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, March 25, 2017

LA FORZA!

Errin Brooks and Kelly Griffin in New Amsterdam Opera's production of La Forza del Destino


How long we have yearned to hear Verdi's La Forza del Destino! Is it rarely performed because the roles are difficult to cast? Or does it have something to do with the superstition that surrounds it, much like Shakespeare's so-called "Scottish play" the name of which actors are reluctant to pronounce. We are happy to report that New Amsterdam Opera succeeded without any mishaps of which we are aware. The audience filled The Riverside Theatre and the applause was thunderous.

Artistic Director Keith Chambers conducted a pick-up orchestra which he pulled together quite well with only a few rough patches that were easy to overlook. But we could not overlook the fortuitous "flutery" of Rosa Jang and the happy "harpery"of Melanie Genin. Both were outstanding in their contributions. The overture is a masterpiece with one memorable theme following another. The initial "fate" theme is propulsive and highly rhythmic. Then along comes a sorrowful one, a lyrical one, a heraldic one, and a playful one. Although the 1869 opera is rarely performed, the overture is a concert staple.

New Amsterdam Opera aims to give young singers the opportunity to perform a role before a live audience in concert version. When one hears young singers eight nights a week one gets to recall quite a bit about them and to form a well-rounded picture of where their strengths and weaknesses lay and how they are growing.

For example, Kelly Griffin, the dramatic soprano who sang Leonora was possibly one of Daniel Cardona's "discoveries" about 3 years ago when she bowled us over with....(you guessed it, didn't you?)..."Pace, pace mio Dio". We heard her sing it again a few months ago; she has grown into the entire role and performed it with passion and intensity, well served by her generous instrument, which has an agreeable vibrato.

Her lover Don Alvaro was sung by Errin Brooks whose sizable tenor won him the Wagnerian prize from the George London Foundation. This is one of those huge voices that will take awhile to bring under control and fulfill its promise. In Act I, although we could understand every word of his Italian, he sang the line unmusically, as if it were English. As the evening progressed he did remember his legato and needed only to lighten up. He tends to emphasize volume and thereby squelches the overtones we want to appreciate in the tenor instrument. He would do well to bring his voice forward and to avoid pushing.

We loved the performance of mezzo-soprano Janara Kellerman as the gypsy Preziosilla. We have previously enjoyed her as Santuzza. This is an artist who throws herself into a role and clearly enjoys herself, seeming effortlessly.  Her "Rataplan" was a delightfully light moment in a heavy opera; she is urging the Spaniards to throw off the Austrian yoke. How Verdi must have loved that theme!

Leonora's brother Don Carlo was excellently sung by the polished Verdi baritone Stephen Gaertner whom we last heard at Lauren Flanigan's Comfort Ye recital. His duets with Mr. Brooks' were highlights of the evening. He was out to kill Don Alvaro but, unwittingly the two men became military buddies until their true identities were discovered.  Uh-oh!

Leonora's father the Marquis was sung by bass Hidenori Inoue whom we greatly enjoyed as Don Pasquale at The Manhattan School of Music this season.  His character got killed off in Act I and we were sorry not to hear any more of him! But we will surely hear a lot more of him in the future, since his bass is fully mature and ready for so many roles, needing only costuming and makeup to age him. 

We also liked Stefan Szkafarowsky, the bass cast as Padre Guardiano, the abbot of the monastery that gives Leonora a secret dwelling to hide from the cruel world. He sang his role with a nice legato and secure presence. The irritable Fra Melitone was sung by bass-baritone Daniel Klein whose over-the-top acting impressed us more than his grainy voice. It is rare for a singer to show so much acting chops in a concert performance!

Veteran tenor Robert Brubaker sang the role of Trabuco.  How well we remember his performance as Anna Nicole's husband in the opera of the same name, and his performance as Herod in Salome at the Santa Fe Opera.

Mezzo-soprano Melissa Serluco appeared briefly as Leonora's maid. We enjoyed her performance not too long ago as Dorothee, one of Cinderella's step-sisters in the Utopia Opera production of Massenet's Cendrillon.

And finally, we were introduced to a new voice, lyric baritone Wil Kellerman who nicely filled the roles of the Alcade (Mayor) and that of the surgeon who decides that the hero will survive his injuries.  We hope to hear more of him.

And we hope that some opera company in NYC will decide to produce this outstanding opera in a full production.  Hint, hint!

(c) meche kroop






























Friday, March 24, 2017

WITH HONORS TO ALL

Michal Biel, Cody Quattlebaum, Chris Reynolds, and Samantha Hankey

Juilliard Vocal Arts Honors Recitals are always a treat. Singers are nominated by their voice teachers and then audition for a panel of judges. One of the judges for this recital was Paul Appleby and if anyone knows what makes a good recitalist it is he. The interesting feature of these recitals is that the singers select their own program, presumably with the help of their respective pianists. Sometimes one hears rarely heard masterpieces.

The first half of the program was given to notable bass-baritone Cody Quattlebaum whom we have so greatly enjoyed on the operatic stage. Those who thrilled to his Figaro and his Mephistopheles at the Metropolitan Opera National Council Finals last Sunday would have been astonished last night with his artistry and versatility as a song recitalist.

Although we adore the Ravel cycle Don Quichotte a Dulcinee,  Jacques Ibert composed his own cycle in 1931, three years before Ravel composed his.  We were thrilled to be introduced to Chansons de Don Quichotte; they are not better but they are surely equal in value. Mr. Quattlebaum performed them in perfect French with sonorous vocalism and heightened dramatic impact.

It seems a paradox but Mr. Quattlebaum's tone can be exciting and soothing at the same time--and always pleasing to the ear. There is a marvelous vibrato at the lower end of the register and his voice expanded to fill Alice Tully Hall. The first song, "Chanson du depart de Don Quichotte" set text by Pierre de Ronsard and the other three songs set text by Alexandre Arnoux.  There is a prominent vocalise in "Chanson a Dulcinee" which Mr. Quattlebaum enjoyed as much as we did. He assumed a different persona for "Chanson du duc" and exhibited a vastly different vocal color for "Chanson de la mort de Don Quichotte" that moved us deeply. We particularly liked the dynamic variety from pp to ff.

Collaborative pianist Michal Biel was right with him all the way, as he was for the subsequent Drei Lieder nach Gedichten von Michelangelo by Hugo Wolf. His piano echoed the singer's powerful presence and established a feeling of portent. The performance was superb but they will never be among our favorite songs, nor will Wolf's setting of Goethe's "Grenzen der Menschheit" which achieved stunning intensity. There was a tender passage that moved us however, and Mr, Quattlebaum's German was as fine as his French.

The final set comprised Cuatro Canciones sobre Textos Gallegos by Anton Garcia-Abril, a 20h c. Spanish composer and musician who is best known for composing sound tracks for movies, especially "spaghetti Westerns". His cycle was uncharacteristically melodic, both in the vocal line and in the piano writing. We enjoyed it for its accessibility and the pleasing sound of Spanish which Mr. Quattlebaum handled as well as the French and German.

The second half of the evening was performed by mezzo-soprano Samantha Hankey, a highly musical artist whom we keep liking more and more every time we hear her.  It has been only four days since she won the Met National Council Award with some marvelous Mozart and terrific Tchaikovsky. What impressed us most about last night's performance was how well she used her body to underscore the feeling of the song--something that had not struck us previously.

We have always perceived her, however, as centered and poised, making ample use of vocal color to convey the feeling of the text. Her voice literally soared in Franz Liszt's settings of Goethe's text and her expressiveness achieved new heights. It was quite a coincidence that she sang a wide selection of Robert Schumann's Ruckert lieder, several of which we reviewed last night, sung by soprano Miah Persson. It was fascinating to hear the subtle differences in interpretation. 

