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.

Sunday, April 30, 2017


Maestro Kynan Johns and cast of Der Zigeunerbaron at Manhattan School of Music

There is still time to get tickets to today’s matinee performance of Johann Strauss, Jr’s Der Zigeunerbaron, otherwise known as The Gypsy Baron. To miss it would be a terrible shame. For some reason we have had a succession of operettas on our “dance card” lately and, the more we see and hear, the more we love this largely neglected art form. In operetta we find gloriously tuneful music, amusing situations, colorful characters, and ultimately the satisfaction that can only be felt after a couple hours of smiling.

We do not have enough superlatives to describe this weekend’s production of Der Zigeunerbaron by the Manhattan School of Music Opera Theater. There wasn’t a single mediocre voice onstage; every singer performed his/her role with fine voice, excellent dramatic instincts, and the kind of gusto that comes only from having fun.  It would be a toss-up between us and them as far as which group was having more fun. We can only say that we had a grin from ear to ear for over two hours and are still smiling

Johann Strauss, Jr.'s music for this 1885 work has enough melodies for the next ten operettas and The Manhattan School of Music Opera Orchestra, under the baton of Maestro Kynan Johns, did complete justice to the wonderful orchestration of these melodies and to the plethora of rhythms found in the Hungarian dances. The overture alone was worth ten times the price of a ticket. What an abundance of themes, both lyrical and energetic, not to mention the waltzes that made us want to get up and dance.

The story is charming but has a serious aspect in that it involves the maltreatment of gypsies by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which makes it relevant today. The hero Sandor Barinkay (the terrific tenor Philippe L'Esperance) is the son of a deceased land-owning liberal who has spent his youth as an adventurer and has just returned to find his father's land occupied by a swamp, a ruined castle, a pig farmer (the hilarious Jose Maldonado), and a gypsy encampment.

The gypsy woman Czipra (marvelous mezzo-soprano Yunlei Xie) has a beautiful daughter Saffi (winning soprano Angela Joy Lamb) who has a crush on Sandor but he is contracted to marry Arsena (vibrant coloratura Yujia Chen) the also beautiful daughter of the former swineherd who has become the Prince of Pigs, a man who is indeed larger than life.

But Arsena rejects Sandor out of love for Ottokar (fine tenor Michael St. Peter) who is the son of her governess Mirabelle (substantial mezzo Lisa Barone) who discovers her long lost husband Count Carnero (baritone William Huyler, who created a marvelously pompous character--Deputy Chairman of the Privy Commission for Morality) after 25 years.

It's unusual for the guy to get the girl in Act I, but of course there are complications--buried treasure, a war with Serbia, a violation of the laws of morality, etc, What would opera be without such complications!

As the recruiting officer of the Hussars Count Homonay, baritone Christian Thurston sang with fine tone and style and was the deus ex machina that restores order.

Bass-baritone Andrew Henry made a virile Pali, leader of the gypsies.

Chorus Master Miriam Charney made sure that the chorus was as high in quality as the principals. Don't miss the send-up of Il Trovatore's "Anvil Chorus "!

There were so many fine moments too numerous to mention but as a lover of duets we confess to be blown away by the Act II duet between Czipra and Saffi, which turned into a trio. Also lovely was the duet betwen Arsena and Mirabella.

It is interesting that Ignaz Schnitzer, on request by the composer, based his libretto on the romantic novel Saffi by Hungarian novelist Mor Jokai. The libretto was in German and everyone's German diction was superb, thanks largely to German Diction Coach Mariann Barrett. We loved that it was sung in German with dialogue in English which was mostly clear, thanks to Robert Blumenfeld.

Linda Brovsky's direction was admirable and so was Sean McKnight's choreography. Elizabeth Hope Clancy designed the most splendiferous costumes. The set by Donald Eastman included a gypsy wagon in front of which Czipra did her fortunetelling by means of cards and palmistry.  Dave Bova's wigs appeared attractive and authentic.

It is difficult to believe that the singers are all candidates for the degree of Master of Music. Everything about the production was at a professional level. This is something we always expect to find at Manhattan School of Music but those new to the institution will be pleasantly surprised.

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, April 29, 2017


Valeriya Polunina and Michelle Bradley

Not to worry, it is only the last Lindemann recital for this season; we have every reason to believe that this valuable program will survive any cuts in governmental funding. We have often written about the value of this partnership between The Metropolitan Opera and The Juilliard School. The young artists chosen for this program get access to the resources of both institutions and performance opportunities aplenty.

We have been observing the progress of these rising stars for some time and think of the Lindemann Program as a finishing school for opera singers.  Of course, training never ends and even famous superstars take lessons!

Last night's program included mezzo-soprano Virginie Verrez, bass Sava Vemic, soprano Michelle Bradley, and coloratura soprano Hyesang Park. They are all well known to us and have given us abundant musical delights over the past few years.

Ms. Verrez, as a native speaker of French, was the perfect artist to perform Ravel's Sheherazade, which she translated herself. It truly does make a difference when a singer has that kind of in depth understanding of the text. In this cycle, Ravel's music captures the fantasy and eroticism of Tristan Klingsor's text. The poet was quite an armchair traveler!

Ms. Verrez has an unassuming presence and does nothing to call attention to herself, but rather submerges herself into the music, allowing the listener to see through her eyes all the imagery of the song. Judicious word coloring paints an aural picture. It goes without saying that the voice is a magnificent one and the phrasing is just what one hopes for in chanson. Ms. Verrez is always a consummate musician.

Her collaborative pianist Giuseppe Mentuccia did justice to the lavish accompaniment. In "Asie"; his fingers raced up and down the keys, adding to the air of exoticism.  In the haunting postlude to "La flute enchantee", Ms. Verrez' absorption sustained the mood. We enjoyed the feeling of unfulfilled longing in "L'indifferent".

Bass Sava Vemic chose a set of songs about death which he also translated himself. Schubert's "Der Tod und das Madchen" begins with some portentous chords in the piano expressing the fear of the young woman.  The work gave Mr. Vemic the opportunity to sing in two different colors. In the second verse, Death reassures the maiden of his gentleness and the change of color was arresting. He had to dig down deep for a really really low note.

Brahms' "O Tod, wie bitter bist du" also shows two sides of Death--bitter to some and welcome to others.

Our favorite songs came from Mussorgskuy's Songs and Dances of Death, predominantly because Mr. Vemic's thrilling timbre lends itself so well to the Russian language. We just this week heard the composer's Songs of the Nursery and it was wonderful to hear another aspect of his artistry. We enjoyed "Serenada" but our favorite was "Trepak" in which 
Mr. Metuccia again provided fine collaboration on the piano with a rumbling accompaniment.

In this song, the pairing of text and music was so apt that we could not imagine the work being sung in translation. Here Death is both seductive and comforting, blanketing an old peasant in snow.

Soprano Michelle Bradley has a diva's presence and a large sound that thrills the ear.  She performed  Samuel Barber's Hermit Songs and performed them as mini-dramas that created the world of Irish monks and scholars. There is great variety in the text and consequently in the music. Ms. Bradley invested each with its own meaning. We particularly enjoyed the enthusiasm of "The Heavenly Banquet", the contentment of "The Monk and His Cat", and the knowing wink of "Promiscuity", the two lines of which Ms. Bradley invested with a world of meaning.

She altered her vibrato to put an evocative chill into "The Desire for Hermitage" which closed the set.  In this set the accompanist was Valeriya Polunina whom we have always admired for her ability to focus on the singer. The pair made a fine team.

Sadly, due to a prior commitment, we had to take our leave before hearing Hyesang Park whom we absolutely adore. We wish we might have cloned ourself.

