MISSION

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, June 25, 2017

DELL'ARTE OPERA ENSEMBLE PREVIEW

Stephanie Kim Johnson and Maestro Chris Fecteau

Because we will be reviewing Santa Fe Opera at the beginning of Dell'Arte Opera's 2017 Festival (UNTAMED) and won't get our reviews up until the end of the run, we want to make sure that our readers are aware of this exciting season . We advise you not to wait for our reviews. There will be two fully staged productions with orchestra at LaMama on E. 4th St.

Saturday evening found us chez Fecteau meeting the directors of the two productions, learning all kinds of interesting tidbits, listening to some great singing, hearing a lovely piano piece composed by Maestro Fecteau, enjoying lovely company, drinks and edibles, and meeting Carter, the well trained resident canine.

Let us begin with the directors. Readers will recall how wildly enthusiastic we were about Brittany Goodwin's recent direction of Purcell's Fairy Queen. (Scroll down for review "In a gadda da vida"). This incredibly talented young woman will be directing Cavalli's La Calisto. That charming baroque opera was done at Juilliard not too long ago and made a very favorable impression with its vocal writing. We cannot wait to see what creative innovations Ms. Goodwin will devise from her fertile imagination. 

Charles Weaver will be conducting and both casts include singers we know and love.  

Equally exciting is Janacek's Cunning Little Vixen which will be performed in the original Czech. We have enjoyed this opera both at Juilliard and at Manhattan School of Music, although we have never heard it sung in Czech. It is beyond impressive that the participants in Maestro Fecteau's program have been getting coaching in Czech from two renowned experts. This is a lot to ask of emerging artists but should serve them well in the future to have mastered it. We, on the other hand, cannot even find a keyboard to share the real title with our readers! Oh those strange diacritical markings!

Conductor of the piece will be David Stech. Directing this work will be Ashraf Sewailam, who also happens to be a splendid singer. He entertained us royally with a vocally and dramatically splendid Leporello, singing the "Catalogue Aria" from Mozart's Don Giovanni, with a great deal of style. We insisted on an encore and got a stirring rendition of "Old Man River" from Jerome Kern's 1936 Showboat, a quintessential American musical--or opera, if you will.

Soprano Stephanie Kim Johnson performed a scintillating "Je veux vivre" from Gounod's Romeo et Juliette. This foxy lady will perform the role of Fox in the upcoming production. We have never heard the role sung by a soprano and are looking forward to hearing what it will sound like. In any case, Ms. Johnson has a gorgeous instrument and there is no doubt that she uses it well and expressively.

We were also treated to the sexy "Meine Lippen, sie kussen so heiss" from Franz Lehar's operetta Guditta, sung by the sexy Alexa Smith.

There was interesting conversation from the artists present about the difference between the uvular "r" and the rolled "r". We will have to do more listening and reading to understand that one!

But we had no trouble understanding the collective voice of all present who agreed with us about presenting opera in its original language. We do love it so when experts agree with us!

Do not forget to go to www.dellarteopera.org to secure your tickets. The quality is high, the cost is low. There are more events than the two operas so you might consider a season pass.

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, June 24, 2017

SINGIN' IN THE RAIN

Dan Saunders Petr Nekoranec, So Young Park, and Hyung Yun

Under each umbrella in Jackie Robinson Park was an opera lover, thrilling to a perfectly chosen program performed by three magnificent voices, accompanied by Dan Saunders on the piano. Everything on the program was a "war horse" but the performances were unique and freshly interpreted.

Having a scintillating soprano, a terrific tenor, and a brilliant baritone on hand permitted a splendid selection of arias and duets. The threatening weather might have discouraged some folks from attending but we would risk life and limb, let alone a little rain, to hear three such major talents share their artistry. We brought our own little group to share in the fun and all agreed that it was worth getting wet. No one shrank. No one faded. The threatened thunderstorm did not ruin our pleasure. Good old Thor decided to spare us.

We've only heard tenor Petr Nekoranec a couple times but he has made a strong impression on us with the sweet timbre of his instrument, which lends itself beautifully to the bel canto repertory.  His technique is flawless and his execution of the challenging showpiece "Ah! Mes amis...Pour mon ame" could not have been better. Aside from his musicality, he has the ability to create a character one cares about. Donizetti's La Fille du Regiment only works when you really want Tonio to win the love of Marie and overcome the obstacles of nationality and social class.

Similarly, one must have affection for Nemorino and root for him to win Adina's hand in Donizetti's other delightful comedy L'Elisir d'Amore. Last night, he proved himself to be a superb scene partner with soprano So Young Park in "Caro Elisir! Sei mio!...Esulti pur la barbara" First we laugh at his ignorance as he swigs from the wine bottle and develops "Dutch courage", acting careless and indifferent to Adina. But he has won our heart and we want him to win Adina's as well.

When Mr. Nekoranec's Nemorino gets around to singing "Una furtiva lagrima" we are cheering him on and never comparing his performance to anyone else's. The fine vibrato of his voice was effectively employed with a new shade of joyful anticipation. No doubt the stunning arpeggio toward the climax, the subtle portamento, and the carefully modulated dynamics were well thought out but everything sounded organically spontaneous.

Nadir's lovesick aria from Act I of Bizet's Les Pecheurs de Perles, "Je crois entendre encore" was sung movingly with fine French phrasing and some floated high notes that seemed to hang in the air for a long time. The final note was spun out into a delicate thread of sound. Incredibly gorgeous!

From the same opera, the famous duet  "Au fond du temple saint", was performed with the impressive baritone Hyung Yun. It  gave the two artists an opportunity to produce harmonies that were beyond beautiful. Moreover, you could accept that Nadir and Zurga were both friends and rivals, thanks to some excellent acting.

Mr. Yun impressed us with his versatility. He did justice to the "Toreador Song" from Bizet's Carmen by filling the verses with more subtle variations of color than we usually hear. We liked his interpretation far more than the usual bombastic one. Escamillo became, for us, a real person, not just a rival for Carmen's affection.

Just consider how differently he came across in the elegiac "O du, mein holder Abendstern".  We never want to hear anyone tell us that German is not a beautiful language! Wagner's exquisite poetry and Mr. Yun's soulful singing drew us into Wolfram's world and made us want to hear Tannhauser again as soon as possible.

In yet another demonstration of versatility, he performed "Cortigiani vil razza dannata" from Verdi's Rigoletto. This aria requires the baritone to be vicious at first toward the members of the court who abducted his dear daughter, then to become contrite and beg them for information. We needed no limp or padding on the shoulder to understand the deformed character of the poor hunchbacked court jester. It was a gripping performance.

Yet another manifestation of versatility had Mr. Yun enacting the role of Don Giovanni trying to seduce Zerlina in the Mozart opera of the same name. We saw and heard him becoming increasingly forceful until his prey was secured.  Another impressive performance to add to the list.!  Zerlina was sung by soprano So Young Park who did her best to resist the irresistible.

Ms. Park shone in a couple of challenging arias. Adele's "Laughing Song" from Johann Strauss' Die Fledermaus, "Mein Herr Marquis" showed off the singer's bright voice, charming personality, and skilled coloratura technique.

Similarly, she was excellent in "Les oiseaux dans la charmille", Olympia's song from Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffman. This challenging song requires extraordinary flexibility in the voice combined with rigid mechanical movements of the body. This must be like patting your head and rubbing your stomach simultaneously!  Ms. Park was completely convincing.

