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, January 30, 2017


Christopher Cooley and Pauline Taumalolo

We love master classes for many reasons.  We love hearing singers we may have never heard before; we learn a great deal about the art of singing that we can apply in the future; we learn the subtle features of a variety of arias and art songs, subtleties we can listen for the next time we hear them performed. We were happy to accept an invitation from the Metropolitan International Music Festival to observe.

Last night at the National Opera Center, conductor Gregory Buchalter shared some very valuable instruction with a group of singers we hadn't heard before but hope to hear again.  At three hours without a break, it was rather intense but the time flew by as eight singers absorbed enough tutelage to improve their performances dramatically--in both senses of the word.

There was, of course, a continual thread running through the entire evening--instruction we have heard over and over again. It is probably the most important feature of singing--the emphasis on connecting the vowels by singing on the breath, singing through the consonants to achieve a legato line.  Once one hears what it sounds like, one can never be satisfied with anything short of that.

The first student was soprano Alejandra Flores, whose interpretation of the role of Norina was first-rate. She delivered a sparkling and playful performance with great dynamic control and excellent coloratura technique. She was counseled to omit repetitions when auditioning and to introduce herself simply. She learned to emphasize the dotted rhythm of the cabaletta. Donizetti, Don Pasquale's composer, was one of the three great bel canto composers and the coloratura is there for a purpose--that of limning the character. Ms. Flores was instructed to minimize her gestures.

Soprano Susan Fletcher sang "Rejoice greatly" from Handel's Messiah with book in hand; the first suggestion she got from Maestro Buchalter was to "lose the book". We cheered inside when we heard that because it turned us off so much that we could not even concentrate on her singing. Once she "lost the book", we could relate to her lovely voice and expressivity without distraction. This is a common complaint of ours and hearing it from the Maestro left us feeling vindicated. Ms. Fletcher was counseled to stand up straight, to provide contrast for repeated phrases, and to add some embellishments. This made quite a difference and we were able to observe her superlative diction, making every word clear.

Soprano Silja Aalto gave a lovely performance of Mimi's aria from Act I of Puccini's La Boheme. We loved the change of colors as Mimi's character emerged from simplicity to flirtatiousness to radiance. She was advised to keep the momentum going and also to abandon most gestures.

Dramatic soprano Cheryl Warfield sang Turandot's aria with great power.  The walls were vibrating, we are sure. The Maestro was pleased that she conveyed the vulnerability behind the character's iciness, and the fear behind the anger. She was instructed to give more direction to the line and to emphasize the important words in any given phrase.

Contralto Pauline Taumalolo has a voice that, once heard, will be long remembered. The closest we can think of is Ewa Podles. She performed Brahms' "Wie Melodien zieht es mir" which we just heard last night sung by a mezzo-soprano. We have never heard the song performed in this key and it sounded totally different. The singer was instructed to make her breaths part of the phrase and to breathe with the piano. In order to make these luxurious phrases seamless, she was taught to omit the bar lines. The text called for more flavor.

Soprano Elizabeth Klimek performed Lauretta's aria from Gianni Schicchi and the first thing she learned was to never apologize. The audience will believe only what you tell them. An anecdote about Dame Kiri Ti Kanawa was shared and we all had a good chuckle. Some singers were advised to gesture less but Ms. Klimek was advised to gesture more. The other good tip she got was about dealing with Italian's double consonants to avoid misunderstandings.  Puccini's phrases must have a sweep to them.

Mezzo-soprano Zi Yang gave an affecting performance of Sesto's aria from La clemenza di Tito in which Mozart's embellishments must begin lighter and grow into grandness. Ms. Yang imbued the lengthy aria with some excellent changes of color that revealed the conflict of Sesto's character--his masculine strength, his love for Vitellia, and his fear of the awful act he was going to commit for her. Although Ms. Yang does not have much English, her Italian was splendid.

The lone male on the program was bass Nika Kolkhidashvili who sang Banco's aria from Verdi's Macbeth, in which he warns his son Fleanzio to flee. The tremolo in the orchestra sets the mood for the aria. The singer was advised not to lean to the side and to find the key words in each phrase to emphasize. The aria needs shape to build the tension and there must be a contrast of coloration when the key changes to major.

It was a valuable class with lots of "take-home" points to think about. It is always gratifying to watch an artist being taken to the next level by a fine teacher. The excellent accompanist was Christopher Cooley.

(c) meche kroop

Sunday, January 29, 2017


Martin Neron, Chad Kranak, Jose Pietri-Coimbre, Abigail Wright, Elizabeth Smith, and Nicholas Hay

Last night at the National Opera Center we attended a Winter Recital of Songs and Romances with a friend new to art song.  However, he is an expert on languages and phonology. We withheld our opinion on the recital to hear his opinions and was surprised to learn that they matched the notes with which we filled our program. We will get to that further on in our review.

We enjoyed hearing a couple singers we have enjoyed and reviewed before and we enjoyed hearing some new ones. Familiar to us is mezzo-soprano Abigail Wright who adds luster to whatever she sings. Her full rich instrument is beautifully employed in both French and in German. We understood every word.

We never realized the irony in Brahms' "Wie Melodien zieht es mir" which describes the way a melody can lose its spirit when attached to lyrics. Significantly, Brahms' melody lost nothing! We have been hearing it in our head all night, including the lovely lyrics. Also in German we heard Schonberg's "Galathea", an unusual song which we have come to appreciate more and more.

In fine French, Ms. Wright performed Debussy's "Beau Soir" and "Romance" and the satisfying "Je te veux" with its sweet straightforward sentiment, in waltz time no less.  Delicieux!

Baritone Jose Pietri-Coimbre is also known to us from some fine operatic performances. This is the first time we have heard him sing art songs and have a rather strong opinion. My guest thought his
performance of Schubert's "Ganymed" was the finest performance of the evening; we asked what impressed him and it was the same feature that impressed us. The singer immersed himself in the song and took us on an uplifting journey through the delights of nature.

We also enjoyed him in Reynaldo Hahn's "Fetes galantes" in which he painted an aural portrait reminding us of a Fragonard painting.  So why did "Fumee" by the same Venezuelan composer leave us cold? Perhaps we just don't care for the song. (We just listened to a recording by the fabulous Anna Caterina Antonacci and didn't like it any more.)

However we got the same rather flat feeling when Mr. Pietri-Coimbri sang Gustav Mahler's "Urlicht", a song we adore. Perhaps the singer just wasn't feelin' it! That being said, his German was excellent and he exhibited a lovely pianissimo. As haunting as Mr. Neron's piano sounded, perhaps a full orchestra is necessary for the full emotional effect of this incredible song.

New to us was soprano Elizabeth Smith, of whom we are now a fan. Not only is the voice a lovely affecting one, but her stage presence is way beyond average. To our delight, she introduced each song by reading the text in English, and reading it with a depth of understanding that carried over into her singing. When a singer connects so deeply with the text and conveys it to the members of the audience, we are getting "the full Monty" of a song recital.

She was impressive in three gems by Gabriel Faure--"Clair de lune", the invitational "Mai" and the wistful "Apres un reve". Her French line was long and lovely and even without compromising the emotional content.

