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, December 31, 2017


Scrooge and Gilbert & Sullivan by Amore Opera at the Riverside Theater

We think of creativity as the ability to take things that are known and to combine them in a new way to produce something novel. That concept can be applied accurately to the work of art created by Nathan Hull, Artistic Director of Amore Opera.

The multi-talented Mr. Hull has directed his own creation for the first time and directed it with his customary skill and inventiveness. We are surprised that we never heard of this production before but New York Village Light Opera presented it a decade ago and it has been performed around the country many times since then.

Judging by the quality of the work, Mr. Hull must have labored long and diligently, adapting Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" for the stage and curating over 20 songs from 11 operettas by Gilbert and Sullivan. The greatest part of the task would seem to have been writing the lyrics for Sullivan's music, retaining the wittiness, the meter, and the rhyme scheme established by Gilbert. Clearly the selections had to be chosen to fit the characters singing them and to advance the drama of the scene. We consider the work a complete success.

The work opened with the fine chorus singing "Christmas Season", an adaptation of "Welcome, Gentry" from Ruddigore. This bustling joyful scene set the stage for Scrooge's negativity. The closing number was borrowed from The Gondoliers-- "Now Let the Loyal Lieges" and utilized Gilbert's own lyrics.

In between we enjoyed some excellent voices illuminating the dramatic arc of the enlightenment of a very unpleasant man, the selfish and miserly Scrooge, effectively enacted by Ray Calderon. Who doesn't enjoy seeing the transformation of the wicked into the lovable!

The transformation is effected by the ghost of Scrooge's deceased partner Jacob Morley (scarily portrayed by Stuart Whalen). He introduces Scrooge to three spirits who guide him through this transformation.

The Ghost of Christmas Past was portrayed by Alexa Rosenberg, a wraith in a white gown who danced through her role. The Ghost of Christmas Present was superbly sung by Alexis Cregger whose "Come in and Know Me Better" was a fine iteration of  "Pirate King" from The Pirates of Penzance. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come was performed by Michelle Thompson in scary long black gown.

There was so much delight in the evening that it is difficult to pick out special moments but we will make an effort. There was a lovely duet between the young Ebenezer (tenor Charles Calotta) and Belle (soprano Elise Mark), the woman he lost because of his materialism. There was a sprightly dance by Fezziwig, Tom, Dick, and Harry (Benjamin Spierman, Thomas Geib, James Stephen Longo, and Jaden Lux) trying to loosen up young Ebenezer--"Soon as We May" adapted from Iolanthe's  "If You Go In".

The Cratchit children sang "We Won't Eat Just Any Old Thing" adapted from  "The Flowers That Bloom in the Spring" from The Mikado; note the scanning similarities!  The young Max Leventon made a fine Tiny Tim and sang "Were I to Walk" adapted from "Were I Thy Bride" from The Yeomen of the Guard.

Do you remember the very funny "A Paradox" from The Pirates of Penzance? Here it was sung by Scrooge's nephew Fred (Daniel Kerr), his wife Celeste (Rachel Hippert) and their dinner guests Julia (Elizabeth Mirandi) and Topper (Mr. Longo). The four had terrific chemistry together.

Do you remember "Things are Seldom What They Seem" from H.M.S. Pinafore? Here it was sung by a cockney-accented pair (Maria Marbet and Richard Agster) trading old Scrooge's belongings after his (future) death.

Colm Fitzmaurice made a sympathetic Bob Cratchit with Perri Sussman doing her usual fine work as his wife and mother of their six children.

This might be a good time to mention how successful Mr. Hull is at getting children onstage in every production and to also mention that he is auditioning children for an all-children production of The Pirates of Penzance.

Aside from the fine direction, we enjoyed the effective sets which were provided by The Village Light Opera, and based upon David Jones' original design. Cynthia Psoras designed the excellent costumes and also sang as a woman begging Scrooge for charity, along with Arina Ayzen. Hannah Spierman appeared as Mrs. Fezziwig.

James Stenborg was credited for the orchestral arrangement which comprised a solitary violin and eight winds, plus piano and percussion, an unusual grouping which worked well.

There was only one flaw in the production and that was the English diction. The lyrics (when we could understand them) were extraordinarily clever and missing so much was disappointing to say the least. Some of the performers were consistently comprehensible, among them Mr. Spierman, Mr. Whalen, Mr. Kerr, and the young Mr. Leventon. Also, the men's group who sang "Soon as We May" were perfectly understandable. 

So, English can be well sung but perhaps we need coaches to ensure that it is! Or titles.

(c) meche kroop

Thursday, December 28, 2017


Mary Gwynne Langston, Laura Virella, Gennadiy Vysotskiy, Jay Gould, David Tillistrand, and Drew Watson

Rossini's comic masterpiece Il barbiere di Siviglia is an opera one can enjoy many many times over.  And so we have. It is the champagne of the opera oeuvre--light, flavorful, and effervescent. Thankfully, no one recently has tried to update it; it belongs firmly in the early 19th c. and still delights us two centuries later. It's characters seem derived from commedia dell'arte but have become more three-dimensional.

There is the lecherous old man--Don Bartolo (the very funny bass Jay Gould); there is the spunky ingenue Rosina (the winsome mezzo-soprano Laura Virella); the wily servant Figaro (impressive baritone David Tillistrand), and the lovesick youth Count Almaviva (tenor Drew Watson). We have Dr. Bartolo's oily accomplice Don Basilio (bass Gennadiy Vysotskiy) and a pair of servants afflicted by sneezing--Berta (Mary Gwynne Langston)--and yawning--Ambrogio (Ricardo Figueroa).

When we see an opera as oft produced as this one, we always wonder what a director can add to what we already know about the opera.  We do believe that singers make the best directors, and we never enjoy operas in "the big house" directed by people who know nothing about opera. In this production, Artistic Director Nathan Hull directed as astutely as we have come to expect, adding several clever touches. 

The one we liked the best was the trio of dancers who added visual interest to every scene in which they appeared.  At first, they were clients/fans of Figaro and in the instrumental intermezzo storm scene they danced with umbrellas. It was a charming touch. Angel Joy did the choreography. Dancers were Katrina Victoria Asmar, Ashley Carter, and Victoria Manoli.

The invention we liked the least was putting the dialogue and most of the recitativi in English. The translation was awkward and the enunciation imperfect. We found ourself wishing for titles. We do admit that some of the interpolations did a good job of explaining the action and others were witty and timely; the audience certainly enjoyed them. It is just our taste which prefers Italian.

We brought home certain memories that delight us--Ms. Virella's creation of her character as a real live flesh and blood heroine who can toss off scale passages and interesting embellishments with equal aplomb in "Una voce poco fa" ; Mr. Gould's shambling walk and booming bass used in service of the arrogance of his character in "A un dottor della mia sorte"; Mr. Vysotskiy's total mastery of the role of Don Basilio, making the most of "La calunnia".

Berta's aria was given a fine performance by Ms. Lang who had to overcome youth and beauty to convince us that her Berta was scorned in love because of her age! We enjoyed Ms. Virella's duet with Mr. Tillistrand ("Dunque io son") which they invested with good comic chemistry. We liked Fiorello's serenade (Hector Mori).

