MISSION

We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

A CLOSE SHAVE, A NOT-SO-ILL WIND, AND SOME GLITTERY GAIETY

The highly gifted cast of MESS:IES event

Two back-to-back events at Brooklyn's Paper Box, featuring the same cast, revealed to us just how talented and versatile is every member of the Mise-en-Scène Ensemble. Having seen each singer in a variety of roles and different languages in such temporal proximity gave us a new appreciation, quite different from hearing them weeks or months apart. 

Furthermore, being exposed to brief scenes from operas we never enjoyed (like Berg's Wozzeck)--up close and personal--allowed us to experience more dramatic impact than we ever experienced from a distance.

Last night's opener involved tenor Andrew Stenson as the arrogant, callous, and narrow minded Herr Hauptmann getting a very close shave from military barber Wozzeck, portrayed intensely and convincingly by baritone Will Liverman. Berg's difficult atonal music only served to highlight the painful position Wozzeck occupied in his world.

Another riveting scene from Wozzeck involved soprano Jacquelyn Stucker as Marie, putting up with the taunts of mezzo-soprano Renée Rapier as her neighbor Margret.

The famous and famously wonderful Verona Quartet gave a luminous account of the Adagio from Janáček's String Quartet #2.  Although this is nothing like the composer's more accessible music for Vixen Sharp-ears, our ears picked up snippets of folk tunes that were most agreeable.

A particularly powerful scene from Massenet's Werther was enacted by Ms. Rapier as the conflicted Charlotte and tenor Ian Castro as the eponymous Werther. Charlotte gives in to her feelings for Werther and then, filled with shame, rejects him. Charlotte, in her flustered state is discovered by her husband Albert (baritone Theo Hoffman) who then orders pistols to be delivered to Werther. Never on the stage of a major opera house have we felt so involved with Charlotte's ambivalence, Werther's despair, or Albert's jealous rage. For us, these three major singers provided the highlight of the evening.

Accompanied by Mr. Nielsen, soprano Felicia Moore portrayed the grieving Elettra with great depth of feeling in the aria "O Smania" from Mozart's Idomeneo.

That was not the end of the Mozart. We loved the scene from Cosi fan tutte in which the lovers are separated under false pretenses, with Don Alfonso (Erik van Heyningen) laughing up his sleeve at the prank of his own devising. Ms. Stucker sang Fiordiligi, Ms. Rapier sang Dorabella, Mr. Castro sang Ferrando, and Mr. Hoffman sang Gugllielmo. It's a funny scene and Paul Curran's direction added a few additional humorous touches. Mozart's exquisite harmonies in "Soave sia il vento" were well handled and Mr. Reynold's piano added to the enjoyment.

We heard several excerpts from Bernstein's Candide, the seldom heard "Nothing More Than This", poignantly sung by Mr. Stenson, and the ironic "Glitter and Be Gay" delivered with brilliant fioritura by coloratura soprano Brandie Sutton, both accompanied in very different colors by pianist Chris Reynolds.

And the closing number "Make Our Garden Grow" was performed by the entire cast with several singers doubling up on roles; doubling up on the piano were Mr. Reynolds and the excellent Adam Nielsen. Those four hands made a lot of music. Maestro Glen's conducting was astute throughout.

It was a sell out crowd with many new faces, which bodes well for the future of the company. Word has certainly gotten out! We can scarcely wait for the next MESS event.

(c) meche kroop

Friday, November 16, 2018

GETTIN' MESSIE

Maestro Lachlan Glenn at Paper Box-- M.E.S.S. Event

The streets were messy as all get-out last night but "Messies" (members of Mise-en-Scène Studios) and their friends somehow got themselves to the depths of Brooklyn for the first of two events at Paper Box. Co-founders star tenor Ben Bliss and Maestro Lachlan Glenn welcomed the huge crowd and introduced a magnificently varied program of opera, dance, and instrumental music. The program had something for everyone and everyone seemed wildly enthusiastic.

It is a wise idea to introduce young people to opera, not as a lengthy ordeal to endure, but rather a small taste to relish, with the expectations that those exposed to world class singers in small increments will want to hear more. It seems to be a great approach and even a seasoned opera-goer such as ourself found the program both entertaining and stimulating.

The initial entry was the opening scene from Britten's The Rape of Lucretia in which tenor Andrew Stenson narrated and three Roman soldiers discussed the fidelity of the women left behind. Tenor Will Liverman as Prince Tarquinius and baritone Theo Hoffman as Junius are soured on wives and lovers who betrayed them. They are envious of Collatinus (bass Erik van Heyningen) whose wife is faithful. Fueled by alcohol and testosterone, the two soreheads plot to get Collatinus' wife to betray him as well. The singing was powerful on all accounts and the direction by Paul Curran made the scene all too believable.

Following an interlude of "Danse Russe" from Stravinsky's ballet Petroushka, played "one piano four hands" by four of the best hands we know (two belonging to Adam Nielsen and two belonging to Chris Reynolds), we witnessed a scene from Berlioz' Béatrice et Bénédicte that had as much estrogen as the prior scene had testosterone.

Felicia Moore wielded her clarion soprano instrument deftly in fine French as she expressed her love for Claudio. The role of Ursule, her lady-in-waiting, was sung by the marvelous mezzo-soprano Renée Rapier.

A less familiar aria from John Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles-- "Long Live the Worm"-- was sung with intense gesture and vocal expressiveness by Mr. Stenson, accompanied by Mr. Reynolds. This must be Mr. Stenson's "signature area" because we don't recall being quite that riveted by Bégearss' nasty aria on prior hearings.

The format of MESS events allows for a break between sets so that guests can enjoy socializing, drinking, and eating--in this case bespoke crepes. Food for the tummy as well as the ears!

The well known final quartet from Verdi's Rigoletto is a "can't fail" number as long as you have great singers in all four fachs. In this case, Gilda was sung by soprano Jacquelyn Stucker with the eponymous jester portrayed by Mr. Liverman. The pair cowered below stage, eavesdropping on the onstage pair--the lascivious Duke (Ian Castro) working his charms on the innkeeper's sister Maddalena (Ms. Rapier). It was absolutely thrilling.