We enjoyed her even more in a pair of selections by the Sicilian composer Stefano Donaudy, who, like the Venezuelan Reynaldo Hahn, composed at the turn of the 20th c. She performed his most famous song "Vaghissima sembianza" and "Sento nel cor", filled with justifiable passion. We are pleased to relate that her Italian is luscious.

Also new to us was bass Nicholas Hay who closed the program with a delightful animated performance of Steven Mark Kohn's 2006 "Senator's Stump Speech", a text actually delivered by a former state representative from Tennessee, one Noah "Soggy" Sweat. It is a masterpiece of political double-speak in which the speaker's opinions can be slanted to please different groups. We cannot recall a thing about the melody or the singing, only that it was fun and a great way to end the program. Mr. Hay's adoption of a Southern accent made it even better.

It gave us a different look at Mr. Hay who was pretty inert in Oley Speaks' "Sylvia", another work from the turn of the 20th c. He is a singer who does best with humor.  Of the two Russian songs he performed, he was far better in Modest Moussorgsky's funny song about the flea than he was in a beautiful but serious Tchaikovsky song about nature.

Tenor Chad Kranak chose to sing Winter Words, Benjamin Britten's mid-20th c. setting of poetry by Thomas Hardy. We are great fans of Hardy's novels and we might even like the poetry if someone had read it to us. However, the poetry did not ask to be set and seemed to be tortured into place to fit the music. The vocal line was so boring that we found ourselves focusing on the evocative piano writing, which was so well played by the excellent collaborative pianist Martin Neron.

This is where we bring in the opinion of our philologist friend who spontaneously reported that the music was more or less doing rhythmic battle with the words. This confirms our frequently asserted opinion that English is extremely difficult to set and should be left to people like Stephen Sondheim or Arthur Sullivan or some of America's composers of operetta and Broadway musicals.  Our friend, who is fluent in English but not a native speaker, studies the rhythm and flow of language and was able to pick up the same issue that impairs our ability to enjoy English art song. We no longer feel the need to apologize for our prejudice. Only rarely have we heard a song that transcends the limitations of our native tongue!

As far as Mr. Kranak's performance, he did not strike us as a natural story-teller. Enunciation was rarely clear enough to get the full impact of the descriptive text. The most comprehensible songs were "The little old table" and "At the railway station, Upway" and even they lost a considerable number of words. Although Mr. Kranak is considered to be "an avid performer of Britten", we would like to hear him sing in a different language before commenting on his vocal skills.

(c) meche kroop

Thursday, January 26, 2017


Jinhee Park and Rebecca Farley

Last night's liederabend at Juilliard impressed us on two counts. Firstly, we got to increase our rather newly established appreciation of Russian song. Secondly, we got to hear some singing in English that was comprehensible, a feature that is rarely the case. For the Russian we have Natalia Katyukova to thank since she coached last night's students in the Vocal Arts Department. We were pleased that each singer and collaborative pianist introduced her/himself and told something about the works they were going to sing.

Baritone Dimitri Katotakis opened the program with a quartet of songs by the 20th c. composer Georgy Sviridov--two from the early stage of his composing career and two from the late stage. Fortunately, there are places in the world where serialism and 12-tone experimentation were ignored! If we did not grasp all the themes of the poetry outlined by Mr. Katotakis, we did observe that he thought about what he was singing and filled the songs with meaning. 

Much of the text involved bells--all kinds of bells from sleigh bells to those in the belfry--and collaborative pianist Adam Rothenberg made each one clarion clear. Our favorite song was the spirited "Winter's Road" in which Pushkin's text describes an eager lover on his way across a snowy landscape to join his sweetheart. The artists created an aural picture.

Mezzo-soprano Nicole Thomas, accompanied by pianist Dror Baitel, sang a pair of songs by Nikolai Medtner and a pair by Sergei Rachmaninov--all of them about flowers.  She described the drama of Medtner's approach as contrasted with Rachmaninov's more delicate approach to the fragility of flowers. 

Goethe's text for "Das Veilchen" had been so exquisitely set by Mozart over a century earlier and, in our opinion, could not be improved upon.  In Medtner's hands the charming tale became a bit heavy-handed for our taste. But we enjoyed Ms. Thomas' singing and Mr. Baitel's lavish piano accompaniment.

Russia has always had a thing for the French, so it was not too surprising that Aleksandrt Grechaninov, a student of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, set selections from Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal.  Once again we heard yet another setting of "L'invitation au voyage" but remain attached to the Henri Duparc setting, although there is nothing shabby about the lesser-known setting by Emmanuel Chabrier. Accompanied by Sora Jung, tenor Chance Jonas-O'Toole performed this and two others in a pleasantly sweet tenor. We think there is room for improvement in his French.

Baritone Dominik Belavy, whose second language is English, impressed us with the clarity of his diction in Charles Ives' "Tom Sails Away". We have heard him before and love the mellow sound of his voice; last night we found something new to appreciate. To tell a story one needs to make every word clear, and he did. 

Although his German is equally fine as was his delivery of Ives' setting of "Ich grolle nicht", this is another case where an earlier setting was infinitely superior.  Robert Schumann set Heinrich Heine's text in his cycle Dichterliebe with many compositional devices to highlight the irony. The placement of accents and chromaticism are just perfect.  The Ives did not achieve anything close.

Although we did not understand Mr. Belavy's choice to pair Ives' songs with those of the 20th c. composer Pavel Haas, we surely did enjoy them. Haas was a Jewish Czech composer who set Chinese poetry whilst confined in the Nazi concentration camp Theresienstadt, after which he was transferred to Auschwitz and gassed. In spite of the tragedy of his curtailed life, he left behind a fair amount of music.

Notably, Mr. Belavy translated the Czech (which had been translated from Wang Wei's original text by Bohumil Matthesius). If something was lost in this double translation, we know not but we do know that we appreciated Mr. Belavy's singing in Czech, especially after hearing Jamie Barton discussing the difficulties of this enterprise! Mr. Haas had a unique compositional style which pianist Rosa Li interpreted beautifully.

The program ended with soprano Rebecca Farley singing Samuel Barber's "Knoxville Summer of 1915". The text was extracted from a so-called "prose poem" by James Agee that later became the prologue to his book A Death in the Family. It was beautifully and expressively sung but has never resonated with us. We cannot think of many instances in which we have enjoyed prose set to music. It seemed to us that the text was tortured into place reminding us of a tailor trying to make a garment fit a body with lots of bulges.

Nonetheless, the piece is often heard in vocal recitals and many people love it for its nostalgia. We are looking forward to hearing Ms. Farley's solo recital on Feb 16th to see how she sounds in a variety of material.  Her collaborative pianist Jinhee Park had a chance to shine in the instrumental interlude and did a fine job creating the sounds of the streetcar--the iron whining, the bell ringing, and the spark crackling were all heard. Good job!

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, January 25, 2017


Antonina Chehovska, Alexey Lavrov, Michael Barrett, and Steven Blier

It defied our prediction that no one would show up for New York Festival of Song last night because of the torrential downpour. As a matter of fact, every seat was filled!  Was it because of Artistic Director Steven Blier's fascinating insights about Pyotr Tchaikovsky? Was it to hear two Russian speaking singers interpret his gorgeous songs? All of the above?  We cannot say but that's what drew us out in weather that begged for a cozy night at home.  We were so glad we went!