We particularly enjoyed "Der Himmel hat eine Trane geweint" in which an oyster captures a tear from heaven and creates a pearl which it shelters. The metaphor of pain and desire was beautifully expressed. Another favorite was the ecstatic "Widmung".

When Ms. Hankey sang "Aus den ostlichen Rosen" we could see and smell the roses; the piano of Chris Reynolds conveyed all the sweetness of the sentiment. In "Flugel! Flugel!" Ms. Hankey's voice soared along with Icarus' flight.  It is a lengthy song and offered many opportunities for variations in color. Mr. Reynold's turbulent piano conveyed the fall of Icarus with profound anguish. 

A half dozen songs by Richard Strauss brought the splendid recital to a fine close. Everyone remarks about Strauss' writing for the soprano but we had no problem with Ms. Hankey taking on these songs. The messa di voce in "Waldseligkeit" was delicate and Mr. Reynold's piano limned the rustling of the leaves.

We particularly enjoyed the light-hearted "Einerlei" in which the lover confronts the paradox of familiarity and novelty.  In "Schlechtes Wetter", Ms. Hankey told a tender tale whilst Mr. Reynold's piano let fly with a storm.

If we were to add one element to these excellent recitals it would be the projection of titles. Not everyone in the audience speaks all those language and looking down at the translations in the program takes one away from the immediacy of the experience.  The four artists onstage merited our full attention.

(c) meche kroop




Thursday, March 23, 2017

A BEAUTIFUL PERSSON

Malcolm Martineau and Miah Persson at Zankel Hall (photo by Fadi Kheir)

What is a recitalist to do when her vocal partner becomes indisposed?  Soprano Miah Persson was scheduled to give a recital with baritone Florian Boesch who was indisposed. We were not there behind the scenes to tell you how it went but we were in the audience in Zankel Hall and witnessed the end result. There was a revision in the program and in exchange for what we missed, we heard a lovely program from soprano Miah Persson who looks as beautiful as she sounds. One is not supposed to notice things like a singer's physical beauty but we confess it certainly adds to the experience.

Ms. Persson focused her program on songs by Schumann and was able to perform Frauenliebe und Leben in its entirety, a far better enterprise than singing excerpts. We love this cycle and never tire of it. We are always tuning our ears into the changes in a woman's life cycle and if Adalbert von Chamiso's text sounds sexist in our day and age, we care not a whit. It is fine for us to recognize how women's lives have changed and if 19th c. women derived their sense of self from the man that chose them, well, that's okay with us.

What we do miss, however, is what happened between the birth of the subject's baby and the husband's death.  Perhaps he died prematurely but, never mind, it's a wonderful cycle and we hope we never have to hear it sung by a man!  (LOL). Last night, Ms. Persson gave it all she had, and what she had was substantial. She captured the bedazzlement of a young woman meeting someone considered beyond her reach; she limned the incredulity of being chosen; she illustrated the call to maturity brought upon by her engagement followed by the excitement of the wedding which she shared with her sisters, whose childhood games she would leave behind.

Pregnancy brought new joys and the ecstasies of motherhood were beautifully captured; we cannot recall a more authentic performance of the phrase "Du lieber, lieber Engel, du, Du schauest mich an und lachelst dazu!" but it sounded so real that we wondered whether Ms. Persson has experienced motherhood herself.  Likewise, we felt all the mixed emotions one feels when a life partner dies--there is anger at being abandoned, mixed with the grief of loss, and the feeling that life (at least as one knows it) has ended.  Ms. Persson's effective coloring succeeded in showing the subject's maturation.

For us, this performance was the highlight of the evening and we greatly admire the manner in which Mr. Martineau gently supported the vocal line and the pathos of the postlude in which he repeats the melody of the first song "Seit ich ihn gesehen". Mr. Martineau has soft hands and a light touch; he is the perfect partner for Ms. Persson. His superb playing never ever upstages the singer and it is only when one submits to the mood of the song that one realizes the magnitude of his selfless contribution. Fortunately, Mr. Martineau had a solo on the program--Schumann's "Traumerei"--in which the silences spoke as effectively as the notes. We have noticed that in singers but rarely in the piano.

There were other wonderful Schumann songs. We particularly enjoyed the ethereal "Mondnacht" with Joseph von Eichendorff's evocative text; Mr. Martineau's prelude and interludes painted some exquisite aural pictures. Friedrich Ruckert's text for "Schneeglockchen" evoked a completely different but charming vision--that of the floral herald of Spring. Schumann had a real feel for Ruckert but Eduard Morike's "Er ist's" filled us with a similar but more passionate anticipation of Spring.

Ruckert's "Der Himmel hat eine Trane geweint" filled us with wonder and also makes us wonder why today's poets are producing such unlikeable poetry, leading to such unappealing settings! We also loved the charming "O ihr Herren" in which a poet, symbolized by a nightingale, seeks a quiet corner for his songs.

Robert's wife Clara appeared on the program as well with the passionate "Er ist gekommen" and the gentle strophic song "Liebst du um Schonheit". Although Mahler set the same text so beautifully, Clara's setting owes no one an apology. The melody remains in one's memory and pleases enormously.

Robert Schumann also set texts by Goethe and his music for "Nachtlied" amplifies the concise but pungent text. 

Mary Stuart's words written prior to her death (translated into German by Gisbert Freiherr von Vincke) did not thrill us like the rest of the program. It was a grim way to end such a glorious recital and we were quite relieved by the beautiful encore which we believe was Edvard Grieg's "Jeg elsker dig" and which we believe was sung in Danish. Please overlook our inability to distinguish one Scandinavian language from another! In any event it lifted our sunken spirits.

As one may have expected from a Swedish soprano, there were six additional songs by the Norwegian Grieg on the program. Grieg was influenced by Schumann and had a vast output, although there are only a handful performed regularly on recital programs. We favored the delightful "Lauf der Welt", sung in German, with Mr. Marineau's frisky piano adding to the fun. Grieg wrote for his wife Nina and the ecstatic "Ein traum" is one of those thrilling songs that deals with love fulfilled.

Fulfilled might be the best word to describe how we felt at the conclusion of this fine recital. If we have failed to mention Ms. Persson's pleasing instrument and her musical phrasing, it is because we were most taken by her artistry as an interpreter.

(c) meche kroop












Wednesday, March 22, 2017

THE BEATING HEART OF OPERA

The talented crew from Heartbeat Opera

There are two kinds of people on Planet Opera--the people who make it happen and the people who support them.  Before we brought our own website into being we wrote reviews for The Opera Insider which aimed to provide a forum for both populations to exchange ideas.  The Opera Insider is no more but we still relish the opportunity to mingle with and exchange ideas with young artists.  Last night at the stunning sky-high apartment of Jill Steinberg (an artist herself in the field of interior design) we got a more intimate look at one of our favorite small companies--Heartbeat Opera.

This is Heartbeat Opera's third season and they have distinguished themselves by their unique approach of including visual artists right from the very start. This team approach is all-encompassing and amounts to a 21st c. version of Richard Wagner's gesamtkunstwerk. Anyone who attends one of their productions is destined to become a loyal fan. We well recall our first exposure to Heartbeat Opera. It was Jacques Offenbach's Daphnis and Chloe and it impressed us with its imaginative staging as well as fine singing. 

Since then we have seen all of their productions and always recognize a special spark that brings the work into the 21st c. without betraying the intentions of the composer and librettist. This is exactly what it takes to bring opera into the entertainment sphere of young people. Affordable tickets and stimulating productions ensure a new young audience.

