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.
Friday, February 26, 2016
Thursday, February 25, 2016
Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Sunday, February 21, 2016
Saturday, February 20, 2016
Thursday, February 18, 2016
Monday, February 15, 2016
Friday, February 12, 2016
Wednesday, February 10, 2016
|Hyesang Park and Kang Wang (photo by Nan Melville)|
Initially, we felt a trifle disappointed that Juilliard Opera would be presenting Bellini's La sonnambula in a semi-staged version, hoping to see a production that would wipe from our memory the overly complicated production at the Metropolitan Opera. Within the first few minutes we recognized that the performances themselves created the set and the action, much the way that mountains create their own weather.
With flawless conducting, instrumentalism, and vocal performance, this was a knockout production of which Bellini would have been very proud. It is well known how important to Bellini was the casting.
Two star sopranos took the stage last night and showed their mettle as masters of bel canto style. As Amina, we heard Hyesang Park, who first impressed us exactly two years ago when she performed the famous aria from this selfsame opera "Ah, non credea mirarti" in a master class with Renée Fleming. Clearly she has been working on this role for some time and appeared to inhabit it with ease.
Here, she had the opportunity to portray the modest and innocent Amina, in contrast with the flirtatious Florilla she portrayed in Rossini's Il turco in Italia. She colored her bright voice just right for the role, sounding as young and innocent as the character is meant to be. Her command of the trills, swoops, turns and other embellishments was definitive. Her petite stature abetted the characterization.
Clarissa Lyons was equally impressive as Lisa. We were introduced to this statuesque beauty last month at one of Marilyn Horne's Spotlight Recitals (all these reviews are archived and available through the search bar). It was exciting to see what she can do on an opera stage with her expressive instrument, splendid technique, and fine acting.
We have always found Elvino to be an unlikeable character by dint of his inconstancy. He abandoned Lisa for Amina and was ready to abandon Amina for Lisa when he suspected Amina of infidelity. But his arias and duets are divine, so we can forgive his fickleness! Last night the excellent tenor Kang Wang turned in a fine performance. His instrument is larger and darker than one would expect in this role but he handled it beautifully and musically.
Much of the plot hangs on the shoulders of the mysterious Count Rodolfo who appears in the Swiss town where he grew up and manages to restore sanity to the superstitious townfolk who think the sleepwalking Amina is a ghost. He must convince Elvino that Amina's presence in his room was innocent, as indeed it was.
On the broad shoulders of bass Sava Vemič rested this task and he acquitted himself admirably, as he always does. He has a wonderful instrument that can only grow with the years and the physical presence to assume a variety of roles in that fach.
We have always read between the lines of Felice Romani's libretto. If the Count observes that Amina bears a strong resemblance to a woman he once loved, and if he restrains himself from taking advantage of her sleepwalking into his room at the inn, and if he defends her honor vigorously, isn't it possible that he is her father?
We have never read the play by Eugène Scribe nor have we seen the ballet on which the opera is based, so we have made up the backstory for ourselves. "The Count got a local girl pregnant and disappeared. The woman died in childbirth and Teresa adopted her". Seeing some of this "backstory" acknowledged in the program notes gave us quite a sense of satisfaction!
As Lisa's rejected suitor, bass-baritone Thesele Kemane managed to be both ridiculous and touching. We look forward to hearing more of him.
Tenor Miles Mykkanen excels at putting a personal spin on a great variety of roles and last night he took the role of the Notary which offered little room for characterization but space to appreciate his characteristic sound.
Mezzo-soprano Sara Couden sang the part of Teresa, Amina's caring and protecting mother.
On the podium we had the compelling conductor Speranza Scappucci whom we always admire. She is one of those conductors who uses her entire body to elicit what she wants from the orchestra and The Juilliard Orchestra gave her exactly what she wanted.
The balance was perfect, particularly between the orchestra and the off-stage musicians. The woodwinds made a particularly fine showing and cellist Philip Sheegog's duet with Ms. Park was exquisite. Maybe not as terrifying as Lucia's mad scene with the glass harp but replete with gorgeous harmonies.
