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.

Sunday, May 31, 2015


César Delgado

How many wonderful Mexican tenors can you name? Although Placido Domingo was born in Madrid, he was vocally trained in Mexico. Rolando Villazon's debut sent an earthquake through the opera world.  Javier Camarena actually had an encore in La Cenerentola last year at the Metropolitan Opera, a very rare event.  Could César Delgado be the next big discovery? After hearing his recital at Mannes this afternoon, celebrating his being awarded a Professional Artists Diploma, we consider him a strong front-runner.

We first heard Mr. Delgado at the Hispanic Society of America some months ago (review archived) and couldn't wait to hear him again. They must have some excellent training in Mexico; Mr. Delgado received his Artists Diploma from the Sinaloa Opera Program. 
He opened this afternoon's program with Tata Nacho's "Intima" and one could tell immediately that his instrument is an impressive one.  It filled the hall where a lesser voice might not have cut through Alla Milchtein's enthusiastic accompaniment on the piano. "Despedida" by Maria Grever followed and it became evident that Mr. Delgado knows how to express Latin passion. We feared we would overdose on romance.

"Mario's Farewell" from Daniel Catán's last opera Il Postino, made famous by Placido Domingo, was given a winning and moving performance. The Mexican section ended with "Dime que sì" by Esparza Otero. Mr. Delgado can end a song in a burst of passion or with a delicate diminuendo.

The second half of the program showed what Mr. Delgado could do in other languages and rest assured there was no loss of involvement in the material. In charmingly accented English, he expressed exactly what one would have wishes from Tony's aria "Maria" from Bernstein's West Side Story.

Rachmaninoff's "Spring Waters" clearly showed how Russian passion and Spanish passion are akin to one another. Lehar's "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" from Das Land des Lächelns showed good facility with German.  "Questa o Quella" from Verdi's Rigoletto gave Mr. Delgado an opportunity to change from a tender romantic to an arrogant Duke; he succeeded admirably.

The closing number, the familiar "No puede ser" from Sorozabal's La Tabernera del Puerto came at just the moment when we were thinking about zarzuela. We can never get enough vocal music in the Spanish language. We have been hearing it on programs more and more recently. Our fondest dream would be to see a complete zarzuela performed. Is anyone listening?

A sincerely wished-for encore delighted us no end--Agustin Lara's "Granada", calling forth our memories of having visited the Alhambra. Good music will do that to you!

Mr. Delgado is off to Italy where he will sing the role of Nemorino. We don't doubt that he can lay aside his confident manner to portray the shy hero. We wish we could be there to witness.

(c) meche kroop


Renate Rohlfing and Julia Bullock

It was excessively warm and close inside of St. Michaels's Church on the Upper West Side where Carnegie Hall offered one of its neighborhood concerts yesterday. Nonetheless, the church was packed with worshippers--music worshippers!  Even the priest noticed that the church had never been that full.

The air was still.  The worshippers were still. No one dared risk missing a single note of what amounted to a devout performance. Soprano Julia Bullock is nothing if not devout in her commitment to vocal artistry. It is not just the superlative soprano instrument but the fact that she serves the music and text equally, while serving up her soul from deep within.  Every song is filtered through her personalized nature and made her own. Do we sound like a fan? We are in good company. There are so many of us.

Accompanied by the gentle hands of collaborative pianist Renate Rohlfing, Ms. Bullock began her program with a startling work by John Cage on prepared piano entitled "She is Asleep". The vocal sounds and the piano sounds were novel--meaningless syllables, something sounding like bird calls, all expressed with variety of color and dynamics. Who else could have sung this?

The pair of artists then shifted from this 1943 work to a 1960 cycle by Francis Poulenc entitled La courte paille, setting of texts by Maurice Carême, composed toward the end of Poulenc's life. We are not sure why the title "the short straw" was chosen. The songs refer to childhood--a tender lullaby entitled "Le sommeil", some fantasies "Quelle aventure!" and "Le carafon" (our personal favorite), and a few surrealistic pieces. All were performed with a depth of understanding that was communicated successfully to the audience.

Modest Mussorgsky's The Nursery always delights us. A good performance of these songs requires that the singer draw forth images of childhood innocence and curiosity; this, Ms. Bullock accomplished completely. Even her appearance was transformed and one could easily picture her as the child relating to her nanny, her fear of the bogeyman, her wish to hear good stories, her saying her prayers, her request for her mother's sympathy. We sat transfixed.

Songs by Samuel Barber followed with the strange "My Lizard", the accessible "The Daisies" and "Nuvoletta" from James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake which seemed to be a tale of suicide obscured by wordplay. As the character leans over the "bannistars", Ms. Bullock leaned over the strings of the piano. We felt a chill.

Richard Strauss' Drei Lieder der Ophelia were movingly sung and Ms. Bullock seguéd directly into the fine spiritual Harry T. Burleigh's "Deep River" and closed with Billy Taylor's "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free".

As encore, we heard "La Conga Blicoti", popularized by Josephine Baker. It was a generous performance by a most generous artist and her fine accompanist.  Bravissime!

(c) meche kroop


Byron Singleton and Anna Farysej

Jacques Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffman is one of our favorite French operas--loved for its three very different heroines and for the role of the Muse, even though Hoffman is the main character and has the largest part.

Vocal Productions NYC, in what we believe to be their fourth season, has given New York City two weekends of this gripping work and has put their own stamp on it, as most companies do, since the work has many versions.  We cannot recall seeing any two productions that rendered it in the same manner. This production followed the order of acts designated by Offenbach but avoided Offenbach's intention to have the three loves portrayed by the same singer. We were happy about this because we had the opportunity to hear three different sopranos do what they did best.

Much of the credit goes to Conductor Jason C. Tramm and his magic baton, bringing out aspects of the orchestration that we never noticed before.  We would be surprised if he did not interpolate some rarely performed music.  At least we heard it anew and with great freshness. Solos were particularly excellent, especially that of the clarinet. Francisco Miranda, Artistic Coordinator and Associate Conductor, was at the piano. The theater at Washington Irving High School has a marvelous period feel but no orchestra pit. The downside was that several voices failed to sail above or through the orchestral output.

More credit goes to Director Kevin Courtemanche who did much with little resources by virtue of a keen imagination. He brought the action into vaguely contemporary times without doing any damage to the story. We still have writers who ruin their lives with drink and ill-advised love affairs. They still have companions who act as muses, trying to get them to focus on their art. And they still have nemeses who always turn up to spoil their fun.

The most impressive performances were those of the sopranos creating the roles of Hoffman's three loves. Anna Farysej gave a stunning portrayal of Antonia, the doomed singer under the "care" of the evil Dr. Miracle. Not only did she excel vocally in her introductory aria "Elle a fuit, la tourterelle", but also in her duet with Hoffman. We have written about Ms. Farysej for a few years now and have enjoyed watching her growth as an artist. When she sang of the fragility of the rose, one understood through her dramatic artistry and vocal coloring, that Antonia was aware of her own fragility. It was a memorable performance and should lead to future performances with other companies, or so we hope.

Soprano Monica Pasquini created an equally memorable Olympia. Director Courtemanche created a scene out of Bride of Frankenstein in which, sporting a scary black and white wig, red minidress and red boots she wiggled and bopped around the stage until ready to pass out. Dr. Spalanzani (Jared Goldstein) revived her with cardiac paddles emitting clouds of smoke. Theatrics aside, Ms. Pasquini's coloratura was right on the mark and served the character well in "Les oiseaux dans la charmille".

