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.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

THE GARDEN OF JUILLIARD

Christine Taylor Price, Marie Engle, Joshua Blue, Tamara Banješević, and Jacob Scharfman (photo by Hiroyuki Ito)

Mozart was just shy of 19 years of age when he composed La finta giardiniera which premiered in Munich in 1775. In spite of a trivial libretto (insecurely attributed to Calzabigi), one can readily appreciate Mozart's exuberant melodic invention and skills at orchestration. The opera achieved but 3 performances and fell out of the repertory until a copy of the score was rediscovered in the 1970's.

That we have seen the opera three times in two years gives some indication of the many glories of the score and the challenging roles it provides for seven singers. The seven we heard last night at Juilliard Opera seemed to enjoy their performances as much as we in the audience did. What vocal glories!

We love to see romantic foibles onstage--the mismatches, the betrayals, the fights, the reconciliations. We have no need for modern sets or costumes to recognize our own passions and obsessions.  The blind child shoots those darts and we are helpless.

The Marchioness Violante Onesti (splendid soprano Tamara Banješević) had been stabbed by her jealous lover Conte Belfiore (terrific tenor Charles Sy) on their wedding day. Left for dead, she recovered, took the name of Sandrina, disguised herself as a gardener, and sought refuge by gaining employment at the estate of the Podesta Don Anchise (tremendous tenor Joshua Blue) who has fallen in love with her.

The Podesta's housekeeper Serpetta, portrayed by the gifted soprano Christine Taylor Price, would like to marry her boss and fights off the courtship of the gardener Nardo, Violante's servant Roberto in disguise--a role delightfully inhabited by Baritone Jacob Scharfman.

Meanwhile, the Podesta's bossy-pants niece Arminda (glorious voiced soprano Kathryn Henry) arrives at the estate to be joined in matrimony with none other than Belfiore. If we could overlook his tendency to commit violence on his brides, we might even feel a tinge of pity for the ambivalent count. He thinks he recognizes Violante in disguise but she denies her identity.

In the role of Cavalier Ramiro, Arminda's rejected suitor, we heard the marvelously convincing mezzo-soprano Marie Engle in travesti.

To make this crazy mixed up story clear, we had the talented young director Mary Birnbaum who has a very special way of getting her cast to work as an ensemble and to interact in believable ways, no matter how preposterous the story.

The first act moved along at a lively clip but there was a scene at the end of the second act that baffled us and our companion. It is the scene in which Belfiore goes mad and Violante gets kidnapped by Arminda (or was it vice versa?). When Tim Albery directed this opera at Santa Fe Opera, it didn't make much sense either and when Eric Einhorn directed it for On Site Opera, he omitted the scene entirely which was probably the best choice!

Both Ms. Henry and Ms. Prize dazzled us with their coloratura but the aria we remember best belonged to Ms. Engle who managed the extensive fioritura while conveying masculinity at the same time in "Va pure ad altri in braccio". Not only does everyone get an aria but there are interesting ensembles that foreshadow Mozart's later works.
 

Another memorable moment was Nardo's courting of Serpetta in several languages; Mr. Scharfman was irresistible in the role.  Mr. Blue pompously strutted around the stage but also conveyed the manner of a kind man. Ms. Henry did a great job creating a real bitch of a character. We loved the moment when she arrived with a horse and her servant Giuseppe (bass William Guanbo Su).

The Juilliard Orchestra performed in their usual exemplary fashion under the baton of Joseph Colaneri who brought subtle understanding to the various and changeable moods of the work. The continuo comprised Michael Biel on the harpsichord and Clara Abel on the cello.

Much favorable comment could be devoted to Amanda Seymour's luscious period costumes and even more to scenic designer Grace Laubacher's witty sets. After a clever prologue in which Joan Hofmeyr and Olivia McMillan portrayed two gossipy housemaids relating the backstory in English (another one of Mary Birnbaum's clever inventions), servants carried in trompe l'oeil set pieces. Even the horse was two dimensional but reared convincingly.

Lighting Designer Anshuman Bhatia spared no effort in changing the mood; one scene takes place in near darkness and the ensuing confusion reminded us of the final act of Nozze di Figaro.

Once again, Juilliard Opera has given us a memorable evening in which superlative production values provide a setting for the splendid singers--the jewels of Juilliard.


(c) meche kroop

Friday, November 17, 2017

GIANNI SCHICCHI ARE OPERA

Brett Vogel, Timothy Madden, Helaine Liebman, Drew Seigla, Allison Gish, Jay Lucas Chacon, Alanna Fraize, and Eamon Pereyra

This is the 100th anniversary of the premiere of Puccini's Il Trittico, of which Gianni Schicchi was the last of three one-act operas. It is the most popular of the three, probably because it not only contains some gorgeous melodies but because Giovacchino Forzano's libretto is hilarious. Forzano based his libretto on a minor character in Dante's Divine Comedy--actually a real live person in 13th c. Florence. Many of the characters have roots in commedia dell'arte.

Last night we attended the opening night of this masterpiece presented by ARE Opera at the Kraine Theater,  the sightlines of which make every seat a good one. The opera will be performed through Sunday.  ARE stands for "accessible. relatable, and enjoyable". Judging by the whooping and applause at the conclusion of the evening, they have found their audience.

The company debuted last May with a stellar production of Rossini's Cenerentola, with the audience surrounding the action, a situation that enhanced the immersive quality. In spite of admirable musical values, last night's production felt more alienating than involving. We don't attribute this alienation to the proscenium type stage. We sat on the front row but did not feel involved.

Although we have sometimes enjoyed an opera brought up to date, in this case we did not for many reasons. When we see operas set in other time periods we like to do the work ourselves, the work of considering how the desires and fears of the characters are echoed in the present time. We think of lovers we know who have been betrayed, of fathers who have alienated their children, of people who put duty ahead of desire. To have a director try so hard to make a point feels like spoon-feeding. 

It is likely that there were not many Italophones in the audience, but for us, or anyone who is familiar with the libretto, to hear the libretto sung accurately (and beautifully sung we might add) whilst the projected subtitles are saying something completely different, is disturbing. The libretto was shoehorned into a concept that only an inexperienced director (or one who directs cinema perhaps) would devise.

Singing about the New York skyline is just lacking in the flavor of Florence. The dead aristocrat Buoso lives on Park Avenue and is wearing a red onesie. His aristocratic family grasping after his inheritance bore no resemblance to the wealthy folk of Manhattan. The wealthy folk of today contest wills in court. The story loses its significance in the updating.

Instead of leaving his money to the monks, this Buoso left it to the Make-a-Wish Foundation. It is one thing to laugh at a medieval man leaving his land and his mill and his mule to the monks; it is quite another thing for a 21st c. man to leave his yacht and his home in the Hamptons to an organization that fills the dying wishes of children with cancer.  When the titles read about the family's scornful opinion of dying children, it just ISN'T FUNNY!

When the notary arrives, in this case an attorney we imagine, he is accompanied not by a cobbler and a dyer but by a "stylist".  We suppose he styled the red onesie!

Dr. Spinelloccio, as the titles indicate "Johns Hopkins and Harvard trained", is dressed in slovenly fashion, a doctor that no Park Avenue resident would employ as personal physician.

