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, May 26, 2018

AMORE OPERA DOES LA TRAVIATA

Jennifer Gliere as Violetta in a confrontation with Robert Garner as Giorgio Germont

People constantly ask us what our favorite opera is.  There are so many operas that we love and we never know how to answer the question. But if push comes to shove (or story comes to score), we must say that it is Verdi's masterpiece La Traviata. On this touching tale, so revelatory of 19th c. morality, Giuseppe Verdi lavished his most consistently gorgeous melodies, so revealing of the characters inner lives.

Violetta, the ultimate "party girl" reveals both an ability to abandon herself to love and a dignity of spirit when asked to make the ultimate sacrifice. Although we are sure that all four sopranos in the rotating casts of Amore Opera were topnotch, we are very glad to have heard Jennifer Gliere for the first time. The scintillating timbre of her soprano and the artistic way in which she employed it were enhanced by some fine acting that made us care about Violetta's tragic fate.

Never having seen the 1853 play La Dame aux camélias by Alexandre Dumas, fils, upon which Francesco Maria Piave's libretto is based, we cannot say whether the sympathy we feel is based upon the story, the libretto, the music, or the performance.  Let us just say they all contributed.

Although the story is very much one of the 18th and 19th c. and consequently very resistant to updating (as evidenced by the meretricious version at the Metropolitan Opera), a 21st c. woman can still relate to Violetta's first act ambivalence. At some point in a woman's life, she weighs her independence against the delights of romance. What arias better express this ambivalence than "Ah, fors' è lui" and "Sempre libera". Ms. Gliere invested the first aria with melting legato and the second with fiery fioritura.

Baritone Robert Garner, whose performances regularly impress us, was just as impressive last night as Giorgio Germont. We want to detest this character for ruining the happy romance of his son Alfredo with Violetta, who has given up her self-destructive partying for love. But this provincial papa is just as much a victim of circumstance as is Violetta. He lives in a morally judgmental world in which his son's behavior puts a stain on the family name and threatens his daughter's impending marriage.

In consequence, a good baritone can turn our negative feelings in a sympathetic direction and Mr. Garner's performance did just that. The harsh coloration of his voice and hostile demeanor gave way to softer tone and gesture as the bullying turned into manipulation in "Pura siccome un angelo". He even played the God card! Poor Violetta was no match for him. But by the end of their confrontation, he was impressed by her dignity and expressed sympathy for her plight.  It was a remarkable performance.

The passionate young Alfredo was sung by tenor Gerardo Gaytán, as capable of vicious retaliation toward Violettta's apparent rejection as he was of tender love in "De' miei bollenti spiriti". 

Mezzo-soprano Hannah Kramer made a vivacious Flora and soprano Emily Evelyn Way was a supportive Annina.  Brinson Keeley was appropriately distasteful in the baritone role of the entitled and possessive Baron Douphol, Violetta's on-again-off-again "patron". Justin Randolph sang the tenor role of Gastone, the Vicomte who brought Alfredo to Violetta's home, thus setting the plot in motion.

Under the direction of Susan Morton, the chorus of partygoers sang well. Under the baton of Musical director Maestro Douglas Martin, the orchestra played well for the most part, hampered only occasionally by some tonality problems in the string section.

We have previously pointed out that singers make the best directors.  Nathan Hull-- Founder, Artistic Director, and Stage Director--succeeded in making the action believable and meaningful with several small touches. For example, one of the "aristocratic" partygoers took unwelcome physical liberties with one of the serving girls. After the partygoers left, Violetta wanted to toast her independence and searched amid the discarded glasses and bottles for some leftover champagne to pour into her glass. We blushed as we recalled doing the exact same thing! What a humanizing touch!

We could go on and on but urge you to see for yourself what a good director can do with a traditional production. We far prefer such a modus operandi over the total transmogrification and irrational updating we have been exposed to lately.

Scenic Design by Richard Cerullo was consistently appropriate as were the costumes of Cynthia Psoras--with one minor exception. La cravate noire was not appropriate evening attire in the mid 19th c. Given the cost of renting tailcoats we are totally willing to accept such a minor flaw!