Soprano Su-Ling Huang seemed a counter-intuitive choice for Giulietta inasmuch as her tiny frame would never have convinced as a famous 19th c. courtesan but did just fine as the hostess of this strange costume party dressed like Anna May Wong. Again, the voice worked well for the part.  The duet barcarolle "Belle Nuit" was lovely except that Emma Lavandier did not project over the orchestra, a pity because her acting was excellent. This deficiency marred a performance that was dramatically believable. Only the top of her register rang out. The middle and lower parts got lost.

Tenor Byron Singleton sang the punishing role of Hoffman with distinction but would have profited by better costuming and a wig. How odd that costumer Sangying Li exhibited such creativity with the other characters but put Mr. Singleton in a suit, tie and trench coat. It was difficult to think of him as a troubled poet! 

There was no problem believing the booming voiced bass Claudio Mascharenas as the collective nemeses Lindorf, Coppelius, Dr. Miracle, and Dappertutto. His large frame and imposing posture served him well and the threat was palpable. He made ample use of vocal coloring and varied between intensely dramatic gesture and stolid menace.

Excellent in several roles (Cochenille, Pittichinaccio, and Andreas) was Sam Varhan who lent a note of comic relief as Franz, the deaf servant of Antonia's father Crespel (Bill Atkinson, who also serves as Chorus Director). The chorus was fine musically but required crisper diction.

Mairi Mason appeared briefly as Stella, the opera singer who represents the embodiment of all Hoffman desires. Antonia's mother, as conjured by Dr. Miracle, was performed by Zhanka Melnechuk whose voice also failed to cut through the orchestra. Gene Howard had the role of tavernkeeper Luther and Victor Chapman sang Hermann and Schlemil.

The simple set is credited to Kent Gasser with special mention of the gondola in which Giulietta departs. Effective lighting by Serena Wong provided variety. We were sorry that Antigoni Gaitana's excellent supertitles were only intermittently legible, varying with the lighting of the set.

(c) meche kroop

Friday, May 29, 2015


Talise Trevigne and Sophie Junker (photo by Louis Forget)

There is nothing secret about our affection for Opera Lafayette and our excitement when they come up from Washington D.C., always bringing a delicious confection for our delectation.  Founded twenty years ago by Conductor and Artistic Director Ryan Brown, this highly regarded ensemble of period instrumentalists specializes in neglected French masterpieces of the pre-classical and classical period.

Last night, comfortably ensconced in the Florence Gould Hall of the French Institute Alliance Française, we totally forgot that we were in New York City in the 21st c.  We were transported to the newly born 19th c. in New Orleans (a time and place of which we are inordinately fond, as regular readers will recall). We are surrounded not by New York opera lovers but by a tri-cultural audience eager for the latest import from France, particularly from l’opéra comique. The pieces were closer to our present day musical theater than they were to opera which generally comprised tragédie lyrique, telling of gods, goddesses and heroes. These confections focused on the "common folk".

André Grétry was one of the musical superstars of the age and his L’Épreuve Villageoise premiered in Versailles in 1784 as a more serious work under a different title. Queen Marie-Antoinette, known to play at the simple country life herself, shared with the attendant aristocracy a lack of interest in the noble characters, preferring the subplot which was written for comic relief.  Thus, the romantic intrigues of the rustic characters were extracted, retitled, and performed regularly in France and then exported all over the world with a new title. These light-hearted works of the period had small casts and simple sets with spoken dialogue that was easy to translate. Thus they became, with the help of the Marquis de Lafayette, representative of French culture worldwide.

This point was made during the overture as the gaily costumed characters manipulated the three curtains on which were painted a small house, a large plantation, and a shaded glen. Placards in several languages announcing the work were exchanged several times with the ultimate one announcing the work as being performed at the St. Pierre theater in New Orleans. One got the impression of a traveling team of vaudevillians.

The story is a simple one. Young Denise (Pascale Beaudin) is being courted by two men—the farmer André (tenor Francisco Fernández) whom she loves but whose jealousy has troubled her, and Monsieur La France (baritone Thomas Dolié), the pompous overseer of a plantation who had previously courted her mother Madame Hubert (mezzo-soprano Talise Trevigne). Mother and daughter collaborate to teach both men a lesson.

The vocal lines and text (by Pierre Desforges) set Monsieur La France apart in both style and content from the three “peasants” who sang more simply. Although the solos were wonderful we were most interested in the blending of voices in the trios and quartets. The dance numbers were colorful and captivating, as choreographed by Aaron R. White, whose own dancing was nimble and brilliant.  Kendra Rai’s costume design was perfect—a kind of glorified representation of plantation workers. Slavery was never indicated!

Nick Olcott’s direction kept things moving and motivated, effectively using the cutouts in the hanging curtains (set design by Luciana Stecconi) for characters to spy on one another. The sextet of choristers added greatly to the proceedings—not just vocally but choreographically. 

The period instrument orchestra astonished us with their virtuosity. The strings were sweet with Claire Jolivet as Concertmaster. We loved the sound of the valveless horns, as well as the period oboes and flutes. Andrew Appel sounded just fine on the harpsichord.

What fun it was to pretend we were in the “there and then” instead of the “here and now”!

© meche kroop

Sunday, May 24, 2015


Önay Köse, James Edgar Knight, Joshua Gersen, Avery Amereau, and Raquel González

As if Beethoven's Ninth Symphony were not sufficiently thrilling, we got to witness the Carnegie Hall debuts of four of our favorite Juilliard graduates who took on the roles of soloists in the famous fourth movement--The Ode to Joy.  What a joyful afternoon it was for performers, audience, and for us. 

In the lyrical third movement (Adagio molto e cantabile) a rising fanfare announces the excitement to come. The impressive New York Youth Symphony, which has been performing for over a half century, showed particular strength in the lower strings with dynamic control and clarity of attack.

And then bass Önay Köse took over the bass solo with his booming voice and majestic phrasing. An emotionally penetrating sound was achieved by tenor James Edgar Knight.  The voices of mezzo-soprano Avery Amereau and soprano Raquel González literally sailed over the orchestra.

The New York Choral Society, under the direction of David Hayes, handled the rest with crisp diction and a warm sound perfectly suited to the inspiring text. The entire affair was conducted by Joshua Gerson who was far more intense in his conducting than in a prior work.  It was as if the majesty of the music brought out the best in everyone.  Even the unruly horns were on their best behavior.

This was our second Beethoven symphony this week and we never fail to appreciate the master's sense of structure and inventiveness, not to mention the unity of the movements achieved by motifs running throughout. In this piece however, we always feel as if we are at a splendid meal but somehow aware of the dessert to come--the sweetness of brotherhood and the mood of rejoicing.

The curtain raiser was Rossini's Overture to La Gazza Ladra in which the energetic young conductor Harrison Hollingsworth created quite a riveting figure on the podium with his flowing blond locks and athletic body. The young musicians responded well to his intense style.  A drumroll paved the way for a theme in march rhythm with those unruly horns cracking left and right. Following on its heels a familiar theme in the strings that is quintessential Rossini. A spritely way to begin the afternoon!

