught (photo by Kristin Speed)

Some singers are equally adept at opera and art song recitals whereas others come off better in one or the other situation. We have no complaints whatsoever about the lovely recital given by Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught in her New York debut at Weill Recital Hall; but we did, however, notice a greater sense of involvement during the encores when she sang two operatic arias, the kind of involvement that says "I'm having fun and I hope you are too".

The first encore was Annetta's aria from Michael Balfe's Falstaff. We were previously unacquainted with the works of this Irish composer but we hope to remedy this situation in the future. Mr. Balfe wrote this opera in 1838, long before Verdi took it on. It is replete with thrilling bel canto flourishes and we are highly grateful to Ms. Erraught for bringing it to our attention.

We wonder if Mr. Balfe's opera might have achieved greater popularity had it not been eclipsed by Verdi's late life masterpiece. We have learned that Ms. Erraught sang this role in a recording recently made of the opera. (It is interesting that Salieri also wrote a Falstaff which was produced by Dell'Arte Opera Company in the summer of 2014). Shakespeare's works are nothing if not inspiring!

In any case, Ms. Erraught sang it with abundant charm and impressed us with her accurate handling of the florid fioritura. Similarly, (after singing Danny Boy-- and how could she not?) her performance of "Non piu mesta" from Rossini's Cenerentola was riveting.

And what shall we say about the recital per se? There was plenty to enjoy but nothing reached the heights achieved during the two operatic encores. We thought Ms. Erraught's instrument is the most soprano-y mezzo we have heard recently; her performance of six early songs by Richard Strauss impressed us with her passion and purity of tone. There is plenty of drama in these songs and the varying moods were captured--the anxiety of "Die Nacht", the enticements of "Ständchen", the longing of "Allerseelen", the passion of "Zueignung".

She opened the program with a set of songs by Liszt, who was wise enough to choose poets like Victor Hugo, Friedrich von Schiller, and Heinrich Heine. The songs were quite well performed except when the enthusiastic piano of collaborative pianist Henning Ruhe overwhelmed Ms. Erraught's voice. When the piano became more ruhevoll, she sounded fine--but it is a slender instrument.

There were two songs by Frederick Delius that were marked by some splendid English diction. The texts, based on Norwegian tales, rhymed and scanned such that Ms. Erraught was able to make good sense of them with apt phrasing. We loved the horn call in Mr. Ruhe's piano in "Twilight Fancies".

There was also a set by Roger Quilter who likewise chose his texts well.  One cannot go wrong with Shakespeare, Tennyson, and Shelley!

Brahms' songs are always a pleasure to hear and lend themselves to simple unfussy delivery which Ms. Erraught gave them--with the exception of "Mädchenfluch" which rose to the heights of passion. Perhaps we could sum things up by saying that Ms. Erraught does best when she is less measured and enjoys her passion.

(c) meche kroop

Friday, December 4, 2015


Areti Giovanou,  Thornstein Árbjörnsson, and Stefanos Koroneos
When we bring people to vocal recitals who don't speak French or German or Italian or Spanish, we have often wondered in what manner they appreciate the experience. We ourselves are familiar with the languages and relish the sound as well as the meaning. It was quite an experience to hear an entire recital in Greek and Icelandic, neither of which we speak! There was no program, no libretto, and no titles. Collaborative pianist Areti Giovanou, while a superb pianist, is no public speaker; her muffled introduction was no help whatsoever.

Consequently we just sat back and let the music wash over us, catching only a few words here and there. Baritone Stefanos Koroneos delivered the songs with intensity, sad as they were. These songs were composed by Oscar winner Greek composer Manos Xatjiidakis as part of a play called "Captain Michaelis"which was, in turn, based on Kazantjakis book " Freedom or Death". The songs were recorded for voice and piano but were orchestrated two years ago for Mr. Koroneos.

Ms. Giovanou's piano amazingly reproduced the sounds of the bouzouki which we remember from our time spent in Greece.