Choreography by Aurora Reyes provided some colorful Spanish dancing at Flora's party, the gaiety setting us up for the violent confrontation that followed.

There will be a performance tonight and another Sunday afternoon, with different casts. You couldn't find better entertainment. Our high opinion was reflected in the standing ovation and thunderous applause the cast received from a packed house.

(c) meche kroop


Thursday, May 24, 2018

DON GIOVANNI IN NEW YORK

Jordan Weatherston Pitts, Ashley Galvani Bell, Helena Brown, Tyler Putnam and Natalie Rose Havens surrounding Ricardo Rivera

Aristotle claimed that Art Imitates Life; Oscar Wilde claimed that the converse was more likely to be true. Let us say that both positions are valid. Last night, Divaria Productions presented a fascinating exploration of how the extravagant lives of librettist Lorenzo da Ponte and singer Manuel Garcia influenced and were influenced by the opera Don Giovanni.

We have always suspected that the rebellious Mozart saw himself in the unrepentant Don Giovanni who refuses to bow down to the father figure--the Commendatore. But we hadn't given much thought to da Ponte's identification with the libertine character of that anti-hero. Nor did we know anything about the connection with the Garcia family and the opera's first production in New York.

Thanks to the diligent scholarship and astute writing of Andrew Bell, the scripted production of Don Giovanni in New York left us with much to think about, as well as some memorable performances dancing around our brain. If the facts were stretched a bit for dramatic purposes, our rejoinder is "Se non è vero è ben trovato". Much of the dialogue was drawn from the memoirs of the Garcia family and those of Signor da Ponte.

The performance took place in the Old St. Patrick's Cathedral in Soho, of which da Ponte was a parishioner. It is a fact that the Garcia family was brought to the United States by da Ponte who was responsible for introducing Italian opera to New York. 

The Garcias opened Don Giovanni at the Park Lane Theater on this exact date (May 23rd) in 1826! (We do believe a French opera by Grétry was performed in the Louisiana Territory in 1784). Mr. Bell tells the story of this production, using excerpts from the opera to illuminate the inner feelings of the characters.

The many layered story we witnessed comprised several strands. By all accounts, both Garcia and da Ponte led scandalous lives with many ill-advised sexual liaisons. Furthermore, Garcia terrorized his daughter Maria so thoroughly that she escaped from him by marrying a much older man and quitting singing. (That she left this husband and resumed a highly successful singing career in Europe is not germane to this story.)

Garcia cheated on his wife, a singer also, with another member of the cast. Mr. Bell's script plays off the characters of the opera and there was drama aplenty. The astute lighting by Anthony Tornambene went a long way toward making clear which were real scenes between the characters and which were scenes from the opera and which were scenes showing memories of the characters.

If this sounds confusing, well, it was a bit. It would have been helpful to have read the extensive program in advance to understand why scenes from the opera were drastically out of sequence.  It would also have helped to have better acoustics. The cathedral is highly resonant which served the singers better than it did the actors portraying the characters of Da Ponte and the Garcias. We missed a lot of the dialogue but heard enough to get the gist of the story.

The singers were well cast and we enjoyed the arias and duets, even out of sequence. We wondered whether this would be more meaningful to people who knew the opera or to those who did not.

The vocal part of Don Giovanni was sung by the very physical baritone Ricardo Rivera (our favorite Escamillo) who was as compelling vocally as he was dramatically. His sidekick Leporello was superbly portrayed by bass Richard Bernstein who gave as fine a performance of "The Catalogue Aria" as we have ever heard. 

In this story, the nascent production at first lacked a tenor to play Don Ottavio, but they found one in Jordan Weatherston Pitts who performed "Dalla sua pace" with gorgeous tender tone and fine phrasing. Bass Tyler Putnam, well remembered from multiple performances at Santa Fe Opera, was effective as Masetto and chilling as the Commendatore in the final scene of the opera.

The female parts were similarly well cast and sung. Soprano Ashley Galvani Bell made a superb Donna Anna and sang a melting "Non mi dir". Her duet with Mr. Pitts "Fuggi crudele, fuggi" was masterful.