(c) meche kroop

Friday, April 28, 2017


Christopher Fitzgerald and Lauren Worsham (photo by Erin Baiano)

What a coinkydink to have Victor Herbert in our  musical life two nights in a row! I was wondering whether the decision of MasterVoices to tackle this work was in any way affected by the success of Alyce Mott’s three-year-old Victor Herbert Renaissance Project Live!  What MasterVoices attempted was very similar to what Ms. Mott does. There was an ambitious rewriting and adapting of the libretto to make sense to a 21st c. audience.

With Ted Sperling as Conductor and Director, last night’s production of Herbert’s unwieldy 1903 Babes in Toyland at Carnegie Hall was a huge buffet of musical and dramatic delicacies. Whether you left elated or disappointed was largely determined by your tastes and appetites. If you came for Herbert’s music, you would have been thrilled by the massive Orchestra of St.Luke’s and the marvelous choristers of MasterVoices, formerly known as The Collegiate Chorale).

If you came for fun, there were plenty of sight gags by the talented cast. Bill Irwin with his rubber body and keen instinct for humor nearly stole the show as The Toymaker who hates children and wants to destroy them with dangerously evil toys. Evil characters are ever so much fun and the lecherous Uncle Barnaby (Jonathan Freeman) tries to get rid of his adorable niece Jane and nephew Alan (the adorable Lauren Worsham and the equally adorable Christopher Fitzgerald) to get their inheritance.

In this he is aided and abetted by two henchmen—Roderigo (Jeffrey Schecter) and Gonzorgo (Chris Sullivan), neither of whom is adorable, but both of whom are very funny.

Jane is beloved by Tom Tom the Piper’s Son (Jay Armstrong Johnson) who dances as well as he sings, and Alan has romantic designs on pert Contrary Mary (the wonderful Kelli O’Hara) who must cleverly outwit Uncle Barnaby.

Tom’s mother The Widow Piper was portrayed by the fine Nina Hennesy.

The bizarre plot of the 1903 production involved a shipwreck and a volcano but we were urged by the narrator to use our imagination. Indeed, Herbert’s superlative orchestral writing evoked a mighty storm in the orchestra. We confess to being entranced by the percussionist who played the kettle drums, usually hidden in the back of the orchestra— but here, right in front for our visual delight. Herbert’s evocation of sunrise rivaled Beethoven’s depiction of moonlight in his appropriately named Moonlight Sonata.

Now here comes the less tasty part of the buffet. Both orchestra and chorus were onstage, not in the pit. For much of the performance, the clever words of the dialogue and lyrics were drowned out. Narrator Blair Brown, who had some apparently clever tongue-in-cheek comments, suffered the most. We cannot deny that there were some folks in the audience who did succeed in understanding the jokes because we heard laughter. We thought we were losing our hearing until we convened with other people in various parts of Carnegie Hall who shared our difficulty.

Glen McDonough’s original book and libretto created a spectacle of visual effects and music hall type numbers, many of which had nothing to do with the inconsequential and convoluted plot. It lasted four hours and audiences loved it! Last night’s production was trimmed to a bit over two hours an was adapted by Joe Keenan and Ted Sperling with script and some additional lyrics by Joe Keenan. There was something about Trump in the number “If I Were a Man Like That” which we could not hear enough to understand. We would have wished to have heard it.

The voices were amplified and the singers were on the book. We sense that part of the incomprehensibility was related to the situation of narrators and singers moving their heads to look down at the score and up at the audience, thereby not always getting consistent amplification.

The problem could have been ameliorated by the use of titles. We desperately wanted to get the jokes and felt alienated when we couldn’t hear them. Still, it was pleasure enough to listen to Herbert’s infectious music. Although the most famous numbers from the show are “Toyland” and “March of the Toys”, we had our own favorites: Tom’s song “Never Mind, Bo-Peep, We Will Find Your Sheep” , Jane’s song “Can’t Do the Sum”, Alan’s song “Song of the Poet” (in which Mr. Fitzgerald succeeded in making the words clear!), and the clever duet about marriage “Before and After”, sung by Ms. O’Hara and Mr. Fitzgerald.

All in all, a worthwhile evening that offered much but could have been better.

(c) meche kroop


Chris Reynolds and Samantha Hankey

Half a recital is better than none at all.  It was "nip and tuck" whether we could squeeze in part of Samantha Hankey's Master of Music recital at Juilliard before getting to Carnegie Hall for a 7:00 event. That 40 mins. turned out to be a major highlight of our musical week and we wouldn't have missed it for the world. We had just seen Ms. Hankey perform the role of Varvara in Janacek's Katya Kabanova, creating a delightful character.  Previously we heard her as the scheming Agrippina in the Handel Opera, in which she created a not-so-delightful character.

The only piece on last night's program that was new to us was the Habanera from Bizet's Carmen with which she opened the program. She alternated seductiveness and menace to create a character one needed to watch out for.  There are not many mezzo-sopranos that young who are in such full control of their instrument and their technique that they can focus on characterization.  Ms. Hankey's vocal equipment is prodigious with gorgeous overtones that never desert her; the voice is centered throughout the register and achieves a special glory at the top. Language skills and phrasing are just about perfect.

The remainder of the program comprised repeats from our frequent hearings of her other recitals, one of which was a Vocal Arts Honors Recital last month. Revisiting songs we love is always a treat! With collaborative pianist Chris Reynolds, Ms. Hankey has forged a perfect partnership; he is one of the least self-serving accompanists we have heard and is marvelously supportive of the vocal line. He shone in two selections by Franz Liszt, playing delicately in "Freudvoll und leidvoll" but sharing Ms. Hankey's passion in "Der du von dem Himmel bist".

We also got a second hearing of some Schumann songs, settings of texts by Ruckert, a poet whose rhythms were so effectively matched by Schumann's writing for the piano, and whose meaning was so aptly conveyed by both singer and pianist. Ms. Hankey offered some interesting information before singing the set; Clara and Robert composed songs together in the romantic first year of their marriage. The ones Ms. Hankey chose for her recital happened to have been written for the tenor fach but that didn't make any difference in our appreciation.

Mr. Reynolds had some gorgeous arpeggios in "Aus den ostlichen Rosen". "Flugel! Flugel!" had incredible variety of coloration contributing to the abundant imagery. The two artists brought the lied to a magnificent climax.  But our favorite, as always, was "Widmung". What could be more romantic than that!

We were thrilled to have a re-hearing of Agrippina's anguished aria--"Pensieri, voi mi tormentate!" from Handel's opera of the same name. Just hearing it brought the entire splendid performance to mind.

What a pity to have to leave before the set of Strauss songs. We are sure they were as fine as our prior hearing but if any reader was in the audience and cares to leave a comment below to "finish off" our review, we would be grateful.

We are thinking back over the many many times we have reviewed Ms. Hankey since her undergraduate days--all the honors she received, all the awards she won, all the recitals in which she engaged us. We'd like to thank her for all that wonderful music and wish her well in future endeavors. We see major stardom in her future.

(c) meche kroop

Thursday, April 27, 2017


Joanie Brittingham, Tom Carle,  and Tanya Roberts

A century ago, eager theatergoers packed into the Schubert Theater to enjoy Victor Herbert's tuneful operetta Eileen.  Last night another generation of theatergoers packed into Christ and St. Stephens church to enjoy a reincarnation of this enchanting work, thanks to Alyce Mott and the Victor Herbert Renaissance Project Live!

What we saw and enjoyed last night is not exactly what the 1917 audience saw. Alyce Mott has made a name for herself by reworking Herbert's oeuvre to improve upon and enhance the relevancy of the stories.  In this case Henry Blossom's original libretto was rewritten, whilst preserving every note of the original score, which was compiled by the late Dino Anagnost. The 1917 audience relished relief from the threat of war hanging over their heads.  Hmmm!  Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose!

VHRPL! has been growing by leaps and bounds.  This is only their third season and nine of Herbert's operettas have already been performed, to the delight of an ever-growing audience. This was the first time a show was presented with the New Victor Herbert Orchestra and it certainly added a great deal.