Last night's soiree introduced a select audience to the fine work of Heartbeat Opera and also introduced two female stars who will be appearing in the Spring Season. If these two young women did not knock your socks off, you must have been barefoot to start out with! Sichel Claverie absolutely sizzled as the gypsy heroine Carmen from the Bizet opera of the same name. Banlingyu Ban touched our heart as Cio-cio San in "Un bel di" from Puccini's Madama Butterfly.

These two operas are favorites that have become cliches. But in the hands of Co-Artistic Directors Louisa Proske and Ethan Heard we feel confident in expecting a fresh look at both and we feel equally confident in urging our readers to get their tickets early before they are gone. We hate to see opera-lovers disappointed.

There was plenty more entertainment last night. Ms. Ban treated us to a very sexy "Meine Lippen sie kussen so heiss" from Franz Lehar's Giuditta and then Ms. Claverie  dazzled us with "Carceleras" from Ruperto Chapi's zarzuela, Las Hijas del Zebedeo which she performed with extra sazon.

There was also a lovely performance of Elgar's "Capricieuse" perfomed by Jacob Ashworth on the violin and Lee Dionne on the piano.

So far, half of the funds needed for the Spring season (May 20-28) have already been raised and if you have been looking for an opportunity to make a difference on Planet Opera, now's your chance to support a daringly innovative company.  It sure beats banging your head on a wall trying to change the current abhorrent political situation.  Make a difference!

And don't forget to read the enthusiastic article in Opera News!

(c) meche kroop







Monday, March 20, 2017

MET NATIONAL COUNCIL FINALS

2017 Finalists in Met National Council Competition (photo by Fay Fox)


In our eyes and to our ears, these are all winners. Several of them have been followed by us for some time and garnered our appreciation for their growth as artists. Others were new to us at the Semi-Finals.  Of course readers can readily learn which six of the nine semi-finalists the judges chose, but you won't learn that here. Our aim is to share our experience of the actual performances and that is exactly what we will do. Frankly, it felt quite uncomfortable to call six out of nine "winners". The other three are anything but "losers". Some of the nine artists are fully stage-ready.

We have heard tenor Kyle van Schoonhoven perform Peter Grimes' "Mad Scene" from the Britten opera at least twice before we heard it today but this was the first time we heard it with full orchestra. It was disturbing in a very good way; we felt such sympathy for the character's distress; this was a man pushed to the limits.  It was a shattering performance. Mr. van Schoonhoven also performed Rienzi's prayer from the Wagner opera and we could see some Siegfried in his future.

Another artist who is complete in his stage-worthiness is countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, whom we have heard on a couple occasions. His penetrating sound falls nicely on the ear and his dramatic interpretation of the lost refugee from Jonathan Dove's Flight  was chilling and also disturbing. It is significant that these two young singers made such an impression on us, since we have never had much interest in English language opera. It reminds us of a great chef who can cook a dish you usually won't eat and you wind up loving it!  Mr. Cohen's other selection was from Handel's Rodelinda and his plangent quality was enhanced by an affecting messa di voce and some stunning embellishments in the ritornello.

Mezzo-soprano Samantha Hankey has a very centered stage presence that allows her beautiful voice to reach out unencumbered by flashy theatrics. She controlled the dynamics and the dramatics equally well in "Parto, parto" from Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito. She built the aria from a quiet place and let loose with a stunning crescendo on "Guardami, guardami".  Her perfect technique carried through in her performance of "Da chas nastal" from Tchaikovsky's Maid of Orleans, making us put this opera on our wish list. She brought this aria to a fiery climax.

Ms. Hankey will be singing this Thursday at the Juilliard Vocal Arts recital along with bass-baritone Cody Quattlebaum who impressed us yesterday with his ability to create compelling characters. He was a fine Figaro, ready to match wits with the Count Almaviva in "Se vuol ballare" from the Mozart opera Nozze di Figaro; he exhibited devilish glee in "Vous qui faites l'endormie" from Gounod's Faust. Along with his superb vocal gift, Mr. Quattlebaum's command of the stage and dramatic ability have always impressed us, and we are looking forward to Thursday's recital which you will surely read about here.

Soprano Vanessa Vasquez always turns in a meaningful performance and lets us see the world through her character's eyes. With beautiful tone, she disappeared into Cio-Cio San, wishfully seeing Pinkerton's ship pulling into the harbor in "Un bel di" from Puccini's Madama Butterfly. Her scene from Act I of Verdi's La Traviata was so intense that the audience erupted into applause prematurely. She was unperturbed and shone in the cabaletta.

Soprano Kirsten MacKinnon gave an emotional performance of "Otchego eto prezhde ne znala" ("Why haven't I known this before") from Tchaikovsky's Iolanta, an aria which we have only heard once--onstage at the Met. She sang with lovely tone and a keen control of dynamics. Her second aria was "Ah, je ris de me voir" from Faust and generated considerable excitement, both vocally and dramatically.

Gabriella Reyes de Ramirez performed "Il est doux, il est bon" from Massenet's Herodiade. Her splendid soprano instrument has a fine vibrato and we heard some gorgeous notes at the top of the register. The second aria she chose is not well known but we were fortunate enough to have heard New York City Opera's production of Daniel Catan's compelling opera Florencia en el Amazonas. We thought she did justice (and then some) to "Cristobal, Es esta luz la muerte?"

Soprano Natalie Image has a voice much larger than her petite frame would suggest. She exhibited a nicely focused sound and a winning flirtatious personality in the Snow Maiden's Aria from the Rimsky-Korsakov opera--another opera that is unknown to us but which is also going on our wish list. Ms. Image has the talent for getting a song across, as she also did in her other selection "O luce di quest'anima" from Donizetti's Linda di Chamounix with its dazzling coloratura. We always enjoy a good trill!

Tenor Richard Smagur performed two selections in French with a solid technique. We heard "La fleur que tu m'avais jetee" from Bizet's Carmen and "Pourquoi me reveiller" from Massenet's Werther, which we just heard at the Met with Isabel Leonard and Vittorio Grigolo. Mr. Smagur is like a finely cut gem that needs some polishing to reveal its beauty. The polishing we hope he receives consists of loosening up physically so that his body goes along with the wonderful feeling in his voice.  We want convincing characterizations on the opera stage.

The nine gifted singers we heard were culled from 1200 applicants in 42 cities around the USA, Canada, and Puerto Rico. Gracious and gorgeous superstar Renee Fleming was hostess for the evening and paid tribute to all the volunteers who donate time and funding to make the Met National Council Auditions happen. They surely deserve the credit and the nine finalists who climbed the ladder of selection are destined for fine careers. We wish them all well. The average audience member never realizes just how hard these young artists work to achieve these dizzying heights.

While waiting for the judges to make their decision, we were treated to performances by three winners from ten years ago. Tenor Michael Fabiano sang "Oh! fede negar potesssi...Quando le sere al placido", Rodolfo's lament from Verdi's Luisa Miller.

Soprano Amber Wagner, who will perform a recital at the Morgan Library next Sunday under the auspices of the George London Foundation, sang "Es gibt ein Reich". Her generous instrument seems made for Strauss and we hope we will get more of it next week.

Mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton is simply a force of nature and her unique and powerful instrument always astonishes us. She sounds like no one else; we hope it is not sacrilege to say that we think of a chocolate stout filling our mouth and dizzying our head. She performed an intoxicating version of "Acerba volutta, dolce tortura", sung in Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur by the jealous Princess de Bouillon. WOW!