The Icelandic portion of the program took us back to a recital at Juilliard in which one of the students had written an opera in Icelandic.  The clipped Nordic sound lends itself very well to humor, which can also be said for English.  Tenor Thornstein Arbjörnsson has a sweet voice and an engaging manner in which he described the folk songs of his country--dealing with elves and nature. He had us smiling before he even began.

Our ears found their footing at the end of the program when the two voices joined for a beautiful duet in Italian--Rossini's "I Marinai", the final song of his Soirées Musicales, sometimes called "Li Marinari". It is a song of courage and mastery of the storm before being greeted by a rainbow and with expectations of an affectionate homecoming when back on land.

(c) meche kroop


Rachel Sterrenberg and Jarrett Ott--Opera Philadelphia Emerging Artists  

Once opera stars are "playing in the major leagues" we can no longer call them "emerging artists". What a pleasure it was to spend an hour listening to two artists already assuming major roles with Opera Philadelphia whose Emerging Artists Program is only in its second year and already a success.

Soprano Rachel Sterrenberg and baritone Jarrett Ott are both graduates of Curtis Institute. Mr. Ott is well known to us but Ms. Sterrenberg is new to us. We foresee a glorious future for both of them.

Since we love opera and we love duets, it comes as no surprise that our favorite part of the program was the father-daughter duet from Francis Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmélites--"Je vois qu'il n'y a heureusement". Mr. Ott's rich baritone and paternal concern coupled with Ms. Sterrenberg's purely voiced religious convictions had us believing the scene even taken out of context.

Their closing duet "We'll Go Away Together" from Kurt Weill's Street Scene was a more joyful one and no less enthralling.

Happily, there was more Poulenc on the program.  Happily, because both artists showed a facility with French and also because we are coming to appreciate his music more and more these days. Mr. Ott sang "Fameux représentant de toute autorité" from Les Mamelles de Tirésias. His interpretation was considerably different from the one heard at Juilliard last week. It's always interesting to hear what different artists do with the same material.

Ms. Sterrenberg performed his La Courte Paille and performed it with grace, charm and humor. We loved the lullabye "Le sommeil", the waltzy "La reine de coeur" and the adorable "Le carafon".

The remainder of the program was in English and the very first thing we observed was that EVERY WORD WAS CLEAR! Both of these artists must have had superior training in English diction. Of the Ned Rorem songs, our favorite was the evocative "Early in the Morning" from Evidence of Things Not Seen. It was beautifully sung by Ms. Sterrenberg and reminded us of being very young in Paris.

The romantic "A Glimpse" was given a special thrill by Mr. Ott's perfect vibrato.  Collaborative pianist Grant Loehnig was most impressive in "The More Loving One".  "For Poulenc" is a setting of text by Frank O'Hara and came from the 1968 cycle Four Songs.  Ms. Sterrenberg conveyed all the loneliness and disappointment in a way that touched our own feelings.  And isn't that what a song recital is all about?

Also included was John Musto's Shadow of the Blues, the four songs of which Mr. Ott delivered in an admirably non-fussy way, letting the irony, sadness, and bitterness speak for themselves.

Should you be inclined to give Jennifer Higdon's Cold Mountain another shot, you will hear Ms. Sterrenberg as Sara and you might hear Mr. Ott as Inman since he is covering the role. Worth a trip to Philadelphia?  We think so!

The program was part of a series--Opera America's Emerging Artist Recital Series. It is worth joining this valuable institution if only for the tickets to this series!

(c) meche kroop

Thursday, December 3, 2015


Grace Canfield, Allison Porter, Cristobal Arias, Katelan Terrell, Cristina Stanescu, Caitlin Redding, Matthew Swensen, William Kelley, Sora Jung ,Ho Jae Lee, Nathan Raskin

It was another thrilling early evening liederabend at Juilliard and the hall was packed. Five superb singers joined with five collaborative pianists for a pleasant respite from the Xmas shopping chaos outside.  The performances were all excellent; we would expect no less.