The remainder of the first half of the program comprised the première of an interesting piece by the young Molly Joyce entitled Fresh, which was commissioned by the New York Youth Symphony's First Music program.  It stood very well on its own merits except for needing more of a climax. Ms. Joyce wrote in the program that she aimed to have the orchestra take over the rhythm of the percussion section.  This, sadly, we did not hear but that is a small matter since the piece spoke for itself of a budding compositional talent. What we did like was the portentous nature of the theme in the drums and lower strings. 

It was a pleasure not only to see our much admired singers onstage but to hear the fine accomplishments of the New York Youth Symphony. The organization is nationally recognized for orchestral training, conducting, chamber music, jazz and composition--all tuition-free, made possible by scholarships on merit-based auditions. Talented teens need apply.

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, May 23, 2015


Alan Gilbert conducting Juilliard Orchestra (photo by Chris Lee)

Maestro Alan Gilbert has been music director of the New York Philharmonic for the past six years and also serves as director of conducting and orchestral studies at The Juilliard School. If we had a private moment with him we would love to ask him whether the musicians of the former could deliver a better performance than the Juilliard Orchestra did last night.  We doubt it. We are not sure what percentage of the musicians are graduating but it’s certain that this particular group will never play together again and this may have been responsible for the intensity and excitement of their performance.

Mr. Gilbert is an uncommonly lively conductor, using not just his hands, not just his upper body, but his entire body, making the performance a dance-like event.  We got The Full Monty!  This total involvement served to bring out the best in his young musicians and we think any orchestra in the world would be fortunate to have a Juilliard graduate as a member.

The program was well chosen—Richard Strauss’ 1888 tone poem Don Juan and Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony which premiered in 1813. Both works delight our 19th c. ears and we found ourselves wondering why contemporary symphonic music is so unlistenable. Until a composer comes along who can engage us we will just be obliged to stick to the masters. And what masters they were!

Composers of lieder found poetry that they liked and supported it, amplified it and explored it through the means of voice and piano, with another instrument occasionally thrown into the mix. The text seems to float on the surface of the music. Composers of symphonic tone poems also used literary devices but more as inspiration.  Strauss was inspired by the Nikolaus Lenau version of the Don Juan tale in which the hero is more of a romantic dreamer than an entitled rogue.  He supposedly was searching for his romantic ideal—a woman who embodied all women, an überfrau, if you will.

Perhaps we were not able to hear all this in the work but what we did hear was thrilling—the rousing opening theme followed by a more lyric one introduced by the compelling concertmaster Simon Michal. There was a frisky theme and a somber one, with brass fanfares interrupting periodically. The ending did suggest the death of the Don, announced by strings and kettle drum. One could certainly hear the fading heartbeat.

In the Beethoven, the first movement was introduced by rising scale passages and octave skips. The themes were clearly laid out in classical fashion and the carefully worked out development section revealed the master’s genius. When he dips into the minor key it is wrenching. We have heard so-called musical experts claim that Beethoven was not a good melodist but relied solely on rhythm. We disagree. The melodies of this work are memorable and hummable. The part with which we do agree is that Beethoven used rhythm most effectively with phrases crisply articulated.

The second movement appeared to belong to the strings with the lower strings introducing a somber theme which was picked up and expanded by the violins.  The theme was developed with endless inventiveness and intricacy.  Not one note or phrase of this was missed by Maestro Gilbert and the Juilliard Orchestra. As we heard in the development section of the first movement, there were compelling contributions from the winds.

The energetic third movement leaned heavily on rhythm as the theme bounced around from one section of the orchestra to the other. The excitement was palpable. The final movement gave conductor and musicians alike a real workout. The entire symphony pulses with life and enjoys a unity that many symphonies do not. 

The program notes indicate that Beethoven contributed this work to a concert to benefit troops wounded in the Battle of Hanau, fought to prevent Napoleon’s retreat back to France after his ill-advised land grabs. Actually, the Austro-Bavarian corps lost the battle which is immortalized in Horace Vernet’s painting held at the National Gallery of London. War is an ill wind that blows some good when it inspires art and music.

© meche kroop

Thursday, May 21, 2015


Michelle Bradley and Michael Gaertner

As part of Opera America's Emerging Artist Recital Series, Marilyn Horne Song Competition Winners of 2014 presented a recital at the National Opera Center. Ms. Horne and the Music Academy of the West foster young artists with high potential and soprano Michelle Bradley and collaborative pianist Michael Gaertner certainly demonstrated high potential last night. This was the final stop on a tour that these two artists were awarded along with cash prizes.

Ms. Bradley's voice somehow made us think of a sunflower--a sturdy stem with a huge bloom on the top. She is one of those singers employing an economy of gesture with much of her expressiveness showing mainly in her face. The most remarkable thing about her recital was her perfect English diction. We grow weary of complaining about otherwise fine singers whose English leaves us wondering what in the world they were singing about.  Not so here!

Toward the end of the recital, this talented duo performed a cycle previously unknown to us--Five Songs of Laurence Hope.  This is a pseudonym for Adela Florence Nicolson whose text was set by H.T. Burleigh. The poetry was exotic and interesting and Mr. Burleigh's music quite lovely. The voice and piano were equally fine and we particularly noted the exoticism in the piano. Mr. Gaertner is a fine collaborative artist--the kind that breathes with the singer, attentive and supportive. His presence is however suitably authoritative.  He commands the piano.

The sincerity of the spirituals which followed--"Give Me Jesus" and "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands"-- was unmistakable and clearly the audience was touched by Ms. Bradley's communicative skills. Even more astonishing was her comfort while sitting at the piano accompanying herself in a work she wrote entitled "Trust".

Ms.Bradley has an ample voice, perhaps heading into the dramatic soprano fach. How well she negotiated the highs and lows of "Vissi d'Arte" from Puccini's Tosca.  And how we wished for some dynamic variety! 

This was true to a lesser extent in the difficult concert aria with which she began the program--Beethoven's "Ah! Perfido", which we had just heard Sunday. The woman singing the aria has been dumped by her lover and she is alternatively furious, imploring and pitiable. We heard a nice blend of chest and head voice on the low notes and an impressive flight of scales at the end. But we longed for more variety of color and dynamics.  We are sure this will develop in time.

A set of French songs followed and we didn't find them to be the best choice for the singer at this stage of her development. For one thing, the diction was wanting and so was the phrasing and Gallic style. Clearly the songs were learned phonetically.  In Fauré's "Notre amour", she lightened up somewhat to good advantage but variety of color in the description of love by Armand Silvestre begged for some distinction between "chose légère", "chose charmante", "chose sacrée", "chose infinie", and "chose éternelle".  A singer could have a field day coloring each verse!

Mr. Gaertner's piano was particularly fine in the arpeggios of Bachelet's "Chère nuit".

We found similar flaws of diction and phrasing in a set of Strauss songs. As many American singers do, Ms. Bradley cannot pronounce the "ch" sound.  We didn't hear it at all or we heard something like "ish". This could easily be corrected.

We did like the way she became more gentle in "Freundliche Vision" allowing some more expressiveness to come into the voice and we liked the change of color in "Cäcilie" when the middle verse of Heinrich Hart's text describes the dread of lonely nights. So what we are looking for is not out of her reach.

