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.

Monday, June 27, 2016


Elizabeth Caballero, Kevin Thompson, Lisa Chavez, Luis Ledesma, and Sarah Beckham-Turner on board The Eldorado (Photo by Sarah Shatz)

In 1985, the famous Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez published his novel Love in the Time of Cholera, a brilliant work of magic realism, the themes of which seem to have influenced Daniel Catán's striking opera Florencia en el Amazonas. The opera, with libretto by Catán's student Marcela Fuentes-Berain, was the first Spanish language opera to be commissioned by a major United States opera company; indeed it was a co-commission by the Houston Grand Opera, the Los Angeles Opera, and the Seattle Opera; it premiered in 1996 and it took twenty years to get to New York!

As our readers may have noticed, we love the sound of the Spanish language which "sings" as well as Italian. We can scarcely believe that we were enthralled by a contemporary work but indeed we were. The music is lush and the orchestration lavish, not very far removed from Puccini.  Under the baton of Maestro Dean Williamson, the dense orchestration was given clarity and definition. New York City Opera presented it at the Rose Theater last weekend.

There was not a weak leak in the vocal department nor was there a single dramatic lapse. As the eponymous Florencia, soprano Elizabeth Caballero sang her heart out and was totally believable as a diva traveling incognito to the opera house in Manaus, where she hoped to reconnect with the lost love of her youth, not knowing whether he was dead or alive.

Also on board, for further romantic interest (we eschew modern opera when it is political--we want our operas to be about love) were two couples. Soprano Sarah Beckham-Turner was completely convincing as the young woman who has been taking notes for two years for a book she hopes to write about Florencia. Her focused instrument sailed over the orchestration.

Her potential love interest, the young nephew of the captain, is named Arcadio. He is vaguely unhappy with the tedium of shipboard life and longs to be free to explore the world. Terrific tenor Won Whi Choi inhabited this character perfectly and sympathetically.

In contrast with this young couple who are facing their fears of falling in love and relinquishing their independence, there is a second middle-aged couple suffering from the curdling of their love.  Paula (marvelous mezzo Lisa Chavez) and Alvaro (the gifted Mexican baritone Luis Ledesma) are painfully embattled, bickering over everything. It is only when he is washed overboard during a storm that she realizes that pride has overwhelmed her love for him.

Unlike the dissatisfied Arcadio, the captain of the Eldorado, strongly sung and played by bass Kevin Thompson, is thoroughly content with his lot in life, plying the waters of the Amazon. He represents stability and the world of reality.

The mystical world is represented by bass-baritone Philip Cokorinos, in the role of Riolobo (river wolf). His singing was superb but he was visually more believable as the sturdy first mate than as a spiritual being. His appearance as a butterfly was, well, kinda strange.

The last character of the opera was not sung.  It was the Amazon itself and well represented by the orchestra.  It gives life and it takes life.  The orchestra did a fine job of creating a wilderness of birdsong and waters that can be peaceful or churning. The latter was abetted by the agile dancers of Ballet Hispanico's BHdos who tumbled artistically in front of and below the stage proper.

This production originated from Nashville Opera, conceived by John Hoomes, who directed, with Barry Steele (Video and Lighting Designer) and Cara Schneider (Set Designer); it was bursting with creativity. Contributing enormously to its success were the effective rear projections; it made us feel as if we too were traveling on the riverboat with scenery passing by.  The shallow stage of the Rose Theater served well as the deck of the boat with ropes strung across and a captain's wheel.

When Florencia is alone in her cabin during the storm, we experienced the claustrophobia as well. Although magic realism lends itself more to the medium of the novel, the projections provided sufficient visual metaphors to realize the intentions of the story.  At the end, Florencia is transformed into a butterfly joining her beloved Cristóbal, a butterfly collector.

Ildikó Debreczeni's costumes were appropriate to the early 20th c. and quite lovely.

Some vocal highlights included not only Ms. Caballero's moving arias but the duets between Ms. Beckham-Turner and Mr. Choi. The point of the story seems to be that Florencia sacrificed her love for the sake of fame but came to realize that this love was the wellspring of her success. Hopefully, Rosalba and Arcadio will allow their love to blossom and find sustenance therefrom.

If you have read this far, we would like to share with you a linguistic point that you might have missed if you are not Spanish speaking.  Just as the boat approaches Manaus, the passengers cannot disembark for Florencia's recital because the city has been stricken by the fatal cholera.  The word "cólera" represents not just a disease but also means "passion, ire, anger". We believe that the librettist, as well as García Márquez, was making a point about love that endures for decades.  Please let us know what you think.

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, June 25, 2016


Angel Blue, Alexey Lavrov, and Ben Bliss

We have been fans of tenor Ben Bliss and baritone Alexey Lavrov for some time now and readers can find several reviews of their incomparable interpretations through the search bar on this website.  Soprano Angel Blue is new to us but is on the same impressive professional level; we hope to hear her again soon since her performance, like those of dear Alexey and dear Ben, left us tingling with pleasure.

Thanks to the City Parks Foundation Summer Stage and the Metropolitan Opera, New Yorkers in all boroughs have the opportunity to enjoy great artists singing great music. The selections chosen were all popular arias and duets with nothing dissonant or "challenging".  It was a program of pleasure.

This particular concert was first performed in Central Park but we attended the reprise in the beautiful Brooklyn Bridge Park, overlooking the skyline of lower Manhattan. The audience was held spellbound for nearly two hours with not a single cell phone to distract from the entertainment. Even the children were quiet.  Such is the power of artistry!

It must be difficult for singers to deal with the elements and with amplification, but the strain did not show. Accompanied by the versatile Dan Saunders, the sound balance was fine and one could appreciate the skillful performances almost as much as one could in an indoor theater with fine acoustics.

