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, October 31, 2016


Star-studded cast of Richard Tucker Foundation Gala at Carnegie Hall

Perhaps you enjoyed the gala webcast live on medici.tv; we were fortunate enough to be there in person, right there in Carnegie Hall, a venue we much prefer to host an event of this magnitude. It's been a quarter century since the Richard Tucker Foundation Gala was held here.

Every year the Richard Tucker Foundation throws a helluva party to celebrate the current year's winner of the Richard Tucker Award, a ginormous $50,000 cash prize. That buys a lot of gowns and coachings!

The Richard Tucker Foundation was begun shortly after Mr. Tucker's untimely and premature death.  It has perpetuated his artistic legacy by supporting young artists for 40 years and bestows its incredibly generous award on an artist poised at the edge of a major international career. Soprano Tamara Wilson sure meets that requirement in spades (and in hearts, diamonds, and clubs).

This versatile artist made several appearances tonight, opening the program with "Dich, teure Halle" from Richard Wagner's Tannhäuser, following the "Entrance of the Guests" from the same opera, performed by the superb New York Choral Society and members of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra led by Maestro Asher Fisch.

Ms. Wilson is one of those big beautiful girls with  big beautiful voices that come along every few years; she sure knows how to use this impressive instrument. We loved the way she sensitively modulated the volume and the way she limned the character of Elizabth. 

She is just as adept with Verdi as with Wagner. Now that we have heard her sing "Tu al cui sguardo onnipossente" from I due Foscari, we will be very disappointed if the Met doesn't stage Verdi's early work and cast her! The flexibility in the fioritura fireworks, coming from such a huge voice, was remarkable.

With her mezzo-soprano counterpart Jamie Barton as Adalgisa and tenor Joshua Guerrero as Pollione, the finale of Act I from Bellini's Norma made a great impression.  As versatile as she is, perhaps Cunegonde was not the best choice for the closing number, although her voice did harmonize well with Mr. Guerrero's in "Make Our Garden Grow" from Leonard Bernstein's Candide.

Getting back to Jamie Barton, this artist never fails to astonish us. There is something about her self-possession and the ability to get inside each character and make it her own that makes her a standout. Not since Marilyn Horne performed the role have we heard such luscious seductiveness pouring out of Dalila in "Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix" from Camille Saint-Saëns' Samson et Dalila. No Samson could resist!

Her duet with mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato "Son nata a lagrimar" from Georg Frideric Händel's Giulio Cesare was stunning. It was a perfect example of two fine artists of the same fach sounding very very different.  Having just come from Ms. DiDonato's master class, we witnessed exactly what she was trying to teach the youngsters in her class--giving the audience YOU, not what they expect.

We wish we could say that of soprano Kristine Opolais. She has a small voice without much variety of color but the major deficit, from our point of view, is that she "presented". We did not perceive much depth in her "Song to the Moon" from Antonin Dvorak's Russalka (a favorite of ours) and her "Un bel di" from Giacomo Puccini's Madama Butterfly was filled with extravagant gesture but not much feeling. We may be alone in this opinion since the audience seemed pleased with both arias.

We suppose we have been spoiled by Renée Fleming's Russalka and wished that she had sung it last night. Not that we were at all disappointed in her choices!  The violins set the tone for her "Adieu, notre petite table" from Jules Massenet's Manon. The colors of grief gave way to colors of joy in Ruggero Leoncavallo's  lovely serenade "Mattinata".

Soprano Nadine Sierra can be counted on to give a superior performance each and every time. She is an artist of the finest caliber and graces the stage with her presence. We have witnessed the growth of her career for several years and she just keeps getting better and better. 

In "Regnava nel silenzio" from Gaetano Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, she was totally present and made Lucia's character her very own. She wisely set up Lucia's fragility and instability while maintaining vocal integrity.  Her duet with tenor Javier
Camarena--"Vieni fra questa braccia" from Vincenzo Bellini's I puritani showed a generosity of spirit and some lovely harmonies.

Mr. Camarena delighted the audience with his garlic-infused tarantella "La danza" by Gioachino Rossini, an old chestnut made new. His duet with tenor Lawrence Brownlee--"Ah vieni, nel tuo sangue" from Rossini's Otello was kind of strange with each tenor holding onto the "money note" for unreasonable lengths of time, causing the audience members to laugh out loud. Somehow, this rivalry seemed wrong for the aria in which Otello and Rodrigo are planning a duel, not a vocal competition.

The appearance of Anna Netrebko was most welcome. Having passed through the ingenue phase she has emerged with a glorious burnished instrument that thrills us in verismo territory even more than it did in bel canto land. Hearing her "La mamma morta" from Umberto Giordano's Andrea Chénier was a revelation and we can't imagine Gérard resisting any better than Samson resisted Dalila.

She has not lost her scintillating upper register with overtones galore while the lower register has expanded, offering a plenitude of texture. Her interpretations serve the character.

She followed this aria with an unscheduled one--"Io son l'humile ancella" from Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur--which further confirmed our impression. How interesting that Joyce DiDonato sang an aria on a similar theme--"Si, son io" from Jake Heggie's opera Great Scott which premiered exactly one year ago in Dallas with Ms. DiDonato as the star.

We have never enjoyed Heggie's writing as much as we did this aria. The thought occurred to us that the Italian language dictates a far lovelier vocal line than does the English language. And Ms. DiDonato's performance demonstrated all the principles that she taught in her master classes, reviews of which will appear within a couple days, right here.

Tenor Lawrence Brownlee performed "Seul sur la terre" from Donizetti's forgotten opera Dom Sébastien. His French was lovely, as was his phrasing but his voice did not capture our interest; we found the vibrato a bit too wide for our taste and there was some closing off of the high notes that made our throat hurt--a problem we experience so often with tenors. 

We enjoyed the participation of the New York Choral Society in the opening number especially but also in the Norma trio, the Verdi, and in the closing number from Candide. Several musicians from the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra made significant contributions, especially the harp in "Seul sur la terre".

Our ears are still tickled 8 hours after the concert.  We imagine the walls of Carnegie Hall are still vibrating! Long may they vibrate!

And here's a link to the broadcast....https://www.medici.tv/richard-tucker-opera-gala/embed/.  Now you too can enjoy!

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, October 29, 2016


Kenneth Merrill, Rebecca Ringle, and William Ferguson

At recitals, our sense of hearing is the one we rely upon for engagement. Last night at the opening offering of the Salon/Sanctuary season, we had a feast for the eyes as well as the ears. The 1890 Playel instrument from Klavierhaus looked as beautiful as it sounded, its tone soft and gentle, perfectly suited for the French program.

Not only that but the handsome tenor William Ferguson and the stunningly glamorous mezzo Rebecca Ringle were also a feast for the eyes. One is not supposed to care what a singer looks like but--sorry, not sorry--we love beauty in all its forms.

And now, to the program!  Founder and Artistic Director Jessica Gould, generally committed to early music, widened her scope to present an evening of 19th c. French music entitled On the Margins of the Opèra Comique--not serious chansons but light-hearted music suitable for the salon or cabaret.

The music on the program was composed by three Jewish composers whose oeuvre was purportedly dismissed due to anti-semitism. To our ears, there was nothing dismissable about the charming songs we heard.

Ms. Ringle has a true mezzo sound, unlike many singers who claim that fach.  It has a distinctive timbre that filled the auditorium of the Abigail Adams Smith House. Ms. Ringle's French is flawless and her phrasing high in musicality. 