We got an advance taste of the entertainment scheduled for next Spring, a program involving Indian dancer Preeti Vasudevan and singer Roopa Mahadevan, wearing traditional garments and bringing a lot of color to the evening.  See photos on our FB page Voce di Meche.

The final scene from Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier is another scene we love and here we had soprano Brandie Sutton as Sophie and the versatile Ms. Rapier as Octavian. Ms. Moore appeared again lending vocal and gestural dignity to the role of the Marschallin. The three voices harmonized so beautifully and Mr. Reynolds created an entire orchestra in the piano. The "silver rose" theme came through gently but clearly.

An interlude of the third movement of Mozart's String Quartet #23 in F Major, performed by the superb Verona Quartet, was followed by the Finale of Act II of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor.  In this scene, poor Lucia (Ms. Stucker) is being reluctantly married off to the unwitting suitor Arturo (Mr. Stenson) by her desperate brother Enrico (Mr. Liverman). Lucia's true love Edgardo (Mr. Castro) arrives at a crucial moment and bloodshed is threatened with Raimondo (Mr. Van Heyningen) trying to keep the peace. The other singers for the evening composed the chorus. Again, the direction was astute and the scene was not only finely sung but believably acted.

Maestro Glen has been known to us for years as an outstanding pianist but just wait until you witness his conducting acumen! 

There were excellent titles for the operas in foreign languages but there were also useful brief summaries of the scenes in the program.

Tomorrow's event promises to be just as compelling with the same superb singers on hand. Tonight proved just how versatile these artists are and we have no doubt about their ability to handle all the goodies on tomorrow's program.  We don't want to give everything away but let's just say there will be something wonderful from Bernstein's Candide and something by Mozart that everyone will love.

(c) meche kroop

Thursday, November 15, 2018

GOTHIC HORROR AT JUILLIARD

Joan Hofmeyr, Britt Hewitt, Charles Sy, and Rebecca Pedersen 
(photo by Rosalie O'Connor)














 Chance Jonas-O’Toole, Anneliese Klenetsky, Charles Sy
(photo by Rosalie O'Connor)
Some riveting performances by students of Juilliard Vocal Arts Department (both graduates and undergraduates) brought to life a strange production of Benjamin Britten's The Turn of the Screw.  Henry James' gothic horror novella of the turn of the 20th c. was adapted by Myfanwy Piper for Britten.

The lack of vowels in her name seems to match the dearth of melody in Britten's music. What happened to melody after Richard Strauss?  What we are left with are plays with music. As such, this one worked out as well as could be expected.  The drama held our attention and kept us guessing. The music had a great deal of color and reminded us of the atmospheric music written for film. As a matter of fact, the entire production had a filmic quality.

We have learned that the longer the Director's Notes, the more obscure the production will be. As is our wont, we don't read them until after seeing the production because we believe a work of art should speak for itself. We were not always sure what was going on in John Giampietro's confusing production and reading his notes afterward succeeded in baffling us still further. There was a great deal of symbolism which we failed to grasp.  Frankly, we prefer realistic storytelling.  We are familiar with Jungian psychology but our familiarity did not help.

Chance Jonas O'Toole colored his tenor suitably for the role of the narrator, not only introducing the action but moving furniture in and out of the unit set, a large empty period room with peeling wallpaper, a broken ceiling, and several secret panels for entrances and exits.

As the innocent (or maybe not so) Governess, soprano Anneliese Klenetsky could not have been better. One could not tell if her ghostly visions were "real" or not but it was obvious that she cared for her juvenile charges. She had the closest thing to an aria in the well sung "How beautiful it is".

As the juveniles, soprano Britt Hewitt in travesti was believable as Miles who was "bad" or else "possessed". As his sister Flora,
soprano Joan Hofmeyr was similarly effective. Their playing together was always a bit unsettling.

The two "ghosts" were remarkably portrayed. Tenor Charles Sy was chilling as Peter Quint, using voice coloration and gesture to portray pure evil.  As the prior governess Miss Jessel, soprano Rebecca Pedersen, made a strong impression. She was strangely swathed in butterflies.

As the housekeeper Mrs. Grose, soprano Katerina Burton was warm and real, the only non-puzzling onstage presence.

If we have said nothing about their voices, it is because this type of work doesn't have the long lyric lines of Italian opera that enable us to appreciate phrasing, timbre, and all that other good stuff.  Suffice it to say that their diction was uniformly superb making the titles rather unnecessary.

Alexis Distler's scenic design matched the spookiness of the story and Kate Ashton's lighting design helped immeasurably to create the mood. Audrey Nauman's costumes were suited to the period.

Maestro Steven Osgood led the chamber orchestra in a finely wrought performance. The musicians were all members of the Juilliard Orchestra. A string quartet was augmented by a double bass, a flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, French horn, percussion, harp, and piano.  The winds were particularly effective, as was the harp.  Was that a celesta we heard or chimes in the Churchyard scene? It was very effective, whichever.

Given the choice of seeing this work again or reading the novella, we would probably opt for reading. There were others in the sold out house whose enthusiasm exceeded ours. The great thing about opera is that there is something for every taste. Mid 20th c. opera in English just isn't ours.

(c) meche kroop









Wednesday, November 14, 2018

THE CAMERATA COMES TO NEW YORK

Francesco Tomasi, Giovanni Bellini, Riccardo Pisani, Serena Bellini, and Matteo Coticoni
(photo by Stephen de las Heras)


Giulio il Romano: A Concert for Caccini
Ensemble Ricercare Antico with tenor Riccardo Pisani
November 9-Salon Sanctuary Concerts
The House of the Redeemer--by Guest Reviewer Chris Petitt

New York City is full of unexpected surprises and it is always a pleasure when the surprises turn out to be delights. Few know about the splendid 1607 library which keeps a low profile on the Upper East Side, quietly built into the stately edifice of the House of the Redeemer. Constructed to house the library when it was brought back from Urbania, Italy by the early 20th-century philanthropist Edith Fabbri in order to save it from the destruction that claimed its original containment, a della Rovere Palace, the House of the Redeemer is a dead ringer for a Florentine palazzo of sober Brunelleschian splendor.