What an incredible afternoon, thanks to the Metropolitan National Council! Let us also credit Nicola Luisotti for his superb conducting.

(c)

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A WINTER ROSE

Ken Noda and Hyesang Park


It was a cold and nasty late winter day outside, but inside the vast St. Michael's Church on the Upper West Side, Spring was in the air and in the ear. Ushering in the delights of the upcoming Spring was star soprano Hyesang Park with the incredibly sensitive accompaniment of Ken Noda. The occasion was a Neighborhood Concert produced by the Weill Music Institute of Carnegie Hall in partnership with St. Michael's church. The concert is part of the Marilyn Horne Legacy at Carnegie Hall, and the divine Ms. Horne was in the audience for this very special event.

We have reviewed Ms. Park over a half dozen times (all reviews archived) and fell all over ourselves the first time we heard her in 2013. But she just keeps getting better and better, even when there seems to be no room for improvement. Her instrument is bright but never shrill; her technique is flawless; but it is something else that draws the listener in, as if the fragrance of a rose slipped around your heart.  To hear her is to love her. Her voice is like a bell that summons one away from whatever dark place you may have been stuck in.

Perhaps the rose analogy came out of the gorgeous rose-colored gown she wore but there is no denying that her inner beauty, revealed when she modestly addressed the audience, informs everything she sings. We don't know of another singer who can close her eyes in rapture without losing contact with the audience. 

We have been most familiar with her bel canto roles and a Mozart concert aria.  Yesterday's recital revealed a number of other aspects to her versatility. Our companion, fluent in both French and German, agreed with our high opinion of Ms. Park's linguistic skills. We can attest to her authenticity in Spanish.

The program opened with Joaquin Rodrigo's Cuatro madrigales amatorios, four memorably tuneful songs of widely divergent moods; the mournful "Con que la lavare" and the teasing "De donde venis, amore?" were our two personal favorites. These songs are heard frequently on recital programs but Ms. Park made them fresh and new.

Also in Spanish were three selections from Enrique Granados' Canciones amatorias, with which we were unfamiliar. In these, Mr. Noda's collaborative piano was outstanding. He always impresses us with his profound involvement with the singer and the two of them made marvelous music together.

Clara Schumann's songs deserve to be on more recital programs and we were happy to hear five of them, all sung with superlative German diction and a remarkable depth of feeling. Mrs. Schumann's song output was certainly overshadowed by her husband's but she was no minor talent! Just hear her setting of "Liebst du um Schonheit", the Ruckert text that was famously set by Gustav Mahler!

We have often heard the vocalise of Heitor Villa-Lobos' Bachianas brasileiras No. 5. When Ms. Park sang it, our thought was "Angels can speak without words".  We cannot recall ever hearing the beautiful text about nightfall. Ms. Park handled the vocalise, the text, and the humming section with equal skill. We are not familiar with Portuguese but we shall assume that it was perfect.

Poulenc seemed to favor surrealistic texts to which we have trouble relating; however, Ms. Park's dramatic gifts allowed us the illusion that we understood! Now that is a strange phenomenon. She captured a sort of cabaret feeling to them without depriving them of their seriousness. We particularly enjoyed "Paganini" from Metamorphoses and the pictorial "C" from Deux poemes de Louis Aragon. The ironic "Fetes galantes" was performed at rapid-fire speed without missing a single syllable.

It is a courageous act for a Korean woman to sing Tosti songs, usually best sung by an Italian tenor breathing garlic into every phrase. We go on record here as saying that Ms. Park did them justice, even bringing something new to them. In "Aprile", she painted an aural picture of Spring along with Mr. Noda's lilting arpeggios. "L'ultima canzone" was so heartbreaking we could scarcely breathe. (We managed to make a one minute video which you can find on our Facebook page Voce di Meche.) The joyful "Marechiaro" was sung in accurate dialect.  We loved every moment.

Ms. Park closed the program with a lovely setting of the 23rd Psalm by N. Unyoung. Although religious music is not our favorite, the words are in Korean and Ms Park sang from the depths of her soul. It is clear from what place she derives spiritual sustenance, the more power to her.

As encore, she offered "O, mio babbino caro" from Giacomo Puccini's Gianni Schicchi. As the true artist she is, Ms. Park made this oft-heard aria completely her own.  She made the church her own.  She made the audience her own. This beautiful young woman is destined for stardom on the world's stages; and she deserves it!

(c) meche kroop









 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

A MASTER CONDUCTOR'S MASTER CLASS

Participants in Emmanuel Villaume Master Class at Juilliard (photo by Michael DiVito)

Thursday's Master Class at Juilliard was unusual and unforgettable. Most master classes involve a single singer getting coached in the finer points of song interpretation. The class conducted by Maestro Emmanuel Villaume (through the Ellen and James S. Marcus Institute for Vocal Arts and the Collaborative Piano Departments at Juilliard) involved three duets and one ensemble. As one might have expected, the charmingly Gallic maestro worked exclusively in French.

Apparently, he had already worked with this select group of students, all graduate students, because they sounded just terrific before their coaching. That being said, each pair reached a new level of artistry within their strictly allotted half hour. The progress was remarkable. Maestro Villaume has a profound understanding of each character, as much as any director; but he fosters characterological authenticity within the musical context. Show me anyone else who achieves this depth!

In general, he likes to play with the concept of tension and release in the vocal line. He urged the students to find reasons for the silences between phrases by focusing on the thoughts the character might be having. He advised the students to listen to each other, which, we imagine, is even more difficult than it is in the theater, given that there are so many other things with which to be concerned.

Two coaching sessions involved Georges Bizet's masterpiece Carmen, a masterpiece which the composer thought was a failure when he died, never knowing that it would achieve the position of the most-produced opera ever. We had tenor Alexander McKissick as Don Jose in the Act I duet with Micaela, portrayed by soprano Maria Fernanda Brea, accompanied by Michael Biel. 

They worked effectively on character. Don Jose is happy to see her but rather ambivalent in his affection due to his recent encounter with Carmen. Of course he wants to hear how his mother is in "Parle-moi de ma mere". He can be gentle here but he must color the phrase differently when he repeats it. One can sing agitato while singing piano.

Micaela must be shy but also flirtatious.  She means to marry Don Jose as his mother wishes. But she is innocent and knows nothing of his situation.  Ms. Brea also conveyed a sense of her character's inner strength which she would call upon in Act III when she goes into the mountains to find the wayward DJ.

Next we heard soprano Christine Taylor Price as Leila and tenor Miles Mykkanen as Nadir in the Act II duet from Bizet's Les pecheurs de perles. This provided the perfect demonstration of the tension/release concept we noted above, to avoid metronomic phrasing which is just boring. Collaborative pianist Will Kelley was astute in getting that point.

A phrase from pharmacotherapy came to mind which can also apply to a scene.  "Start low and go slow". Obviously if you begin a scene with great intensity, there is nowhere to go. In this scene, Leila must listen closely to Nadir's line and to enter not only at the right time but at the right level of intensity. No wonder we love duets!

Further instructions were given to use the consonants to project the vowels. We have noticed this deficit rather often in American singers who often sound afraid of the consonants. A further point was made that French opera is "softer" than Italian opera.

This point was reiterated in the next duet from  Jules Massenet's Werther. There is no melodrama in French opera! "Il faut nous separer" is a suspended waltz which, like the relationship between Werther (sung by tenor Gerard Schneider) and Charlotte (mezzo-soprano Natalia Kutateladze), goes nowhere. CP for this duet was the excellent Katelan Terrell.