This week as been filled for us with Romeo and Juliet (both opera and ballet) but hearing Ms. Blue's opening number "Je veux vivre" from Gounod's opera let us know immediately that we were in the presence of a fine talent. She was a touching Micaëla in "Je dis que rien ne m'épouvante" from Bizet's Carmen.

No matter how many times one has heard "O, mio babbino caro" from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi one is never bored. One might think that all the amateur singers on TV might have spoiled it, but hearing Ms. Blue's performance wiped out all those aural images.  Ms. Blue's sizable voice and warm personality are perfect for Puccini and we heard selections from La Bohème and Tosca that bowled us over.

Readers may recall how fond we are of zarzuela and we were thrilled that Ms. Blue chose Luisa's fiery aria "Carceleras" from Rupert Chapi's Las Hijas de Zebedeo. She has all the flexibility to make the Arabic-inflected flamenco passages exciting.

Readers are probably aware of how impressed we are with the appositely named Mr. Bliss. We are so pleased to be witnessing his meteoric rise through the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program and his stage-worthiness at the Met and on opera stages worldwide.  What a perfect Alfredo he made last night in "De' miei bollenti spiriti" from Verdi's La Traviata!

The gentler passions of Mozart's "Un'aura amorosa" from Cosi fan Tutte and "O wie ängstlich" from Die Entführung aus dem Serail were no less stirring and gave him the chance to show off his flawless German in the latter.

There was also an aria from an opera unfamiliar to us that was striking in its loveliness--"Magische Töne" from Karl Goldmark's 1875 opera Die Königin von Saba (The Queen of Sheba). We love discoveries and, for us, this was a real winner and perfectly suited to Mr. Bliss' "magic tone".

As encore, Mr. Bliss blissed us out with  (you guessed it!)  an aria from a zarzuela. "Flor Roja" from Jacinto Guerrero's Los Gavilanes was recorded by Alfredo Kraus and Placido Domingo; we hope Mr. Bliss will record it!  The timbre of his voice, the amazing vibrato, and his skillful control of dynamics made it unforgettable.

Baritone Alexey Lavrov, another gifted artist coming out of the Lindemann program, gave us the exciting "Mab, la reine des mensonges" from R&J as well as the lovely serenade "Deh vieni alla finestra" from Mozart's Don Giovanni from which he also sang everyone's favorite duet "Là ci darem la mano" with Ms. Blue as his Zerlina. 

He also sang everyone else's favorite duet "Au fond du temple saint" with Mr. Bliss and went on to the very sad duet "O Mimi tu più non torni".  And yet another duet with Ms. Blue "Lippen schweigen" from Franz Lehar's Die Lustige Witwe which involved some charming waltzing around the stage.

But we most enjoyed Mr. Lavrov in his Russian selection from Sergei Rachmaninoff's Aleko--"Vyes' tabor spit" and in his garlic-inflected encore "Parlami d'amore Mariù" composed in 1932 by Cesare Andrea Bixio and Ennio Neri.

It was a most fulfilling evening which, we hope, won converts to opera. Judging by the prolonged standing ovation, we think so.

There will be more of these concerts and you may just find one you will love by visiting the Met website.

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


Sandra Hamaoui and Nenad Ciča in the Balcony Scene (photo by meche)  

The lavish sets and costumes of The Metropolitan Opera were not to be seen last night; Gounod's luscious orchestrations were not to be heard. What we got instead was a 90 minute adaptation of Roméo et Juliette that was astonishing in its intimacy, immediacy, and Gallic flavor. Truncated as it was, it managed to capture the essence of Shakespeare's tragic tale by virtue of astute casting and committed performances.

In cooperation with The New School Mannes, The International Vocal Arts Institute is winding down their annual New York City training program, which has attracted 80 young artists from 16 countries, all on the brink of major careers,  Over the past three decades, Artistic Director Joan Dornemann and Music Director Paul Nadler have been passing the torch and launching international careers with institutes held all over the world. The three-week long NYC Institute is presently winding down after several master classes and performances, all open to the public.

The libretto of Gounod's 1867 masterpiece, adapted by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré from Shakespeare's tragedy, wisely focuses on the plight of the "star-cross'd lovers" with several themes from Shakespeare's play eliminated.  Last night's performance trimmed things down still further, eliminating the page Stefano, the favored suitor Paris, and the choruses (although the cast assembled onstage and sang the opening chorus-- and sang it as beautifully as we have ever heard it). The fight scene was replaced by a dramatically affecting narration by the lovely Dietlinde Turban Maazel, holding a bloodied cloth in her hand.

This abridgement brought the titular pair into bold relief and allowed one to concentrate on the gorgeous arias and duets.  Gounod lavished all his melodic gifts on this score and gave us memorable tunes that rest in the memory for a long while.

As Juliette, Sandra Hamaoui's clear-voiced instrument was employed with great artistry and adept vocal coloration. Her prodigious acting skills gave us a totally believable teenager, motivated by youthful hormones, abetted by adolescent recklessness. Her flawless French made every word understood, a great advantage in the absence of titles.

As her Romeo, Serbian tenor Nenad Ciča was youthfully ardent and impulsive and fulfilled his role in a similarly convincing fashion. We would like to hear a bit more "center" in his voice but that will come. His voice balanced well with that of Ms. Hamaoui and the harmonization was gorgeous.

Another voice that impressed us was that of baritone Lawson Anderson whose rich full voice was perfect for the role of Count Capulet, Juliette's father. In spite of his youth, he sang with authority and evinced a strong stage presence.

Baritone Evan Henke did a fine job as Roméo's friend Mercutio, with his "Queen Mab" aria--another singer we would like to hear more of.

Mezzo-soprano Michelle Siemens had a lovely sound and connected well with her role as Gertrude, Juliette's nurse, proving that there is no such thing as a "small role".