Mr. Watson's comic acting served him well as the drunken soldier trying to get access to Bartolo's home. Even funnier was his turn as "Don Alfonso" a music teacher irritating Bartolo with his repetitive "Joia, pace, pace, joia". The "Buona sera, mie signore" always delights us. And the ensembles ending each act are always sheer craziness.

Well, we guess we'd have to say there was just one delight following another without a letup. Richard Cerullo was Scenic Designer and provided just what was needed. Lauren Bremen's lighting succeeded in creating the dawn during the serenade scene. Cynthia Psoras' costuming was apt and attractive.

Conductor Scott Jackson Wiley surprised us by playing the guitar during Almaviva's serenade. We consulted the program notes and, yes, he is well known as a guitarist. He did his best to pull together an orchestra that seems to always suffer from intonation problems, including a recalcitrant horn.  Concertmaster Holly Horn kept the melodies coming sweetly and purely. And we heard some nice playing in the bassoon section. The harpsichord continuo was excellently performed on a synthesizer.

There will be several opportunities to catch this delightful production until New Year's Eve, for which there will be a gala with dinner and midnight toast.

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, December 23, 2017


Lauren Flanigan and Friends at St. Paul and St. Andrews

Is it really 23 years since superstar soprano Lauren Flanigan began raising money for the homeless with an annual Christmas recital?  For the past couple years St. Paul and St. Andrews has been the home for the recital with proceeds from the recital going to benefit The West Side Campaign Against Hunger--not your ordinary food pantry but a community organized supermarket of healthful food for those that most need it. When government fails, the community must provide!

Ms. Flanigan's friends joined together to provide an evening's entertainment for opera lovers who bring winter coats, blankets, toys, and food. This annual event is always a highlight of the holiday season.

Leading off the evening was tenor Aaron Blake who delighted us with  "Comfort Ye/ Every Valley" from Handel's Messiah. Without a doubt, this selection was the best choice and Mr. Blake sang it with a beautiful ping in his voice and exemplary diction, making every word comprehensible, something we don't take for granted. His heartfelt delivery was matched by some delicious trills on the piano by Maestro Kamal Khan.

Ms. Flanigan's delivery of "Vieni t'affretta" from Verdi's Macbeth showed no evidence of the head cold from which she was suffering but rather thrilled us to the bone from the very first utterance of Shakespeare's text, right through the chilling recitativo and the intense aria. The exposed a capella phrasing left no doubt as to her consummate artistry.

She followed this serious song with the most delightful lighthearted cabaret song by Marc Blitzstein entitled "I Love Lechery" or "Modest Maid". A catchy tune and lyrics that were twice as clever as they had to be were given their complete due by Ms. Flanigan's witty performance.

Tenor Raul Melo was an important part of the program performing "Chanson de Kleinzach" from Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffman. He used his voice well, emphasizing the nature of this student drinking song with lots of effective acting.  We were glad he stayed around to sing the charming duet "Lippen schweigen" from Franz Lehar's Die Lustige Witwe.

Also from Les Contes d'Hoffman we heard "Scintille diamant" (Dapertutto's aria) sung by bass Daniel Sumegi who sang with great depth in his lower register.  He also sang something in a lighter vein, Irving Berlin's "White Christmas", an audience favorite.

Kenneth Overton lent his silky baritone to "Old Man River" from Jerome Kern's Showboat, an American classic. He also sang Roland Hayes' "Sister Mary Had-a But One Child".

Mark Delavan has a very different baritone, one which was perfect for "O du, mein holder Abenstern" from Richard Wagner's Tannhäuser, one of our favorite Wagner arias.

There was plenty of Wagner on the program, thanks to the presence of some sizable voices. Soprano Amy Shoremount-Obra dazzled us with "Elsa's Traum" from Lohengrin, an opera which we have never seen but want very much to.

From Wagner's Tannhäuser, mezzo-soprano Mary Ann Stewart gave an exciting performance of "Geliebter, komm" in which her overtones had overtones. From Siegfried, soprano Kirsten Chambers evinced all the excitement and tenderness of Brünnhilde's awakening in "Ewig war ich", accompanied by Keith Chambers.

Another large voice we enjoyed was that of mezzo-soprano Rachelle Pike who sang the aria of Princesse Bouillon in Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur--"Acerba voluttà". "Elektra's Monologue" from Richard Strauss' opera Elektra was given a performance, as dramatically intense as it was vocally, by soprano Elizabeth Blancke-Biggs, accompanied by Michael Recchiuti on the piano. The phrase "Agamemnon, wo bist du" was heart rending.

It was a very special moment for us when soprano Olga Makarina sang "Mi chiamano Mimi" from Puccini's La Bohème. What made it special was that one of our earliest operatic experiences was attending a master class in which Joan Dornemann coached her in that same aria! Many years have gone by but time has not dimmed the luster of her beautiful instrument. Rachmaninov's "How Fine This Spot" was beautifully performed with sensitive phrasing and dynamics.

Amy Burton and John Musto were on hand for some cabaret that everyone enjoyed.  Three selections from the oeuvre of Irving Berlin were performed with pizazz--"I'm on my way to Cuba", "Russian Lullabye", and "Let's face the music and dance".

There were some fine young up and coming artists on the program. It was a pleasure to hear mezzo-soprano Sophie Delphis, whom we reviewed last month. Her relaxed presentation worked well for "Nobles seigneurs" from Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots. Her French was parfait; the scale passages and arpeggi were finely handled.

Soprano Nadine Benjamin performed "D'amor sull'ali rosée" from Verdi's Il Trovatore with fine nuance. She knows what so many singers with high voices ignore.  High doesn't have to mean loud! Instead she floated her top notes with lovely delicacy.

There was plenty of ensemble singing as well. The Ebony Ecumenical Choir made their annual appearance offering a rousing "Go Tell it on the Mountain".

The entire cast joined forces for Adolphe Adam's "O Holy NIght", with each singer taking a phrase. It was a very generous program that seemed to fly by. Generous is the right word. The artists gave their all and so did the grateful audience.

(c) meche kroop

Tuesday, December 19, 2017


Jamie Barton at Zankel Hall (photo courtesy of Carnegie Hall)

Within our blog reside about ten encomia directed toward this arresting mezzo-soprano. What more can we say about her commanding stage presence, her chocolate stout timbre, her perfect phrasing, and her linguistic skills?

Let us just focus on last night's sold out recital at Carnegie Hall which drew torrents of applause, a standing ovation, and demands for encores. The particular encore that closed the recital was, interestingly, the same aria that we sat in the rain to hear at the Naumberg Bandshell in Central Park! The occasion was a celebration of Richard Tucker's 100th birthday.

Permit us to quote from the August 2013 review..."Mezzo Jamie Barton tackled "Acerba voluttà" from Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur as if it were a piece of cake.   Her creamy lush voice and intense stage presence were a joy to behold."

Last night we were indoors and well sheltered from the elements. Moreover we were able to hear every dramatic phrase of this aria sung by the soon to be discarded Princesse de Bouillon, bearer of the poisoned violets. This was a real barn burner and far outweighed the rest of the program.

Ms. Barton always creates her own programs, this time in collaboration with her excellent pianist Kathleen Kelly. With the confidence of knowing that her audience will follow her wherever she goes, she makes every program unusual and interesting with the old and the new, the borrowed and the blue. She's one of those artists who could hold our interest if she sang the phonebook and there were moments when we thought she was.