Schicchi threatening the family with prison if they reveal his duplicity does not carry the same weight as the threat of cutting off the hand, as the libretto indicates.  It is a marvelous moment in the opera when Schicchi dictates his will to the notary and waves his hand in the air to warn the family.

We could go on and on about the failures of this concept and its execution. But the audience laughed and presumably had a great time. They obviously found it more "relatable" than we did.

We rather chose to focus on the performances which were all fine. Baritone Patrick McNally made a wily Schicchi and seemed very much at home in the role. The program contained no bios but we warrant that he has performed this role before. We liked the fullness of his voice and his dramatic instincts.

Tenor Eamon Pereyra sang sweetly as Rinuccio and aced his big aria "Firenze e comé un albero fiorioto"; Rinuccio wants very much to marry Schicchi's daughter Lauretta, beautifully sung by Rachel Policar who gave us a lovely "O mio babbino caro" with the titles telling us that she would throw herself into the East River if she couldn't go to Tiffany's for a ring. The two also had a lovely duet together--"Lauretta mia".

As Rinuccio's Zia Zita, mezzo-soprano Allison Gish employed her substantial instrument and stage presence to create a character. She seemed to be a bit over-directed as an alcoholic.

Timothy Madden's deeply resonant bass-baritone was just right for the role of Simone, the eldest and the wisest among the family.  Baritone Jay Lucas Chacon made a fine Marco with mezzo-soprano Alanna Fraize equally fine as his wife. But her exercising him on the floor of the dead Buoso made it look as if she were a visiting yoga teacher. Just another example of an inexperienced director trying too hard.

Tenor Drew Seigla sang the role of Gherardo with soprano Helaine Liebman performing his wife Nella.  Instead of the little boy Gherardino they had a very spoiled daughter Gherardina (Ella Scronic Jaffe) who kept holding her papa up for funds.

The role of Betto was well sung by bass Brett Vogel. Betto is the "poor relation" and an opportunity was missed to dress him less fashionably than the others. But the others were not stylishly dressed.  The family is supposed to resent Schicchi for being a peasant but in this production he was the most elegant one onstage.

Bass Alexander Sheerin was effective as Dottore Spinelloccio, in spite of the slovenly attire. Baritone Andrew O'Shanick portrayed the notary/attorney and actually looked right for the part. His two witnesses were the basses Steven Ralph and Nathanael Taylor.

Maestro Jonathan Heaney conducted with his customary sure hand and Andrew Sun played the keyboard as if it were the full orchestra. 

In sum, all the singers performed admirably but deserved better direction. We want to believe what we see onstage!

We admire ARE Opera for their mission and they have certainly engaged the audience and have brought opera to the public for a very modest ticket price. They also have a mission of engaging youth and have programs to foster opera appreciation in the schools and programs to prepare high school students for conservatory auditions. They deserve your support.

(c) meche kroop

Thursday, November 16, 2017

INTO THE CRYPT WITH SALLY HEMINGS

Michael Fennelly and Alyson Cambridge

There is something both grand and spooky about descending several flights of stairs to The Crypt Chapel of the Church of the Intercession.  The high-ceilinged and resonant space gives one a sense of the importance of what will take place there; indeed last night's performance fulfilled that expectation. Unison Media's Andrew Ousley always has something unique to offer in his Crypt Sessions!

What we experienced last night was a piece entitled From the Diary of Sally Hemings; Ms. Hemmings was a slave of our third POTUS Thomas Jefferson, a mulatto woman who became his common-law wife. The text by Sandra Seaton, a librettist and playwright, can be thought of almost as a work of historical fiction. Ms. Hemings may have been quite literate but she left no diary that historians know of. If she kept one it was destroyed.

So this is a work of imagination, not one of historical accuracy. It is Ms. Seaton's idea of what Ms. Hemings might have felt in her life journey, one of extraordinary privilege combined with slights and insults. She accompanied Jefferson to Paris and returned with him to Monticello. She bore him children, none of whom remained in slavery. She learned French and was dressed in high fashion.

What we didn't know was that she and Martha Wayles (Jefferson's beloved wife) were half-sisters! Martha's father John Wayles formed an alliance with his housekeeper Elizabeth after Martha's mother died.  Sally was a child of that union. Similarly, Jefferson formed an alliance with Sally after Martha died. 

We couldn't help wondering whether Jefferson fell in love with Sally because she reminded him of his late wife whom he adored. Reading the text we wondered whether Sally loved Jefferson or saw him only as a kind "Master" who gave her extraordinary privileges. It is almost impossible for a 21st c. person to imagine life on a slave holding plantation over two centuries ago.  We do not judge what we cannot understand.

There is something we do know (or think we know) that Ms. Seaton omitted from the story. She has claimed that Jefferson did not have any affairs or love any other women after his wife died. This would tend to put Sally on some kind of pedestal. But no mention was made of Maria Cosway!

Ms. Cosway was an unhappily married Italian woman living in London. She met Jefferson during his stay in Paris as United States Minister to France, whilst Sally was purported to be accompanying him. Jefferson and Cosway had an intense meeting of the minds and shared a love of the arts; it was a friendship that endured until his death but was expressed mainly through letters, which have been researched by historians. They were rarely alone and it is not known whether their love was consummated or not. But it is known that she, a composer, sent several of her compositions to Jefferson and they exchanged letters expressing deep devotion and encouragement.

It might have made an interesting addition to the story to speculate upon the effects that this relationship had on Ms. Hemings! Nonetheless, the absence of this piece of information did nothing to impair the effect of hearing this monodrama, with music by the highly eclectic composer William Bolcom. Our affection for Mr. Bolcom's music rests mainly on his "Song of Black Max", a cabaret song we have reviewed multiple times, most recently just five days ago at the Opera Index party.

But Mr. Bolcom writes with great eclecticism and we found his piano writing for this piece to be highly accessible and refined as performed by Michael Fennelly, one of our favorite pianists. The vocal lines?  Not so interesting.  As performed by the splendid soprano Alyson Cambridge, it was a deeply felt story in which her intense and appropriate dramatic gifts filled in the blanks of the elliptical text.

Ms. Cambridge is a stunning woman with great personal power and a voice that soared into the upper reaches of The Crypt. Her crisp enunciation made every word clear, which is a feature we never take for granted. Her apt phrasing and gestures transformed the spare words on the page to a fully realized portrait.

We first heard Ms. Cambridge a year ago at a New Amsterdam Opera Gala. We loved her "Song to the Moon" from Dvorak's Russalka and her Giulietta from Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffman. Last night we heard a different side of her eclectic talent.

With regard to the compelling setting for this work, Mr. Ousley donates the proceeds from ticket sales of his Crypt Sessions to The Church of the Intercession for the use and upkeep of The Crypt Chapel.

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

THE RED MILL

Alyce Mott and the cast of Victor Herbert's The Red Mill

The Red Mill has turned and as it turned it changed a very cranky reviewer into a smiling member of a joyful audience.  Such is the power of art.  We do believe that "entertainment" and "art" can be synonymous. Today's audience might not consider an operetta from a hundred years ago to be a form of entertainment but, dear reader, trust us on this one.