This was also the case with tenor Pavel Suliandziga who sang the part of Tybalt and sang it with such unique timbre that we were disappointed when he was killed off so early!

As Frère Laurent, bass Christopher Nazarian acted the part well but sang with a somewhat grainy tone.

Conductor Paul Nadler has beautifully expressive hands and we could imagine an entire orchestra responding; only pianist Dura Jun was there but her playing left nothing to be desired. The portentously grim music of the final scene with its arpeggiated diminished chords were effectively brought out. The recapitulation of the music from the bedroom scene added to the tragedy.

Direction by Omer Ben Seadia was as creative as it could be in a black box theater with nothing onstage but a stepladder and a few chairs. The Venetian masks used for the opening scene (the Capulet's ball) were a wonderful touch. Seeing Juliet hugging the pillow after Roméo departs the nuptial bed was a touch any woman in the audience would immediately understand.

No one was credited with the lighting but we found it absolutely instrumental in creating atmosphere, particularly in the absence of sets. For example, the lighting became somber when Juliet learns that the boy she fell for is from the family of her father's enemy.

If you were so unfortunate as to have missed this wonderful performance, you will have an opportunity to hear Puccini's La Bohème tonight, which promises to be as wonderful. And on Thursday night there will be a rare performance of Leoncavallo's version of the same story, a performance which we are already regretting missing. Hopefully, readers, you will not have a prior commitment and can attend. As for us, we wish we could clone ourselves.  So much culture, so little time!

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, June 18, 2016


William Remmers

It is always a thrill to learn more about the people of whom one is fond.  We know William Remmers as the producer/director/conductor of Utopia Opera, the unique small company that does such a fine job presenting operas selected and voted upon by the audience. (All reviews archived here.) We surely had a clue that Mr. Remmers' outsize personality and droll presentation were stageworthy but we didn't know to what extent.

We never knew that he has been a member of the Gilbert & Sullivan Society of New York, which has been around for 80 years; he has been president of this society for the past year.  You Savoyards out there would do well to look into this group which meets several times yearly at the Community Church of New York on East 35th St.

That Mr. Remmers could entertain an audience for a couple hours came as no surprise but the variety of his talent is astonishing.  He sings, he acts, he plays piano, and he dances; he is a veritable one man show. We only know one cabaret artist who can keep an audience this spellbound all by himself, and that is Kim David Smith whose talents are different from Mr. Remmers.

Mr. Remmers is unfailingly versatile and endlessly funny. He is an expert with patter songs, of which W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan have created so many. He is a tall drink of water and thin as electrical tape. His body and face seem made of rubber.

Much of the G&S material in last night's performance, waggishly entitled "The First Annual William Remmers Memorial Concert", came from the delightful 1882 Iolanthe, which found G&S at the height of their compositional power.  "The Law is the True Embodiment" was a smashing way to open the program and "It May Not Be" brought the enchanting evening to a satisfying close.

There were also selections from the 1887 operetta "Ruddigore", the 1888 "The Yeomen of the Guard" and the 1896 "The Grand Duke". The audience comprised mainly members of the G&S Society who knew all the words and gleefully sang along.

With great versatility, Mr. Remmers included lots of other material.  In fine French he sang "Qu'ils Sont Doux" from Gounod's 1858 Le Médécin Malgré Lui and Jaques Brel's 1959 "La Valse à Mille Temps".  And what's this?  The marvelous "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" from Lerner & Loewe's 1956 musical My Fair Lady!  Could anything top Henry Higgins???  Well, yes.  What about "I'm Not Getting Married Today" from Sondheim's 1970  Company, usually sung by a woman.  Never mind that, Mr. Remmers did it justice.

More surprises dazzled us.  We didn't know that Mr. Remmers is also a composer and he entranced us by sitting at the piano and playing a number of compositions from his album Seven Songs for Seven Women.  Apparently he is working on another album and played still more compositions; watch out for Shades of Violet!

When Mr. Remmers was not at the piano, the role of accompanist was played by Thomas Z. Shepard who did a fine job.

(c) meche kroop

Friday, June 17, 2016


Leonarda Priore and Megan Nielson (photo by Janette Pellegrini)

Although not billed as a  "site specific" work, Chelsea Opera's choice to set Giacomo Puccini's Suor Angelica in Christ and St. Stephen's Episcopal Church was a fine idea, in spite of the uncomfortable pews and poor sightlines. The acoustics are excellent and the atmosphere suggestive of the 17th c. convent to which poor Angelica had been hustled seven years before the opera began.

In 21st c. America, women may deliberately have the babies they want without "benefit" of matrimony; indeed, many of them do.  But until very recently, bearing a child out of wedlock was considered shameful, sinful, and deserving of scorn.  In many parts of the world it still is.

 In Suor Angelica's case, she has dishonored her prominent aristocratic family and was given no choice but to be locked away for life.  Nonetheless she appears to have made a life for herself within the convent walls, becoming an expert in herbs and flowers.

Soprano Megan Nielsen was superb in the title role. Her voice filled the church with a ringing tone and her vocal colors varied according to the emotional changes she underwent-- from her almost cheerful entrance to the grief when she learned that her child had died, to the resolute decision to take her life, to the panic she felt when realizing she had committed a mortal sin, to the rapture she felt when she believed herself to be forgiven by the Virgin Mary and to be reunited with her lost son.

No less wonderful was mezzo-soprano Leonarda Priore who inhabited the role of La Zia Principessa as if she were born to it.  She has come to the convent to visit her niece Suor Angelica and if you were in the latter's shoes, you might have been delighted about the visit and wondering if you'd been forgiven for your transgression.

But no, such is not the case. This stunningly remote character has nothing but scorn for her sister's child and has come to the convent to get her niece to sign away any rights to her inheritance because her younger sister is to be married. The frigid air with which Ms. Priore colored her rich mezzo-soprano was chilling, even in the warmth of the church. The confrontation was so painful, we felt all of Zia Principessa's rejection; the coldness with which she told her niece that her child had died had our eyes brimming over with tears.

