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.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

DON da DON DON

Melanie Spector, Gabe Reitemeier, Yeseul Choi, Laura Alley, Maestro Steven Crawford,  Joshua DeVane, YoungKwan Yoo, Nam Won Huh, and Matthew Greenberg

Seeing and hearing young artists onstage and forgetting that they are "young artists" is a special treat we experience when attending one of Prelude to Performance's productions. Given a professional production and the right coaching the young artists who have completed this program are uniformly excellent in both musical and dramatic values. Happily, the productions are generally traditional, just the way we like them.

In the case of Donizetti's Don Pasquale, director Laura Alley created a comic drama with a successful overall arc; each individual scene was as coherent as a well written phrase of music. There was undeniable rhythm to the performance, and loads of laughs. Replete with duets and a stunning quartet, the score invites such effective direction.

We noticed a theme to this season's productions.  Both of the eponymous heroes are older men who lust after younger women. Both stories involve their humiliation and reformation. Both stories make them likeable by the time the curtain falls. This isn't just in the libretto but in the music and the dramatic skills of the singer portraying them. In the Falstaff we just reviewed, José Maldonado made the Fat Knight seem loveable at the end, and last night, Joshua DeVane's remarkable performance made us care about poor Don Pasquale.

This theme dates back to commedia dell'arte in which the foolish old man was a stock character. We can't help thinking that we never lose our desire for love and "dirty old men" need love too.

Another stock character is the wily doctor and YoungKwan Yoo was a fine choice for the role of Dr. Malatesta as he plans some trickery to get Don Pasquale to give up on wanting a wife and to let Ernesto marry his beloved Norina.

Of course, the audience is rooting for the success of the young lovers and ready to forgive the three conspirators for their misdeeds. Yeseul Choi made a splendid Norina. We loved the scene in which Dr. Malatesta coaches her on how to act modest and shy like the cloistered sister whom he is passing her off as.  

Another favorite moment is the one in which Norina slaps Pasquale and realizes she has gone too far. One could readily read the shame on Ms. Choi's face and understand so much of her character. Sometimes we do shameful things in pursuit of our goals-- so we get it.

Ms. Choi's musicality was in evidence throughout but really dazzled us in the final scene in which Donizetti provided the soprano with plenty of vocal fireworks, all excellently sung.

NamWon Huh made a very convincing Ernesto, basically a good fellow and loyal to his beloved, but rather entitled. He created a believable character and sang well in the lower and middle register, evincing a lovely messa di voce. To bring his performance up to a "10", he will have to learn to float his top notes. Nothing mars an otherwise fine performance than a tenor who thinks he must push out the top notes at top volume.  Float 'em baby, float 'em!

Gabe Reitemeier created a very funny bit as the notary. Pasquale's servants were performed by Melanie Spector and Matthew Greenberg.

Maestro Steven Crawford led a spirited reading of the tuneful score. From the melodic cello solo in the overture, we knew we were in good hands. There was a brief moment in the prelude to Act II when the strings had some intonation problems but we are sure it had to do with the heat and humidity since we ourselves felt a bit unstrung. 

As usual, Charles R. Caine's costumes were perfect, especially the red velvet gown worn by Ms. Choi as she was leaving for the theater. Steven Horak's excellent wig and costume design allowed us to see the handsome young Mr. DeVane transformed into an elderly man,. Of course, Mr. DeVane's acting sealed the deal. It was very humorous to watch him trying to pick up a barbell with arthritic knees and spine, but to witness how he perked up when Dr. Malatesta told him a wife had been found.

We ourself perked up from our heat-driven lethargy and found ourself dancing and humming on the way home.

(c) meche kroop







Saturday, July 14, 2018

FALSTAFF--BEST EVER

Molly Burke, Emily Skilling, Gerardo de la Torre, Nina Mutalifu, Maestro Richard Cordova, José Luis Maldonado, Maria Brea, Te Yu Huang, and John Kim

"It is with no small degree of embarrassment that we confess to not appreciating the charms of Verdi's final opera--not until tonight, that is.  Under the stewardship of Artistic Director Martina Arroyo, the program Prelude to Performance once again provided a matchless evening of entertainment, fun, and artistic merit to a delighted audience as well as performance opportunities to young singers at the cusp of major careers.  Now how does she do all this????

By doing what the Metropolitan Opera, with all its vast resources, cannot.  She hires the best talent in the business to coach and direct the young performers in a concentrated program; the ensemble feeling is evident from one moment to the next. "

The above is a quote from our review of Prelude to Performance's Falstaff ... from 2012, when we had just begun Voce di Meche.  Our opinion of last night's performance is no less enthusiastic. As a matter of fact, one aspect was even better! In the intervening six years we have come to appreciate the opera more and more, having enjoyed productions at Juilliard and at Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble. 

What distinguished last night's performance was the conducting of Maestro Richard Cordova. We were so impressed by his insightful and detailed reading of the score that we went backstage to speak with him. We learned that he studied the score long ago with Maestro Carlo Maria Giulini and it has remained one of his favorite scores. We heard features of the orchestration that we had never heard before, for example, the way the sound of the oboe and the English horn (Slava Znatchenii) knitted and purled around the quartet of female voices in the "laughing" ensemble. Verdi's late life masterpiece revealed similar features in generous measure from one moment to the next.

We have heard moments in Puccini's operas in which the orchestration imitated or underscored the onstage action, but this is the first time we heard it in Falstaff.  Our ears were opened to new insights! The superb musicians were provided by orchestra contractor Marc Szammer.

