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.

Saturday, January 30, 2016


Robert Garner and Percy Martinez

We enjoyed Tuesday night's cabaret evening at the Metropolitan Room so much that we returned on Thursday.  The program was largely the same and we refer you to the previous review for details. Here we will focus on the new addition to the program, baritone Robert Garner whom we enjoyed so much in Amore Opera's La Bohème (review archived).

We never tire of Figaro's aria from Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia. Mr. Garner filled it with color and personality, especially limning the contrast between the services Figaro provides for "le donnette" and those he provides for "i cavalieri". It was an expansive delivery and the rapid patter passages were delivered with panache. He excelled as Rigoletto in the tragic final quartet from Verdi's masterpiece.

From Bizet's Les pecheurs du perles, he sang "Au fond du temple saint", a duet with tenor Percy Martinez; it was a thing of beauty. He has a special flair for French and a special affection for Bizet, as heard in his performance of the Toreador Song from Carmen.  He had just the right self-important air and used his red jacket as a cape.  The low notes were strong and sturdy.

We hope he performs again with this terrific group of singers assembled by Judith Fredricks, Founder and Artistic Director of Opera New York.

Stay tuned for information on their appearance in a festival of cabaret on Feb. 20th. also at the Metropolitan Room.

(c) meche kroop


Jinhee Park, Ava Nazar, Theo Hoffman, Samuel Levine, Kelsey Lauritano, Fan Jia, Ho Jae Lee, and Erika Switzer

Thursday's Liederabend at Juilliard, coached by Erika Switzer, was a stunning event offering multiple delights. We feel compelled to begin at the end, at which point baritone Theo Hoffman's performance of Viktor Ullmann's "Abendphantasie" segued directly into Gustav Mahler's lied "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen".  It was the only piece on the program that we know well and we seemed to be greeting an old friend who never looked so fine.

Mr. Hoffman is a consummate artist and his depth of understanding of the text revealed to us, in a new and profound way, the very particular situation of the creative artist and his need for solitude. We felt as if Mahler himself had taken the stage and was telling us about his creative passion. The melody and harmony are exquisite and collaborative pianist Ho Jae Lee captured the nuances as effectively as Mr. Hoffman. Had we trekked up to Juilliard and heard that one song we would have been satisfied.

The remainder of the program was unfamiliar and seemed challenging for the artists and the audience. We asked tenor Samuel Levine about the difficulty of performing the 20th c. Five Sonette an Orpheus by the Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara. To us, the vocal line seemed abstract but Mr. Levine was very comfortable with the work and knew it well.

He employed multiple colors in his voice.  We preferred the gentle "Und fast ein Mädchen wars" and the somewhat more melodic "Errichtet keinen Denkstein".  Jinhee Park was Mr. Levine's piano partner. We may never have another opportunity to hear this cycle of songs and were happy for the experience although they will never be among our favorites.

The remainder of the program comprised two cycles by Poulenc. Baritone Fan Jia, accompanied by CP Kathryn Felt, created his own art gallery with Le travail du peintre, in which Paul Eluard's text was brought to life. We couldn't help thinking of Moussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, since the text described paintings by seven 20th c. painters.

It came as no surprise that our favorite chanson was the one about Marc Chagall who is our favorite modern painter. In line with the playful surrealism of the artwork, Poulenc's music and Eluard's text were equally playful, as was Mr. Jia's delivery. He has a muscular baritone which he modulated dynamically to suit each piece, be it playful or serious, quiet or vigorous.

Mezzo-soprano Kelsey Lauritano performed Poulenc's "Poèmes de Ronsard". She is one of those singers who excels at storytelling. She was frisky in "Attributs", relating what is sacred to each of the goddesses. We enjoyed Ava Nazar's syncopated piano in "Le tombeau". But our favorite part was a song that we are sure Ms. Lauritano favors above the others--"Ballet". Her personality just shone.

Happily, everyone's French and German were both excellent and performances were so polished that no one's technique called attention away from the music, which was well served by everyone.

But it's the Mahler we can't get out of our mind and our ears.

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, January 27, 2016


Veronica Loiacono, Elena Heimur, Roberto Borgatti, and Jodi Karem

We didn't expect opera to go so well in a cabaret setting but last night was our second such adventure and we are happy to report that in the right hands it goes very well.  The right hands belong to impressario/singer/teacher/coach Judith Fredricks who created the show at the Metropolitan Room on W. 22nd St. By the time you get to the end of the review, you will probably want to attend the show on Thursday evening if you are lucky enough to snag a table.

The room was packed last night and the audience was as good as the singers. In spite of the imbibing of alcoholic libations, the audience was absolutely silent until the end of each aria (or duet or ensemble), bursting into wild whoops and applause at the appropriate time.  We do not know whether the audience comprised seasoned opera goers searching for more intimacy of presentation or cabaret folks new to opera.

Host for the evening was Broadway's own Jason Graae who introduced each number and told a bit of the backstory. He also sang the role of Papageno in the second act duet from Mozart's Magic Flute (in English) with lovely soprano Veronica Loiacono as his Papagena.  Moreover, he accompanied several pieces on the oboe! His introductory number was "Wilkommen! Bienvenu!" from Cabaret.

If there were any skeptics in the audience they must have been immediately won over by "Sous le dome épais" (The Flower Song) from Leo Delibes' Lakme. Soprano Elena Heimur and mezzo Jodi Karem had lovely chemistry together (eye contact!) and balanced their voices perfectly in Delibes' winning harmonies.

Tenor Edgar Jaramillo gave a moving account of "Federico's Lament" from Cilea's L'Arlesiana that brought us to the edge of tears.

Ms. Loiacono has just the right coquettish looks and coloratura skills to be a most convincing Rosina in Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Her performance of "Una voce poco fa" included wild flights of fioritura that we so love.

Ms. Karem's dusky mezzo could have seduced tenor Percy Martinez' Samson even if she were not as beautiful as she is.  This Delilah was a double threat as she sang "Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix", from the Saint-Saëns opera.