The story takes place at the end of the 18th c. and  concerns the Irish quest for freedom from Great Britain. Lady Maude's late husband was unsympathetic to the cause and also toward her niece Eileen who was shipped off to a convent in France where she has fallen in love with "a fine Irish rebel" named Barry O'Day. Lady Maude lives in Castle Sligo  which was seized, along with its land, by her husband Lord Estabrooke, in the name of the British King.

Lady Maude Estabrooke is sympathetic to the Irish cause and would be happy to relinquish the land as long as she can live in the castle. The charming Barry is irresistible to women, apparently!

Of course there are obstacles. The local British authority Colonel Lester is out to get Mr. O'Day, and Mr. O'Day's "best friend" Sean Regan plans to betray him as well.  Of course, there needs to be a happy ending so, not to worry, the guy gets the girl and escapes from the clutches of Lester in a ruse involving false identities and a pawn named Sir Reginald Stribling, In point of fact Stribling is a British Knight, but he is used as a pawn.

As one would expect there are songs both romantic and patriotic, and they were performed with verve and enthusiasm. Some of the ensemble have been there from the start, notably David Seatter who performed the role of Sir Reginald with humor and panache. Others are enjoying their first season with VHRPL! and have already established a fine ensemble feeling.

Soprano Joanie Brittingham, well remembered from Chelsea Opera, appeared in the title role and delighted us with her "Reveries" and harmonized beautifully with tenor Tom Carle who performed the role of Barry O'Day. Their duet "Thine Alone" was a surefire hit.  Mr. Carle's solo "When Shall I Again See Ireland" was sung with deep feeling. We particularly loved "The Irish Have a Great Day Tonight".

Tanya Roberts created the character of Lady Maude who faced life with grace and good will. Her acting was impeccable but we missed some words here and there.  Fortunately, there was a libretto to fill in the gaps.

Jovani McCleary played the traitorous Sean Regan who led his men in a rousing "Free Trade and a Misty Moon", the lyrics of which reminded us of W.S. Gilbert's clever wordplay. Although he was the bad guy, his wonderful singing and acting made us like him very very much.

Another artist we liked very very much was newcomer Christopher Robin Sapp who took the role of Dinny and deserved the big hand he got for "She's Sweet as Any Flower".

Coloratura soprano Haley Marie Vick had a lovely number as well--"Too Re Loo Re" and filled it out with winsome embellishments.

Colonel Lester was portrayed by the excellent Richard Holmes who we have enjoyed on countless occasions with the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players.  His duet with Ms. Roberts "Life is but a Game" had them sparring but, well, you know, love conquers all.

Ms. Mott's direction was effective and moved the action right along, augmented by Emily Cornelius' fine choreography.

Music Director Michael Thomas conducted the chamber orchestra comprising Philip Wharton (violin), Scott Ballantyne (cello), Judy Sugarman (bass), Sheryl Henze (flute/piccolo) and William Hicks (piano). Significantly, the music was not given a new arrangement.  Parts were assigned as they were a hundred years ago, with the piano playing remaining parts.

The fourth season has already been planned and available on www.vhrplive.org. However, one needn't wait until next November because something special is happening at Opera America on June 6th--vocal excerpts from Herbert's Nahoma along with revelations about the politics of American Grand Opera. Plenty of intrigue occurred between Oscar Hammerstein and the Metropolitan Opera.  Listen and learn!  Sounds like our cuppa!

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, April 26, 2017


Gerard Schneider and Felicia Moore (photo by Hiroyuki Ito)

We love introducing newbies to opera! Leo Janacek's Katya Kabanova is not our idea of a "starter opera" but our guest last night absolutely loved it. For this we credit the superb artists of Juilliard Opera whose superlative singing and convincing acting brought the story to vivid life, bringing out the themes of rebellion against a constricted life and the costs to society of subjugating women.

We also credit the astute direction of Stephen Wadsworth and the fine instrumentalists of the Juilliard Orchestra, under the baton of Anne Manson, who also conducted Janacek's  The Cunning Little Vixen some four years ago.

For this opera, Janacek wrote the libretto himself, based upon Alexander Ostrovsky's 1859 Russian play The Storm. It premiered in Brno in the Czech Republic in 1921 and the music is modern but not painfully so. There are riffs on Moravian folk music and lyrical passages, as well as plenty of anguished discordancy.

We think of it as a tale of two families, the interrelationships of which are complex. The small town in which they live is like small towns everywhere, filled with busybodies, familial obligations, hypocrisy, and religiosity.

At the head of the Kabanov family is the widow Kabanova (Kabanicha) who rules with an iron fist. We never learn what makes her so vicious toward her daughter-in-law Katya and her unhappy son Tichon who drinks and is afraid to defend his wife. Everyone tries to please Kabanicha but no one succeeds. The very idea of her accepting sexual pleasure from her neighbor seemed unbelievable.

There is a lovely young woman in the household--Varvara, a foster child who is somewhat less afraid of her adopted mother. She is having a romance with Kudrjas, a clerk for the wealthy next door neighbor Dikoj. Dikoj is another nasty person who bullies his young nephew Boris.  Boris has to curry favor with Dikoj who controls his inheritance.

When mother-in-law Kabanova (Kabanicha) sends her son away for 10 days on business, the unstable Katya begs her husband to stay, or to take her away, or to place control on her impulses. When repression is so severe, there are always unacceptable impulses!

Boris has met Katya only once but has seen her daily in church and has fallen in love with her. Kudrjas warns him that Katya is a married woman but Boris cannot control his lust.

Katya makes an attempt to control her desires but Varvara eggs her on to meet Boris in the locked up summerhouse in the garden. She meets him nightly in spite of her feelings of guilt. When Tichon returns she confesses and brings on the wrath of both son and mother. Her religiosity and her guilt lead her to drown herself in the river.

Janacek's opera seems to follow two divergent paths: on the one hand, it immerses itself in the life of a small provincial town in 19th c. Russia; on the other hand it makes use of Realism in its dispassionate view of this culture, somewhat at a remove. This duality can be heard in the music as well.

The lead role was sung by soprano Felicia Moore, whom we so much admired recently in a Mozart concert aria, was most affecting in the emotional final scene.  As Varvara, mezzo-soprano Samantha Hankey was a vivid and enlivening presence and sang with her customary gorgeous tone. Inwardly, we cheered when she and Kudrjas made plans to escape the oppressive environment and leave for Moscow. Tenor Sam Levine made an excellent Kudrjas and was fortunate enough to get the only "aria" in the opera--it was a folk song of simple and repetitive form but we loved it. 

Bass Alex Rosen was a brutal Dikoj, and represented all the ignorance of his generation and that stifling culture. In the storm scene, he denied the existence of electricity and called lightening a punishment from God. Rosen's booming bass was just right for the part. As his nephew Boris, tenor Gerald Schneider used his fine instrument and effective acting to create a romantic hero, in spite of the fact that Janacek eschewed Romanticism.

Mezzo-soprano Sara Couden colored her voice with nastiness in the role of Kabanicha. Ms. Couden was fearless in creating such an unlikeable character.
Tenor Miles Mykkanen has such a particular talent in recital that it is astonishing to see him melt into his character on the opera stage. He looked and sounded exactly right as the bullied son Tichon, strangely bound to his miserable mother.

The role of the servant Glasa was sung by soprano Maria Fernanda Brea. Mezzo-soprano Nicole Thomas was Feklusa, another servant. Baritone Xiaomeng Zhang portrayed Kudrjas' friend Kuligin. We even saw the lovely Kady Evanyshyn (reviewed yesterday) onstage, as well as Chance Jonas-O'Toole.

Vita Tzykun's costumes were perfect with the servants getting the colorful dresses.

Charlie Corcoran's set comprised one large room divided into areas--a bed, a wardrobe, a table and chairs.  This was behind a facade showing the exterior of the house which, when raised, gave one a feeling of voyeurism. A gate stood for the entrance to the garden. We were a bit puzzled by the flying bed which was raised and dangled from the roof of the theater.

