We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


Kim David Smith

We are sitting in the cozy but glamorous back room of Pangea in the East Village thrilling to the musical stylings of the naughty but nice Kim David Smith when who should appear onstage but Anthony Roth Costanzo, the world-renowned counter-tenor about whom we have been writing since his student days at Manhattan School of Music. 

We have no way of knowing if anyone in the audience was an opera lover when they sat down but we are quite sure that they have become opera lovers after Mr. Costanzo's riveting performance of "Tacerò purchè fedele" from Händel's Agrippina.

As if this were not sufficiently earth-shaking, he followed the Händel with "Summertime" from Gershwin's opera Porgy and Bess.

It was altogether a delightful evening with Mr. Smith, about whom we have also been writing for a few years, pressing the advantages of his adorable faux-wicked persona and his charming Down Under accent. We have observed his career burgeoning with evenings with lots of pop music and a big band; but we enjoy him most as he was when we first heard him, focusing on captivating songs sung in fine German and French. His delivery keeps getting more and more refined.

Minus the black eyeliner and bowler hat, he still manages to suggest the atmosphere of 1930's Berlin. Happily, he performed all of our favorite songs, including William Bolcom's "Song of Black Max" and "The Black Freighter" from Brecht/Weill's Threepenny Opera.  Only Nina Simone's version can compare!

Whatever Mr. Smith sings has his own particular stamp on it that makes you feel as if you've never heard it before.  For example "You Keep Me Hangin' On" sung mostly in waltz time and then in 2/4 time. You never heard The Supremes sing it like that! Nor have you heard David Bowie's "Ground Control to Major Tom" like that either.

In Tracy Stark, Mr. Smith has found the perfect accompanist who can noodle effectively while he engages the audience and then keep up with his singing. Playing bass was the excellent Matt Scharfglass.

In addition to these two dazzling artists, there were two other singers who entertained us royally. Gay Marshall put an original stamp on some Edith Piaf songs, sung partly in English of her own (quite good) translation, and partly in French, which predictably we preferred. We'd certainly like to hear more of Ms. Marshall!

And finally we were given a very funny original song by fellow Australian Alexis Fishman. The lyrics were about masculinity and femininity and what happens when you reverse the polarity.  It was WAY clever in its rhymes.

Were it not for concepts we learned from Steven Blier's programming for NYFOS, we might have thought it strange to mix opera and Weimar cabaret; instead we were impressed how good music is good to listen to, no matter what the genre is. The only difference was that Mr. Costanzo does not use amplification whereas Mr. Smith does.

We love the idea of opera in new venues, as when Judith Fredricks produces her cabaret style opera at the Metropolitan Room.  We hope to have more evenings like this one.

(c) meche kroop

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