As noted above, the artists created the set, so to speak, but Kate Ashton's lighting design surely helped things along. There was one dramatic shift of lighting that deftly underscored the shift in the plot.
David Paul was dramatic consultant.
The chorus of townsfolk supported the action beautifully.
There was a moment when the townsfolk onstage were riveted by the apparition of Lisa sleepwalking. Elvino, the Count, Lisa, and Theresa seemed spellbound. This was a perfect parallel to the audience's rapt attention to the stage.
This production was a product of the fruitful partnership between Juilliard Opera and The Metropolitan Opera's Lindemann Young Artist Development Program.
(c) meche kroop
Sunday, February 7, 2016
|Sophie Junker and Amel Brahim-Djelloul (photo by Louis Forget)|
You may be wondering how one gets an audience member to fork over the considerable cost of a ticket for such a brief entertainment. Wonder no longer. The astute direction of Bernard Deletré (also a singer and actor) expanded the tale of two naïfs unable to consummate their marriage by means of a prologue showing their earlier education, the education that was so incomplete.
On one side of the stage we had Hélène de la Cerisale (played by various female children) being sung and read to by her maiden aunt (played by Sophie Junker who would later take the role of the 16-year-old bride). On the other side of the stage we had Gontran de Boismassif (portrayed by various male children) being instructed by his cleric/tutor Maitre Pausanias (sung by Dominique Côté). The children are shown sequentially at 6 months of age, 6 years, and 12 years.
These brief scenes told us all we need to know about childhood education in France when the Royalists of the Second Empire were in charge. It wasn't too far from the goals of the present day Republican Religious Right--obedience and traditionalism. Au contraire, the Republicans of the late 19th c. (the Third Republic) were fighting for free public education for both genders and for removing public instruction from the hands of the Catholic Church. Sounds like the secular Democratic agenda of today!
It was in this contentious environment that Chabrier's librettists (Eugène Letterier and Albert Vanloo) wrote this seeming piece of fluff, demonstrating their progressive position by satirizing their opponents. Sometimes the best way to get one's point across is with humor. The satire is pointed but never nasty.
For the story, Chabrier wrote the most delicious melodies that are instantly accessible without being at all trite. The work is within the tradition of opéra bouffe and was presented in 1879 at the Cercle International, a club where illegal gambling was tolerated. The songs that were used by Opera Lafayette to pad out the opera are settings of texts by one Edmond Rostand. They are about animals (ducks, pigs, cicadas, chickens, and a tortoise)--Chabrier's very own "Carnival of the Animals". To these songs he brought interesting harmonies and lavishly applied coloring. The song about the rooster and the hen was particularly entertaining.
As to the story of the work itself, it is a simple one. Gontran and Hélène are newlyweds and totally ignorant about sex. They are simply at loose ends. Gontran would consult his tutor Pausanias but the tipsy cleric knows nothing. A letter from Gontran's grandfather is likewise unhelpful. Hélène's maiden aunt similarly knows nothing. She just advises her niece to be kind and obedient.
It is only a thunderstorm that drives the bride into the arms of the groom where nature can take her dependable course!
Chabrier made sure that his performers were as skilled at acting as they were at singing; Opera Lafayette has done the same. Ms. Junker and Ms. Brahim-Djelloul, in addition to having fine voices and musical instincts, are brilliant comic actors, making the innocence of their characters appealing rather than appalling. Baritone Dominique Cöté was the perfect representation of a bibulous tutor.
Artistic Director Ryan Brown conducted the work with panache and Jeffery Watson tickled our ears with his piano. Costumes by Patricia Forelle were original and colorful. She chose to make them amusing and stylish, rather than scrupulous to the period. Lighting was by Colin K. Bills.
Elaborate sets would have been a distraction. Instead we had table and chairs and tons of books representing Gontran's extensive book learning. The patter song in which Pausanias lists all the disciplines he has inculcated into his student's brain was particularly fine.
We can scarcely wait for Opera Lafayette's return on May 1st when they will present three dramatic scenes referencing the French Revolution. Their work is always intertaining and impeccably done.