As Donna Elvira, the big beautiful sound of Helena Brown was perfect. We have reviewed her performances many times in the past five or six years and have sometimes called her a mezzo because there is so much texture in her tone. Her "Mi tradi quell'alma ingrata" was riveting and delivered within the context of Garcia's wife berating her husband for seducing the singer performing Donna Anna.

The role of Zerlina was sung by mezzo-soprano Natalie Rose Havens whom we well remember as Lola in Martha Cardona Opera's Cavalleria Rusticana. Her "Vedrai carino" was here sung with a different emphasis--the singer is thinking of her real-life lover, not Masetto.

The speaking parts were as follows: Michal Gizinski created the persona of da Ponte who narrated the evening. Anton Armendariz Diaz created the character of Manuel Garcia, the singer imported from Spain to introduce opera to New York City. The role of his browbeaten daughter Maria was performed by Paulina Cossio and her fiancé was performed by Jon Faughnan. Their marriage was accompanied by Jared Lamenzo, the Basilica organist.

Mozart's score was given to the New Asian Chamber Society, a string quartet augmented by the piano of Music Director Nicolo Sbuelz. To say that the music was marvelous would be an understatement. 

Direction was by Mr. Diaz. No costumer was credited but the entire cast looked great and we felt transported back to the 1820's.

The performance will be repeated in Sag Harbor at the Bay Street Theatre on September 22. And yes, it would be worth the trip! Not only for Mozart's music and the fine performances, but also for new insights into the manner in which we identify with literary characters and/or project our own characters onto them.

(c) meche kroop




Wednesday, May 23, 2018

THE THREE BARITONES

Glen Roven, Jarrett Ott, Steven LaBrie, and Tobias Greenhalgh

Glen Roven is a composer, pianist, and impresario. His recording company has just released a new CD-- Remember starring three rising stars of the opera world; last night a celebration was held at Weill Recital Hall. Mr. Roven mentioned that this is the first recording for each of these "exploding stars". 

Each of the three celebrated baritones are well known to us from Juilliard, Brooklyn Art Song Society, Santa Fe Opera, and from competitions they have won.  What a treat to hear them all together! As pointed out by Amy Shoremount-Obra, there was a lot of testosterone backstage!  And a lot of handsomeness, we might add.  We are not fond of the designation "Barihunks" but we cannot think of a better description.

From the informative program notes by pianist Michael Brofman, we learned that the baritone fach originated in the bel canto period.  Who knew! More reason to appreciate Rossini, Bellini, and Donizetti.

The program opened with three guest artists with low voices, men who are more advanced in their career arcs.  Arranged by Mr. Roven, Ouverture dei Baritoni involved baritones Robert Wesley Mason and Kyle Pfortmiller, along with bass Branch Fields performing a medley of operatic hits in unison and also sequentially. We were delighted to hear arias by Mozart, Verdi, Rossini, Bizet, and also some Broadway tunes. There was even a cancan performed to the "Toreador Song" from Carmen and choreographed by James Gray. What fun! 

Guest artist soprano Amy Shoremount-Obra performed John Duke's Four Poems by Emily Dickinson, using her generous instrument, lovely phrasing, and crisp enunciation to bring out Mr. Duke's appealing vocal line and Ms. Dickinson's deeply felt text. Andrew Rosenblum's piano did justice to Mr. Duke's many moods bringing out the tumultuousness of "Heart, we will forget him!" and the sweetness of "Nobody knows this little Rose".

She also performed Mr. Roven's duet "The Promise" with Mr. Fields; the texture of the two voices blending and overlapping was quite attractive but Jane Hirshfield's poetry went by without our comprehension.

Tobias Greenhalgh provided a preview of an aria from John Adams' Dr. Atomic, which we will be reviewing this summer at Santa Fe Opera. His performance was a deeply felt and expressive one but we cannot say that John Donne's text wanted to be set to music.

The remainder of the program comprised selections from the new recording.  Mr. Roven related that all the works on the CD were written by living composers. This is probably a big drawing card for many music lovers since Weill Recital Hall was packed. Contemporary vocal music is just not our taste, as regular readers already know. We keep listening and hoping to find something we like but it rarely happens. We were surprised to have liked the John Duke settings as much as we did. 