The huge cast did not have a weak link. Many of them have a history with Chelsea Opera and some were making auspicious debuts. Soprano Terina Westmeyer portrayed La Badessa and the role of the punitive Suora Zelatrice was portrayed by mezzo Juliana Curcio. Soprano Joanie Brittingham was lovely as the young Suor Genovieffa.

The other sisters were beautifully sung by Juli Borst, Samantha Geraci-Yee, Evelyn Carr, Kimmy Norrell, Mary Kathryn Monday, Jennifer Allenby, Rachel Weishoff, Ali Funkhouser, Alexandra M. Priore, Erin Brittain, Elizabeth Moulton, Loren Silber, and Sandy MacDonald.

Carol Wilson did a fine job of directing, establishing a functional community of women. Costuming  by Brent Barkhaus involved simple white habits for the nuns but a long black dress for Zia Principessa that perfectly echoed her stiff personality. Although there was no set, the astute lighting of Alexander Bartenieff was effective in showing the changing emotional content.

The four-member male chorus sounded fine as the voices of angels, adding to our impression of strong musical values.

This powerful and tightly focused opera is the centerpiece of Puccini's Il Trittico and clocks in at under an hour. As "curtain raisers", Maestro Benjamin Grow did an admirable job of conducting the superb Chelsea Opera Chamber Orchestra in three short pieces, with the most interesting (to us lovers of vocal music) the "Salve Regina" beautifully sung by soprano Samantha Kantak, accompanied by Daniel Ficarri on the organ--a very special treat.

There will be one more performance tonight and we urge you to "get to the church on time" because last night there was "standing room only".

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, June 15, 2016


Randall Scotting, Malia Bendi Merad, Jennifer Peterson, Andrew Rader, Nicholas Tamagna, Christine Arand, and Franco Pomponi

Whose music but Handel's could keep us attentive in our seat for nearly four hours?  Whose performance but operamission's could bring the work of three centuries ago to modern life?

Rinaldo was Handel's first opera for the London stage and was written in 1711. Although the public flocked to see it, the critics did what critics do--they found fault.  What a nerve to foist Italian opera on the British!  Indeed!  Just think--if it were written today the critics would be harping on the fact that the subject matter was anti-Islam!

The story of Rinaldo was loosely adapted from parts of the Tasso epic  Gerusalemme liberata and takes place during the First Crusade. The eponymous hero is in the process of liberating Jerusalem from the Saracens, after which he will win the hand of Almirena, daughter of the Captain General Goffredo.

His protagonist Argante, the Saracen King, is not an evil guy, just guilty of belonging to the other side.  Argante is in love with the sorceress Armida who abducts Almirena to have power over the enemy.

The plot is far simpler that that of many other Handel operas. Armida falls for Rinaldo and tries to seduce him and trick him with magic. Argante falls for Almirena. It all works out in the end.  Jerusalem is liberated and Argante and Armida convert to Christianity!  Imagine that being written in today's politically correct environment!

The early 18th c. was famous for its elaborate stagecraft and one can only imagine how they created flying chariots, disappearing mountains, black clouds enveloping people, and switched identities. Last night's concert version did not have to concern itself with such challenges but rather focused on the luscious music, with one melody tumbling out over another.

The early 18th c. was also famous for its castrati and fortunately we no longer have to shudder over that instance of barbarism. Happily we had four countertenors onstage and were able to appreciate the different sizes and weights of their voices.

As the eponymous hero we had Randall Scotting whose instrument was the most sizable of the four--but never lacking in flexibility for the elaborate embellishments so beloved of Handel and of us as well.

Goffredo was sung by Nicholas Tamagna who had the lightest voice of the four. He seemed a bit timid in Act I with a reedy tone but by Act II he found his footing and delivered his best work in a most committed delivery of "Mio cor, che mi sai dir?". The musicality of his phrasing was most evident.

Somewhere in the middle was Andrew Rader who took the role of Eustazio, Goffredo's brother. We liked him best in "Sorge nel petto" and was impressed by the musicality of his phrasing in "Siam prossimi al porto".

The fourth countertenor Biraj Barkakaty sang the small role of a Christian magician and we enjoyed his "Andate, o forti" which was accompanied by bass and cello.

The sopranos also had very different voices and one could readily distinguish them by their radically different colors. As Almirena, we heard Malia Bendi Merad, a petite woman with a voice that managed to be firm while conveying youth and sweetness. Her aria accompanied by the haut-bois was gorgeously embellished. Her duet with Rinaldo in the garden had the most exquisite harmonies. 

As the fiery sorceress one could not have asked for a better interpreter than the glamorous and stately Christine Arand. It was difficult to believe that she needed any magic whatsoever to seduce Rinaldo! During her delivery of "Furie Terribili" we kept thinking "Queen of the Night" and was surprised to learn that said role is not in her bio.

Baritone Franco Pomponi, the lone low voice in the opera, has a powerful stage presence and seems to be able to create all kinds of characterological shifts.  His aria "Sibillar gli angui d'Aletto" showed his warlike side;  but his tender aria "Vieni, o cara a consolarmi" let us know that Argante was not such a bad fellow.  Accompanied by the solo violin of concertmaster Abigail Karr, it left us breathless, especially in the stunning diminuendo.

Thanks to our attendance at so many Salon/Sanctuary concerts, our familiarity with baroque instruments is growing and we have come to love the soft sounds of the woodwinds. Although the string sections were superb, our attention was riveted by the beautiful haut-bois (baroque oboes), the baroque bassoons, and the baroque valveless trumpets which announced the battles.

In the garden scene, there was a trio of recorders, including the tiny sopranino, and if any instruments ever did better at creating birdsong, we have yet to hear them.  That was just one of several outstanding musical moments.

