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, February 13, 2017


Max Lifchitz, Celia Castro, Celeste Mann, and Anna Tonna

It's almost Valentine's Day and we were in the mood for love. "Songs of love and longing by composers from Spain and the Americas", a program, presented by North/South Consonance at the National Opera Center, sounded just about right. Readers will recall how fond we are of Spanish songs and this was an opportunity to hear new music--not "new music" but music new to our ears.

It is interesting how some of the academic "innovations" that have toxified American song have completely bypassed Latin America. There probably is some music that would fail to fulfill our melodic requirements but we haven't heard much of it. Most of the music we are hearing from Spanish speaking countries provides singable melodies that delight the ear.

Maestro Max Lifchitz bookended yesterday's program with his own compositions, settings of text by the famous nun Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz. The program opened with "Rosa Divina", a sonnet about the evanescence of beauty. Soprano Celia Castro, dramatically dressed in black with a black mantilla, poured her heart and beautiful voice into the work and made the best impression when she stepped away from the music stand. (Oh, loathed music stand!)

The piano part was highly varied, at times spare to highlight the lovely vocal line, at other times staccato, at still other times employing blocked chords and arpeggiated runs. Ms. Castro was lovely in the Moorish-inflected melismatic passages.

The program ended with a duet for contralto Celeste Mann and mezzo-soprano Anna Tonna entitled "Me acerco y me retiro" which provided the opportunity for some gorgeous harmonizing.

There were two other compositions by M. Lifchitz--His Three Concerted Madrigals, based on 16th c. Italian texts, were introduced as parodies but we found them more charming than humorous. Ms. Tonna is always a highly engaging presence onstage and uses her instrument well to convey the text.  We particularly enjoyed the spirited "Non Rumor di Tamburi"  which dealt with an amorous "assault". Her personality made it particularly charming.

Ms. Tonna also performed the world premiere of a cycle of songs by Miquel Ortega entitled Pascua Florida, based on poetry by Maria Lejarraga, written when she was on a trip with Manuel de Falla. "Noche estrellada mirando a Gibraltar" ended with a gorgeous vocalise, but the text we liked best was the sad "Nana del amor perdido".

"Eres tu" was composed by M. Lifchitz to his own text and given full expression by Ms. Mann who has a voice like rich expresso, lightened with some foamy milk. Of Ms. Mann's performance of Cancoes de amor by Claudio Santoro, we were quite taken with "Acalanto da rosa", a tender lullaby for a sleeping lover.

We were moved by Ms. Mann's performance of "Lua branca" by the Brazilian composer Francisca "Chiquinja" Gonzaga who composed at the turn of the 20th c.  Clotilde Arias of Peru composed "Huiracocha", a song of spiritual despair in which Mr. Lifchitz' playing sounded like the Peruvian flute it referenced.

Of Ms. Castro's performance of Tres Sonetos by Joaquin Turina, we favored the least romantic one "Vade retro!" in which a man makes fun of a woman who has been around the block too many times.  Her personality truly brought it alive.

As encore we heard Ms. Castro and Ms. Mann in a duet by a Brazilian composer and then Ms. Tonna joined them for a song by the prolific 20th c. Argentinean composer Carlos Guastavino. There is something so special about hearing beautiful voices in perfect harmony!

(c) meche kroop

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