Much time was devoted to phrasing and knowing which words in a phrase to weight. The crescendo on long notes can continue in intensity through the silences. The singer can feel without "acting".

A fine point of French diction was to allow the final "e" of a word (like "cherche") to evaporate.  It's there but it should never be obvious.

The final coaching was the most fun and apparently delighted the audience as well as the singers. We will never be able to hear the Act II quintet from Carmen without remembering the points made by Maestro Guillaume. We would tend to agree that making this scene light-hearted like a cabaret sets up the audience for the tragedy to come. 

Le Dancaire (sung by baritone Dimitri Katotakis) and his sidekick Le Remendado (tenor John Noh) are trying to persuade Frasquita (soprano Anneliese Klenetsky) and Mercedes (mezzo-soprano Kady Evanyshyn) to come along on their next smuggling adventure. 

Only Carmen (mezzo-soprano Amanda Lynn Bottoms) refuses.  And then....she drops the bombshell!  She is "amoureuse". The group is incredulous. We have never scene this scene done so effectively; it was accomplished by increasing the tempo and getting each singer to make a more decisive entrance. The entire quintet must be propulsive. Nathan Raskin at the piano had much to contribute in this regard.

Singing about duty (devoir) and love (amour) requires very different coloration.

Another point was that Dancaire's portamento can be used to show his humorous incredulity.  Very effective! These characters are having fun and in a way are playing themselves, perhaps a bit self-consciously. Maestro Villaume injected one final touch that was very effective--a rivalry between Frasquita and Mercedes. The latter sings a line and the former repeats it while upstaging her.

What a worthwhile class! So much information imparted graciously and effectively. 

(c) meche kroop


Friday, March 17, 2017

SOUNDS OF KYRGYZSTAN

The colorful musicians of the Kyrgyz Republic


One of the chief advantages of living in NYC is the opportunity to experience many cultures. Until last night we knew nothing about the Kyrgyz Republic, only that it was somewhere in Central Asia. The colorful program presented last night at Merkin Concert Hall got us curious about this landlocked country with a population smaller than that of NYC. Now we know that it was on the Silk Road and that waves of immigration and invasions have resulted in a varied culture. We learned that many of their musicians were trained under the Soviet system but that independence was achieved in 1991.

Last night was a love-fest between this small nation and our own.  The Kyrgyz American Foundation has a mission-- to strengthen civil, humanitarian and cultural ties between the two nations, and one important way to accomplish this is through the arts. The love fest was not just on the stage. Kyrgyz pianist Aza Sydykov and American soprano Nikoleta Rallis are not just performing partners but romantic partners as well.

The program opened with a warm welcome from leaders of the Kyrgyz American Foundation: Mr. Sydykov and Jonathan Levin, another fine pianist.  In an interesting twist, Mr. Sydykov accompanied Ms. Rallis for our own national anthem whilst Mr. Levin played that of the Kyrgyz Republic. We heard some folks singing along so now we know that there were Kryzyk people in the audience!

We came expecting a folkloric show but that angle presented itself only for a portion of the evening and that is the portion upon which we would like to focus.  We are entirely unfamiliar with the stringed instrument known as the komuz but the virtuosity displayed by its players took our breath away. We would have liked to tell which of the two beautiful performers listed in the program  played in the video we took just before intermission but we cannot. (The program failed us on other counts as well).

However, both of them played together in the second half and both Perizat Kopobaeva and Elvira Abdilova turned in exceptional performances.  They played this instrument over each shoulder, upside down, and sideways, never missing a beat.  Arms beat like the wings of a bird and chiffon sleeves floated like curtains in a breeze. An interesting feature of the komuz is the creation of harmonics which reminds us of our "dan bao" from Vietnam.

The rest of the program was also entertaining. Apparently The Kyrgyz Republic has produced some fine composers with names both difficult to spell and impossible to pronounce. Nowhere to be heard was a composition that was hard on the ears. The music was lovely and accessible to Western ears.

There was a third fine pianist on the program, the beautiful Kairy Koshoeva, seen above in a glamorous red gown. We enjoyed a composition entitled "Mash Botoi" or "Horse Race" which we were pleased to hear as the closing number of the evening--this time played by Mr. Levin with both komuz players adding to the fun. 

One of the highlights of the evening was Ms. Rallis' singing of Stephen Foster's "Beautiful Dreamer" and Ernest Charles' "When I Have Sung My Songs To You". Strangely, these American art songs were introduced as "folk songs". Of course, we could not tell the difference among the Kryzyk compositions, which ones were traditional and which ones not.  We are all for eliminating categories and just appreciating the music!

And that we did!  Some pieces were lyrical and melodic, others were staccato and propulsive, still others languorous. The variety of moods and colors were enjoyable, even when we could not understand the program (i.e. "Mash Botoi" was given the date of 1982 but the composer Atai Ogonbaev died in 1949. That is why we abandoned the program and just enjoyed the music.)

We will not close before crediting the lovely cellist Nurmira Greenberg who played a beautiful set accompanied by Mr. Levin on the piano. The set was all mid 20th c. but without any of the flaws we find in 20th c. music. There were also some improvisations by yet another pianist Joel Martin, an American with strong ties to The Kyrgyz Republic.

(c) meche kroop



Thursday, March 16, 2017

ON THIS ISLAND...AND OTHERS

Ho Jae Lee, Steven Blier, Benjamin Dickerson, Hannah Dishman, Jack Swanson, Christine Price

It comes as no surprise that Steven Blier (Artistic Director of New York Festival of Song, collaborative pianist, educator, coach, recording artist, etc.) graduated from Yale with Honors in English Literature. His program notes are always invaluable and highly instructive. Furthermore, they are so well written that we find ourself wanting to quote directly from them instead of finding our own words. So, dear reader, when you see a phrase in quotes, please know exactly whom we are quoting, which surely beats plagiarizing. We hope the generous Mr. Blier will feel complimented.

The theme of last night's recital was Four Islands--comprising Ireland, Cuba, Madagascar, and Manhattan. Mr. Blier finds island dwellers to be "fundamentally different from our landlocked neighbors". Having been "under attack from outside enemies (we) must learn to protect ourselves from invasion".  Just think about that when you are trying to push through the throngs of Times Square to get to the theater!

The program opened with some Irish folksongs and regular readers will recall how taken we are with folk melodies. In "Siul A Ghra", soprano Christine Price and mezzo-soprano Hannah Dishman created some exquisite harmonies a cappella, even before Mr. Blier chimed in with a spare piano accompaniment. We haven't a clue what Gaelic is supposed to sound like but to our ears it sounded authentic. 

Ms. Dishman was then joined by baritone Benjamin Dickerson for a cute romantic ditty entitled "The Palatine's Daughter". From Mr. Blier's program notes, we learned that the Palatines were a German-speaking group who were forced out of their country by war in the early 18th c. and given asylum by England. Apparently they assimilated successfully, in this case through romance. The accompaniment by the flute of Marco Granados was lovely.

Let us skip over the song by Arnold Bax, a Brit who was as entranced by Ireland as was Victor Herbert, about whom we wrote last week.  But we won't skip without mentioning the powerful piano of Ho Jae Lee whose artistry on the piano is astonishing.

John Corigliano also set Irish folksongs and Ms. Price's clear and lovely soprano wove in and out of the fanciful line of the flute.

But the song from Ireland that captured our heart was Houston Collisson's "Eileen Og" which was given a charming and humor filled performance by tenor Jack Swanson, joined by Mr. Granados' flute. The song contained a very particular lesson for men who go a-courtin'.