We were transported back in time to an era when telegrams were novel and were called "magic letters". How welcome this was when our day was spent dealing with a recalcitrant printer and unhelpful tech support. For two hours we were immersed in good humor, romantic longings, and ultimate fulfillment. What could be more soothing!

The enormous popularity of Victor Herbert's musical entertainments can be attributed to his gift for melody and his astute choice of librettist. Henry Blossom provided an enchanting story and wrote dialogue and lyrics that fit the music like glove to hand. Somewhere in between the late 19th c. association between Gilbert and Sullivan and the mid 20th c. Rogers and Hammerstein, we have an artistic partnership that delighted early 20th c. audiences in similar fashion.

The work premiered in 1906 on Broadway and was revived in 1946. Alyce Mott, Founder and Artistic Director of Victor Herbert Renaissance Project LIVE! has tweaked the operetta with some seamless writing and the insertion of some reprises which were not in the original.  Extraneous characters were removed to good advantage.

The charming story will be familiar to those who recall the pre-feminist era. A father is marrying his daughter off to a man who will enhance the father's position. She is in love with a ship's captain and is determined to undermine her father's intentions.  In this she is supported by her widowed aunt and aided by the ridiculous rascals Kid Conner and Con Kidder, who supply much of the comic relief, especially when convincing Papa that they are Sherlock Holmes and Mr. Watson!

Regular audience members, such as we are, are delighted to see the same beautiful faces and hear the same beautiful voices in each production.  This consistency attests to successful casting. As Gretchen, the lovelorn daughter, we heard the scintillating soprano Sarah Caldwell Smith; as the helpful Aunt Berta, we heard soprano Vira Slywotzky, whose generous soprano made a lovely contrast with Ms. Smith's. We adored their duet "I'm Always Doing Something I Don't Want to Do" which speaks volumes about female subjugation.

The male leads were just as well cast and performed.  Tenor Christopher Robin Sapp lent his sweet tone and fine phrasing to the role of Dori van Damm, the sea captain loved by Gretchen. As the conniving pair of swindlers we had the very funny Drew Bolander and Matthew Wages.  We loved their duet "Always Go While the Goin' is Good".

As the controlling Burgomaster of Katwyk-ann-Zee, Gretchen's father, we heard the fine Anthony Maida with Shane Brown portraying the sneaky Sheriff who wants to do Aunt Berta the favor of marrying her.  That was a "no go"!

The brilliant veteran performer David Seatter delighted us as the very nice Governor whom Gretchen doesn't marry, and if you can guess whom he does want to marry, we will invite you to VHRPL!'s next show.

The smaller role of British Solicitor Joshua Pennyfeather was taken by Brian Kilday with much humor spent on his vain attempt to relate his mission, an attempt which was ignored until the very end, lending a delightful twist. Alexa Devlin portrayed a French Noblewoman with a French accent as silly as Mr. Kilday's British accent.

No Victor Herbert musical would be complete without a chorus and what a well-rehearsed chorus we had last night, with every word clear to the ear.  That was most fortunate because the words are so clever! The female chorus was meant to be "models"--Joanie Brittingham, Tanya Roberts, and Hannah Kurth. The male chorus was meant to be "artists"--Jonathan Fox Powers, Daniel Greenwood, and Jonathan Heller.

Highlights of the evening included (but were not limited to) Gretchen's aria "If He Loved But Me" and her duets with the Captain "I Want You to Marry Me" and "The Isle of Our Dreams". Ms. Smith and Mr. Sapp sounded sensational together. The other hit was "Because You're You", sung by Berta and The Governor.  Uh-oh!  We have given it away.  We should have included a "spoiler alert"!

Ms. Mott directed with her customary excellent taste whilst Music Director Maestro Michael Thomas did his fine work with baton in hand. William Hicks played the piano reduction with panache. Emily Cornelius' choreography was charming and period appropriate. 

We would like to point out that the company will perform "The Enchantress" in April with a live orchestra! You can even make a donation to sponsor one of the musicians.

But you don't have to wait until Spring. You can enjoy Ladies First, a concert honoring Victor Herbert's leading ladies, in February.  Even better, you can catch tonight's performance of The Red Mill at Christ and St. Stephen's Church. Even if you didn't have a stressful day you will have a great time!

(c) meche kroop

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

MARTINA ARROYO FOUNDATION GALA

DeAndre Simmons and Jessica Sandidge

How often we have written about Martina Arroyo Foundation's Prelude to Performance! Last night was their 13th gala, held at the JW Marriott Essex House and a significant percentage of the population of Planet Opera was there to celebrate and to honor four major stars.

First on our personal list was the legendary bass-baritone James Morris and the reason we put him first is because his performance as Wotan in The Ring Cycle changed our life. We don't think that experience will ever be equalled; but if bass DeAndre Simmons takes on the role we will be there.  Mr. Simmons' career has taken off since his participation in Prelude to Performance in 2006 and the recognition is growing.

Soprano Jessica Sandidge made a stunning appearance as Mimi in Puccini's La Boheme in 2016 Prelude to Performance and is also experiencing a meteoric rise in her career, winning wonderful reviews for her Micaela in Bizet's Carmen with Heartbeat Opera.

The other three honorees last night included world famous soprano Ailyn Perez whose performances have consistently delighted us; the much celebrated dancer/choreographer/director Tommy Tune; and the beloved Broadway star Chita Rivera. These four honorees have made major contributions to the arts and deserve to be celebrated.

Also deserving to be celebrated is the dearly loved soprano Martina Arroyo who, not content with a major international career, has devoted herself to passing the torch to young artists. There is no shortage of fine singers but the rough cut stones need polishing and that is where Prelude to Performance comes in.

Young artists chosen for the program receive invaluable training in role interpretation by means of studying the background of the opera from an historical perspective, and the study of their character's psychological motivation. Furthermore, there is coaching in the language to be sung. The young artists profit by master classes, which we can attest to after sitting in on most of them.

Two operas are presented each July at Kaye Playhouse, with full orchestra led by topnotch conductors. No expense is spared to create a professional level performance with appropriate sets and costumes. Moreover, the young singers are compensated, thanks to the generosity of supporters.

Anyone who has not attended these performances is truly missing out on a unique experience. Since our first experience attending and reviewing these performances we have never missed a single one. Usually we have enjoyed them far more than performances at "the big house" in Lincoln Center.

A word to the wise--don't miss out. Grab your seats as soon as they go on sale. The operas chosen are from the standard repertory and always suitable for introducing your friends to the wonders of opera.

(c) meche kroop

Monday, November 13, 2017

WAGNER LEIT by NEW AMSTERDAM OPERA

Terina Westmeyer, Maestro Keith Chambers, Maestro Thomas Bagwell, Janara Kellerman, Hyona Kim, Megan Nielson, Kirsten Chambers, Thomas Hall, Melissa Citro, Heather Green, Tyler Smith and Errin Brooks

A late afternoon of Wagner on a cool Autumn afternoon seemed like a great idea and drew us up to Riverside Theater, the comfortable venue within Riverside Church where New Amsterdam Opera makes its home. But we can't help recalling that Wagner's own concept was that of "gesamtkunstwerk"--a work bringing together all the arts, aural and visual.