Our favorite performance of the evening was the encore! We just heard "Ah quel diner", from Jacques Offenbach's La Perichole, a few reviews back. We loved it then and we loved it last night. Just as actors love a good death scene, singers seem to enjoy a drinking song, or, in this case, a drunken song. Ms. Ringle appeared to be having the time of her life and the joy was absolutely infectious.

She is best when she can show her personality and the three Fontaine fables set by Offenbach delighted us no end. In "Le berger et la mer", the moral seemed to be to stick with what you do well and not gamble on a tempting future.

In "La cigale et la fourmi", a stingy and judgmental ant gives a moral lecture to the carefree but destitute cicada who sang all summer long. The song ends with a remarkable trill. Kenneth Merrill's piano captured all the sounds of nature.

The moral of "Le rat de ville et le rat des champs" seemed to be that a simple meal eaten in peace is better than a fancy one eaten in fear.

Mr. Merrill's piano was noticeably wonderful in many of the songs. We could hear the village bell's sonority in Giacomo Meyerbeer's "Ma barque légère", the nightingale in Fromental Halévy's "Les heures du soir", and the wind in the same composer's "Le follet".  No doubt the special sound of the Playel contributed to the effect.

Only two songs on the program were familiar to us and that was because of the text. Meyerbeer set the Heinrich Heine poem and called it "Komm", the only song on the program not in French.  Franz Schubert named it "Das Fischermädchen" and composed it as part of his cycle Schwanengesang. It is one of our favorite Schubert songs but now it is one of our favorite Meyerbeer songs.  

The other familiar text was that of Théophile Gauthier "Dites, la jeune belle" set by Offenbach as "Barcarolle". We know it as "L'isle inconnue" from Hector Berlioz'cycle Les nuits d'été.

There seems to be quite a bit of metaphor going on in this epoch in which the sea represents both the delights and fears of love. We heard this in "Komm" and again in another Meyerbeer song "Ma barque légère".
For the Halévy duet "Est-ce-une peine? Est-ce un plaisir?" Ms. Ringle was joined by tenor William Ferguson whose sweet sound took the upper line while Ms. Ringle's mezzo took the lower one.  We tried in vain to recall duets between tenor and mezzo and hope that readers will add some suggestions to the comment section below.

Even Mozart did not write one for Dorabella and Ferrando in Cosi fan Tutte! It is actually quite a wonderful combination and the two artists harmonized with great beauty. The work is written with complicated overlapping voices, requiring the use of the score, not a desirable circumstance in our book! But the sound was thrilling.

There are probably many more songs like these that the public doesn't get to hear and we thank Ms. Gould for bringing them to our attention and we thank Ms. Ringle for her magnificent performance and for her highly instructive program notes.

(c) meche kroop

Thursday, October 27, 2016


Joshua Roman, Gregg Kallor, and Elizabeth Pojanowski (photo by Andrew Ousley)

What better place to experience The Tell-Tale Heart, Edgar Allen Poe's 1843 short story, than the spooky crypt of a church?  What better time than Halloween? We are deep underground at the Church of the Intercession in Harlem to experience a landmark collaboration between On Site Opera and Crypt Sessions. We are not here for a reading but for the premiere of a new dramatic cantata composed by pianist/recording artist/composer Gregg Kallor.

Both collaborating companies have found their niche in the wild west landscape of 21st century music performance. On Site Opera produces operas in site-specific locations and has been reviewed by us many times. Crypt Sessions produces a series of compelling works, all in the crypt of the church.  They are new to us.

There were two curtain-raisers that gave us a flavor of Mr. Kallor's writing style. The first short solo entitled "Where You Are" pleased us with it's ear-tickling melding of classical and jazz styles.

The second piece, entitled "Undercurrent", (premiered recently at SubCulture) was a three movement "sonata" for piano and cello which couldn't have been more different than the Debussy piece we heard two days ago at Music Talks. It seemed to be a dialogue between the percussive piano and the lyrical lines of the cello, beautifully played by Joshua Roman. The dialogue often seemed at cross purposes except for the lyrical central movement; we seem to always prefer the Adagio in any piece!  

The centerpiece of the evening was the premiere of Mr. Kallor's The Tell-Tale Heart. The two musicians were joined by mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Pojanowski who performed the story with fine English diction and dramatic intensity. We were amazed that this difficult work with its strange vocal lines had been committed to memory and we appreciate the effort. A music stand would have destroyed the carefully crafted illusion of madness created by Ms. Pojanowski.

The narrator of the story is a madman, a psychopathic murderer who tries to convince us of his sanity. Our diagnosis is paranoid schizophrenia due to the presence of delusions about the victim's eye and auditory hallucinations!  The narrator gives himself away, thinking that the police can hear the beating of the corpse's heart from under the floorboards but readers can assume it is his guilt producing the hallucination.

The performance was directed by Sarah Meyers with spooky lighting designed by Shawn Kaufman.

Having been thoroughly creeped out, it was quite a relief to hear the soothing Spiegel im Spiegel by Arvo Pärt. We loved the part in which the piano played repetitive arpeggios in second inversion with the cello providing lyrical passages of ascending and descending scale passages. The overall effect was a peaceful meditative one that calmed down our rapid heartbeat.  And we lived to tell the tale!

(c) meche kroop

Monday, October 24, 2016


Maya Lahyani, Ben Laude, and Elad Kabilio

In six seasons, Elad Kabilio's MUSIC TALKS has become a most important feature of the music scene in New York City. If you have ever listened to chamber music in a large hall, feeling removed from the action and baffled by the academic language of the program notes, you will appreciate the unlimited pleasures of sitting in a casual and comfortable environment within a few feet of the performers and experiencing all the intimacy the composer intended.

We seem to be in the middle of a movement to bring good music to a new audience, an audience comprising people who love music--not just people who buy tickets to see someone with a "big name" or people who want something to do on a Saturday night.

We are not sure where this trend began but several years ago we attended several series of Rob Kapilow's WHAT MAKES IT GREAT? in which Maestro Kapilow took apart a beloved piece of music to teach us why it is great.

Mr. Kabilio is similarly an educator but he is also a fine musician with a great touch on the cello; he clearly adores performing and communicates this enthusiasm to his loyal followers. Every single show we have attended has taught us something about music and gotten us to hear it with fresh ears.

Now Mr. Kabilio has found just the right performance space with great acoustics and flexible seating, a place where one can feel right at home and relaxed in a way that fosters better listening, not note-taking.

Last night we learned a great deal about Debussy, a composer we have enjoyed but sort of taken for granted.  That has changed. We have been made aware of Debussy's place at the beginning of the 20th c., as part of a movement to connect with real people and life as it is lived, a movement seen in the visual arts among the Impressionists and in opera among the verismo composers.

The first piece performed by Mr. Kabilio and the versatile pianist Benjamin Laude (who also writes about music) was a Scherzo for Cello and Piano dating back to Debussy's student days (1882). The work is filled with enthusiasm and playfulness as the simple melody is tossed back and forth between the two instruments. There is much staccato playing on the piano and pizzicato playing on the cello. At this point, the young composer still had one foot in Romanticism.

The second offering was a piano solo from Preludes Book 1 of 1910 which was clearly inspired by Impressionism and by the wealth of new colors and rhythms Paris had been exposed to from the 1889 World's Fair.