The ship was ready to sail and off we went to Cuba where the "Spanish elements suppressed, resisted, slowly co-opted, and finally embraced the rhythms of the oppressed Afro-Cubans". Does that scenario sound familiar? Afro-Cubans were not freed from slavery until 1886 and yet, today, seem far more integrated than Afro-Americans.  Cuban music is a "grafting of Spanish elegance onto the complex throb of African rhythms".  (Wish we'd written that!)

It took four hands of piano (Mr. Blier and Mr. Lee) to give enough textural support to Mr. Swanson and Mr. Dickerson as they performed "Guarina", a lyrical serenade written by the untrained but gifted composer Sindo Garay.

Ms. Price, accompanied by Mr. Lee, excelled in Ernesto Lecuona's setting of "Quiero ser hombre", text by the Uruguayan feminist poet Juana Ibarbourou.

Cuba must stand among the nations of the New World which adapted the Spanish operetta known as zarzuela to their own use. Mr. Brier's droll explication added much to our enjoyment of "Aria de Matilde" from Jose Mauri's La Esclava. It was not the only piece to highlight difficult social issues like interracial romance, but it was one of the first.  Dark-skinned heroine (soprano) has dark-skinned lover (baritone) but gets seduced by aristocratic light-skinned man (tenor) gets pregnant and commits suicide. In this case, however, the aria was sung by a mezzo and Ms. Dishman sang it with lovely tone and depth of feeling.

The funniest song in Cuba must have been Emilio Grenet's "Tu no sab ingle" (sic) which sounds like a Spanish answer to ebonics. Mr. Dickerson (whom we have now heard in French, German, English, and Spanish) was hilarious lecturing his friend about his linguistic failure with American girls.

After the interval, we weighed anchor once more and set sail for Madagascar. The traditional Zulu melody, gloriously harmonized by Ms. Price, Ms. Dishman, and Mr. Swanson thrilled us with its strange words and interesting harmonies. 

However, as hard as we tried to like Maurice Ravel's Chansons Madecasses, we were unable to relate to the music. The French text of "Nahandove" and "Il est doux" was incredibly sensual which we readily picked up from Mr. Lee's piano and the delicacy of the cello, beautifully bowed by Nan-Cheng Chen. However, the vocal line did nothing for us and Mr. Dickerson's use of the music stand prevented us from feeling the connection we felt in the Zulu piece.

We were very happy to dock in Manhattan and Cole Porter's "I Happen to Like New York" perfectly expressed our sentiments. All four singers and all four hands on the piano were enlisted for this exciting final song with its punchy Anglo-Saxon rhymes.

But let us not omit the other wonderful songs in the Manhattan group. Ms. Price gave a galvanizing performance of "One Life to Live" from Kurt Weill's 1941 Lady in the Dark, in which she has a YOLO moment.  Ms. Dishman gave a highly convincing portrait of an auditioning actress in Jason Robert Brown's "When you Come Home to Me". (We sincerely hope that none of last night's artists ever have to endure such humiliation.)

Mr. Swanson sang an unpublished song by Irving Berlin, cut from the musical As Thousands Cheer. "Through a Keyhole" was considered too risque for its Depression-era Broadway and it certainly is filled with naughty innuendo which Mr. Swanson captured without exaggerating.  It was done just right.

As encore, we heard a composition by Villa Lobos based on the NewYork Skyline. 

It was a great cruise and we are glad to be home safe and sound to tell you all about it.

(c) meche kroop








Tuesday, March 14, 2017

CREPUSCOLO GOTTERDAMMERUNG

Erich Hoeprich, Cristoph Hammer. and Jessica Gould


The title of last night's Salon/Sanctuary Concert captivated us because of the apposition of Italian and German.  This resonated with us because of our own title.  As readers may have realized, "Meche" is not an Italian name but a Spanish one and is pronounced to rhyme with "leche".  Consequently "Voce di Meche" is half Spanish and half Italian.

Getting back to last night's concert, it was another triumph for Artistic Director/singer/impresario/scholar Jessica Gould to have assembled a superlative group of musicians to illustrate a fascinating period in European history. With her customary diligent scholarship she has peered at the twilight of the ancien regime through the lens of music. 

Napoleon's success led to a period of populism and accompanying unrest. In times of stress and social change, mankind often turns to the imagined delights of pastoral life for comfort.  Witness all the "farm to table" restaurants springing up lately in NYC!

Original instruments made their appearance (or replicas thereof) lending the sound of authenticity to the evening. Incredibly skillful musicians spoke briefly about their instruments and audience members expressed their interest in the beautiful wooden clarinet with its limited keys and string-bound reed, the wonderful fortepiano which was the link between the harpsichord and our modern piano, and the dulcet-toned "romantic guitar", smaller than the one seen today.

The program opened with Giacomo Meyerbeer's "Hirtenlied", performed by Ms. Gould herself with accompaniment by Erich Hoeprich's clarinet and Christoph Hammer's fortepiano. Our main interest is in vocal music and we were absolutely thrilled by Sei Ariette, composed by Domenico Maria Puccini, grandfather of Giacomo, who used the former's "Te Deum" in his famous opera Tosca. Puccini Grandpere's music was favored by Napoleon who preferred Italian music to French. Ms. Gould brought the songs to vivid life, accompanied by the guitar of master lutenist Diego Cantalupi, who discovered the songs himself in Italy.  They have never been performed in the USA and we felt privileged to hear them. The vocal line foreshadowed that of the Bel Canto period and the subject matter was pastoral in nature.

Further vocal delight was to be found in Ms. Gould's performance of Sechs deutsche Lieder, op 103 by Louis Spohr, once more accompanied by Mr. Hammer on the fortepiano and Mr. Hoeprich on the clarinet, pictured above. We particularly enjoyed the lullaby "Wiegenlied" and the rousing "Wach auf", glorifying the two opposite ends of the sleep cycle. We couldn't help thinking how suitable these gorgeous songs would be for performance at our local music conservatories. This instrumental combination was greatly enjoyed in the salons of Schubert.

The instrumental part of the evening was no less satisfying. Mr. Hammer gave a moving performance of Jan Ladislav Dussek's The Sufferings of the Queen of France, op. 23, a programmatic piece in which Marie Antoinette's anguish seemed most intense in the part where she is separated from her children. The part in which Mr. Hammer's expressive playing limned the "savage tumult of the rabble" was very effective, but the sound of the guillotine dropping was shocking.

We heard a lovely Serenade for clarinet and guitar, op.22 by the Viennese Benigne Henry in which the "Rondeau" had a lovely lilting and recurrent theme. Mr. Hoeprich and Mr. Cantalupi seemed destined to love making music together.

Similarly, Mr. Hammer and Mr. Catalupi didn't miss their chance to enjoy making music together with a delightful tidbit that was not on the program--two rondos by the Barese composer Mauro Giuliani, little known but much enjoyed.

Johann Nepomuk Hummel, a student of Mozart, is not much heard today but in his time he was considered the greatest pianist in Europe, a title later assumed by Franz Liszt. His Bagatelle op. 107, No 3 provided a golden opportunity for Mr. Hammer to have a solo.

Mr. Hammer was joined by Mr. Hoeprich for Carl Maria von Weber's Silvana Variations, op. 33, a highly melodic work that was filled with invention. We particularly enjoyed the Lento movement  in March tempo which made us think of a walk to the gallows, filled as it was with depth of feeling. It came to a gentle ending, making way for the duple metered Allegro which swung along until achieving a peaceful coda.

And finally, Johann Kaspar Mertz' Nocturne op. 4, no. 1 received a meditative and soulful performance from Mr. Cantalupi.