Aside from the garden scene and the marches written for the battle scene, it rarely seemed as if Handel wrote music expressly to advance the story. Many of the arias were likely borrowed from other operas. 

There was not a single aria that wasn't melodic to the "n"th degree but there were two that stood out as more memorable than the rest, perhaps because we had studied them.

Mr. Scotting sang Rinaldo's lament "Cara  sposa, amante cara" with such great pathos and dynamic control that tears threatened to spring from our eyes.

Imprisoned in Armida's magical garden in Act II, Ms. Merad sang Almirena's lament "Lascia ch'io pianga mia cruda sorte" to similar effect.  We do so love Handel's largo laments! The embellishments were marvelously over the top.

Finally, we were dazzled by the harpsichord solo of Patrick Jones at the end of Act II,  although we have no idea whether the wild flights and torrents of sound involved any improvisation or Handel had it all written down in the score. 

The work closed with a harmonically rich ensemble that delighted us and sent us out smiling.

The evening was conducted by Jennifer Peterson herself from the harpsichord and a splendid evening it was!

© meche kroop


Jeni Houser as Susanna
Jesse Blumberg as Figaro

It was the social event of the season and we were thrilled to be invited.  In keeping with the exclusivity of the event and the size of Count Almaviva's summer residence on Hudson St. in the West Village, it was a small private event, limited to only fifty fortunate guests.

The ceremony was delayed for about two hours and we guests were privy to all the preparations.  We got to chat with Figaro himself as he studied the room allotted by the Count, trying to figure out where to place the marital bed.  We got to greet his bride Susanna as she made her preparations.  

The ceremony, which was delayed due to all kinds of complications, finally took place with the entire household in attendance and guests being treated to glasses of Madeira with which to toast the bridal couple, and some lovely sweetmeats, ensuring that the marriage would be a sweet one.

We are speaking, of course, of The Marriage of Figaro, not the Mozart version, but a relatively unknown version written by Marcos Portugal in 1799 with libretto by Gaetano Rossi, who, like Da Ponte, adapted the work from a play by Beaumarchais. The story was basically the same with a few minor variations.

On Site Opera has made their mark by presenting lesser known operas in site-specific settings. This work marks the centerpiece of their exploration of the Beaumarchais trilogy. Having experienced several of their excellent productions, we count their contributions as crucial to the New York City opera landscape.

The production team is no less than visionary: Executive Director/Producer Jessica Kiger sees her company as complementary to grand opera, not a replacement. Indeed, there is something unique and incredibly special about opera up close and personal.

Stage Director Eric Einhorn has exquisite taste and judgment in each and every production, moving characters around the set and giving them stage business that is meaningful.

Conductor Geoffrey McDonald not only brings out the best in his musicians and singers, but, in this case, collaborated with guitarist José Luis Iglesias to produce a version of the score involving four classical musicians (violin, cello, clarinet, and oboe) with three musicians suggestive of Portuguese fado music (classical guitar, Portuguese guitar, and accordion). 

That sounds strange on paper but the music they made seemed totally appropriate and fell fantastically well on the ear. Furthermore, it helped to get the point across that we were hearing an entirely different work and not a "copy of Mozart".

This being an opera, the voices were, shall we say, "instrumental" in the success of this venture. As the eponymous Figaro, lyric baritone Jesse Blumberg soared gracefully through the material and conveyed the wily resourcefulness of his character.  As his bride Susanna, soprano Jeni Houser sang warmly and winningly. Their chemistry together was wonderful, not only in their duets but in the dialogue.

(In place of recitativi, we had effective dialogue written by Joan Holden.)

As the beleaguered Countess Almaviva, soprano Camille Zamora was believable and sang with warmth and lovely tone. We particularly enjoyed her duet with Ms. Houser.

Tenor David Blalock made a marvelous Count Almaviva, both dramatically and vocally. He conveyed all of the Count's arrogance and eventual contrition.

Soprano Melissa Wimbish made a perfect Cherubino, totally convincing in her mischievous portrayal, and vocally excellent.

For humor, we had the Marcellina of mezzo-soprano Margaret Lattimore, whom we much enjoyed some years ago and were happy to see back onstage. Bass-baritone David Langan was just right as Don Bartolo.

Bass-baritone Ryan Kuster excelled as the slimy Don Basilio and bass-baritone Antoine Hodge was hilarious as the gardener Antonio and even funnier as the notary Gusmano. He kept falling asleep even as he was reading the documents and we couldn't help noticing that his character was the only person in the room who was. (So unlike sitting at the Met surrounded by snoring audience members.)

So--this production was anything but a snooze.  It was incredibly involving and one left feeling as if one was a participant, not an observer.

Had the musical values been any less wonderful, we might have been telling you that the set stole the show.  The performance was a multi-storied and elaborately decorated house on Hudson St. which audience members were invited to explore before the opera began. It was great fun to encounter the cast members already in character.  One truly felt a part of the proceedings.

Costumes by Haley Lieberman seemed to suggest an indeterminate period in the second half of the 20th c.

The opera was sung in English and, although we would have preferred to hear it in the original Italian, we admit that the translation by Gilly French and Jeremy Gray was exceptionally well done, using some clever rhymes like "marriage/disparage".  Contributing to our tolerance for the English was the fact that every cast member had excellent diction, a quality we do not take for granted.

We feel a bit guilty praising so highly a work which few of you will get to see. The four-day run was sold out long ago and we can only hope that it will be presented again in the future so that more people might experience the same thrill that we did.

Obviously the economics of producing such an elaborate work in such intimate quarters for such a small audience to enjoy is an issue. On Site Opera deserves your philanthropy!