To enter this astonishing piece of history on a dark and rainy night would be cause for wonder enough, particularly if you’ve never seen it before, but to also be treated there to a first-rate concert by a young Italian ensemble of Italian music from the same era as the library itself is cause for celebration of and gratitude for not only the artists, but the entity that makes it all possible.

This is the sort of coup in which Salon/Sanctuary Concerts excels – beautiful, intimate evenings of early music in spaces such as this, spaces you may never have known were right next door, and which are so perfect for the music that you are left wondering how you could ever hear this repertoire anywhere else. Under the direction of intrepid Artistic Director and soprano Jessica Gould, the series seems to go from strength to strength, and it is always a pleasure to let go of your preconceptions and see where Gould will lead you next with her venue choices and inventive programming.

Giulio il Romano: A Concert for Caccini was the program presented this stormy evening amidst the dark wood, satin damask, marble fireplace, charmingly threadbare tapestries and authentic coats of arms, performed by the gifted Italian group Ricercare Antico and the strikingly talented young tenor Riccardo Pisani, who, like the composer of the evening, is a native of Rome. Not an original program of Gould this time, but of the ensemble, the New York performance marked a final stop in a tour that took the group across Italy, Mexico, and elsewhere in celebration of the Caccini year.

We are in the closing weeks of the 400th anniversary year of the death of Giulio Caccini, who moved to Florence from Rome and became a founding member of the Florentine Camerata, the group of luminaries who brought forth opera as we almost know it, the composer devoting two volumes, Le Nuove Musiche, to arie and canzone preceded by lengthy introductions on the art and technique of singing. These songs are often used as pedagogical pieces and recital warmups in our country, but they are actually quite challenging in every way, and it was a rare treat to hear them performed so masterfully with the loving attention they deserve. Also on the program were works of Caccini contemporaries Frescobaldi and Nicoletti.


Many of this year’s tributes have been to the composer himself, many to his gifted daughter Francesca, who wrote the first opera (as far as we know) by a woman. The results have been mixed, and as a listener and devotee of this period of music, until this evening I have often found myself feeling less than satisfied by the vocalism on display.

I had the pleasure of hearing Pisani earlier this season in Florence in the Maggio Musicale Festival, where he was one of the rewarding takeaways from a poorly conceived production and uneven cast. Hearing him in a full recital evening only proved why. Pisani’s baritonal tenor is refreshingly full, resounding, and well supported, with an easy command of rapid-fire coloratura that sometimes eludes larger voices. His flawless diction (I am speaking here as a non-Italian, mind you), is not merely one element of a technical checklist that he has mastered through study, but an actor’s tool that he wields deftly in order to extract maximum meaning from every word and create a dramatic world for each song. An impressively sustained messa di voce towards the end of the program was icing on the cake, a clever touch in the song "Odi Euterpe" (Hear, Euterpe), whose text implores the Muse of Music to listen in.

I have seen less aware singers perform this repertoire in a nondescript wash of restrained affect and monochromatic color, as if the very act of feeling and communicating anything would break some kind of precious glass vitrine. The reward of hearing and watching a singer like Riccardo Pisani is to feel that you understand the words yourself because of the color and contrast he deploys in the service of the text, and that you are being led into a new and gripping story with every song. I find his way of singing a refreshing rebuke to the English choirboy orthodoxy that has seemingly held a chokehold on baroque singing until very recently.

At 29, he is clearly a singer to watch and his colleagues were no less engaging. Ensemble Ricercare Antico, a small group of Florentine and Roman virtuosi, offered elegant and stylish support. Punctuating the tenor’s inflections was resonant and intentioned bass from Francesco Tomasi’s and Giovanni Bellini’s theorbo and archlute, while Serena Bellini’s recorder obbligato was a deft and charming complement is a few lighter pieces.  A baroque guitar, played fleetly by Tomasi, added a more percussive color contrast, and the tight ensemble, which includes Matteo Coticoni on violone, did as much painting as the soloist, responding spontaneously with his every shift of expression. A glimpse every now and then of the faces of the players showed them to be as dramatically tuned in as the singer.

This delightful meeting of effortless sprezzatura and dramatic chiaroscuro should hold as a model for every ensemble engaged in the task of basso continuo support, as I hope more singers in this area of specialty will take Pisani’s lead in trusting the power and truth of what a fully expressive voice can say. 

If they were listening on Friday night, I have a feeling that both Euterpe and Caccini would be proud.

The next Salon/Sanctuary Concerts event is In the Wake of Marseillaise at Brotherhood Synagogue on December 13th, featuring Gould and early romantic guitarist Pascal Valois in works from the post-Napoleonic era. Tickets are available at www.salonsanctuary.org

(c) meche kroop

Monday, November 12, 2018

HUNG(A)RY FOR CULTURE

József Balog (photo by Attila Nagy)

Tatiana Melnik and Gergely LeBlanc
(photo by Attila Nagy)
It has been several years since we visited Budapest and now Budapest has visited us--in the person of the Hungarian State Opera and the Hungarian National Ballet! We would have liked to conduct an exit poll of the audience members leaving the New York State Theater.  How many were Hungarian expats?  How many came, like we did, to once again experience the outstanding contributions to the arts made by this European nation? And how many have never been to Hungary but are now tempted to visit?

The artistic programs we saw and heard were of the highest caliber. For culture vultures who love all the arts, perhaps the best experience would have been the Gala Concert which gave us a taste of everything. The evening was directed by András Almási-Tóth with conductors Gergely Kesselyák and Balázs Kocsár leading the world-class Hungarian State Opera Orchestra and Gábor Csiki as chorus director.  The program opened with "Himnusz", the national anthem of Hungary, Ferenc Erkel's setting of Ferenc Kölcsey's text, in the form of a prayer.

Erkel can be considered a national treasure and Hungary's greatest opera composer, especially famous for his patriotic operas of the nationalist movement of the 19th c.,  excerpts of which were performed along with excerpts of Bánk Bán which was seen in its entirety earlier in the week.