Take for example Iain Bell's setting of text by e.e. cummings. The poetry has a certain amount of visual interest as the words are scattered upon the page but the music they inspired was not music to our ears. The work was commissioned by Carnegie Hall and, since this was a world premiere, it generated a certain amount of excitement, especially as performed by Ms. Barton. We do not care to ever hear it again.

On the other hand, we absolutely loved what we considered to be the centerpiece of the program, which we have heard and enjoyed many times, but more than ever last night as Ms. Barton put her own original and highly dramatic stamp on it.  We are speaking of Joseph Haydn's secular oratorio Arianna a Naxos.

Poor Arianna (Ariadne) saved the life of Teseo (Theseus)  and sailed away with him only to be "ghosted". Although the work dates back to about 1789, the theme could not be more contemporary, as experienced by women attempting to date in the electronic age.  It was far more contemporary than Libby Larsen's setting of three mid-20th c. American women poets in Love after 1950, from which we heard three selections.

There was plenty of humor and irony and the musical styles varied from the bluesy sound of "Boys Lips" to the rock and roll sound of "Big Sister Says". Again, it was Ms. Barton's delivery that made them interesting.

Ms. Barton had a theme for the evening, wanting to present works that were somehow overlooked because of the gender of the composer or poet, or works that are not generally sung by a woman. She is good at breaking barriers, she is! 

Her delivery of Ravel's "Chanson à boire" from Ravel's Don Quichotte à Dulcinée was sheer glee and, indeed, the first time we have heard it sung by a woman. Singers love to play inebriation as much as actors love death scenes. And why shouldn't a woman enjoy getting tipsy and very very happy! We are thinking of "Je suis grise" from Offenbach's operetta La Périchole.

Henry Duparc's "Phidylé" was sung with initial delicacy and final expansion and gave us maximum aural pleasure, as did Richard Strauss' "Cäcilie".

If we have said nothing about the opening songs by Elinor Remick Warren, Amy Beach, and the sisters Boulanger, it is because we neither loved them nor hated them.

This recital was part of the excellent Jula Goldwurm Pure Voice Series at Zankel Hall. 

Ms. Barton deserves every accolade, every standing ovation, every prize she has gotten, and all that audience adulation.  She is every inch a star. We confess that of all the times we have heard her, our favorite moment was up close and personal at the Greene Space of WQXR when we felt like we got to know her in a more personal way. She is truly our Down Home Diva.

(c) meche kroop


Pavel Suliandziga

We hear such a plethora of talented young singers every month and it is sad that only a few will achieve their career goals.  Having witnessed the meteoric rise of several that we started writing about when we began blogging in 2010, we would like to think that we have isolated a few qualities that destine some for major careers.

It goes without saying that a beautiful instrument is a great start. It seems obvious that superb instruction in the learning period and good management at the start of a professional career are both vital. Winning competitions is a good addition to all this, although we have observed some major careers launched without this feature. 

We see "humble bragging" on Facebook as a positive impetus, if the singer makes regular appearances online about their engagements, giving credit to colleagues, costumers, and directors. It's a challenge to make this sufficiently interesting that we keep them in our "feed"!

But there is a special quality we can describe but could scarcely name. A true artist draws us into an opera by inhabiting the character so that we experience a scene from his/her point of view. When James Morris sang Wotan, we were on his side. A lesser Wotan allowed us to take Fricka's part.

Similarly, in a lieder recital, the true artist feels the text and sees what the poet describes. He/she conveys this to the audience and we see through the singer's eyes. We see the valley stretched below the mountain on which he sits.  We experience the distance felt by the poet. We hear the birdsong or the rushing of a stream through his/her ears. The singer is our guide through strange territory.

To date we have reviewed tenor Pavel Suliandziga a total of six times.  Each time we have been swept along in a tide of experience. We have written about his Nemorino two years at Mannes College and his Ferrando one year ago and the interpretations were first rate, showing us subtleties about the characters that were new.

Last summer there were two IVAI recitals in which he performed Tamino in a scene from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte and Tybalt from Gounod's Romeo et Juliette. We also heard him sing some Russian folksongs.

Yesterday we were fortunate to attend his graduation recital as he has earned a degree in Professional Studies under the tutelage of famed voice teacher Arthur Levy; this goes beyond the Master of Music degree previously earned. Hearing him perform lieder was a new experience and only enhanced our appreciation of his artistry and affirmed our belief in his promise.

Mr. Suliandziga possesses one of the sweetest tenors we have ever heard, one which caresses the ear; he employs it skillfully with all manner of dynamic control and meaningful phrasing. He knows what he is singing about!

The first half of the program was sung in German. Consonants were crisp but without exaggeration and the vowels were never cheated. Every word was comprehensible.  Beethoven's  song cycle An die ferne Geliebte, comprises six songs of separation and was filled with sehnsucht and tenderness. The mood was sustained during the interludes. The major/minor shifts were beautifully realized. There was a splendid spin on the held notes.

Collaborative pianist Miriam Leskis was with him 100% and we loved the way the phrases echoed back and forth from voice to piano.  Our only complaint was the use of the music stand.  Yes, we realize that this is a very long piece, but the subsequent Schubert lieder were short and the music stand remained in place.

"An den Mond" is a lovely song and Ms. Leskis' piano gave us arpeggi that we associate with Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. Perhaps Schubert was inspired by it. In "Du bist die Ruh" we were dazzled by a highly effective messa di voce.

Thankfully, the music stand was banished for the memorable "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" from Fran Lehar's Das Land des Lächelns, which we so enjoyed seeing at Manhattan School of Music last year. Being "off book" allowed Mr. Suliandziga to fully communicate with the audience the passion of this glorious song.

The second half of the program was entirely Russian. Since the titles were in Russian and there was no translation to English of title or text, we were at the mercy of the artist's interpretive skills. In point of fact, the emotions and situations came through clearly.

There were four wonderful songs by Glinka, father of Russian music, the first of which we heard last week at Juilliard "Ya pomnyu chudnoe" which translates roughly to "I remember that magical moment". In this song, the poet Pushkin consoles himself in a state of grief with a memory of a woman from his past.

In "Bedny pevets", the sadness that was communicated involved the lost hopes of a man disappointed in love. The sad songs were interleaved with joyful ones. "Ya zdes, Inezilya" was a playful serenade that brought to mind Rossini's lively music. And "V krovi gorit" was composed in waltz rhythm with a lively "oompah" in the piano.

Of the three songs by Tchaikovky, the only one we recognized was "Sred shumnogo bala" with a lovely text by Tolstoy, which also deals with a fond memory of a mysterious woman. "Mi sideli s toboy" is a regretful song about a lost moment in which a man was unable to make a declaration of love  during an intimate moment. He lost the girl.

"To bylo ranneyu vesnoy" spoke to rebirth and renewal and was given an earnest delivery. We would gladly have stayed for a repeat of both the Glinka songs and those by Tchaikovsky!

We also heard two folk songs. The first was a frisky one in which a boy is trying to get the girl by making promises. The second one was one of longing for the homeland. We hope Mr. Suliandziga does not suffer too much from homesickness. We want him to stay in the USA! We are not the only one to appreciate his gifts. The applause was thunderous and Mr. Suliandziga has already received several offers--all well deserved!