Nicole Pearce's lighting was subtle but evocative.

Anne Ford-Coates did the Wig and Makeup Design.

There is one point of argument that will never be resolved because opinions on both sides are strong. It is our opinion that using an English translation robbed the work of something special. Janacek's vocal lines were dictated by Czech speech patterns.  Shoehorning an English translation into the vocal line just didn't sound right to our ears. Often, too many words were forced onto too few notes.  Half a dozen people we know and discussed this with agreed with us but two were happy with the English.

We do understand that learning a rarely produced opera in Czech might have been too much for the singers. We also understand that many people believe that "accessibility" is a more important value. In non-musical theater we also would prefer to hear our own language in the interest of accessibility. But opera is more than theater!

We will say that the translation by Yveta Synek Graff and Robert T. Jones was as good as could be expected and we commend the singers on superb enunciation. Titles were projected but were unnecessary.

(c) meche kroop

Tuesday, April 25, 2017


Chris Reynolds and Kady Evanyshyn

We almost always enjoy a good lieder recital but last night's recital at Juilliard left us walking on air. This is not meant to deny the pleasures of a recital program that is of a melancholy nature. Schubert's song cycles end in tragedy but we can enjoy being touched by sorrow. That being said, a recital involving a singer who loves to sing and chooses mainly happy songs leaves us feeling lighter. We are still smiling from last night's recital at Juilliard.

Mezzo-soprano Kady Evanyshyn is as luscious of voice as she is of appearance. She possesses a most welcoming stage presence and shows no evidence of anxiety; au contraire, her addresses to the audience were so relaxed we felt as if a friend had invited us to her parlor for some music-making. She is blessed with a gorgeous instrument of notable texture and has acquired fine technique and linguistic skills. Indeed, our prior hearings of her artistry have been through Glenn Morton's Classic Lyric Arts recitals--brief exposures but enough to have made us want to hear more.

We cannot say that the opening aria was cheerful but it served to show off her superb skill with early opera. "Disprezzata regina" is Ottavia's Act I lament from Claudio Monteverdi's last opera, the 1643 L'incoronazione di Poppea, which established the composer's reputation in the field of music theater. Poor Ottavia bemoans the fate of women chained to cheating husbands. As you may recall, Nerone is enamored of Poppea and casts his wife aside. Ms. Evanyshyn's lovely vibrato emphasized her grief.

A set of Schubert songs were performed in fine German--the lighthearted "An Sylvia" is such a joyful expression of admiration for the lovely eponymous Sylvia!  His "Der Vollmond strahlt auf Bergeshohn" was written as incidental music for the play Rosamunde by Wilhelmina Christiane von Chezy. The libretto for the play has been lost and only partially reconstituted, but Schubert's music continues to delight audiences. We are pleased to tell you that things end well for the heroine, but this piece deals with separation and heartbreak; Chris Reynold's piano established the sadness with his minor key introduction whilst Ms. Evanyshyn's dynamic control served her well.

After the troubled text of "Die Liebe hat gelogen", we heard the impulsive "Rastlose Liebe", given a breathless feeling tone but executed with excellent breath control.  Quite a feat!

The highlight of the evening was, for us, Modest Mussorgsky's nursery songs.  We haven't heard them since Mary-Elizabeth O'Neill performed them at Juilliard two years ago. We loved them then and we loved them last night. They gave Ms. Evanyshyn plenty of opportunity to exercise her dramatic muscle and to use her bubbly personality.

With admirable vocal coloration, she sounded very much like a little boy, sometimes naughty and sometimes trying to please his nanny. This little boy is entranced by scary stories but ultimately prefers the funny ones. She also created the character of the nanny who loves her little charge but can get cranky and scold him. Oh, did that little boy sound aggrieved when punished for the cat's misbehavior!

When he says his bedtime prayers, he seems to have countless aunties and uncles that he rattles off to our great delight.  And when he falls off his hobby-horse, the soothing words of his mother were given an entirely different coloration.  Oh, how we long to hear Ms. Evanyshyn sing the entire cycle, of which we heard more than half.

Gabriel Faure's final song cycle L'horizon chimerique comprises four delicate songs that were given a light touch and sung with fine French style. They certainly showed off some diligent work at CLA's summer program in France. For this cycle, Arthur Williford took over from Chris Reynolds as collaborative pianist.

The final set comprised cabaret songs by William Bolcom, settings of pithy texts by Arnold Weinstein.  In "Over the Piano", the voice has been given a melodic line but the piano has been given some abrasive harmonies. "George" is the tale of a cross-dressing opera singer who comes to a sad end, and "Amor" is that wonderfully tuneful and catchy creation that is usually given as an encore piece, one of which we never tire.

The encore piece was a tune the artist's parents played for her when she was a child. It was a cute and silly song with an uncredited composer and was dedicated to her parents who were in the audience. We stand in awe of an artist with the versatility to do credit to opera, lieder, and cabaret.

We looked back over the program and realized that the material was not what was creating our feeling of joy. It was the artist's joy in singing it that was so contagious. We are amazed to find such talent in an undergraduate! The best news we heard all day was that she will continue at Juilliard in the Masters of Music program so we will have the opportunity to hear her again.  Well done Kady!

(c) meche kroop

Sunday, April 23, 2017


Marie Marquis, James Bassi, and John Kun Park

We all want the song recital to not just survive but to flourish. But this intimate art form can be less than thrilling when performed in a large hall with its consequent loss of intimacy.  In the 19th c. music lovers held salons in their homes with friends gathered around the piano sharing delights that cannot be taken for granted in the 21st c.

Never fear, lieder lovers!  Joy in Singing to the rescue! Under the guidance and with the dedicated labor necessary, Maria Fattore ensures that we get that intimate experience. A fine Sunday afternoon was spent in the private home of some generous music lovers who hosted a very fulfilling recital.

The program was all about Spring with carefully curated songs to invite us to celebrate a beautiful Sunday, fine for walking outdoors but even finer to come indoors and thrill to some gorgeous music.

This is the third time we have heard Marie Marquis sing and our opinion of her remains at a very high level. We saw her having a high time onstage last Halloween with Heartbeat Opera's Mozart in Space and shortly afterward we were in attendance at her recital as winner of the 2016 Joy in Singing award.

What we remember most was her engaging stage presence and sparkling soprano. This young woman can get inside a song and bring it into your heart. A superb singer can get away without these qualities on the opera stage, helped along by sets and costumes and story line. But conveying the emotional content of a lied, especially in an intimate environment, requires a special personality and Ms. Marquis has it all. After this recital we will think of her as The Songbird of Spring.

She alternated with tenor John Kun Park who also brought a special quality to his song delivery and sang without that tenorial pushing that we often disparage. Both artists introduced their songs and told enough about each so that those who did not understand the language could get the gist of things.

Ms. Marquis opened the program with Gabriel Faure's "L'hiver a cesse" effectively negotiating those treacherous upward skips.  Hugo Wolf's "Er ist's" is a joyful song and she communicated all the joy she felt. Argento's "Diaphenia" is more melodic than most 20th c. music and pleased our ears.

We especially loved Clara Schumann's "Das ist ein Tag, der klingen mag" which makes us wonder why more singers don't program this composer's lovely output more often.

That being said, Ms. Marquis seems just made for Strauss. Richard Strauss' "Das Rosenband" was notable for the brilliance of her upper register and gorgeous melismatic passages.

Of course Johann Strauss, Jr. was not related to Richard Strauss but we also loved Ms. Marquis performance of the lengthy and challenging 1882 "Fruhlingsstimmen", a waltz with lavish coloratura passages. For this complex and very wordy piece, Ms. Marquis was "on the book" but we didn't mind. She even did the last verse in English, although her German was just as fine as her French. The piano of accompanist James Bassi echoed her voice in a most enchanting fashion.