It's possible to admire all the artists and yet to single out a couple that for one reason or another affect us more deeply.  We suspect it has something to do with the mood we are in or the choice of material. We sometimes hear an artist on another occasion and have very different feelings.  So...here goes.

We were absolutely enchanted by two tenors, which, in itself is remarkable because we get very turned off if a tenor pushes his high notes.  (We actually feel the tension in our own throat and it hurts!) What a surprise to learn that Cristobal Arias is just a sophomore in the Vocal Arts Department. He performed Beethoven's song cycle An die ferne Geliebte, and he performed it magnificently.

This cycle is Beethoven at his most melodic and the melodies have been running through our head all night. Unlike Schubert's cycles, this one does not tell a story. Rather, all the songs revolve around the central theme of longing for a distant beloved. They are best sung simply without spurious dramatic effects and this is exactly how they were performed. 

Mr. Arias has a gentle sweet tone and made liberal use of dynamic variety from the very start. In "Leichte Segler in den Höhen" he sang with marcato emphasis and in "Diese Wolken in den Höhen" he sang with a lovely lilting quality. He ended the cycle with intensity and passion. We were, as they say, "feelin' it".

The cycle was performed without breaks and his piano partner Katelan Terrell was delightful in the interludes which knit the songs together. We loved the way she captured the nature sounds and it was clear that she was enjoying herself.

The second tenor was quite different but equally impressive. Accompanied by Ho Jae Lee, he sang a trio of songs by Francis Poulenc whom we are coming to appreciate more and more. His instrument is a rich one with an interesting velvety texture and a pleasing resonance; his technique is flawless. His involvement in the material was intense and sustained right through the silences. He drew us into the text from the very beginning and by the time he got to the setting of Appolinaire's "Bleuet" we were close to tears.  That's communing with the audience!

We also heard three fine women whom we enjoyed a great deal. The glamorously gowned soprano Grace Canfield, ably accompanied by Nathan Raskin, has a bright sound that opens at the top like a parasol. She sang two selections from Liszt's Tre sonetti del Petrarca--"Pace non trovo" and "I' vidi in terra", and she sang them with intensity and urgency.

Soprano Allison Porter, accompanied by Sora Jung, introduced us to some early 20th c. French songs by Louis Beydts. The texts of the cycle Chansons pour les oiseaux were mostly nonsensical and Ms. Porter succeeded in bringing out the humor with her bubbly personality.

And finally, mezzo Caitlin Redding performed a trio of selections from Claude Debussy's settings of Cinq Poèmes de Baudelaire. They are a far cry from the no nonsense realistic depiction of longing in the Beethoven cycle; au contraire, they are filled with metaphor and imagery.  Similarly the music is radically different from Beethoven's direct illumination of a feeling but rather indirect and impressionistic. William Kelley performed well as piano partner.

The singers were coached by Cristina Stanescu who deserves to be pleased as punch.

Now wasn't that a better way to spend an hour than shopping??  You betcha'!

(c) meche kroop


Wednesday, December 2, 2015


Julia Dawson and John Holiday as Emilia and Caesar in Vivaldi's Catone in Utica (photo by Louis Forget)

Opera librettists often play fast and loose with history and Pietro Metastsio's libretto for Antonio Vivaldi's Catone in Utica is no exception.  Do we care?  Truthfully, not very much. But we did very much enjoy Maestro Ryan Brown's introductory lecture which enhanced our experience last night of Opera Lafayette's production at the perfectly suitable theater of John Jay College.

This seems to be our week for a side of education with our feast of entertainment. We learned that Metastasio, a highly celebrated Roman educated in the law, wrote two versions of the story--the first set by Leonardo Vinci which was a failure.  Romans of the early 18th c. were unhappy with his violation of the convention against showing death onstage. (Imagine all the wonderful Italian operas written in the 19th c. and how they would play out without the death scene!  Perish forbid!) Therefore, Cato's grisly self disembowelment could not be shown.