Both soprano Antonina Chehovska and baritone Alexey Lavrov are amazing artists and we have reviewed their recitals frequently and with great pleasure, as well as witnessing their well-deserved awards. We have enjoyed their performances in several languages, but the prospect of hearing an evening of Russian was too exciting to pass up.

Although Tchaikovsky's ballet music was probably the first classical music we were exposed to and loved, we confess that we did not always enjoy Russian vocal music. It is always easier to appreciate songs and operas in languages that one speaks and understands. But after countless recitals at Juillliard and hearing the luscious music of Rachmaninoff we have developed an appreciation for the unique sounds and rhythms of Russian, even if we pick up only a word here and there. We understand "love" and "night" and now we know the word for "nightingale".  Very useful!

Tchaikovsky's music is passionate and tender and yearning. Mr. Blier's fascinating comments about the master's sexual orientation and need for secrecy in late 19th c. Russia gave us valuable insights. The stories about the women who were important in his life lent meaning to the way Onegin spoke to Tatiana in his opera Eugene Onegin. The circumstances of his death were also revealed. This made the music even more accessible than it was before.

The program also included songs by his colleagues Anton Rubinstein, Anton Stepanovich Arensky, and Sergei Ivanovich Taneyev. There was not a boring song in the bunch. The theme of silence in the face of love and desire was a most important one. Of course, Tchaikovsky did not write the texts but he chose them to set and poured his heart into them.

Spared the difficulty of mastering a foreign language, both singers were free to connect with the material and share that connection with the audience. We were spellbound. Ms. Chehovska was particularly marvelous in the gorgeous melody of a lullaby in which we heard a most exquisite messa di voce. Her encore was a lovely light-hearted serenade. Her voice melded beautifully with Mr. Lavrov's in the duet by Arensky "All is quiet in the enchanting night". What a songbird she is.  We should use our newfound knowledge if you will forgive us our phonetic spelling of the word for nightingale.  She is a "sah-la-vay". 

Mr. Lavrov was at his best in Onegin's aria in which he confronts Tatiana about her rash outpouring of feelings for him in the letter she had written the night before. It was a very valid interpretation of Onegin's character, one with which we totally agree. No, the eponymous hero is not a heel; he is being as honest with Tatiana about his feelings as she had been about hers. He would have been a heel to have taken advantage of her!

Mr. Lavrov's encore was the very funny song "Tchaikovsky", composed by Kurt Weill with lyrics by Ira Gershwin and popularized by Danny Kaye. It gave him the opportunity to show his comedic chops.  It's a good thing the evening ended with a lullaby and a laugh because the last song on the program was the master's final song and it is a dirge-like text about being alone and sad.

Piano accompaniment was handled by Mr. Blier and Michael Barrett. We enjoyed the way he brought out a repetitive motif in the bass line of the lullaby sung by Ms. Chehovska and some rolling thunder we heard in the Taneyev song "Restless heart".

(c) meche kroop

Sunday, January 22, 2017


Ken Noda, Gerald Martin Moore, Javier Camarena, Eugene Villanueva, Mario Chang, Valeriya Polunina, Michelle Bradley, J'Nai Bridges and Warren Jones

Whether we call it "Marilyn Horne's Birthday Week" or "The Marilyn Horne Legacy" or "The Song Continues 2017" it still adds up to be the exciting week in January when we get to celebrate the art of the song recital  Last night's "Marilyn Horne Song Celebration" at Zankel Hall (of Carnegie Hall) delivered the goods, bringing together four rising stars in the vocal firmament and superstar tenor Javier Camarena. The programming was superb and the audience was highly appreciative.

Several of the singers and collaborative pianists are well known to us and have been reviewed multiple times. Readers will recall how exciting it is for us to watch their growth over the half dozen years we have been writing. Among these singers, and standing out in our memory for having delivered a performance of perfection, is mezzo-soprano J'Nai Bridges whose constant appearances at award recitals stands as testament to her talent.

Ms. Bridges has always had a flair for French with consummate skills at diction, phrasing, and the creation of long lyrical lines. Dressed in a slinky turquoise gown that made her look like a mermaid, her voice was as seductive as that of the Loreley of German fame, the one whose compelling voice lured sailors to their doom.  But in this case, the luring was toward acoustic delights. Her interpretation of Claude Debussy's Chansons de Bilitis was right on point. She captured the innocence of the young girl in "La flute de Pan", the developing sensuality of the young woman in "La chevelure" and the disillusionment of a mature woman whose love has gone sour in "Le tombeau des naiades".

Warren Jones' delicate touch served to add to the spellbinding performance, no less excellent in Ernest Chausson's melancholic song of regret "Le temps des lilas" and in two songs by Georges Bizet. We loved the long arching phrases of "Chanson d'Avril" and the "Orientalist" fantasy of "Adieux de l'hotesse arabe" who cannot seem to keep her young European lover. There are endless colors in Ms. Bridges' vocal palette.

Variety of vocal colors seemed to be exactly what was missing in the otherwise fine performance of Richard Strauss' Vier Letzte Lieder by the powerful soprano Michelle Bradley, about whom we have also written before. This is a grand and glowing instrument with great promise and one that will take some time to get under firm control. The composer's swan song comprised the four last songs he wrote that were put together by his publishers. They are autumnal in quality and begged for more variety and gesture. Valeriya Polunina's accompaniment served her well with notable inclusions of the song of larks.

Warren Jones' piano contributed similarly to the performance of baritone Eugene Villanueva, whose talents are new to us. After hearing a set of Brahms songs and a set of Hugo Wolf songs, we have concluded that this fine young singer is far more interesting when he has a character to portray. And Wolf gives the singer plenty of characters! In "Der Rattenfanger", he gave the character a seductiveness of menace, not like Schubert's jolly ratcatcher!  Mr. Villanueva really got into the role and showed a great deal of personality.

A different sort of personality was called for in "Abschied" in which Morike's text describes an unwelcome visit from a critic whom the poet kicks down the stairs with great relish. Mr. Villanueva clearly enjoyed singing these characters and we enjoyed his performance. We would propose that the next time he sings Brahms' lovely "Von ewiger Liebe",  he might put himself into the mind of the cautious young man and the passionately committed young woman. We longed to hear the two voices colored differently. We enjoyed his voice most when he sang pianissimo.

Tenor Mario Chang is another singer we have been enjoying for several years; we were pleased that he chose several Spanish songs. Joaquin Turina's early 20th c. cycle Poema en forma de canciones begins with a selection for piano entitled "Dedicatoria" in which collaborative pianist Ken Noda established an Iberian flavor for the songs that followed, all expressing various ironies of love.

Mr. Chang has some beautiful technique at the ready and we heard a delicate decrescendo in "Nunca olvida". Similar to our critique of Mr. Villanueva, we longed to hear a different color for the woman who expresses her anxieties in "Los dos miedos".  The man narrating should sound different than the woman he is describing.

We heard another notable decrescendo in Tosti's "Ideale", a good choice for Mr. Chang. And we have heard him sing Miguel Sandoval's "Sin tu amor" before and consider it Mr. Chang's signature piece. There were a few times in his performance that he was pushing at the top of his register.  He does not always do this and when he does we wish he would lighten up. He has the notes  and higher doesn't always mean louder.