Hers is a large instrument and perhaps it will take considerable training to bring it under dynamic control and to produce more colors. We think it will be worth the work or we would not have coaxed ourselves into identifying the shortcomings.

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, May 20, 2015


Trixie La Fée
Trixie La Fée

Baroquen Wings

Trixie La Fée
Since a picture is worth a thousand words, dear reader, we will spare you lengthy copy (4000 words?) about the lovely ladies and handsome gentleman who who manage to give operatic arias their full artistic due while shedding their beautiful Angela Huff costumes. If you scroll down to the April archives you can read all the juicy details from April 22nd, including the real names of these entertaining artists. We hope you will be inspired to attend an upcoming performance of the Hot Box Girls at Duane Park on the Bowery.

Last night's program involved some new material which was just as impressive as last month's, with the added inducement of the aerial artistry of Baroquen Wings. Often have we protested opera directors who expect the singers to sing from unusual positions.  In this case, the singers themselves have chosen the unusual positions. It stumps us, trying to figure out how they can produce such marvelous sounds with all the attendant musicality of phrasing while performing as ecdysiasts.

Don't take our word for it!  Go see for yourselves. 

(c) meche kroop

Monday, May 18, 2015


Eve Queler and Friends

Eve Queler's claim to fame is not just her astute conducting of rarely heard operas at Carnegie Hall but, among other talents, her discovery and nurture of young artists and putting them before the public. It was a very special treat to return last night to the acoustically amazing Church of the Blessed Sacrament to enjoy what felt like a party for performers and their fans.

The Maestra herself performed most of the piano accompaniment and a superb chamber orchestra was on hand to add to the texture of the music. Several familiar faces were there and some new ones as well, singing highlights from past performances.

We were delighted to have the opportunity to hear soprano Jessica Rose Cambio who performed "Non so le tetre immagini" from Verdi's Il Corsaro which she sang with great depth of feeling. Her voice opens up at the top like an umbrella and she trills like a canary. She also sang "Tu del mio Carlo al seno" from Verdi's I Masnadieri, accompanied this time by the fine pianist Douglas Martin. The work has lovely arpeggios and a joyful staccato cabaletta.

Soprano Marsha Thompson  performed "Robert, toi que j'aime" from Meyerbeer's Robert le Diable.  (And just last night we heard Michael Fennelly play "The Nun's Dance" from the same opera!) There are some lovely descending scale passages and the accompaniment was largely in the hands of oboist Melanie Feld. Mr. Martin was her piano accompanist for "Col sorriso d'innocenza" from Bellini's Il Pirata in which Ms. Thompson showed herself to be a fine bel canto artist with some lovely embellishments and a very fiery cabaletta.

Bass Sava Vemić was a revelation  in "Si la rigeur" from Halévy's La Juive. He employed his deep earthy resonance to portray Cardinal Brogni commuting the sentence on Eléazar and his daughter. He exhibited plenty of depth at the bottom of his register and was convincingly forgiving. In "O tu Palermo" from Verdi's I Vespri Siciliani he delivered Procida's powerful paean to his homeland, accompanied by an appealing theme on the cello played by Eugene Moya.

Tenor Jonathan Blalock employed a pleasing tone in "Vainement, ma bien-aimée" from Lalo's Le Roi d'Ys.  This Aubade has the quality of a serenade and was beautifully accompanied by Elizabeth Mann's flute and Steven Hartman's clarinet. We further enjoyed Mr. Blalock's artistry in "Viens gentile dame" from Boieldieu's La Dame Blanche, filled with romantic eagerness.

There was no shortage of terrific tenors.  William Davenport used his sweet voice with its ringing top in "O paradis!" from Meyerbeer's L'Africaine accompanied by Erica Kiesewetter's violin. He invested "E la solita storia" from Cilea's L'Arlesiana with a great deal of pathos, accompanied by flute and violin.

Baritone Joshua Benaim performed "Vision fugitive!" from Massenet's Hérodiade with ample passion and good command of tone. We liked his "Vien, Leonore" from Donizetti's La Favorita even more with its typical bel canto arpeggios.

Benjamin Herman handled the percussion for the evening and Veronica Salas was the violist. What a pleasure to reconnect with operas heard only once and heard long ago! It was a time to meet old friends!

(c) meche kroop


John Parr and Heidi Melton

Just another big beautiful gal with a big beautiful voice?  Not exactly. Dramatic soprano Heidi Melton has been garnering awards and plum roles for the past nine years or so and was presented yesterday at the Schimmel Center of Pace University as part of their Rising Opera Stars in Recital series.

Such honors and accolades do not come easily and much work evidently went into Ms. Melton's seemingly effortless  performance.  She credited John Parr, her collaborative pianist and coach, with encouraging her to explore the Wagner repertory.  Apparently she picked up that ball and ran with it all the way to the goalpost.

Following Beethoven's concert aria "Ah! Perfido", Ms. Melton gifted us with Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder, a quintet of wondrous songs which Wagner set to poetry by Mathilde Wesendonck. What we love about these songs is the variation of mood, giving the soprano many opportunities to express herself through word coloring.

The gentle quietude of "Der Engel" was followed by the propulsive quality of "Stehe Still!".  Only in the last verse do we feel the sustained rapturous mood in the words "versinken" and "verstummt". Our favorite in this group is always "Im Treibhaus" in which the rising sequence of four notes in a scale passage bring to mind the composer's Tristan und Isolde. How can just four notes do this???  Amazing! The room was so still we were sure the audience was collectively holding their breath.

In "Schmerzen", Ms. Melton allowed her voice to expand to its fullest which is full indeed. But she brought it back for "Träume" and built slowly to a climax.

We have only good things to say about Claude Debussy's Chansons de Bilitis to text by Pierre Louÿs. The impressionistic music serves the poetry and Ms. Melton served the music. The work takes us out of our world and to a magical place.

Recently brought under the umbrella of works we enjoy are Alban Berg's Sieben Frühe Lieder. It takes a good interpreter to make sense of the vocal lines which are not nearly as accessible as those of Schubert, Schumann and Brahms. But Ms. Melton is a fine musician as well as a fine singer and we enjoyed them, especially "Die Nachtigall" in which she allowed her voice to expand at the top of her register.

The final set comprised songs by Kurt Weill. In "Je ne t'aime pas", we enjoyed Ms. Melton's French, especially in the pianissimo passages which drew us in.  Only a few words at the top of her register got lost.

Interestingly, her English diction was so superb  in "September Song" from Knickerbocker Holiday, "Stay Well" from Lost in the Stars, and "My Ship" from Lady in the Dark that we didn't miss a single word! Regular readers will recall how often I complain about needing titles for songs in English.  No problem with that here.

As encore, the old Irving Berlin song "Always" delighted the audience. It was a privilege to hear a wonderful dramatic soprano whose instrument is outstanding and who is also a fine musician. We would like to add that Mr. Parr was with her every step of the way, always supportive and never overwhelming.

(c) meche kroop

Sunday, May 17, 2015


Percy Martinez, Veronica Loiacono, Therese Panicali, Judith Fredricks, Michael Fennelly, Jodi Karem, Edgar Jaramillo, Roberto Borgatti, Chaz'men Williams-Ali

Summer has arrived and it is a good time to enjoy our favorite pastimes in less formal settings. Opera New York, founded by diva/director/teacher/coach/impressario Judith Fredricks has a program called "Opera Goes to the Cabaret" in which emerging artists, coached by Ms. Fredricks and accompanied by the amazingly versatile pianist Michael Fennelly, have a chance to show their stuff in an intimate studio environment. The audience has a chance to relax at table seating and sip wine while enjoying the delicious fruits of the hard work of these artists.