We began by mentioning our own learning experience but do not mean to shortchange the singers who were uniformly excellent. Falstaff can't work without a larger-than-life artist to portray the titular character and José Luis Maldonado more than filled the bill (and the costume). We think the last time we reviewed him we called him a beast onstage. Great artists need more than a great voice; they need a stage presence that pulls the audience right in and this he did. He was, in turn, arrogant, deceitful, pompous, entrapped, humiliated, and abashed.

The four women who plotted his humiliation were each superb, but together they were outstanding. Nina Mutalifu's Alice Ford was well paired with Molly Burke's Meg Page. As Mistress Quickly, Emily Skilling got to perform one of our favorite scenes, approaching the Fat Knight with ersatz politesse-- "Reverenza!"  This has been running through our head all night long.

In the role of Nanetta, Maria Brea made a fine showing. Her Fenton, Te Yu Huang, stepped into the role at the last minute and truly rose to the occasion.  If it were difficult for Ms. Brea to accommodate to a new Fenton, she did not show it. The pair provided "romantic relief".

And for comic relief we had John Kim as Bardolfo and Christopher Nazarian as Pistola, who created wonderfully funny characters without sacrificing fine singing.

Gerardo de la Torre made a fine Ford and delivered his aria with fine voice and style, earning a big hand. Kyuyoung Lee created a different kind of character, the ridiculous figure of Dr. Caius to whom Ford plans to marry off his daughter.

Ian Campbell's direction was first rate and happily kept the action in the time period and place in which it belongs. We really liked the way he handled the final scene in a somewhat understated manner; it is usually overdone. 

Charles R. Caine designed the opulent and period accurate costumes which we believe we remember from the production of 2012. Steven Horak's wigs and makeup were well suited to the cast.

Sets were simple and augmented by projections on the rear wall, for which no one was credited in the program, but Dante Olivia Smith's lighting worked well.

The excellent chorus was conducted by Assistant Conductor Noby Ishida.

In sum, we can't remember having a better time at this opera than we did last night. We don't need "concept". All we need is a coherent production with great voices and orchestral clarity. We left Kaye Playhouse sort of dancing down 68th St.

(c) meche kroop









Saturday, July 7, 2018

KINETIC FRENETIC

Leonard Bernstein's Peter Pan at Bard College Summerscape


We have been traveling up to Bard College every summer to enjoy their Summerscape offerings, generally comprising forgotten or neglected works.  Bernstein's Peter Pan certainly falls into that category since we had never heard of it. 

We adore Candide and never tire of it; we consider it to be on the operatic end of the musical spectrum. We also adore West Side Story which leans more toward the Broadway Musical side of the spectrum, although we have heard unamplified operatic voices singing thrilling versions of arias and duets extracted from the work.

We have no knowledge of A Quiet Place and only a single exposure to a number from Trouble in Tahiti which didn't thrill us.  But we never knew that Bernstein wrote a musical based upon the 1904 Barrie play Peter Pan, which ran for over 300 performances in 1950, a couple of years before the Disney film and the Broadway show, neither of which we are familiar with.

That being said, the opinions of our several companions, who were familiar with the film and the show, matched our own; we experienced a lack of involvement in the production which did however receive a large ovation. It was neither opera nor Broadway show. It was a "post-modern entertainment" which left us puzzled and disappointed. We hold the director Christopher Alden responsible. It seemed, like so many contemporary productions, to be an attempt to dazzle the audience with effects and to garner attention for Alden's reputation rather than an attempt to tell a story.

Nonetheless, Bernstein's music was delightful, played by a chamber group of six musicians whose outsized talent left us feeling no loss for the reduced orchestration, credited to Garth Edwin Sunderland. Music Director Michael A. Ferrara played the piano and led the combination of Flute (Ryu Cipris),  Cello (Melody Giron), Percussion (Charles Kiger), Clarinet (Patrick Sikes) and Violin (Una Tone). The music could not have been better, and what would one expect with a "melody" and a "tone" on board!

We liked the acting of Peter Smith as Peter Pan, who did not get a song to sing.  We don't give a rat's whisker whether a performer is LGBT or Q as long as they can sing or act; we don't know why the program mentioned that "they" (preferred pronoun) are "non-binary".  They is (are) an appealing performer who engaged us as a character, in a way that Erin Markey as Wendy, also identified as "non-binary" did not.

We liked the songs but did not care for the way they were sung. "They" lacked the youthful innocence needed for the part and belted out "their" songs standing in front of a microphone (!) in a way that lacked integration with the story and taxed the limitations of "their" upper register. (Could someone please suggest a new pronoun to avoid this clumsy circumlocution?)

In the double role of Mr. Darling and Captain Hook, William Michals sang robustly and convincingly. The director managed the conversion of roles by having Nana the dog bite his hand off, leaving just a hook.  That was just plain sick-making.

The petite Rona Figueroa played the roles of Mrs. Darling, Tiger Lily, and the Crocodile, walking around with a huge clock that appeared borrowed from the Met's current iteration of La Traviata, another embarrassing attempt by a director to steal the show.

The role of Tinker Bell was portrayed by Jack Ferver, whose tiny stature and silver jumpsuit did nothing to convince us that he was a fairy. He created a character that was nothing more than a possessive jealous bitch who crawled all over Peter Pan and did what he could to destroy Wendy.

What a concept! The proposed playfulness of this iteration was melded with conscious or unconscious darkness. Was Wendy's father so awful that he had to be seen as a murderous pirate? Was Mrs. Darling so awful that she had to become a crocodile (with some truly awkward costume changes onstage). Was Wendy meant to be a very forward sexpot trying to get sex out of the asexual Peter Pan? How very post-modern!  How very incomprehensible!

The set design by Marsha Ginsberg was peculiar.  Everything onstage was bright yellow. Half the stage was consumed by a real carnival ride with cars painted like mid-20th c. imaginings of spaceships for Peter and the Lost Boys to fly in. JAX Messenger's lighting was effective.