Ms. Heimur's generous soprano filled up "Chi il bel sogno di Doretta" from Puccini's La Rondine and did so in a most moving manner.

The final tragic quartet from Verdi's Rigoletto was well handled by Ms. Loiacono as the doomed Gilda, baritone Roberto Borgatti as the eponymous Rigoletto, Ms. Karem as Maddalena, and (surprise!) the very sweet voiced Mr. Jaramillo playing the wicked two-timing Duke. It's a big challenge for him to portray a slimeball!

Mr. Martinez distinguished himself as Canio in Leoncavallo's Pagliacci. His "Vesti la giubba" was deeply moving and succeeded in evoking sympathy for the character.

The second scene of Puccini's La Bohème involves Musetta making a big show of herself in "Quando m'en vo" while the other Bohemians are sitting at a table. The scene was well staged by Ms. Fredricks and superbly sung by Ms. Heimur who let out all the stops. Mr. Graae hammed it up as her elderly admirer.

Mr. Martinez and Mr. Borgatti tackled "Si, pel ciel" from Verdi's Otello and nailed it. Mr. Borgatti had to trick Mr. Martinez into believing that his beloved Desdemona was unfaithful.  Another slimeball role, but well done.

A scene from Bizet's Carmen starred Mr. Borgatti in the Toreador song and Ms. Karem as Carmen. Ms. Heimur and Ms. Loiacono (as Mercedes and Frasquita) flirted madly with him. Ms. Karem's Carmen was as superbly seductive as her Delilah and she accompanied herself on the castanets in the "Gypsy Song".  

We were totally satisfied with the evening but there was one more aria coming--Mr. Jaramillo gave us a fine Calaf singing "Nessun dorma" from Puccini's Turandot, and drove the audience wild.  He has a generosity of spirit when he sings and can achieve volume at the upper end of the register without tightening his throat.  A real pleasure to hear!

Accompanist and Music Director for the evening was Michael Pilafian who got everything just right.

We have heard all of these singers before and they just keep getting better and better. Thursday's program will have someone new on board and some alterations in the program. If we can shift things around we will go again. Opera and cabaret could be a match made in heaven. Exploring new venues and new audiences need never involve a sacrifice of quality.

(c) meche kroop

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


Concertmaster Kevin Chen and Maestro Gianandrea Noseda

It's some state of affairs when the Juilliard Orchestra sounds much better than the New York Philharmonic! We don't know why but perhaps it has something to do with youthful enthusiasm and dedication pitted against middle-aged boredom.  Perhaps it has something to do with the students being exposed to different conductors and learning from each.

In any event, the young instrumentalists gave Maestro Gianandrea Noseda exactly what he asked for.  And ask he did! Among so many varied styles of conducting, we give Maestro Noseda the Terpsichorean Prize. He uses his entire body and uses it dramatically to elicit the passion that he wants from his players.

Last night's program at Alice Tully Hall opened with Sinfonia, the overture to a 1932 opera entitled La donna serpente; we have never heard this opera and probably never will but we were happy to hear the overture.  It's a vigorous work that opened with a strong initial attack. There was a sprightly theme in the brass and another theme introduced by the woodwinds. Percussion was there for emphasis and the entire work involved an interesting harmonic language. Our companion heard echoes of Stravinsky.

Second on the program was the expansive 1909 Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor by Rachmaninoff, known as "Rach 3". The orchestra played well but the work never quite came together as the piano soloist Colton Peltier seemed to be rushing through the highly challenging piano part, not giving the work a chance to breathe. The romantic sweep somehow got lost.

The final work on the program was Schumann's 1845 Symphony No. 2 in C major, an idiosyncratic work that provided much aural delight. We were particularly fond of the Scherzo in which we heard echoes of Mendelssohn and several changes of mood that reminded us of the concept of following an aria with a cabaletta.

Most affecting was the third movement, an Adagio filled with lyricism and sorrow. There were horn calls throughout the work which lent unity.  The final movement was forceful and a contrast with the Adagio.

(c) meche kroop

Monday, January 25, 2016


Martin Katz and Leah Crocetto

We were thrilled to have the opportunity to experience the auspicious New York recital debut of soprano Leah Crocetto-- up close and personal.  We have not seen this glorious rising star since August of 2014 when we thrilled to her performance in Rossini's Maometto II at the Santa Fe Opera (review archived and available by means of the "search" bar). 

The Schimmel Center at Pace University is not easy to get to from the Upper West Side but it was well worth the travel. We had a completely different experience of this gifted singer in a space that manages to be capacious but also intimate.

We had planned to use all the information gleaned from the week of master classes we attended but the experience of the recital was so absorbing that we forgot everything but the intense pleasure of listening and hearing.  Ms. Crocetto's voice, both powerful and soothing, envelops one like a warm embrace.  The sound is ample but especially so at the upper register when it opens up like a parasol.

Her stage presence is relaxed and compelling. She has arms as graceful as a ballet dancer and uses them expressively. Her onstage ease just pulls you into her world. Her connection with the text allows you to see through her eyes.

How many singers could open a program with a set of Strauss songs? With absolute confidence, she sailed into "Zueignung" letting her voice swell to a stunning climax. We loved her interpretation of "Die Nacht" in which she took some highly expressive breaths. In "Morgen" we noticed the way she caressed each word.  She finished with the passionate "Cäcilie". We heard these songs coached all last week but we seemed to be really hearing them for the first time yesterday.

It was no challenge for Ms. Crocetto to shift gears into some fine French for a quartet of chansons by Henri Duparc, each one a gem. Her legato is so fine that the feeling carried right through the silences. So this is what is meant by "long lines"! We particularly enjoyed the delicacy of "Extase" and the intensity of "L'invitation au voyage". We heard all the colors of the rainbow.

Her performance of three songs by Lizst came as a complete surprise. We are accustomed to hearing "Pace non trovo" sung by a man and sung often in master classes in which a lot of improvements are proposed. Yesterday not a single note needed improvement. Her interpretation of this tale of obsessive love was completely convincing. "I vidi in terra" permitted a different color and a sweetness of tone.