(c) meche kroop

Monday, December 18, 2017


Carnival of the Animals at Miller Theater of Columbia University (photo by Karli Cadel)

Saturday night found us uptown at the fine Miller Theater of Columbia University to witness an annual event that somehow had formerly escaped our notice.  It should not escape your notice, especially if you have children to introduce to classical music.

Our very own childhood introduction to classical music was through Sergei Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf, from which we learned to identify the various instruments of the orchestra.

Camille Saint-Saëns began to write his Carnival of the Animals whilst teaching at the conservatory in Paris, but did not finish it for over twenty years. Perhaps he was procrastinating in finishing his work on his Third Symphony or was motivated by the event of a private performance by his elderly cellist friend Charles Lebouc on the occasion of Mardi Gras in 1886.

The composer was reluctant to have the work published and it was only under pressure from his friends that he allowed one movement to be published; and who doesn't love "The Swan" which was used for the famous ballet "The Dying Swan", a four minute piece choreographed in 1905 by Mikhail Fokine for Anna Pavlova, who danced it about 4000 times! Most recently we have enjoyed it performed by a male dancer in tutu for Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo.

How fortunate for us that the entire work was eventually published post mortem.  Saturday it was performed with the witty poetry of Ogden Nash recited by narrator Jennifer Kidwell. If much of the poetry went over the heads of the little ones in attendance, it surely struck a chord with the big people.

We are not sure whether Saint-Saëns' humorous music made a big impression on the wee ones either but we enjoyed the subtle references to other musicians' works and the evocative nature of the melodies and rhythms,

What seemed to capture the attention of the wee ones were the imaginative puppets designed by Lake Simons. These were no ordinary puppets. A team of six black-clad puppeteers maneuvered various household articles which were pressed into service as hooves and cockscombs. 

Tortoises were represented by umbrellas. Kangaroos were constructed of boomerangs, of course. A very special moment was when the "joey" appeared to jump into the mama's pouch.

In a master stroke of imagination, four metal buckets became the feet of an elephant. Was that a vacuum clean hose repurposed as a trunk that blew out confetti? 

A bunch of fossil bones became a skeleton. Feather dusters became an intrusive cuckoo which interrupted the wedding of two birds--all in response to  Mr. Nash's clever text.  The wee ones enjoyed this enormously but perhaps enjoyed even more the mules fighting over a missing ear.

It was impressive to see an audience of children enraptured by all this creativity.

But from this big person's point of view, our second favorite was "Aquarium" in which the flowing music was reflected by floating fabrics as schools of fish swam by, some on mobiles and others on the heads of the puppeteers who turned their heads back and forth creating the illusion of fish swimming through the water. Children in the audience also had fish-sticks to be waved back and forth.  They loved the audience participation.

And our first prize goes to, of course, "The Swan" who gazed at herself in several mirrors and stretched her long neck, created from a thick cable.

The lovely music was played by a chamber orchestra of ten, comprising two pianos and a string quartet, augmented by flute, clarinet, bass, and percussion. The Music Director was Laura Barger who also played one of the pianos.  Lighting Designer was Kate McGee.

We understood this to be an annual event. Don't let it pass you by next year.

(c) meche kroop

Friday, December 15, 2017


Patricia Mullenaux, Charles Gray, Madison Marie McIntosh, Yun-Kwan Yiu, Sam Varhan, and Don Raymond in Vocal Productions NYC's Barber of Seville at the Rose Nagelberg Theater

Rossini's opera buffa, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, has been delighting audiences for two centuries with its ear tickling melodies tumbling out from capo to fine and it's charming age-old story about rebellious young lovers triumphing over possessive parent figures. Indeed, we never tire of Cesare Sterbini's witty libretto adapted from Pierre Beaumarchais' comedy. The situations are hilarious and it is impossible not to fall in love with the spunky Rosina, the wily Figaro, and the clueless Count.

In the role of Rosina, we heard the marvelous mezzo-soprano Madison Marie McIntosh who always astonishes us with her lavish ornamentation and seamless races through the vocal register. She had just the right mix of rebellious girlish glee and womanly resolve,  and sang "Una voce poco fa" with pinpoint accuracy in the ornamentation, much of which was original. She is definitely superstar material.

Before we move on, she is also cast for Saturday night, and the famous bass Valentin Peytchinov, who is the founder and Artistic Director of VPNYC, will himself sing the role of Don Basilio on that same date. Most of the roles are double and triple cast and we recognize the names of so many of the singers we enjoyed at the VPNYC benefit on Giving Tuesday which we reviewed earlier. So you can't go wrong no matter which date you choose. But the run ends Sunday so don't miss out!

As most of you know, Rosina is the ward of the grumpy Dr. Bartolo who would like to get his hands on her dowry and probably her person as well. She has been secretly wooed by one "Lindoro" who is actually the Count Almaviva in disguise. Tenor Sam Varhan has a distinctive comic flair and was hilarious in his disguises as a drunken soldier and as a music teacher.

In a wig itself worthy of giggles, Charles Gray performed the role of Dr. Bartolo and impressed us with his acting and singing. "A un dottor della mia sorte" was sung with pomposity and fine phrasing. He deals graciously with his ultimate defeat and we admire him for good sportsmanship.

Aiding and abetting the romance between Rosina and the Count is the wily Figaro who seems to come up with clever ideas in proportion to the amount of baksheesh he gets. Baritone Yun-Kwan Yiu gave an engaging performance. It seemed to be a running joke that he kept appearing in different wigs. 

We loved his duet with Rosina in Act I -- "Dunque io son...tu non m'inganni?" He also had a fine duet with the Count "All'idea di quel metallo".

The slimy music teacher Don Basilio was performed by the bass Gennadiy Vysotsky who carried off the aria "La calunnia è un venticello" along with some fine help from the percussionist. 

Berta is one of Dr. Bartolo's much put upon servants and we always enjoy the aria in which she laments her loneliness. This was finely performed last night by Patricia Mullenaux who doddered around the stage in humorous fashion. Dr. Bartolo's other servant Ambrogio was performed with much comic stage business by Don Raymond, who also performed the role of Fiorello, leading his ragtag group of musicians in the Count's opening serenade. It was interesting to see women in this group of musicians! Bill Atkinson was Chorus Director.

Jane Leathers did a fine job of directing, keeping things moving briskly and giving each performer stage business that helped to create his/her own character.

Kent Gasser designed an effective set which included Rosina's balcony above. This set element revolved so that we could see her bedroom on the other side of the doors. Dr. Bartolo's home was furnished with the necessary harpsichord, table and chairs, and a chaise longue. Figaro had a portable salon on wheels with all the accoutrements of a barber and hair stylist.

The lighting by Michael Celentano and Eowyn Joy was particularly effective during the storm scene, assisted by some stormy sounds coming from the orchestra which played well for Maestro Francisco Miranda.

Costuming by Hannah Conradt was colorful and period appropriate. Ms. McIntosh looked adorable, the military looked official, and the music teachers looked scholarly.

Finally, we would like to mention how excellently the cast sang the Italian. There was a wonderful ensemble feel which made the septet at the conclusion of Act I an absolute delight. Not only was the Italian diction excellent but the voices were well balanced as well. One of the major advantages to opera in a smaller theater is the opportunity to hear the different vocal lines instead of a wash of sound.