Ms. Fredricks has a knack for finding promising talent and bringing out the best in them. What they all have in common is that they sing from the heart--something which Ms. Fredricks emphasizes in her coaching. It's quite a challenge to convey the sense of an aria extracted from an opera and isolated from all staging and costuming. The fact that we felt immersed in the opera when only a small piece was performed is evidence of the success of the approach. It's kind of an artistic hologram.

Take, for example, the terrific tenor Edgar Jaramillo who embodied all the joy of "Recondita armonia" and the painful final words of Mario Cavaradossi facing death in "E lucevan le stelle" from Puccini's Tosca. In the former we could see him comparing Tosca's eyes with those in the portrait he was painting and in the latter we could see the stars and inhale the fragrance of the night.  Now THAT"S acting. Add to that his warm rich voice and stress-free technique and there is a performance to remember. 

Furthermore, he "plays well with others" as witnessed by the stellar duet "O soave fanciulla" from Puccini's La Boheme that he sang with soprano Veronica Loiacono. This stunning soprano made a fine Mimi and also excelled in her solo "Song to the Moon" from Dvorak's Russalka. She was riveting in "Regnava nel silencio" from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, showing evidence of Lucia's instability. Her wild vocal flights in the cabaletta had us on the edge of our chair. This is a voice just made for bel canto.

Ms. Loiacono also performed the "Barcarolle" from Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffman with mezzo-soprano Jodi Karem and the two voices balanced perfectly. Ms. Karem appeared later as Delilah in the Saint-Saëns opera Samson et Delilah. Her rich voice was filled with the requisite seductiveness in "Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix". In "O don fatale" from Verdi's Don Carlo she successfully conveyed Princess Eboli's remorse.

We had the delightful opportunity to hear a very large voice that sounds great right now but also has room to expand further. Soprano Therese Panicali filled the room with sound in Turandot's aria "In questa reggia" from Puccini's Turandot, and again in "Dich teure Halle" from Wagner's Tannhaüser.

Baritone Roberto Borgatti performed the role of Rodrigo in "Per me giunto" from Verdi's Don Carlo and then dug into the role of Iago in Verdi's Otello; he expressed all of Iago's bitterness in "Credo" and then used his wonderful instrument to insinuate suspicions against Desdemona with Othello portrayed by tenor Percy Martinez in "Si, pel ciel".

Mr. Martinez had some excellent solos as well; he was very intense in "Vesti la giubba" from Leoncavallo's Pagliacci showing enough depth of feeling that we could almost forgive Canio for murdering Nedda. He also brought the program to a close with a larger-than-life "Nessun Dorma" from Puccini's Turandot.

There was yet another fine singer on the program--Chaz'men Williams-Ali whose finely textured tenor was just right for "Che gelida manina" from Puccini's La Boheme. We heard a lovely diminuendo and no strain on the high notes, nor did we hear any as he went from sweetness to arrogance in his excellent "La Donna è mobile" from Verdi's Rigoletto.

It is rare to hear a mixed program such as this one in which every singer was excellent. We are sure to be hearing much more of each of them. As if this bounty were insufficient we also heard the astonishing Michael Fennelly perform the virtuoso work "The Nun's Dance" from Meyerbeer's Robert le Diable. It was a frenzy of showmanship.

Ms. Fredricks closed the evening by sharing with the audience her interest in getting cabaret style opera into the schools and communities of the Boroughs of NYC. She has started a crowdfunding event at www.GoFundMe.com/OperaNewYork and we are passing the information along to YOU dear reader who may wish to make a small (or large) donation to make a difference in the cultural life of our town and to help educate young audiences to guarantee the future of opera.  Let's do it!

(c) meche kroop

Friday, May 15, 2015


Anastasia Barsukova and Johnny Almeida  Photo credit: Camilo Gomez 

Our taste in classical story ballet favors the profound and the tragic--Swan Lake, Giselle, and Romeo and Juliet for example. But we can also enjoy the lighthearted ballets of which Don Quixote is a prime example.  We so greatly enjoyed Gelsey Kirkland Ballet's Nutcracker some months ago (review archived) that we wouldn't have missed this production for the world.

Along with co-Artistic Director Michael Chernov, the renowned ballerina who dazzled us at American Ballet Theater many years ago has given us a new gift. The pair have a terrific sense of stagecraft and the ability to balance storytelling with the artistry of the dance. Adding greatly to the pleasure is the size and shape of the Schimmel Center at Pace University. The stage is wide and every seat has perfect sightlines allowing all members of the audience to experience an intimacy unknown at the Metropolitan Opera House or the New York State Theater.

Don Quixote was originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Alexander Gorsky with colorful music by Ludwig Minkus. The small price one must pay for all these goodies is the lack of a live orchestra. The set by Court Watson is simple but effective with a painted backdrop featuring red-tiled roofs.  The costume design by Mr. Chernov (who also directed) is sumptuous and colorful.

But it is the dancing for which one goes to the ballet and we were highly impressed by Anastasia Barsukova who danced the role of Kitri. She is petite but has gorgeous extensions and lovely phrasing. Her effective partner was Johnny Almeida whose slight stature gives no clue as to his prodigious partnering skills.

The dancing grew in intensity over the course of the evening and by the time we got to Act III (Kitri's Wedding) we just knew we would be treated to a splendid pas de deux with its goose bump inducing swan dives. The variations finally revealed Mr. Almeida's superb technique to its fullest extent. One could feel the electricity running through the audience during the dazzling coda. We always thrill to the tour jetés.

Sabina Alvarez made a fine street dancer with Guilherme Junio as Espada, arriving with his team of Toreros. In Act II we admired the gypsy solo of Katrina Crawford.
There was a very clever puppet show with tiny people enacting the puppets.

In the Enchanted Forest Scene, a ballerina even tinier than Ms. Barsukova, Kyono-Chantal Morin was winning as Amour. The entire company performed well with evidence of strength in the corps de ballet. Also in evidence was some rather intensive rehearsal since ensembles were consistently together. One happy observation was that all of the male dancers landed softly. 

Space will not permit mentioning all the dancers but we would like to acknowledge the marvelous mime skills of Alexander Mays as the titular character--foolish but lovable. His sidekick Sancho Panza was Satoki Habuchi. Samuel Humphreys made a fine Lorenzo (Kitri's controlling father) with Erez Ben-Zion Milatin portraying the silly fop Gamache whom he has chosen as Kitri's husband.

We can barely wait to see what Gelsey Kirkland Ballet comes up with next. It is sure to be dramatically compelling and artistically performed. But, you don't have to wait to enjoy this excellent company because Don Quixote is playing through Saturday night.  Don't miss it!

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A Little Night Music at Manhattan School of Music (photo by Brian Hatton)

There was much to enjoy last night in Manhattan School of Music's American Musical Theater Ensemble's production of Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music. Although it premiered in 1973 it has aged well with a plethora of melodic arias underscored by beautiful music, orchestrated by Jonathon Tunick. Music director Shane Schag was at the piano and there were some lovely contributions by Caroline Cox on violin, Duane Fields on cello, Connor Schultze on bass and particularly by Melanie Genin on harp and Brian Krock whose lovely clarinet intro to "Send in the Clowns" was a highlight of the evening.

