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, September 27, 2016


Mirga Gražintyé-Tyla and Llewellyn Sanchez-Werner with the Juilliard Orchestra

What a dazzling manner in which to begin the new season! This may be the first time we enjoyed an evening of symphonic music from the opening note to the final chord. There was not a single longueur. 

To begin with, it was a special thrill to see a woman on the podium--a feeling we get when Eve Queler wields her baton. But Lithuanian conductor Mirga Gražintyé-Tyla is only 30 years old and has already achieved fame through her prodigious talent and her unique style on the podium-- which possibly reflects her association with firebrand Gustavo Dudamel.

It's unfortunate that the New York Philharmonic lets exciting conductors slip through its fingers but Juilliard did not, more credit to them. This young woman is fun to watch. She has the petite form, lithe athleticism, and soft arms of a ballerina. The envy of the old biddies next to me was so green that they could have worn it on St. Paddy's Day--what with their criticism of her bare arms.

But those bare arms bore watching as her grace, her flexible wrists, and seemingly boneless arms gently coaxed the young musicians into making the finest music we have heard in a very long time.  When the music called for emphasis, the bones reappeared as she pointed precisely and jabbed angularly.

That being said, the proof of the musical pudding is in the sound and we got the impression that she formed a great relationship with the musicians who played as if their lives hung in the balance. Such gusto!  Such involvement!  Major WOW!

The program was wisely chosen.  The opener was a piece entitled "Fire" by the conductor's countrywoman Raminta Šerkšnyté, and a most accomplished piece it was. It was commissioned by the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and premiered in 2012 in Munich.  It was meant to be inspired by and played alongside Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.

The program notes were rather academic and went over our head but the music did not.  Some people like to think about music but we like to experience it emotionally. The opening movement, marked "Misterioso" succeeded at creating an air of mystery through some growling percussion and the lower voices of the winds. The mood soon shifted and it became obvious that the piece favored texture over melody.

The second section, marked "Con brio", shifted the mood entirely and the orchestra erupted into an explosion of sound.  It wasn't until the closing bars that we caught the hommage to Beethoven's Fifth in its fate theme.  The audience's applause erupted similarly. It was a piece of startling originality and color. The composer had to be coaxed to come out and enjoy the accolades.

The second selection involved an exceptionally artistic performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto #3 in C minor, Op. 37 by the wildly talented Llewellyn Sanchez-Werner.  Only 19 years old, this prize-winning prodigy is in his second year of the Master of Music program at Juilliard and seems headed for greatness.

The three movement concerto seemed to reflect Beethoven's admiration for Mozart. The first movement, marked "Allegro con brio", established the key immediately with arpeggiated figures and allowed Mr. Sanchez-Werner to dazzle us with trills and scale passages; the second lyrical theme involved melodic elements that seemed to want to belong in an opera that Mozart might have written.

The second movement, marked "Largo", was one of ineffable loveliness and seemed introspective. The "Rondo Allegro" offered a cheeriness and a welcome familiarity as the theme recurred with freshness.

The work was well chosen in that it allowed Mr. Sanchez-Werner to show off his technique in the lively passages and his lyricism in the slow sections.

The final work on the program was Berlioz' Symphonie fantastique, Op. 14. The opening movement featured ascending and descending scales in the violins that showcased the string section's tight collaboration.

Our favorite movement was the second "Un bal" which gave the harps a lovely theme. The third movement was very special with an offstage oboe answering the call of the one onstage and a finale giving the percussionists a real workout.   The wild final two movements gave full rein to emotionality.

Standing ovations greeted the artists as Maestro Gražintyé-Werner strolled around the orchestra, honoring each section.  Honors belong to everyone onstage. This performance is one we will not forget.

(c) meche kroop

Monday, September 26, 2016


Winners of The Giulio Gari Foundation 2016 International Vocal Competition
Last night at the New York Athletic Club we were fortunate to hear some of the winners of the Giulio Gari Foundation 2016 International Vocal Competition. Some of the winners were unable to perform because of contract commitments (and we are happy that they have engagements!).  The ones we did hear confirmed our belief that these rising stars were well chosen and the Foundation's generosity was well directed.