Moreover, she showed an entirely different side of her artistry in Musetta's aria "Quando m'en vo" from Puccini's La Boheme. In this aria, Musetta has to feign indifference to her on-again off-again lover Marcello while letting the audience know that she really wants him back. We loved the way she performed it. 

After all that very special entertainment, each artist offered an encore in a more popular vein; what we would call American classics. Ms. Park sang "I Could Have Danced All Night" from Lerner and Loew's My Fair Lady in a most winning manner. Mr. Nekoranec sang "Be My Love" and we'd be surprised if there were a woman in the audience not ready to comply!

 Mr. Yun sang "Some Enchanted Evening" from Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific, and that just about summed up our experience, an enchanted evening indeed. The wonderful arrangements of these songs were created by Dan Saunders who added so much to the evening's success.

The Metropolitan Opera must be appreciated for bringing opera to all five boroughs and making it available free of charge. Had this been our first exposure to opera we would have been a convert for life.

(c) meche kroop



Thursday, June 22, 2017

DARLING DUNN

Juri Jung and Mignon Dunn

Being a great singer does not guarantee being a skilled pedagogue but it's always a pleasure to find an artist who impresses us in both roles. Last night was our last opportunity to share in the excitement of the International Vocal Arts Institute. We have been exposed to so many up and coming young artists who seem to have grown a great deal through their participation.

Mignon Dunn's master class was not just an opportunity to hear more of these young artists but an opportunity to learn what to listen for and what to appreciate. Ms. Dunn, in a brief 15-20 minutes, was able to identify exactly what each young singer needed to improve the aria that he or she chose to present. There was no boilerplate, not just one issue that she emphasized for all comers.  No! Each young artist got individualized attention and a pointer or two to take them to the next level.

Tenor Alexei Kuznietsov is already quite a star in his homeland, the Ukraine. But moving onto the opera stage requires new techniques and he has grown considerably during his time spent with IVAI. He just needed to hear the advice not to pack in the breath and push out sound. He also needed a boost to get into the character of Don Jose in the "Flower Aria" from Bizet's Carmen. Everyone noticed the difference.

Soprano Claire Wilmoth sang "Du bist der Lenz" from Act I of Wagner's Die Walkure. This is our favorite part of the entire Ring Cycle and we were thrilled to hear it sung by someone with Wagnerian potential. What was needed here was some dramatic verisimilitude. Ms. Dunn coached Ms. Wilmoth to recite Wagner's alliterative poetry and to recite it slowly. Ms. Wilmoth was still a bit on the declamatory side until Ms. Dunn asked her to whisper it. Then, and only then, did she sing it as beautifully as one would have wished.  As a matter of fact, we have been reciting it all night at a whisper and feeling the beauty of the discovery of love. Yes, Wagner did write gorgeous poetry and yes, it is just as important as the music.

Baritone Evan Henke had a marvelous lesson from Ms. Dunn. At first, his serenade "Deh vieni alla finestra" was not quite convincing. It was too sweet, too polite.  Don Giovanni is a vile seducer and some of what Tarquinius puts into his aria in Benjamin Britten's The Rape of Lucretia was just what was needed to make the performance consistent with the character. We couldn't help noticing that Mr. Henke has a marvelous embouchure which carried over even into Britten's English.

Tenor Hyunho Cho performed "Recondita armonia" from Act I of Puccini's Tosca. Ms. Dunn pointed out a subtlety that we had overlooked but we will never miss it again! The painter Cavaradossi must show more feeling when he describes his brunette lover Floria Tosca than when he describes the blond woman in his painting of the virgin. That means fewer portamenti for the Virgin! Ms. Dunn wanted more beauty and less volume. Also she mentioned that is was OK to leave out the "s" in Tosca at the upper end of the register where the voice seems to catch.  Franco Corelli was mentioned as an artist who never pronounced an "s" and everyone had a good giggle.

Mr. Cho also sang "Nessun dorma" from Puccini's Turandot. He needed to trust his voice more and not to push so hard. A borrowed pair of earplugs did the trick! Further, he needed to find a good placement for the final "Vincero!" and to hold the final syllable longer.  These tips made a big difference.

Soprano Juri Jung closed the class with Adele's "Audition Aria" from Johann Strauss' Die Fledermaus. This is a marvelous audition piece in which the soprano gets to overdo it as she tries to convey all the different roles she could perform. Ms. Jung nailed the adorableness of the role and her vocal performance dazzled us with it's embellishments and fine trill. She negotiated the wide skips with ease and Ms. Dunn's main suggestion was to portray more desperation. Probably everyone in attendance was recalling how hard they try when they audition!

Peiwen Chen did her usual fine work as accompanist.

Although prior commitments will prevent us from enjoying the final two IVAI events, we would like to encourage you to attend tonight's performance of Puccini's Suor Angelica. With all the marvelous women singers we heard over the course of the institute, it should be a real treat.

Also, there is a recital of American Art Song Saturday night. This is not our thing but it may be yours!  Go!  Enjoy!

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

GUILTY AS CHARGED

Jennifer Black and Amy Owens in On Site Opera's production of Darius Milhaud's "La Mere Coupable" (photo by Fay Fox)




It was a grand idea of On Site Opera to present little known musical adaptations of Pierre Beaumarchais' trilogy of plays about la famille Almaviva. Two years ago we thrilled to Paisiello's version of The Barber of Seville.  Last year we thrilled to Marcos Portugal's iteration of The Marriage of Figaro. Last night we did not thrill to Darius Milhaud's The Guilty Mother, the final entry of the trilogy, taking place twenty years after The Marriage of Figaro. The superb performances were there. Eric Einhorn's direction worked well. The site chosen was interesting.  Maestro Geoffrey McDonald conducted the International Contemporary Ensemble with his customary artistry.

What went wrong?  Why would we be happy to hear the Paisiello and the Portugal again but not the Milhaud? The fault lay in the libretto and the music.  Great music can survive a flawed libretto and some stories are so compelling that mediocre music can be tolerated.  In this case, we found the libretto deficient in the sense that it was confusing in its adaptation from the Beaumarchais play, which was written in 1792, just before his exile. The fact that the adaptation was performed by his wife Madeline gives us a clue that this was a case of nepotism.

If you've ever wondered what happened after the Count and Countess reconciled and Figaro and Susanna were wed, here it is, according to Beaumarchais. The Count left on a long business trip. The Countess spent the night with Cherubino and bore a son named Leon. The Count was always suspicious of Leon's parentage. Never mind that he himself committed adultery and has taken the female child Florestine into his home to raise. She and Leon are in love.

A snake-in-the-grass, a scheming Tartuffe-like figure named Begearss has wormed his way into the household, taking advantage of aristocratic helplessness. Begearss plans to marry Florestine and acquire Almaviva's fortune. Thanks to bold action on the part of the resourceful Figaro, Begearss is thwarted and the two young lovers learn that they are not related by blood and are free to wed.  Happy ending.  Comedy?  Not quite! There may have been opportunities for comedy but they were missed.  This is a dreary work and the poorly fleshed out characters fail to win the audience's sympathy. What we love about the music of Mozart and Rossini is that it matches the characters and their actions.  That would seem to be a basic minimum requirement for writing an opera!