His second version (set by Vivaldi and several other composers) left the ending ambiguous or had Cato commit suicide offstage.  We did not see the version performed at Glimmerglass but last night's performance appeared to have an almost happy ending with Cato walking offstage--which ended the otherwise thrilling evening in a not quite satisfying manner.

It is always a special event when Opera Lafayette visits from our nation's capitol, usually bringing a delectable and overlooked French opera. This time they brought a largely forgotten Italian Baroque opera composed toward the end of Vivaldi's life. Of this prolific composer's oeuvre, barely twenty opera scores survived. In point of fact, the music for Act I was lost but the clever director Tazewell Thompson utilized the overture (borrowed from another Vivaldi opera) to introduce the characters onstage with some illustrative comments on the surtitle screen--a most successful ploy to replace a perhaps boring exposition.

The story concerns the intransigent and uncompromising Cato in opposition to the conquering Caesar who was here depicted, not as a tyrranical dictator, but as a swell fella, cheerful and ready to compromise. Metastasio invented a love story between Caesar and Cato's daughter which causes the rigid and unlikable Cato to disown his daughter in a most ugly fashion. Se non è vero, è ben trovato!

As to the music, Opera Lafayette achieved a stunning success, thanks to apt casting and the truly excellent Opera Lafayette Orchestra, the string section of which was called upon to limn the action with painterly color; Vivaldi himself was a gifted violinist.  Significant contributions came from the oboe which sang of nature,  the trumpets which blared of battle, and the valveless horns which referenced the wounded lion. The superb continuo, comprising Andrew Appel at the harpsichord, Loretta O'Sullivan on the cello, and Michael Leopold on the guitar and theorbo, supported the unusually expressive recitativi.

The singers all had superb voices and acting skills, making the far-fetched completely believable. We are very fond of the countertenor fach and it was quite a treat to hear two of them side by side and to hear the subtle differences.

The role of Cesare was performed by John Holiday whose tone is larger than most. His vocal colors varied widely from his legato love aria toward Cato's daughter Marzia to his whooping upward glissandi while threatening battle. Mr. Holiday is truly a stage animal.

In the smaller role of Fulvio, Caesar's lieutenant, Eric Jurenas exhibited a lighter sound that was pleasant to the ear.

There were three mezzo-sopranos in the cast.  Julia Dawson, well remembered from her major George London award last winter, put heart and soul into her portrayal of Emilia, the widow of Pompey, who is seeking revenge against Caesar. We have written about the many shades of sadness in Schubert's song cycles; here, Ms. Dawson created the many shades of anger. Her voice, like Mr. Holiday's, is a force of nature and she acts in such a visceral manner, using her entire body, that we were actually feeling it. Her handling of the fioritura was nothing short of dazzling.

Anna Reinhold's Marzia was a different kind of performance. Vivaldi did not give this character much to sing in the way of memorable arias but she was incredibly musical in the recitativi. Her voice is on the slender side and was overwhelmed by the orchestra when she was in the middle and lower part of her range. At the upper register she came through perfectly.

Marguerite Krull performed the pants role of the prince Arbace, an ally of Cato's, who was promised Marzia's hand. It was painful to watch her reject his advances, even as she occasionally seemed to lead him on. But, Marzia is in love with Caesar and will defy her father and the entire world to have him.

As the eponymous Cato, tenor Thomas Michael Allen gave an excellent portrayal of the stubborn holdout against Caesar, but the deck is stacked against him. Without substantial arias to show off, he was obliged to use the recitativi to convey both his higher quality of idealism and his negative quality of stubbornness.  His unsympathetic character was difficult to relate to but that seems to us to be the mark of a fine performance.

Costume Consultant Sara Jean Tosetti dressed all the characters in modern attire and the nearly bare stage (a simple metal throne for Cato and a few upturned sarcophagi) was sensitively lit by Lighting Designer Amith Chandrashaker--a simple wash of color on the back wall, corresponding to the mood of the scene.

Opera Lafayette will return in February with Emmanuel Chabrier's Une Education Manquée. We are filled with anticipation for another major success.

(c) meche kroop