The second half of the program began with an aria from the aforementioned Maometto II which allowed her to show off her coloratura skills and evoked pleasant memories of her Santa Fe performance as Anna.

In three Barber songs her English was totally clear but we preferred the aria "Ain't it a Pretty Night" from Carlisle Floyd's Susanna.

In the Cole Porter set we realized that American song can compete with lied and chanson, without apology. We do not have to set them apart as "cabaret". Sung without amplification, they surely belong in any singer's repertoire, if they can sing them as well as Ms. Crocetto did. We have Steven Blier to thank for opening our ears on this point!

Our rapt attention won us two encores and they were not "throw away" pieces. We heard "Somewhere" from Bernstein's West Side Story, followed by "Il bel sogno di Doretta" from Puccini's Rondine.

The esteemed Martin Katz was her collaborative pianist. We will think of this recital as a yardstick against which all future recitals will be measured.

(c) meche kroop

Friday, January 22, 2016


Clarissa Lyons (photo by Marielle Hayes)

Miles Mykkanen (photo by Kristin Hoebermann)

Thursday night's Spotlight recital featured two fine young singers, both of them in collaboration with the wonderful pianist Ken Noda. The recital is part of the Marilyn Horne legacy at Carnegie Hall. The program, part of the week-long The Song Continues, was filled with delights.

Soprano Clarissa Lyons is new on our radar screen but tenor Miles Mykkanen has been delighting our ears for several years as he pursued his training at Juilliard.  The Divine Mr. M. is always full of surprises, tackling unusual material or presenting old songs in new ways. Thursday night there was no gender bending, which we have enjoyed when he sings with New York Festival of Song.

Mr. M. is always a compelling performer and has a unique sound that is distinctive and memorable; the quality of the vibrato lends a textural richness. The tone is sustained right through the lower register.

He sang five songs from Benjamin Britten's On This Island and sang them with perfect English diction, a rare quality indeed. Britten will never be among our favorite song composers but we certainly did enjoy this particular performance, particularly the despairing "Now the leaves are falling fast" and "As it is, plenty" in which Mr. M. was able to exhibit his passionate intensity. In "Seascape" he painted with words and handled the rapid notes of "Nocturne" with aplomb.

We were far more enthusiastic about his trio of Schumann songs--the bittersweet "Des Sennen Abschied" was our favorite.  His German is impeccable. Mr. Noda's pianism was thrilling, especially in the arpeggios of "Requiem".

The final set comprised three songs by Grieg and it was here that we enjoyed ourselves the most. "Takk for dit råd" expresses the strong impulse toward freedom which Norwegians associate with the sea. Mr. M. captured the essence of the text.

He introduced the song "En svane" with a sad and romantic tale about the poetry and the "fact" that swans only sing when they die. Mr. Noda's playing here added so greatly to the depth of feeling. But his final song "En drøm" filled us with the joy of love achieved and passionately appreciated. What a performance!

Soprano Clarissa Lyons filled the stage with beauty. Her statuesque presence reminds one of a Modigliani painting. Her voice is a lovely one with a diamantine sparkle. We were pleased to hear two songs by Joseph Marx, a composer of whom we do not hear enough. "Ständchen" was given a convincing delivery and "Selige Nacht" had some lovely word coloring to delight the ear.

We heard three songs by Poulenc, settings of surrealistic poetry by Louise Lalanne. "Le présent" and "Chanson" were of a whimsical nature but "Hier" was filled with longing. It was a fine way to show off the singer's versatility.

Next we heard a pair of songs by Rachmaninoff--"A Dream" and "Au!", which comes to an end without resolution. We loved Ms. Lyon's involvement in the text.

Her final set comprised two selections from Barber's Hermit Songs--"Saint Ita's Vision" and "The Desire for Hermitage". We have often heard them but cannot love them. We did love the way she sang them however, with deep commitment.

Both singers collaborated on an encore which sent us out smiling--Bernstein's "Wrong Note Rag".  This was the only wrong note in a wonderful recital. So much ground to cover in an hour! But the artists made every minute count.

(c) meche kroop


Marilyn Horne (photo by Henry Grossman)
Stephanie Blythe (photo by Chris Lee)

Sir Thomas Allen (photo by Sussie Ahlburg)

Every master teacher has his/her own style and, almost always, has something worthwhile to contribute to the young singer's artistry. It is next to impossible to say that one is "better" than another; one can only say that the master teacher's style is a good or poor match with a particular student.  That being said, it does seem as if the very best master teachers don't dispense "boilerplate" but rather address each student's unique skill set or lack thereof.

Earlier this month we had the opportunity to sit in on a few of Joyce DiDonato's master classes (reviews archived) and were very impressed.  This week we were privileged to witness three more master teachers, two of whom we have observed on prior occasions and one whose teaching style was new to us.

Sir Thomas Allen taught on Tuesday. Sir Thomas indulged his veddy veddy British sense of humor and kept the audience in a state of entertainment. He was fortunate to have four excellent singers and four superb collaborative pianists with whom to work. The term "collaborative pianist" was itself a source of amusement since Sir Thomas pointed out that they were formerly called "accompanists". We ourselves do not find the newer term to be "more PC" but rather more descriptive of their role.)

Sir Thomas had some valuable things to say to soprano Michelle Price and also to Collaborative Pianist (let us just say CP from hereon out) Michal Biel, whom he urged to begin Strauss' "Cäcilie" more forcefully.  He encouraged Ms. Price to take her time, to smile and to keep her eyes lively, to clean up the word endings, and to create one long line by not observing the rests. He worked quite a bit on the triplets, telling her to anticipate them.  But above all, he urged her to read poetry and to learn to paint a picture with words.

Tenor Kevin Gino performed Liszt's "Pace non trovo" with CP Nathan Harris. He instructed Mr. Gino to find an image to inform each phrase, to make good use of the consonants, and to differentiate between the recit-like introductory stanza and the long cantilena lines to follow. He urged the singer to say something specific with the cadenza.

