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, April 10, 2017


Haodong Wu, Mary Rose Go, Rachel Selan, and Jing Yang

Most art songs seem to be about love. The poet writes something meaningful to him/herself; the composer can add another layer by virtue of the type of music she/he composes; the singer adds yet another layer according to the way he/she feels about the song; and finally, the listener brings her/his own experience which cannot help but affect the listening experience.

Last night we heard a "thinking woman's" recital at the National Opera Center, presented by Cantanti Project (the 3-year-old company that presented the highly original Orlando in February--review archived). Although most of the small opera companies about which we write have as their goals presenting opera in new ways for new audiences and providing performance opportunities for singers, each one seems to find its own niche.

Cantanti Project, according to its Artistic Director and Co-Founder Joyce Yin, aims to present recitals which pair two singers, each with her own repertoire, intertwining the two to explore one subject in depth and in a larger context. Singers submit their recital proposals individually. Last night's subject was love; songs about love were viewed through the lens of feminism, in its broadest sense.

The thoughtfulness of each singer was evident, not only in their choice of repertoire and their performance, but also in their eloquent essays which addressed their feelings about love. Coloratura soprano Mary Rose Go organized her program around The Practice of Love. In her essay she addressed the concept of women being conditioned to make love central to their lives. Since men are not socialized in the same manner, it is women who seem to make the sacrifices in marriage, an unequal partnership.

The world of romantic fantasy, obsession, and unhealthy attachment seemed to Ms. Go to ripple through Richard Strauss' Sechs Lieder, Op. 68. The answer to this unhealthy anxiety seems to be self-knowledge, reality and faith. These thoughts stayed in our mind as we listened to the six songs and we heard them in a new way.

Of course, there is nothing that delights us as much as "Amor" and Ms. Go's lively coloratura and expressiveness brought that blind rascal child right into the room! Haodong Wu's piano joined forces with Ms. Go to create a marvelous portrait.

The offering that she chose to close the program was the optimistic "Morgen", a great choice. But that was followed with Amy Beach's "Ah! Love but a day" which expresses the fear of love's fickle nature. We wish they had been performed the other way around.

Mezzo-soprano Rachel Selan chose as her topic Lost Love. As many times as we have heard Claude Debussy's Les Chansons de Bilitis, we never tire of it and always hear something new. It took a few hearings for us to realize that the three songs in the cycle describe three phases of love, all happening to the same woman. The innocence of "La Flute de Pan" and the sensuality of "La Chevelure" delight us; the last song "Le Tombeau des Naiades" always makes us sad about the decay of romance. Ms. Selan made clear the indifference of the man and the disappointment of the woman.

Jing Yang was her splendid collaborative pianist who had just the right touch for Debussy.

Ms. Selan also performed one of our favorite cycles, Mahler's Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen; we cannot recall a woman performing this in recital although there are probably some recordings by women. The poet despairs over a lost love and tries to find consolation in nature. The melodies are aching and the harmonies disturbing.  We loved it.

We did not love Libby Larsen's Love after 1950. That period seems more remote than the 19th c.! Somehow we cannot relate to depilatory cream, razors, and bristly hair curlers as subjects for art song. It was funny to have a sort of rock and roll piano accompaniment to the song "Big Sister Says" but it sounded like anything but an art song. Ms. Larsen's particular experience did not generalize into something to which we could relate.

How interesting that neither singer thought of Schumann's Frauenliebe und leben.

That being said, it was good to have two women composers on the program!

(c) meche kroop

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