Every year the Foundation gives generous cash prizes to these competition winners; those who support the Foundation get an inside track on the stars of tomorrow. We wish the lighting in the room had been more photography-friendly, so that readers might have a better look at these beautiful young artists who sang with dedication and commitment.

As is customary, Brian Kellow served as host for the evening and the versatile accompanists Jonathan Kelly and Arlene Shrut gave great pianistic support to the young artists.

The evening began by honoring the celebrated soprano, director, and teacher Catherine Malfitano who shared some words of wisdom about life on Planet Opera.  Also honored was soprano Ana Maria Martinez who expressed her gratitude for her brilliant career. If these two fabulous women could not inspire a young artist, no one could!

As is our wont, we will not discuss who won which prize or how much money each was awarded.  We prefer to share our personal reactions to the singers, all of whom we enjoyed.

We were particularly glad that Ms. Malfitano discussed the importance of acting. The kind of acting we witnessed seemed to come from deep within. For example, when soprano Vanessa Vasquez performed "Un bel di vedremo" from Puccini's Madama Butterfly, Cio-Cio San's delusion became our delusion as well.  She saw Pinkerton's ship on the horizon and so did we.

Ms. Vasquez has an arresting vocal quality and prodigious technique but what we remember several hours later is the way we felt!

Similarly, when bass Sava Vemič performed Fiesco's aria "Il lacerato spirito", from Verdi's Simon Boccanegra, we could tell he was "feeling it" because we were also "feeling it" along with him. From what deep place Mr. Vemič was able to draw such sorrow over the loss of a daughter we know not. But he did and it was very affecting.  The sadness lingers in our memory.

Of course, his instrument is an extraordinary one which we have heard several times before, but there was a new amplitude in the lower register that gave us chills. One thinks of the bass fach as a late-developing one but Mr. Vemič is well on his way.

This was one of two Verdi arias on the program.  Baritone Jin Sol gave a wonderful performance of "Di provenza il mar, il suol" from La Traviata--a performance that would surely convince Germont's wayward son to return to the family.

There was quite a bit of Puccini on the program and the master would have been delighted hearing how well soprano Antonina Chehovska limned the character of Mimi as it changed from the romantic duet "O soave fanciulla" from Act I of La Bohème to the sorrowful Act III parting  "Addio dolce svegliare". We have always enjoyed Ms. Chehovska's singing but particularly appreciated this special touch.

In the duet, tenor Fanyong Du made a fine Rodolfo, and in the quartet Rodolfo was equally well performed by Marco Cammarota. Although the parts were small, soprano Meryl Dominguez made a marvelously fiery Musetta with Andrew Manea as her angry jealous lover Marcello. We can't wait to hear more of them.

From the final act of this sad story, the duet "O Mimi, tu piu non torni" was performed by tenor Jamez McCorkle as Rodolfo and baritone Norman Garrett as Marcello, both of whom did a great job trying to fake their indifference to their lost loves.  Their voices blended beautifully.

Donizetti got some attention as well, with tenor Daniel Bates, whom we well remember from the Santa Fe Opera last month, bringing out the high emotionality of Nemorino's aria "Una furtiva lagrima". He sang it with a splendid ringing tenor.

Mozart was not neglected either and "La ci darem la mano" from Don Giovanni was pure delight with mezzo-soprano Hanna Ludwig being seduced by bass-baritone Pawel Konik in the role of the eponymous Don.

Finally, baritone Christopher Magiera, also remembered from the Santa Fe Opera, delighted us with Danilo's aria from Act I of Die Lustige Witwe, by Franz Lehár. This ebullient celebration of the bachelor life "Chez Maxime" is effervescent and Mr. Magiera captured it well.

All the young artists pleased our eyes and ears and we are grateful to The Giulio Gari Foundation for bringing them the recognition for which they have worked so hard and which they so richly deserve.