Soprano Capucine Daumas  performed Debussy's "Apparition" with CP Alden Gatt. This song is an ethereal one and both artists were urged to creata a gauzy shimmery texture. Ms. Daumas needed to reduce the amount of effort she was putting forth and to minimize the degree of openness of the jaw.

Baritone Ryan Thorn sang Schubert's "Der Wanderer" with CP Andrew Sun. Certain features of his presentation were immediately improved as he was instructed to keep his eyes open and to allow his posture to express the weariness and yearning in the text. Again we heard the advice to practice speaking the poetry, allowing it to be informed by the music.

Overall, we got the impression that in singing art songs, attention must be paid to the text by reading it and re-reading it. We were to hear this refrain again from Stephanie Blythe the following night. And it is a refrain worth listening to! We are willing to bet that Ms. Craft, whose Spotlight Recital we so enjoyed, spent a lot of time studying the texts of the songs on her program!

The same four CP's played for Ms. Blythe's class and impressed us with their adaptability. Michal Biel played for soprano Dru Daniels who sang Schubert's "Die junge Nonne". Ms. Blythe's style is completely different from Sir Thomas' but marvelously effective.  She is effusive in her praise of each student, generally admiring their instrument but modestly proffering "one person's opinion" on interpretation. For example, she loved Ms. Daniels' vibrato and choice of song and encouraged her to seek coloratura roles.

She humorously pointed out the curse of women's high-heeled shoes and the price the female singer pays in the currency of tension. Ms. Daniels immediately removed her shoes! Great!  Now she could bend her knees and ground herself; she could create a freer tone. She was urged to keep spinning the tone, especially on the repeated notes and to keep renewing the vowels. Just as Sir Thomas did, Ms. Blythe focused on the text.  She had Ms. Daniels recite the poetry over and over in English first and then in German.

Mezzo-soprano Beste Kalender, who followed with CP Nathan Harris, performed Schoenberg's "Shenk mir deinen goldenen Kamm". It was obvious that she had researched the text and had a deep understanding of it. Ms. Blythe again spoke of the importance of an intimate understanding of the poetry.

She indicated an interesting visualization--that of Klimt's painting "The Kiss", in order to convey the rapturous eroticism to the audience. She wants the singer to take the audience on a journey.  She further advised Ms. Kalender to think about intensity rather than volume.

Mezzo Deanna Pauletto and CP Alden Gatt performed "Madrid" by Pauline Viardot, a composer we love and rarely see on recital programs.  This song, although sung in French, captures the unique Spanish flavor we love. Ms. Pauletto was instructed to make the word "Madrid" mean something different each time she sang it. Further instructions were to think of sound as energy and to "let it go".

Also performed was Montsalvatge's "Canción de cuna para dormir a un negrito". The lesson for this song was to focus on the audience not on the floor, to slow the tempo, to maintain a soft warm tone, and to sing with simplicity.

The final student was baritone Benjamin Dickerson who is still an undergraduate at Manhattan School of Music. He profited by some work on his presentation. The singer should never stand squarely facing the audience but should turn his body 45 degrees with one foot facing forward.  As Ms. Blythe put it "The body leads the voice".

She gave him some helpful hints on dealing with tension.  She differentiated between the passive concept of relaxing and the more active choice of releasing. She recommended putting Scotch tape on the forehead to become more aware of the wrinkling. (That could be a helpful hint anyone could try!)

She talked quite a bit about looking at the audience and about the pianist (in this case, Andrew Sun) and singer listening to each other. Her method of coordinating the opening with the piano is the singer assuming the breathing rhythm of the music. This was one point of disagreement between her and Sir Thomas who wants the CP and the singer to be looking at each other quite a bit. We have not yet decided what works best and probably both styles are valid under different circumstances.

Last night's master class was conducted by Marilyn Horne herself whose style is different from the other two. Ms. Horne doesn't get  physical with the students, nor does she lavishly praise their voices. She gets right down to business working on techniques that the student is lacking and she does so with razor-sharp judgment.

The first recipient of Ms. Horne's astuteness was mezzo-soprano Emily D'Angelo who performed the Samuel Barber son "A Nun Takes the Veil", along with CP Nathan Harris. English diction is quite challenging and the suggestion to overdo the enunciation of the consonants was most helpful. Phrasing also came under scrutiny and the extra breaths allowed Ms. D'Angelo to follow the rallentando markings in the score without running out of breath.

There was time left over for the pair to perform Ernest Charles' "When I have sung my songs".  This involved more work on the breathing in order to time the ending of the song.  Extra breaths can be used dramatically.  More time was spent on achieving legato and on bringing some warmth into the song, so different from the Barber song.

The next students were known to us from Juilliard. We are happy to report that the stress of appearing in a master class did not adversely affect the performances of tenor Matthew Swensen and CP Michal Biel.  They too had the opportunity to perform two songs.

First they tackled Strauss' "Die Nacht" which Ms. Horne recommends using as an encore piece when the voice is warmed up. But some deep breathing and increased support helped to establish the called-for long line. This is one of our favorite songs and the two artists successfully conveyed the sense of anxiety and fear of loss.

The second song, Grieg's "En drøm", required more emphasis on the low notes.

The third team to appear was soprano Angela Vallone (also known from Juilliard) with CP Andrew Sun. They began with another lovely Strauss song "Morgen" and Ms. Horne wisely quizzed Ms. Vallone on her interpretive ideas. Clearly, all three master teachers value the importance of the meaning of the text. The song should be sung very slowly with the singer being aware of the pulse, particularly in the notes held across the bar line. Dynamic markings call for a soft and peaceful sound.

Their second song was Schumann's setting of "Kennst du das Land" from Goethe's Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre. Ms. Vallone was coached to sing the song as if the 12-year-old Mignon were singing it, to see the world through her eyes and to paint that picture for the audience. She was quite successful at this, to our delight.

The final pair on the program comprised tenor Ian Koziara with CP Alden Gatt. They began with Wagner's "Träume" which seemed a strange choice for this dark-voiced singer who seemed rather baritonal to our ears. He was coached to be less stentorian in his approach--to weave a spell with a soft tone and a slow pace, and to resist the urge to create a crescendo.