From Preludes Book 2, composed shortly after, we heard "Brouillards", a subjective depiction of thick London fog in which the white keys are used to depict the image with the black keys used to illustrate the obscuring fog. The overall effect was one of anxiety. The pianism of Mr. Laude was outstanding.

These points were illustrated before the performance so that we in the audience would know what to listen for.  This pedagogical strategy was most effective!  Even understanding how a spacious feeling can be conveyed by intervals of an octave or fifths was helpful.

A waltz from 1910 was discussed in terms of nostalgia for the past vs. mocking of the past. Just listen to the delicious schmaltziness of the right hand and the subtle irony in the left! Another subtlety we would have missed!

This was all gravy to us, since it was mezzo-soprano Maya Lahyani's performance of Trois Chansons de Bilitis that attracted us to attend this event. From her intense performance we learned something that went beyond words. We were familiar with the history of the poetry--poet Pierre Louÿs invented the fiction that his poetry was from Ancient Greece and written by a woman named Bilitis.

Debussy selected three out of 140 poems to set. They are snapshots taken from three periods in a woman's life. (We are reminded of Schumann's Frauenliebe und Leben). In "La flûte de Pan" Ms. Lahyani conveyed the innocence of a young girl's first flirtation. The piano writing is in the Lydian Mode giving the work a mythic feel.

In "La chevelure", the sensual colors of her voice let us know that this woman was embarking on a serious romantic adventure. The chromaticism of the piano writing suggests the sensuality of the woman's cascading hair.

 In "Le tombeau des Naïades", there was the disillusionment that is felt when a man mocks his partner's dreams. It took Ms. Lahyani's consummate vocalism and dramatism to show us all this and we wondered why we'd never heard it before. We loved the way she colored her voice when the man was speaking. We were moved to tears by the universality of disillusionment springing from this very particular event. Major wow!

But the major wows were not over!  Oh, no! An original event occurred that left us wide-eyed in wonder. Israeli actor/dancer/mime Ido Rozenberg created a piece choreographed to the final selection on the program, Sonata for Cello and Piano in D minor from 1915.  The character of Pierrot from commedia dell'arte was, at that time, somewhat of a cliché; Arnold Schoenberg had already written Pierrot Lunaire three years earlier. But from the pen of Debussy and the artistry of Mr. Rozenberg, everything seemed new and fresh.

In the Prologue, Pierrot contemplates the moon, for whom il est tombé amoureux.  Part II is a sérénade, in which the besotted but untalented Pierrot tries to win her love. Mr. Kabilio's cello is obliged to imitate some bad lute-playing. The finale is written in a pentatonic scale and shows Pierrot's disappointment and frustration.

To the best of our knowledge, this work has never before been performed with a dancer.  Leave it to Mr. Kabilio to come up with fresh ideas that help us hear music differently.

We have already cleared our calendar to attend the next Music Talks on November 30th. We have thrilled to soprano Larisa Martinez and the quartet of cellos that join her; but we hear this program of Bach in Brazil will be a new one.

(c) meche kroop


Stars of The Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation Gala onstage at the Rose Theater

The citizens of Planet Opera gathered yesterday for the 42nd Anniversary of The Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation. It was a stellar celebration with grants being awarded to a stunning selection of young singers—rising stars, every single one of them. The audience at Rose Theater of Lincoln Center was gloriously entertained.  As if that were not enough, honors were distributed to those who have contributed so much to the field of opera.

Sachi Liebersgesell, President of the Foundation, always eloquent, was rendered nearly speechless when given the honor of receiving the kimono worn by Ms. Albanese when she performed the role of Cio-Cio San. Bryan Hymel, winner from 2008 and master of the French repertoire, shared his recollections of Ms. Albanese and received a Distinguished Achievement Award, as did Ailyn Perez, Nadine Sierra, and Mariana Zvetkova.

Ms. Sierra was put onstage at the age of 16 by Ms. Albanese, singing “O mio babino caro”—and if you have already guessed that she performed the same aria yesterday, give yourself a nice pat on the back. Her voice has become richer and more expansive but she has not lost the pure tone and youthful presentation.

Soprano Ailyn Perez treated us to “Io sono l’umile ancella” from Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur, sung with generous voice and heart, and accompanied by the outstanding Bryan Wagorn.   Ms. Zvetkova gave us a Strauss song with thrilling tone. Both artists revealed anecdotes about Ms. Albanese's effect on their lives.

We were blown away by Lauren Flanigan’s performance as Lady Macbeth. Ms. Flanigan was quite open with the audience about a neurological illness that has damaged her hearing to such an extent that she has been struggling with novel ways to express her creative bent. How she could perform so far beyond excellence is beyond our understanding but she did. Had she not mentioned the deficit we would never have suspected. Let this be a lesson to those who complain about their handicaps; let this be an inspiration to all of us!  

The Lifetime Achievement Award she was given was well earned. Anyone who doesn’t know about her Music and Mentoring House needs to get informed.  Young artists find affordable lodging in Ms. Flanigan’s artistic home, along with socializing with fellow artists, and much needed emotional support.

Every young artist on the program is a star on the rise.  Winners were, as usual, selected from an enormous field.  We were hearing la crème de la crème. Do not look to us for information about the financial awards. We will just tell our readers what struck us according to fach.

Soprano Vanessa Vasquez is winning awards all over the place and deserves every one. Her performance of “Un bel di” from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly was gloriously intense. We were so wrapped up in the mood she created that technique was forgotten; but upon reflection, there is no doubt that she uses this fabulous instrument with attention to all the fine technical aspects.

We are suckers for Puccini and soprano Karen Barraza performed “Tu che di gel sei cinta” from Turandot,  ushering us into Liu’s very soul. Her singing should have melted Turandot’s icy heart on the spot. A third soprano, Tracy Cantin, sang the bittersweet “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta” in fine form.

In the baritone fach, we loved Jared Bybee’s “Vision fugitive” from Massenet’s Hérodiade. We have been hearing quite a bit of Mr. Bybee lately but it is never enough! His creation of a long legato line was masterful and his French is parfait! He was in complete control of tempo and dynamics, both of which he utilized in the service of the aria's changing moods. 

All the baritones were excellent and Norman Garrett could be the Verdi baritone for whom we have been waiting. His “Eri tu che macchiavi quell’anima” from Ballo in Maschera was beautifully proportioned and dramatically expansive.

Kidon Choi did a swell job with “O, Mariya, Mariya!" from Tchaikovsky’s Mazeppa, an opera with which we are unfamiliar. Mr. Choi’s performance made us want to hear the entire opera.

There were two tenors on the program as well. Alasdair Kent swept us along in a wave of Gallic glory in “Fantaisie aux divine mensonges” from Delibes’ Lakme. The flaw we find in most tenors was blissfully absent. Mr. Kent can spin out a delicate thread of pianissimo perfection. There was no tension, no pushing.  Just gorgeously floated tone.

Yet another terrific tenor delighted our ears with his languorous French line; Fanyong Du performed “Je crois entendre encore” from Bizet’s Les Pêcheurss de Perles, having mastered the diminuendo so beautifully that we were holding our breath.

Bass-baritone André Courville created a marvelous marching military man in “Air du tambour major” from Thomas’ Le Cid, another opera with which we need to get better acquainted. His voice is a substantial one and reaches out to grab you gently by the ears. His dramatic presentation adds to the effect.