Such pushing was not heard in tenor Javier Camarena's performance of Liszt's Tre sonetti di Petrarca! So many fine singers have come out of Mexico and he is one of them. His guest appearance with collaborative pianist Gerald Martin Moore was pure pleasure. He has a gorgeous instrument and colors to spare--enough actually for the singers on the program who were deficient in that regard.

His delivery provided all the variety of dynamics one would wish for; he can achieve maximum volume without shouting or pushing his voice. One doesn't often here such an exquisite messa di voce. The depth of his feeling is operatic and we loved it. We are still hearing that long downward sigh in "Benedetto sia'l giorno" and a finely floated high note in "I' vidi in terra angelici costumi".

It was an altogether fine note and a fitting capstone for a week of celebration. Too bad we have to wait another year for a similar celebration.

Lovers of song will find other recitals in other venues--we recommend Steven Blier's New York Festival of Song for a different kind of song recital, and Joy in Singing for yet another. Watch the calendar at Opera America for more.

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, January 21, 2017


Erin Alcorn and Dame Felicity Lott

The final master class of The Song Continues 2017, formerly known as Marilyn Horne's Birthday Week, was conducted at Carnegie Hall in the Education Wing, by the much honored soprano Dame Felicity Lott who wowed the audience with her very British sense of humor. Her style of teaching was completely different from the prior two master teachers. She was generous in her praise of the four young singers we heard (we shared her opinion) but very nit-picky about the text, teaching with the score in hand.  Her command of languages is as formidable as her command of musicianship.

Her first student was soprano Erin Alcorn, accompanied by Katelan Terrell.  Ms. Alcorn's first selection was Richard Strauss' Standchen, the one we know and love well.  A man tries to persuade his sweetheart to sneak out of the house to meet him in the garden for some passionate kissing. Ms. Alcorn used her brilliant voice brilliantly and performed with ardent expression. It was a persuasive performance.

Dame Felicity's suggestions were to keep the tempo up so that the energy would not flag. Both piano and voice need to be light.  There were a few words that Dame Lott wanted Ms. Alcorn to enjoy-- "zittert" is one we could really appreciate. The second "mach auf" needed to be more intense than the first. A change of color was needed for the final verse of von Schack's text; it must not lose intensity but should be still and legato.  And the "hoch gluhn" at the end must be very passionate with a glorious end on "Wonnenschauern der Nacht".  What a gorgeous phrase that is and Ms. Alcorn sang it gorgeously.

Although her instrument is clearly made for Strauss, she did a fine job with Debussy's "Vert" from Ariettes oubliees. There was some urging to get her French more forward in the mask and the need to change color from the offering of vegetation to the offering of the poet's heart.  Indeed! There were phrases to stretch and phrases to build up and relax.

Mezzo-soprano Marjorie Maltais also had the opportunity to perform two songs. She sang "Danse macabre" by Camille Saint-Saens with its difficult text by Henri Cazalis. The composer did an excellent job of applying music to the very wordy text and conveying the spooky mood. Mezzo Marjorie handled it beautifully, creating a mood of grotesquerie

Nathan Raskin handled the wild piano part quite well but was instructed to hold back the sound whilst Mezzo Marjorie was singing so that the text could be understood.  Both artists should expand the final "Oh! La belle nuit".

By the end of the song, Ms. Maltais was warmed up enough to tackle Richard Wagner's "Traume" from Wesendonck Lieder.   The coaching was to be ecstatic, not sad. Those thoughts would surely change the color! The singer must draw the audience into this world of dreams!  And, must do it with the voice, not gestures. Mr. Raskin was coached to play more ethereally and this made a world of distance as he complied.

Tenor Patrick Shelton sang "Let me enjoy the earth" by Gerald Finzi, with a text by Thomas Hardy. He was advised to avoid meaningless movement and to color his voice with wistfulness, not sorrow. In our opinion, Mr. Hardy's splendid poetry did not ask for music and we didn't find that Mr. Finzi'a music did much for the poetry. But Madeline Slettedahl played it well.

We enjoyed Mr. Shelton's singing more in Liszt's "Comment, disaient-ils". We do believe that Victor Hugo did not want to have his poetry set and yet, to our ears, Liszt's music added a great deal!  Dame Lott worked with Mr. Shelton on some finer points of French diction, particularly on softening the elided "t" in the oft-repeated phrase of the title. She worked also on rhythm and on changing the colors from "ramez" to "dormez" to "aimez"--all great improvements.

Soprano Anne Wright closed the class with a pair of songs that showed off her versatility as well as her impressive instrument. Henri Duparc's gem "L'invitation au voyage" is a setting of a gorgeously sensual text by Baudelaire. Significantly, we could understand nearly every word of Ms. Wright's French, even at the top of her register. The knowledge that she translated both songs herself reinforces our impression that she understood every word she was singing.

Nonetheless, Dame Felicity was there to iron out some small issues with French diction, and some suggestions about where to breathe. She wanted Ms. Wright to enjoy the text (we sure did!) and the changes of color in "luxe, calme et volupte". The singer must not demonstrate but must invite the audience in.  (Where have we heard that before??) Zalman Kelber's handling of the rippling piano completed the effect.

In Strauss' "Cacilie" from Vier Lieder, Ms. Wright conveyed all the intense passion and ecstasy of Heinrich Hart's text. What a splendid evening, discovering four fine singers and two very promising Straussians.

(c) meche kroop

Friday, January 20, 2017


Margo Garrett, Madeline Skettedahl, and Dorothy Gal

Last night, the second of three master classes was held with esteemed collaborative pianist Margo Garrett providing invaluable instruction to singer and pianist alike. The master classes, if you didn't already know, are part of The Song Continues 2017 at Carnegie Hall, a series of events through which Marilyn Horne does everything humanly possible to advance the art of the song recital.  Young singers and collaborative pianists get an opportunity to perform for a standing room only crowd of lieder lovers and to receive advanced instruction that will take them to the next level.

Last night we heard tenor Ricardo "Ricky" Garcia tackle the very difficult Schubert setting of Goethe's text "Erlkonig". What makes the song difficult is that the singer must assume several voices--that of the narrator, that of the father, that of his child, and that of the evil Erl King. Much of the momentum of the father's mad ride is supplied by the piano-- in this case, by Nathan Raskin. Ms.Garrett pointed out that the Germans love stories, especially supernatural ones!

We sensed that Mr. Garcia wanted to convey the different voices but was not totally successful, except for his appropriately colored baritonal father.  After some coaching, he was able to make the narrator less passionate and more even. The child needed a lighter but frightened sound, while the Erl King needed a measure of seductiveness. The father needed to be more tender and legato.

An interesting method of practicing this was given--the singer can sing all the lines of one of the characters in succession in order to master the build up of intensity for that particular character.  After establishing the vocal arc of each particular character, then the entire piece can be put together. This makes perfect sense and is a point we will be thinking of every time we hear a song with more than one voice.

It was a lovely dramatic experience to hear soprano Caitleen Kahn perform a satirical and allegorical song by Dmitri Shostakovich entitled "Misunderstanding".  It was the story of a rake who mistakes a woman's recitation of erotic poetry for an invitation to intimacy. Ms. Kahn is a born storyteller and had a very clear understanding of the background of the song's composition and the text as well.

She was coached to use her voice and face as well as gestures to convey the sense. Pianist Zalman Kelber got some valuable tips about achieving a less obvious doubling of the vocal line. An equally valuable tip for the singer was to practice singing into the piano (with the lid raised high, of course) with the piano playing octaves above and below. These are the "pearls" that only a master of coaching would know!