Mr. Park's selections included Wolf's "Fussreise" from his Morike lieder, and we enjoyed this jaunty paean to la belle nature. Henri Duparc's Phydile was given a romantic coloration and plenty of dynamic variety.

We loved the expansiveness of Franz Lehar's "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" from Das Land des Lachelns.  It was sung ardently but well modulated.

Gerald Finzi's "It was a lover and his Lass" (text from Shakespeare's As You Like It) was such fun with its "Hey nonny no" and this just goes to prove that good poetry inspires good music. Mr. Park enjoyed singing it as much as we enjoyed hearing it!  The mood was a little quieter for Wolf's "Im Fruhling" in which Morike's text takes a contemplative turn as he reflects on the indefinable sehnsucht that Spring can arouse in us.

Richard Strauss' Allerseelen is not, strictly speaking, a Springtime song. It refers to the Day of the Dead on November 1st. But the text refers to a beautiful memory from May, so we'll take it, especially since it was so passionately sung by Mr. Park.

We also heard a delightful piano solo from Mr. Bassi--a mashup of Schumann and Hammerstein!

If there is Joy in Singing, there is also the counterpart--Joy in Listening. There was plenty of joy to go around and we are eagerly awaiting news of interesting developments in the works for this esteemed organization.  In the meanwhile, if you have a tax refund looking for a home, consider a tax-deductible donation...www.songsalon.com.


Catherine Malfitano's third-year voice students at Manhattan School of Music

Getting a crowd to spend their Saturday night listening to third-year music students sounds like a hard sell but then Greenfield Hall at Manhattan School of Music was filled to the last row with enthusiastic music lovers who were there to celebrate the unique achievements of this wildly talented group of young artists, talented beyond their years.  There must be a cause!  Of course there is!

The ebullient soprano Catherine Malfitano has taken this class of 26 singers and, over the course of a year, transformed them into an ensemble that can use nothing but their voices and their bodies to lead you down the path of enjoyment of works both familiar and lesser known. Sets are superfluous when the acting is so on point. Although we enjoyed the familiar works, we were most interested in the introduction we received to operas we have never seen produced.

The evening comprised French opera scenes, most of them lighthearted, and we are pleased to note that French diction was held to the highest standard.  Even when the scenes were new to us, the French was so well enunciated and the emotions so well revealed that there was no difficulty understanding what was happening.

Gounod and Bizet were represented but the most scenes were given to works by Jacques Offenbach and Jules Massenet. Casting was accomplished with a great deal of flexibility with many roles shared by two or three singers. Occasionally, roles were given to singers from a fach variant to that which the composer intended, but it was never a problem. Every singer sounded absolutely right. That in itself is a small miracle.

We love Offenbach and have seen and adored his 1868 opera bouffe, La Perichole. The heroine is a sassy piece of work and was here performed jointly by sopranos Aleksandra Durin and Tzuting Tsai with tenor Mimi Chiu as her lover Piquillo. The staging allowed for some competition between the two Pericholes. The music, performed on the piano by Eric Sedgwick, was filled with music hall joy.

The composer's 1858 parody of Gluck's Orfeo,  Orphee aux Enfers involved a Eurydice who is not losing any love over her Orphee. We were impressed by the fine tenor Ramon Gabriel Tenefrancia who had two superb Eurydices to annoy with his virtual violin--Ashely Lea and Hyejin Yoon.

The final work on the program was Offenbach's more serious 1881 work, Les contes d'Hoffmann. We got to hear three Giuliettas, all admirable--Shelen Hughes, Monica Gonzalez, and Makila Redick. Baritone Yichen Xue gave a fine performance of "Scintille, diamant" in which Dapertutto convinces Giuietta to steal Hoffman's reflection. Hoffman was portrayed by Joshua Ross with Rong Yue as Nicklaus. This is one of our favorite operas and we were delighted to get a hearing.

Massenet was represented by his often seen 1884 Manon, a tragedy, and his 1905 comedy Cherubin, which seems ripe for revival with its convoluted plot and gorgeous music. In the former, we enjoyed the first scene in which the aristocrats from Paris arrive with their three "actress" companions and, express their quality of entitlement to the beleaguered innkeeper (Clayton Matthews). The aristocrats were sung by Yiqiao Zhou and Yichen Xue. Their companions were portrayed by Blair Cagney, Melanie Hope Long, and Shelen Hughes. We have never seen singers have so much fun with their roles!

Manon herself was sung by the tiny powerhouse Lauren Lynch who captivated one and all with her "Profitons bien de la jeunesse".  In the Act IV quartet, Ms. Long exchanged roles with Ms. Lynch.

Massenet's Cherubin is yet another entry in the tale of the Count and Countess Almaviva and Cherubino, but done more as a French farce. In the scene from Act II, soprano Juliana Levinson sang the part of L"Ensoleillad with mezzo-soprano Gabriella Chea singing the eponymous hero. It was difficult to tell who was seducing whom but the audience loved the uninhibited body language and we loved the way the voices blended.

This opera goes on our wish list, as does Charles Gounod's 1864 Mireille in which the title role was shared by two lovely sopranos who harmonized to perfection--Ms. Redick and Ms. Hughes.

There were also two scenes from Carmen, Georges Bizet's 1875 masterpiece. We always love the scene in which Carmen declines to join her smuggler friends and elicits their hilarity with her protestation of being amoureuse. Mezzo-soprano Catarina Veytia mad a fine Carmen with Gabriella Will and Ms. Cagney as Frasquita and Mercedes. Mr. Matthews sang El Dancairo and El Remendado was sung by Mr. Zhou.

The Act III fortune-telling scene had Cynthia Soyeon Yu as Frasquita and Ziyi Dai as Mercedes. Mr. Sedgwick's piano was particularly wonderful in this portentous scene.

It was a most delightful evening from start to finish and left us incredulous that third-year music students could perform in such an accomplished fashion. What a pleasure to hear healthy young voices in the service of drama, entertainment, and artistry. Ms. Malfitano's magic never ceases to amaze!

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, April 22, 2017


Rachel Stewart

Years ago there was a saying about double features--"one piperoo, one stinkeroo". Let no one say that about the operatic double feature we enjoyed last night performed by the Opera Repertoire Ensemble of Manhattan School of Music.  Actually, there was plenty of resonance between the two tales of female suicide.

The heroine of Francis Poulenc's 1959 monodrama La Voix Humaine (adapted from a play by Jean Cocteau) suffers from romantic illusions whilst the heroine of Puccini's 1918 Suor Angelica suffers from religious illusions (or delusions, as the case may be).

Monica Talavera and Amber Evans

In both cases, the women have put their centers of gravity outside themselves, one willingly and the other as a victim of cultural and familial forces. The pairing, taking Suor Angelica out of it's place in Puccini's oft-produced trilogy, leads us to see the work in a new light. The only downside is leaving the theater feeling the full force of the tragedy without the relief of Puccini's light-hearted comedy Gianni Schicchi.

In the Poulenc, a woman with no name is having a much interrupted conversation with a lover who has ended the relationship. Clearly she is not ready to let him go and is still using terms of endearment. The role calls upon the soprano to sing a minimalistic vocal line based upon French speech patterns, and to inject her
lines with a full spectrum of emotions.

The listener hears only her half of the conversation.  The words of the man are left to the imagination of the listener to fill in from his/her own experience. He must obviously care for the woman to some extent to stay on the phone and listen to her protestations of love and her made-up stories which she later recants.

Continual interruptions and disconnections add to the fragmentary nature of the monologue, and are symbolic of the emotional disconnection. As "Elle", soprano Rachel Stewart rose to the vocal challenges and gave a shattering performance, involving the audience by means of her own involvement with the role. We wonder about a character who would give up her life for five years and center it around a man--but this was over a half century ago.  Autre temps, autre moeurs. 