Planning a few arias in concert version gave us an opportunity to hear some new singers and to hear some others with whom we are acquainted and who are now essaying the Wagnerian repertory, with some interesting results. But we missed the staging, the costumes, the drama, and the sets. That most of the singers were on the book made attempts at acting look just plain silly. Supposed lovers rarely made eye contact!

At this point, let us give props to dramatic soprano Terina Westmeyer who sang Brunnhilde in "Wotan's Farewell" with dramatic baritone Thomas Hall as her father. The two sang without music stands for which we were grateful. We have favorably reviewed Ms. Westmeyer as Lady Billows in Britten's Albert Herring at the Bronx Opera and as La Badessa in Puccini's Suor Angelica. Three years ago we loved her singing of Verdi.

But we have not been present for her Wagner and we were delighted with the power of her voice and the tonal beauty. We see a lot of Wagner in her future and hope to hear more of it. Mr. Hall did not sound beautiful but he followed this scene with Siegfried's confrontation with Erda in which he sounded far better. Perhaps he just needed to warm up.

Erda was sung by mezzo-soprano Hyona Kim, whose dark chocolate sound was excellent for the role.  Ms. Kim first appeared on our radar screen four years ago when she won the Joy of Singing Award. Indeed, she is a superlative lieder recitalist who has been making inroads into the operatic repertory. She is such a fine actress that she dissolves into the part, as she did when she sang Suzuki in Puccini's Madama Butterfly with Martina Arroyo's Prelude to Performance and Wokli in his Fanciulla del West with New York City Opera.

We are also familiar with the work of mezzo-soprano Janara Kellerman whom we enjoyed greatly in the role of Preziosilla with New Amsterdam Opera's recent production of Verdi's Forza del Destino. Her plush sound was enjoyed and noted in the role of Mamma Lucia in Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana with Martha Cardona Opera and Santuzza with New Amsterdam Opera. It was a thrill to hear her expand her repertory into Wagnerian territory.

Soprano Megan Nielson has delighted us as Tatiana in Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin with Utopia Opera and as Nedda in Opera Ithaca's production of Leoncavallo's Pagliacci. We also remember her performance as the eponymous Suor Angelica presented by Chelsea Opera. Yesterday, she showed a lot of promise in Wagnerian territory singing Elsa in a scene from Lohengrin, with Ms. Kellerman adding some interesting texture as the conniving Ortrud and Mr. Hall as fellow conniver Telramund.

Tenor Errin Brooks seems to have gotten his huge instrument under better control and did well as the rejected Erik with soprano Heather Green as Senta in a scene from Der fliegende Hollander.

New to us is tenor Tyler Smith whose sizable instrument was colored with tenderness in the "Liebesnacht" from Tristan und Isolde with the beautiful soprano Kristin Chambers as his scene partner. We liked the way he modulated, successfully employing dynamic variety.  We have enjoyed Ms. Chambers more in other roles such as Fidelio. Ms. Kellerman lent gravity to the situation as Brangäne.

Mr. Smith appeared once again in the final scene of the program in which he has awakened the sleeping Brünnhilde, sung by soprano Melissa Citro.

We found no fault with the German. Alles klar!

Accompanists for the evening were beyond superb. Both Maestri Keith Chambers and Thomas Bagwell elicited most of Wagner's orchestral magic on the piano. Often, when the singers fail to connect with us (usually due to flipping pages on the music stand) our attention shifted to the piano and we heard things in the score that we might have missed.

A highlight of the evening was the presentation of New Amsterdam Opera's first Pathfinder Award to Maestra Eve Queler who broke the glass ceiling for female conductors. Ms. Queler is a girl after our own heart, and we are calling her a girl because she has never lost that youthful quality that we so admire.

We have so many memories of hiking up to the highest level of Carnegie Hall, where the sound is best, to be introduced to rarely performed and forgotten operas and new singers--right up until last year's production of Donizetti's Parisina d'Este. Ms. Queler founded Opera Orchestra of New York in 1971 when there were no female conductors. Brava Eve!

She has plenty of European fame that we haven't experienced but we tend to personalize things and the above describes our Eve Queler. Just one more note of interest is that she has shared all of her scores with New Amsterdam Opera. Dare we hope that we will hear repeats of these rarely produced operas?  Let us hope!

(c) meche kroop


Thursday, November 9, 2017

OPERA INDEX WINNERS

Michael Fennelly, Leo Radosavljevic, Emily Pogorelc, Jane Shaulis, Andres Benavides Cascante, and Jaeman Yoon

Last night was the Opera Index annual membership party which consisted of some exciting entertainment and a buffet supplied by the members, who, we might add, are all given to l'abbondanza. We love great food to go along with great singing.

And great singing was definitely on the menu. Five splendid singers entertained us royally in between les hors d'oeuvres and le grand buffet.

Soprano Hayan Kim performed first since she was on her way to an audition. With a crystalline soprano at her disposal she performed "Je veux vivre" from Charles Gounod's Roméo et Juliette. We were impressed by her ability to engage the audience with her charming stage presence and involvement with the text. She conveyed all the youthful passion required by the role. A fine vibrato ensured that the molecules of air danced around the hall.

Gounod was not the only composer to have tackled Shakespeare's tale of young love. Vincenzo Bellini took a different tack and we were fortunate to hear soprano Emily Pogorelc sing "O quante volte" from I Capuleti e i Montecchi. This aria comes along later in the plot when Juliette has already fallen for Romeo and we had the impression that Ms. Pogorelc knew exactly what she was singing and sang it in beautiful bel canto style.  We liked her phrasing of Bellini's long lines and use of dynamic variation.  And we loved the way pianist Michael Fennelly played Bellini's arpeggi.

Bass-baritone Leo Radosavljevic employed perfect French in his performance of "Riez Allez" from Jules Massenet's Don Quichotte. In this aria Sancho Panza is scolding the people who made fun of his master Don Q. We particularly enjoyed the texture of Mr. Radosavljevic's instrument and his expansive delivery.

Baritone Andres Benavides Cascante evinced a great deal of vocal flexibility in his portrayal of Count Almaviva in "Hai gia vinta la causa" from Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro. The poor Count is clueless and covers it up by being indignant.  All this was conveyed to the audience because Mr. Cascante knew the text and knew it well. 

Baritone Jaeman Yoon wowed the audience with his big round sound and pleasing vibrato as he performed an emotionally intense "Nemico della patria",  Gerard's aria from Umberto Giordano's verismo opera Andrea Chénier.

Three of the artists graciously provided encores of a lighter nature. Ms. Pogorelc performed "Kiss Me Again" from Victor Herbert's comic operetta Mademoiselle Modiste. This is a lovely tuneful song which Ms. Pogorelc graced with some divine portamenti.

Mr. Radosavljevic performed William Bolcom's "Black Max" (our all time favorite Bolcom song). Not since we heard cabaret artist Kim Smith's interpretation have we truly enjoyed this song which requires an enormous amount of dramatic interpretation. We were very impressed by Mr. Radosavljevic's ability to paint a picture with his voice.