(c) meche kroop

Tuesday, December 12, 2017


Last night's Liederabend at The Juilliard School comprised an hour of Russian songs, curated and coached by Gina Levinson. It is hard to believe that our interest in Russian songs was late in arriving. We have become ardent fans recently; the more we hear of them the better we like them.  It didn't hurt to learn a few words in Russian so that the sound has become familiar to our ears.

The program was beyond wonderful and the artists who took part earned our attention, our affection, and our applause.  Speaking of applause, the members of the audience could not restrain themselves from applauding after each and every song.

What all the singers had in common was stage presence. Each one introduced him/herself with poise and told a little about the songs they would sing. This is a superb strategy to form a connection with the audience, one that is often omitted.

Tenor Joshua Blue and pianist Minjung Jung opened the program with a song by Mikhail Glinka who is considered the grandfather of Russian song. His work fits squarely into the style of the early 19th c. but is filled with Russian soul. Pushkin's text for "I remember that magical moment" conveys despair and the balm of a soothing memory.

Mr. Blue's sweet tenor falls pleasantly on the ear and his use of dynamic variety and vocal colors brought the song to vivid life. He seemed to caress each tone with ease, never pushing for volume or pitch.

He followed this with a pair of songs by Sergei Rachmaninov. "In the silence of the mysterious night" is very much a product of the turn of the 20th c. and also deals with memory.

From much later in Rachmaninov's career, we heard "Arion", the tale of a sailor who survived a storm by singing. The storm was beautifully reproduced by Ms. Jung on the piano, and Mr. Blue convinced us as a good story teller.

Next on the program was bass William Su with Katelan Terrell as his able piano partner.  Although the bass fach is a late blooming one, Mr. Su, whose graduation recital at Manhattan School of Music had impressed us greatly last Spring, seems to be developing at a rapid pace.

We heard four songs by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, whose Golden Cockerel we reviewed twice this year.  His works date from the second half of the 19th c. The first was about secret dreams and was quite lovely. The second one sets a beautiful stage for a rendezvous but ends with the poet being disappointed when the awaited one fails to appear.

The third song, "Lean thy cheek to mine" was both tender and passionate with text translated from Heinrich Heine. It was the fourth song that we loved the best. A lover singing to an unknown beloved is compared to a nightingale singing to an indifferent rose.  The melody to this song is distinctly Asiatic and haunting. The piano is given some gorgeous arpeggi and the conclusion is whistled! Boy, can William whistle!

We would not be left in a mournful mood however.  The conclusion of the set was Modest Mussorgsky's "Song of the flea". We imagine that this song-- about a king who adopted a troublesome flea that annoyed everyone at court--was a political parable. The humor was effectively conveyed by both Mr. Su and Ms. Terrell.

The concluding set was a cycle of songs by Dmitri Shostakovich, a 20th c. composer whose work has never thrilled us.  However, this cycle appealed to us quite a bit, especially as performed by soprano Meghan Kasanders, mezzo-soprano Myka Murphy, and tenor Chance Jonas-O'Toole. The rotating pianists were Candace Chien, Jinhee Park, and Richard Fu.

The cycle Jewish Folk Poetry, Op.79 comprises 11 songs, 10 of which were performed by the three singers in various combinations. Eight of the songs described all kinds of disappointments and sufferings with the final two describing happiness under Communism.  We speculated that this was written for political reasons.

We loved the sound of Ms. Kasanders and Ms. Murphy in the duets "Lament for a dead infant" and "A concerned mother and aunt".  In "Before a long separation", Ms. Kasanders is terribly troubled and Mr. Jonas-O'Toole tries to console her with joyful memories. By the end of the song their roles have reversed. The harmonies were exquisite and unusual with plentiful dissonance.

In "Winter" the three singers created the howling of the wind. On the whole, the cycle paints a grim picture of life on the shtetl--nothing like the joyous murals painted by Marc Chagall.

The hour flew by and we were left wanting more.  "Ochen harasho!" and a big "Spassiba" to the singers.

(c) meche kroop

Monday, December 11, 2017


A magical night at Carnegie Hall

Barry Tucker sure knows how to honor his father, the late and great Richard Tucker; he also knows how to put on a great show, one that all of the citizens of Planet Opera must attend. Rarely are so many superstars gathered under one roof and Carnegie Hall is the perfect venue for us to appreciate their gifts, thanks to its formidable acoustics.

Onstage we had the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, conducted by Maestro Nicola Luisotti; they got the festivities off to a great start with the rousing overture to Verdi's Nabucco, one of the themes of which we would hear later, performed by the incomparable New York Choral Society--"Va pensiero".

Headlining the program was the stunning soprano Nadine Sierra, whom we have always called "the diva next door". Rarely is so much beauty, glamour, artistry, and wholesomeness found in one person. The Richard Tucker Foundation awarded her top prize this year and they could not have made a better choice.

We have often thrilled to her performance of Gilda in Verdi's Rigoletto, a role she imbues with all the innocence it requires. In "Caro nome", Gilda has just fallen in love with the Duke, whom she believes to be a poor student. Verdi's writing here manifests all the excitement of first love and Ms. Sierra provided ample embellishments without ever betraying the innocence of the character. The a capella section is a high wire act and this artist never missed a step.

What always astonishes us is how a great artist makes a great aria seem completely natural and effortless. Of course we are aware of how much study and practice it takes to make something appear effortless! The greatest astonishment of the evening was her performance of Violetta's scena from Act I of Verdi's La Traviata.

In this aria, Violetta is reflecting upon the new man who has been devoted to her for some time but only just arrived on her doorstep, so to speak. Violetta, in her way, is as innocent of love as Gilda is, but she is also worldly. She lives a life devoted to carefree pleasures as a well-kept mistress; but something deep inside has been awakened by the promise of love. In this scena she considers both options. Verdi's music and Ms. Sierra's delivery told us everything we need to know about this complex woman. Here, her fioritura was suitably feverish and florid.  The standing ovation was well deserved.

The other standing ovation of the evening was earned by mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe (1999 Award winner) who performed the most unusual version of the Habanera from Bizet's Carmen we have ever witnessed. The uniqueness of her sound, paired with a very over the top piece of acting brought out appreciative giggles and torrents of applause. She was having a great time onstage, interacting with the conductor and the concertmaster.

We got to hear a more traditional aria from her also--"Aure, deh, per pietà" from Handel's Giulio Cesare, accompanied by what appeared to be a theorbo. We felt like our ears had tastebuds and we were drinking thick rich hot chocolate. No one sounds like Ms. Blythe!

Another remarkable performance was delivered by tenor Vittorio Grigolo who actually transformed himself into Canio from Leoncavallo's Pagliacci before our very eyes, so completely did he immerse himself in the role. He milked it for all it was worth and we gained an understanding of Canio's pain that seemed to go deeper than jealousy. The tearful vibrato in his voice seemed absolutely right.

In the role of Tonio who performs the  Prologue to Pagliacci, "Si può", we heard baritone Anthony Clark Evans  We loved the way he created a believable character, miming the movements of an itinerant performer about to face a new audience. We also loved the waves of rich sound he produced. We are so glad that the foundation has been nurturing his career with a Study Grant in 2014 and a Career Grant this year.