The lively drinking song was performed by Zoltán Kelemen and Bánk's tribute to his homeland was sung by Boldizsár László. We never imagined that such a difficult language with so many consonants would sound so beautiful! Erkel ensured that the vocal line and text were very much in sync.

We enjoyed Hans Van Manen's "Trois Gnossiennes", set to music by Erik Satie, with the exception of the flexed foot, so common in modern ballet.  For us, it ruins the gorgeous line of the long leg! András Lukács used some Philip Glass music for his  energetic "Whirling" and indeed the dances whirled around the stage with very high energy. This was an audience favorite.

Adolphe Adam's music dictates a much different kind of dancing and we loved the pas de trois from Le Corsaire depicted above, which was choreographed by Anna-Marie Holmes after Petipas. The part of the slave Ali is a stylish and bravura one and was excellently danced.

We wanted to make sure to include a photograph of the scene stealing space age piano played by József Balog. Mr. Balog is a brilliant pianist and played Franz Liszt's Hungarian Fantasy with brilliance. We have seen this piano before but never knew it was designed by a Hungarian.

Whilst he played what seemed to be a piano arrangement of Liszt's Petrarch Sonnets, there was an "acrobat" performing on silken ropes; we would prefer to call her a dancer/aerialist because of her unusual grace. She wrapped and unwrapped her limbs; she wound and unwound her body; she came crashing down toward the floor in moves that made the audience gasp.

The remainder of this generous program included charming selections from folk operas by Zoltán Kodaly and we were particularly delighted to hear more from mezzo-soprano Erika Gal who made such a captivating Queen of Sheba in Karl Goldmark's opera Die Königin von Saba two nights earlier.

The opera was sung in German and had the familiar plot of a man torn between a good girl and a bad girl. Think Don Jose caught between Micaëla and Carmen!  Think Tannhaüser caught between Elisabeth and Venus! Of course, the "bad girl" gets the best music and things always end tragically.

We liked Csaba Káel's direction and Éva Szendrényi's sets, particularly the starry background during the overture, which opened with a lovely erotic ballet. Tenor Boldizsár László handled the part of the mesmerized Assad with lovely tenor tone and soprano Eszter Sümegi made a good case for the abandoned bride Sulamith.

Bass Zoltán Kelemen sang the role of King Solomon with depth of tone and authority. But it was Ms. Gál whose performance impressed us the most both dramatically and vocally.  We do so love bad girls!

What we did not like were the costumes. They were downright ugly and the women of the chorus were dressed in a manner that suggested no particular period, definitely not the biblical look called for by the setting of the story set in King Solomon's temple. And what was meant by those huge clunky shoes? Poor Ms. Gál was given a Las Vegas look! EWWW!!!

Another quibble we had was with the choreography. We couldn't believe that the same choreographer (Marianna Venekei) who created the lovely opening duet could have choreographed the tasteless and meaningless ballet in the second act in which the dancers wore pastel dresses with identical short blond wigs and the male dancer was costumed like a dragonfly or something of that nature.

We were not going to let the costumes and dancing spoil such an otherwise wonderful opportunity to hear this rarely performed opera.

There were no such quibbles with the performance of Erkel's Bánk Bán which was superlative in every way. Directed by Attila Vidnyánszky, this story of the 13th c. is dear to the hearts of Hungarians. The conflicted nationalist hero was movingly sung by baritone Levente Molnár.

Before we run out of space we want to report on the excellence of the Hungarian National Ballet whose full length production of Don Quixote we saw last night. The choreography had originally been that of Petipa but, like many operas, has been successively modified by a string of choreographers. Until last night we had only seen the iteration by Baryshnikov for American Ballet Theater.  This version was finalized by Michael Messerer based upon the Bolshoi version.

Ludwig Minkus' music was somewhat rearranged, as were some of the set pieces. It worked well dramatically and there was no shortage of virtuoso dancing, leading the audience to erupt often in spontaneous applause. 

We were very impressed with the Kitri of Tatiana Melnik, especially charming in the castanet solo. In spite of all the dazzling virtuosity, there was a moment when she took a particularly slow developée and we held our breath. 

All the dancers had impressively grand extensions and that admirable Russian épaulement. As the barber Basil, Igor Tsvirko courted Kitri with huge leaps, admirable athleticism, and enviable musicality. Iurii Kekalo made an elegant Espada and Sofia Ivanova-Skoblikova charmed the audience with her style.

For comic relief we had Attila Szakács as Don Quixote who rode in on a horse, and Maksym Kovtun as his sidekick Sancho Panza who rode in on a donkey. We loved the scene in which Panza gets tossed around on a blanket by the villagers and Don Quixote has to rescue him.

Alekszandr Komarov made a funny foppish Gamache and Kitri's two friends were well danced by Lili Felméry and Rita Hangya. There was no credit in the program for the adorable petite dancer who had the part of Cupid in Don Quixote's dream.

We hope that this artistically successful visit will be repeated next year. We will welcome the Hungarians and their artistry with open arms, especially if they program Swan Lake which we sadly missed due to scheduling changes.

(c) meche kroop



LEAH CROCETTO CARNEGIE HALL DEBUT

Leah Crocetto



FROM CLASSICAL TO JAZZ...guest review by Ellen Godfrey

On Thursday, lyric spinto soprano Leah Crocetto made her Carnegie Hall Debut with a carefully chosen selection of classical art songs and cross-over jazz and blues songs.  She performed in the intimate Weill Concert Hall, a perfect setting for her prodigious voice and her innate ability to communicate each song personally. It was obvious that all of this music is very close to her heart. Her pianist for this concert is one of today’s finest accompanists and soloists, Mark Markham.  He is at home with classical music as well as jazz and other popular music. 

Ms. Crocetto is fast becoming one of the great singers of her generation. She has a big beautiful voice supported by a great technique. She never pushes her voice and is capable of scaling it down when intimacy is required. Her diction in all four languages (French, Italian, Russian, and English), is very clear. In addition to concerts, she has already made her mark performing operas in opera houses around the world.