And finally, Mr. Cascante sang "Mi Aldea" the opening aria of Jacinto Guerreros' zarzuela Los Gavilanes.  In this opening scene, Juan returns to his village from a long sojourn in Peru. The delivery was delightful and readers may recall how greatly we treasure zarzuelas.

This year Opera Index has awarded $55,000. to 16 singers.  Judging by tonight's sampling, the judges of the competition did a great job winnowing from a large field of applicants. There will be a gala on January 21, 2018, at which we will hear more of the winners.

Opera lovers who have not yet joined Opera Index are encouraged to do so at the modest membership cost of $45. There will be many opportunities to meet fellow opera lovers and help young singers. The list of winners from bygone years is astounding and includes so many of the greatest names in opera.

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

NYFOS does BERNSTEIN

Justin Austin, Miles Mykkanen, Annie Rosen, Steven Blier, Michael Barrett, Chelsea Shepherd, Lucia Bradford, and Adrian Rosas

A fortuitous confluence of anniversaries led to a special evening with New York Festival of Song. Of course, every evening with Steve Blier and friends is special, but the fact that NYFOS is celebrating their 30th anniversary and it is also the centenary of Leonard Bernstein's birth, ensured an evening that was even more special.

We took advantage of the opportunity to assess Bernstein's contributions to the vocal canon, unenlightened as we are, and unburdened by Mr. Blier's worshipful adoration or Mr. Barrett's close association as assistant conductor to the maestro. Our opinions are our own and completely based on our own personal taste.

The first half of the program delighted us no end. It comprised mainly Broadway type material which seems to us a truly American art form and a far worthier contributor to song literature than the so-called art songs that we heard in the second half of the program.

It occurs to us that the contributions of a good lyricist who knows how to manipulate the English language is a better stimulation to a composer than poetry which doesn't ask to be set to music. Take for example Bernstein's West Side Story, for which Stephen Sondheim wrote the lyrics. We have no idea which came first, the lyrics or the music, but the pairing is perfect.

We were fortunate to have heard three exceptional excerpts from the score. Tenor Miles Mykkanen, whose star is on the rise, gave a dramatically expressive and vocally stunning performance of "Something's Coming". We just heard him sing the role of Tony a week ago with Heartbeat Opera (review archived) and we would say he owns the role and puts his unique stamp on it.

Soprano Chelsea Shephard was joined by mezzo-soprano Annie Rosen for "A Boy Like That/ I Have a Love" and the two female voices sounded terrific.  All that was needed was a little sazon to take it to the next level.

The quintet was powerful and was amplified by the two percussionists on hand for the evening--Barry Centanni and Taylor Goodson.

In a very close tie with West Side Story for our favorite Bernstein musical is Candide.  Truth to tell, we always think of these two as operas but the designation could be debated. We are inclined to call something an opera if we love it! We have seen Candide on Broadway and in opera houses and we don't care where we see it or what it is called.  We just love everything about it--the characters, the humor, the music, the witty lyrics (many lyricists were involved) and Bernstein's gorgeous music.

"You Were Dead, You Know" is a character-revealing duet and the performances by Ms. Shephard as the worldly wise Cunegonde and Mr. Mykkanen as the eponymous innocent Candide were nothing short of spectacular.

We would have been happy to spend the rest of the evening with more songs from those two works but we also heard "The Story of My Life" from the 1953  Wonderful Town for which Comden and Green wrote the lyrics. Poor intellectual and unloved Ruth was portrayed by the artistic and lovable Ms. Rosen as a character study of a disappointed woman.

From On the Town, a musical derived from a Jerome Robbins ballet, we heard a song that was cut from the show--"Ain't Got No Tears Left" performed with deep feeling for the blues by mezzo-soprano Lucia Bradford (in her NYFOS debut) who knows how to bend a note. There was a major assist from the percussionists.

In his later years, Bernstein wrote a show that failed, in spite of a libretto by Alan J. Lerner. Several worthy songs from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue survived, of which our favorite was "We Must Have a Ball" in which President James Buchanan aims to distract the populace from the truly awful condition of our nation by throwing a ball.  (Plus ca change, etc.).  Bass-baritone Adrian Rosas was perfectly cast as POTUS and effectively employed his generous instrument and astute dramatic sense.

From the same show, silky-voiced baritone Justin Austin sang "Seena", the tale of a childhood friendship becoming an adult romance. We enjoyed his delicate messa di voce.

Mr. Mykkanen turned grave for "Take Care of This House" and his voice soared like an eagle in the upper register.

"Prelude/Love Duet" from Arias and Barcarolles was sung by Mr. Austin and Ms. Rosen.  We found the overlapping dialogue just plain confusing and impossible to follow.

The second half of the program was devoted to Bernstein's 1977 Songfest, which was originally commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra for the bicentennial celebration in 1976.  It was not completed in time but had a successful premiere a year later at the Kennedy Center.

We can admire the project to include a dozen American voices and to express each in a different musical style, but the work was, with a couple exceptions,  not to our taste, although we did appreciate some fine performances. John Musto reduced the score for two pianos and two percussionists.

Mr. Austin's relaxed manner was perfect for "The Pennycandystore Beyond the El" with text by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. It was just another case of a text we might enjoy reading but to which the music added nothing.

There were two songs that we did enjoy and would want to hear again--both with texts by women. In "A Julia de Burgos" there was a great advantage by way of the Spanish text which falls far more gently on the ear than English. Ms. Shephard sang it beautifully, contrasting two manifestations of womanhood.

The second one we related to was a real discovery for us. Anne Bradstreet was the first published female American composer--even before there was a USA!  Dating back to 17th c. colonial America, she wrote a text in praise of her husband and set it to lovely tuneful music. Perhaps we enjoyed it so much because the text rhymes and scans. All three women sang together in overlapping voices and we found the aural overtones just thrilling.

The overlapping voices in "I Too Sing America/Okay Negroes" did not thrill because two different texts were being sung at once. We liked Langston Hughes text which was finely sung by Mr. Austin with a depth of feeling. But the angry text by June Jordan from a later period of the 20th c. did not appeal, although Ms. Bradford sang it well.

Mr. Mykkanen can make anything sound meaningful, even Gregory Corso's "Zizi's Lament" for which the setting was pleasingly exotic.

There was an encore which we could not identify which involved the entire wonderful cast humming.  Hmmmmmmm!

(c) meche kroop



Sunday, November 5, 2017

OUR VOTE COUNTED!!!

Nick Miller, Louis Riva, Elizabeth Treat, William Remmers, Caroline Tye, and Roman Laba

Our political votes may not count but our votes for upcoming seasons' performances at Utopia Opera definitely do.  Last year we voted for Friedrich von Flotow's Martha because we never had a chance to see it live. Apparently other fans of Utopia Opera shared my wish and we got to hear and see it last night in Lang Recital Hall at Hunter College. What other opera company allows its fans to determine its season!