Even further back in history, a century ago, getting pregnant out of wedlock was enough to cause a family to reject the unfortunate mother-to-be and to hustle her off to a convent to do penance for her "sin". Nowadays women who prefer to be unwed can deliberately create a child and raise it alone or en famille.

Suor Angelica's aristocratic family has immured her in a convent and deprived her of any contact. She suffers mightily from neglect and wants nothing more than to embrace her son. When she finally gets the longed-for visit from her aunt, La Principessa, there is no forgiveness or acceptance. The purpose of the visit is to get her to sign over her inheritance. Even worse, she learns that her child died several years earlier.

She poisons herself with an herbal concoction, becomes terrified about being damned, prays, and believe herself forgiven. She hallucinates her child welcoming her to heaven.

With meager resources at hand, the Opera Repertoire Ensemble gave the piece an excellent production, thanks to the breadth of vocal talent available.  The piece opens with the superb chorus singing an Ave Maria. The eponymous Suor Angelica was sung by the excellent soprano Amber Evans who was moving in her portrayal and sang with a light clear tone regardless of whether she was in ecstasy or despair.

The other superb performance was that of contralto Monica Talavera who created a character who was as cold as she was arrogant; her rich instrument stood in lovely contrast with Ms. Evans' soprano.

The entire cast of nuns sounded wonderful with voices raised in gorgeous harmonies and the brief solo lines were well handled by each and every nun.

Although we missed Puccini's lush orchestrations, a great job was done by pianists Jiwon Byung and Yi Xin Tan together with Jia Jun Hong filling in with special effects on the synthesizer.

As usual, Maestro Thomas Muraco's sensitive conducting pulled everything together to create a most worthwhile evening. Watching his hands is a treat in and of itself.

There will be a second performance tonight with some cast changes and we recommend it highly if you can snag a ticket. Last night had a waiting line to deal with so go early.

(c) meche kroop


Jonathan Heaney, Seok Jong Baek, and Hidenori Inoue

A Masters Degree recital marks the commencement of a singer's career, but, as often as not, the singer has already begun singing roles in small companies.  Such is the case with bass Hidenori Inoue whom we have heard and admired on a few occasions. His performance as the eponymous hero of Donizetti's Don Pasquale was a revelation and we later enjoyed his appearance with New Amsterdam Opera as Leonora's father in Verdi's Forza del Destino. And we will soon be hearing his Don Magnifico in Rossini's Cenerentola with A.R.E. Opera.  That's quite a range of roles!

Yesterday's recital at Manhattan School of Music was his first foray into lieder which thus demonstrated his versatility as an artist. Basses have a long "shelf life" as does Mr. Inoue's teacher James Morris. So it makes sense to try everything whilst one is young. The problem with lieder recitals for the basso fach is that most of the songs are dark in color and it is difficult to establish variety.

The three songs by Schubert that opened the program are a case in point--they are all grim. Jonathan Heaney's piano established the mood in the introduction to "Der Tod und das Madchen" and we would have enjoyed a more tender color from the maiden than we heard from "Death". We enjoyed the eerie tone and anguish of "Der Doppelganger" and found the German to be quite good. Overall we like the quality of Mr. Inoue's instrument and the appealing vibrato. And he has plenty of strength at the lower end of the register.

It was evident in the three songs by Henri Duparc than Mr. Inoue can sing with a more tender color, as he did in "Phidyle". It was also clear that he knew what he was singing about and we saw les abeilles and les oiseaux through his eyes. "Extase" was lovely but "La Vague et la Cloche" took us right back to "grim" with its disturbing nightmare.

After intermission, Mr. Inoue was back on more familiar territory. He is a natural on the opera stage and gave a superb performance of Fiesco's aria from Verdi's Simon Boccanegra. Although Fiesco is an enemy of the hero, Verdi's music and Mr. Inoue's performance stimulated our sympathy for the character who has just lost his daughter. He is filled with grief which he transmutes into anger at Boccanegra and at the Virgin. We enjoyed it so much that we were moved to listen to several of the great basses singing the same aria--Cesare Siepi, James Morris, and Nicolai Ghiaurov. Mr. Inoue can be proud of his performance!

Four songs by Aaron Copland were well handled and injected some variety into the program. "The Little Horses" has rhythmic variety and some notes at the top of the basso range which the artist handled well. His English is sung with only the slightest accent which didn't interfere with our understanding of the text. We particularly liked the lively and spirited reading he gave to "Ching-A-Ring Chaw".

The program closed with the marvelous duet from Bellini's I Puritani which we recently saw at The Metropolitan Opera.
We have heard the rousing "Suoni la tromba" often at award recitals because it it a stunning showpiece for baritone and bass. In this case the baritone was Seok Jong Baek, whom we always enjoy. The two artists shared a beautiful blending of tones.

Although Mr. Inoue's upcoming schedule will take him to Maine and to Oklahoma, we suggest you catch his upcoming performance in the afore-mentioned Cenerentola. We believe he is destined for great success and you will be able to say "I heard him when...".

(c) meche kroop

Friday, April 21, 2017


Pianist Cody Martin and singers Zachary Owen, Mariya Kaganskaya, Katrina Galka, Alyssa Martin, and Joseph Lattanzi

Tucson is the birthplace and home of Arizona Opera which has been building an audience for opera in Arizona since 1971. Their programming is eclectic and, judging by the performances we heard last night at The National Opera Center, the people of that gorgeous state are getting the highest quality.

For those of us who cherish the future of opera, it was a golden opportunity to hear the rising stars of the desert sky. The recital by Arizona Opera Studio Artists was part of Opera America's Emerging Artist Recital Series. For us personally, it was an opportunity to witness the growth of two lovely ladies we had enjoyed in Santa Fe, as part of their Apprentice Program--and to be introduced to three more singers of whom we hope to hear more.

The overall quality was impressive and it is no wonder that these young artists are receiving awards and filling roles around the country. We were delighted to learn that two of them will be in Santa Fe this summer so we will get to hear them again. The others will be at Glimmerglass and if that venue were more accessible for non-drivers, we would go to hear them as well.

Opening the program were soprano Katrina Galka and mezzo-soprano Alyssa Martin in "Ah, perdona al primo affetto" an ardent love duet from Mozart's La clemenza di Tito. Ms. Galka's soaring soprano was perfect for Servilio and Ms. Martin's performance as Annio had plenty of breadth.

The scene from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte in which Guglielmo seduces Dorabella "Il core vi dono" was so convincingly performed that our mind filled in the set and the plot of the entire opera.  Mezzo-soprano Mariya Kaganskaya was an ambivalent but willing Dorabella, succumbing to the seductive blandishments of a very persuasive Joseph Lattanzi. Both have voices we would describe as creamy-dreamy.

The next few duets were in French, which is far more difficult to sing.  If the diction was not perfect, it was creditable and mostly understandable. We loved the harmonies produced by Ms. Kaganskaya and bass-baritone Zachary Owen in the scene from Massenet's Cendrillon in which Pandolfe tries to comfort his disappointed daughter--"Ma pauvre enfant cherie".

We have never been a fan of Debussy's Pelleas et Melisande but we absolutely adored the love scene "Mes longs cheveux descendent jusqu'au seuil de la tour". The eroticism was as thick as molasses until the angry Golaud appears on the scene. The versatile Ms. Martin was perfect for Melisande and Mr. Lattanzi's legato served him well as the besotted Pelleas. Mr. Owen proved a threatening Golaud. We wondered whether our newborn affection for this opera came from the ardency of the vocal performance or the beautiful pianism of Cody Martin who captured Debussy's shimmering colors. We'd have to say both!

Berlioz' gorgeous melodies and harmonies served to express the glories of la belle nature when Hero (Ms. Galka) and her attendant Ursula (Ms. Kaganskaya) join voices for "Nuit paisible et sereine". This duet from Beatrice et Benedict was balm to the ears and both singers followed the long leisurely line of the phrases most effectively.  It was swoon-worthy.