Finally, we recall several outstanding duets—and we do so love duets! Soprano Maria Natale and tenor Alexander McKissick brought new life to the tender “O soave fanciulla” from Puccini’s La Bohème. There’s a reason certain duets appear over and over again on recital programs. Young artists can put their own stamp on a beloved and familiar work.

In the same fashion, soprano Mia Pafumi and baritone Pawel Konik gave a slightly new sound to “La ci darem la mano” from Mozart’s Don Giovanni—not different enough to upset the balance but different enough in color to make it their own.

Soprano Amber Daniel and mezzo-soprano Samantha Hankey (the only mezzo on the program) sang the familiar duet “Sous le dôme épais” from Lakmé. The impressive part of their performance was that neither held back and we heard a glorious richness of consequent overtones that filled Rose Theater with sound. They must have worked together diligently to make this duet their own.

As usual, the excellent host was Brian Kellow and the versatile accompanists were Arlene Shrut and Jonathan Kelly.

This yearly event is always familiar but ever new, restoring our belief in the future of opera!  Bravissimi tutti!

(c) meche kroop

Sunday, October 23, 2016


A toast to The Count of Luxembourg and Other Tales: a Viennese Pastiche

It is amazing what good entertainment can do for one's spirits. The weather outside was damp and uncomfortable last night but when we exited Shetler Studios after this delightful performance, our spirits were as high as the top of the Empire State Building.

New Camerata Opera is a brand new ensemble company comprising eight marvelously talented young artists.  We enjoyed ourselves so greatly that we urge you to book your tickets for next Thursday or Saturday, which will end this successful run.  The performing space is small and there are only a few tickets left. You are guaranteed a bubbly evening listening to aural champagne and watching some hilarious hijinx that have endured a century.

Soprano Alexandra Lang, herself a superb singing actress, conceived and directed this pastiche, putting together music from operettas by Franz Lehar and Johann Strauss. The major storyline is Franz Lehar's The Count of Luxembourg with interpolated songs from Die Lustige Witwe, Die Fledermaus, and Das Land des Lächelns. The most familiar of these songs--"Trinke, Liebchen, trinke schnell", "Brüderlein", "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz", "Chacun à son gout", and "Lippen schweigen"--seemed right at home within the storyline.

The storyline is one of romantic matches and mismatches.  Of course, all turns out well in the end, with the help of a deus ex machina or two.  Polish Prince Basil Basilowitsch (Scott Lindroth) is in love with singing star Angèle Didier (Alexandra Lang) whom he cannot marry because she is a commoner.

Marital registrar Pélégrin (Victor Khodadad) cooks up a plan for Angèle to marry a wastrel --the eponymous Count of Luxembourg (Stan Lacy)--who accepts a huge fee to participate in this fake marriage to a woman he never gets to see, with the proviso that they never meet and get divorced after 6 months. Then she will be a Countess and Prince Basil can marry her.

In a subplot, the starving young painter Armand Brissard (Erik Bagger) cannot afford to marry his sweetheart Juliette Vermont (Barbara Porto) but the sale of one of his paintings brings in a tidy sum.  He must keep the affair quiet because of the secret marriage and Juliet gets rather upset when she learns that he has the necessary funds and has not yet proposed.

All the performances were splendid but two stood out-Julia Tang did a fine turn as the dissipated Prince Orlofsky who opened the evening's entertainment.  Eva Parr entered toward the end as one of the "deus ex machina"--Prince Basil's aunt, the Countess Stasa Kokozow who exhibited aristocratic arrogance and charm in equal measure.

Musical values were delightful all around.  Michael C. Haigler conducted from the piano--an excellent arrangement for flute (Jason Brook), violin (Monica Martin) and cello (Keiran Campbell). Although there was at least one number in 2/4 time and a frisky polka, most of the numbers were waltzes and we could barely sit still. Choreography was by Bridget Bose.

The dialogue was spoken in English and the songs were sung in the original German, a choice of which we heartily approve. Translation was by Dr. David Wilson. German diction was faultless but there were good subtitles projected off to the side if one needed a peek..

We don't know what New Camerata Opera has in the works but whatever it is, we plan to be there. As stated in the program they plan to offer a wide range of repertoire both live and through digital media channels. There is a mention of more pastiche (we surely hope so!), innovative presentations of classical vocal music, adaptations of rare operatic works, newly commissioned works, and operas adapted for children.  That's quite an undertaking!

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, October 22, 2016


New Amsterdam Opera Gala Concert at Riverside Theater

What a great variety of singers we heard last night!  Concerts of operatic arias are most fun when there is a variety of artists and the piano accompaniment is supportive. Both requirements were met as the New Amsterdam Opera presented their first gala concert in the comfortable theater belonging to Riverside Church. Their first event, a terrific Fidelio (review archived) was somewhat marred by some pretty awful acoustics.  We hope this theater will be their new home.

The opening duet is one of our favorites--"Belle nuit" from the Venice act of Offenbach's Les contes d'Hoffmann. The sweetness of Alyson Cambridge's Giulietta harmonized perfectly with Janara Kellerman's resonant Nicklausse.  Conductor Keith Chambers was the piano accompanist for the evening and set up the feeling of the imaginary gondola.

Another admirable duet was performed by mezzo-soprano Madison Marie McIntosh who created a wily Rosina for baritone Suchan Kim's Figaro in "Dunque io son" from Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia. We love the moment when she produces her secret note for Count Almaviva and Figaro gets flummoxed. Ms. McIntosh's upper extension remains the most impressive aspect of her voice with flexibility to spare for the fioritura.

Everything Mr. Kim does is superb. We were impressed with his creation of the deformed character of the eponymous hunchback in Verdi's Rigoletto which he accomplished without any humping or limping.  It was all in the voice! The part of Sparafucile was well handled by burly bass Kevin Thompson who projected just the right degree of menace in "Signor. Va! Non ho niente"

Another duet we enjoyed was "Là ci darem la mano" from Mozart's Don Giovanni. Coloratura soprano Amy Owens made a sweet Zerlina who was converted from her initial resistance by a most persuasive Don, portrayed by the robust baritone Luis Ledesma whom we so enjoyed in Florencia en el Amazonas.  

He is another artist who seems to do everything well.  His solo "Nemica de la patria" from Giordani's Andrea Chenier was powerful and affecting.

Another fine soloist was soprano Zhanna Alkhazova who created the unhappy character Elizabetta from Verdi's Don Carlo. Hers is a substantial instrument which she colored effectively in her exploration of the character's musings in "Tu che le vanità". We were hoping to hear more of her but that was her only appearance on the program.

From the same opera we heard veteran bass Stefan Szkafarowsky in "Ella giammai m'amo" making the hateful character of King Philip somewhat pitiful. Kevin Thompson sang The Inquisitor but being "on the book" detracted from his ability to connect with Mr. S.

The use of music stands also impaired the full impact of the stunning final trio from Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier. Ms. Owens made an appealing Sophie with mezzo-soprano Sarah Heltzel a fine Octavian. As the Marschallin, the excellent soprano Kirsten Chambers, whom we so enjoyed in Fidelio, came on too strong for Strauss' delicate writing which Mr. Chambers so elegantly captured on the piano.

There were other examples of performances too intense for the material. We love soprano Jessica Rose Cambio's powerful instrument but found it too heavy for the role of Nedda in the duet "Nedda! Silvio" from Leonavallo's Pagliacci. She also oversang and overacted as Cio-cio San in "Una nave da guerra" with Ms. Heltzel as her Suzuki.