Ms. Crocetto walked on stage in a beautiful long green dress, and immediately engaged with the audience.  The concert began with four songs composed by the Italian composer Ottorino Respighi. (1883-1945).  When she started to sing, her powerful voice soon filled the hall, washing over the audience with her glorious sound.  She is very much at home singing in Italian. "Nebbie" is one of Respighi’s most popular songs, and she sang it with great intensity. The most interesting song was "Mattinata". Pianist Mark Markham quietly introduced it on the piano with the sound of tolling church bells, setting the mood for the whole song.  As Ms. Crocetto sang quietly, along with the bells, her singing became more joyous as she praised the Virgin Mary.

The second group of four songs was composed by 20th century composer Francis Poulenc. Poulenc engaged Louise de Vilmorin, to write the words for the song called “Violin.” She was familiar with Hungarian nightclubs and Ms. Crocetto ,along with Mr. Markham, performed the song in cabaret style to go with the words. "Les chemins de L’amour" is a waltz that  evokes the long gone happiness of love. Ms. Crocetto sang the waltz tune with good phrasing and a soft gentle French style. 

The third group of songs were by the Russian composer, Sergei Rachmaninoff, who lived around the same time as Respighi. Most of his songs were in the Russian romantic style.“How fair this spot” is a song about peace and tranquility sung in a quiet, dreamy way by Ms. Crocetto, ending in a gorgeous high note. “What happiness” is a fast paced song full of high notes stunningly sung by Ms. Crocetto, conveying the happy state of love.

Following these songs, there was a world premiere of a piece composed by the counter-tenor and composer Gregory Peebles. The title of the work, “Eternal Recurrence,” comes from a  philosophical theory that the universe and all existence and energy has been recurring and will continue to recur an infinite number of times across infinite time or space. The piece is in 10 sections.  The music is very melodic and starts with a piano introduction expressing the first musical theme. There are also some sung recitatives. Mr. Peebles states that travel is at the heart of “Eternal Recurrence.” Ms. Crocetto used her powerful voice and dramatic instincts to introduce this unusual and interesting piece to the audience.

The concert closed with selections from the Great American Songbook with songs composed for musical theatre by the Gershwins, Harold Arlen, Richard Rodgers, and  Sammy Fain.  Ms. Crocetto put her own personal stamp on the songs and it was a revelation for those of us who never heard her in this repertoire. She was spellbinding, singing these songs with a softer, less operatic voice, conveying the sentiments in a very personal way. She really loves these songs and gives you the feeling that she is singing directly to you. Her voice carried throughout the theatre even though she had softened it. She also has the freedom of a jazz singer…taking some liberties with the timing of the music and singing them in her own way.

She sang “The Man I love” in a very dreamy way; “I’ll be seeing you” was very quiet, going from a low register to a high one, singing with a lot of feeling, and “The Man who got away” was very moving.

At the end of the program the whole audience stood up and gave Ms. Crocetto and Mark Markham standing ovations. There were two wonderful encores: Jerome Kern’s “Cant Help Lovin Dat Man of Mine” and Jimmy McHugh’s “I’m in the mood for love” and then more loud applause.

She has certainly now established herself as a wonderful concert singer of both classical opera and crossover jazz and the blues. We can all look forward to hearing her in her next concert, which I hope will be soon.

(c) meche kroop


Sunday, November 11, 2018

AMIGOS DE LA ZARZUELA

Maxim Anikushin, Conchi Moyano, Anna Tonna, Alejandro Olmedo, and Ricardo Rosa

Everything we know about the art form known as zarzuela we learned from Maestro Jorge Parodi. Today we learned some more interesting facts, none of which were necessary to appreciate the gorgeous melodies. The word comes from the word "zarza" which means "blackberry bush". 

It was during the reign of King Felipe IV who ascended the Spanish throne in 1621 and was known as a patron of the arts, not to be confused with the miserable Felipe II of the Verdi opera Don Carlo. The King and his court frequented the Real Sitio del Pardo in Madrid which was surrounded by blackberry bushes. There they enjoyed musical and comedic entertainment.  Now you know!

As Spain is somewhat geographically removed from Europe, zarzuela evolved as Spain's very own musical entertainment. By the 18th c. Italian and French opera became all the rage and supplanted zarzuela, but there was a renaissance in the 19th c. when several excellent Spanish composers revived the artform. Indeed, zarzuela was carried to the New World where it flourished into the middle of the 20th c. It remains popular in Puerto Rico and we understand that Placido Domingo has done much to introduce zarzuela to our nation's capitol.

We have never seen a complete zarzuela but aim to do something about that! Every time we hear an aria or duet extracted from a zarzuela we long to see it in toto. The plots remind us of telenovelas and the melodies are memorable.

Yesterday Amigos de la Zarzuela presented one of their enjoyable afternoon concerts at Weill Recital Hall. It is satisfying to know that there is a sizable and enthusiastic audience for this analogue to German singspiel, French opéra comique, and Italian opera buffa.

The program was generous and included four experienced performers, one for each fach--soprano Conchi Moyano, mezzo-soprano Anna Tonna, tenor Alejandro Olmedo, and baritone Ricardo Rosa.

It would be difficult to single out any one number because they were all charming in their own way.  But since we love duets, let us note our admiration for "Porque de mis ojos los tuyos retiras" from Ruperto Chapi's La Revoltosa. It seemed to be an enactment of a lovers spat and reconciliation, performed by Ms. Tonna and Mr. Rosa. The singing was incomparable and the acting so effective that even a person ignorant of the Spanish language would have understood.

Ms. Tonna's instrument has a pleasing texture and plenty of strength in her lower register. We loved her melismatic singing in her solo "Loa al fandanguillo" by Romero.

Mr. Rosa's full throated baritone was just right for "Oh licor que das la vida" from Soutullo y Vert's La Leyenda del Beso.

"Caballero del alto plumero" is a marvelously flirtatious duet from Torroba's Luisa Fernanda, here given a marvelous performance by Ms. Moyano and Mr. Olmedo.

Ms. Moyano has an instrument of great power with an expansive top. She performed "La Petenera" from Torroba's La Marchenera with warm expansive tone and lovely phrasing.

Mr. Olmedo's best turn was in the romantic ballad "Flor roja" from Guerrero's Los Gavilanes in which he floated the high note with exceptional delicacy.