We understood that, at one point, Andre Gretry proposed setting this play to music and what a pity the project fell through. Putting this story into the hands of Darius Milhaud was not a fortunate move. The 1966 score is replete with ugly dissonances and never seems connected with the onstage action. The vocal lines are devoid of melody or any form of lyricism. The singers gamely did their best with the non-melodic vocal lines and projected well over the dense orchestration, with the exception of poor Andrew Owens whose allergic affliction left him inaudible. We do recall his sweet sound from Aureliano at Caramoor. We didn't mind because he acted well!

As the guilty mother, soprano Jennifer Black sang with strength and conviction. We last caught Ms. Black at the Met in the role of Lisa in  La Sonnambula. As Florestine, lovely coloratura soprano Amy Owens, so well remembered as Zerbinetta in Santa Fe, handled the high tessitura beautifully and very much looked the part. Mezzo-soprano Marie Lenormand, whom we enjoyed previously as La Perichole and also singing with NYOS, handled the part of Susanna very well and, as Figaro, baritone Marcus DeLoach made a forceful opponent to the slimy Begearss, well portrayed by bass-baritone Matthew Burns. 

The Count himself was sung by Adam Cannedy who has a fine baritone that showed up so well in the recent Glory Denied,: here he looked too young for the part. This was supposed to take place 20 years after the action of Marriage of Figaro. Come to think of it, Ms. Black also looked too young for the Countess.  Perhaps her night with Cherubino restored her youth!

Bass Christian Zaremba, last scene as the Commendatore in  Venture Opera's Don Giovanni,   was excellent in the small role of the notary who appears in the last scene. It was just in the last ten seconds of the opera, in the septet, that we heard a little bit of music to which one would want to listen.  Not enough! But it shows that Mr. Milhaud was capable of writing something listenable and chose not to do so.

The site chosen for this opera was an enormous garage near the West Side Highway.  Instead of scene changes, the two acts were staged in different parts of the huge space, with audience seating moved to accommodate. During the first act, we felt as one might feel at a tennis match with much head turning and neck stiffening in order to read the titles which were on either side and perpendicular to the stage. The second act offered some relief with titles projected above the action and readily readable.

We have no idea why the action was set contemporaneously with Mr. Milhaud's composition. It made no sense unless the characters underwent some sort of Rip Van Winkle phenomenon. And why was the furniture threadbare and the costuming so dowdy? In the play, the Count has been spending down his fortune to cheat Leon of his inheritance but he certainly wasn't spending it on furniture or clothing, nor on pay for his servants!

We will decline to mention the production team responsible for this ugliness but will say that Shawn K. Kaufman's lighting was fine and that the French diction was quite good all around thanks to Jocelyn Dueck.

Perhaps this was the only opportunity we will ever have to witness the sequel and for this we thank On Site Opera for this courageous (but misguided) bit of programming. It was, in fact, the United States premiere but was produced recently by the Theater an der Wien as a piece of shocking regietheater. This production was part of New York Opera Fest 2017 presented by the New York Opera Alliance, of which On Site Opera is a member. Partnership with the Darius Milhaud Society was a feature and the production was dedicated to the memory of Katherine Warne, a composer and founder of the society.

(c) meche kroop

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

SCENE MAKERS

Pavel Suliandziga, Jarvis Dams, Claire Wilmoth, Olivia Ottinger, and Amanda Panaccione

Instead of another "curtain call" photo, we have decided to give our readers a better idea of what we experienced at last night's IVAI recital of opera duets, trios, and ensembles. If you haven't already guessed, Mozart's Die Zauberflote was the source of this scene from Act I in which the three ladies (sopranos Amanda Panaccione, Claire Wilmoth, and Olivia Ottinger) have just given  Tamino the titular Magic Flute.  And what a scene that was with the three ladies harmonizing beautifully and Pavel Suliandziga giving us all the drama and vocalism we want in Tamino. As Papageno, baritone Jarvis Dams was hilarious trying to express himself with a lock on his mouth.

A second Papageno (baritone Evan Henke) performed a charming scene with the exciting young soprano Melody Yun Xie  who is so well-named. "Bei Mannern" is melodic and tender, and just right for Melody and Mr. Henke.

With a program this uniformly excellent, it is difficult to single out the ones that were outstanding. Everything was memorable.

The idea of presenting the opening scene of Puccini's Manon Lescaut followed by the same opening scene from Massenet's Manon was a brilliant one. The story is a very French one and perhaps that gave Massenet's a slight edge, although we must say that the appropriately named Nanyoung Song  matched incredibly well with the Des Grieux of Fanyoung Du. Both are possessors of gorgeous instruments which they use well to create believable characters. Mr. Du was convincingly smitten and Ms. Song showed evidence of the high spirits that will create so many problems later in the opera. That they sang in fine French style was a bonus.

In the Puccini, tenor Alexei Kuznietsov revealed a sizable instrument that bodes well for his future. He sang his "Cortese damigella" to soprano Lisa Faieta with great conviction and passion. Ms. Faieta maintained her modest air almost to the end when they ran offstage. We were glad to hear more of her as Donna Elvira in a scene from Mozart's Don Giovanni.

Bass-baritone Lawson Anderson impressed us in two roles, demonstrating a real feel for Mozart and an equal feel for complicated male characters. As Don Giovanni in the aforementioned scene, he was busy trying to persuade Donna Anna (soprano Claire Jihye Choi) and Don Ottavio (tenor Eric Alexieff) that Donna Elvira was crazy.  The scene was his and we were captivated by the texture of his voice and the intensity of his acting.

He was equally fine as Figaro in Mozart's Nozze di Figaro and sang the opening scene with soprano Sofia Sanchez as his Susana. Ms. Sanchez is not the only singer to blossom in an operatic role, making a far greater impression than when delivering a song.

Figaro's Act IV aria "Aprite un po' quegli occhi" was delivered with great indignance over his bride's supposed betrayal. Meanwhile, soprano Kyaunnee Richardson had a fine time teasing him with "Deh vieni non tardar". When we hear of Mr. Anderson performing either role in toto, we will SO be there!

The third Susana of the evening was Ashley Alden who teased Evan Henke's Almaviva in the excellent duet "Crudel, perche fin'ora". This group of IVAI singers responded so well to Mozart, bringing his music to vivid life.

We recently heard soprano Banlingyu Ban's Cio-cio San at Heartbeat Opera so we were not at all surprised by the excellence of her performance last night in the duet "Bimba dagli occhi pieni di malia" --the performance itself filled with malia! But we were astonished by the ardent performance of tenor Yang Chen. Both artists have ping-y qualities to their instruments and a most affecting quality.

And finally, from Mozart's Der Schauspieldirektor, two sopranos (Ashley Alden and Amanda Panaccione) got to duke it out while tenor Eric Alexieff tried to make peace. We saw that opera not too long ago in Santa Fe and have always enjoyed that scene, although, truth to tell, the sopranos we know are uniformly supportive of one another. But still the cliche is a funny one and satisfies those opera goers who would like to imagine catfights between rivals.  And now, we are thinking of Rossini's "Miaou" and if you've never heard that piece of vocal one upmanship, do give it a listen.

Stage Directors for the evening were Joshua Major and Dietlinde Maazel. Conductors were Maestri Paul Nadler and Brent Chancellor.  Pianists/coaches were Lucy Arner, Liora Maurer, and Jane Steele.

For lots of photos of these scenes, please see our Facebook Page, Voce di Meche.