It was important for him to learn to support his breath abdominally instead of jutting out his chin.  Schubert's "Erlkönig" seemed to be a much better fit for him and he succeeded admirably in creating the voices of the concerned father and the nastily seductive Erlkönig. It was the plaintive voice of the child that he needed to work on.

Taken separately or together, the three master classes were a valuable learning experience. We tried to imagine what would happen if the same students could be shown singing the same songs for three different master teachers. That would really be something!

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, January 20, 2016


Sarah Nelson Craft (photo by Chia Messina)

It is easy to understand how this engaging performer won the Audience Choice Award at the Metrtopolitan Opera National Council Auditions.  It would be impossible to have heard her hour long Spotlight Recital last night without being swept along in a tidal wave of affection for the art of the song. It is rare to hear a recital without a single moment of boredom--usually a sign of loss of connection with the artists. The recital was part of The Song Continues, a weeklong celebration of the art of the song, initiated by the beloved Marilyn Horne, who was happily in attendance to introduce the program.

The Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall is perfectly suited to the vocal recital by dint of its intimate size and fine acoustics. Adding to the success of the recital was a perfectly chosen program and the choice of the estimable Warren Jones as collaborative pianist.  There is usually one set of songs in a program that leaves us cold-- but not last night!  We were serenaded in Venetian dialect, German, French and Spanish, but, thankfully, no English. We heard songs that were mostly familiar but presented in a manner that made them seem new.

Ms. Craft really knows how to get a song across and employs facial expression and gesture as well as vocal coloring. It is never excessive but always tasteful. She is a born storyteller and one can readily visualize the scenes about which she is singing. She truly inhabits the song and makes it hers, as if she were making it up on the spot.

The program began with the oft-heard La regata veneziana from Rossini's Péchés de vieillesse. These three songs give the singer ample dramatic opportunities as the lovely Anzoleta shows her stuff as the world's most supportive girlfriend. She has complete faith in her Momolo, the gondolier competing for the prize. The prize comes in the third song when she showers her Momolo with kisses.

There was an extraordinary moment in the second song while the regata is taking place and she is overcome with excitement. Momolo glances up and seeing her, puts forth the extra effort to move into first place.  Anzoleta knows the effect she has had on him and Ms. Craft revealed this special moment by means of vocal color and gesture. The excitement of the singing was paralleled by Mr. Jones sprightly piano accompaniment.

In the three Schubert songs which followed, Mr. Jones' subtle modulations were finely tuned to Ms. Craft's fine phrasing. The melody of "An die Sonne" struck us as as being Mozartean in character.  In "Gretchen am Spinnrade", the relentless piano took the place of the spinning wheel and seemed to symbolize the "hamster wheel" on which poor Gretchen was stuck. We noticed that Ms. Craft's German was beautifully calibrated--no American carelessness was in evidence, nor was there any exaggerated enunciation to give a "schoolbook" flavor to it.

A set of Mahler songs followed with the whimsical "Rheinlegendchen" being our personal favorite. The lighthearted nature of the texts, extracted from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, are supported by Mahler's novel harmonies, which have a special resonance for us.

Switching to some fine French, the artistic pair performed Debussy's Chansons de Bilitis. These songs were written by French poet Pierre Louÿs who claimed they were unearthed in the tomb of Bilitis, an ancient Greek courtesan, by a German archeologist. Pranking aside, the songs are lovely and so evocative of times long gone that we would wish to believe the fiction.

Again, the use of vocal color and dramatic expressiveness brought the songs to vivid life. The young woman in "La flûte de Pan" expresses joy over learning to play the pipes with her lover and anxiety over what she will tell her mother when she arrives home late. We felt as if we were living this scene along with her.  Mr. Jones' playing was poetic in its delicacy, replete with the subtlety of the long French lines, evincing a gauzy Impressionistic flavor.

In the Ginastera set which followed, the piano and voice built to a frantic conclusion in "Gato", with some more delicacy in the lullabye "Arrorró". Ms. Craft's Spanish was as fine as her French, German, and Venetian.

As encore, the pair performed the spirited "Stornello" by Verdi, a song which gave Ms. Craft yet another opportunity to portray a character, a woman the exact opposite of poor Gretchen. The singer in this song is carefree and independent, not at all bound by exhausting passions.

Mr. Jones is, of course, well known to us. His gifts are prodigious but his modesty is legendary. He plays without a score and hangs on every breath the singer takes. He raises the lid of the piano to its highest point yet never overwhelms the voice.

Ms. Craft's sound is a lovely one with a pleasing vibrato. Although there is no lack of richness or strength in her middle and lower registers, the brightness in the upper register projects a soprano-y flavor. It would not surprise us if she goes on to tackle the soprano oeuvre.

(c) meche kroop

Sunday, January 17, 2016


Kian Freitas, Katy Lindhart, Maestro Keith Chambers, Thomas Cannon, Ola Rafalo, and Alex Richardson

The stage of Merkin Concert Hall is not large but it was large enough to hold an orchestra, with the singers giving a semi-staged performance over to the side. The somewhat reduced orchestra, conducted by Maestro Keith Chambers, came together nicely after a very slightly ragged overture and did full justice to Massenet's marvelous score for Werther.

The opera premiered in 1892, first in German (!) and shortly thereafter in the original French in Geneva. In a couple years it was presented by The Metropolitan Opera in New York, and a few years later found a home at the Opéra Comique in Paris. It remains part of the standard repertory until this very day and we were delighted that the Martha Cardona Opera, founded by Daniel Cardona, decided to present it.

We keep learning new things about opera with every performance and what we learned last night was that the singers cannot really hear the orchestra when they are on the same level. This did not stop mezzo-soprano Ola Rafalo, in the role of Charlotte, from cutting right through their sound with her distinctive and richly textured voice. The interesting texture and generous vibrato were very much to our liking. She was outstanding in her moving third act aria "Va! Laisse couler mes larmes".