This worthwhile organization deserves the support of all you opera-lovers out there.

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, September 24, 2016

VIVE LES ARTS--in all their Gallic glory.

George Hemcher, Stéphane Sénéchal, and Robert Osborne

Last night we had the privilege of attending a private recital at the magnificently art-filled home of painter Lewis Bryden and his lovely wife Betsy.  Mr. Bryden paints exactly the kind of painting that we want in our home--portraits and representational works of haunting loveliness.

It was the perfect setting for a recital by French tenor Stéphane Sénéchal, whom we heard for the first time, and bass-baritone Robert Osborne, whom we enjoyed so much at the Hispanic Society singing Don Quichotte.

The program, entirely in French, seemed designed to highlight the unique talents of each artist and also to show a contrast between the delicacy of Mr. Sénéchal's lyric tenor and the robustness of Mr. Osborne's sturdy bass-baritone. 

The former has quite a career in his native France and has garnered multiple awards both there and here. His ease with his homeland's mélodies is legendary and he has achieved quite a reputation as an ambassador of the French repertoire. He is also affiliated with Classic Lyric Arts as Artistic Director of L'Art du Chant Français which has contributed so much to French performance instruction.

He opened the program with three selections by Francis Poulenc; our favorite was the lively "Vous n'écrivez plus", setting of a text by Max Jacob.  Later on the program he performed songs from an earlier period, all masterpieces.  In Gabriel Fauré's "Ici-bas", he used his fine phrasing to good effect, employing an exquisite caressing tone.

In Henri Duparc's "Soupir", he used delicate vocal brush strokes to paint a picture of longing. Charles Gounod's "Viens les gazons sont verts" was sung with all the enthusiasm the text required, accompanied by George Hemcher's rippling piano. Déodat de Séverac's "Les hiboux" was given a haunting interpretation by both tenor and pianist.

His final solo selection was Nadir's lilting aria "Je crois entendre encore" from Bizet's "Les pêcheurs de perles".  We loved the floated top notes and the lulling rhythm which seemed borrowed from a barcarolle.

Mr. Osborne is well known on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean for his powerful and versatile singing. His recordings are legendary. He performed two melodic songs by Oscar Straus, a composer of whom we wish to hear more. Mr. Osborne used his larger-than-life personality and ample dramatic gestures to convey the feelings of a hopelessly smitten lover in "Je t'aime". His dynamic variety kept the waltz neatly in romantic territory without pushing it into sappiness.

Mr. Straus' music is replete with melody. The text scans and rhymes, making it the kind of music you walk out humming. The two artists joined forces for "Oui, c'est une valse de Vienne" in which a young man celebrates his carefree youth.

Franz Waxman was a Berliner who fled the Nazis and wrote some marvelous unpublished songs while in Paris; he continued on to the USA where he wrote scores for Hollywood films. What joy to have Mr. Osborne bring to our attention these wonderful songs from Waxman's Paris period !

Mr. Osborne captured the varying moods of the songs with spontaneity and ease. "Sans un mot" had a tender romantic feel and was written in waltz time. "Tout seul" was bluesy and bitter. "La crise est finie" seemed ironic with its martial rhythm. We enjoyed these songs so much and are happy to report that Mr. Osborne has recorded them! And that's a first!!!

The two singers joined forces for "Duetto de la Chartreuse verte", a parodic drinking song from Emmanuel Chabrier's L'Etoile,  in which Mr. Osborne got to show off his formidable lower register. Every drop of humor was captured.

In a display of versatility, he switched gears for "Et toi, Palerme" from Giuseppe Verdi's Les vêpres siciliennes. It is special indeed to hear a bass-baritone achieve such flexibility in the ornamentation.

What program with two male voices could end with anything but "Au fond du temple saint" from the aforementioned Les pêcheurs de perles.  It was the perfect ending for a recital that lasted but an hour but was nonetheless completely fulfilling.  