The story (book by Hugh Wheeler) was suggested by the Ingmar Bergman film and takes place in the early 20th c. in Sweden at the time of year when the sun doesn't set. Six mismatched people get their love lives sorted out under the observing eye of grande dame Madame Armfeldt who has a lifetime of experience, and her precocious granddaughter Fredrika. 

The former was portrayed by veteran star of opera and theater Catherine Malfitano who was made up to look elderly. Her voice is undeniably better than Hermione Gingold and she put her own take on the role. Her song "Liaisons" was a show-stopper.

She had a lovely bond with granddaughter Fredrika, portrayed by petite Julia Suriano who was able to express all the ambivalence of the child of a too-busy mother of whom she is quite proud but by whom she feels somewhat neglected.

The middle generation of the Armfeldt family is the actress Desirée who would like to renew her old relationship with Fredrik Egerman, a lawyer now married to his childlike virgin bride Anne. Desirée was portrayed by mezzo-soprano Agness Nyama, whose song "Send in the Clowns" was far better sung than it was by Glynis Johns. She has a fine mezzo instrument and sang with great feeling.  Unfortunately, her acting was not up to par with her singing.  There was no chemistry with anyone else in the cast and it was difficult to believe that she belonged in that family or circle of frenemies.

As Fredrik, baritone Clayton Brown was quite believable and sang well. His Act II duet with Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm was splendid. Nickolas Miller was quite good as the arrogant Count, especially as he terrorized his poor wife Charlotte, excellently sung and believably acted by Addie Hamilton. Ms. Hamilton's conspiring with young Anne was quite fine and Samantha Williams made a fine shallow Anne with her bright clear soprano and ditzy body language.

Fredrik's son Henrik was performed by Luke Sikora who did an excellent job portraying a young man in love with his step-mother and burying his feelings in theology. As immoral as the story is, we couldn't help cheering when the two of them ran away together leaving Fredrik free to get back together with Desirée.

We loved the other show-stopping song performed by Viktoria Falcone as the servant Petra--"The Miller's Son".  Her pizazz is something to see and to watch develop.

Further, we loved the chorus.  All were fine: Evan Henke, Stephanie Christian, Sara Ptachik and Hannah Dishman with Christopher S. Lilley a standout for his impressive tenor. All were choreographed by Colleen Durham in a colorful waltz.

The gorgeous period-appropriate costuming was credited to Summer Lee Jack. The simple but effective set and its lighting were credited to Shawn Kaufman.

The Direction by Carolyn Marlow fell short of her customary good work. The main flaws in the production had to do with the overall tone of the piece. Accents were all over the map and some performers had lazy diction, causing us to miss the wonderful sung dialogue. Characters occasionally seemed to belong to  different productions, different countries and different epochs. We longed for more unity of tone.

We were also troubled by the obvious amplification which lent an unnatural sound.  In a rather small auditorium with trained voices, perhaps that could have been eliminated. 

Nonetheless, it was a gift to be able to see and hear this show again, in spite of some minor shortcomings. This is the first time we have seen and heard shortcomings of any kind at an MSM production. We realize it is a student production but we generally don't have to make such allowances.

(c) meche kroop

Monday, May 11, 2015


David Stech and Xiaomeng Zhang

We hear a lot of baritones and most of them are quite listenable. But the current crop of graduates has been remarkable. (See May 4th review of Xiaoming Tian). Last night Xiomeng Zhang presented his graduation recital as he is about to be granted a Masters Degree from Manhattan School of Music. His recital gave evidence of a great deal of work and yet he appeared completely relaxed onstage and made every song appear easy. 

In our opinion, his voice is perfect for the bel canto repertoire. His Italian flows like olive oil from one phrase to the next with perfect legato. The timbre of his voice is warm and exceedingly pleasant with just the right vibrato. His interpretations are particularly expressive.

Although he is perhaps too young in appearance for the part, his voice was perfect in "Bella siccome un angelo" from Donizetti's Don Pasquale. The crafty Doctor Malatesta is trying to pass off Ernesto's beloved Norina as his convent-educated sister Sofronia.  Mr. Zhang got it just right.

No less wonderful were the other well known selections by Gluck and Bellini. Perhaps our favorite was Verdi's "Non t'accostare all'urna" which is filled with bitterness and therefore gives an opportunity for intensity of performance.

Mr. Zhang's facility in Italian was equalled by his facility in French. We were sure we never wanted to hear Ravel's Don Quichotte à Dulcinée again, having heard it on every single baritone program the past few months. Nonetheless, Mr. Zhang made it his own with lovely Gallic phrasing and good dynamic control. The variety from the dreamy "Chanson romanesque" to the passionately reverent "Chanson épique" to the bubulously expansive "Chanson à boire" held our interest.

With crisply enunciated German, Mr. Zhang performed the first seven songs of Schumann's Dichterliebe op.48. Heinrich Heine's incomparable poetry inspired Schumann to some glorious writing for piano and voice and Mr. Zhang interpreted it well. The cycle begins with the promise of love but by the end he is "singing a different tune" so to speak--one of disappointment and bitterness.

There was more to come in the program, songs in English and songs in Mandarin, which we wish we had understood. Even the best English diction is never as clear as Italian or German but Mr. Zhang's was as good as anyone else's. For the final song in Mandarin, he was joined by soprano Amy Frances Kuckelman. At times the voices were in unison, at other times they harmonized beautifully, and at other times the vocal lines were completely different but woven together.

Wolfram's aria "Oh, du mein holde Abendstern" from Wagner's Tannhäuser was the perfect encore, showing yet another aspect of Mr. Zhang's talent. Could anything be more welcome when one is about to step out into the night?

After hearing the artist sing so well in five languages we confess to being impressed. His collaborative pianist David Štech is also his coach and surely deserves some credit.

(c) meche kroop

Sunday, May 10, 2015


Avery Amereau and Victor Starsky

We realize that calling New York Opera Exchange's Carmen the best Carmen ever is quite an extravagant statement. But this is the first time we have been totally absorbed in a production from the opening note of the overture until Carmen dies in the arms of her lover and murderer Don José. We have seen and heard this opera dozens of time and are usually quite restless by Act IV and have been known to mutter sotto voce "Kill her already!"

Let us first give credit where credit is due. To begin with, the role of the eponymous heroine was brilliantly sung and acted. Mezzo-soprano Avery Amereau has a thrillingly dark instrument and employs it so effectively that one is never aware of the technique, only aware that she is completely in the moment and giving 110%. After the first couple minutes we forgot that her fine-featured face looks nothing like that of a gypsy. The way she used her body embodied the free-spirited and rebellious nature of the character in a way never before seen by us. It surely came from a deep inner place and was not, as with most Carmens, a case of "acting sexy".

Secondly, we credit the director Matt Dickson who, surprisingly, is new to the world of opera. He apparently applied everything he knew from the world of theater without interfering with the singers' ability to function vocally. There were countless examples of stage business that supported the interactions of the characters and also served to establish the cultural milieu in which the characters were interacting.