Baritone Thomas Cannon created a sympathetic portrait of Charlotte's husband Albert, a role upon which we do not customarily focus. In Act II, he is rather sympathetic to Werther's predicament--that of loving a woman he cannot have. But when he realizes that Werther might be a rival for Charlotte's affection, you could see the change in his body and gesture, as well as hear the alteration in his vocal color. He is only too happy to provide the pistols to Werther! This fine baritone exhibited a creamy and mellow sound that was most agreeable to the ear.

As little sister Sophie, soprano Katy Lindhart used her bright and focused soprano to provide a vocal and dramatic foil for her big sister. We liked her stage presence as well as her voice. Her Act III scene with Charlotte was pure delight.

Baritone Kian Freitas made a fine papa, caring and loving toward his children but also able to join his friends Schmidt (tenor Lindell Carter) and Johann (baritone LaMarcus Miller) for some tippling at the tavern. All three men sang well.

Tenor Alex Richardson seemed to be having a bad night. When the orchestra was playing at low volume, we heard some sweet sounds, of which we'd like to hear more. Sadly, when the orchestra was playing in full force, he tended to push his voice in the upper register, instead of floating the notes. This is a feature to which we are highly sensitive and it was not pleasing to the ear. On the plus side, he did throw himself into the role of the unfortunate Werther and his French diction could not be faulted.

The excellent children's chorus was provided by The Long Island City Academy of Music Youth Choir. The young singers portraying Charlotte's brothers and sisters included Bryan Acosta, Ellis Adams, Lara Akarca, Nina Benson, Bianca Benson, Sebastian Czaplicki, Leah Friedman, Isabel Söhngen, and Nora Yoo. Musical preparation was by Oliver Söhngen.

The story takes place in the late 18th c., a time when deathbed promises were made and kept, a time when romance was not the chief justification for marriage. Charlotte had promised her mother to marry Albert as the mother lay dying. Before the marriage was performed, when Albert was absent, she apparently spent a lot of time with Werther, reading poetry and doing other harmless things. She repressed her growing attraction to him but he was unable to do the same.

Once she wed, she was obliged to send him away.  When he returns, the charade could no longer be sustained.  They embrace and she rejects him. He kills himself with Albert's pistols but achieves some happiness by dying in her arms.

This scenario, adapted from an epistolary novel by Goethe, is such a product of an earlier epoch, that it demands more stylized comportment than was exhibited onstage in this semi-staged production. Modern dress did nothing to create the illusion we wanted to experience. That is the negative consequence of this type of production.  A positive aspect is that one gets to focus on the music.

(c) meche kroop

Thursday, January 14, 2016


Christine Price, Mikaela Bennett, Samuel Levine, Kelsey Lauritano, Dimitri Katotakis, and Amanda Bottoms (photo by MIchael DiVito)

Thanks to Steven Blier, our "horizons of appreciation" have expanded beyond opera and lieder.  Similarly, the "horizons of performance" of members of the Ellen and James S. Marcus Institute for Vocal Arts at Juilliard have also been extended to include the classics from the Golden Age of American song.  Last night we experienced some of our favorite artists who became for the evening "hoofers, belters, and comedians". (Those are the words of Maestro Blier, but we wish they were ours).

The program comprised songs of three American greats--Harry Warren, Hoagy Carmichael, and Harold Arlen--three men from greatly different backgrounds but united by their compositional contributions to American musical style.

Tenor Gerard Schneider opened with an instrumental version of Arlen's "Over the Rainbow" played on the acoustic guitar. We never knew he played the guitar but we loved the way he began with a simple statement of the melody which grew in complexity, marked by some lovely arpeggios. Yip Harburg's lyrics were sung only in the mind's ear.

This doesn't mean that Mr. Schneider didn't sing; he sang the haunting lyrics (Mack Gordon) of "At Last" from Orchestra Wives, calling attention to Warren's melodic vocal line.  He also sang "Old Buttermilk Sky" (Jack Brooks) with fellow tenor Samuel Levine joining in with a ukulele (who knew!) and a spirited "Yee-Haw".  These are surely multi-talented artists.

As far as tenors go, Mr. Levine is no slouch! We liked him best in Arlen's "Buds Won't Bud" (lyrics again by the wonderful Mr. Harburg) which built to a passionate crescendo.  He charmed us with Arlen's "Evelina" (Harburg) from Bloomer Girl with ukulele and Southern accent as he wooed Ms. Price.  He assumed a rather world-weary mien for the chromatically complex "Last Night When We Were Young" another Harburg/Arlen pairing from Metropolitan.

Soprano Mikaela Bennett grabbed our attention with a passionately delivered eulogy to the evil lover she had just shot in "Sleep Peaceful, Mr. Used-to-Be" from the Johnny Mercer/Harold Arlen St. Louis Woman, a show which should have been more famous than it was. She also thrilled in a jazzy version of "A Sleepin' Bee" from the Truman Capote/Harold Arlen House of Flowers, which also deserved more fame.

Ms. Bennett paired with mezzo-soprano Amanda Lynn Bottoms for the delightful duet "Two Ladies in de Shade of de Banana Tree", also from House of Flowers. We believe some shows did not become the hits they deserved to be because of cultural issues, not musical flaws.  Ms. Bottoms gave us a very jazzy version of Carmichael's "Old Man Harlem" complete with "scat" singing.

But we enjoyed her most in the Mercer/Arlen "That Old Black Magic" from Star Spangled Rhythm. Mr. Schneider's guitar and Mr. Blier's piano went absolutely wild with abandon.

Soprano Christine Price delivered "It's a New World" with simplicity and sincerity. Arlen's vocal line here was exceptional and Ira Gershwin's lyrics moving. Similarly, Carmichael's "The Nearness of You" (Ned Washington) touched the heart with Ms. Price conveying every ounce of emotion, spinning out the final note like a silken strand.

Mezzo-soprano Kelsey Lauritano did a bang-up job as a Carmen Miranda type character in "I, Yi, Yi, Yi Yi (I Like You Very Much" (Mack Gordon/Harry Warren) from That Night in Rio and "When I Love, I Love"(same team) from Weekend in Havana. Apparently, these tropical musicals put Brazil and Cuba on the map, so to speak. The gentlemen of the cast doffed their shoes, rolled up their trousers, and did a fine send up of Latin caricatures. The ladies of the cast wiggled around with bananas and a pineapple while Ms. Lauritano sported a hatful of fruit.  Major fun!