Bass-baritone Ted Pickell performed "Wenn ich mit Menschen und mit Engelszungen redete" from Brahm's Vier ernste Gesange, accompanied by Katelan Terrell. Mr. Pickell has a marvelous instrument to work with but needed coaching in putting some feeling into the text. Ms. Garrett suggested that he focus on the loving feelings. We were not feelin' it! To us it just sounded like preaching, which, of course, it is--Paul preaching to the Corinthians.

Ms. Terrell needed to lighten up on the keys and Mr. Pickell needed more color, more contrast between verses, and more attention paid to the consonants, particularly the double ones.

The evening ended with soprano Dorothy Gal, whom we have heard and enjoyed in French and Italian songs. She sang Hugo Wolf's "Geh, Geliebter, geh jetzt!" in which a woman urges her beloved to leave before he is discovered.  Clearly she doesn't want him to leave! The song is notoriously difficult with its syncopated rhythms and off-kilter entrances for the singer. This gave Ms. Garrett an opportunity to bring up a most interesting concept.

This is the issue of whether the pianist leads the singer or vice versa. In this case, the pianist must be led by the singer's entrances. Collaborative pianist Madeline Sletterdahl was instructed to emphasize the left hand over the right one.

Ms. Gal was given advice to be clearer with the consonants. We had a piece of advice for her ourself. We would like her to complement her lovely voice with some meaningful gestures. She seemed not to know what to do with her arms and hands and the gestures that were made seemed not to connect with the text. That addition would make her performance perfect.

There will be one more master class tonight--Dame Felicity Lott. We will be there with thirsty ears!

(c) meche kroop

Thursday, January 19, 2017


             Brittany Nickell

Wee Kiat Chia
Noragh Devlin
Alexandra Smither

 As part of The Song Continues 2017, Marilyn Horne led a standing room only master class at Carnegie Hall. Four young singers and four collaborative pianists got to show their stuff and pick up some very valuable tips from Ms. Horne, who is concerned that song recitals are an endangered species. When Ms. Horne was a young artist, she gave song recitals in all fifty states! She feels that it's important for young artists to know the song literature and how to perform it.  We couldn't agree more.

Two of the four singers were well known to us from Manhattan School of Music where we reviewed their performances on the opera stage. We were impressed with them then (and hope you will use the search bar to read those reviews from the past three years) and were delighted to hear them perform in recital mode.

Soprano Brittany Nickell has a generous sound and seems to have quite a future singing roles that call for a sizable voice. Last night we heard her sing two songs by Strauss, one very familiar one from Vier Letzte Lieder--"Im Abendrot". She was coached to make her consonants crisper and her vowels more accurate. Variations of color and dynamics were addressed. We loved the advice to "enjoy the melisma" on the word "milder".

Ms. Horne's comment about "Schon sind, doch kalt die Himmelssterne" was that it was one of Strauss' "B songs" and that every set should include both well known songs and lesser known ones.  That's a point to which we have never given much thought, but it does make perfect sense.  Ms. Nickell should have a lot of Strauss in her future.  Her collaborative pianist was Nathan Raskin.

Mezzo-soprano Noragh Devlin has been reviewed by Voce di Meche four times previously and we have always appreciated her richly textured instrument and convincing dramatic gifts. She brought all this to bear on her performance of Mahler's "Um Mitternacht", with  CP Katelan Terrell gamely trying to create the orchestration on the piano. Ms. Devlin is a true mezzo and her coaching involved the advice to start pianissimo and to "belt" at the end. She was advised to take more breaths and even to take a breath between "Mitter" and "nacht" at the end, in order to give full measure to the climax.

Soprano Alexandra Smither elected to perform Schumann's setting of Goethe's "Kennst du das Land", which has been set by all the important composers of lieder in the 19th c.  Ms. Horne's coaching brought out all of the pathos, especially in the places where she was advised to take her time.  Ms. Smither was accompanied by Madeline Slettedahl.

We love the counter-tenor fach but we confess to being rather confounded by the choice of material made by Wee Kiat Chia. Xavier Montsalvatge's "Cancion de cuna" from Canciones Negras involves a mother lulling her baby to sleep. We have no problem with gender bending but it seems to work better as a source of humor. Mr. Chia was coached to feel the rocking rhythm in his body.

His other choice was Robert Schumann's "Ich grolle nicht" from Dichterliebe. He was coached to keep the sound forward, to watch out for double consonants, and to keep the momentum--advice that was also given to the other singers on the program. His CP was Zalman Kelber. We speculated that Mr. Chia wanted to do something different and we always applaud risk taking. But for our ears, we would prefer to hear him in some Handel!

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, January 18, 2017


Warren Jones, Beste Kalender, and Benjamin Dickerson

Warren Jones has unsurpassed eloquence at the keyboard, and last night at Carnegie Weill Recital Hall, he waxed eloquent in speech as well, when he paid well-deserved tribute to mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne. This very week we are celebrating her 23rd annual glorification of the song recital in The Song Continues 2017.  As usual, there will be a recital, master classes, and a Saturday night all-out celebration in Zankel Hall. No one has done as much as our beloved Ms. Horne to ensure the survival of the art of the song.

Last night's Spotlight Recital shone the spotlight on two young artists whose participation in Stephanie Blythe's Master Class exactly one year ago is well remembered. Mezzo-soprano Beste Kalender continued to impress us with the same dedication to the text that she evinced last year, combined with the awareness of eroticism stressed by Ms. Blythe.

Baritone Benjamin Dickerson is also recalled for his fine performance in Das Land des Lachelns which we so enjoyed at the Manhattan School of Music when he was an undergraduate.  The review has been archived and is searchable.

The music on the program all came from the last half of the 19th c. and the early part of the 20th. It was an entirely satisfying choice of material that held our attention from beginning to end. Ms. Kalender opened the program with a quartet of songs by Francesco Santoliquido, a Neapolitan composer who wrote his own texts.  As an Italian, his focus on love is understandable!  The songs matched the romanticism of his text with a gorgeously melodic vocal line, a boon to the singer indeed.

The four songs composing I canti della sera were all about love and nature and Ms. Kalender impressed with her superb control of dynamics and her total immersion in the text. We were thrilled to be exposed to the work of a composer famous in his own country but heretofore unknown to us. We are looking forward to hearing more of his compositions.

Sieben fruhe Lieder by Alban Berg have been problematic for us in their compositional modernity. We have heard them performed at least a dozen times and always hope they will capture our ears. Actually, it is only "Die Nachtigall" that resonates with us and remains in our mind's ear. We did like the brief and heimlich "Im Zimmer" but it was over before we could sink into it. Mr. Dickerson sang them well in good clean German and appeared to know what he was singing about. But our attention was more taken with Mr. Jones'  ravishing playing of the evocative piano part which, in true modern fashion, was more interesting than the vocal line.

Brahms, on the other hand, made sure that the folk melodies of his vocal line would be circling the brain and providing continual delights. Readers may recall how fond we are of duets and we reveled in the glorious harmonies created by our two young artists. We loved the lively "Weg der Liebe" but we adored the barcarolle "Die Meere". How well balanced the two voices were!

