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.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017


Danny Miller, Vasilisa Atanackovic, and Alison Miller

They call themselves TransAtlanticOpera and they made quite an impression last night at the National Opera Center, the end of their tour of Canada and The United States. They comprise a most unusual ensemble, of whom only three are pictured. The other two members are Brian Holman (the pianist with magic fingers) and the fine clarinetist Krishna Veerappan. They met in Sicily and formed an ensemble of interesting proportions and sonorities.

We are accustomed to hearing voice with piano or guitar accompaniment or with full orchestra so the novelty of the arrangements by violinist Danny Miller allowed us to hear familiar works with fresh ears.

Aside from arias performed by the engaging soprano Vasilisa Atanackovic, the four member ensemble performed instrumental versions of operatic highlights. When they played Mozart's "Porgi amor" from Nozze di Figaro, we could see the Countess and hear her voice in our head.

The "Meditation" from Massenet's Thais was absolutely gorgeous and featured Alison Miller's violin. "Casta diva" from Bellini's Norma featured Mr. Veerappan's clarinet. Similarly gorgeous was the "Intermezzo" from Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana. Mr. Holman's piano was exceptional in the "Intermezzo" from Puccini's Manon Lescaut.

But it was the singer we came to hear, so let us praise Ms. Atanackovic's bright and beautiful soprano and her passionate involvement in getting the arias across. Dvorak's shimmering score for Russalka lost little in translation (or rather arrangement) and Ms. Atanackovic melded beautifully with Mr. Holman's piano part. We loved the Bohemian harmonies and the way her voice swelled in the upper register.

Liu's plea "Tu che di gel" from Puccini's Turandot came across well and we loved the Rachmaninoff song "Polubila ya" (I have grown fond of sorrow).

We hate to harp on things that detract from an otherwise stellar performance but the dreaded music stand appeared, disappeared, and reappeared on several occasions.  It truly is a barrier between singer and audience. The singer makes contact and then that slender thread is broken every time she glances down and turns a page.

Actually, we were quite surprised that this happened with a singer so intensely intent on communicating--especially at the end of a tour!  In "O mio babbino caro" from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi (the opening piece) she lost us and we found ourselves shifting our attention to the unusual instrumental arrangement. Since Lauretta is pleading for something, it was particularly egregious to not focus on an imaginary Babbo in the audience.

Also on the program was the famous Neapolitan song "O sole mio" and the famous Spanish song "Besame mucho" performed with just the piano and marked by dynamic variety and rubato.  "Black Swan" from Menotti's The Medium (just reviewed a couple days ago) would have been so much better off the book!

There was a very emotional delivery of "Vissi d'arte" from Puccini's Tosca (an opera we are going to review in a couple days) but we have saved the best for last because this must be Ms. Atanovackovic's signature role--"Senza mamma" from Puccini's Suor Angelica. Everything was there and we could appreciate not only the wonderful instrument but the phrasing and, above all, the connection with the audience that allowed us to really feel the text. A major score!

We hope that when this excellent ensemble returns that the music stand will have been relegated to the ash heap!

(c) meche kroop

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