Costumer Terese Wadden dressed the ensemble in yellow jumpsuits. The five young performers (Catherine Bloom, Milo Cramer, Jewel Evans, Alec Glass, and Charles Mai) were excellent but were sometimes made to speak with voices strangely altered electronically. Sporting balaclavas, they doubled as pirates, looking very much like terrorists.

When the production opened all five were racing frantically around the stage, incomprehensibly lining up potatoes on the apron of the stage. Later, as pirates, they speared the potatoes and roasted them over a fire in a strange scene in which they jumped through a trapdoor in the floor. There was talk of walking the plank but no plank appeared.

The bottom line is that this was a chance to hear Bernstein's lovely and accessible music, well-played and badly sung. It distorted the Barrie story rather than adding a new dimension. If mindless entertainment with lots of eye candy is your brew, go and enjoy. Most of the audience last night did.

(c) meche kroop



Tuesday, July 3, 2018

100% and 100 degrees

David Pershall, Maestro Alvise M. Casellati, Larisa Martinez, and Cody Austin


We will have much to say about last night's Opera Italiana in Central Park but let us begin by lauding the singers who performed with 100% commitment in sweltering 100 degree weather. No one less compelling than soprano Larisa Martinez could have pulled us out of our air-conditioned home; her prodigious talent was matched by that of tenor Cody Austin and baritone David Pershall, whose award-winning performances (Giulio Gari and George London) we wrote about in 2016. Last night he made a fine Figaro in the "Largo al Factotum".

We consider ourself to be rather good at predicting future stardom and Ms. Martinez' gifts impressed us from the first time we heard her five years ago, when we found her Barbarina overwhelmingly "winsome". A superb Musetta followed and we have been a great fan ever since. She has fame written all over her and witnessing her rising star has been a privilege.

Although we loved re-hearing Musetta's waltz last night what impressed us the most was her investment in the role of Violetta in Verdi's La Traviata. This role makes incredible demands on the soprano, not just vocally but dramatically. What makes her one of our very favorite female characters is her emotional growth.

In her duet with an appropriately lovestruck Mr. Austin ("Un di, felice") Ms. Martinez successfully portrayed the outwardly indifferent woman who secretly wants true love in her life.  In her confrontation with Germont père (Mr. Pershall), "Pure siccome un angelo", she colored her voice with dignity and restraint with flashes of anger and terror peeking through. Reunited with Alfredo at the end of the opera, (the duet "Parigi, o cara") she colored her voice with a very touching vulnerability and hopefulness.

The duets Ms. Martinez performed from Puccini's Madama Butterfly were excellent as well but were all from the romantic part of the opera and we were left wondering how she might have shown the emotional growth of Cio-Cio San. Mr. Austin's warm tenor made him the perfect romantic partner. We heard just about the entire end of Act I!  This was preceded by a duet between the upstanding consul Sharpless (Mr. Pershall) and the callow Lt. Pinkerton (Mr. Austin) who shows the audience his true colors.

There were other delights on the program. Soprano Jennifer Zetlan was joined by "vocalist" Helga Davis for an arrangement of Paola Prestini's Oceanic Verses. The shimmering texture of Ms. Prestini's orchestral writing were balm to the ear but we couldn't understand a word of Ms. Zetlan's Italian. Although the tonal quality of her voice was superb, we couldn't even tell it was Italian until we looked at the libretto. We cannot fault the sound design (uncredited) because the other singers were perfectly clear. We wonder whether the tessitura remained too long in the upper register. By contrast, Ms. Davis' smoky low tones were kind to the text, even though it was in English.

There were orchestral treasures to delight us as well. Maestro Alvise M. Casellati conducted a spirited reading of a couple of Rossini overtures that reminded us of the composer's gift for both memorable melody and rhythmic thrust. The overture from La Gazza Ladra came early in the program and had us tapping our toes.  The overture from William Tell was performed in its entirety with a profusion of themes that could only be described as "l'abbondanza". There was happily no haste to get to "The Lone Ranger" theme and we enjoyed the slower lyrical section equally, if not more.

It must be noted that the orchestra comprised seasoned players from The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra as well as gifted young musicians from our three local conservatories. From this diverse group, Maestro Casellati melded a fine unit.

The evening was produced and hosted by Dani Bedoni, sporting bejewelled butterfly sunglasses.  Her warmth and enthusiasm exceeded her familiarity with the Italian language and opera. She graciously brought to the stage Ms. Prestini and the teenaged Pauline Castro, a member of the New York Philharmonic young composers program, whose symphonic work opened the program.

The event was listed as a free event at the Naumberg Bandshell in Central Park; like so many other cultural events in the city, the benefits were heavily weighted towards the well-to-do. Only supporters got to sit in the chairs set up behind velvet ropes; we were rather impressed by their Italian style. Everyone looked as if they had just come from the salon or the spa. Men wore suits and ties. Women were groomed to a fare-thee-well. Meanwhile the paesani of NYC sat on the cement off to the side or on chairs they lugged from home. It may have been a smart move to watch the livestream from home!

The singers sang in the bandshell with the orchestra situated in front at audience level. Maestro Casellati occupied a large platform and we wished the singers had also been on the platform. If you have seen the fuzzy photos on our FB page (Voce di Meche) you will realize how far the audience was from the bandshell. Actually we were on the second row. For the finale "Libiamo", the singers moved toward us, making for a better experience. We were invited to sing along but no one did.

We just remembered that we were among those who vigorously protested the tearing down of the Naumberg Bandshell some years ago. We are so glad our efforts succeeded. What a great use it was put to last night!