A return to Italian offered these fine artists an opportunity to dabble in comedy and bel canto. From Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore we heard the wise Adina (Ms. Galka) let the bloviating Dulcamara (Mr. Owen) know that she had enough charm and she didn't need his love potion. Their performances were winning and we got the impression that Mr. Owen is more comfortable in Italian and very effective in comedy. We can just picture him as Don Pasquale!

The final duet was the famous "Dunque io son...tu non m'inganni?" from Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia. We always wait for that special moment when the spunky Rosina surprises Figaro with the note for "Lindoro" which she has already written. Ms. Martin seemed just right for Rosina and Mr. Lattanzi showed equivalent flexibility.

Although it was the perfect way to end a grand recital, we were left wanting more. An hour of duets is never enough but we'd rather have quality than quantity so there will be no complaining!

Mr. Martin's accompaniment was superb throughout.

(c) meche kroop

Thursday, April 20, 2017


Steven Blier, Theo Hoffman, Greer Grimsley, Luretta Bybee, Meredith Lustig, Ron Raines, and Pamela Myers

It was just one wonderful treat after another at the NYFOS Gala at Weill Recital Hall last night. The packed house was the right audience for the generous selection of songs by Stephen Sondheim with the illustrious Steven Blier at the piano, charming the audience with tidbits about each song and the show from which it was drawn.

As is customary with NYFOS events, there is no boundary drawn between types of songs and who gets to sing them. The best part about these evenings, beside Mr. Blier's delightfully witty narration, is that the music is sung by superb singers in their natural unamplified voices. This strengthens the assertion that there are only two types of songs--the good and the bad. Mr. Blier chooses the good ones; they tell us stories.

Stephen Sondheim is inarguably the best composer of musicals of our time. The astuteness of his lyrics and the complexity of his music never ceases to amaze. There is no subject he has been afraid to tackle--not even assassinations and cannibalism.

It is hard to say which is our favorite show but A Little Night Music and Sweeney Todd are both right up there at the top and were well represented last night. The program opened with "Two Fairy Tales" which was written for the former show but somehow never made it. Performed by Meredith Lustig and Theo Hoffman (of the Los Angeles Opera). it involved a kind of "she said-he said" situation with ironically contrasting and alternating lines. The two artists were completely delightful.

Ron Raines and Pamela Myers were similarly delightful in the waltz "You Must Meet My Wife" with Ron as Fredrik, waxing rhapsodic over his (surprise!) virginal bride and Pamela as Desiree cracking wise.

Sweeney Todd was well represented with the too-clever-by-half "Have a Little Priest", with Greer Grimsley as the eponymous Sweeney Todd matching rhymes with Luretta Bybee's Mrs. Lovett. What incredibly adroit wordplay!  Ms. Bybee got to sings Mrs. Lovett's romantic fantasy "By the Sea", and the forceful "Epiphany" was given a powerful and dramatic delivery by Mr. Grimsley.

The show also had a tender ballad in which Tobias sings "Not While I'm Around" in which he expresses his protective caring for Mrs. Lovett. Mr. Hoffman sang it with appropriate depth of feeling. And yet another duet "Pretty Women" sung by Mr. Raines and Mr. Grimsley. 

Follies was represented by Ron Raines singing Ben's song "The Road You Didn't Take". It made us wish to see a revival of the show which we have never seen. We never saw Evening Primrose either but "Take Me to the World" was quite moving as performed by Ms. Lustig and Mr. Hoffman.

A song from Company was performed by Pamela Myers who originated the role of Marta, a woman who is in love with New York City. "Another Hundred People" captured all the energy and vitality of our city.

And there was a song about the beach as well--"The Girls of Summer" from Marry Me a Little, winningly performed by Ms. Lustig.

Not every Sondheim show was a smash hit and Road Show was re-written a number of times, never achieving great success; but it did contain a wonderful song called "Talent" in which the character Hollis Bessemer expresses his dream of creating an artist's colony in Palm Beach. Mr. Hoffman's performance was superb.

The evening ended with the entire cast joining Ms. Myers for Hattie's song "Broadway Baby" from Follies.  It was a superfine evening that we wished would never end.  We could have listened to Sondheim songs all night!

(c) meche kroop

Monday, April 17, 2017


Anne Schwanewilms (Photo by Javier del Real)

Fans of Richard Strauss' prolific song output turned out in full force at Alice Tully Hal for a recital by the illustrious soprano Anne Schwanewilms and her perfect piano partner.Malcolm Martineau. These ardent fans showed their appreciation with thunderous applause and a standing ovation at the end; Ms. Schwanewilms repaid them with two outstanding encores which, for us, were the highlights of the afternoon.

Although not quite as prolific a songwriter as Franz Schubert, Strauss' contribution to the lieder literature is incalculable. Are all the songs of equal value?  Of course not, and Schubert wrote a few duds himself! How does a singer make her selections from among such abbondanza? With great difficulty, we imagine.

A number of Ms. Schwanewilms' choices were unknown to us and will require subsequent hearings for us to decide how much we like them. But there were no such reservations about the familiar lieder. Like many others, we take pleasure in hearing the familiar, especially if the artist can bring something new to the performance.

Ms. Schwanewilms has impeccable technique and innate musicality, knowing just how to use phrasing, word coloration, and dynamic variety to bring out the subtleties of the text and music. She achieved expressiveness with such an economy of gesture that when she gesticulated considerably in her performance of "Ach, was Kummer, Qual und Schmerzen" it took us by surprise.

There is yet another reason that our interest was keener for the familiar songs. The texts were provided in the program but the light was insufficient to follow along and looking down at a program always robs us of our connection with the artists; a strong case could be built for projected titles. We do speak German but in the stratospheric registers in which Strauss wrote, the words were not uniformly comprehensible.

So, on that account, we preferred her performance of the joyful tribute to the beloved-- "Du meines Herzens Kronelein", the haunting "Die Nacht", and the encores--the ethereal "Morgen" with its gorgeous arpeggios, and the nostalgic "Allerseelen", all of which we know well.

We also enjoyed "Geduld" which exploited the secure lower register of Ms. Schwanewilms' instrument and had a pleasing rocking rhythm from Mr. Martineau's piano.

Written much later were "Drei Lieder der Ophelia" (1918) in which the two artists conveyed the character's unbalanced mental state with eerie harmonies and a dramatic vocal line.

Each half of the program inserted a set of lieder by Hugo Wolf, a contemporary of Strauss, all of which utilized texts by Morike, a poet in whose work the composer found ample inspiration. Our favorites included the mournful "Verborgenheit" and the forlorn lament of an abandoned maiden "Das verlassene Magdlein" in which the strange harmonies combine with the text to paint a picture for us, like a scene in an opera. 

For much of the program, while listening to the unfamiliar songs, we abandoned the attempt to understand the words and focused on the sound of Ms. Schwanewilms' voice. We found it most agreeable in the pianissimo passages; her high notes floated beautifully. However, we heard a harsh metallic edge when she sang forte in the upper register.

Comparing notes with a few friends who sat closer, we realized that the balcony is a poor place to experience the connection with the artists that we cherish in a lieder recital, which is why we prefer a smaller hall.

Mr. Martineau, as one would expect, played in total support of the singer, never overwhelming.  We think of him as "magic hands Martineau"!

(c) meche kroop

Friday, April 14, 2017


Brandon Bergeron, Mikaela Bennett, and Andrew O'Donnell (photo by Sharna Striar)

By what legerdemain can an artist on a concert stage get you to feel as if you are sitting in a dark nightclub with a cocktail in your hand? For the answer to that question you would have to ask the artist herself--soprano Mikaela Bennett who created just such magic in her graduation recital at Juilliard. She has stage presence to share and warmly introduced the program, making everyone in the audience feel like a special friend.