We very much enjoyed hearing music that was new to us and hearing such gifted artists in varying combinations.

Those familiar with Salon/Sanctuary Concerts know that one can always expect to discover something new and fulfilling!

(c) meche kroop






Saturday, March 11, 2017

THEY CAME FOR THE SONATA...


Jonathan Biss and Mark Padmore at Zankel Hall


"They came for the sonata and stayed for the lieder" was the thought we entertained last night at Zankel Hall . It is rare that we attend a vocal recital without knowing at least a dozen people in the audience; last night there was a different audience from the one we see at vocal recitals and we had wondered whether they would enjoy the Schubert lieder on the second half of the program.  We needn't have concerned ourselves. The audience was held spellbound by Mr. Padmore's artistry and if they were not fans of lieder before the recital they surely will now be converts.

Although Mr. Padmore is a mature artist, the timbre of his voice is very youthful whilst his interpretive skills have been earned by experience. Moreover, he addressed the audience in a most gracious manner and spoke about the program, something we always appreciate.

The generous program comprised songs written toward the end of Schubert's tragically interrupted life with his full awareness that his time on earth was limited. A case has been made for how this influenced his song output but we cannot add to that argument.  All we can say is that we found a wide range of emotion in the chosen songs and that Mr. Padmore colored them with subtlety and communicated a depth of feeling.  And, for us, that is what lieder singing is all about.

A case was also made that Schubert's late songs give less melody to the vocal line.  Frankly, if modern composers paid half as much attention to a melodic vocal line we might enjoy contemporary music considerably more. The melodies are swirling around in our head even now. Some credit must go to the poets he chose to set--Johann Gabriel Seidl, Karl Gottfried von Leitner, Ludwig Rellstab, and, of course, Heinrich Heine.

Taking a closer look at our personal favorites, Rellstab's "In der Ferne" employed a dactyl meter in short punchy phrases that rhymed throughout, lending an impressive unity to the song, emphasized by Schubert's rhythmic setting. Rellstab's "Aufenthalt" followed the dactyl unit with a final stressed syllable, giving the song an insistent and propulsive feeling that echoed the rushing stream, the falling tears, and the beating heart.  In his "Herbst", the rhythm of the piano reminded one of "Gretchen am Spinnrade".  We are not suggesting that these songs sounded alike. Mr. Padmore made each song his own.

Von Leitner's poetry is different altogether and Schubert responded to it differently. In "Der Winterabend", so appropriate for last night, von Leitner wrote about the moonlight slipping lightly into his solitary room, spinning and weaving a shimmering veil ("schimmerndes Schleiertuch"); Shubert's music, as interpreted by Mr. Padmore, similarly spun and wove a shimmering veil over the audience.  We were transfixed!

In his "Des Fischers Liebesgluck", the piano introduces the strophic barcarolle in a minor key and plays the same theme as an interlude  between each stanza, a theme that once heard can never be forgotten. Mr. Padmore colored it beautifully and negotiated the upward leaps effectively. Strophic songs can become boring but not this one!

In Schubert's setting of Heine's "Die Stadt", the composer conveys both breeze and moisture by some kind of compositional legerdemain and the two artists ensured that we felt both. This was tonal painting at its apex!

The program ended with a setting of Seidl's cheerfully charming "Die Taubenpost".

The first half of the concert belonged to Jonathan Biss alone as he performed Schubert's Piano Sonata in A Major, D. 959 which was published posthumously. Mr. Biss' fingers literally flew over the keys in virtuosic splendor. It's always impressive when a superstar of the piano can also perform equally well as a collaborative pianist.

(c) meche kroop

Friday, March 10, 2017

WHILE MY GUITAR GENTLY....SINGS

Colin Davin, Elad Kabilio, and Larisa Martinez


You may observe that in the photo above Mr. Kabilio is blurry whilst Mr. Davin and Ms. Martinez appear rather sharp. The reason is that we do not have a fast enough lens on our iPhone and Mr. Kabilio never stops moving! Indeed this young man is always on the move. Gifted not only as a cellist but as an educator and a producer, the kinetic Mr. K. started Music Talks about six years ago and we have watched his audience growing until they outgrew their venue. Their new home is Interface, a spacious loft-like space on W. 30th St. Nothing pleases us more than seeing a Sold Out sign in connection with classical music.

In case you hadn't noticed, there is a quiet revolution going on the classical music world, one in which young artists are starting their own companies and presenting music in unusual venues in order to attract new young audience members. People who are reluctant to buy costly tickets to concert halls or invest huge amounts of money in subscriptions can more readily be tempted to attend a more casual venue for a modest entrance fee.

An advantage of this sea change is that unusual and highly specialized programs can be presented.  We are indeed in an era of specialization of taste.

Mr. K. certainly has his finger on the pulse of his audience and plays them as adroitly as he plays his cello, and that's saying a lot. He did not play the cello last night at Interface but rather put on his educator's cap and shared his ebullient enthusiasm with the comfortably seated audience.  The 90 minutes flew by and if you didn't leave with your feelings fulfilled and your brain stimulated, there is something wrong with you.

The subject of the evening was "Guitar Stories: Spain" and Mr. K. brought together two amazing artists to give us an evening as tasty as tapas. Celebrated guitarist Colin Davin immersed himself in the sounds of Iberia which Mr. K. explained is really many countries in one, revealing multiple influences from its neighbors. If the tour was too brief, then we travelers can explore further on our own.

Isaac Albeniz composed at the end of the 19th c. and, although he composed his Op. 232 for the piano, most people recognize it from its guitar transcriptions, probably most successfully accomplished by Andres Segovia. The key has been transcribed from G minor to E minor. The introduction, originally intended as a Preludio to a suite entitled Chants d'Espagne, was retitled by the publisher as "Asturias". However, to our ears, it is most definitely Andalusian in spirit.  Indeed we recognize one of the rhythms as a buleria.

Mr. Davin began pianissimo and built to an exciting intensity that brought the vigorous foot stamping of flamenco to mind. The insistent thematic repetition made it impossible to forget, and as the theme ascended the scale the excitement grew, with a more tranquil middle section providing a respite.

The fifth section of the work is entitled "Cordoba" and was given a soulful introduction. We particularly liked the quiet chorale-like section.

Federico Mompou, a Catalonian, did write for guitar and we heard selections from Suite Compostelana, commissioned by Segovia himself. Santiago de Compostela, the capitol of Galicia, is the culmination of a famous Christian pilgrimage in Northwest Spain. The "Preludio" shows the influence of nearby France whereas "Muineira" with its duple meter shows the Celtic influence on the area. Yes, the guitar can sound like bagpipes and yes, we did feel like dancing!

Poor Antonio Jose, executed at 34 during the Spanish Civil War, produced some fine music before he died.  His Sonata for Guitar has its organizational foot in Neoclassicism but its emotional foot (or heart, as it were) in Impressionism. He paid tribute to his teacher Maurice Ravel in "Pavana Triste" which had a limping rhythm reminding one of sobs. Mr. Davin's fingerwork in the Finale was rapid fire.

The culmination of the evening was Manuel de Falla's Siete Canciones Populares Espanolas, a piece that was written for soprano and piano. Although that is the way we are accustomed to hearing it, we loved the way it sounded on the guitar which was an equal partner to the lovely Larisa Martinez' luscious soprano. Her exquisite tone and clear diction conveyed the meaning of the text with Mr. Davin's guitar supplying the witty subtext. The songs are concise and pungent with ample opportunity to change mood by color and texture.