There was none of the effeteness that can sometimes creep into an evening of French song. The variety of style and attention to dynamics kept it compelling from start to finish. A better accompanist than George Hemcher could not be found; he consistently matched the varying moods and dynamics of the singers.

The evening concluded with a reception and a tour of Mr. Bryden's studio where we admired paintings and sculptures both. Vocal arts and plastic arts in one evening! Only in New York!

(c) meche kroop

Friday, September 23, 2016


Joshua Jeremiah, Kristin Gornstein, Jamilyn Manning-White, Emma Jaster, Louisa Proske and Ethan Heard

Nothing Heartbeat Opera does is commonplace. The work of Co-Directors Louisa Proske and Ethan Heard is marked by daring originality and intense creative effort. The results continue to win new friends for opera.

Last night, in partnership with Friends of the High Line, a fabulous free event right on The High Line introduced a vast crowd of New Yorkers to an art form with which many were unacquainted. If some were not opera fans when they arrived, they were surely opera fans when they left.

Heartbeat Opera originated when Yale graduates Ms. Proske and Mr. Heard undertook to take a fresh look at opera--not the way regietheater folk contort an opera to fit their own wacky ideas but rather by bringing out the wackiness of the art form itself.

They have freed opera from the strictures of traditional performance in traditional venues and can be considered a shining light among the new and nimble small companies making opera compelling to young people.  They have established quite a following.

We personally had a blast and, since there were folks sitting on both sides of the thrust stage, we got a good look at other folks having an equally marvelous time.  The cast managed somehow to keep moving so that each side got equal time.  During "The Flower Duet" from Delibes' Lakmé, the "groundlings", seated on mats in front of the chair section, waved flowers back and forth in time with the music. Later, the flashlights on cell phones were similarly waved back and forth. Up close and personal, we all felt like part of the show.

The three singers were well chosen to cover all the bases (except bass and tenor) and each artist was able to choose his/her own material, guaranteeing that heart(beat) and soul would go into each and every performance.  

Wisely, familiar pieces were chosen from the well-known operas of Mozart, Handel, Puccini, Verdi, Bizet, Rossini, and....Rogers and Hammerstein, thus lending authenticity to our dearly held belief that Broadway music represents the counterpart of "opera" in the 20th c.

The composers of Broadway musicals wrote music for the people of their time that was accessible in the way that Verdi was to Italians in the 19th c. Their works appealed to the masses with rip-roaring drama and characters with which the audience could identify, singing memorable tunes.

The three singers were infallibly on point and incredibly entertaining. Although we have favorably reviewed all three before in better acoustics, we somehow didn't mind the amplification made necessary by the outdoor venue.

Soprano Jamilyn White opened the program with "Quando m'en vo" from Puccini's La Bohème and was followed by Kristen Gornstein performing the "Habanera" from Bizet's Carmen.  The two women harmonized beautifully in the aforementioned flower song--"Sous le dôme eépais".

Baritone Joshua Jeremiah wooed the audience with "Some Enchanted Evening" from Rodgers & Hammerstein's South Pacific; he sang it with all the respect given to any operatic aria.  He made a fine Don Giovanni to Ms. Gornstein's overly enthusiastic Zerlina who jumped onto his back in "La ci darem la mano".  We enjoyed his "Largo al factotum" from Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia;  His voice melded beautifully with the women's in "Soave sia il vento" from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte.

Ms. White drew great applause for her dazzling Queen of the Night from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte.

There was no printed program but Emma Jaster, a tiny pixie of a dancer, wearing a flesh-colored leotard and a rainbow wig, bore placards announcing the composer on one side and the opera on the other--giving each side equal time.  Happily, she was granted solo time and her corporeal expression of the ethereal "Meditation" from Massenet's Thaïs was heartfelt and beautiful to behold.

Since we have arrived at a discussion of costuming, let it be noted that the baroque (in one sense of the word) and motley designs of Jon Carter added greatly to the fun of the evening.  There were lots of spangles and spandex, vests and vestments. Wigs were baroque (in the historical sense of the word). MAC Cosmetics provided the materials for the wild make-up. We refer readers to our Facebook page "Voce di Meche" on which we will post an array of photos showing what words can only approximate.