The pianist for the evening, Maxim Anikushin, certainly accompanied with sazon!  However, he also performed some solo works showing his pianistic skills without distraction. Our favorite without a doubt was the brief introspective "Intermezzo" by Manuel Ponce. We always prefer such pieces to the virtuoso ones but that is just our taste.

A special feature of the program was the dancing of Elizabeth Torras.
One rarely witnesses such versatility but we enjoyed Ms. Torras' dancing in three different styles. Dressed in flowing white and accompanying herself with castanets, she performed the graceful "La Boda de Luis Alonso" by Gimenez with all the grace of classical dance.

Dressed in masculine attire, she performed "Farruca del molinero" from Manuel de Falla's El Sombrero de Tres Picos (known on English programs as The Three-Cornered Hat. The simplicity of the piano rhythm gave her an opportunity to embellish the 4/4 rhythm with rapid and forceful Flamenco-inflected footwork.

In her final selection, she danced in a traditional Flamenco gown with a long train that she kicked around artistically and held up over her head at one point. Isaac Albeniz' Asturias was rhythmically and powerfully performed by both Ms. Torras and Mr. Anikushin. Her graceful arms suggested the arm movements of Indian dance which surely influenced Flamenco.

It certainly was a fine afternoon of music and dance, one we enjoyed immensely.

(c) meche kroop

THE STORY OF HARRIET TUBMAN

Lindell Carter, MaKayla McDonald, William Remmers, Markel Reed, Karmesha Peake, and Virdell Williams in Thea Musgrave's "The Story of Harriet Tubman"

The story must be told and who better to stage it than William Remmers' Utopia Opera!  Maestro Remmers has never shrunk from a challenge and audience members who voted for this work never shrink from providing him with these challenges. So this, his eighth season, began with a chamber reduction of Ms. Musgraves grand opera Harriet, the Woman Called Moses, which premiered at Virginia Opera in 1985.

With ongoing assistance from the composer, Julian Grant accomplished the orchestration for three strings, three winds, percussion and keyboard, conducted by Maestro Remmers. Direction by Viktoria I.V. King was effective in telling the story, which left us inspired and moved.

Harriet Tubman was a slave who escaped from slavery and sacrificed her personal happiness and safety to return to the south 18 times to rescue over 300 slaves over the Underground Railroad, aided by the Quaker abolitionist Mr. Garrett, here portrayed by Andrew Dwan.

The work opened strongly with Harriet's father Ben (portrayed magnificently by the deep voiced Virdell Williams) singing the heartfelt spiritual "Go Down Moses". Prose narration was offered by Harriet's brother Benjie (portrayed well by tenor Lindell Carter) and was augmented throughout the work by various other cast members.

The eponymous Harriet was given a superlative interpretation by MaKayla McDonald who elicited both admiration and sympathy by her fine portrayal. As her beloved Josiah, Markel Reed was appealing and completely believable. Mama Rit was performed by Karmesha Peake who held the stage with her excellent presence and fine singing.

The story is told fairly and Caucasians are presented as both bad guys and good guys. The Master, sympathetically portrayed by Tadeusz von Moltke, cares for his slaves as part of the family and does not want to sell them to other masters who might mistreat them.  But his son Preston (nastily portrayed by Luke Jackson) is a wastrel and wants his father to sell off some slaves to pay his gambling debts. We don't want to reveal how this plays out because we want you to see the show! The other bad dude is the Overseer, convincingly acted by Kristoffer Infante who comes across as one scary dude.

The ensemble had voices as strong as the principals. Costumes by Eric Lamp and Angel Betancourt were simple but effective.

Every culture has its myths (i.e. American Thanksgiving) and every country has its shame (i.e. Germany's Holocaust). How one deals with these is relevant beyond words. Our nation is now dealing with the myth espoused by our own Statue of Liberty versus the reality and shame of the way POTUS is dealing with Latin American refugees. Slavery is part of our past and can never be denied.

Art is a wonderful way to confront people with issues in a way far better than hectoring and writing an opera is a fine way to show us our shameful history. We just wish we liked the music and libretto better. The instrumental music is more "interesting" than beautiful and there were no appealing vocal lines except for the aforementioned "Go Down Moses" and "Swing Low Sweet Chariot", beautifully sung by Ms. McDonald. Mr. Reed sang "Lonesome Road" in a tender touching fashion.

Ms. McDonald was given a tuneless aria "Can't Live Without Ben" and we couldn't help thinking of "My Man's Gone Now" from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. There's a reason that Gershwin's opera stays in the repertoire.  There's a reason that singers use the arias as audition pieces and in recital.  That reason is that there is melody. When will contemporary composers realize that melody is memorable!

Although the "book" is excellent, the libretto is less so. Dialect was mixed with what we would call contemporary educated speech and the sentences were too long. We think it would have worked better with short conversational phrases spoken completely in dialect. We were grateful for the surtitles accompanying the singing and would have enjoyed them for the dialogue as well.

In spite of these minor disappointments, we recommend this work highly for its dramatic impact and convincing performances. We would welcome the opportunity to hear any of the singers again; we honor the idea of dramatizing the struggle of Afro-Americans and the reality of giving so many worthy singers an opportunity to perform.

(c) meche kroop

Friday, November 9, 2018

CLASSIC LYRIC ARTS GALA-2018 EDITION

Classic Lyric Arts students in recital at the Kosciuszko Foundation

We have often written about the contributions made by Classic Lyric Arts to the field of opera. With summer programs in both Italy and in France, CLA offers total immersion programs for emerging artists--young singers who will eventually fill the stages of opera houses around the world. Vocal repertoire is taught through the prism of language, history, and culture--including food! We often recognize former students onstage around town; their linguistic and diction skills are always impressive.

Last night was CLA's 10th gala, heavily attended by supporters who enjoyed a lavish cocktail hour, followed by a thrilling recital, and ending with a dessert buffet at which an abbondanza of macarons were almost inhaled. It was notable that the glamorous servers were the young artists themselves!