(c) meche kroop

Sunday, June 18, 2017

TRULY INTERNATIONAL

Opera Stars of the Future at IVAI recital

As promised, we returned to Mannes for another recital and we are so glad we made the time. This "International Song Concert" had a unique feature that was revelatory, showing us new things about singers we had heard at earlier recitals. Participants offered songs in the languages of their birth or heritage--mainly folk songs. The expansion of their involvement was a joy to hear and there was nary a music stand in sight. Singers who appeared a trifle nervous or constricted at other times were relaxed and highly communicative last night. Our "newbie" guest had a wonderful time as well. It was a wonderful entry level recital for the uninitiated!

Notable for a spirited delivery was tenor Hyunho Cho who negotiated the plentiful consonants of Korean without cheating any of the vowels, of which there are far more than we have in English! We don't recall hearing Korean sung before but we enjoyed the two songs a great deal.

Mandarin established a firm presence by way of beautiful Banlingyu Ban who sang a love song with ardent feeling and a gorgeous upper register. And tenor Fanyong Du closed the program with folk songs about nature which permitted him to show off some very subtle variations of color and dynamics and a kind of jazzy bending of tone. We have appreciated Mr. Du's performances for some time in the standard repertory, but this singular performance took our appreciation to an entire new level.

Both Russian and Ukrainian were on the program and, sad to say, we can not tell the difference. But we can tell a good performance when we hear and see one! Tenor Pavel Suliandziga exhibited the same captivating stage presence as he has in more traditional performances. There was a patriotic folksong and also one about a boy trying to seduce a girl; we would guess that it was the audience who got seduced.

Soprano Tatiana Mills gained her knowledge of Russian from her mother and shared with us two charming songs, one by Alexander Dargomyzhsky and the other by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Ms. Mills is the youngest participant but already on her way.

We didn't get a chance to learn how soprano Virginia Sheffield came by her Russian but anyone who sings Sergei Rachmaninoff's "Oh, never sing to me again" gets our vote! If there is a more evocative representation of homesickness in the repertory we have yet to hear it. Similarly, soprano Kyaunnee Richardson delighted us with two Rachmaninoff songs--"Ostrovok" and "Siren", which was filled with sweetness. We were happy to witness her ability to connect with the audience without distraction from looking at the score.

Tenor Alexei Kuznietsov performed two Ukrainian songs, one by Vasyl Barvinsky and the other by Denys Sichynsky. He exhibited fine dynamic control and a wealth of expressiveness. There was a gorgeous messa di voce that was memorable.

Our only experience with Greek songs has been highly amplified popular songs in nightclubs, so we are grateful to the two artists who introduced us to some splendid music. Soprano EphiGenia Kastanas generously offered four lovely songs. We loved the lullaby which had a melody in an exotic mode but our favorite was "To Layarni" by Spyridon Spathis in which a shepherd mourns the theft of his favorite rare black lamb. Pianist Peiwen Chen successfully imitated the sound of a bouzouki. "To mauro Yemeni" brought in a sense of fun and Ms. Kastanas let loose with a bit of dancing.

Soprano Alexia Mate exhibited a finely texture vibrato in a song by Stavros Xarchakos and also in a French song by Eva Dell'acqua entitled "Villanelle". We couldn't stop thinking about "Stridono lassu" from Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci, with a woman envying the freedom of birds.

Latin America was also well represented with Argentinian soprano Eugenia Forteza performing two songs from her country, sung in Argentinian dialect.  Floro Ugarte's "Caballito Criollo" had a sprightly nature and we mean to ask Ms. Forteza about the symbolism.  Carlos Guastavino's "La rosa y el sauce" is the sad tale of love lost when the willow's beloved rose was plucked. This was one of the few songs on the program that we have heard before and we liked Ms, Forteza's interpretation.

Mexican powerhouse mezzo-soprano Mariel Reyes Gil has a special affinity for Maria Grever and we were delighted to hear "Despedida" and the well-known "Jurame", both sung with great passion. Ms. Reyes has an unusual timbre for her fach and we could feel vibrations in our own head that we have never before experienced.

Soprano Sofia Sanchez sang a couple of Mexican love songs and we particularly enjoyed "No niegues que me quisiste" by Jorge del Moral. We noticed an increase in her ability to communicate the feeling of a song, a most welcome piece of growth!

Colombian tenor David Rivera Bozon performed Jaime Leon's "Si no fuera por ti" which gave him plenty to do with his lovely middle voice. We thought the tessitura suited his voice better than William Dawson Jr.'s "Cancion del Otono". He also sang Ernest Charles' "When I have sung my songs" in perfectly understandable English (quite a feat) and only a trace of accent.

Another one of Mr. Dawson's songs was performed by Ms. Gil. Mr. Dawson was an Afro-American but found these lovely songs in Mexico.

And finally, thanks to tenor Stefan Djokovic, we were introduced to some Serbian songs which he sang with depth of feeling and a lovely pianissimo. "Trust that I love you" had a lovely sentiment and "Three times I knocked" had some wonderfully rhythmic stuff going on in the piano accompaniment.

(c) meche kroop










Saturday, June 17, 2017

OPERA SCENES FROM IVAI

OPERA SCENES AT MANNES

The International Vocal Arts Institute is very high on our list this week and we are attending as many of their events as we can squeeze into our schedule. IVAI seems to be held in very high esteem also by the young artists participating in the program. We got to speak to a few of them and their enthusiasm matches our own. Some of them have attended several years in a row; there is always something new to learn, some barrier to break down, some new pathway opening up.

Last night's recital comprised duets, trios, and ensembles, coached by pianists Jane Steele and Liora Maurer and conducted by Maestri Paul Nadler and Brent Chancellor. The scenes were staged by directors Joshua Major and Dietlinde Maazel although we perceived the hand of Founder and Artistic Director Joan Dornemann and confirmed her participation as we spoke to the singers.

The overall quality was extraordinarily high. When we see and hear a scene from an opera and the sets and costumes appear unbidden to our mind's eye, we know the singers are doing well and putting their skills to good dramatic use. It was a thrill to witness the growth of the few singers with whose work we are acquainted but also a treat to be introduced to others whose careers we hope to follow.

Most memorable was the performance of tenor Pavel Suliandziga whose Nemorino has been evolving over the past couple of years to the point that we consider it his signature role. We hope to witness his winning awards from several foundations with this role! He performed it with admirable flexibility in the coloratura and winsome personality. When Donizetti wrote the music for L'elisir d'amore, he gave Nemorino so much with which to play. If Nemorino is too shy and awkward, we won't believe that Adina will fall for him.  But he can't be too personable at the outset or we won't accept the entire premise.

Last night, Mr. Suliandziga performed "Caro elisir! sei mio!...Esulti pur la barbara" with his lovely scene partner soprano Jessica Hyun Joung Kim. We felt his character, under the influence of the "magic potion", coming out of his shell and trying to impress Adina. We had a grin from ear to ear!

Two scenes from Donizetti's La fille du regiment delighted us; each young artist was completely convincing. Soprano Brynn Terry made us forget all about Natalie Dessay! This petite and very feminine young woman employed her bright soprano and coloratura skills, perfectly enacting the part of a tomboy. In the first scene she interacted with Sulpice, sung by the splendid baritone Evan Henke. 