This was an authentic Carmen, true to time and place. (We loathed the Carmen set in the 1950's and had no use for the one set in Franco's Spain.) In this corner of Seville, in this particular production, there was tension between the townspeople and the military; they tolerated one another but there was the feeling that a simple confrontation could erupt at any moment into a conflagration. This atmosphere of tension reflected and contributed to the tension between the characters.

Thirdly, we credit the superlative conducting of Alden Gatt. The full-sized orchestra was placed in front of the audience and during the prelude we had a moment's concern about the volume but Maestro Gatt wisely balanced the sound so that it supported the singers and never drowned them out. The flute and oboe solos were particularly lovely.

Tenor Victor Starsky made a fine Don José who grew in dimension as the story progressed. He began as a rather buttoned-up fellow with his future already determined. As Carmen wove her spell upon him he became expressive, conflicted, passionate, and insanely jealous. By Act IV, he had completely decompensated--wild-eyed, wild-haired and desperate. His Act II aria "La fleur que tu m'avais jetée" was stellar.

The role of Micaëla, the sweet innocent girl whom Don José is supposed to marry, was winningly performed by soprano Kaley Lynn Soderquist whose bright lovely instrument was perfect for the role. Her Act III aria "Je dis que rien ne m'épouvante" was a convincing blend of terror, courage and faith.

Bass-baritone Kian Freitas sang the role of Escamillo and sang it well but could have used more arrogance in his voice and in his body language. We had the same observation of one of the last Escamillos we saw at the Met. We want to see a torero who struts around with shoulders back and head held high, signalling confidence.

As Carmen's two friends Frasquita and Mercedes, we were very pleased with the performances of NYOE favorite Nadia Petrella who has a fine bright soprano just right for the part of Frasquita and mezzo Kate Farrar who made an excellent Mercedes. For some reason, Costume Designer Taylor Mills, who did a splendid job on all the other costumes, dressed these two singers in hideous short satin skirts and street shoes, even as they trekked up the mountains. Give those girls some boots!

We further enjoyed tenor James Grandjean as Le Remendado and baritone Andrew Luzania as Le Dancairo. The Act II ensemble when these smugglers are making their plans with the women "Nous avons en tête une affaire" was excellently harmonized.

Bass Costas Tsourakis made a suitably repellent Zuniga with a nice booming sound and baritone Jonathan Christopher was fine as Morales.

The chorus of townspeople contributed to the proceedings and managed to distinguish themselves as individuals, thanks to the good stage direction. The children's chorus had only one young man and it was a bit strange to see a group of female children imitating soldiers.

The set by Gabriel Firestone was simple but effective and was lit by Kimberlee Hurley.

Georges Bizet composed Carmen in 1875 with a libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy for the Opéra Comique in Paris. It had spoken dialogue and was presented as music theater. It was considered scandalous because of the sexuality and violence. It later came to be considered grand opera with the addition of accompanied recitativi by Ernest Guiraud. It has been a favorite in the canon ever since.

It was brave of NYOE to tackle such a work but we were thrilled with the intimacy and never missed the parade of picadors in Act IV or the mountains in Act III. With acting and singing this good, the imagination supplies the rest.  We have watched NYOE grow over the past few years; the quality keeps improving. We have seen the future of opera in New York City and it's looking great.

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, May 9, 2015


Kyle Erdos-Knapp and Antoni Mendezona
Ian McEuen, Adam Cannedy, and Cameron Smith
Sarah Best, Natalie Ballenger and Sarah Mossman
 Light Opera of New York is presenting Victor Herbert's The Only Girl at the Thalia Theater of Symphony Space this weekend.  The size and enthusiasm of the audience last night testifies to the viability of LOONY's mission.

Victor Herbert was a seminal figure in the world of music in the 20th c. He not only composed but also conducted, wrote lyrics and played the cello.  Moreover, he founded ASCAP with John Philip Sousa.  He deserves to be remembered!

The Only Girl debuted on Broadway in 1914 when Europe was at war. Escapist musical comedies were all the rage. Director Michael Phillips has adapted the work, whose original book and lyrics were by Henry Blossom, based on a Frank Mandel play Our Wives.

Possibly because costumes from 100 years ago might be too costly to construct or rent, or because the goal was to make the show more relevant, the period has been updated to the 1950's. Costume Designer Bettina Bierly has given the work a spiffy look and the set (no credit in program) looks the way one would expect a lyricist's New York apartment to look.

The plot reminds one of a showbiz comedy of days of yore. A lyricist cannot find a composer with whom to work on his next show. He hears wonderful music coming from next door and learns that it was composed by a woman. The two are wary of one another; he has contempt for women and she is feisty-- and in no way willing to be subservient. Eventually they come to appreciate each other after a showdown.

Tenor Kyle Erdos-Knapp made a fine Kim, the lyricist, especially when he sat at the piano and sang a song interpolated from Herbert's 1905 musical Miss Dolly Dollars, in which he compares women to cigars. As Ruth, the composer next door, Antoni Mendezona used her fine soprano in a winning way, making us cheer for her taming of Kim.

Auxiliary characters included Kim's friends and associates--the agent Martin who seems not to get the jokes, portrayed by tenor Ian McEuen; the philandering producer Blake, portrayed by baritone Adam Cannedy; and scenic designer Andrew, portrayed by tenor Cameron Smith. Their trio "When You're Wearing the Ball and Chain" was amusing.

On the female side we had the very funny loud-mouth Patsy (soprano Natalie Ballenger), the sardonic chorine Jane (mezzo Sarah Best) and aspiring actress Renée (soprano Sarah Mossman). The three women delighted us with "Why Should We Stay at Home and Sew". All the voices were good and the roles well-cast. Happily, they were unamplified.

Gerald Steichen conducted from the keyboard and the chamber orchestra comprised a string quartet, augmented by bass, percussion, flute, clarinet, oboe and French horn. They handled the spritely tunes with panache.

LOONY fortunately records their productions, with a little help from their friends.  So, if you can't snag a ticket for today's two performances (2:00 and 7:30) you may be able to get a CD in the future.

(c) meche kroop


Ekaterina Deleu and Sava Vemić

Although we only got to hear part of the Lindemann recital yesterday due to a prior commitment, what we did hear was sufficient to reinforce our admiration for bass Sava Vemić. We love the deep booming resonance that filled the Bruno Walter Auditorium and the confident compelling stage presence. We loved the expansiveness and expressiveness.

We wondered if Mr. Vemić had attended Gerald Finley's class the day before because we heard evidence of the very skills that were taught--the relaxation, the immaculate German, the plumbing of the depth of feeling in the text.

Schubert's Die Winterreise is one of our favorite song cycles and, the way we perceive it, offers a major challenge to the singer to paint "fifty shades of grey". The songs are unremittingly morose so only the most subtle word coloring is needed. In this, Mr. Vemić excelled, although only four selections were on the program.

We felt the chill of winter in "Gefrorne Tränen", "Wasserflut", and "Auf dem Flusse".  In "Die Krähe" Mr. Vemić convinced us that a crow was tracking his movements. There was solid strength throughout the entire register. Significant contributions came from collaborative pianist Ekaterina Deleu. 

We have heard this cycle sung by tenors and baritones but it was a completely new experience hearing it sung by a bass. We hope that someday Mr. Vemić will tackle the entire cycle.  It will be a very emotional experience!