Accompanied by Mr. Brofman, Mr. Greenhalgh sang Four Surreal Songs by Mr. Roven, settings of text by Paul Éluard. Mr. Greenhalgh has a firmly centered baritone and used every color in his vocal palette to make sense of rather senseless poetry. We liked some of the piano writing, especially the descending arpeggi of "Arc of Your Eyes".

Accompanied by Adam Nielsen, Steven LaBrie exhibited a great deal of vocal power, an interesting texture, and some fine French diction for Benjamin C.S. Boyle's  Le passage des rêves, a setting of text by Paul Veléry.  We liked Mr. Nielsen's delicate piano in "La dormeuse".

Lori Laitman's setting of text by Joan Joffe Hall "The Joy of Uncreating" did not ring our bell. We wondered whether the poet of "Illumination" was writing of the experience of waking from a coma; the piano part was far more appealing than the vocal line.

Jarrett Ott's appealing baritone served well for Jake Heggie's Of Laughter and Farewell. Vachel Lindsay's text "Under the Blessing of your Psyche Wings" rhymed and scanned and we wished the vocal line had done more with it. The piano part, played by Daniel Zelibor, for "By the Spring, at Sunset" was more appealing than the vocal line.

Jennifer Higdon, composer of the opera Cold Mountain, which we heard at Santa Fe Opera, set excerpts of Walt Whitman's poem "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" and created a piano and baritone arrangement specifically for Mr. Ott and dedicated the work to him. We kept wishing that we could catch the fragrance of our favorite flower, the one for which we visit Lilac Walk in Central Park every May. We did not. We couldn't keep from thinking about "Le temps des Lilas" by Chausson which gives us an olfactory thrill.

Fortunately, the final work on the program appealed to our ears to a far greater extent. Mr. Roven took to the piano himself for his composition "Remember", setting of a text by the 19th c. English poet Christina Rossetti. Perhaps it was the fact that the sentiment was meaningful and comprehensible; perhaps it was the fact that the text rhymed and scanned; perhaps it was the sound of all three baritones together. (Mr. Roven pointed out that the recording was made with each artist recording in a different city and tracks assembled later. But we were privileged to hear them singing it together for the first time!)  In any case, it ended the recital on an auspicious note.

The enthusiasm of the audience makes us want to encourage you to buy the CD, if contemporary music is to your taste.  On our part, we prefer to hear the artists singing other material. We'd love to hear Ms. Shoremount-Obra sing some Wagner. We yearn to hear Mr. LaBrie as Escamillo. Mr. Greenhalgh's Eugene Onegin would throw us into a joyous delirium. As far as Mr. Ott, well, we are going to hear him sing Maximilian in Bernstein's Candide within 3 months in Santa Fe.  Watch out for the review!

(c) meche kroop









Monday, May 21, 2018

(Not your same old) OPERA IN THE PARK

Opera Lovers at Opera Under the Arch

When we first arrived in New York, summertime meant opera in the park.  Opera meant The Metropolitan Opera and park meant Central Park. We would go early with blankets and stake our claim as close to the stage as possible, share wine and culinary delights, then listen to some of the biggest names in opera performing concert versions of our favorite operas.

Times have changed and it's been many years since those festivities ended. But something new and wonderful has happened that gave us equivalent pleasure. Up and coming baritone Sung Shin has been producing outdoor Opera Under the Arch of Washington Square Park and we finally were able to make time to listen to a number of rising stars in a wide variety of arias and ensembles.

There were a number of features that pleased us enormously. First of all, the singers were all young artists that we have enjoyed at the local music conservatories, predominantly from Manhattan School of Music but also from Mannes College of Music. Secondly, the choice of arias and duets was perfectly curated for ease of appreciation. We never scorn popularity! Finally, watching the rapt faces of the audience and the growing size of the crowd assured us that the audience for opera is not diminishing.

The piano was placed under the arch and the acoustics were surprisingly superb, obviating the need for amplification. Singers stood atop the piano and turned around so that the audience on both sides of the arch could see and hear, lending new meaning to the concept of "opera in the round". Segments were kept to under 45 minutes with short breaks in between. Some folks sat on the concrete and some stood for two hours. No one walked out.  No one talked. No one complained. No one texted! But we did see a lot of photos being taken although it was rather dark.