The closing duet was "Tu qui, Santuzza" from Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana in which baritone Ta'u Pupu'a Turiddu was a fine match for Janara Kellerman's desperate Santuzza. This redeemed him from his awkward performance as Des Grieux in "Tu, tu, amore, tu" in which he and soprano Kelly Griffin failed to gel as a romantic couple and just seemed miscast.

Ms. Griffin was far better however in "Pace, pace mio Dio" from Verdi's La forza del destino.  Our companion shared our opinion that this opera needs to be produced more often and we were absolutely thrilled to learn that this will be New Amsterdam Opera's next production!

One other duet failed to come together--Ms. Cambridge's Mimi did not connect with Mr. Ledesma's Marcello in "Mimi?...Speravo di trovarvi qui" from Puccini's La Bohême. We could not put our finger on the cause but she was excellent performing "Song to the Moon" from Dvorak's Russalka, with great depth of feeling.

A late edition to the program was soprano Ashley Becker who sang “Ben t’io invenni…Anch’io dischiuso un giorno” from Verdi's Nabucco.

The Mistress of Ceremonies for the evening was the famed soprano Diana Soviero. We would have been happier had she contributed more to the evening than a hasty recitation of the revised second half of the program.

(c) meche kroop


Cast and Production Team of Ricky Ian Gordon's 27 at New York City Center
(photo by Erin Baiano)

Regular readers will be shocked to learn that we have seen a new opera and enjoyed it.  We have about given up on hearing a new opera that has melodic arias.  That just isn’t going to come out of the 21st c., especially not in the English language. What we have been seeing are “plays with music”.  But the music has been mostly unmusical. Last night we saw and heard an opera in which many positive factors came together to produce an absorbing and enlightening experience. 27 was commissioned by The Opera Theater of Saint Louis in 2014. This New York premiere included a new expanded choral section written just for Master Voices.

Composer Ricky Ian Gordon chose a subject dear to his heart, a subject that inspired him, the life of Gertrude Stein, the renowned writer, poet and art collector, a major influence in the worlds of art and literature.  He avoided the trap of trying to set her texts to music as Virgil Thompson did.  Instead he chose librettist  Royce Vavrek who constructed a conversational libretto of short uncomplicated phrases that did what the English language does best. There was sufficient repetition of phrases to bind the work together in a manner that was reflective of, but not imitative of Gertrude Stein’s writing style. 

Several successive periods of Ms. Stein’s life were illustrated—a creative life that spanned two World Wars.  The theme running through all these epochs was her relationship with the incredibly devoted Alice B. Toklas who performed innumerable functions including emotional and practical support. Their love story takes center stage.

The earliest period illuminated her involvement with young painters like Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse; then we visited her salon during the privations of World War I when food and coal were hard to come by. Next we witnessed the post-WWI period of "the lost generation" when her salon was visited predominantly by young writers—“Scotty” Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. Finally we visited her during WWII when her political affiliations were suspect.

Mr. Gordon’s music was powerful when it needed to be and gentle when called for. The romantic duets for Ms. Stein and Ms. Toklas were beautifully written as were the ensembles. The music for wartime utilized percussion to evoke the bombing of the Luxembourg Gardens and the anxiety of those Parisians enduring it.

In addition to the compelling story and the exciting music, the casting of the singers and their performances were extraordinary.  As Ms. Stein, mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe’s larger than life performance perfectly suited the larger than life character of Ms. Stein. The deep and muscular timbre of her voice and her acting had us believing that she was the ghost of Ms. Stein right there on the stage of New York City Center.

Soprano Heidi Stober perfectly portrayed helpmate and wife Alice B. Toklas.  The opera opens with her alone, after Ms. Stein’s death, knitting a bulky garment, knitting up the scenes of their life together. The opera ends at the same place—a superb framing device letting us experience the memories along with her.  Ms. Stober’s bright soprano was perfect for the part and blended beautifully with Ms. Blythe’s.

The other characters in the opera were portrayed by three fine artists for whom we have nothing but praise.  Tenor Theo Lebow was effective as the timid and bibulous Scott Fitzgerald-- but he was absolutely remarkable as the young Picasso. Thanks to the imaginative costuming of James Schuette, he entered dressed as a matador wearing the head of a bull.

Baritone Tobias Greenhalgh gave an excellent portrayal of the photographer Man Ray but was most impressive as Ms. Stein’s brother Leo who strutted around in an enormous raccoon coat, denigrating his sister’s salon and choice of paintings.

Bass-baritone Daniel Brevik impressed as Matisse and later as Hemingway, dragging an elephant behind him.  Oh yes, did we mention that the work was salted with a great deal of humor?

The funniest scene of the opera involved the “wives of geniuses” who bored Ms. Toklas with their talk of perfume, hats, and furs. Just imagine if you can, these three highly masculine singers in drag, singing an unforgettably clever trio.

A trio of soldiers, portrayed by the aforementioned Mr. Lebow, Mr. Greenhalgh, and Mr. Brevik appeared in various scenes together. Their voices harmonized so incredibly well. Their working so well as an ensemble is understandable, given that they portrayed the same roles at the St. Louis premiere.

The set design by Allen Moyer had a great big “27” to indicate  the address on Rue de Fleurus where all the famous and soon-to-be-famous gathered. The stage was littered with paintings and some chairs. 

Ted Sperling, Artistic Director, conducted the Orchestra of St. Luke’s and Master Voices. It is well worth mentioning that the diction of this enormous chorus was so crisp that not a single word was lost. Although there were projected titles, they were superfluous. Everyone’s diction was beyond reproach.

The production was well directed by James Robinson.

Every element worked together to produce a memorable evening about which we had a surprising thought—“I’d see this one again”. We have yet to feel such enthusiasm for a contemporary work.  Our eyes and ears have been opened.

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, October 19, 2016


Jestin Pieper, Laura Strickling, and Christopher Reames (photo by Harold Levine)

Only a couple dozen lucky lieder lovers got to experience the rewarding vocal recital offered by Joy in Singing. Joy in Singing offers awards and performance opportunities to young artists and very entertaining recitals which bring ever more people into the circle of song lovers. Lieder were meant to be heard in such an intimate environment and we felt transported a century back in time when life seemed somehow more artistic.

We were so excited to hear more of soprano Laura Strickling whose Strauss so impressed us last week at the Brooklyn Art Song Society.  And we heard tenor Christopher Reames for the first time; we hope we will have further opportunities since his lovely instrument and lively personality are perfectly suited to the art form.

Ms. Strickling has as much artistry in her presentation as she has beauty in her voice. It's a sizable instrument with a lot of power which she successfully modulated to fit the size of the room. There was but one Strauss song on the program--"Kling", an upbeat affair in which the artist could let loose her amplitude.

But she showed several other aspects of her prodigious talent. She sang Francis Poulenc's "Fleurs" with a depth of feeling and some fine French phrasing. But her favorite was also our favorite; it was Alfred Bachelet's "Chère Nuit" which was popularized by Nellie Melba. It's always such a pleasure to hear French songs correctly sung with evenness of line but without the effeteness that leaves us bored.

Mr. Reames has a sweetness of voice that stood out in his performance of Claude Debussy's "Fantoches". One very fine aspect of this recital was that each performer introduced his/her own songs and shared with us some anecdotal material. As Mr. Reames pointed out, "Fantoches" is part of the 1908 cycle Fête Galant, and the songs recreate the world of Watteau. Mr. Reames' performance allowed him to personalize the characters of the commedia dell'arte --Scaramouche and Pulcinella--in a most charming fashion.