Another humorous number was "I'm Going Shopping With You" by Harry Warren from Dames. Baritone Dimitri Katotakis put heart and soul into his comedy routine and Mr. Blier contributed a few extra lines giving the ending a gay twist, something Mr. Blier does so delightfully in almost every show.  The beautiful duet "Hard to Replace" from The Barkleys of Broadway (Ira Gershwin/Warren) was sung by Mr. Katotakis and Ms. Lauritano. The lyrics of Gershwin are intensely moving and the two artists filled them with meaning.

The company performed as an ensemble for "Cheerful Little Earful" from Warren's Sweet and Low and in "Jeepers Creepers" from Going Places by Warren. We got to hear Mr. Schneider's guitar again and saw some fun tap dancing.  (Oh, those Juilliard students can do anything!) Adam Cates was credited as choreographer.  They closed with "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening" from Here Comes the Groom by Mercer/Carmichael. They sure can harmonize!

Mary Testa was the guest coach and Mary Birnbaum was Stage Director. Ms. Birnbaum always adds something original and clever.  In "The Old Music Master" from True to Life (Mercer/Carmichael), cast members were used as a hat rack and a writing desk while Mr. Katotakis performed the vocals.

In "I'm Going Shopping With You", cast members became clothing racks. And in "Two Ladies in de Shade of de Banana Tree" Ms. Bennett and Ms. Bottoms fought over a fan, to comical effect.

Chris Reynolds was assistant pianist.

This yearly collaboration between Juilliard and New York Festival of Song always produces surprises and delights. Beneath the surface of fun was a lot of hard work but the artistry lies in showing the fun and hiding the labor.

(c) meche kroop

Monday, January 11, 2016


Anthony Robin Schneider and Joyce DiDonato

Joyce DiDonato's master classes are legendary. She has a marvelous manner with young singers, using every tool at her disposal to bring out what is best and most uniquely theirs. Having attended her master classes before, we began to see a pattern. She seems to emphasize authenticity from moment to moment so the aria or song seems to be composed on the spot--never labored or "worked over".

She began the class by praising Carnegie's Weill Music Institute, calling attention to many of their outreach programs. Then she began working with mezzo-soprano Miya Higashiyama on Cherubino's aria "Voi che sapete" from Mozart's Nozze di Figaro. Clearly Ms. DiDonato had given a great deal of thought to Cherubino's background, present state, and desires; she worked diligently to get the student to sing with intention.

This does not call for excessive gesture or over-acting, but rather to knowing internally what Cherubino is feeling and what he wants.  The metaphor she used was wonderful; Cherubino is trying to draw the Countess in like reeling in a fish!  And the legato vocal line becomes the fishing line. She advised less concern on vocal production and more on simplicity and authenticity.  Something between excitement and restraint is called for. How many actors have heard the refrain "Be it, don't show it!"  Well, that applies to singers as well.

Colombian soprano Amalia Avilán Castillo worked on "Addio, senza rancor" from Puccini's La Bohème. Her vulnerability was praised and she was given permission to enjoy her "big moments".  Several methods were illustrated to increase the resonance by being on the breath, starting with humming. She was encouraged to keep the resonance up in the mask and to stop and start over if the voice drops. If a note is repeated, one must recreate it anew each time.

Which brings us to a most important point.  If a singer "gets it right", s/he should not repeat him/herself but rather repeat the process leading up to the success.  A fine point, but a worthwhile one.

Countertenor Daniel Moody sang an aria from Hãndel's Giulio Cesare. In his case also, simplicity was encouraged, allowing the voice to deliver the music.  Living in the moment is a great idea, not just in life, but in singing. He was advised to abandon his musicality and to work on his breath. The technique is interesting and yet familiar. One begins by hissing the breath and keeping it steady to achieve a legato line.

Once that is established, one can move on to singing on a vowel before adding the words. The breath must be constantly engaged with vowels maintained in the same spot. Intake of breath must be easy; gulping breaths or breathing into the collarbone area just won't do. Every phrase can be deconstructed in this manner so that the muscles will remember. 

The final singer on the program was bass Anthony Robin Schneider who sang "Vi ravviso" from Bellini's La Sonnambula. Clearly Mr. Schneider has a very sizable bass and he was encouraged to sing brighter with a more slender sound, a more youthful sound. Ms. DiDonato pointed out that young basses are often encouraged to imitate older basses with huge voices; but by placing the resonance higher, more colors can emerge.

The technique used to achieve this was to sing on the sound "ee". Indeed, the audience approved of his easier fresher sound although he was not yet comfortable with it himself. Ms. DiDonato seems to have a bag of tricks at her disposal and knows exactly which one will be the key to open up the possibilities of each individual singer.

Accompanists for the class were Justina Lee and Adam Nielsen. The four students had prior classes with Ms. DiDonato on the two preceding days.  We wish we had been free to attend; we can see a great deal of value in observing the singers' progress over a 3-day period.

(c) meche kroop

Sunday, January 3, 2016


William Kelley and Christopher Dylan Herbert

A perfectly polished performance of Schubert's masterpiece Winterreise was given yesterday by baritone Christopher Dylan Herbert and his collaborative pianist William Kelley at St. Paul's Chapel, as part of their Twelfth Night Festival. The capacity audience was held spellbound for over an hour as they lived through the sorrowful journey of a bereft young man, a journey through a cold and forbidding landscape which offers little comfort.

There isn't much we haven't already written about this Romantic period gem, a setting of a cycle of poems by Wilhelm Müller. What is significant for us is that each time we hear it, we hear something new, depending upon the specific artistry of the performers. Mr. Herbert is a very special artist, bringing to the work some rather intense scholarship and a deep understanding of the text.