(c) meche kroop


Friday, June 29, 2018

MANHATTAN OPERA STUDIO

Manhattan Opera Studio's production of Mozart's Die Zauberflöte

Not all summer training programs take place in Europe.  Some are right here in New York City. Manhattan Opera Studio attracted a lot of students from out-of-town for their Summer Festival. Students applied by audition and those accepted received month-long coaching and master classes, with an opportunity to appear in a fully staged role with orchestra.

A few days ago we reviewed their Hänsel und Gretel and last night we returned to the National Opera Center to hear Die Zauberflöte,  Mozart's delightful singspiel. The work premiered in 1791 and is replete with references to Freemasonry, which was practiced by both Mozart and his librettist Emanuel Schikaneder, who sang the role of Papageno. Sarastro represents the values of The Enlightenment--reason and wisdom. His nemesis, the Queen of the Night, represents emotionalism and hysteria.  Do we see the sexism here?

Mozart composed the delightful music with concern for the varied vocal abilities of his cast. Allowances were made for those less experienced or less gifted, whilst great challenges were presented to the famous singers who were cast as the Queen and Sarastro. There was also some variability in the artistry of the cast we heard last night.

There were no allowances made for the orchestra and Maestro Keith Chambers led a spirited performance from the reduced orchestra which played Bryan Higgins' fine reduction of the score. We always listen for the glockenspiel, so well played here by Lucas Barkley.

The opera was performed in German and everyone in the cast deserves props for their linguistic skills as well as their singing. Certain singers made a big impression. Conrad Schmechel is a stage animal and created a marvelous version of Papageno, the opera's representation of the "common man", happy with food and wine and a wife. Fortunately he was awarded the delightful Papagena of Laura Schachner who had little stage time but has a sit-up-and-take-notice style about her. Mr. Schmechel was reviewed last summer in Opera Breve's Carmen.

Taylor Surratt made a fine Tamino with lyrical line and a princely bearing, representing the man who is amenable to reason, changing his mind when confronted with new information. His "Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön" was especially fine. As his beloved Pamina, Kathleen Norchi sang with sincerity and a lovely line in "Ach, ich fühl's".

The incredibly difficult role of the Queen of the Night was well performed by Xi Lyu. Her revenge aria "Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen" was even better than her "O zittre nicht mein lieber Sohn". Her fiery delivery was just right.

Christian Ohlenschlaeger's Sarastro would have benefitted from some more forceful acting. We have always found Sarastro to be a pompous and not very likeable character, but he must be firm in gesture and voice.

Eamon Pereyra, whom we havea heard before, handled the vocal demands of Monostatos perfectly well but is just too sweet looking to convince us of the character's evil nature.

The Three Ladies (Ashlee Woodgate, Kailee Miranda Mhoon, and Olivia Ottinger) harmonized beautifully. We wish that Stage Director Lisa Nava had gotten them to relate to one another more. As a matter of fact, there were several instances in which other characters sang directly to the audience instead of to each other. This should be easy to correct and would make the performance work much better.

We always love the Three Spirits; the three lovely young women who sang them (Brittany Stetson, Mary McKinnis, and Maya Davis) managed to sound like three boy sopranos which made them inordinately appealing.

Although sung in German, the spoken dialogue was in English; everyone spoke clearly so not a word was lost. The chorus also did very well. Duets and ensembles were all well balanced.

There were no sets and no props which allowed the audience members to use their imagination. We borrowed bits and pieces from our memory including a particularly vivid memory of a production seen years ago in Bregenz, Austria, in which the action took place on a large floating stage in the middle of Lake Constance and the serpent came up out of the lake!

We liked the lighting which dimmed for the major arias, allowing the singer to perform in a spotlight. We also liked the costumes which were basic but effective.

The orchestra played on one side of the room with the audience seated on the other side. The effect was somewhat less than stereophonic but is one of those compromises made on Planet Opera where we desperately need a small opera house with an orchestra pit.

There will be another performance at The National Opera Center Sunday at 6:30 and Flute lovers who hope to attend will be well advised to reserve tickets. Last night was standing room only. Sitters and standees were equally enthusiastic in their standing ovation for the singers.

(c) meche kroop

Thursday, June 28, 2018

THE MOUNTAIN COMES TO MOHAMMED

Dan Saunders, Gabriella Reyes de Ramirez, Gerard Schneider, and Adrian Timpau
We have no idea whether the audience members who cheerfully sat in the drizzle last night are regulars at The Metropolitan Opera, or whether they have ever been there.  No matter. The Met brings operas to the boroughs of Manhattan and we applaud the institution for spreading the culture far and wide. We would be surprised if they didn't make some new converts, based upon the very high level of artistry we witnessed.

With the always wonderful Dan Saunders accompanying, three impressive talents joined forces for an all-too-brief (but nonetheless satisfying) recital of operatic favorites. We wanted the evening to never end!

Tenorrific Gerard Schneider opened the program with the rousing "Questa o quella" from Verdi's Rigoletto, leaving us no doubt about the Duke's fickle personality. What we love about Mr. Schneider's technique is that he knows how to float a high note and never pushes his voice. To hear a delicately floated pianissimo is a delight; to produce such a phenomenon seems out of reach to most tenors who think that their top notes must be fortissimo. 

Baritone Adrian Timpau brought Da Ponte's clueless Count Almaviva to vivid life in "Hai già vinta la causa" from Mozart's Nozze di Figaro. He nailed Almaviva's personality and did so with a unique tonal quality that made us think of corduroy, for some strange reason, perhaps because it is plush like velvet but with more texture.

Soprano Gabriella Reyes de Ramirez gazed upward when singing "Stridono lassu" from Leoncavallo's Pagliacci and we saw the birds through her eyes whilst her voice trilled away with its gorgeous vibrato. The illusion was fostered by Mr. Saunder's piano.