© meche kroop

Monday, June 13, 2016


Suchan Kim, Dina Pruzhansky,Kinneret Ely, Shu-Yu Hsiung

Regular readers recall how fond we are of bel canto. of duets, and of hearing wonderful songs we've never heard before.  All three conditions were experienced last night when versatile soprano Kinneret Ely performed a most enjoyable recital at The National Opera Center.

Let us begin with the new. While singing well in Italian, Russian, German, French and English, Ms. Ely seemed most at home in Hebrew. A 20th c. song by Nachum Nardi took us on a journey into the desert with the lovely melody bringing in the sounds of the camels' bells--beautiful achieved by Dina Pruzhansky. A lullaby by Yehiel Halperin took us to a gentler landscape, whilst Nira Chen's setting of a verse from the Song of Songs was exquisite.

All three songs were performed with simplicity by Ms. Ely who has a most winning stage presence, graciously telling the audience about each song on the program. Her exciting coloratura was saved for other material on the program. We never tire of "Una voce poco fa" from Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia and Ms. Ely paid full attention to Rosina's spunky nature.

In the lengthy mad scene from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, Ms. Ely accurately conveyed the many shades of madness experienced by the eponymous heroine. Here, Shu-Yu Hsiung's flute joined Ms. Pruzhansky's piano and the accompaniment left nothing to be desired.

It was a great benefit to have such a fine robust baritone as Suchan Kim on hand to perform Rigoletto to Ms. Ely's Gilda in the scene where she confesses and her father consoles. We've heard Verdi's Rigoletto several times in the past couple months and that is another scene of which we never tire.

In the less familiar "Doute de la lumière" from Ambroise Thomas' Hamlet, the couple switched from a paternal relationship to a romantic one and that was so swoon-worthy that we wanted to hear the entire opera.

Ms. Ely also gave us three sets of lieder in her generous program. There was a trio of Tosti songs that we enjoyed, although we would have wished for a little more legato to truly achieve the Italianate style.

A trio of Strauss songs delighted us with Ms. Pruzhansky especially wonderful in Morgen. Ms. Ely clearly knows how to pronounce the difficult "ch" as she demonstrated in the word "glücklichen"; so we hope she will become more consistent as in "Zecher" and "Becher", where more definition was needed. (We confess to being rather nit-picky with our German.)

A pair of Rachmaninov songs rounded out the program and sounded fine. (We confess to knowing very little about Russian diction!) Ms. Pruzhansky nailed the sound of the rushing water in "Spring waters" whilst Ms. Ely nailed the hopefulness engendered by the coming of Spring.

As encore, we heard the delightful "Vanilla Ice Cream" from the Harnick/Bock musical She Loves Me, which Ms. Ely sang in a most charming manner.

At a time when most young sopranos sound identical, it was a pleasure to hear one with a unique tone involving substantial vibrato. Interestingly, in the role of Rosina, there was a rich mezzo-soprano quality in her lower register.

We are sure to be hearing more from this promising young artist.

(c) meche kroop

Friday, June 10, 2016


Lindell Carter, Madison Marie McIntosh, Steven Herring, Brent Reilly Turner, Maestro Keith Chambers, Kirsten Chambers, Kevin J. Langan, Kian Freitas, and Richard Cross

Last night we had the privilege of being present at a birth.  The birth went smoothly and the newborn is healthy and gave some lusty cries. The birthplace was adequate but this baby needs some growing room!  The babe was named....New Amsterdam Opera and was delivered by Maestro Keith Chambers,

We consider it ambitious to have tackled Fidelio, Beethoven's sole opera; thanks to some fine and highly accurate conducting as well as some excellent casting, the night was a huge success. The large church was filled to capacity and the standing ovation impressive. Musical values were so high that sets and costumes were not missed.

Beethoven wrote this opera in 1805 but tinkered with it until its final version was completed in 1814. Two interesting decisions were made by Maestro Chambers: although there were never any recitativi, the opera contained spoken dialogue and Mr. Chambers replaced this with narration by the eminent Richard Cross; although the original overture (thought to be too weighty for the opera) is generally presented as a concert piece, here it was inserted between the two scenes of Act II, not an original idea to be sure but not a treat one can take for granted. 

The story is a straightforward one. The wife of a political prisoner disguises herself as a man and gets a job at the prison where her husband has been unfairly incarcerated. She wins the trust of the warden and finally manages to rescue her beloved. She also inadvertently wins the love of the warden's daughter Marzelline who is pursued by Jaquino.

Soprano Kirsten Chambers has a sizable voice with great overtones, one in which musical values are never sacrificed for volume. As the loyal and heroic titular character (first "Fidelio" and later "Leonora" when her gender is disclosed) she was completely believable. We loved her passionate aria in Act I.

We also loved the duet between Ms. Chambers and Madison Marie McIntosh, whose focused voice and youthful appearance perfectly suited the role of the innocent Marzelline. The two very different sopranos sounded brilliant together.

We do not get to hear the voice of the imprisoned aristocrat Florestan until Act II. The character has been starving in a dungeon for two years but tenor Brent Reilly Turner managed to color his robust voice to indicate  both hope and faith. His big aria is introduced by a sorrowful theme in the orchestra, with Maestro Chambers' handling of the brass particularly impressive.

As the jailer Rocco, bass Kevin J. Langan was particularly fine, both vocally and dramatically. His German was especially fine, a quality we prize inasmuch as there were no titles. We were sitting to the side and his clarity was evident no matter which side of the stage he occupied.

Baritone Steven Herring has a powerful voice and created a threatening character in the role of Don Pizarro, the nobleman who was responsible for jailing Florestan.  We found ourselves hating the character and loving the singer in equal measure!

Entering at the very end of the opera, announced by offstage trumpet, was the Governor Don Fernando. Bass-baritone Kian Freitas did justice to the role.  It was a special moment when he allows the unmasked Leonora to remove her husband's chains. He makes the theme of the opera very clear--story and music both reflect Beethoven's passion for liberty and heroism.