President and Artistic Director Glenn Morton welcomed the crowd to the stunning upstairs salon of the Kosciuszko Foundation, speaking to us of the special impact of the human voice and describing the value of taking young singers to the source of the music they will sing, providing a means to become part of the culture and its history for a period of several weeks.

Two alumni of the program in Italy shared their experiences with CLA and how it has affected their lives and professional development. The work at CLA is very intimate and students often maintain relationships with their coaches after the program ends. Tenor Ganson Salmon attended the program in 2017 and baritone Xiaomeng Zhang (who sang so beautifully the prior night as an Opera Index winner) attended in 2014.  Being a fan of both these young artists, we can attest to the benefits they derived from their time in Italy. 

Of course, dear reader, you want to know about the singers and the program last night. The main point we'd like to make is how well every singer utilized the text in their delivery. Everyone sounded natural and authentic. There was no linguistic clumsiness to distract from the music making. It was evident from the several ensemble works on the program how well the singers were able to connect with one another.

The program began with the "Gloria tutti" scene which closes Mozart's delightful Nozze di Figaro and ended with the closing scene "Make our garden grow" from Bernstein's Candide. It seemed to us that the hard work in foreign languages had benefited the students in their English diction as well, since we understood every word. That is not to be taken for granted! Jonathan Heaney conducted the Bernstein from the piano.

A couple performances stood out for us and merit our focus. Baritone Fernando Cisneros, already quite well known on the international opera stage, made the most frightening Baron Scarpia we have ever heard. He created a character that was coming from a position of power more than lust. His vocal colors were chilling and his face actually snarled!  All this occurred in perfect Italian with a long legato line and no loss of vocal tone. Puccini would have loved it.

We might add that his interpretation of Count Almaviva down on his knees in apology to the Countess was humble and sincere with appropriate vocal coloration.  He is indeed versatile!

Mr. Zhang revealed his bel canto artistry as Belcore in "Venti scudi" a scene from Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore in which he manipulates the gullible and desperate Nemorino (the aforementioned Mr. Ganson) into signing up for the army. The two men worked well in bringing the scene to life. We think of this role as Mr. Zhang's "signature role" since we've seen him perform the entire opera with ARE Opera (now called City Lyric Opera) and recall thinking he was the best Belcore we'd ever heard.

We heard some very fine singing from tenor Zachary Goldman and baritone Sunyeop Hwang in everyone's favorite French duet for two men--"Au fond du temple saint" from Bizet's Les pêcheurs de perles. The Gallic phrasing and pronunciation were just right and the harmonies delightful.

Another delight was the duet from Mascagni's L'amico Fritz in which Fritz first meets Suzel. Stephanie Guasch's soprano soared and Taicheng Li's tender tenor matched well with her both vocally and dramatically.

We also enjoyed "Soave sia il vento" from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte in which the two sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella (Sarah Bacani and Rosario Hernandez) watch their lovers sail away, joined by Don Alfonso (Ari Bell). Mozart's lovely line was filled out with equally lovely harmonies.

Also on the program were two ensembles. One was the septet from the Giulietta act of Offenbach's Les contes d'Hoffman. The other was the "Gran pezzo concertato" from Rossini's Il Viaggio a Reims, conducted by Lochlan Brown who is also responsible for CLA's new website--www.classiclyricarts.org.  We urge you to take a look and see how you too can become part of the CLA family.

Pianists for the evening were all excellent--Mina Kim, Lochlan Brown, Marianna Vartikyan, Jonathan Heaney, and Cherie Roe.

Other singers and members of the chorus included Chantal Brundage, Aleea Powell, Melanie Dubil, Leah Israel, Travis Benoit, Yongjae Lee, Blair Cagney, Daniela Magura, Rachel Querreveld, Victoria Policht, Emily Hanseul Park, Shan Hai, Yue Huang, Bela Albett, and Nathan Seldin.

(c) meche kroop

Thursday, November 8, 2018

OPERA INDEX RECITAL

Michael Fennelly, Hubert Zapiór, Xiaomeng Zhang, Jane Shaulis, William Guanbo Su, Felicia Moore, and Helena Brown

In any given year there is a "crop" of promising young singers who seem to garner awards from all of the award giving foundations. They are generally emerging artists that we have been writing about for a year or several years. They are surely going on to bigger and better things in their lives but seem to be at the peak of their enthusiasm and skills, needing only the polish one acquires by being out in the world, away from the sheltering environment of the conservatory and young artist programs. Most of them have a lot of performing experience already.

Personally we experience a kind of bittersweet feeling, knowing that they will probably leave New York and, when they return they will be onstage at The Metropolitan Opera and we may never be up close and personal again.

But last night we were very up close and personal with five young singers whom we absolutely adore. They were all award winners of the Opera Index 2018 Vocal Competition who were kind enough to entertain at the annual membership party, in spite of the fact that they were auditioning the following morning for the Met National Council.

Sixteen singers were chosen from a field of 270 applicants and $55,000. was awarded. President Jane Shaulis gave a warm welcome to the gathering of the tribe, comprising luminaries in the field and aficionados of opera. The well known and excellent pianist Michael Fennelly was the accompanist.

Soprano Helena Brown, whom we reviewed often over the past five years has made a successful transition from mezzo-soprano to soprano, retaining the rich mezzo texture whilst expanding the upper register to a glorious and powerful sound. She performed "Dich, teure halle" from Richard Wagner's Tannhaüser with a huge sound, glorious vibrato, and fine pacing. The overtones bounced around the room and filled our ears.

We felt so fortunate to get another opportunity to hear baritone Xiaomeng Zhang sing in Russian, after his excellent performance at a Juilliard liederabend last month. We have been writing about Mr. Zhang for several years, since his days at Manhattan School of Music; his progress has been a real treat for us to witness.  Last night he performed "Vy mne pisali" from Act I of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin in which the eponymous hero must give Tatyana his "sermon" or "Dutch uncle talk".

Mr. Zhang sounds wonderful in Russian, although our initial admiration for his artistry centered around his facility in bel canto. But Mr. Zhang is marvelously versatile in his talent and we admired the texture of his tone, his phrasing and the most gorgeously floated final note.