With those three fachs on hand, of course we had to hear the trio from Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore. Adina gets to relish the enviable position of having Nemorino and Belcore competing for her attention in "Tran, tran, tran, tran". We know how singers love to do drunk scenes and Mr. Schneider did not fail us.

No one will ever replace Hvorostovsky but we have no worries about the next great Verdi baritone. Mr. Timpau was superb as Rodrigo, expressing friendship to Mr. Schneider's Don Carlo, who engaged our ear once more with his gorgeous pianissimo.  ("Work it Gerard!", we thought.) "Dio, che nell'alma infondere" had a great rhythmic thrust with Mr. Saunders producing the thrumming chords in the piano. The vocal harmonies were delicious.

Turandot's aria "Tu che di gel sei cinta" is often screamed out. Not so in Ms. Reyes' portrayal which was as dramatically valid as it was musically effective. The high tessitura and high drama held no terrors for her.

Mr. Timpau wowed us with his well modulated performance of Yeletsky's aria "Ya vas lyublyu" from Tchaikovsky's Pique Dame. Here's the strange part--we only know about a dozen words in Russian but his performance left us feeling that we understood every word, as well as experiencing every feeling!

We do love serenades and Faust's serenade of Marguerite from Gounod's masterpiece was given a sincere and tender performance by Mr. Schneider who once again delighted us with his pianissimo. His French was given lovely pronunciation and phrasing and Mr. Saunders joined in with some lyrical and tender piano.

"La ci darem la mano" from Mozart's Don Giovanni was sung by Mr. Timpau, who got into the role of the seducer, and Ms. Reyes who seemed not to have much point of view about Zerlina as to whether she was frightened of the lord of the estate or a willing participant, or ambivalent.  Vocally fine, she just needs to think about what kind of Zerlina she wants to be.

Mr. Schneider had no such deficit in his delivery of "Kuda, kuda", Lenski's aria from Eugene Onegin. The young man is filled with conflicting emotions as he faces death at the hands of his friend. The various colors Mr. Schneider employed, as well as his facial expression and gestures, took us right to the heart of Lenski's maelstrom of feelings.

We do not know Carlisle Floyd's Susannah very well but we've heard lots of sopranos sing "Ain't it a Pretty Night". It will never be among our favorite arias; at times the words feel shoehorned into the music. That didn't stop up from enjoying Ms. Reyes' performance which was filled with youthful longing. Her English diction was flawless and we understood every word, something we don't take for granted. The high note was stunning.

We have never seen Wagner's Tannhaüser but have loved the aria "O du, mein holder Abendstern" since we heard it in a film by the Taviani Brothers. (We thought it was in Padre Padrone but seeking an answer online, we read that it was used in La Notte di San Lorenzo. If any readers know the correct answer, please add it to the comment section.)

In any case, Mr. Timpau sang it in gorgeously rendered German, not to overlook the melismatic passages. We were transported!

The program ended with  "O soave fanciulla" from Puccini's La Bohème, one of the world's great romantic duets, sung by Ms. Reyes and Mr. Schneider, who walked offstage arm in arm.

But wait! There would be three encores which was like a meal with three desserts! Ernesto de Curtis' 1912 "Non ti scordar di me" was given a beautiful performance by Mr. Timpau. Mr. Schneider sang the open-hearted "Dein ist mein ganzes herz" from Franz Lehar's Das Land des Lächelns and he sang it with his finely spun pianissimo which we enjoyed all night.

Finally Ms. Reyes enchanted the entire audience with "Carceleres" from Ruperto Chapí's zarzuela Las Hijas del Zebedeo, sung with high style and lots of sabor. Readers who know how we feel about zarzuela will know why we floated out of Jackie Robinson Park with feet not touching the ground. Good singing will do that to us!

(c) meche kroop

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

FAR AND NEAR (and also DEAR)

Angela Dixon, Aumna Iqbal, Jane Hoffman, William Lewis, Joyce Yin, Mary Kathryn Monday, Brittany Fowler, Rebecca Richardson, and Tara Gruszkiewicz

Last night found us back uptown at the gorgeous United Palace of Cultural Arts for an intimate song recital given by Cantanti Project, of which the lovely Joyce Yin is Artistic Director. To say that the architecture almost eclipsed the singing is to praise the lavish decor, not to diminish the recital, which was quite lovely. 

We have followed Cantanti Project since its inception four years ago and have had the opportunity to hear some of the singers in prior productions. We also welcomed the opportunity to get acquainted with some singers heretofore unknown to us.

There were some very special moments to cherish, chiefly the opportunity to hear American songs that were instantly relatable and sung with clear enunciation so that not a word was lost. Sung without amplification (of course) these songs occupy a place in the canon which they so richly deserve.

Coloratura soprano Joyce Yin offered a stunning rendition of "If I Loved You" from Richard Rodgers' Carousel, showing a wide range of emotions and a delicate decrescendo at the end. A very funny song by Lee Hoiby entitled "The Serpent", from his Songs for Leontyne, allowed her to give full range to her palette of vocal colors and her charming personality.

We also enjoyed "Somewhere Over the Rainbow", from Harold Arlen's The Wizard of Oz, which was arranged for two voices by our venerable accompanist/coach for the evening, William Lewis. Ms. Yin was joined by soprano Rebecca Richardson who impressed us with her appealing vibrato in "Chi bel sogno di Doretta" from Puccini's La Rondine.

The versatile Ms. Richardson seasoned "De Ronda" with ample sazon. How could we not have known that Joaquin Rodrigo, composer of Concierto de Aranjuez, also wrote songs! This little gem was marked by a lovely melody and a concise and charming text about reaching for the inaccessible.