In the second scene, she frustrated The Marquise of Berkenfield who was trying to make a "lady" out of her. The Marquise was performed by mezzo-soprano Olivia Smith-Grugan, who created a marvelously imperious character, actually playing the piano for Marie and mouthing the words of the song she wanted her niece to sing. Looking on and distracting Marie was Mr. Henke who kept bursting into the "Rataplan". The scene worked well with Marie breaking down into a tantrum.  What fun! 

The versatile Mr. Henke also appeared in the sextet from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte, enacting the role of Don Alfonso, presenting Fiordiligi (soprano Zoe Chunghui Kim) and Dorabella (mezzo Daiyao Zhong) with their two lovers disguised as Turks. Soprano Eugenia Forteza performed enthusiastically as Despina with fine tone and spirited acting. Tenor Hyunho Cho had the role of Ferrando wth baritone Jarvis Dams as Guglielmo. Their outrageous behavior clearly offended the two sisters. Mozart's writing involved some stunning harmonies and the six voices blended and balanced well.

Everyone loves Delibes' Lakme and "Sous le dome epais", known as the "Flower Song" gives soprano and mezzo an opportunity to harmonize the delicious vocal lines. In this case, soprano Sarah Heilman and mezzo Olivia Ottinger lived up to our expectations with both matching their dynamics. The overtones they created tickled our ears. They used a very long piece of fabric to create the river at their feet; it was a particularly lovely staging which added to the effect.

Ms. Ottinger reappeared as Prince Charmant in the duet "Toi qui m'es apparue" from Massenet's Cendrillon with mezzo Daiyao Zhong in the title role. We liked her flexibility.

A program with so much Donizetti is always a treat and his comedy Don Pasquale always tickles us. Mr. Dams made a fine Dr. Malatesta, instructing Norina (soprano Juri Jung) in how to fool the old man. Ms. Jung had to try several "faces" until Malatesta approved. We enjoyed the way he mocked the old man's big belly and waddling walk and we enjoyed Ms. Jung's penetrating upper register. 

Finally, we heard "O nuit divine" from Gounod's Romeo et Juliette, performed by soprano Melody Yun Xie who gave a lovely interpretation of innocence, and Yang Chen whose good sized tenor was a pleasure to hear solo after Juliette flees back indoors.

The recital lasted not much more than an hour but we would have been happy to have an hour or two more. We wanted to mention one more thing. Everyone's French was merveilleux!

(c) meche kroop



Friday, June 16, 2017

THREE WAY PLEASED

Jordan Rutter, Melisa Bonetti, Eliza Bonet, Matthew Trevino, Danielle Pastin, Wes Mason, Courtney Ruckman, and Samuel Levine in "Masquerade" (photo by Anthony Popolo)


We are rather excited to have heard and seen a contemporary opera that delighted us--"Three Way."  Thrice pleased are we! The libretto was provocative and relevant to the 21st c. The music was interesting and accessible with real arias. The performances were on point, thanks to excellent direction and talented young singers who can act.

Let us begin with the concept--that of a trilogy exploring sexuality in the 21st c. developed by composer Robert Paterson and librettist David Cote. The opener "The Companion" was about a hard-working woman who had recently invested in an android who anticipated her every need; he cleaned and cooked and satisfied her sexual needs. If you think this is science fiction, let us share with you that there is a company already producing these male dolls for female use.  They are, at this moment, inert but lifelike. It is not hard to believe that in the near future they will be cooking and cleaning!

The second part "Safe Word" dealt with bondage and discipline with an interesting twist. In place of a spoiler alert, we urge you to see this work at Brooklyn Academy of Music--Fisher before Sunday.  The third part "Masquerade" dealt with three couples attending a swinger's party at the home of a fourth couple who organized the party.

John Hoomes conceived the production and directed these three acts with style and believable stage business.  The action moved right along as it would in any night of good theater. Mr. Hoomes is Artistic Director of Nashville Opera where this work saw first light, but we know him as the director of the excellent Florencia en el Amazonas which we reviewed so favorably.

The libretto was brilliant. We know David Cote primarily as a theater critic but he is also an esteemed playwright; his skill with words was astonishing. There were no long disquisitions; all the dialogue was short, punchy, and --best of all--rhymed! These three one-acts would have worked well as straight theater. David Ives comes to mind but Mr. Cote is no copycat; his voice is original.

But this is opera so of course the music is important. What a pleasure to hear music that is accessible and lined up well with the libretto, a feature missing from most contemporary American opera. Major props to composer Robert Paterson! A novel feature of the music design is that the American  Modern Ensemble was split in two with a string quartet plus double bass on a balcony on one side of the theater and the piano, percussion, and winds on the balcony on the other side. Maestro Dean Williamson conducted. We heard this gifted ensemble before at HERE in Paul's Case.

The singing was first rate all around. In "The Companion" we witnessed the impressive versatility of tenor Samuel Levine whose work we so greatly admired at Juilliard. As the piece began, his melting tenor was constricted by his role as an android, but when his increasingly dissatisfied and frustrated owner Maya (the superlative soprano Danielle Pastin) purchased an upgrade, he became far more human and difficult, just like a real man.  Mr. Levine's vocal colors underwent a shift as remarkable as his body posture. His final aria,  one that could easily stand alone, was lovely and tender--"You were my first love".

The role of the technician Dax was performed by the fine baritone Wes Mason. Dax is quite a salesman--("Prince Charming is just an upgrade away") and also expresses his belief that "People are just broken machines". The theme of "The Companion" is one of loneliness; it is rather a commonplace and barely needs mentioning but with all our devices connecting us with the world we are becoming increasingly isolated and, in a vicious cycle, ever needier for more connection. Our culture persuades us that perfection is just around the corner and mates are shed regularly for a newer better model.  Behind the light-hearted comedy were some trenchant observations about our contemporary society.

In "Safe Word", the warm-voiced mezzo-soprano Eliza Bonet portrayed Mistress Salome who makes her client wait for some time before answering the buzzer of her dungeon.  Matthew Trevino lent his smooth bass to the role of the type-A client who dresses up as a little girl named Polly Puddlepants who needs to be punished. There was just no way to keep a straight face. The situation turned dark before an unpredictable plot turn occurred and we will not spoil the surprise. Just let it be said that the characters are treated as human beings; there is humor but no moralizing or condescension.

The same can be said for "Masquerade", the final entry. We expected it to be something like Eyes Wide Shut but we were proven wrong. Once again, sexual variation and gender fluidity are treated without finger wagging. A young newbie couple (soprano Courtney Ruckman and Mr. Levine again) are joined by experienced swingers (Ms. Pastin and Mr. Mason again), as well as a "gender-free"couple comprising mezzo-soprano Melisa Bonetti and counter-tenor Jordan Rutter.  They've all been invited to a swingers party by hosts Eliza Bonet and Matthew Trevino who enjoy observing the liberation of desire.

We greatly enjoyed watching the artists assume different roles in each section of the trilogy. Mr. Levine was shy and somewhat taken aback by his wife's eagerness to participate. Ms. Pastin had a great time playing predatory and lascivious. Mr. Rutter had a great moment when he is left out. Mr. Mason had his great moment singing about his "failure to perform" in "I'm angry at myself", performed in tango rhythm.

We repeat--all the performances were superb, both dramatically and verbally.

Moreover the production values were excellent. We particularly appreciated the video design and lighting of Barry Steele. Although the sets by Randy Williams were simple they achieved the purpose whilst the video projections told us even more about what was transpiring. No orgies took place onstage but psychedelically colored silhouettes cavorted in various combinations on the living room wall. In "The Companion", computer language was projected.