The second half of the recital included a half dozen of Hugo Wolf's songs--Alte Weisen-- sung with great insight by Ms. Kalender. We were less familiar with some of these offerings than the Wolf songs that appear regularly on recital programs but Wolf's style is unmistakeable. And Ms. Kalender's style is one of generous dramatic interpretation. She portrayed six female characters-each one differently colored. We enjoyed the emasculating woman of "Tretet ein, hoher Krieger", and the teasing woman of "Du milchjunger Knabe". The singer was not afraid to make an ugly sound for the drunken "heroine" of "Das Kohlerweib ist trunken" and she allowed the old woman of "Wie glanzt der helle Mond" her dreams of paradise.

Mr. Dickerson gave us a highly rhythmic "Ouvre ton coeur" by Georges Bizet, evoking the Spain of one's fantasies. The legato lyricism of "Chanson d'avril" made a fine contrast. Reynaldo Hahn's "A Chloris" had some beautiful pianissimo moments, while Franz Liszt's "Oh! Quand je dors" seemed to include so many of the finer points that we have picked up from multiple master classes. His French was gorgeously Gallic throughout.

Closing the program were two duets (YES!) by Gabriel Faure.  The two artists took turns with lines from "Puisqu'ici-bas toute ame and then harmonized with passionate sentiment. The second duet was the frisky "Tarentelle" which brought us full circle back to Naples!

As encore, the pair gave us "Guten abend, gute nacht", Brahm's famous lullabye. We suspect the grateful audience might have demanded more but there is something so final about that song.

(c) meche kroop

Tuesday, January 17, 2017


Alan Darling, Scott Murphree, Justine Aronson, and Jesse Blumberg

What's a writer to do when some of her favorite singers are performing a type of music she does not appreciate? What this writer does is to go, to listen, and to hope to find a composer whose music in the unappreciated genre might strike her fancy, thereby expanding her horizons.  And that was exactly what happened when we heard songs by Alexander Liebermann.

Last night at the Sheen Center, Mirror Visions Ensemble celebrated their 25th Anniversary and their quartet of fine singers, comprising soprano Vira Slywotzky, tenor Scott Murphree, baritone Jesse Blumberg, and baritone Mischa Bouvier, were joined by guest artist Justine Aronson, whom we hardly ever get to hear. With a group of singers like this, we were sure to hear some music we'd like in this mostly modern program.  And we did!

The opening song "Invitation to Love" was  Aaron Grad's highly original setting of a text by Paul Laurence Dunbar, the son of emancipated slaves who was the first Afro-American poet to achieve international recognition and distinction. He wrote over a century ago and lived only 33 years. The text used by Mr. Grad rhymed and scanned, providing fertile material for Mr. Grad's unusual writing in which soprano, tenor, and baritone were given tuneful melodies, interesting harmonies, and overlapping voices. So few composers know how to choose text and how to make good use of the English language. We can honestly say that we were delighted by this work which won MVE's Young Composers Competition.

What MVE is best known for is presenting a text that was set by more than one composer. We can think of so many such works that inspired composers of the 19th c. (our favorite period). We always love Brahm's peaceful "Feldeinsamkeit" and thought Mr. Blumberg captured the tranquil mood of Hermann Allmers' text, especially the melismatic singing on the word "umwoben" (woven). We never knew that Charles Ives set the same text and it was also quite lovely, as sung by Mr. Murphree.

Both Paul Hindemith and Benjamin Britten set Thomas Moore's text  "How Sweet the Answer Echo Makes".  Ms. Slywotzky sang the Britten beautifully and Mr. Bouvier did justice to the Hindemith.

The other mirror image on the program comprised two settings of a Paul Verlaine text--"L'echelonnement des haies". Mr. Bouvier sang the setting by Debussy and Ms. Slywotzky performed the setting by Poldowska, a female composer whose style seemed very much influenced by that of Debussy. Poldowska was the pen name of a musically gifted woman who led an entirely too colorful life to be described here. Margaret Kampmeier's piano and both singers conveyed the gentle lilting music. Clearly, Verlaine's evocative text dictated the music.

And that is what we find unenjoyable about contemporary setting of English poetry.  The poetry sounds more like prose! We miss the lilt.  We miss the melody.

The second half of the program was devoted entirely to a commission given to Tom Cipullo entitled A Visit with Emily. This was an elaborate work in many parts, mostly consisting of settings of Emily Dickinson's letters to T. W. Higginson and his letters about Ms. Dickinson to his wife. No doubt this is an "important" work but our pleasure came more from the singers than the songs. 

Ms. Aronson has the most exciting timbre in her voice and a vibrato that strikes our ears just right. The opening song quotes Ms. Dickinson's description of her definition of poetry as that which makes her whole body cold and makes her feel as if the top of her head were taken off.  We cannot say that we have ever felt that way from poetry! But music we like will give us goosebumps!

One of the more interesting parts of this cycle was Mr. Blumberg, Mr. Murphree, and Ms. Aronson singing three different poems about fame simultaneously in "Quodlibet I". Another part that we liked had the three of them singing a "Catch" which was brief and pithy--"Women talk: men are silent: that is why I dread women." The humor came from the fact that the men had all the lines with Ms. Aronson making wry faces. The English language lends itself well to humor!

"Passacaglia" was a pithy duet with elaborate variations poking fun at the hypocrisy of people saying they will come again some time.  (Kind of like "Why don't we have lunch some time?" in modern parlance.)

We also found something to appreciate in #17 and #18 when Mr. Blumberg and Mr. Murphree sang simultaneous arias about Wonder, Suspense, and Forgetting.

(c) meche kroop

Monday, January 16, 2017


Michael Fennelly, Sava Vemic, Sandra Hamaoui, Angela Vallone, Jane Shaulis, Jakub Jozef Orlinski, Cody Quattlebaum, and Andre Courville

Last night at The Essex House, Opera Index, Inc. presented the 2017 Distinguished Achievement Award to Tito Capobianco at their annual award dinner. Renowned for their generosity in supporting young opera singers, this nonprofit volunteer organization advocates for opera as well as supporting young singers with financial gifts and sponsored performances. The social and educational opportunities for fellow opera lovers are equally impressive.

The roster of award winners from prior years looks like a Who's Who of Opera. The six singers who entertained us so royally over dinner seem destined for the same stardom. In our eyes, they are already superstars. We have written about them all on prior occasions and have watched them in their ascendancy in the operatic firmament. We are pleased to note that the award funds were very well allocated.

Opening the entertainment portion of the evening was the petite and lovely soprano Sandra Hamaoui whose delivery of "Ah! Je veux vivre" from Gounod's Romeo et Juliette conveyed all the excitement of youth, aware only of the present glorious moment and unaware that her dream would turn into a nightmare. We previously heard Ms. Hamaoui perform this role and can only say that she owns it. She has a splendid sparkle in her tone.

Bass-baritone Cody Quattlebaum cut a fine figure as Figaro with his performance of "Se vuol ballare" from Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro. This is an operatic character we cherish and Mr. Quattlebaum's performance was one to cherish. We have heard him several times at Juilliard and are looking forward eagerly to his performance as Claudio in Handel's Agrippina at Alice Tully Hall next month.