Some special moments that we enjoyed were the quartet in Act I and the prisoner's chorus in Act II. Their placement up high behind and above the orchestra allowed their voices to be heard. Props go to Chorus Master Tony Bellomy.

We cannot comment on tenor Lindell Carter's portrayal of Jaquino because we could not hear him. Part of this can be attributed to his being stage right whilst we were sitting on the other side. Still, singers with larger voices or better focused voices could be heard from wherever.

And that brings us to our one disappointment with the evening. West Park Presbyterian Church does not have great acoustics. The orchestra filled the stage and the singers were placed in front. Our dearest wish for this new company is that they find a home with an orchestra pit or an elevated playing area. They deserve it!

(c) meche kroop

Monday, June 6, 2016


Hasan Ozcan, Gennadiy Vysotskiy, Violetta Zabbi, Juan Del Bosco, Carlos Jimeno, Noam Katz, Galina Ivannikova, Kofi Hayford, Jeffrey Perez, and Jason Lim

Last night's search for summertime opera took us to the National Opera Center where the New York Opera Theater presented a concert version of Verdi's masterpiece Rigoletto, of which we never tire--although we have reviewed it several times this year and just recently at Amore Opera.

Verdi's melodies are incomparable and Francesco Maria Piave's libretto does a great job of storytelling.  Music and words combine to create well-rounded characterizations that require only good performers to inhabit them.  In a piano reduction, one might miss the orchestration but, in the hands of Music Director Violetta Zabbi, we were content. Even the storm scene in Act IV created enough meteorological verisimilitude.

The performers were, for the most part, excellent, especially in their Italian diction. Without titles, it is a great advantage to be understood.

The heartbreaking role of Gilda was beautifully performed by soprano Noam Katz who was assisted by her innocent and beautiful appearance. We admired the way she conveyed various emotional states by means of vocal coloring, facial expression and gesture.  Her bright youthful soprano and facile coloratura served her well.

The New York Opera Theater has a mission of role preparation and Ms. Katz' seemed well-prepared to go onstage anywhere with her Gilda; she is solid in her familiarity with the role.  Although the program did not include bios, we would think she has sung the role before. And probably several times.

Similar in commitment and preparation, baritone Carlos Jimeno made a very fine Rigoletto--although his tall dignified bearing would have required elaborate costuming to convince us! He exhibited a wide emotional range and his duet with Gilda was superb. He handled his tenderness toward her as effectively as his antipathy toward the courtiers.

In the role of the Duke, the tenor was indisposed and having insurmountable vocal distress. Fortunately, in Act II, Mexican tenor Juan Del Bosco took over.  His is a large voice that he might learn to harness and scale down when the performing space is small.  Scorca Hall has very lively acoustics! He sounded best when he sang from offstage and one could still hear him loud and clear.

He is a musical singer with fine phrasing and superb Italian diction; but like many tenors he pushes on his high notes when he might do better to float them. The upper reaches of the staff does not mean the upper limits of volume. Although he seemed to know the role well, he turned to the score on the music stand which interfered with his otherwise fine acting.

We loved mezzo-soprano Galina Ivannikova in the role of Maddalena.  She has a rich unique sound which one rarely hears in this fach. Her work in the quartet was outstanding. We wish to hear more of her!

Bass roles were well-sung. Kofi Hayford performed Monterone, a role which sat very well on his rich voice.  Gennadiy Vysotskiy was truly menacing as Sparafucile and employed the bottom of his register well.

As Marullo, Borsa, and Ceprano, we heard Hasan Ozcan, Jason Lim, and Jeffrey Perez respectively. Their voices harmonized well and when they stepped away from their music stands they sounded even better.  Regular readers will recall how we feel about singers being "on the book".

The performance came in at two hours, with a few judicious cuts in dialogue.  We didn't miss Countess Ceprano at all. In terms of a concert version, this one was just the way we wanted to hear it, minus the music stands.  We never missed the sets and costumes.  We were happy to hear new singers showcased.

(c) meche kroop 

Saturday, June 4, 2016


Zen Wu, Melissa Serlluco, Ryan Slone, Jeff Goble, Caroline Tye, Alison Cheeseman, and Hayden DeWitt

When thinking about operatic versions of Cinderella, most people think of Rossini's La Cenerentola. But Massenet's 1899 opera Cendrillon offers many delights, including a luscious score with many fine arias and ensembles and a libretto (by Henri Caïn) that hews more closely to the original Perrault story which was already two centuries old. It can be taken as a tale of a highly dysfunctional family.

Papa Pandolfe (warmly portrayed by Jeff Goble) has taken as his second wife the harridan Madame de la Haltière (the over-the-top Caroline Tye) who has brought with her two spoiled daughters Noémie (Zen Wu) and Dorothée (Melissa Serluco). Pandolfe's daughter Lucette (Alison Cheeseman) is adored by her father, who feels guilty for neglecting her, and barely tolerated by her step-family.  This feels so relevant today when "blended families" are quite common.

William Remmers' Utopia Opera operates under a rather unique concept. Audience members vote online for the operas they want to hear the following season. We are consistently amazed by how Maestro Remmers rises to every challenge and comes up with a solution to the problem of combining entertainment and professionalism on a miniscule budget.

Although we always enjoy ourselves and admire the creativity, last night we were wildly impressed by the superlative performances of every performer and the innovative direction of Mr. Remmers who truly knows how to tell a story and to tell it well. We were engrossed and enchanted.

Although there is no scenery and barely any props, the story is told and told well. Costumes are of the "let's put on a show" variety. We imagine cast members rummaging through closets and coming up with something to express the characters they are portraying.  Most original of all was the black tie,  top hat , white silk scarf, and cigarette holder of The Fairy Godmother. The description sounds odd but, trust us, it worked incredibly well. Her fairy spirits dressed completely in white.