Matt Logan's costuming was mostly adequate but we couldn't understand why Maya came home from work in a 1950's cocktail dress when "The Companion" took place in the future.

We were also not thrilled with Sondra Nottingham's wigs.  We know for a fact that Mr. Levine has a fine head of hair and putting him in a brassy ugly wig for "Masquerade" did not serve the character or Mr. Levine.

Such tiny quibbles failed to impair a delightful evening. Puccini did well with his triptych and we wish the same good fortune to Mr. Paterson, Mr. Cote, and Mr. Hoomes.

And we wish YOU, dear reader, the opportunity to experience the same delight as we did, but you will have to move quickly!

(c) meche kroop

















Thursday, June 15, 2017

MASTERCLASS OF MARVELOUS MEZZOS

GeDeane Graham, Leah de Gruyl, Isola Jones, Hilary Hei Lee Law, Courtney Bray, and Olivia Johnson





Who better to teach a group of mezzos than a mezzo who had a brilliant career? The much lauded mezzo-soprano Isola Jones conducted a master class for some of the participants in Martina Arroyo's Prelude to Performance program.  Maestro Richard Cordova, the well known coach/pianist/conductor accompanied on the piano. We know Maestro Cordova well from Little Opera Theater of New York but he is best known for touring internationally with various productions of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess.

Ms. Jones has had quite a career herself and, of course, has great knowledge of the particular issues facing women in the mezzo fach. Much of her instruction to the students had to do with getting the sound away from the throat and into the head, especially the sinuses. Mixing registers can be a challenge but the resonance must stay forward.

The soft palate must be raised but the sound bounces off the hard palate. Vowels must be thought of as vertical, not horizontal.  All vowels should maintain the same color.

She called singing "speaking on a pitch" which is a most interesting concept. Several students were urged to sing less and speak more. Many young singers do not trust that their voices will be heard and tend to push unnecessarily.

We heard Courtney Bray sing the "Card Aria" from Bizet's Carmen; she is covering that role this summer and if you haven't yet secured tickets for the all-too-short season (7/6, 7, 8, and 9) you are well advised to do so quickly.  You will probably see the best traditional Carmen ever and a superb production of Puccini's Suor Angelica paired with Gianni Schicchi.

Leah de Gruyl will be performing Zita in the latter and La Principessa in the former. Judging by what we heard, this is a performance not to be missed. Although her voice is perfectly suited to those roles, she was urged to learn some bel canto roles "just for fun" and to develop flexibility.

GeDeane Graham will be covering those same roles but last night she performed "Cruda sorte" from Rossini's L"Italiana in Algeri. She tickled the audience by explaining the aria in colloquial terms but there was nothing colloquial about her singing; it was very classic.

Hilary Hei Lee Law will be covering the role of La Suora Zelatrice but for coaching purposes she sang "Va! Laisse couler mes larmes" from Massenet's Werther.  She worked on singing more pianissimo and getting the vowels forward. The instruction was of benefit, as it was to the others.

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

IVAI at MANNES

IVAI Italian-Spanish Song Concert--Pianist/Coach Lucy Arner and Participants














The International Vocal Arts Institute has been helping young singers bridge the gap between studies and professionalism for thirty years, under the guidance of Founder /Artistic Director Joan Dornemann and Music Director Paul Nadler. We just caught up with them last year and was sufficiently impressed that we blocked out as much time as possible to attend their events this year.

IVAI holds these institutes in Asia, Latin America, and Canada. This year's institute drew 80 young singers from 16 countries.  It is only one week into the program in residence at Mannes School of Music at the New School. With nearly two weeks left, the young artists are already showing the signs of some excellent coaching, witnessed by the fact that they all had good command of both Italian and Spanish and some good legato technique.

The composition of the group of singers on tonight's program was varied from undergraduate level to singers who have been singing professionally. In the latter category was Banlingyu Ban, a highly gifted soprano from Shanghai who dazzled us recently in her performance as Cio-Cio San with Heartbeat Opera (review archived).

She performed the lovely Verdi song "In solitaria stanza" and we are pleased to report that her appealing stage presence lost nothing by moving from opera stage to recital stage. Her tone is lovely with a special quality in the upper register and she invested the song with convincing passion as the poet laments his very sick beloved Irene.

Her Spanish was equally memorable in a couple of songs from Manuel de Falla's Siete Canciones populares Espanolas. Our hands down favorite was "Asturiana" which she invested with appropriate melancholy.

Another fine singer who appears to be well on her way was mezzo-soprano Mariel Reyes from Veracruz, Mexico.  So many fine singers seem to be coming from Mexico lately! We enjoyed her performance of Rosa's aria of jealous fury from Jose Serrano's zarzuela Los Claveles--"Que te importa que no venga". Regular readers will recall how fond we are of zarzuela!

Ms. Reyes closed the program with a trio of songs by Fernando Obradors, each one exhibiting a diifferent mood and sung with different coloration--the frisky "Tres Morillas", the tenderly romantic "Del cabello mas sutil", and the intense and melodic "El Vito". Ms. Reyes truly knows how to get a song across and held our attention with her intensity.

Another singer who possesses this marvelous Latin American sazon is Colombian tenor David Rivera Bozon. The familiar "No puede ser" from Pablo Sorozabal's La Taberna del Puerto was given a highly affecting performance. He also performed a pair of songs by Alberto Ginastera of a rather mournful nature--"Triste" and "La concio del arbol del olvido". Mr. Bozon knows how to get inside a song and make it his own. We couldn't help observing that in the 20th c., when North American songs were being written with impoverished melody, South American composers knew exactly what their audience wanted to hear! And we want to hear it today in the 21st c.!

We particularly enjoyed the flirtatious duet performed by Mr. Bozon and soprano Eugenia Forteza --"Caballero del alto plumero" from Frederico Moreno Torroba's zarzuela Luisa Fernanda. Every time we hear a program of arias from zarzuelas, we wish someone would produce one in its entirety.

Ms. Forteza is from Argentina and selected a pair of songs composed by her countryman Carlos Guastavino. We particularly loved hearing "Bonita rama", the lovesong of a willow tree. We had another opportunity to hear her singing some of the Manuel de Falla songs.  Her performance of "Polo" was riveting in its expression of secret sorrow.

We have a couple observations to throw out for singers to consider.  One is that the use of a music stand is unacceptable. There were a couple singers whom we decline to name who committed that folly. The consequence is the break of connection with the audience. The performance becomes a private conversation between the singer and the score with the audience "eavesdropping". We have heard every excuse in the book for being on the book. We don't buy it.

The singers in question did sing other material without the use of a score and they were much more effective when not glancing down and turning pages.

Our second observation is that we got the sense that some of the singers were performing songs they didn't particularly care for or to which they didn't relate. The audience can tell, believe us! We will never forget the take home point we got from a master class given by James Levine with the wonderful mezzo Isabel Leonard participating. The point was "Sing what you love!"  Great advice from a great teacher.

The fine tenor Hyunho Cho seemed not terribly involved with Tosti's "Malia" but when he sang "Non t'amo piu" he was a different artist completely. He became expansive in his voice and his feelings. We believed in the poet's denial of love and admired the exquisite decrescendo at the end.  We also liked the way he sang Joaquin Turina's "Las locas por amor" with a true feeling of fun.