We wish the entire world of opera could be as excited as we are by the somewhat rare fach of countertenor. When we hear Jakub Jozef Orlinski sing, we get goosebumps.  His delivery of "Furibondo spira il vento" from Handel's comic opera Partenope had the molecules of air dancing in our ears. Poor fickle Arsace just can't make up his mind between two women but we had no problem choosing J.J. as our countertenor du jour.

For his selection, bass-baritone Andre Courville chose "Air du tambour major" from Ambroise Thomas' 1849 comic opera Le Caid, an opera we have never heard. His presence was military and his sizable instrument filled the room as he strolled between the tables, interacting with members of the audience.

Beautiful soprano Angela Vallone sang "Azael, Azael" from Claude Debussy's one-act cantata L'enfant Prodigue, which won the composer the Prix de Rome in 1884. In this aria, a mother laments the absence of her son.  We loved the long legato French line, the longing quality in her voice, and her well considered variations of dynamics. 

Bass Sava Vemic ended the vocal part of the evening with a very moving performance of "Il lacerato spirito" from Verdi's Simon Boccanegra. In spite of his youth, his instrument sounds completely mature with substantial breadth even at the lowest part of the register. The melancholic color of his voice evoked sympathy for Fiesco, grief stricken over the loss of his daughter. We are thinking of him as King Philip II in Verd's Don Carlo ( or Don Carlos, if you prefer the French). What a challenge to evoke sympathy for THAT character!

The singers were accompanied by the always excellent pianist Michael Fennelly, and the evening was hosted by Opera Index President Jane Shaulis. A famous singer herself, Ms. Shaulis introduced the singers and the honoree Mr. Capobianco who is best known in these parts for his extraordinary directorial successes at New York City Opera although his other accomplishments are legendary.

(c) meche kroop


Keith Phares, Jessica Tyler Wright, Linda Lavin, Jay Armstrong Johnson, Meghan Picerno, Kat Liu, and Leah Horowitz (photo by Sarah Shatz)

It would be well to avoid any discussion of whether Leonard Bernstein's charming Candide is an opera or a musical comedy. No matter how many times we have seen the work, nor in whatever venue, we have always enjoyed it and walked out humming numbers from Bernstein's tuneful score. The work is an enduring one, and an endearing one, and its arias have appeared on countless recitals, especially "Glitter and Be Gay", a favorite of coloratura sopranos. The work seems to be critic-proof and, in spite of it's initial cool reception, continues to appear in various iterations, each worthy on its own terms.

Not only do we love the music but we adore the book, which touches upon so many serious themes, beneath a comic facade.
In this story of innocence betrayed and reality accepted, we are exposed to countless trials and tribulations; we witness the heroes of the story pursuing their ideals and surviving their hardships. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that the public has such affection for the work.

In the current iteration, produced by the New York City Opera (trying to survive their own trials and tribulations), we have a lavishly produced and savvily directed (Harold Prince) production that left the audience smiling and humming. The colorful set design by Clarke Dunham was appropriately cartoonish and the costume design by Judith Dolan was always a propos, contributing to the qualities of the character. The Rose Theater is a comfortable one with great sight lines.

The acting was fine all around with soprano Meghan Picerno complementing her scintillating coloratura by creating a Cunegonde of great practicality with consummate survival instincts. As her bastard cousin and would-be lover Candide, tenor Jay Armstrong Johnson had a great deal of appeal and there was something quite touching about the pair's yearning for one another.

Jessica Tyler Wright made an adorable and sexy Paquette, in contrast with Ms. Picerno's innocent-seeming (!) Cunegonde. Baritone Keith Phares shone as the self-absorbed Maximilian, with Linda Lavin as The Old Lady who gets to sing the hilarious "I Am Easily Assimilated".

Gregg Edelman got to switch wigs (credit to Georgianna Eberhard) to create the characters of the Narrator Voltaire and Dr. Pangloss. In Voltaire's prose work Candide, he skewers Leibniz' philosophy of optimism which is the same philosophy taught by Dr. Pangloss to his four juvenile charges who will soon learn that this is NOT the best of all possible worlds. Voltaire was also quite outspoken against Catholicism which appears in the book for this work (written by Hugh Wheeler based on Voltaire). There is a licentious Grand Inquisitor of course (Brooks Ashmanskas) and the excesses of The Inquisition are shown no mercy.

Other religions fare no better with Chip Zien portraying Don Issachar the Jew, and Mr. Ashmanskas  portraying a Turkish Pasha slavemaster. Voltaire's philosophies go down much more easily for the general public than in reading his Enlightenment masterwork. Warmongering gets the same satirical treatment as religion.

In what amounts to luxury casting we spied Sishel Claverie as The Baroness, Peter Kendall Clark in a number of small roles, as well as Glenn Seven Allen.

With Charles Prince conducting, the New York City Opera Orchestra gave Bernstein's marvelous music its due. We are still humming the tunes.

If there were one disappointment it would be in the shortchanging of the lyrics, which are way clever and deserved clearer enunciation. Poor amplification has plagued NYCO even when they had a home at New York State Theater.  (Yes, the one that has been "renamed"). Lyrics are credited to Richard Wilbur, Stephen Sondheim, John La Touche, and Leonard Bernstein. We suspect that Mr. Sondheim contributed the lion's share.

For unknown reasons, the cast comprised both opera singers and Broadway stars. Some artists were more amplified than others but, to our ears, this was disconcerting. We could not say that one group had better enunciation than the other, nor that amplification made anyone sound any clearer. But we will say that Chip Zien was always understandable and that Ms. Picerno, even at the upper range of her stratospheric range, was mostly so. If the purpose of amplification was to make the words clearer, we'd call it a failure.  And if casting Broadway stars was done for dramatic reasons, we would take issue with that.  The opera singers we know are all sensational actors.

We have reviewed Candide so many times--all of them archived and searchable. But the very first time was in 2011, before we began www.vocedimeche.reviews. We were writing for The Opera Insider and reviewed a production by a company called Co-opera. The work was performed by opera singers without much in the way of production values, but we remember it still. We will supply a link for any readers who are curious...http://theoperainsider.blogspot.com/2011_09_01_archive.html

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, January 14, 2017


Brenda Rae (photo by Kristin Hoebermann)

This is the sixth time we have reviewed the stunning soprano Brenda Rae (all reviews archived and searchable) and have never had a single negative opinion. Whether in recital or onstage as a scintillating or tragic heroine of an opera, she dazzles with her gentle charm, expressiveness, and compelling voice. It is never easy to definite in words what makes a vocal instrument uniquely affecting and we also acknowledge that everyone's ears hear things a bit differently.  Still, we have to say that Ms. Rae's voice has a special timbre that is exciting to hear. 

Last night at Weill Recital Hall of Carnegie Hall, we heard Ms. Rae perform a recital with her highly tuned-in piano partner In Sun Suh. The choice of material and its expressive delivery drew us in until the music engulfed us.  It was at times an almost out-of-body experience.

Several songs on the program recalled to us the excellent recital she performed in Santa Fe, also with Ms. Suh. We have not changed our minds on this point: Ms. Rae and Richard Strauss were made for each other. Ms. Rae's obvious affection for the songs mirrored Strauss' affection for the soprano fach

Over years of paying attention in master classes, we have heard time and again the advice not to give it all away at the start. It was the subtle initiation Ms. Rae gave to "Die Nacht" that brought that to mind. The delicacy of her approach made the onset of dusk and the anxiety of losing one's lover all too clear. The vocal coloring was impressive. This would not be the first time we made note of her pianissimoThere was plenty of spell-binding without grandstanding.