The musical arrangement by Co-Music Directors Jacob Ashworth and Daniel Schlosberg was just as original as the rest of the evening.  A three piece band comprised a keyboard played by Mr. Schlosberg, a violin bowed by Mr. Ashworth, and an array of saxophones blown badly by an unknown musician. A couple sour notes failed to impair our delight.

Producing director for the event was Jennifer Newman. Effective lighting was by Oliver Wason and equally effective sound design was by Harrison Keithline who gets props for not assaulting our ears with excessive amplification.

Balloons were tossed and popped, flowers were waved, cell phones were waved, photos were snapped. We didn't see a single unhappy face.  Yes, Virginia, opera can be FUN!

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, September 17, 2016


Madison Marie McIntosh as the dying Dido and Constance Rogalski as Belinda in Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas

It is indeed a privilege to be present for a birth and we were honored to be among the guests witnessing the birth of a new opera company--the Christman Opera Company. Although no mission statement was present in the program, we gather that the mission is for fledgling opera composer Theodore Christman to present his work to the public while balancing the program with a long-established piece.

Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas has been kicking around since the 1680's, which certainly qualifies it as long-established. We are not sure why so many small companies have presented it in the past year (Heartbeat Opera and Utopia Opera, among others); it is neither the anniversary of Purcell's death nor birth. Since we have already written a great deal about the opera's history, we leave it to you readers to use the search bar so that we may focus on the performances.

The musical values were successful all around with singers chosen for their fine vocal artistry, accompanied by Musical Director Lochlan Brown conducting a fine string quartet from the piano. Mr. Brown was responsible for the excellent reduction of the score.

As the unfortunate Dido, Queen of Carthage, Madison Marie McIntosh could be heard expanding her wide range from the stratospheric coloratura reaches down to a richly textured and strong lower register. The final "When I Am Laid in Earth" was heartbreaking.

As her handmaiden Belinda, Constance Rogalski exhibited an attractive crystalline soprano but failed to make the text clear. This task is nearly impossible with that high tessitura and we longed for surtitles to maximize comprehension. Beier Zhao nicely complemented Ms. Rogalski as another handmaiden.

A riveting performance as the Sorceress was delivered by Eowyn Driscoll whose richly resonant voice filled out the text beautifully. Her two accomplices, Raquel Nobile and Sarah Knott completed the trio of tricksters and we could not keep from thinking of Shakespeare's "weird sisters" as they plot to bring Dido down. We observed that somehow Ms. Nobile's diction made the text rather clear, in spite of the high range, especially when she doubled as the faux-Mercury, leading Aeneas astray. What a terrific trio!

John Ramseyer sang the role of Aeneas and sang it well.  All that was needed to make it a fine performance was a measure of dramatic investment, especially in his interaction with the woman he is wooing and abandoning.

A fine performance was given by Thomas Massey who sang the notoriously humorous "Sailor's Song". He exhibited not only fine vocal skills but a lot of personality.

The chorus contributed a great deal and comprised Shawn Palmer, Clayton G. Williams, and Hajeong Lee, as well as whomever was not singing front and center.

The second half of the program introduced us to Mr. Christman's new opera Adriana McMannes, with libretto written by Anna Winslow (who also was director for the entire evening). We have complained a great deal about contemporary opera being devoid of melody and not being entertaining. We had no such complaints last night.

Mr. Christman's writing offered tuneful vocal lines suggestive of mid-20th c. popular music--much in the same way that Johannes Brahms incorporated folk tunes into his serious music.  This is anything but "academic" music and totally accessible, a point noted by our operatic-newbie companion who enjoyed it enormously.

The story is an Upstairs/Downstairs tale in which a widower falls in love with his daughter's governess. The obstacle to their marriage is the widower's mother-in-law who spreads ugly gossip about the governess' mental stability. Fortunately she is made to retract her words and the tale has a happy conclusion.