As far as songs to love or not love, our personal feelings were that we'd love to hear more of Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari but less of Ottorino Respighi, whose piano writing is lovely (and pianist/coach Lucy Arner surely made the most of it) but whose vocal lines just don't "sing" to us.

(c) meche kroop

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

LEND ME A TENOR

Dan Saunders, Susanna Phillips, Elizabeth DeShong, and Petr Nekoranec


What to do when the star tenor has taken ill? Just raid the ranks of The Lindemann Program and create a new star tenor! 

Our disappointment at missing Stephen Costello last night at The Metropolitan Opera's Summer Recital Series evaporated 5 seconds into Petr Nekoranec's performance of "La Donna e mobile" from Verdi's Rigoletto. This young tenor is a stage animal with an appealing presence and a thrilling sound. It is quite difficult to evaluate an amplified voice in an outdoor venue although we admit that the sound was as good as could be expected.

We had only the briefest introduction to Mr. Nekoranec last Spring at a Lindemann recital when we loved his voice but not the material.

We could tell that he knows how to use his vocal assets to good advantage and has great skill with the three languages in which he sang, that he modulates his phrases effectively, and knows exactly how to shape a decrescendo. If he holds onto the "money note" a bit too long you will not hear a word of complaint from us.

We will want to hear him unamplified to learn whether the gorgeous timbre and vibrato impress us as much as it did last night. Likewise we will withhold judgment regarding his suitability for Verdi, which sounded just fine with amplification. But we have no doubt that his bel canto technique is perfectly suited for any type of ornamentation.

In "Ah! Mes amis...Pour mon ame" from Donizetti's La Fille du Regiment, he delivered all the high C's without strain, all the while conveying the youthful enthusiasm and excitement of Tonio as he realizes he has won Marie's love. He has a real feel for French and the long luxurious lines of "Je crois entendre encore" from Bizet's Les pecheurs de perles were exquisite. His diction was so fine that we understood every word.

He also gave a stirring account of Agustin Lara's 1932 song "Granada", and a charming performance of the strophic aria "Au mont Ida, trois Deesses" from Offenbach's La Belle Helene. 

Moreover, he "plays well with others", creating the charming Act II "Cherry Duet" from  Mascagni's L'Amico Fritz with soprano Susanna Phillips as his Suzel--and also with the Act I meeting between Rodolfo and Ms. Phillips' Mimi from Puccini's La Boheme. Of course, he had a sensational Mimi/Suzel to work with!  We confess to being a bit star-struck by this splendid soprano and have preferred her Mozart characters to many others'. 

Her "Summertime" from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess showed off her gleaming upper register and the portamenti were absolutely stunning. But when she got to "Come scoglio" from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte we realized once again how this artist comes across best when there is a dramatic situation to illuminate. Not only was she astonishing in the wide leaps of this challenging aria, but she put her technique in the service of her character Fiordiligi.  This seems a bit trivial but every time she rolled an "r" we got a little thrill. Never too little or too much but just right for the character's personality.

With entirely different colors she performed "Song to the Moon" from Dvorak's Rusalka. Although we don't understand Czech (and we'd love to ask Mr. Nekoranec how it sounded to him) we could appreciate the way the music and the lyrics matched so well. The beauty of her singing and the intensity of her dramatic expression brought tears to our eyes as we considered the unhappy end that comes to those who try to be what they are not.

Ms. Phillips had some outstanding duets with mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong who debuted at the Metropolitan Opera the same year (2008) as Ms, Phillips. Ms. DeShong has a rich texture to her instrument that reminds us of a Guiness--dark, rich, smoky, with a creamy top!  From the Venice act of Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann, we heard "Belle nuit o nuit d'amour" and cherished the stunning harmonies and barcarolle-type rhythm.

The two voices were equally matched and effectively employed in "Serbami ognor si fido...Alle piu calde immagini" from Rossini's Semiramide. We have never seen this potboiler and are thrilled to learn that we will get our chance next season at The Met when Ms. DeShong will sing Arsace, a warrior who finds himself in an oedipal predicament. (Soprano Angela Meade will fill the title role).

Thankfully, Ms. DeShong will not be confined to trouser roles. Last night she excelled in roles made famous by legendary mezzo-sopranos making comparisons unnecessary. Her "Cruda sorte!", Isabella's aria from Rossini's L"Italiana in Algeri was nothing short of  powerful. The singer's skill with fioritura was employed in the service of the character.

Her versatility as an artist was manifest in "Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix" from Saint-Saens's Samson et Dalila. Not only was Samson seduced but so was the audience, yielding to Ms. DeShong's seductive coloring. She was impish in "Nacqui all'affanno e al pianto...Non piu mesta" from Rossini's La Cenerentola, making us wonder what kind of dramatic arc she might create in the entire opera.

Orsini's brindisi "Il segreto per esser felici" from Donizetti's Lucrezia Borgia was given a spirited performance; yet another aspect of her talent was revealed in "Sein wir wieder gut" the Composer's aria from Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos.

The fireworks onstage far outweighed the discomfort of the sultry weather. It was a highly exciting evening both from the standpoint of relishing the performances of vocal superstars and from the standpoint of witnessing the versatility of an exciting new tenor. There will be five more recitals in this series; folks in every borough should get a chance to enjoy this gift from The Metropolitan Opera and the Department of Cultural Affairs.

Host for the evening was Mary Jo Heath and Dan Saunders provided the superb piano accompaniment.

(c) meche kroop

Sunday, June 11, 2017

IN A GADDA DA VIDA


The Spirit World--Magda Gartner and her Fairies
The Human World--Emily Peragine, Joey Rodriguez, Daniel Byerly, and Allison McAuley












The birth of a new opera company is always a cause for rejoicing but when their debut is as outstanding as that of Gramercy Opera, we find ourselves rather over the moon.

Well actually we found ourselves in a charming verdant private garden on E. 61st St. which had been decorated with strings of twinkling lights and colorful flowers, both nature made and man made. This perfectly suited an entertainment that involves two worlds--the human world and the spirit world.

Leave it to two opera singers to accomplish the impossible!  Major props to Magda Gartner and Allison McAuley who joined forces to create Gramercy Opera.

What we experienced with such complete joy had very little to do with what was presented in 1692 as The Fairy Queen, a masque or semi-opera by Henry Purcell, loosely based on Shakespeare's late 16th c. comedy. 

What we experienced was the result of an impressive show of creativity by Director Brittany Goodwin who also adapted William Shakespeare's text from Midsummer Night's Dream and contributed some spoken dialogue of her own. We were wildly impressed!

The music, of course, was by Henry Purcell and was performed by a chamber orchestra using original instruments. There was a string quartet augmented by two trumpets (almost unrecognizable to those accustomed to the modern trumpet) and a pair of oboes d'amore and a harpsichord, all conducted by David Stech. Even without the enrapturing production design by Maria Torffield we would have enjoyed the music.

And what a production it was! Coming in at just under two hours, the production excised the little Indian changeling, the framing device of the marriage of the Duke of Athens and Hippolyta, as well as the gathering of rustics producing a play as entertainment for the festivities involved with said marriage.

Wisely Ms. Goodwin placed the emphasis on the interface between the human world and the spirit world. The humans flee into the woods to escape paternal interference but meet interference from the spirit world. It rests upon Puck's naughtiness to baffle and confuse the lovers--until he finally establishes order.