We were also delighted by his warm delivery of "Im wunderschönen Monat Mai", one of our favorite Robert Schumann songs. The weather last night was so warm for October that the song seemed more seasonal than one might have expected.

Gabriel Faure's "Après un rêve" was another hit.  There were also songs in English by Dominick Argento, Sven Lekberg, Samuel Barber, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and Benjamin Britten. So many different styles were touched upon within a short hour!

Collaborative pianist Jestin Pieper also had the opportunity to show off his skills as a soloist with two brief Preludes by Alexander Scriabin which looked into the future while keeping the best of Late Romanticism. His pianistic skills added so much to the evening! In Franz Liszt' "Ihr Glocken van Marling" his piano reproduced the sound of churchbells.

It was a most rewarding evening and we can scarcely wait for the Joy in Singing recital at Merkin Hall on November 28th. This should be a memorable event and we urge you to get your tickets early. We attend every year and always find it thrilling!

(c) meche kroop

Monday, October 17, 2016


Mark Padmore, Sir Simon Rattle, and Ensemble Connect

We long ago lost count of how many times we have thrilled to Schubert's Winterreise. The grief in Wilhelm Müller's poetry comes in varied shades of grey and at the end we feel a tremendous catharsis.  We have heard the magnificent cycle sung by the famous and by students at Juilliard. Almost always, the intimacy of the connection has touched us deeply.

There have been only two performances that failed to thrill us.  One involved lots of distraction by a troupe of modern dancers who shall remain unnamed; the other performance was by an elderly croaker who should have known better.

Yesterday's performance at Zankel Hall sounded tempting--an "interpretation" of the work by Hans Zender--composed for tenor and small orchestra.  No doubt the generous applause at the conclusion of the 90 minute work indicated that many people did enjoy the work. We did not.

Admittedly, the orchestral writing was original and involved a plethora of unusual sounds. The instrumentation included accordion, harp, contrabassoon, chimes, two wind machines, alto flute, piccolo, and a great variety of percussion. The young musicians of Ensemble Connect, under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle, did what was asked of them. They played up and down the aisles, from the second level, and from outside the doors of the parterre. This was more distracting than artistic, especially when the doors creaked.

Schubert's melodies were altered in multiple ways with motifs often repeated. The various sound effects were meant to reproduce the natural elements mentioned in the text--the posthorn, the crow, the wind. There was much scraping and banging. At one point we heard arhythmic hammering coming from backstage and wondered what was being constructed.

Tenor Mark Padmore, who was "on the book" was requested to shout at times, or whisper, or use sprechstimme. His performance, in any case, was overshadowed by all the elaborate effects. We couldn't keep from thinking of hyperactive children, each screaming for attention.  Obviously Mr. Zender had no idea of "Less is More".

The cycle was completely robbed of its intimacy and seemed wrongheaded to us. We imagine that lovers of modern music who had never heard nor developed affection for the cycle, might have enjoyed it more than we did.  For us it was like adding arms to The Venus de Milo!

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, October 15, 2016


Grant Wenaus, Jesse Blumberg, Scott Murphree, and Vira Slywotzky

Mirror Visions Ensemble is celebrating their 25th Anniversary Season with performances and master classes both in the USA and in Paris. How lucky we feel to have spent an evening with them last night at the Sheen Center, a most suitable venue for a song recital.

And what a recital it was!  The theme was Flights of Fantasy; dreams and imagination were celebrated in protean manifestations. The artistry was incomparable.

The first group of songs dealt with ancient gods; our favorite from this group was Ture Rangström's "Semele" with text by August Strindberg--both early 20th c. artists. Soprano Vira Slywotzky is a truly exceptional singer of great versatility. She used her ample instrument and perfectly calibrated dramatic skills to get across the vindictiveness of the goddess Hera towards the overreaching Semele of the title. Our knowledge of the Swedish language is minimal but it sounded just fine to us.

The next set of songs dealt with Lorelei, the mythical siren who lures men to their destruction.  Always a compelling storyteller and adventuresome linguist, Ms. Slywotzky tackled Zdenêk Fibich's  Czech setting of Heinrich Heine's chilling tale which we had previously heard only in German.

We were on more familiar territory when baritone Jesse Blumberg gave an astonishing account of Robert Schumann's "Waldesgespräch". What astonished us was not just his mellifluous voice but the varied colorations he gave to the seductive horseman and the vengeful Lorelei.  We couldn't help thinking of a certain entitled presidential candidate and hoping he might meet a similar fate.

Ms. Slyvotzky returned with all her cabaret flair to perform the version put forth by the brothers Gershwin. Oh, she was treacherous!  Oh, she was lecherous!  And how cleverly the Gershwins made use of the special qualities of the English language.

MVE has commissioned eighty works over the years, and last night we heard the latest--Scales and Tales by Gilda Lyons whose contemporary take was original and more than usually listenable. Mythological creatures were introduced in texts, one dating from nearly three millenia ago, with the most recent from the mid 18th c.

The strings of the piano were plucked and pounded by pianist Grant Wenaus, producing some of the strangest sounds we have heard coming from that instrument. All three singers took part.  Our favorite was "Unicorn" in which all three singers overlapped lines or sang in unison with strange harmonies and occasional equine snuffling and snorting!

The next segment dealt with birds--the swan and the stork. Mr. Blumberg performed Maurice Ravel's "Le Cygne" and brought out all the gentleness of the Jules Renard text, painting an evocative aural picture for us to visualize. His fine French added to the Gallic flavor and Mr. Wenau's rippling piano lent an aural assist.

The following song, Hugo Wolf's  "Storchenbotschaft" showed off tenor Scott Murphree's artistry. Eduard Mörike's text tells a delightful story of a shepherd learning about the arrival of twins by virtue of a visit from a pair of storks. Mr. Murphree's German was impeccable and his storytelling captured all the humor. We loved Wolf's piano writing here; Mr. Wenau was brilliant.

Even better was Mr. Murphree's performance of Joseph Kosma's 20th c. comic masterpiece "Deux escargot s'en vont à l'enterrement" with text by Jacques Prévert. We don't usually think of tenors having a sense of humor but he sure does. What a charming performance of a charming story!

Ms. Slywotzky and Mr. Wenau almost outdid one another in a gorgeous performance of Debussy's "La flûte de Pan". When we speak of imagination, we must give ample credit to the poetry of Pierre Louÿs! And Ms. Slywotzky's French was perfect. What a versatile artist she is!

There were other delights on the program but let us skip to the 20th c. dragon-ish ending in which all the artists took part.  Lee Hoiby's setting of Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky" might have been called "Jabberwacky"!  All three singers joined to exhibit mock terror at this ferocious beast.

Wolseley Charles' "The Green-Eyed Dragon" never fails to delight and we enjoyed the singers' taking turns from one verse to the next. These artists are superb in solos but together they are formidable.

The Artistic Director for MVE is Tobé Malawista. The company has achieved great success in developing an audience for art song with their innovative programming.

(c) meche kroop

Friday, October 14, 2016


Bragi Bergthórsson and Evan Fein

Have five years really passed since we heard John Brancy sing in Evan Fein's opera The Raven's Kiss at Juilliard? We remarked at the time that we loved the sound of the Icelandic language and the way Mr. Fein's music reflected the rhythm of it. Since that time, we have only had one other opportunity to hear Icelandic songs at a recital held at the National Opera Center.