Ms. McIntosh demonstrated her versatility in the role of Adriana with Mr. Ramseyer as her intended. His Broadway style in this role did not mesh perfectly with her operatic vibrato. 

We were delighted to have another opportunity to see more of Ms. Knott who did a marvelous interpretation of the bibulous mother-in-law from hell. And likewise, seeing Ms. Nobile as Adriana's imperious boss was another treat as she delivered some very funny lines. This was also a great scene for Ms. McIntosh who came across as a modern day Cinderella.

Mr. Brown accompanied on the piano. We know of no plans to orchestrate the score but it was fine just as it was performed. We will eagerly await his next offering!

(c) meche kroop

Thursday, September 15, 2016


Toni Goldman, Tino Honegger, Hanna Elizabeth Young, Lars Redlich, and Erich Rausch

The mission of The German Forum is to provide performance opportunities in the USA for young artists from the German speaking world and to provide unique cultural events for New Yorkers. There are at least four events each year and we would hate to miss a single one.

Last night was Cabaret Night at the Gotham Comedy Club and the gemütlichkeit of the evening brought pleasure to a wide audience. Natürlich, if one spoke German you could understand more of the words-- but our non-German speaking companion had a marvelous time. There were plenty of songs in English and the ones in German were either translated or needed no translation, due to the communication skills of the artists. The evening was hosted by Henry Meyer-Oertel, President of the German Forum.

The partnership of Lars Redlich and Tino Honegger is a remarkable one, marked by lots of synergy. We have heard the "Habanera" from Carmen countless times but we have never heard it performed the way Mr. Redlich did it--releasing his inner anima (look it up!) in fine falsetto and with rap dialogue.  We cannot imagine how George Bizet might have reacted, but the audience responded with gales of laughter and wild applause.

Mr. Redlich kicked it up a notch for "Frauensongmedley" in which he parodied popular American songstresses.  You have never heard "You Made Me Feel Like a Natural Woman" sung like that!

Even funnier was "Sockensong" which paid tribute to the lonely socks whose partners have mysteriously disappeared.

The opening number gave Swiss artist Tino Honegger an opportunity to sing Bodo Wartke's "Liebeslied" in a plethora of languages, including Finnish. We got a kick out of "Taubenvergiften im Park" by Austrian-American composer/cabarettist Georg Kreisler which reminded us of Tom Lehrer's song "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park".  We were driven to find out who copied whom but learned that each man claimed his work was original!  Apparently both cultures enjoy black humor!

Toni Goldman has a deep soulful voice and entertained us with Bob Dylan's "Things Have Changed"  and a song by Michael Kingsley which she has recorded--"The First Crack". We also liked "Irgendwo in Berlin" (Peter Plate/Ulf Sommer). She was accompanied by Erich Rausch on keyboard.

Hanna Elizabeth Young is a different type of singer--bluesy and torchy--and lovely to listen to.  She sang Joe McCoy's "Why Don't You Do Right", and "Speak Low" (Kurt Weill/Ogden Nash).  Our favorite was "Wenn ich mir was wünschen dürfte" by Friedrich Hollaender (whose daughter married the afore-mentioned Georg Kreisler). She also was accompanied by Mr. Rausch.

The program ended with a bi-lingual version of "Mack the Knife" in which everyone participated. Who doesn't love Kurt Weill's music! We prefer the original German text of Bertolt Brecht which cuts deeper (pun intended) than Mark Blitzstein's translation which was moved into pop territory by Frank Sinatra.

What a team these five artists made! Ms. Goldman herself directed the evening, entitled "Love Lost and Found Again".

As is customary with German Forum evenings, a lavish buffet preceded the performance with more to eat and drink afterward. The artists mingled with the audience and many toasts were made with fine German beer.

Anyone who appreciates German culture would do well to join the German Forum and participate in their wonderful evenings!