We were not disappointed.  As a matter of fact, we were smiling for a couple of hours and danced our way home, our head filled with delicious melodies.  Although the music began as a ballet, von Flotow set this 1847 opera to a German text by Friedrich Wilhelm Reise. The style of it seemed to us more French than German and the setting is in England in the 18th c. We wonder whether there was not a German aristocracy at which to poke fun!

Conductor/Director William Remmers has updated the action to mid-20th c. with nothing lost and perhaps the advantage of getting his cast dressed in period signifiers, like ballet flats, rolled up jeans, and poodle skirts. The story concerns two female British aristocrats who find their lives boring. (Props to anyone who despises empty pursuits and meaningless wealth). 

Lady Harriet (winning sung by soprano Elizabeth Treat about whom we are tempted to make a pun) is courted by the pompous Sir Tristan, effectively performed by Roman Laba. Harriet and her friend Nancy (the superb mezzo-soprano Caroline Tye) are amused and envious of the carefree young women who are going to the Market at Richmond to get hired as farm workers.  They decide to dress as "commoners" and pull a prank.

They get themselves hired to work on the farm of Plunkett (the captivating Nick Miller) and his adopted brother Lyonel (the silken voiced tenor Louis Riva); the prank backfires when they realize that they are contracted for a year and this will be enforced by the Sheriff of Richmond (the convincing Brian J. Alvarado).

The scene in which the two women are shocked that they are expected to work is hilarious.  Just hear the way Ms. Tye rolls the "r" in "arbeit"! They need to be rescued by Sir Tristan--but not before the two women have a chance to bond with the two farmers.  The working out of this romantic foursome is always entertaining and we will not spoil it for you by telling you the ending.

But...on the way to the happy ending, we heard gorgeous duets by the two women and by the two men, a charming trio, a beautiful conciliatory quartet "Schlafe wohl! Und mag Dich reuen", a drinking song for the male chorus "Lasst mich euch fragen", the interpolated Irish folk song "Letzte rose" by Thomas Moore, and the memorable tenor aria "Ach! so fromm! Ach! so traut".

Not only were the five leads excellent but there was splendid support from both male and female choruses, who portrayed farmers and courtiers and hired hands. Andrew Jurden stood out as a page and as a farmer. The female hired hands formed an effective ensemble with lots of clever rhymes based upon their names.

The a propos wardrobe was credited to Eric Lamp (also the Second Page) and Angel Betancourt. Mr. Remmers conducted and managed to pull together the orchestra in which there were some unruly winds. Lochlan Brown did his customarily fine work on the keyboard.

We have no idea why this enchanting comedy has fallen out of the repertory but it's a piece that merits production and we are overjoyed to have seen it staged. Worth noting is that it was translated into Italian and Enrico Caruso performed it many times. The key tenor aria in Italian was "M'appari, tutt'amor" and we are quite sure we have heard it sung on its own.

(c) meche kroop





Saturday, November 4, 2017

VIVA LA FRANCE

Stanichka Dimitrova, Tami Petty, Michael Brofman, Spencer Myer, Mario Diaz-Moresco, Paul La Rosa, Timothy Fallon, Adrian Daurov, Chieh-Fan Yiu, and Yezu Elizabeth Woo

Last night's entry in Brooklyn Art Song Society's French season held a number of surprises. The first surprise was that we actually enjoyed the pre-concert lecture in which composer Daniel Felsenfeld held our attention by actually speaking, not reading a paper. He assured us that he would not merely recapitulate the program notes (which were excellent on their own terms, as written by Founder and Artistic Director Michael Brofman).

He lived up to his promise and prepared the audience for the concert by demonstrating the famed "Tristan chord" and how it does not resolve for four hours more or less! He spoke extemporaneously about Wagner's effect on French music and about the importance of text in the French chanson. He clearly loves poetry and infected us with his enthusiasm. He pointed out that in the time of Chausson and Duparc, poets were lauded, not ignored. He emphasized the importance of what we would call word coloration.

The program to follow surprised us also. We are accustomed to hearing French chanson performed rather quietly with long even lyrical lines and very little drama.  At times, it has seemed almost effete with variety coming solely through word coloration. Last night's performances were uniformly highly dramatic. This is not meant as criticism. This opera lover adores drama! We have never insisted on stylistic purity.

The program featured works by Ernest Chausson and Henri Duparc, united by generation, friendship, and their absorption of the influence of Richard Wagner. Their oeuvres are limited but their influence on French music was great. The piano writing is always dense and complex.

The program opened with a half dozen songs, some familiar, some not so. Tenor Timothy Fallon began with the oft performed "L'Invitation au Voyage" by Duparc which he sang with warm ringing tone and fine phrasing. We liked the timbre of his voice and the variations of dynamics. The song is sensual (Of course! The text is by Baudelaire.) giving Mr. Fallon multiple opportunities for word coloring. Spencer Myer's piano articulated the lovely arpeggi we so love. There were more arpeggi, this time descending ones, in the gorgeous Nocturne by Chausson.

Baritone Mario Diaz-Moresco has a lovely warm tone as well and seems to alternatively feel the music within and convey the text without.  He was particularly expressive in Duparc's "Sérénade". Later in the program we loved his performance of Duparc's "Sérénade florentine" in which his tenderness was perfectly matched by Mr. Myer. Similarly we felt that same tenderness in the famous "Phidylé", of which we never tire.

We are coming to enjoy chamber music with voice more and more these days and are learning to appreciate the voice as a member of a group--another instrument, so to speak. The excellent PhiloSonia String Quartet was on hand, joining soprano Tami Petty for a performance of the very sad "Chanson Perpetuelle" of Chausson. The sound of her voice merged with the voices of the instrumentalists.

The group comprises violinists Stanichka Dimitrova (a most musical name which we have been saying out loud all night) and Yezu Elizabeth Woo, violist Chieh-Fan Yiu, and cellist Adrian Daurov. This highly dramatic work is no less than an operatic aria in which a woman, bereft of her lover, contemplates her suicide.

We understand that in chamber music, it is acceptable for the singer to use a score but we were happy to hear Ms. Petty sing two songs by Duparc, accompanied only by Mr. Myer's excellent piano. Duparc's setting of the Mignon story, "Romance de Mignon",  is radically different from that of the many Germans who set the story of the girl stolen by gypsies and encountered by Wilhelm Meister in the tale by Goethe. 

She also performed another lament by a bereft young woman "Au pays où se fait la guerre", this one by Duparc. We wonder whether the two composers were competing to express the way a woman feels!

There was one more singer on the program whose performance irritated us more than delighted us. Baritone Paul La Rosa has a dark voice that would perhaps be better suited to some of Schubert's lieder, "Der Atlas" for example. The bio in the program notes informed us of some light hearted roles in his repertory and that he has a reputation for comic flair.

We would want to see and hear that before making up our mind but he seemed singularly unsuited to this repertory. His stage presence seemed self-serving rather than in service to the music, with distracting posturing. Heavy handed dramatics could have been reduced by 95% to good effect.

Furthermore, his connection was to his music stand, not to the audience. To watch him trying to act while turning pages and looking down was so painful that we gave up listening and focused our attention on Mr. Brofman's lovely piano. The delicate sadness of Chausson's "Le temps des lilas" came through in the piano, if not the voice.