Lucette appears first in dowdy clothes of nondescript color and later in a shimmery garment with sparkly shoes. The henpecked Pandolfe wears a velvet jacket. Member of Lucette's step-family wear lavish ball gowns.

We first saw Cendrillon at the Santa Fe Opera ten years ago in a beautiful Laurent Pelly production with Joyce Di Donato in the title role-- and again two year ago at Juilliard with Julia Bullock. We were delighted both times but there was something about the intimacy of the Utopia Opera production that will stay in our mind.

There are a number of unforgettable scenes that one is not likely to forget!  You must see for yourself.

Massenet's music is deliciously romantic; Remmers' 19-member orchestra did the score justice once Mr. Remmers' baton brought them all together and achieved balance between the strings and the winds. We were particularly taken by the English horn solos of Zachary Rosalinsky which accompanied the love duets. The love duet between Pandolfe and Lucette was just as fine as that between her and Prince Charming.

Ms. Cheeseman made a winsome Lucette, one we could care about. We could feel compassion for Mr. Goble's Pandolfe who just made a bad marital decision. We could laugh at the domineering step-mother and the ridiculously entitled and sulky step-sisters. But we were most enthralled by the otherwordly magic of Angela Dinkelman's Fairy Godmother whose costume played so strongly against our expectations. Massenet gave her the best music and she didn't let him down!

Even the chorus was well-rehearsed. The fine direction led to camera-perfect stage pictures such that we have spent hours editing down the multiplicity of shots. And we must mention the fine French diction that was totally understandable.  Our companion told us that the titles were down for a period and we never noticed!

If you have been tempted to share our joy by attending, you will find the Lang Recital Hall at Hunter College to have superb sight lines and you will be amazed at the ridiculously low ticket prices. This same cast will perform next Saturday night, with a (likely just as fine) second cast performing tonight and next Friday night. You won't be disappointed!

(c) meche kroop

Friday, June 3, 2016

LOTNY--Not so little

Little Opera Theatre of New York

In celebration of Carlisle Floyd's 90th birthday, LOTNY presented an evening of scenes from several of his works at the DiMenna Center last night; this presentation was part of New York Opera Fest's two-month-long festival featuring members of the New York Opera Alliance.

Although our 19th c. ears may never be completely able to wrap themselves around Mr. Floyd's 20th c. musical idiom, it would have taken a hurricane to keep us from hearing some of our favorite young singers make musical sense out of his work. Although his operas have been called accessible, our ears are often left hungry for melody. We had enjoyed a double feature of his operas last season and had loved the way they were staged and performed by LOTNY.

That the capacious performing space was packed is testament to the fact that there are many New Yorkers who find substantial nourishment in Floyd's music.

A special treat, one for which we were unprepared, was the presentation of scenes from his freshly composed opera Prince of Players in which he tackles the tale of the secret love affair between Villiers, Duke of Buckingham (tenor John Kaneklides) and actor Edward Kynaston (baritone Michael Kelly). The action takes place during the Restoration, when Charles II sat on the English throne and ended the careers of actors who had customarily portrayed women onstage. Good for women, bad for the guys.

If we have heard two singers creating more electricity together than Mr. Kelly and Mr. Kaneklides we can not recall it. The scene in which Villiers ends the relationship with Kynaston was heartbreaking and so was the scene in which Kynaston's dresser (soprano Sarah Beckham-Turner) comforts the injured actor. All three voices were excellent and the music seemed more lyrical than that of Mr. Floyd's previous operas.

The choice of material resonated more with us than that of Mr. Floyd's post-WWII opera Slow Dusk because somehow there seems to be a disjunction between the genre of opera and the plain home-spun country dialect of the libretto.  Puccini, Mascagni, and Leoncavallo got away with verismo; perhaps everything just sounds better in Italian.

Which brings us to that old bugaboo-- English diction. The higher the tessitura in English, the more difficult it seems to understand the language, putting sopranos and tenors at a distinct disadvantage, although the tenors on the program were perfectly understandable.

Ms. Beckham-Turner shared the role of young Sadie in Slow Dusk with Carolina Castells. Both sopranos sounded just fine, diction aside, with the bright focused voice of the former best suited to the ingenue quality of the first selection and the wider richer tone of the latter best suited to the tragic dimension.

Mezzo-sopranos Janice Meyerson and Jennifer Roderer shared the role of Aunt Sue with tenor Bray Wilkins performing Micah and baritone Robert Balonek reprising his role as Jess. Director Philip Shneidman, founder of LOTNY, did an excellent job of creating theatrical meaning without benefit of sets or costumes.

Also recalled from the double bill was Floyd's Markheim (1966), another good choice of theatrical material--a battle of wills between a desperate wastrel (bass Tyler Putnam, whom we admired so much in Santa Fe) and a steadfast pawnbroker (tenor Scott Six) that one just knows will not end well. The second scene was even more riveting when tenor Marc Schreiner appeared as the Stranger (maybe the devil?).

There were also selections from Floyd's 1980 political opera Willie Stark with baritone Ron Loyd delivering a powerful and persuasive aria about the law which is "like a single bed blanket".

The program closed with a selection from Of Mice and Men from 1969 with Mr. Balonek portraying the much put-upon but tolerant George with fine resonance and lucidity, and Mr. Six giving a convincing and moving performance as the mentally handicapped Lennie. They had a fine rapport in this moving scene.

Accompaniment was provided by Music Director Richard Cordova and Associate Music Director Catherine Miller.  The performing space, while generous in size, suffers from overly active acoustics and the piano sounded louder than it should have, at times threatening to drown out the singers.

Mr. Lloyd's most famous opera Susannah was not represented. Nonetheless, we left the performance feeling a bit more at ease with Mr. Lloyd's music than we felt when we arrived, thanks to the excellent work of the singers.

(c) meche kroop