How greatly we looked forward to last night's recital at Scandinavian House! Mr. Fein is one of a very few contemporary composers who write melodically and seem to have a feel for vocal line.  Icelandic folk tunes inspired the program we heard last night; there were interesting embellishment of harmonic structure while the austere and chilly sound that is so unique to this music was maintained.

Mr. Fein is a product of Juilliard's graduate program while Icelandic tenor Bragi Bergthórsson was trained at Guildhall School of Music in London. What impressed us most about his instrument was the ability to sing pianissimo and still preserve a gorgeous vibrato. We loved the many colors on his vocal palette.

The program began and ended with selections from Ny islensk thjódlög, Op. 9 with text written by the librettist of The Raven's Kiss, Thorvaldur David Kristjánsson. (Here we apologize to Icelandic readers for our approximation of the Icelandic spelling which does not exist on our keyboard).

The first song "Úti á hafi" was the most cheerful and straightforward song we would hear all evening and seemed unusual in its positive outlook.  There is no storm on this sea, just some optimistic hard-working sailors looking forward to arriving home with a good catch and being greeted by wives and children.

"Kvöldsólarlag" sings of cherished memories and Mr. B. sang it with the tenderest of tones.  But we heard a lot of sadness and wondered if the loved one had died. The accompaniment here was beautifully simple.

"Sólstafir", on the other hand, offered Mr. Fein the opportunity to create some elaborate and captivating arpeggios. "Upp og nidur" allowed Mr. B. to portray an inebriated fellow, which singers seem to love to do. (Perhaps this is the singer's equivalent of the actor's "death scene".) The song would have been right at home in the program we reviewed last night!

The final four selections from this cycle were composed on the road in Iceland as offerings for the hosts who provided for Mr. Fein and the aforementioned poet Thor Kristjánsson in their travels.  (Se non è vero è ben trovato!)  We are just imagining Mr. Fein driving through the barren geography of this island nation with a piano in the backseat! In any case, the songs are lovely and meant to be "new Icelandic folk songs".

In "Astarstjörnur Tvær", Mr. B.'s vocal line involved humming. We most loved the sweet melody of the final song "Sál mín svifur burt".

We also heard the world premiere of Mr. Fein's Hjartasláttur with text by Ragnar Jónasson who was present for the occasion.  His writing for piano was original with disturbing harmonies in "Úti" and some rumbling at the lower end of the keyboard in "Snjóblinda". "Dimma" had an ominous sound, utilizing the uppermost and lowermost keys on the piano.

There was a set of frightening "lullabies" which Mr. Fein commented on amusingly, telling us that Icelandic children go to bed without an argument to avoid hearing them! Our favorite was "Bí, bí og blaka". As Brahms did, Mr. Fein arranged them artistically, blurring the boundary between folk song and art song.

We also heard music by other composers--another world premiere called "Einbúinn" by Joseph Hallman involving some unusual vocal effects with muffled voice. 

Halldór Smárason's "Un dur" was a profoundly meditative piece on love and death with text by Steinn Steinarr.

Three selections by Jón Leifs were also performed. The first was an heroic Viking song and the other two were tender spiritual songs in which Mr. Fein sang along a fifth below Mr. B. That was quite lovely to hear!

And finally we heard a folk song which is sung in bars and which was arranged by Mr. Fein. "Krummavisur" is about a raven starving in a frozen landscape. We concluded that song comes from culture and culture comes from geography.  Anyone who has visited this fascinating country will recall that about 300,000 people inhabit an island about the size of England--and that most of the landscape is lunar and uninhabitable. In summer there is no night and in winter there is no day. No wonder the music is strange and beautiful!

(c) meche kroop

Thursday, October 13, 2016


Gary Slavin, Matt Hughes, Alexis Cregger, David Macaluso, Leslie Middlebrook, and Claire Kuttler
The bubbles in the champagne matched well with the effervescent performances onstage last night at The Players, when Light Opera of New York (known as LOONY) presented an evening of operetta and cabaret songs called "Drink! Drink! Drink".  We sipped some bubbly but we gulped down the deliriously delicious entertainment.

Good music doesn't have to be "serious" and we enjoyed the humorous songs as much as the torch songs.  All the voices were top notch and there was no amplification to assault our tender ears.

Most of the songs were about drinking or sung by characters who were "in their cups". The wisely chosen hostess was Leslie Middlebrook appearing as Count Orlofsky from Johann Strauss' Die Fledermaus, singing "Chacun à son goût" in a clever English translation.  It was a fine concept and well executed by this excellent performer.

The most operatic number on the program was "Libiamo" from Verdi's La Traviata, perfectly performed by Alexis Cregger and Matt Hughes.

The most philosophical number was a very heartfelt "If Love Were All" by Noel Coward, performed with depth by Claire Kuttler who also sang Strayhorn's "Lush Life", a tale of profound disappointment. The songs fit her voice and stage presence to a T.

The liveliest number was Strauss' "Czardas" performed with Hungarian style by Ms. Cregger. The most bibulous was her performance of "Ah, quel diner je vais de faire" from Jacques Offenbach's "La Périchole". She was hilarious and we understood every word of her intoxicated French.

The most humorous songs landed on Gary Slavin's broad shoulders. We loved the sardonic "Mrs. Lowsborough-Goodby" by Cole Porter and also his performance of Buffett's "Margaritaville" which had the audience singing along, although not a shaker of salt was to be found on any table.  Mr. Slavin also staged the show, although the concept originated with Producer Carol Davis.

We recently saw (on HD video) the Metropolitan Opera's production of Lehar's "The Merry Widow". David Macaluso's performance of Danilo's aria "I'm going to Maxim's" far exceeded the one on video; he put so much personality into the song!

Matt Hughes managed a difficult task, performing a gender bending version of the ironic "You Can Always Count on Me" by Cy Coleman; it was funny just because he played it straight without fuss. The audience loved it and so did we!

Music Director Seth Weinstein accompanied all on the piano and did a swell job of it.

We always enjoy LOONY and eagerly await news of their upcoming season; it's their Tenth Anniversary!  YAY!!!!  More champagne please!

(c) meche kroop


Alex Rosen, Julia Wolcott, Onadek Winan, Maria Brea, and Thomas West

Everything about yesterday's liederabend at Juilliard delighted us--the entire program was in German and, since it was coached by Brian Zeger, the German diction was excellent and not a word was slighted. The choice of composers included our favorites and the young artists performed them well, each with his/her own style.

We haven't spoken to Mr. Zeger about this but we suspect that he encourages each singer to honor his/her own performance style and each one seemed comfortable with his/her own choice. There is no right or wrong in lieder performance.  Some artists are highly expressive and make ample use of gesture to get across the meaning of the text. Others are more reserved and rely on vocal colors and the barest minimum of dramatic expression.  We can appreciate the entire spectrum.

Soprano Maria Brea opened the program and we enjoyed her highly expressive style in a half dozen songs by Richard Strauss. Not only did she employ ample gesture but used her facial expression to fine effect.  Even her eyes danced along with the music. Her bright tone was just right for Strauss. 

She opened the set with the sprightly "Wozu noch, Mädchen" and invested the final repetition of the opening verse with sufficient variation. She captured the sensuality of "Breit' über mein Haupt". The blind hope of "Hoffen und wieder verzagen" was made clear; the closing "Mein Herz ist stumm, mein Herz ist kalt" had appropriately chilly colors. Collaborative pianist Nathan Raskin provided excellent dynamic support.