Mr. Brofman's piano thoroughly limned the rolling waves of Duparc's "La vague et la cloche", the text of which is a frightening nightmare. The program ended with another Baudelaire text set by Duparc, "La vie antérieure", which is filled with erotic longing--heard in the piano but not in the voice.

Mr. Brofman has developed a large and enthusiastic audience for art song and no one else seemed to mind what bothered us and our musically knowledgeable companion.  The applause was generous. Just sayin'.



(c) meche kroop


Friday, November 3, 2017

CLASSIC LYRIC ARTS GALA

Classsic Lyric Arts Gala at The Kosciuszko Foundation

We believe in evidence.  Last night's recital at the Kosciuszko Foundation featured an incredibly talented and beautiful group of young artists who attended L'Art du Chant Francais and/or La Lingua della Lirica last summer in France and Italy respectively. The evidence for the success of the programs can be found in the superlative performances we witnessed. Every single artist revealed splendid diction and a feeling for the style inherent in the language.

This is not magic but the result of hard work under the tutelage of masters and total immersion in the culture and its traditions. The French program accepts ten singers each year and provides tutelage under principal coach Michele Sénéchal who emphasizes the music inherent in the text.

The Italian program accept twice as many students and instructs them in the bel canto tradition. The principal coach in Italy is Ubaldo Fabbri. We are not mentioning any names but we recently heard a rather well known singer perform in Italian with final vowels that were just wrong.  "A"s become "o"s and vice versa.  No graduate of La Lingua della Lirica would make that mistake!

The nurturing environment permits these young artists to take risks and try new roles.  And that is how an artist can make a major leap forward and gain confidence.

Every singer was excellent and the choices on the program were a mixture of the usual and the unusual.  Many of the selections featured large ensembles, the success of which was probably related to the group having spent so much time together--studying, eating,  playing, and performing for the appreciative locals.

After a warm welcome from Glenn Morton, President and Artistic Director, the program opened with a scene from Rossini's La Cenerentola sung in perfect Italian and accompanied by Mina Kim. Closing the program was the final scene from Verdi's Falstaff, a ten-part fugue skillfully conducted by Ms. Kim with Sophia Zhou at the piano.

Another fine ensemble piece was the sextet "Chi mi frena in tal momento" from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, for which Cherie Roe provided the piano accompaniment.

Special guest star was baritone Jared Bybee about whom we have been writing since we began writing. We love watching young artists grow and, no doubt, Mr. Bybee's earlier participation in CLA has added to his lustre. We enjoyed him as an Apprentice Singer in Santa Fe and witnessed his performances in award recitals from all the major foundations.  Last night he performed "Largo al factotum" from Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia. He sang with full rich Italianate tone and gave Figaro a lively winning personality. Hsini Huang was his accompanist.

We will not be able to give all the singers the credit they deserve but would like to point out a few performances that stood out.  Tenor Zachary Goldman and baritone Fernando Cisneros harmonized beautifully in "O Mimi tu piu non torni" from Puccini's La Boheme. Mr. Goldman is notable for a lovely unforced sound and Mr. Cisneros seemed to appear in many scenes, singing with full round tone,  a winning stage presence and the ability to inhabit a role, even a Falstaff.

Soprano Yvette Keong and tenor Ryan Hurley put a lot of tenderness into their performance of "Tornami a dir che m'ami" from Donizetti's Don Pasquale.

Moving on to the French part of the program, we were delighted to hear "Va, je t'ai pardoné" from Gounod's Roméo et Juliette sung by the stunning soprano Larisa Martinez, about whom we have often written, and tenor Vincent Festa who sang Romeo with his ringing tenor and ardent involvement. We have heard him several times over the past 3 years and always enjoy his performances. Ms. Martinez made a winsome Juliet and both employed fine French diction. The air was literally ringing with overtones.

We didn't know that Reynaldo Hahn wrote an operetta and were tickled to hear "Nous avons fait un beau voyage" from Ciboulette which was based on the same Murger stories which inspired La Bohème. William Guanbo Su, who impressed us at his graduation recital and several performances which maximized the lower end of his register, surprised us with his facility at the upper end of his register; soprano Ashley Lea made a splendid partner in this cream puff of a duet.

Another operetta unknown to us was Ganne's Les Saltimbanques.  "C'est l'amour" featured Angela Candela and Mitchell Kasprzyk with Fabio Bezuti at the piano. Ms. Candela gave us yet another opportunity to appreciate her fine French in "Nocturne à deux voix" from Chabrier's Le roi malgré lui, performed in happy harmony with Amanda Nelson.

From Massenet's Cendrillon, we heard soprano Blair Cagney and mezzo-soprano Daniela Magura as the happily reunited couple in "Vous êtes mon prince charmant". Ms. Magura also had another opportunity to show off her fine French in "Nuit paisible et sereine" from Berlioz' Béatrice et Bénédicte. In our opinion, this gorgeous duet rivals "The Flower Duet" from Delibes' Lakmé and we hope to hear it again soon. 

So many fine singers have come out of this excellent program! We predict glorious futures for these young artists if they take what they've learned and use it well.  Great teachers present students with opportunities. Great students take what they need and incorporate it.

(c) meche kroop


Thursday, November 2, 2017

MOSTLY SCHUBERT

Henry Meyer-Oertel, Ulrich Roman Murtfeld, Phillip Solomon, Katherina Hagopian, and Babette Hierholzer in German Forum concert

Last night's German Forum evening comprised mostly works by Franz Schubert, at the request of outgoing president Henry Meyer-Oertel who has served so very well and deserved the standing ovation and honorary plaque several times over. 

The German Forum continues to do extremely well in fulfilling their mission--that of providing performance opportunities here in New York City for young artists from the German-speaking world. We have been introduced to a number of outstanding performers whose careers we continue to follow. To be chosen by the German Forum is a great honor and can initiate a pathway to success here in New York City.

For us, the highlight of the evening was a work we always love and always wish to hear more of--"Der Hirt auf dem Felsen". This piece of chamber music paints a vivid picture of a young shepherd in the Alps who is consumed by loneliness and longing for his sweetheart.  Schubert composed the work in 1828, toward the end of his tragically short life.

It was most likely composed upon request by a soprano friend of his who wanted a showpiece. Schubert made good use of text by Wilhelm Muller who also provided text for Schubert's two beloved song cycles, "Winterreise" and "Die Schone Mullerin". The parallels between Schubert's life and that of Muller is interesting in that both lived at the same time and both tragically died young.

The work opens with a gorgeous theme in the clarinet, here played with maximum artistry by Phillip Solomon, an undergraduate at Juilliard. The theme bounces between clarinet and soprano; they echo one another reflecting the text in which the shepherd has only his own echo for company.

The soprano we heard was the lovely Katherina Hagopian who has studied in both Germany and the USA, notably at Mannes College.  (She has made quite a name for herself internationally, but we first became acquainted with her work three years ago when she sang the role of Alcina.)  The work offered many opportunities to show off her artistry of phrasing and expression of moods. The vocal part reminded us of yodeling with its difficult wide skips, all of which Ms. Hagopian negotiated successfully.