Dramatic soprano Tamara Wilson (last year's Tucker Award winner), accompanied by the massive chorus, gave a compelling performance of "In questa reggia" from Puccini's Turandot. In an original masterstroke, she interpolated the tenor's line, right before the high C, as explained by our friend the pianist Michael Fennelly. We were impressed by the modulated quality she achieved without the oft heard shouting.

She also performed the role of Aida in a duet with Amneris (mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk). In "Fu la sorte dell'armi" she gets tricked by her rival for Radames' affection into exposing her love for him. There is a gross imbalance of power, but an excellent balance of voices!

Ms. Semenchuk also sang "O mio Fernando" from Donizetti's La Favorita, accompanied by our new favorite instrumental combination--harp and horn.

Counter-tenor Anthony Roth Costanzo performed "Rompo i lacci" from Handel's Flavio. For this stunning performance, the orchestra was joined by a baroque guitar. There were plenty of fireworks in the A section, delivered with the rapid-fire precision  for which Mr. Costanzo is famous, but we were more interested in the largo B section in which we could appreciate the long legato lines.

Soprano Ailyn Pèrez (the 2012 Tucker award winner) never fails to delight and delight she did with "Ebben! Ne andrò lontana" from Catalani's rarely performed verismo opera La Wally. There was a memorably graceful portamento in this heartfelt aria and Ms. Pèrez brought it to a thrilling climax. Even better was her performance of "Un bel di" from Puccini's Madama Butterfly in which the pathos is punctuated by the percussion in the orchestra.

Soprano Rachel Willis-Sørensen, who has won two grants from the foundation, reprised the performance we so enjoyed at The Greene Space--the "Czardas" from Johann Strauss II's Die Fledermaus. In this aria, Frau Eisenstein pretends to be a Hungarian Countess to trick her wayward husband. The purposeful overacting brought fun to us and, we hope, to her as well.

Mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught produced some vocal fireworks in the well known bel canto aria which closes Rossini's La cenerentola--"Nacqui all'affanno...Non più mesta". We liked the way she paced it, giving herself room to expand the runs and trills which Rossini produced in cascades.

Tenor Peni Pati sang "La donna è mobile" from Verdi's Rigoletto with a rather covered sound. We liked the variety of dynamics.

Ms. Sierra and Mr. Grigolo made quite a pair in "Tonight" from Bernstein's West Side Story. You may disagree but we see this as an American Opera.  All it needs to graduate from Broadway to the opera stage is topnotch unamplified voices.

The dazzling evening closed with the final scene from Verdi's final opera Falstaff. This elaborate fugue is endlessly inventive and unremittingly delightful.

It was a long evening, 2 1/2 hours without intermission, but it flew by with not a single longueur.  As we said, Barry Tucker knows how to throw a party!
(c) meche kroop


Myra Huang, Quinn Kelsey, and Marjorie Owens

For those of you lovers of good singing who don't already know about it, The Morgan Library offers a splendid series of recitals in collaboration with The George London Foundation for Singers, famed for their generosity with awards to promising young singers in an annual competition.

The recitals feature previous winners of these competitions and it is always rewarding for us to see how astutely the winners were chosen and how far they have come in their careers. Yesterday's recital featured two singers who have achieved worldwide fame on the stages of grand opera houses. But we, dear reader, got to see and hear them up close and personal.

Dramatic soprano Marjorie Owens won the Leonie Rysanek Award from the George London Foundation in 2009 and her career has blossomed since then. She has garnered awards from major competitions worldwide and it was easy to see why at yesterday's recital.

She opened the program with a trio of songs by our dearly loved Tchaikovsky. The first one, known as "None but the lonely heart" is a setting of text by Goethe translated into Russian. We know it as "Nur wer die sehnsucht kennt". The melody and accompaniment are completely different but the sentiment remains the same--that of the suffering experienced by those denied love.

Ms. Owens sang it with beautiful phrasing and a pleasing vibrato. She seemed to taste and caress each word.  In the second song, "Again, as before, I am alone", we were thinking about Tchaikovky's choices of text and wondering about the profound loneliness of those who are not accepted by society as they are and who must hide behind a mask. We were impressed by Myra Huang's skillful accompaniment.

But it was the final song that touched us the most. In "Was I not a little blade of grass", each verse of this strophic song is a metaphor for the suffering of a young girl forced to marry an old man she doesn't love. We couldn't keep from thinking about the forced marriages in the Middle East. Here in the USA personal choice in the area of marriage is taken for granted. Ms. Owens conveyed all the pain in the coloration of her voice.

Baritone Quinn Kelsey , also a recipient of countless awards including two grants from The George London Foundation, followed with Old American Songs, a 1950 oeuvre by Aaron Copeland, settings of text by D. Emmett. Mr. Kelsey possesses a large instrument that produces a full throated sound, one which filled the hall with overtones.  He can swell to a passionate climax and bring it back down to a near whisper.

Copeland will never be our favorite composer of song but we enjoyed the jaunty quality of "The Boatmen's Dance" because the music fits the text, and Mr. Kelsey gave it a fine performance. Similarly, the humor of "The Dodger" was well captured by the vocal line and Mr. Kelsey's personalization.

Opera is the best medium in which to appreciate these ample voices. We loved the duet between Ms. Owens' Aida and Mr. Kelsey's Amonasro--"Cielo! mio padre!" Amonasro puts the screws on his daughter to use her relationship with Radames to get information about the Egyptian army. He uses every manipulative device at his disposal to get what he wants.  As he asserts his power over her, she becomes weaker until she submits. The two artists successfully conveyed the shift in power.

After Mr. Kelsey's sensational delivery of "Prince Yeletsky's Aria" from Tchaikovsky's Pique Dame, Ms. Owens delivered Ariadne's showpiece aria from Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos--"Es gibt ein Reich". Her German was as perfekt as could be and the resonance at the top of her register had the molecules of air dancing around the hall.

The program closed with the duet "Wie aus der Ferne" from Wagner's Der fliegende Holländer. Ms. Owens has a great deal of experience with this role, as she does with that of Ariadne, but Mr. Kelsey was unfortunately using a music stand. This made it visually awkward but did nothing to impair the glorious sound of their voices. The parts where their vocal lines overlapped produced incredible harmonics and gave us goosebumps.

We hated to miss the encores but needed to rush uptown for the Richard Tucker Gala. If you were there and are inclined to add that to this review, it would be appreciated.

(c) meche kroop

Sunday, December 10, 2017


Maestro Joseph Colaneri and the cast from Mannes Opera's production of Le Nozze di Figaro

We have often averred that we could attend Mozart's masterpiece of social commentary on a weekly  basis without getting bored. Actually we have been seeing it that often and we haven't changed our mind. Mozart's melodies delight the ear and Lorenzo da Ponte's thoughtful yet humorous libretto provides ample food for thought--and not a few giggles.

At the time of The Enlightenment, society was questioning a number of issues, including the inequalities between master and servant and the place of women in society. Sitting in the audience at the comfortable Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College, we mused on the wisdom of Artistic Director Maestro Colaneri and Stage Director Laura Alley who gave us a traditional production, one which allowed us the freedom to see the parallels with our own society in its present state of upheaval.

There is no need to force feed an audience to make them appreciate these similarities by changing the time and place of the opera.  As a matter of fact, references to the droit de seigneur make such updating wrong-headed and despicable. We do not need pandering. We love authenticity.