Other songs revealed the excitement she brings to her expansive upper register with its tingly vibrato. For in "Befreit", accompanied by some gorgeous arpeggios in the piano she allowed her voice to expand to fill the emotion. Anxiety about loss can be quiet but the real loss of this song required passion and that we got.  Ms. Rae seems to be able to sustain the vocal tone and the emotional tone without apparent effort.

"Muttertanderlei" gave Ms. Rae the chance to have some fun, portraying a proud mother given to melismatic flights of maternal delight in her perfect child.  Continuing with the lighthearted mood, we heard a charming performance of "Schlagende Herzen" with its appreciation for young love.

Franz Liszt set texts of both German and French and Ms. Rae continued on a roll, as one might say. In"Comment disaient-ils" she colored her voice differently for the questioner and the female authority who responds succinctly and accurately.

In "Wie singt die Lerche schon", we loved the rising phrases of the vocal line against the rippling piano. "Oh! quand je dors", with its text by Victor Hugo, is one of Liszt's most expressive creations and last night we heard it anew.

Mozart's aria "Vorrei spiegarvi, oh Dio" was written to be interpolated into an opera by Pasquale Anfossi (not a rare practice at that time) . The opera was entitled Il Curioso Indiscreto; the plot concerns a woman rejecting the advances of a man, unaware that he has been sent by her intended to test her faithfulness. She is weakening and, in an impassioned cabaletta she requests divine relief from her suffering.

The tessitura for this aria is in the stratosphere but presented no challenge to our star soprano. She generated a lot of heat with her vocal fireworks and thrilled with her trill.

We heard a quartet of Debussy songs, our favorite of which was "Rondel chinois" with its orientalist flavor and a gorgeous vocalise for Ms. Rae to enjoy, and enjoy she did.  As did we! In "Pierrot" we liked the harsh way in which Ms. Suh rendered the appropriated French folk song. About Ms. Suh's playing, let us just say that we admire her soft hands and the quiet support she gave to Ms. Rae. This was the only moment when harshness was called for.

The program ended with five songs by the prolific Schubert. We were most interested in the Iberian inflected "Aus Diego Manazares" (also called "Ilmerine"), a short but pithy lament of longing in which the insistent piano imitates the guitar and the syncopated rhythms remind one of flamenco.

We always love to hear Schubert's strophic song "Du bist die Ruh"and were caught in a web of tranquility by the tender delivery of the artists.  The final song "Lied der Delphine" swelled with youthful passion and all its extravagance.

We were totally satisfied but joined the other greedy members of the audience in demanding an encore. Strauss' "Amor" is the perfect encore piece.  If the character Amor's wings caught fire it must have been from the vocal fireworks, so blazingly provided by Ms. Rae. This is a perfect encore piece for Ms. Rae. We have heard her sing it before. Which leads us to ask the question...why impair your wonderful interpretation with the use of a music stand when you know the piece so well? We hope Ms. Rae will keep that perfect encore piece polished and ready to go without the music stand.

(c) meche kroop

Friday, January 13, 2017


Ayelet Karni

Corina Marti
Christa Patton

Ivo Haun

These four musician-scholars joined forces last night to illustrate a theme dear to the heart of Jessica Gould, Founder and Artistic Director of Salon/Sanctuary Concerts.

So many of Salon/Sanctuary Concerts focus on the cross-fertilization of cultures through music.  Ms. Gould does a thorough job of teaching us history through the prism of music, making such learning not only painless but downright pleasurable.

Last night's program, presented in the lovely Brotherhood Synagogue, was entitled Of Meistersingers and Mizmorim ("mizmorim" means "psalms") and was meant to explode the myth of Teutonic purity dating back to the Middle Ages, a myth beloved by Richard Wagner. Strangely enough, one of the songs performed by the terrific tenor Ivo Haun, could have been sung in the song contest held in the final act of Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg!

The truth is that mittel-Europa in the Middle Ages involved traveling troubadors, Jewish counselors advising royalty, and Christian theologians exchanging intellectual ideas with rabbis. Jewish musicians played in German courts and Yiddish civilization became intertwined with the mainstream history of countries that became modern day Germany, Poland Lithuania, Czechoslovakia, and Western Russia. This weaving together of cultural strands waxed and waned with the acceptance and persecution of the Jewish people.

Much of this music has been lost but count on Ms. Gould and her network of fellow scholar/musicians to have uncovered enough of it for a full evening's concert. Some of it was found in the Glogauer Liederbuch and the Lochamer Liederbuch of the second half of the 15th c.; some was found in the 13th c. Vatican Organum Treatise which lies in the Biblioteca Vaticana, a compendium of melodies that found their way into later sacred music, both Jewish and Muslim.  Some Hebrew chants and songs of Jewish troubadors were found in the Bibliotheque National de Paris. Some were tracked down in Prague.

Mr. Haun's sweet tenor was accompanied by Corina Marti's prodigious skills on the recorder and clavisymbalum (a table-top precursor to the harpsichord) and Ayelet Karni's wizardry on the recorder, and tabor, a drum worn around the neck. These three musician/scholars are all connected with the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis and came from Basel to share their musical discoveries and talents with us. We will likely never get to read their scholarly dissertations but, on an experiential level, we can say that we were utterly transported back nearly a millenium.

The fourth member of the ensemble, Christa Patton, played a small baroque harp and played it with virtuosity and the same respect for the music as the other members of the ensemble. She surely merits the high position she holds in the world of Early Music.

We were given to understand that this music, much of it never heard before in our time, contains the seeds of Klezmer music. We have only heard Klezmer music once before and were honestly unable to hear the similarities but we will accept that point on faith.

What we did hear comprised some beautiful Hebrew chants by Obadiah the Proselyte who wrote in the 12th c., and some anonymous tunes of 12th c. Italy, 13th c. France, and 15th c. Germany and the Czech Republic.

Let us share our favorite moments.  Ms. Patton's lovely harp playing in the French "Dance Real"; Ms. Marti's playing of a bifurcated pipe (double flute), harmonizing with herself;  her spirited playing of the recorder in a duet with Ms. Karni--playing that brought fioritura to mind,  Ms. Karni's simultaneous recorder playing and drum beating to complex rhythms, and finally, the wonderful settings of "Der Winter will hin weichen" found in the Lochamer Liederbuch and the Buxheimer Orgelbuch.

Mr. Haun's tenor sounded just right in all languages. We do not understand Hebrew but --just as German can sound more beautiful when well sung--the Hebrew that he chanted sounded soft and lovely, not harsh as spoken Hebrew can.

In the aforementioned German song, every word was crystal clear and we observed that Germans were singing about nature and the joys of Spring long before Schubert set similar texts. Perhaps modern German hews more closely to early German than modern French does to early French, but we had more trouble understanding the French of Mahieu le Juif's "Por autri movrai mon chant" and wished for a translation.

Lest we conclude that Germans only sing about nature, the encore was a German song about a lovelorn and heartsore man who didn't get the girl!

We left after the program wondering if our planet will survive another millenium and what shreds of our music might then be discovered and played and appreciated with the same sense of wonder we experienced last night.

(c) meche kroop