There were other duets on the program, to our delight. Inarguably one of every opera lover's favorite duet for female voice--the "Flower Duet" from Léo Delibes' Lakmé--was performed by soprano Jane Hoffman and mezzo soprano Brittany Fowler in perfect harmony.

The "Evening Prayer" from Humperdinck's Hänsel und Gretel was sung by soprano Angela Dixon and mezzo-soprano Aumna Iqbal. We just reviewed that opera the night before when it was sung in German.  Last night it was sung in English to no great detriment.

We enjoyed the contrast between the colors of two very different mezzo-sopranos in Consuelo Velásquez' famous "Besame Mucho". Mary Kathryn Monday's mezzo is on the lighter side whereas Tara Gruszkiewicz' coloration is significantly darker. We heard a contralto in the making!

Ms. Monday's delivery of the "Seguidilla" from Bizet's Carmen revealed plenty of contempt peeking out from behind the seductive exterior.

Ms. Hoffman introduced us to a composer with whom we are unfamiliar; Eva dell'Acqua's "Villanelle" had exceptionally fine writing for both voice and piano and offered the singer an opportunity to dazzle us with bird song, trills, and a vocalise. 

We were compelled to look up the composer. She is one of those unsung female composers, part Belgian and part Italian. We hope to hear more of her works, perhaps on a program with other largely overlooked female composers like Fanny Mendelssohn, Clara Schumann, and Amy Beach. Ms. Hoffman would seem the perfect singer for such a program since she also performed Ms. Beach's "I send my heart to thee" from Three Browning Songs.

Ms. Fowler performed one of Ms. Mendelssohn's songs, as a matter of fact--"Nachtwanderer" from Sechs Lieder, a lovely piece and well sung in fine German. She also sang clearly in English, Mr. Lewis' arrangement of the folk song"Shenandoah" sung with great depth of feeling.

Ms. Iqbal had no trouble with the low tessitura of "Home" from Alan Menken's Beauty and the Beast, a wonderful song from a show with which we are unfamiliar. She also performed Robert Schumann's "Wanderung" from Zwölf Gedichte.

We are also unfamiliar with Bernstein's Peter Pan but found Ms. Monday's delivery of "Build My House" pure delight. We are so glad for the preview because we are going to Bard next week to review that American musical/opera!

Ms. Gruszkiewicz showed her versatility by performing Aaron Copland's arrangement of the spiritual "At the River" and also one of the songs from Dvorák's Gypsy Songs -- the sentimental "Als die alte Mutter", sung in fine German. 

The entire cast joined forces for "Go the Distance" from Alan Menken's Hercules, another work with which we are unfamiliar.
Everyone went the distance.  Ours consisted of a long ride home on the A train! The excellent show made it all worthwhile.

(c) meche kroop





Monday, June 25, 2018

A FAIRY TALE FOR OUR TIME

Ísis Cunha, Sarah Kim, Javiera Saavedra, Carly Cummings, Abdiel Vazquez, Annmarie Errico, Lisa Nava, Jin Yu, and Erika Straus

A friend we invited to attend Engelbert Humperdinck's Hänsel und Gretel expressed disinterest in "a children's opera". We couldn't help wondering whether that misconception has kept this marvelous opera from being on the "Top Ten" list of operas. Would we call Cenerentola or Cendrillon "children's operas" because they too are based on fairy tales?

Thankfully, that designation has never dissuaded us, although we find the overblown production at the Met rather dispiriting. This is indeed an intimate family story and rather resonant at this time since children are being separated from their parents at our Mexican border. We couldn't help thinking of that whilst watching Manhattan Opera Studio's excellent intimate production last night at the National Opera Center. 

Fairy tales evolved over centuries, according to psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim, and serve to help children deal with psychological issues.  Although the situation in Humperdinck's opera is not as dire as in the Brothers Grimm fairy tale (in which the parents abandon the children in the forest due to a famine), it still offers reassurance to children in that it reinforces sibling cooperation, stresses childhood resourcefulness, and offers the concept of helpful guardian angels. 

This softening of the story was likely due to the fact that the libretto was written by the composer's sister for her own children. Just like Disney, she did not trust the terrifying nature of the original.

From the standpoint of an adult opera lover, our enchantment rests on the melodies lavished by Humperdinck on his sister's libretto. Many of them are based upon German folk songs but the orchestration shows the influence of Richard Wagner. The 1893 premiere was conducted by none other than Richard Strauss. Gustav Mahler conducted it as well.

Last night's production, part of Manhattan Opera Studio's Summer Festival, employed Kathleen Kelly's outstanding reduction of the score for chamber orchestra, comprising a string quartet augmented by flute, clarinet, and horn,with Jestin Pieper at the piano. From this group of splendid musicians, Maestro Abdiel Vazquez pulled a winning performance.

All of the singers were superb. Soprano Carly Cummings made a winning Gretel in pigtails whilst mezzo-soprano Annmarie Errico was convincingly boyish as Hänsel. Like siblings everywhere they had their moments of fun and moments of rivalry. We enjoyed the scene in which they dance together but really enjoyed their duets in which their two voices blended beautifully.

Their very angry mother was sung by Javiera Saavedra and their bibulous father was performed by Jin Yu. After the children are sent to the forest to forage berries, Father returns home drunk but Mother's rage is softened when she sees the abundance of food he has brought, thanks to selling all of his brooms. There's a lot of insight into male/female dynamics there.

The forest scene was lovely. Patricia Billings' clarinet gave us believable cuckoo sounds. A chorus in the rear of the hall echoed Hansel's cries. A charming Sandman (Erika Straus) helps the children find peace in sleep. The physical presence of the 14 angels was created by the audience's imagination. The children are awakened by a rather idiosyncratic and colorful Dew Fairy (Ísis Cunha) sporting a yellow slicker and matching umbrella!