The performances we witnessed were honest and true to the story. The members of The Mannes Opera performed with true ensemble spirit and, by the end of the evening, we felt that we knew and cared about the characters. We have been writing a lot lately about characterological growth and transformation. Mozart's music limns each character and his/her evolution. It takes a good conductor to bring this out in the orchestra and a good director to show this onstage.

In Laura Alley we had a first-rate director who served the story and not her own ego. It would seem obvious that such is the goal but so many directors nowadays betray that maxim. Ms. Alley not only kept everything moving onstage but provided "stage business" that heightened our awareness of each character's motivation. It's the tiny details that count.  Let us offer just one example. When the Count ships Cherubino off to war, the page joins Susanna and Figaro in a parade around the room. Susanna picks up a curtain rod with a curtain suspended and carries it as a battle flag.  This tells us that she is clever and resourceful. There were many similar touches to come.

This resourceful Susanna was performed by the winsome soprano Ana Capetillo who captured our attention from the first moment as she tries to get Figaro's attention away from measuring the room to focus on her bridal veil. Ms. Capetillo is full of personality and possesses a sparkling soprano that seems meant for Mozart. We were surprised to learn that she is an undergraduate! Her "Deh vieni, non tardar" elicited torrents of applause.

She is more than a servant to the Countess; she is a confidant and helper. The Countess was portrayed by soprano Lauren Yokabaskas who employed her fine instrument in lovely legato lines to convey the sadness of a neglected wife who has lost her husband's attention. She sang her two arias with despair and dignity. Anyone who wasn't moved by her "Porgi amor" and "Dove sono" must be horribly hard hearted.

Susanna's nemesis in her struggle to get married to Figaro is Marcellina, here performed by the excellent mezzo-soprano Wan Zhao. We loved the scene where they dish each other and we loved watching the lightning shift in attitude when Marcellina learns that Figaro is her long lost son. She is instantly motherly toward Susanna but it takes Susanna a bit longer to be convinced. We wish her aria "Il capro e la capretta" had not been cut. But it generally is.

The role of Cherubino was interpreted by mezzo-soprano Perri di Christina whose acting measured up to her vocal skills. She was quite convincing as a male youth and just as believable as a youth pretending to be a girl. We better appreciated the texture of her voice in "Voi che sapete", in which the more leisurely tempo than that of "Non so piu" gave us the opportunity to really hear her.

As Barbarina, petite soprano Sara Law was exactly what the role called for. She sang with brightness and lightness and clarity of tone.

And now for the men! In the title role we heard Chase Cornett who we believe to be a bass baritone. The darkness of his tone and a bit of stiffness in his acting threw us off at first but we warmed up to his performance when he relaxed physically and allowed Figaro's playful side to emerge. By the end of the opera we were really enjoying his performance, especially watching his indignant rage when he thinks Susanna is unfaithful. 

Baritone Sunyeop Hwang made a fine Count Almaviva--arrogant, clueless, and lecherous.  (Does this sound like anyone we know?) His "Crudel! perche finora" was splendidly sung. Of course, we enjoyed his comeuppance at the end and hoped against hope that his transformation would endure past the final curtain.

Bass Michael Pitocchi impressed us with his interpretation of Don Bartolo.  In spite of his youth, his acting and the color of his voice convinced us that he was an old fellow, grumpy and disdainful of his servant Marcellina but ready to help her win her suit and later willing to marry her. His Act I aria "La vendetta" was brilliantly sung.

Tenor Hyun Ho Cho made a fine slimy Don Basilio, always ready to gossip and make trouble for others. As the gardener Antonio, bass Jongwon Choi avoided all the drunken clichés and gave a fine realistic interpretation of an aggrieved servant struggling to make his case.

The role of Don Curzio the notary is a small role but tenor Andrès Peñalver made the most of it. Every time he sneezed, the hair on his wig flew up, providing a lot of laughs. Wigs are credited to Amanda Miller.

We are not sure who coached the chorus but they sang beautifully and intelligibly, especially in the beautiful chorus that brings the drama to a happy end with "Gloria tutti".

Roger Hanna's sets were simple but effective. We particularly liked the set for Act I which looked exactly the way a storage room in a palace would look--shelves and cubbyholes filled with all kinds of stuff.

Helen E. Rodgers' costumes were perfect.  They were not only accurate to the late 18th c. period but sported flourishes and furbelows of definite Iberian flavor.  We knew exactly where we were!

Where YOU should be is at today's matinée, the final performance!

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, December 9, 2017


Amanda Austin and Michael St. Peter in Cendrillon (photo by Carol Rosegg)

This won't be the first time we have heard an opera that was all but forgotten until someone made the effort to discover it.  And it won't be the first time that we heard a different version of a beloved opera--in this case, the Cendrillon of  Jules Massenet.

This Cendrillon, by 19th c. Maltese composer Nicolo Isouard, might have gone undiscovered, were it not for the diligent labors of William Tracy (Head of Opera Musical Studies at Manhattan School of Music), soprano Jennifer Gliere, and conductor Pierre Vallet who joined forces to reconstruct a score for which there were no orchestral parts. The Manhattan School of Music Opera Theater could not have gotten a better gift.

The delightful production they created was directed by the always wonderful Dona D. Vaughn; evidence of its supremely successful debut was the evident joy of the audience. We have never seen so many happy faces exiting a theater; nor have we ever heard such animated chatter.

Mr. Isouard's tuneful score had all the singable melodies of the Italian Bel Canto, but with French refinement. The overture itself was a masterpiece of melody which Maestro Vallet conducted with Gallic verve. That major parts were given to the harp (Hannah Murphy) and the horn (Nicole Rodriguez) was like sweet wine for our thirsty ears.

The libretto by Charles Guillaume Étienne was brief (about 2 hours) and to the point. This was not a spectacle with coach and horses and grand staircases. This was an intimate story about an unloved step-child finding the love she deserves from a worthy man. In the telling of the tale, extraneous characters were eliminated . There was no Disneyfication and no Fairy Godmother.

The only "magic" occurred when Cendrillon fell asleep at the end of Act I in her step-father's home and awoke at the beginning of Act II in the Prince's palace. The two step-sisters are merely selfish, vain, and entitled girls--not horribly wicked ones. In place of a lot of exaggerated humor we felt a sense of reality about the drama.

Dialogue was spoken in English which was translated from the French by Mr. Tracy and adapted by Ms. Vaughn.

Soprano Amanda Austin shone in the title role. In this version, she is obliged to serve her step-sisters and step-father but she is not a drudge. She is not feisty but rather modest and humble with a generosity of spirit. These qualities came through in the coloration and phrasing of her vocal lines. We totally believed her and thrilled to the crystalline quality of her instrument.

Tenor Michael St.Peter was a princely prince and colored his voice differently from tenderness to exultation as the situation dictated.  He has a lovely clear quality to his instrument and fortunately no tendency to force in the upper register. He has superb dynamic control as well.

The pair sing a sweet duet in Act III ,"Vous l'aimez donc avec tendresse?". Oh, how sweet it is to hear beautifully aligned voices joined in harmony!

The roles of the two step-sisters were written for sopranos--but sopranos of a very different type than that of Cendrillon. Their vocal lines are more Italianate and it comes as no surprise that Isouard studied in Italy with musicians of the Neapolitan school. It is only fitting that their vocal lines are as flashy as they are, with lavish fioritura.