(c) meche kroop
Saturday, February 6, 2016
|John Brancy and Peter Dugan|
One of the features that ensured the success of the recital was the flow of collaboration between the two artists. Although we are sure that a lot of hard work went into the planning and execution of the recital, the overall effect was one of naturalness and ease. We don't often get to hear recitals with a compelling theme, so the selection of "Fantasy" as a theme struck us as original and compelling.
There be fairytales, there be dragons, there be princesses in towers, there be elves and dwarves, there be satyrs, nymphs, nixen und hexen. Subjects of the texts meet their ends in horrifying and grisly ways. For two hours we were transported to a strange world that was immortalized by all the great composers. The first half of the program comprised lieder that were totally familiar to any recital goer.
Schumann's "Aus alten Märchen" was the introductory piece and it set the stage perfectly for what was to follow. Texts for the five songs in the Schumann set used texts by the young composer's favorite poets--Heinrich Heine and Joseph von Eichendorff. Of the five songs, our favorite was "Waldesgespräch"in which the courtly speech of the rider is hiding some not-so-courtly intentions; he is quickly dispatched by the Hexe Lorelei.
The set of lieder by Schubert was equally impressive with his debut entry as a teenage lieder komponist--"Erlkönig" with text by Goethe--being our favorite. In this case, the tragic death belonged to a small child with the perpetrator being the nasty and seductive king of the elves. From both pianistic and vocal standpoints, this was an incomparable performance.
The entire first half of the program was marked by intensely dramatic storytelling. Neither artist has the slightest reservation about using every color on his palette. Both of them seemed completely immersed in the texts, drawing us into their fantasy world.
If we had one tiny suggestion for Mr. Brancy to take his performance from a 99 to 100, it would be to allow a different color in his voice for the Hexe in "Waldesgespräch", perhaps a more feminine tone, and a more feeble color for the sickly child in "Erlkönig". Clearly his resonant and firmly grounded baritone is more comfortable in the parts of the rider in the first piece and the narrator, father, and Elfking in the second. But we longed for a bit more contrast.
The passionate piano playing could not have been improved and swept us along in a tide of excitement and wonder. In a most welcome addition, Mr. Dugan performed two solos in the second half of the program.
He played Debussy's "Pour invoquer Pan" from Six épigraphes antiques, reduced from the original flutes, harps, and celesta, all of which we could hear in the piano. The notes and their overtones seemed to hang in the air. But it was his arrangement of Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King" from Peer Gynt that brought down the house. We have never heard the like! The house was electrified. Abrupt changes from major to minor and the rumbling in the lower reaches of the piano were unsettling.
The artistic coupling continued to delight and mystify throughout the second half of the program with songs by Debussy, Fauré, Grieg, and Sibelius. Only "Le tombeau des naïades" from Chansons de Bilitis was familiar, although we have never heard it sung by a man. What a treat to hear a song by Sibelius sung in Finnish, strange and beautiful to the ear. In Grieg's "Prinsessen" we could hear the sweet song of the boy playing the horn.
We even enjoyed the songs in English, due to Mr. Brancy's impeccable diction. Not a word was lost! We loved David Long's setting of "Misty Mountains" (text by Tolkien) in which the simple melody and strophic organization were given a variety of moods in the artists' own arrangement.
Britten's arrangement of a French folk song "The king is gone a hunting" was delightful. The English language lends itself so well to short punchy phrases that rhyme and scan.
Wolseley Charles' amusing "The Green Eyed Dragon" allowed Mr. Brancy to give full rein to his storytelling skills and was pure delight.
The welcome encore was "The Impossible Dream" from Man of La Mancha by Joe Darion/Mitch Leigh. It is obvious that all of Mr. Dugan's and Mr. Brancy's dreams are more than possible! It was the perfect end to a stunning recital. The thunderous applause and the standing ovation were well deserved.
The two artists are far more than collaborators on vocal recitals. They both have impressive international careers in many aspects of their art. Clearly, their experience in the art of opera and cabaret and collaboration with other artists has informed their artistry. Still, if we had no knowledge or experience of their diverse talents, if this recital were all we had to go on, we would still select them as stars of the musical firmament. If the recital were repeated today we would be there. They left us satisfied but somehow wanting more.
(c) meche kroop