The cast was flawless. Mezzo-soprano Magda Gartner was perfect as Titania, angry at Oberon for his philandering. As Oberon, baritone Angky Budiardjono had a marvelous sound and exotic look just right for the part. His primary interaction was with the Puck of soprano Chelsea Feltman who both introduced the opera and brought it to a successful conclusion. She was, well, "puckish" in her compelling characterization. She enchanted us!

The fairies included the rich-voiced mezzo-soprano Kat Liu as Cobweb and soprano La Toya Lewis as Mustardseed, who harmonized beautifully in their duet. Sopranos Rachel Duval, Jaeyeon Kim, Megan Brunning, and Sara Lin Yoder added to the fairy fun, along with baritone Frank D. Fainer and tenor Carlos J. Jiminez who sang and danced the role of Cupid.

Now what of the humans! Canadian soprano Allison McAuley was totally convincing as the desperate Helena pursuing the rejecting Demetrius of tenor Daniel Byerly. As "fair Hermia" we heard the lovely soprano Emily Peragine who defied her father to elope with the Lysander of baritone Joey Rodriguez. Mr. Rodriguez had a great moment as he tried to persuade Hermia to lie closer to him.

We also enjoyed baritone Paul La Rosa's performance as Bottom, who wore his donkey-head quite rakishly.

Did we say how superb all the voices were?  We guess we did.

And now to discuss the production which involved some of the most imaginative costuming and makeup one could imagine. We suspect that imagination was in greater supply than funds but one could not tell that from the colorful results.

Ms. Goodwin's direction involved some stunning imagery that lingers in the mind's eye as much as that of Frederick Ashton's ballet The Dream. There were so many magnificent moments both scenic and choreographic that we find ourselves running out of words to praise.

Ms. Goodwin shared with us her casting method which involved asking those auditioning to improvise. That probably explains how integrated the performers were.

We urge our dear readers to see and hear for themselves. We are sure you will be as enchanted as we were. This weekend is sold out but hopefully you will find tickets for next weekend. If you succeed you will be the happier for it.

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, June 10, 2017

WE GOT WHAT WE VOTED FOR!

Melanie Ashkar, Jeremy Moore, Milica Nikcevic, Noelle Currie, Eric Alexieff, and Megan Nielson


We are happy knowing that we were among those fans of Utopia Opera who voted for Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin. For those of you readers who don't know, Utopia Opera is unique in producing their season by audience vote. This is Utopia Opera's sixth season and it has been a glorious one with the final entry giving us a unique up front and personal view of a long-cherished opera which premiered in Moscow in 1879.

We love this opera because it gives us a glimpse of a highly structured society, one from long ago (1820) and far away (Russia). Nonetheless, we are seeing human nature as it is and always has been--just constrained by the mores of that time and place. We all can recall the naivete with which we approached our first love. We all know people whose pride gets in the way of self-fulfillment. We all have broken off friendships for trivial reasons.  We have all known the pain of jealousy when our beloved has put someone else ahead of us.

But this is not a "whatever" society; this is a society in which "honor" is taken seriously and revenge is serious and often fatal.. "Feeling pissy" and "walking away" are modern inventions. Tatiana falls hard for her sister's fiance's friend. Onegin is a city slicker and she is a country mouse. She overcomes her shame and shyness and bares her soul in a letter to him. He gives her a "Dutch uncle" speech in response.  Not brutal but honest.

At her name-day party, the eponymous Onegin flirts with sister Olga.  Her fiance Lensky takes offense and challenges Onegin to a duel.  Lensky is shot and dies.  Onegin lives an empty sad life for a few years until he runs into Tatiana once more. She is now wed to the elderly Prince Gremin and rejects Onegin whom she still loves.  How old-fashioned to put honor ahead of love!

Of course, Alexander Pushkin's verse novel offers a great deal more elaboration but we will concern ourself with the opera as it is performed. As testament to the power of the story we offer our personal experience of fretting over what happens to poor Olga and whether Tatiana might reconsider when Gremin dies!

As testament to the power of Tchaikovsky's music we confess that we are still playing the themes in our head!  In this case, Jonathan Lyness' orchestral reduction was performed by 11 musicians under the baton of Dmitry Glivinskiy who brought out every ounce of Russian soul in the string quartet which sat at audience level, with the wind instruments and keyboard on one side of the raised stage. Aside from an occasional pitch problem in the strings, the music sounded just fine.

The singing was good all around with soprano Megan Nielson making a winsome Tatiana and Melanie Ashkar using her lustrous mezzo-soprano and spirited dramatic instincts to create a very believable feckless younger sister Olga. Jeremy Moore used his mellow baritone to create an Onegin who seemed to represent a more modern sophisticated fellow rather than the arrogant selfish fellow of the Pushkin poem. We favor this interpretation because he must have some good qualities to win the affection of the sensitive Tatiana. And because we have good feelings about men who do not deceive women!

As the poet Lensky, tenor Chris Georgetti gave his all and elicited audience sympathy with a finely wrought "Kuda, kuda". How interesting that the most famous aria from this opera, heard often at competitions, was not given to the "hero". Tatiana's "letter scene" is equally famous but rather long and not as often performed.  (Coincidentally, we just heard  and reviewed it the previous night.) We thought Ms. Nielson sang it very well with many shades of coloration.

Milica Nikcevic was fine as Madame Larina, as was Noelle Currie in the role of the nanny Filippyevna, although looking much too young to be a grandmother. Steven Fredericks had the right voice (bass) and appearance to create the dignified Prince Gremin who has been rejuvenated by his young wife. Indeed Tatiana has by the end of the opera matured into her station in life and Ms. Nielson conveyed that vocally and dramatically.

Finally, let us mention tenor Eric Alexieff whose performance as Monsieur Triquet was very fine without indulging in any over-the-top foppery. One of the highlights of Benjamin Spierman's direction was that very scene in which his musical encomium to Tatiana resulted in her embarrassment and some tolerant eye-rolling among the assembled guests.

There were some other enjoyable touches in the direction of the second act including the flirtation between Olga and Onegin, the confrontation between Onegin and Lensky, and Lensky's aria in which he kneels down on the ground when thinking about the possibility of going to his grave.  If Mr. Spierman was responsible for the choreography of the country ball and the city ball, props to him for that as well.

The direction of Act I was not quite as interesting. There is a very special moment when Filippyevna teases Tatiana by pretending to not know which neighbor was going to be the recipient of her letter. By playing it straight, an opportunity was missed to tell us something about their relationship. We also didn't get much of a sense of the comradeship between Filippyevna and Madame Larina.  We did, however, get the warmth of the relationship between the two sisters.

The only major flaw in the production must be attributed to the costuming. We do not expect authentic period attire in a low budget production but we could think of ways to suggest an earlier time period that would have worked well.  Jeans and shirts just seemed wrong. We don't know a woman who doesn't possess a peasant style blouse and a long skirt!  Anything would have been better than the "just walked in off the street" attire. In the ballroom scene of Act II, all the women wore long gowns and that seemed much better.

It also struck us as wrong that Filippyevna looked more glamorous than Madame Larina.

Cutting the large chorus of serfs permitted the work to be performed in just over a couple hours. We were very impressed by the talent of the cast and how effectively the tale was told. We will see this opera over and over again but we doubt whether we will have the same feeling of intimacy with the characters as we did through Utopia Opera.

There is one more performance tonight at Hunter College at 7:30 and we strongly recommend it!

(c) meche kroop