We also enjoyed his performance of Mozart's concert aria "Per Questa Bella Mano" which somehow reminded us musically of "Deh vieni alla finestra" from Mozart's Don Giovanni.  However, this aria is sincere! His Italian was as good as his German and he invested each line with a different color. The variety made it particularly interesting to hear. There was a lot of expressiveness and he maintained tone even during the pianissimi.

We hated to miss the Russian but we are sure to hear more of this superb bass in the future since it is only his first year with the Lindemann program.

(c) meche kroop

Friday, May 8, 2015


William Kelley, Joe Eletto and Gerald Finley

Every master class is different but they all share something in common. A famous singer with the ability to impart his/her knowledge works with a few different students, usually for about a half-hour each, and tries to give each one something useful.  Some students readily pick up on these gifts and others seem unable to grasp them, possibly because of the stressful circumstance of learning in front of an audience.

Yesterday's master class at Juilliard was exceptional in that baritone Gerald Finley possesses not only a great knowledge of his art but also the ability to find a point of entry to reach each student. The other reason it was exceptional is that the students of Juilliard's Ellen and James S. Marcus Institute for Vocal Arts are preternaturally receptive and relaxed in front of an audience.

Most master teachers have a main theme to convey and Mr. Finley's had to do with the many aspects of intimacy. In contrast with the expansive "reaching out" of opera, lieder singing is an "inviting in" kind of performance. The singer must express who he/she is as an artist, emphasizing simplicity and vulnerability. It's a "heart-to-heart" kind of thing, an expression we ourselves have used to describe a number of Juilliard-trained singers. The singer must be the music and be the emotion so that the members of the audience can feel those feelings.  We are totally in agreement!

The first student was bass Daniel Miroslaw, working with collaborative pianist Valeriya Polunina. We were delighted that he chose to sing a song in his native Polish entitled "Whence the First Stars" by M. Karlowicz. Ms. Polunina was coached to begin with a note expressing the distance from the stars; one could hear the distance as this set the stage for Mr. Miroslaw. She also was coached to slow the tempo just a bit.

Mr. Miroslaw has a wonderfully rich instrument and he was coached to take his inspiration from the text and reminded to focus on the tone and the line, especially when singing his own language. Rests in the music become a cue to express emotion. He needed to ease up on the effort and this made an impressive difference. By the end of the half-hour we could feel the remoteness of the heavens!

The second singer was countertenor Eric Jurenas with Juliana Han at the piano. They began with Henry Purcell's "Sweeter than Roses". Mr. Finley instructed Mr. Jurenas to sing his English as if it were Italian, shifting the English "O" to an Italian "AW". It is always advisable to go by how it feels in the body rather than how it sounds. Since and open vowel resonates better less air is needed. Furthermore, it was advised to take more breaths and to make them meaningful. Ms. Han did so well with the Baroque style and the pair worked very well together.

Baritone Joe Eletto performed next with the always wonderful William Kelley producing marvelous colors on the piano. They performed "Schöne Fremde" from Robert Schumann's Liededrkreis, Op.39. Mr. Finley made an interesting point about knowing what came before a particular selection within the cycle.  He emphasized the necessity, when singing German lieder, to be totally aware of the text and to sing the words "immaculately". Every syllable requires vitality and energy.

In this song, the poet is expressing the strangeness of being in a foreign place; the place is indeed beautiful but overwhelming in its strangeness. After this bit of coaching we could indeed feel these unique feelings and were reminded of some of our stranger travels. Mr. Kelley sustained this mood right into the postlude.

The final student was soprano Christine Price who possesses an instrument just made for Strauss. She sang the moving "Mein Herz ist stumm, mein Herz ist kalt" from Sechs Lieder aus Lotosblätter, Op. 19, accompanied by William Kelley. The same advice about opening the vowels served here as well. How many times have we heard voice teachers saying to avoid widening the mouth on "AH". Attention was paid to the final consonants and their strict enunciation.

It was a master class in which each artist grew in intimacy and communication--a worthwhile class for both artists and audience.

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, May 6, 2015


Bryan Wagorn and Anthony Roth Costanzo

We have been huge fans of countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo and pianist Bryan Wagorn for quite some time but the thrill is always new when either performs. To see and hear them together was doubly thrilling.  To see and hear them at an intimate recital--in a glamorous downtown penthouse--was triply thrilling.

The occasion was Classical Action's 2015 Maestro Appreciation Concert, the "Maestros" being the generous supporters of Classical Action: Performing Arts Against AIDS, a program of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Classical Action draws upon the talents, resources and generosity of the classical, opera and jazz communities to raise money for those battling HIV/AIDS and other critical illnesses. For over 20 years, Classical Action has helped to fund over 450 AIDS and family service organizations in the United States.

Mr. Costanzo is frequently seen onstage at the Metropolitan Opera among other venues, and has garnered numerous awards including Placido Domingo's Operalia competition and the Grand Finals winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. We last saw him in a glorious recital at the Morgan Library with Nadine Sierra with Bryan Wagorn at the piano.

Mr. Wagorn also has an illustrious career as Assistant Conductor at the Met and as collaborative pianist with some of the greatest voices onstage. Solo performances and coaching duties round out his impressive bio.

Just see what magic these two artists created last night! Mr. Costanzo engaged the audience even before he began to sing. He shared some interesting tidbits about the castrati of the 17th c.  He shared how he came to accept his fach. He told us about Franz Liszt's wild side and his spiritual side

And then he began to sing, lending his pure and penetrating tone to five songs by Liszt. It would be difficult to say which of the two artists was more expressive. Mr. Costanzo can really float his top notes, become impressively expansive at the song's climax, and then pull back to the most delicate pianissimo.

Our favorite of this group was a love song "In Liebeslust, S. 318". No one wrote for the piano like Liszt and Mr. Wagorn's fingers literally flew over the keys.

Although the set of Liszt songs was very finely done, we are partial to the music best suited, in our opinion, to Mr. Costanzo's voice. Of course we mean that exemplar of Baroque music-- Georg Friedrich Händel. His Giulio Cesare is replete with thrilling arias and Mr. Costanzo sang the eponymous hero's aria from Act III when he is wandering in the desert--"Aure, deh per pietà".

Next, he sang Bertarido's aria from Act III of Rodelinda in which he spares the life of Grimoaldo who had usurped his throne. "Vivi, Tiranno" is filled with challenging vocal fireworks that Mr. Costanzo makes seem so easy. Even more arresting was the aria "Pena tiranna" from the less well-known opera Amadigi di Gaula. The embellishments were exquisitely handled as was the pianissimo passages. Mr. Wagorn's piano was especially powerful.

In the final set comprising Gershwin songs, Mr. Wagorn also shone. The two artists really got into "I Got Rhythm", living up to the title of the song. "Embraceable You" was suitably romantic and "Sam and Delilah" delightfully funny. But it was the final offering "Summertime" that blew us away. Mr. Costanzo told the audience that the song was inappropriate for a countertenor and inappropriate for a man. Well, who could say that when it sounded so right?

As encore, we heard Benjamin Britten's setting of an English folk song "The Foggy Foggy Dew" in which the poignant aspects were given as much attention as the lighthearted ones. Had we programmed the recital we would have put "I Got Rhythm" as the encore because of the line "Who Could Ask for Anything More" which is how we felt at the conclusion.

(c) meche kroop