This will be the ninth time we have reviewed Ms. Bennett and have never heard a "false note". We have thrilled to her singing "N'est-ce plus ma main" from Massenet's Manon; we have been bowled over by her "O, mio babbino caro" from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi (both at Classic Lyric Arts galas); we have heard her sing Adam's "O Holy Night" at Steven Blier's Christmas show; we have heard her in countless cabarets and liederabend.  If there's anything Ms. Bennett cannot sing, we would be very surprised.

Last night's recital gave us a taste of everything. The first half of the program leaned toward the classical end of the spectrum. In 1893 Paris was treated to a not to terribly tragic operatic version of the story which, in Puccini's hands, became Madama Butterfly. The work by Andre Messager was called Madame Chrysantheme and we have never seen it or heard of it being produced. Ms. Bennett sang a gorgeous aria entitled "Le jour sous le soleil beni". She sang it with sensitive dynamics and a soaring upper register.

From Handel's Agrippina, we heard "Vaghe perle, eletti fiori",  Poppea's remarkable expression of remarkable vanity. There was an abundance of coloratura fireworks, a gorgeous trill, and some crisp triplets echoed by Chris Reynold's highly accomplished piano.

Next we heard "Do you know him?" from Andre Previn's cycle Honey and Rue, with text by Toni Morrison. It was a bluesy song and began and ended with humming. It was performed a capella and had a delicious portamento at the end.

But for us, the highlight of the evening was Schubert's  1828 "Der Hirt auf dem Felsen", for which Ms. Bennett and Mr. Reynolds were joined by clarinetist Andrew O'Donnell, who helped us to realize just how like the voice, how vocal is that instrument.

The work is in three sections, more a chamber music piece than a lied. The first part is strophic and cheerful, making demands on the singer to negotiate huge leaps, the better to imitate yodeling.  The role of the clarinet is to show the shepherd's voice echoing through the valley.

His loneliness is expressed in the sorrowful minor-key second section. He is suffering from sehnsucht for his beloved.  In the third section, the coming of Spring produces great joy in a major key. Ms. Bennett's coloratura skills came in handy for the jauntily rising scale passages and an ear-tickling trill.

The second half of the program leaned toward the popular-classic side of the spectrum. From Jerome Kern's Showboat, we heard "Bill", accompanied by pianist Jeb Patton and bassist David Wong. Ms. Bennett has certainly mastered the jazz idiom and knows how much to bend a note.  Just the word "thrill" was sung with so much feeling behind it--and not the same way twice!

From Jule Styne's Funny Girl, we heard "People" in a way that made us forget any other singer's rendition. Ms. Bennett made emotional sense of the lyrics and the instrumental solos were memorable.

From Harold Arlen's Cotton Club Parade--24th Edition, we heard "Ill Wind" which opened with a brilliant bass solo. It felt like an intimate conversation between Mr. Wong and Ms. Bennett.

Ray Noble's "The Very Thought of You" achieved a similar intimacy with a meditative feeling coming from Mr. Wong's bass and Mr. Patton's piano.

There were two pieces on the program that worked musically but disappointed because the sound of a five-piece band drowned out Ms. Bennett's words that we really wanted to hear. We don't believe it was her English diction because we had understood her just fine in the other pieces.

The band comprised Mr. Wong's bass, Bela Quines' viola, Meghan Todt's violin, Brandon Bergeron's  (muted) trumpet, and Mr. O'Donnell's clarinet. They sounded just fine in Michael John Lachiusa's "Way Back to Paradise" from Marie Christine. We understood little of the words but enough to arouse our curiosity. We looked it up online; it was a  1999 musical with a very compelling story.

"First You Dream" from John Kander's Steel Pier, which closed the program, was a little clearer but not clear enough. The arrangements of both pieces were by Jack Gulielmetti.

We have no idea which path Ms. Bennett will take in the future, but she is sure-footed and should achieve whatever goal she sets her heart upon. Such versatility is rare.

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, April 12, 2017


Susan Woodruff and her students at Mannes School of Music

What a wealth of talent we witnessed onstage last night! We saw scenes from 10 wonderful operas--all favorites--and Benjamin Britten's Canticle II. Every student onstage  had excellent technique, fine diction, and convincing dramatic skills. We were impressed that the students themselves did the direction. Minus sets and costumes, the acting was sufficient to establish the situation. Moreover, the excellent titles projected behind the singers gave the background to the scene and its place in the opera. Even a person who had never seen an opera could have sat there and enjoyed the singing and the drama.

Scenes were carefully chosen to highlight the skills of each singer and not one was pushed beyond his/her capabilities. Thankfully, there was no Verdi, Puccini or Wagner--not that we don't love them but we hate to hear young singers pushing their voices. 

We simply don't know where to begin extolling the virtues of this splendid group of singers. The program opened and closed with counter-tenor Siman Chung (and regular readers will recall how much we love this fach); he opened with the Britten, singing Isaac to tenor John Park's Abraham. We have lost no love on bible stories but the sound of their two voices joined as the voice of God was otherworldly. Mr. Chung closed the program singing Tancredi to the Amenaide of soprano Lauren Yokabaskas in the Rossini opera; there was a great deal of excitement in the fiery second part of the duet. 

Ms. Yokabaskas also excelled as Vitige to Allison Gish's Teodata in Handel's Flavio, Re de Longobardi, an opera we would love to hear in toto. She also made a marvelously dignified Donna Anna in a scene from Mozart's Don Giovanni.

Allison Gish demonstrated talent in a variety of roles as well: she seems to have an affinity for Handel, doing justice to the role of Cornelia in Handel's Giulio Cesare in Egitto with mezzo-soprano Yinpei Han as her son Sesto. She also did well as Romeo in a scene from Bellini's I Capuleti e I Montecchi. She was also one of the three henchwomen of the Queen of the Night tormenting  Papageno, sung by baritone Sunyeop Hwang.

Mr. Hwang put in an appearance as Lorenzo in the Bellini and as the Count in Mozart's Nozze di Figaro. That scene was particularly well done with Xiuyan Fan as his Countess and Ana Capetillo as Susanna. Ms. Capetillo was excellent as Manon in the eponymous opera by Massenet, creating a character that projected innocence with a hint of wildness going on underneath. Her ardent suitor Des Grieux was sung by tenor Fanyong Du with a pleasant ease of tone.

Baritone Matthew Cossack showed a great deal of versatility and a good sense of humor as the much put-upon Taddeo to Yinpei Han's Isabella (in Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri). with Ms. Han as confident in her coloratura as she was in her characterization. Mr. Cossack made a persuasive Don Giovanni trying to seduce Zerlina (the very winning Malorie Casimir, who excels at being adorable). 

Ms. Casimir made a superb Sophie in the final trio of Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier. This just might be our very favorite trio of all time and we loved the way Ms. Casimir's voice blended with that of Courtney Johnson as the Marschallin and Wan Zhao as Octavian. Each character voices her innermost thoughts and come together in a blend that fills and satisfies us.

Ms. Casimir also sang Giulietta with Wan Zhao as her Romeo in a kind of "tag-team" presentation of the scene in which Romeo tries to persuade her to run away with him.  This was not Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet but we loved it just the same. Ms. Zhao was very forceful!

We heard Ms. Johnson's richly textured soprano as the very angry Donna Elvira trying to rescue Ms. Casimir from Mr. Cossack's clutches in the scene from Don Giovanni. Janggon Kim sang the role of Don Ottavio.

We must not forget to mention the other two ladies (henchwomen) from Die Zauberflote. Joining Ms. Gish in giving Papageno a hard time were Ms. Johnson and Wan Zhao. That just might be our second favorite trio!  Janggon Kim was Tamino.

That was a lot of singing and performing to digest and we apologize if we left anyone out. The scenes were accompanied by Ms. Woodruff at the piano. She deserves to be proud of her students and there isn't one we wouldn't want to listen to again.

(c) meche kroop