Baritone Thomas West performed a quintet of songs by Brahms--songs with which we are unfamiliar--from Lieder und Gesänge, Op. 32.  Most of the Brahms songs that we love are of a folksy nature; these songs are quite serious and deal with more complex and troubling emotions.

Mr. West is an artist of the more reserved type, employing an economy of gesture and relying predominantly on vocal colors to convey the mood. That he translated the songs himself lent a word-by-word authenticity to his performance.  In "Wie rafft ich mich auf", Brahms repeats certain phrases and Mr. West handled this beautifully. His piano partner Jinhee Park evinced ample strength.

We particularly enjoyed the final song "Wie bist du, meine Königen", a more romantic affair to be sure, and a lied which permitted Mr. West to use a lighter tender tone, especially in the final verse. Every time he repeated "Wonnevoll!" we felt an inner smile.

Bass Alex Rosen performed a pair of serious songs by Schubert, lieder with opposing spiritual values. In "Prometheus" Goethe's text speaks of anger toward Zeus; the cynicism is so thick you could cut it with a knife.  In "Grenzen der Menschheit", the same poet speaks with spiritual reverence.

Mr. Rosen captured both attitudes and did it with low notes to spare. Collaborative pianist Chérie Roe made a powerful statement throughout.

Some genie must have read our Friday night review of the Brooklyn Art Song Society in which we expressed the wish for more songs by Joseph Marx to appear on recital programs.  How delighted we were that soprano Julia Wolcott performed four of them! Although he came along a generation after Strauss, his music is entirely accessible and melodic. Ms. Wolcott's performance was lovely and her instrument brilliant in tone.

We had heard two of the songs "Nocturne" and "Selige Nacht" Friday night and had enjoyed them entirely. How delightful to hear them again. Piano partner Dror Baitel enjoyed the dazzling runs of the former and Ms. Wolcott clearly enjoyed the sensuality of the latter, which has become one of our favorites. It is interesting that Otto Erich Hartleben wrote the text for both of them.

Soprano Onadek Winan closed the program with four selections from Strauss' Brentano-Lieder, Op. 68. which she translated herself; this lent an immediacy to her performance. Our ears feasted on her beautiful tone and our eyes on a lovely stage presence.

In "An die Nacht" piano partner Ho Jae Lee's passion matched hers.  But our favorite is always "Amor" in which she gave a charming reading and some stunning vocal fireworks.  Mr. Lee's piano was particularly fine in "Als mir dein Lied erklang".  This summed up the recital for us--"Your song rang out to me"!  Indeed, these five singers managed, in 80 minutes, to erase an entire day's cares.  Long live music.  Long live song!

(c) meche kroop

Monday, October 10, 2016


Jared Bybee and Isabel Leonard

Readers will recall in what high esteem we hold the George London Foundation for Singers for their support of young artists. Their excellent series of recitals at The Morgan Library and Museum draws a large and enthusiastic audience who enjoy the music and the opportunity to mingle with the artists after the recital. The annual competition holds its finals on February 17th of 2017 and that will be one of the highlights of the season.

Yesterday's recital joined the talents of acclaimed mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard, whose talent lights up every venue in which she sings, and rising star baritone Jared Bybee whose artistry garnered him an Encouragement Award last season from the George London Foundation.

We have been  thrilling to Ms. Leonard's artistry since she was an undergraduate at Juilliard. We have heard and enjoyed Mr. Bybee in a number of competitions and also at the Santa Fe Opera.  So we were really looking forward to this recital.  Actually it managed to exceed our high expectations!

Perhaps it's the Argentinean genes that are responsible for Ms. Leonard's exquisite connection with Latin American music but when she feels it, we feel it. She performed four Spanish songs in different moods and varied colors. We were most affected by Manuel de Falla's "Oracion de las madres que tienen sus hijos en brazos"; if there is a more poignant anti-war song we have yet to hear it.

Ms. Leonard's performance of the "Habanera" from Bizet's Carmen made this old chestnut fresh again. There was so much going on in the introduction that we experienced the character in a new way--less arrogant and flashy--and more teasingly seductive.

Bellini must also be a favorite as evidenced by Adalgisa's aria "Sgombra è la sacra selva...Deh! Proteggimi, o Dio!" from Norma. Ms. Leonard manages to walk the fine line between reserve and exhibitionism. Every gesture appears spontaneous but must have been carefully considered. There is no excess; nothing is wasted. Tonal quality, language, phrasing, stage presence--everything is perfect.

We were likewise thrilled with Mr. Bybee's performance, particularly with the depth and breadth of his tone and his linguistic skills. He performed Maurice Ravel's Don Quichotte à Dulcinée in the most perfect French (we understand he studied with Classic Lyric Arts in France). He was effective without showy dramatics, using an admirable economy of gesture.

His phrasing worked well but what impressed us the most was his use of dynamic variety.  One might say that he captured the spirit of each song--the reverence of "Chanson romanesque", the passion of "Chanson épique", and the humor of "Chanson à boire".

We were happy to hear yet more French from him in "Vision fugitive" from Massenet's Hérodiade, in which Hérode is transported by his vision of Salomé. We too were transported.

Mr. Bybee also sang selections from Voices from World War II--a cycle composed by Gene Scheer who had not been born until over a decade after the war ended. Nonetheless he wrote the lyrics himself. The music was more melodic than most contemporary music and the lines rhymed, although the scanning was awkward in places.

Nonetheless, it was given an affecting performance by Mr. Bybee whose English diction is so fine that we missed not a single word. As a woman, we were more affected by the aforementioned de Falla song. Mother love sings better than battle stories! Perhaps the song that made best use of our spiky English language was the jazzy "At Howard Hawks' House".

If you are bringing two terrific talents together, you can expect some delightful duets. From Mozart's Cosi fan Tutte, we heard the wonderful teasing "Il core vi dono" in which Guglielmo wins the heart of Dorabella. Our heart was won by the charm of the scene.

Still more Mozart, also of a teasing nature, was heard in "Crudel! Perche finora" from Le Nozze di Figaro in which the clever Susana fools the not-too-clever Count Almaviva about a subsequent rendezvous. We must say that Ms. Leonard is very very good at teasing!  In both these duets the two artists related extraordinarily well, both vocally and dramatically.

Each artist generously offered an encore. Mr. Bybee chose Salvatore Cardillo's "Cor 'ngrato" (Caterí! Caterí!) which he sang in authentic Neapolitan dialect. Just as Ms. Leonard comes by her facility with Spanish genetically, Mr. Bybee comes by his the same way.

Ms. Leonard's encore was "Someone to Watch Over Me", composed by the brothers Gershwin for the 1926 musical Oh, Kay! This team definitely knew how to use the English language and Ms. Leonard gave it a sincere reading that reinforces our belief that Broadway music, when done well, is truly America's best shot at the genre of "art song". Every phrase was sung for meaning, not for "effect".

The audience absolutely insisted on more and more we got! We rarely get tearful at a recital but this performance of "If I Loved You" from the 1945 musical Carousel turned on the waterworks. Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II were another writing pair who captured the American idiom perfectly.

It is many hours later but the mood has lingered. We always enjoy recitals but this one touched us deeply.  And that's a good thing! Why get angry about politics when one can be deeply moved by good music!

(c) meche kroop