Bass William Guanbo Su is another artist we have been writing about and enjoying in a variety of roles. He made a marvelous impression as Mefistofele in Gounod's Faust; we think he enjoyed himself performing as much as we enjoyed listening. The devilish laughter he produced in "Vous qui faites l'endormie" impressed us as much as the rich depth of his tone and his captivating stage presence.

Soprano Felicia Moore portrayed Ariadne in exactly the way we think Richard Strauss wanted her portrayed in "Es gibt ein Reich" from his Ariadne auf Naxos; the character is a diva who takes herself seriously.  Ms. Moore has a large soaring top yet never fails in the lower register. She sang with brilliant tone and sufficient grandeur. There are a lot of repeated notes in this aria and she managed to subtly alter the color from one to the next. We have heard her sing so many different roles and always admire her versatility.

Baritone Hubert Zapiór repeated the "Largo al Factotum" which he just performed in his prize winning performance at the Marcella Sembrich competition. Were we bored? Definitely not! The way Rossini wrote this aria from Il barbiere di Siviglia, there is ample room for subtle variations and Mr. Zapiór's performance last night was subtly different from that of three days earlier.  It seemed very much "of the moment" and delighted us immensely. His Figaro is a man we'd enjoy knowing.

We were completely satisfied by the program but our lily got gilded and our cake got iced. Mr. Zhang returned with an encore, a song in Mandarin which was, on the surface, about the Yangtze River; symbolically it was about the passage of time and the passage of our lives--very pensive and finely sung.

Ms. Brown also provided an encore, a riveting performance of "My Man's Gone Now" from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. Her tone and words--every one of which was crystal clear in spite of the high tessitura--went right to the gut and left us a bit shaken.  Good art can do that!

Just to ensure the recital ended on a happier note, Mr. Su performed a terrifically romantic Broadway song from Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific--"Some Enchanted Evening", leaving us totally enchanted.

It was a stellar evening and left us glowing. Right now our thoughts are with these young artists and their auditions. In our opinion, they are all winners.

(c) meche kroop

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

CANTAMOS!

Cantanti Project at United Palace of Cultural Arts

One would think that a rainy Monday evening would be a good time to stay home with a good book or "Netflix and chill". Not in our book!  It was the perfect time to spend a couple hours with Cantanti Project, a group we always enjoy. Last night's recital was just about the best evening this wonderful group of artists has scheduled and a real highlight of the season, one we wouldn't have missed for the world.

The program was entirely in Spanish, a language we love for its singability, which rivals that of Italian, and its emphasis on love in all its varied manifestations. The works we heard--some familiar and some new to us--spanned several centuries (from the 17th c. Baroque to the present time) and several genres (opera, art song, zarzuela, folk songs, popular songs). We agree with Steven Blier of New York Festival of Song that no one genre surpasses another. Good songs stand on equal footing no matter what genre they belong to. The songs on last night's program originated in Spain and in the Nuevo Mundo.

The program was like a string of pearls or precious gems; we will not have time or space to cover them all so, dear reader, allow us to focus on the few that made the most intense impression.

Soprano Maria Brea performed "Me llaman la primarosa" from the zarzuela El barbero de Sevilla, a "meta" work about a company producing the Rossini opera. Her lively personality filled out the song and her bright and sizable instrument soared to the upper reaches of the lavish lobby of the United Palace of Cultural Arts, filling the space with overtones. Her flirtatious character shares some qualities with Musetta but is less arrogant. There were vocal fireworks aplenty with trills, swooping scales and prolonged vocalises. We loved the part in which the piano of Principal Music Advisor William Lewis echoed the motif of the vocal part.

Tenor Mario Arévalo possesses a praiseworthy sound, augmented by fine technique and a warm presence that invites you into his sound-world. Although we enjoyed the forceful popular song from his homeland El Salvador, we were most impressed by his romantic delivery of the art song "A ti" composed by Colombian Jaime León. Although it is a product of the 20th c. there is no shortage of melodic movement and Mr. Arévalo invested it with lots of romantic warmth, fullness of tone, dynamic variety, and depth of feeling.

Mezzo-soprano Linda Collazo showed off her strength in the lower register in "La borrachita de amor" a Baroque song by Spaniard Sebastián Durón and her story-telling skills in the tender Ecuadorian folk song "Yaravi", to which she gave a poignant ending.

Yet another Andean folk song, "Triste", arranged by Argentinean Alberto Ginastera, was beautifully interpreted by soprano Marisa Karchin. This is a lament that begins and ends with a vocalise and Ms. Karchin sang it with a lovely vibrato and spun out the ending to a wispy pianissimo.  Magical!

Lyric coloratura soprano Joyce Yin, Artistic Director of Cantanti Project, used her artistry to interpret "El Viaje Definitivo", a meditation on death by 20th c. Puerto Rican composer Ernesto Cordero. She gave a stunning a cappella introduction and finale, accompanied by guitarist George Benton England.

For a taste of humor we enjoyed mezzo-soprano Heather Jones' lively performance of Joaquin Rodrigo's "En Jerez de la Frontera", the tale of a faithful wife who rejects the advances of an importuning suitor. We never knew that the composer of so many beloved works for symphony and guitar also wrote art songs!

We thought we knew all about Pablo Sorozábal's zarzuela La taberna del puerto but we didn't know the song "Despierta Negro", a warning to the black man to watch out for the white man who would enslave him. Bass-baritone Jonathan Z. Harris sang it with clear intent and round deep tone.

There were some stunning duets, of which our favorite was "Niñas que a vender flores" from Francisco Asenjo Barbieri's zarzuela Los diamantes de la corona. Accompanied by Mr. Lewis, the voices of Ms. Karchin and Ms. Collazo blended in perfect harmony.

There were several baroque selections on the program which were accompanied by Dorian Baroque, comprising a pair of violins, harpsichord, cello, and the always impressive theorbo. Maestro Dylan Sauerwald conducted from the harpsichord.

We could go on and on about the other selections but we hope, dear reader, that we have given you a little taste of everything on this lavish musical buffet which had something for everyone's taste.  We hope we have tempted you to join Cantanti Project for some of their future events. We ourself are looking forward to Händel's Teseo coming up in the Spring.

(c) meche kroop