The central section, the darkest, was set to text by Karl August Varnhagen von Ense. Fortunately, the final section ends cheerily by announcing the coming of Spring when perhaps the young man will be able to reunite with his beloved.

The gorgeous melodies in the voice and clarinet were laid over a background of arpeggiated chords in the piano which reminded us of Schubert's Standchen D.889 which was composed 2 years earlier. German Forum Artistic Director Babette Hierholzer performed it beautifully.

She also was the collaborative pianist for three songs by Schubert sung by Ms. Hagopian. By way of introduction we learned that Robert Schumann idolized Schubert with great eloquence, saying that Schubert wrote a diary with music instead of words.

In "Gretchen am Spinnrade" Ms. Hagopian expressed all of the romantic fantasies haunting the heroine of Goethe's Faust, showing her delusional side to great effect. Meanwhile, it was up to Ms. Hierholzer to convey the obsessive turning of the spinning wheel.

"Der Zwerg" is just too gruesome for our taste but we always love Schubert's "Ave Maria" although we would have preferred it sung off the book. We speculated that Ms. Hagopian might have had a problem with the Latin; otherwise we can find no excuse. Schubert loved his arpeggi and so do we, especially when played as sensitively as Ms. Hierholzer did!

Guest pianist Ulrich Roman Murtfeld opened the program with Schubert's "Impromptu in F Minor" which has a wealth of melodic material. We particularly enjoyed the lyrical second theme. In the third theme it sounded as if the left hand and the right were having a conversation.

The closing piece on the program was Schubert's "Fantasie in F Minor"--Schubert did seem to have an affinity for that key. This is a work for piano four hands and Ms. Hierholzer played the treble part with Mr. Murtfeld playing the bass part. The first theme was haunting and the work became increasingly dense in texture.  The return of the first theme was as welcome to us as the coming of Spring was to the shepherd in "Das Hirt auf dem Felsen".  Of course, Schubert being Schubert, the theme was reworked but always recognizable and satisfying.

The non-Schubert pieces played by Mr. Murtfeld including some charming short pieces by Edward MacDowell, a 19th c. American composer who studied in Germany. Two excerpts from his Woodland Sketches (new to us but now well liked) included "To a Wild Rose" and the peacefully floating "To a Water Lily". His "Moto Perpetuo" from Twelve Virtuoso Studies was a piece to keep the fingers busy!

We remember Louis Moreau Gottschalk from the music used for several ballets performed by The Joffrey Ballet.  Last night, Mr. Murtfeld played "The Banjo", also called "Fantaisie Grotesque". We found nothing grotesque about it but it surely did sound like the picking of a banjo.

It was an altogether delightful program. The evening was capped by the presentation of a plaque to President Henry Meyer-Oertel, acknowledging his long and devoted service to the German Forum. Under his leadership, 70 events have been presented and a couple hundred artists introduced. He will be dearly missed but the German Forum will continue under new leadership and we will continue to attend these wonderful programs.

(c) meche kroop









Wednesday, November 1, 2017

ALL THE WORLD'S A DRAG!

Miles Mykkanen, Lauren Worsham, Ato Blankson-Wood, Joshua Jeremiah, Sichel Claverie, John Taylor Ward, and Stephanie Hayes onstage at National Sawdust

An ABFAB night like last night can only happen when people of extraordinary talent and imagination pool their resources. Heartbeat Opera, enjoying (and they seem to enjoy themselves as much as the audience) their fourth season, put on a show like no other in celebration of Halloween. We love Halloween because we get to dress up and release our inner spirits.

Last night's festivities allowed those who love opera and those who love Shakespeare and those who love the performers (we can put ourself in all three categories) to gather under one roof and celebrate the arts. If only one aria from each and every opera based on a Shakespeare play had been on the program, we would have been there all night--and never complained. If there was one "flaw" in the evening it was that it was too short. We just couldn't get enough.

Just imagine the splendiferous voices delighting the ear whilst dazzling visuals filled the eye! Anyone who remembers Ira Siff's Gran Scena Opera Company will recall fondly how much fun it can be to send up opera. Last night's production fell into that niche of burlesque.

A script by Co-Artistic Director Ethan Heard, Peregrine Heard, and Sara Holdren was spoken by Ms. Heard and contained multiple plays on the words of The Bard. The Bard himself was portrayed by Stephanie Hayes who rocked a golden Elizabethan costume complete with gloves and pumps. 

Shakespeare's comedies involved much cross-dressing and the performances themselves involved young men playing the parts of women. So seeing Shakespeare portrayed by a beautiful young woman, complete with beard and moustache, seemed absolutely on target.

The band, comprising keyboard wizard Daniel Schlosberg and violinist Jacob Ashworth (Co-Music Directors) with clarinettist Gleb Kanasevich and bassist Sam Suggs, opened the program with some instrumental music. Mr. Schlosberg himself arranged the music for this interesting combination of musicians.

Every aria was delivered with excellent vocal technique but an off-kilter style. Soprano Lauren Worsham made a not-so-innocent Juliet, singing "Je veux vivre" from Gounod's Romeo et Juliette. And later, made a down-right slutty Maria from Bernstein's West Side Story, singing the duet "Tonight" with terrific tenor Miles Mykkanen as her Tony. Mr. Mykkanen was resplendent in fuschia, entering on point (yes he has a dance background but has yet to join Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo).

Baritone Joshua Jeremiah sang a chilling rendition of Iago's "Credo" from Verdi's Otello. Mezzo-soprano Sishel Claverie was just as chilling as Lady Macbeth in the "Sleepwalking Scene" from Verdi's Macbeth. 

Much of the humor derived from the onstage Shakespeare who knew nothing of Brooklyn or Broadway or opera. When he innocently and unwittingly uttered the name of his play Macbeth the stage was filled with menacing projections; it was a moment the audience loved. Another funny moment was the "Exit, pursued by bear" being given a literal manifestation.

From Britten's Midsummer Night's Dream, "Bottom's Dream" was sung by John Taylor Ward in stunning drag, lending new emphasis to "bottom".

Queen Elizabeth herself made a stunning entrance, resplendently gowned and ruffed, in the person of Ato Blankson-Wood. 

It's been a long time since we heard Galt MacDermot's Hair in which he set "What a Piece of Work is Man" from Hamlet.  We also heard something from Purcell's "Faerie Queen". And did we mention the serial lip-synching?

The evening closed with a group sing of Cole Porter's "Brush Up Your Shakespeare" and a very raunchy rendition it was with every double entendre made clear!

Let us give props to some of the other people who contributed so grandly to the success of the show. First there is Co-Artistic Director Louisa Proske who will direct Mozart's Don Giovanni for the Spring Festival next May at the Baruch Performing Arts Center.  This is sure to be revolutionary!

The gorgeous costumes for tonight were designed by Seth Bodie. Choreography was by Emma Jaster. Rachel Padula was responsible for the eye-catching hair and makeup design. Joey Moro lit the show effectively and projection design was by Nicholas Hussong. Great production values like these enhanced the onstage talent.

It was all in fun. A carousel of photos has been placed on our Facebook page--Voce di Meche, since our words cannot convey fully the many delights of the evening.

(c) meche kroop