He has a reserved stage presence, economic of gesture but generous with vocal shadings. His German is excellent with no consonant slurred over, yet without overly punctilious pronunciation. His musicianship and phrasing leave nothing to be desired.  His lyric baritone is warm and pleasing to the ear.

Mr. Kelley is an expressive pianist of great sensitivity. Just as Müller's poetry describes many sorrowful natural and symbolic observations, and Schubert's vocal line evokes many colors of despair for the singer to limn, so Schubert's piano writing brings forth every element of nature--the subject's pounding heart, the frozen landscape, the blustery winds, the frost on the windows, the menacing crow, the post carriage, the hoofbeats, the dangling leaf. Mr. Kelley limned every one of them.

We wish we could share with you readers the well-thought-out essay on the piece written by Mr. Herbert. What we will share is our agreement with his point of view that youth is no barrier to tackle this major work. Nor would it be a barrier to being affected by it.  Who has not lost love? Who has not contemplated self-annihilation?  Is the young man indulging in histrionics?  Is he a product of 19th c. Romanticism?

The way Mr. Herbert sang his words and Mr. Kelley played Schubert's music, we decided he was quite unbalanced, perhaps suffering from Manic Depressive Illness. The rapid major-minor shifts indicate an unsettled nature, as do the unresolved chords.

And so, we listen, we feel touched in our hearts, we wish to comfort those who cannot find comfort, we think of creative solutions to life's blows. Schubert's music is indeed inspiring and magical!

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, January 2, 2016


An 1840's Xmas Eve celebration enjoyed on New Year's Day 2016

We almost always prefer to see an opera presented in its original time and place; how pleased we were that our first experience with Amore Opera honored Puccini with such an authentic production of his 1896 opera La Bohème. Now beginning their seventh season, Amore  Opera has found a worthy home in the Sheen Center on Bleeker St. Although it is a challenge for the singers to sing over the orchestra when there is no pit, they can all be congratulated for turning in some impressive performances. The theater is sized just right for intimacy, allowing everyone to feel a part of the action.

Although there are four casts, we were delighted with the cast we heard last night.  Tonight's performance and the Sunday matinée may have different casts but they will probably excel to the same extent. The lead roles were performed with vocal excellence and dramatic validity. Soprano Jessica Sandidge made a touching Mimi and sang with a beautiful bloom at the top of her register. Her characterization had her living up to Rodolfo's description of her as "always smiling". Even as she lay dying in Act IV, her focus was not on her death but on her happy memories with her beloved.

Tenor Edgar Jaramillo is well known to us and has always sung right from the heart. Thankfully, he never pushes at the top of his register but sings with ease. In this role he had the opportunity to do the bonhomie stuff with his flatmates and also to portray the playful lover and the despairing one as well. All this was handled with aplomb.

Baritone Robert Garner made a splendid Marcello revealing a great deal of insight into an ambivalent relationship. He is madly in love with a difficult woman--the theatrical Musetta--and often enraged by her. His instrument is substantial and lovely to hear.  It's quite a leap from the Metropolitan Opera Chorus to a leading role and he crossed that river as if it were a rivulet. The Act III duet with Mr. Jaramillo was a delight to the ear.

As Musetta, soprano Iris Karlin commanded the stage with her arresting presence and fine bright voice.  It was lovely to hear and to watch a different side of her character emerge in Act IV as she focused on making Mimi's last moments on earth more tolerable.

We also enjoyed Dan Boruchowitz's fine baritone in the role of Schaunard. In many productions, his Act I description of how he came by the funds for filling the table of his flatmates goes rather unnoticed.  Here, the joke was that the bohemian boys paid him no attention while the audience got an earful of gorgeous singing. We paid attention even as they ignored him.

Somewhat disappointing was the Colline of bass Gennadiy Vysotskiy. He neither looked nor sounded like a member of the group although he participated generously in the horseplay. "Vecchia zimarra" is one of our all-time favorite arias but this time it did not even achieve minimal standards.

Character baritone David Seatter was completely marvelous in both roles--as the landlord Benoit and as Alcindoro, Musetta's wealthy "patron".

The entire affair was well directed by founding Artistic Director Nathan Hull. There were so many directorial flourishes that made each scene seem real.  For example, one of the customs officials (Thomas Geib) skims something off the top of a merchant's basket and slips it into his pocket. (The other customs officer was played by Peter Nasonov.)  In Act II, the wonderful waitress (Julie Longmuir) must run after a thieving street urchin. It's those little touches that provide verisimilitude!

We have heard Jason Tramm conduct on a few occasions and have admired his batonery. (Pardon the neologism.) But last night the orchestra was ragged with several instrumentalists off pitch. Particularly egregious was the flute in Act I. The musicians gradually came together as the evening wore on but failed to achieve the phrasing and pacing that we want in Puccini.

Costumes by Ghislaine Sabiti were appropriate with the bohemian boys wearing tattered but period appropriate suits. Musetta looked as theatrical and overdone as one would hope for with Mimi's dress of modest cut and hue. We have no idea who did the wigs but, well, they were disastrous. Ms. Karlin had bright red masses of curls while Ms. Sandidge's beautiful blond hair was covered by an ugly black wig that wasn't even stylistically appropriate. We believe that her blond hair just wouldn't do because the libretto specifies brown.  But black isn't brown!

Set design by Richard Cerullo utilized painted backdrops that worked just fine. The small stage worked very well as a garret. And in Act II, he somehow he made it work as Mr. Hull filled the stage with just enough people to convince us that we were in the Quartier Latin on Xmas Eve. The chorus sang well under the direction of David Macfarlane.

Andrew Trent's lighting made an attempt at artistry but didn't quite succeed. Lights were raised and dimmed to make a point but were not effective.

Those minimal cavils aside, the production was a most enjoyable one. The best proof is that we are still thinking about the characters and hoping that Marcello and Musetta will be sufficiently shocked by Mimi's death to concern themselves more with the health of their own relationship than they were with their power struggle. We wonder how long it will take Rodolfo to recover and when he will find a new love. Death is such a shock to young people! Such is the power of opera that, when well done, we can identify with the characters, even when separated by an ocean and two centuries.

(c) meche kroop