Sarah Kim made a wonderful witch, and the upward stares of the children helped us to see her fly (offstage, of course). She put the children in a trance by means of a spiral design on a twirling umbrella.  She cast a spell with her magic wand, utilizing it to control their movements. We were a bit puzzled however by her flamenco dance!

Stage Director Lisa Nava substituted imagination for money, leaving the audience to do some mental work, a good thing in our book. There was nothing onstage except some brooms and a couple of footstools which were used for important arias.  The witch's death in the oven was suggested by a floodlight and crinkled red cellophane. Elizabeth Harraman's horn announced her demise.  The chorus in the rear of the theater sang the parts of the children freed from her spell.

Manhattan Opera Studio presented this opera two years ago and we enjoyed it enough to catch it again. We had some quibbles about the directing and are happy to relate that Ms. Nava's direction is greatly improved. The characters related to one another and the family reunion at the end brought cheer to our heart as we imagined the reunions that will hopefully recur among our neighbors from South of the Border.

Our other quibble from 2016 was the titles of rhymed couplets which did not reflect a true German translation. This time, there were no titles but the German was quite clear and whatever was missed was made clear by the fine acting and direction.

Under the Artistic Direction of Carlos Federico Tagle and the Music Direction of Benoit Renard, Manhattan Opera Studio is a fine addition to the New York opera scene. There will be another chance to see this production Tuesday night at 8:00 at the National Opera Center.  Although the cast will be different, we are sure that the quality will be as high.

Thursday and Sunday will bring productions of Mozart's Die Zauberflöte and we can scarcely wait. Keith Chambers will be conducting.

(c) meche kroop
























Sunday, June 24, 2018

NOCHE DE SAN JUAN

Pablo Castillo, Rosa Betancourt, Laura Virella, José Heredia, and Keith Chambers

As explained in a most welcoming introduction by Laura Virella, La Noche de San Juan is a festive Latin American holiday, almost coinciding with the Summer Solstice--an amalgam of a Catholic holiday and a pagan celebration, involving bonfires and other festivities.

We were overjoyed to share this celebration (without bonfires) at the Inwood Art Works Culture Hub, a very new community center for the arts in Inwood. It is so new that the large crowd attending this special evening of art song and zarzuela was rather unexpected. We believe this to be Inwood's first cultural center and it is already wildly successful. "If you build it they will come."  And come they did!

We have noticed that along with the many small opera companies carving out niches for themselves, there has also been a movement toward bringing the arts to the various neighborhoods. When we first began writing, our world centered around Lincoln Center. Now we find ourselves traveling to the farthest reaches of Brooklyn and Manhattan, seeing new faces, new neighborhoods, and new venues.

The evening was an unqualified success. Readers know how highly we prize Latin American music and the program comprised both art song and selections from a zarzuela that we plan to produce next year in its entirety--Federico Moreno Torroba's 1932 Luisa Fernandez.

Three of the singers were known to us as was the accompanist Maestro Keith Chambers, who seems to be everywhere these days. He pulled some interesting sounds from an electronic keyboard.

Mezzo-soprano Laura Virella possesses a lovely expressive voice and a passion for Latin American art song that gives her delivery a jolt of drama, bringing each song to vivid life. She opened the program with a trio of songs about the sea by Jack Délano, settings of texts by female poets. 

The marriage of music to text in these mid 20th c. songs was pure delight, the likes of which we have not observed in 20th c. songs from our own country. It is obvious that Latin American composers were not taken in by weird academic movements that took songwriting into areas devoid of melody! These songs are delightfully tuneful!

Soprano Rosa Betancourt has a brightness in her instrument that was employed to highlight the cheerful beginning of Rafael Hernánez' "Lamento borincano" but there was an interesting switch to the minor mode when the hopeful merchant fails to find customers and pathos is heard. Mr. Chambers provided some lovely arpeggi in the left hand.

For her performance of Campos' "Felices días", she was accompanied by Ms. Virella playing the Guiro, a gourd with ridges that is stroked for a raspy sound. This song is typical of the "Danza", a turn of the 20th c. type of song that elevated folk music to the level of art song. (Think Stephen Foster).

Tenor José Heredia has a generosity and ease of sound that brought great passion to "Granada", written by Mexican composer Agustín Lara in 1932. He never forces his high notes and displayed a lovely messa di voce.

Ms. Virella returned for a quartet of songs by Puerto Rican composer Narciso Figueroa, written in 1976. We doubt that there is anything in the Puerto Rican song literature that Ms. Virella does not know. Her charm is like a perfume that scents everything she sings. We loved the romantic "Madrugada" and the regretful "Muerta". "Vida criolla" is a song in praise of ignorance and the simple life.

"Amapola" by Spanish composer José María Lacalle García, which was composed in 1920, is as recognizable as "Granada", a wonderful serenade. To hear Mr. Heredia sing it was a thrill. He easily assailed the "money note" without a hint of pushing.

Chilean Baritone Pablo Castillo closed the first half of the program with a 1965 composition by his countryman Vicente Bianchi, the setting of a text by Pablo Neruda called "Antes de amarte", followed by a tango by Argentinean Astor Piazzolla called "Los pájaros perdidos". Mr. Castillo has a lovely resonant sound and sang expressively in these songs which bore a less folklike theme and a more sophisticated text.

The second part of the program was devoted to zarzuela, the art form that has so captured our interest.  Torroba's Luisa Fernanda is one of the best and the four singers captured the essence of the story with a series of excerpts. Like all great stories, it involves a love triangle against a background of revolutionary politics in 1868, just prior to the revolution against Queen Isabel II, who will be dethroned.