Our only quibble was that the seven songs were not performed as a unit, as they are meant to be. The cycle was interrupted twice for Mr. K. to explain the songs to the audience, which broke the mood. We believe this was a well-intentioned attempt to educate the audience and we do understand that people's attention spans are growing shorter by the megabyte, but the cycle begs to be heard in one piece!

(c) meche kroop













Thursday, March 9, 2017

GETTIN' YER IRISH UP

The lassies: Joanie Brittingham, Vira Slywotzky, and Katherine Corle
The lads: Jason Robinette, Ross Brown, Anthony Maida, David Seatter, Richard Holmes and Jovani McCleary


No, no, no, we are not angry.  Au contraire, we are absolutely tickled with our evening spent with Victor Herbert Renaissance Project LIVE! about whom we have written before.  VHRPL is celebrated for bringing the works of this early 20th c. composer to lively life. Last night's concert, in anticipation of St. Patrick's Day, presented a selection of his songs celebrating his Irish heritage.  Imagine the shock of finding out that Mr. Herbert probably never set foot in Ireland, a rather new discovery!

Still, he had an Irish soul, thanks to his mother and maternal grandfather with whom he lived for a period in England. As a matter of fact, he set some of his grandfather's poetry and we were fortunate to hear some of Samuel Lover's text, one of which was sung by the excellent and versatile soprano Vira Slywotzky (one of the founding members of VHRPL) who also narrated the evening with great style and dulcet tone. The song, entitled "Angel's Whisper" was based on the legend that when a baby smiles in his/her sleep it's because of conversation with an angel.  In the song, which touched our heart, a mother is reassured about the safety of her mariner husband when her baby smiles.  Awwww!

Mr. Lover also wrote humorous songs and we just loved "The Birth of St. Patrick" which described the embattled Irish temperament with two camps disagreeing about the date St. Patrick was born. A diplomatic priest added the two dates together and came up with the 17th, thus solving the problem. Too bad "the troubles" could not have been so easily sorted out! The song was performed by tenor Anthony Maida and baritones Jovani McCleary and David Seatter.

Another favorite of ours involving the grandfather's poetry was the romantic "Live in My Heart and Pay No Rent", for which the versatile fellow also wrote the music. Mr. Maida gave it a fine performance.

Of all the gentlemen, the one whose timbre was closest to what one expects in an Irish tenor was Jason Robinette, whose delivery of "Mary Came Over to Me" touched the heart with the joy of a reunion of two lovers when the woman finally arrives in America.

Tenor Ross Brown shone as the Irish Don Juan in "Barney Maguire" from Mr. Herbert's 1906 show "Miss Dolly Dollars". The charming choreography by Director/Choreographer Emily Cornelius brought in the lovely sopranos Joanie Brittingham and Katherine Corle.

The ensemble work was in every instance delightful, particularly when all six men joined in for the drinking song "The Cruiskeen Lawn" which was performed a cappella. The admirably crisp enunciation we had enjoyed in solo pieces carried over and we understood every rowdy word of this folk song arranged by Mr. Herbert.

We wish to alert our readers to the upcoming performance of Herbert's 1917 operetta Eileen on April 25th and 26th because the songs on last night's program taken from that show were so special. If you've never heard "My Little Irish Rose", you will be enchanted. Ms. Corle sang it beautifully. There were three other songs from the show on the program, all memorably melodic. Notably, Eileen will have an orchestra!

Some of the songs were about Ireland's struggle for freedom from oppression and some were about the contributions of the Irish to America's cause in The Great War.

There was still more to interest the listener. Adding to Herbert's Irish heart were the skills of composition that he learned growing up in his father's Germany. Ireland had never produced a song cycle before and Mr. Herbert wrote one entitled The Bards of Ireland which was performed in 1908 for the Society of Friends of the Sons of Ireland. Thomas Moore's lyrics to Old Irish Airs were arranged by Mr. Herbert. We make no claims that this cycle rivals those of Schubert and Schumann but it was surely a treat to hear a work that was never published.  Leave it to Artistic Director Alyce Mott!

Strangely, however, our favorite part of this song cycle was the piano solo "Lament for Owen Roe O'Neill" played on the piano by Music Director Michael Thomas. Sometimes words are superfluous. Baritone Richard Holmes gave a lovely performance of "Remember the Glories of Brien the Brave".

We believe it is important, particularly at this time in our history, to acknowledge the contributions made to the USA by the Irish. Every ethnic group that has come to our great nation has been at first despised, later accepted, and eventually celebrated.  Let us not forget that!  It's time to make America great again!  Yes, by welcoming immigrants.  And you can quote us on that one!

(c) meche kroop





Monday, March 6, 2017

VOCALIS CONSORT

Martin Neron, Sonya Headlam, Sahoko Sato Timpone, Christopher Sierra, and Sean McCarther


The Vocalis Consort is new to us but the pianist is not. We have heard him before at Opera America and the prospect of hearing him perform Spanish (and Spanish influenced) music was a tempting one. We wished that the concert might have been better attended since the offerings were most fulfilling.

The first half of the program comprised music by Spanish composers. Tenor Cristopher Sierra has a nice unforced sound and sings with sazon. We enjoyed a pair of songs by Fernando Obradors, a self taught Catalan composer who arranged his country's folk songs.  Folk songs are always appealing due to their memorable melodies; his are no exception. We have always loved the beautiful sentiment of "Del cabello mas sutil" and Mr. Sierra sang it as beautifully as it was written, with both passion and tenderness in equal measure. Mr. Neron's rippling piano accompaniment was lovely.

Soprano Sonya Headlam has a lovely voice but was unfortunately "on the book" for her selections from Joaquin Nin-Culmell's Sephardic songs. There was no audience contact and we felt shut out. But we did enjoy the piano accompaniment in "La rosa enflorece".

Argentinian composer Carlos Guastavino is a favorite of ours and baritone Sean McCarther sang the violent "Milonga de Dos Hermanos" with pleasing tone but a deficiency of passion.

Guastavino's melancholy "La rosa y el sauce" was given a nice interpretation by mezzo-soprano Sahoko Sato Timpone. The brightness of her tone brought "Jota" to life--one of a pair of songs from Manuel de Falla's Siete canciones populares espanolas. Mr. Neron's piano provided the rhythmic thrust. The gentle lullaby "Nana" was lovely.

Ms. Sato Timpone surely captured the humor of Obradors' "El Vito".

The second half of the program comprised Robert Schumann's Spanisches Liederspiel op 74.  Schumann was not the only composer to set German translations of Spanish folksongs. We have often heard Hugo Wolf's "Spanisches Liederbuch" but this was our first hearing of the Schumann. All four singers took the stage and joined forces in various combinations and with gorgeous harmonies. We were reminded of Brahms' Liebeslieder Walzer, and that's a good thing!

The actor Igor Correa was on hand to weave the songs into a story. Perhaps Schumann's Dichterliebe can have a story imposed upon it but it was a mighty stretch to form a story out of his Spanisches Liederspiel. Nonetheless, Mr. Correa narrated it well.

Ms. Headlam and Ms. Sato Timpone harmonized beautifully in the charming "Erste Begegnung". The men took over with equivalent success for "Intermezzo". Come to think of it, however one paired the voices, they sounded swell together. We particularly enjoyed the two numbers in which all four members of the ensemble sang together--"Es ist verrathen" and "Ich bin geliebt". 

In a work of this sort, being "on the book" makes sense and would seem necessary. We do have one suggestion however. We would have liked the texts in the original language, as well as the English translations.

We were delighted to be introduced to such a superb song cycle and equally delighted to see a new group on the music scene of New York City.  We look forward to future performances and to Vocalis Consort reaching a wider audience.

(c) meche kroop