As Clorinde, Hyeree Shin fulfilled the vocal demands of the role as well as the dramatic ones. We particularly loved her florid Act II aria "Couronnons-nous des fleurs nouvelles" with its lavish embellishments. The accompaniment sounded a bit like Vivaldi in the string section but filtered through a highly syncopated Bolero rhythm. Since the dialogue was performed in English, we look forward to Ms. Shin improving her English diction.

Abigail Shapiro's Tisbé was equally successful, opening Act III with a dazzling recitativo and aria "Dieu! Quel évènement!" Ms. Shapiro did justice to this show-stopper and we hope she will use it for auditions! Come to think of it, Ms. Shin could do the same with her aria.

Not only were the two sopranos superb on their own but their duet in Act I "Ah! Quel plaisir" was sheer delight, as beautifully performed as it was beautifully written. These two sisters are harmonious at first, much like Fiordiligi and Dorabella in Mozart's Cosi fan tutte.  But by Act III they are brawling on the floor, having dropped the mask of refinement.

Standing in for the prince was his servant Dandini in disguise, and baritone Marshall Morrow made the most of his role, garnering hearty laughs from the audience with his exaggerated French accent and gauche wooing of Tisbé and Clorinde. It was the Prince's wish that Dandini be wed to one of the sisters and no one wanted to marry him! Cendrillon got a very funny line "I wasn't attracted to him at all, but his not being a prince did not make him more attractive". We suspect that line was written by Ms. Vaughn but she has yet to admit it!

William Huyler's baritone was just right for the role of the Baron, an aristocrat who had blown his fortune on his own two daughters to get them married off. To watch him standing behind Tisbé as she performed and echoing her movements was a "source of innocent merriment"; we thought of all the stage mothers we have met.

As Alidor, the Prince's wise tutor, we heard Marcel Sokalski who had to pretend to be a beggar in Act I in order to reveal the true character of the Baron's daughters. He is the guiding force of the story, leading the Prince toward a good decision.  His Act I duet with Mr. St. Peter was not only harmonically impressive but emotionally stirring. The Prince expresses his gratitude and filial devotion whilst Alidoro expresses his paternal love.  His acting, however, could be improved during the spoken dialogue which seemed a bit wooden.

The knockout performances of the principals were matched by that of the chorus, especially in "Au doux sommeil" which opened Act II. We have always noted that Chorus Master Miriam Charney does a great job. The same tribute goes to Bénédict Jourdois who ensures that everyone's French is superbe. Nous avons tout compris!

Dona D. Vaughn's direction was so on point that the action always seemed realistic. We might have been watching a drama about a family with all the feelings made clear by their interactions.

Arnulfo Maldonado's set design was simple and tasteful with no particular emphasis on period whereas Tracy Dorman's costumes were most definitely influenced by Paul Poiret, placing us firmly in the pre-World War I period. Cendrillon was simply dressed with an apron but sported a fabulous gown at the palace. The two step-sisters were lavishly dressed and swanned about the stage in their garments and turbans.

We could go on and on, waxing rhapsodic, but we would prefer that you see for yourself. There will be two performances today, matinée and evening, with another matinée on Sunday. The afternoon performances will have some different cast members and some of the same. Performances are at the comfortable Florence Gould Hall of the Alliance Française on 59th St.

We hope that this work, having been brought to such vivid life, will be taken up by opera houses around the country. It deserves a place in the canon.  Moreover, we hope that more works by this prolific composer will be rediscovered.

(c) meche kroop

Tuesday, December 5, 2017


Cast of Ravel's L'enfant et les sortilèges at Alice Tully Hall

What a treat!  Last night the Juilliard Orchestra was joined by members of the Vocal Arts Program for an evening of French music, the capstone of which was Ravel's short opera L'enfant et les sortilèges. Although the program notes suggest a somewhat different origin, we had always believed that this work was intended as a ballet for the Paris Opera but wound up as an opera, with ballet sequences choreographed by none other than George Balanchine.  There is no disagreement about Colette's authorship of the libretto. The work made its premiere in 1925 at the Opéra de Monte Carlo.

Until three years ago we had never seen it performed but then enjoyed two performances in close temporal proximity, one by Utopia Opera and shortly afterward as the initial work by Bare Opera. We became an instant fan of this delightful work with its charming story and eclectic score.

That the members of the Juilliard Vocal Arts Program were able to capture the spirit of the work on a very narrow strip of stage in front of the Juilliard Orchestra seemed a minor miracle; the miracle worker must have been the director Edward Berkeley. Credit for the brilliant reading of this enchanting score goes to Maestro Emmanuel Villaume whose feeling for French music is in his genes. But credit for the performances must be shared by the cast of singers whose ensemble spirit could only be realized by a lot of time spent rehearsing.

Heading the cast was mezzo-soprano Kelsey Lauritano who made a very convincing naughty boy, one of those children whose destructive energy emerges when they are given insufficient stimulation, at least that was our conjecture! Ms. Lauritano never hits a wrong note, not vocally and not dramatically. We wanted to jump up onstage and hold her down!

The role of the mother was sung by Myka Murphy who has a very different sort of mezzo and we hear a definite contralto in the making. We couldn't keep from fantasizing about the roles she will take down the road from now.

Soprano Onadek Winan was glorious in her coloratura in all three roles: Le Feu, La Princesse, and Le Rossignol.

Baritone Xiaomeng Zhang always impresses us with his fine tone and phrasing; he excelled as the wounded tree and as Le Fauteil in his duet with La Bergère (performed by soprano Anneliese Klenetsky who handled the scale passages with aplomb).

Another successful duet was that of the two cats. Mezzo-soprano Nicole Thomas and baritone Gregory Feldmann had a rather sexy catfight until they turned their attention to Maestro Villaume who played along in a most sportsmanlike manner. Mr. Feldmann was also memorable as the broken clock, holding his arm askew as the pendulum.

Mezzo-soprano Kady Evanyshyn made an adorable Chinese tea-cup with tenor Matthew Pearce as the teapot, spouting a pidgin Asian mix, accompanied by tuba.

Tenor James Ley made quite a strict arithmetic teacher, known in the script as Le Petit Veillard. Soprano Kresley Figueroa had a sweet duet with mezzo-soprano Marie Engle as a pair of country folk from the torn storybook.

It seemed that for the second part, every cast member took on another role as an animal, with soprano Vivian Yau standing out as a bat whose mate had been killed by the naughty boy. The chorus added to the overall effect.

Quite in tune with this week's theme of behavioral change and redemption (see two prior reviews below) the bad boy of the first part is confronted in the second part by critters he has injured. He is transformed and the audience is satisfied by a successful conclusion to the story. The critters forgive him and so do we.

Although we rarely review instrumental works, it would be churlish not to mention how successfully performed were the two works in the first half of the program. Ravel wrote his Menuet antique when he was but twenty years of age; it took him 34 years to orchestrate it!  And what an incredible orchestrator he was. Someday we would love to hear the original piano version followed by the orchestral arrangement.

We very much enjoyed Debussy's La mer although the programmatic nature of the piece escaped us. Without being told that it was about the sea, we would not have guessed it. What stood out for us were the orchestral colors. First cellist Matthew Chen gave a stunning performance and we also enjoyed the harp and celeste.  No doubt about it, the Juilliard Orchestra rules!

(c) meche kroop