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, September 10, 2016


Sarah Marvel Bleasdale, Joshua Miller, Duncan Harman, and David Pasteelnick in Utopia Opera's production of Sondheim's Assassins

Stephen Sondheim's 1990 musical Assassins was originally presented Off-Broadway by Playwrights Horizons (we were there) and remounted on Broadway in 2004, garnering 5 Tony awards. It is just as relevant today, if not more so, largely due to the intransigence of the NRA and the vehemence of their followers.

Utopia Opera's decision to present it as their season opener was based, as these decisions are, on votes from the audience. This show got more votes than any other show that was nominated. 

Although some of Sondheim's oeuvre seem quite kin to opera, this one is more like a revue. Although the topic of presidential assassination is a highly serious one, the show gives it a gloss of black humor and Sondheim's music is unmatchable. His dialogue is twice as clever as it needs to be.

With slim biographical data to go on, the characters in the show are fully realized by John Weidman's excellent book: paranoid schizophrenics, disaffected immigrants, woefully misguided idealists, pathetic victims of an exploitative society, and all-around loonies.

The parts were brilliantly cast, effectively enacted, and well sung by a cast that seemed to bring serious vocal training from both the operatic camp and the Broadway camp. Happily, the voices were not amplified.

The versatile William Remmers stepped down from the podium to assume the role of The Proprietor in vaudeville guise, ready to provide guns to the would-be killers. It was a knock-out characterization.

The Balladeer who tells the story of the American Dream and narrates the proceedings was portrayed by Chazmond J. Peacock, in fine voice.

Joshua Miller made a strong impression as John Wilkes Booth--not only in the scene in which he is wounded and tries to justify his murder of President Lincoln, but later when he "inspires" and goads the others to attempt their heinous acts. Of all the performers, his English diction stood out.  We missed not a single word.

Lauren Gismondi made a marvelous Emma Goldman, both looking and sounding exactly right. Her scene with Leon Czolgosz (a fine Duncan Hartman), the killer of William McKinley, was one of our favorites.

For humor we had Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme (Kayla Ryan Walsh) carrying on about her "love affair" with Charles Manson, and Sara Jane Moore (Sarah Marvel Bleasdale gleefully interacting, then hilariously messing up their intended assassination of President Gerald Ford.

Matthew Hughes portrayed the pathetic Giuseppe Zangara who tried to kill FDR, and David Pasteelnick enacted the manic Charles Guiteau who did away with James Garfield. He laughed all the way to the hangman's noose.

Michael Matthias excelled as the patently delusional Sam Byck who failed to rid us of Richard Nixon. Zachary Barnes was fine as John Hinckley, Jr. who tried to kill President Ronald Reagan to make an impression on Jodie Foster!  Jeff Goble was excellent as the weak-willed and suicidal Lee Harvey Oswald, falling under the influence of John Wilkes Booth's spirit.

The 13-piece orchestra, heavy on the brass, was conducted by Benjamin Weiss. Sondheim made good use of the American idiom and at one point quoted Leonard Bernstein. Although the instrumental balance was fine, we felt the volume frequently overpowered the voices, including Mr. Remmers' introduction.

It is also fair to point out that the enunciation was not always as clear as it might have been, particularly on the part of The Balladeer. Sondheim's lyrics are so important that we wanted to hear every word. It occurs to us that surtitles are just as important for English as they are for foreign languages.

Utopia Opera is a perfect example of substituting creativity and imagination for a big budget; they have done so much with paltry resources. There was no scenery to speak of but the costuming (Eric Lamp and Angel Betancourt) seemed quite apropos to the periods. It was quite a challenge to mount a show like this and much credit goes to the company for doing such a fine job. Mr. Remmers himself directed.

It is arguably the job of the artist to hold a mirror up to society and reflect us back to ourselves.  At this performance we felt entertained, enlightened, squeamish, and a bit ashamed of our violent history.  We need to experience our dark side before we can change it. The show has been produced overseas and we can only imagine how Europeans must judge our outmoded infatuation with firearms and revenge.

There will be two shows today, matinée and evening--similarly on Sunday. Can you allow yourself to be entertained and changed at the same time?

(c) meche kroop