The heroine Luisa (Ms. Virella) is fed up with her off-and-on lover, Javier, a military man (Mr. Heredia). She is courted by the wealthy older landowner Vidal (Mr. Castillo) who knows she loves Javier but is hopeful. Meanwhile, the Duchess Carolina (Ms. Betancourt) has her eye on Javier for reasons as political as they are romantic. She also has designs on Vidal who doesn't quite trust her.

This zarzuela has it all--a compelling story, unforgettable melodies, comedy, romance, pathos, and politics. At times we heard tunes that sounded downright Neapolitan. No wonder this zarzuela has seen over 10,000 performances.  That is NOT a misprint!

The evening closed with an excerpt from a different zarzuela of the same period--"El último romántico" by Sotullo and Vert. We heard Mr. Heredia perform the aria "Bella enamorada", a perfect way to end a glorious evening.

(c) meche kroop



Wednesday, June 20, 2018

OPERATIC TEASE AT DUANE PARK

Trixie La Fée, Ladybird Finch, and Harlow Wigglesworth at Duane Park

Now what, you might ask, is your intrepid reviewer doing at a burlesque show.  The answer is that we were listening to operatic arias, performed by some truly excellent singers. That they happen to be talented ecdysiasts as well is just icing on the operatic cake.  

If one closed one's eyes, one would be experiencing a splendid sampling of arias at a recital; but if one did so he/she would be depriving him/herself of some entrancing eye candy as these ladies are experts in both areas. Moreover, one of them, Marcy Richardson, aka Operagaga, is an amazing aerialist who performed some wild contortions within a large steel ring, of which we failed to get a good photo.

We love to see unusual productions in interesting venues because they serve a somewhat younger audience and also introduce people who are not regular opera goers to an art form to which we are addicted.  Let us hope that some of them get bitten by the bug.

Let us begin with the venue and the menu, which are all part of the experience. Duane Park is situated on The Bowery, just north of Houston Street, the entrance gives the feeling of entering a speakeasy during Prohibition. Once inside, one is greeted by Trent, who is an excellent host, making every attempt to get parties comfortably seated. One looks around at the opulent decor and is reassured that there is nothing "cheap" about this venue. All preconceived notions of "strip-joints" evaporate in this refined air.

The menu offers choices for everyone and we were astonished at how fine the food was. We enjoyed some unusual handcrafted cocktails and some delicious shrimp and grits that made us feel as if we were in Charleston or N'awlins. Our companion raved about the merguez. Kudos to Executive Chef Richard Overholt. Our server was attentive and didn't miss a beat.

And neither did accompanist Seth Weinstein who showed off les girls to good advantage. We would like to show off les girls as well and if you did not arrive at this website through a link on Facebook, we refer you to our FB page "Voce di Meche" because a picture is worth a thousand words.  A word of warning-- it's not for the kiddies because we photographed a lot of tits and ass!

But we write about singing and isn't that what y'all want to hear about?  Our Mistress of Ceremonies for the evening was the lovely Laura Murphy who assumed the character of Harlow Wigglesworth and introduced each artist with a wiggle and a wink and a chorus girl accent--a fine piece of acting.

The program opened with Kasey Cardin, aka Dixie De Light, who gave a special sparkle to "Je veux vivre", Juliet's waltz from the Gounod opera. The French was fine as was the phrasing and, yes, the undressing was fine too. Later on, Ms. Cardin gave a special not-so-innocent interpretation of "O, mio babbino caro" from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi with Italian as fine as the French.

Gounod made a further appearance in "Que fait-tu, blanche tourterelle", Stefano's aria in which he teases the Capulets, performed by mezzo-soprano Rachel O'Malley, aka Ladybird Finch, who did plenty of teasing herself. She showed her humorous side in "What a movie" from Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti.

Soprano Francesca Caviglia, aka Trixie La Feé, appeared in a Cleopatra costume, which she shed whilst performing "V'adoro pupille" from Händel's Giulio Cesare. Her baroque style was impeccable. She also did a fine job with "I'm a stranger here myself" from One Touch of Venus by Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash.

We were a little worried that Trixie would not perform with her feathered fans, an act we have seen before; we needn't have been concerned because she appeared later in the program with a dazzling display that took our breath away. Whilst Ms. O'Malley sang "L'invitation au voyage" by Henri Duparc, Ms. Caviglia gave a perfect illustration of the text "Luxe, calme, et volupté" that exceeded the Matisse painting and Baudelaire's poetry.

There is a male member of the troupe and his name is Brad Lassiter, aka Lance-a-lot. He gave a fine musically valid performance of "C'est moi" from Lerner and Loewe's Camelot, stripping down to some gilded skivvies, with some female assistance. His Belcore was even better, as he sang, "Come Paride vezzoso" from Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore.

Marcy Richardson, aka Operagaga, gave a fine performance of the Jewel Song "Ah, je ris" from Gounod's Faust with a sparkling soprano and equally sparkling pasties. We found no fault in her fine French.

We know from witnessing countless master classes and our own voice lessons just how difficult it is to master an aria--the language, the breaths, the phrasing, the skips, the legato, the fioritura, etc.  Now, just imagine accomplishing all that while shedding your clothes in an artistic manner!  Now imagine doing that while performing difficult gymnastic maneuvers and you will get some idea of what we witnessed as Ms. Richardson sang "Lascia ch'io pianga" from Händel's Rinaldo!  What a feat!

We hope you all know the rousing "Champagne Aria" sung by Prince Orlofsky in Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss II.  Now imagine it sung by the entire cast in their closing number, toasting the audience and vice versa.  Now you know just how much fun we had last night at Duane Park.

Should you be tempted, there will be another show with different material on July 24th. We can guarantee your delight.

(c) meche kroop