Each singer had something special and unique to offer but some performances seemed to drive people wild. Jose Maldonado is a stage animal and, without artifice, knows how to bring an audience to their feet. "Largo al Factotum" from Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia" was just such a performance.

Accompanied by the terrific pianist Tamara Kim, he wowed us with a highly emotional rendering of "Amor vida de mi vida" from the zarzuela Maravilla, by Federico Moreno Torroba. This was written for the tenor fach but that didn't stop Mr. Maldonado who has an amazing range.  Actually we are most familiar with him as a bass! As an encore to the entire evening, he performed Agustín Lara's 1932 song "Granada". 

No less notable was the sensational "Habanera" from Bizet's Carmen, given a sultry and seductive performance by mezzo-soprano Xeni Tsiouvaras, who showed us a very different aspect of her artistry in  "Ah guarda sorella" from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte. Her Dorabella was perfectly matched with the stunning soprano of Yvette Keong (whom we just heard in a master class) taking the role of Fiordiligi.

We heard quite a bit more from Ms. Keong who was especially charming as Norina in "Quel guardo il cavaliere" from Donizetti's Don Pasquale, an aria that she filled with humor and spunky personality and a trill to thrill.  Moreover, she made a lovely Zerlina being seduced by the Don Giovanni of brilliant bass Hidenori Inoue in "La ci darem la mano".

It was good to see Mr. Inoue in a charming role where his matinée idol appearance was useful. (He is usually cast as an old man for which his voice is perfect; but verisimilitude requires tons of makeup.) Last night he sounded great as Don Pasquale in Donizetti's comic opera of the same name, with Sung Shin lending his splendid baritone to the role of Dr. Malatesta in "Cheti cheti immantinente". Humor and patter singing were well negotiated.

In a more serious vein, he essayed the role of the Commendatore dragging the Don Giovanni of Mr. Shin off to hell (under the piano) whilst Leporello (Victor Jaquez) cowered in fear. 

It was fun to see the same role sung by different people. There were several scenes from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte spread over the course of the evening. We have already mentioned the sisters' duet in which they boast about their fiancés but the opera opens with the two fiancé's comparing notes about the two sisters. In "La mia Dorabella". Tenor Pavel Suliandziga, whose work we have long admired, made a fine Ferrando, matching well with Mr. Shin's Guglielmo.  I wanted them and the two aforementioned sisters to do the entire opera!

Well, we didn't get that but we did get another ensemble in which the sisters (Ms. Tziouvaras with Madalyn Luna taking the role of Fiordiligi) wish the departing fiancés favorable voyage in "Soave sia il vento" with the worldly wise Don Alfonso sung by Mr. Shin.  The trio was marked by glorious blending of voices. We couldn't help noticing that our evening was marked by sweet breezes!

There were also scenes from Verdi's Rigoletto with Mr. Suliandziga playing the bad boy Duke and soprano Grace Hwoang doing justice to the romantic "E il sol dell'anima". Not many duets offer both singers opportunities for such graceful melismatic singing! Ms. Hwoang used her sweet soprano to good effect in Gilda's "Cara nome".

Ms. Hwoang was lovely as Ophelia in her duet with Mr. Shin from Thomas' Hamlet--"Doute de la lumière". The French was fine and the mood was tender.

Speaking of languages other than Italian, Mr. Suliandziga performed "Dein ist mein gazes herz" from Lehar's Das Land des Lächelns in crisp German. Also in German was Blondchen's aria "Durch Zartlichkeit" from Mozart's  Die Entführung aus dem Serail, winningly performed by soprano Show Yang who made the perfect spunky ingenue.

Soprano Izzy Vigliotti and mezzo-soprano Lu Liu harmonized beautifully in the "Evening Prayer" from Humperdinck's Hansel und Gretel.

Two selections were performed from Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito. Ms. Vigliotti as Servilia balanced well with the substantial mezzo of Jordyn Goldstein singing Annio in "Ah! Perdona al prima affetto".  Those are the nice characters. The not so nice characters that will need to be offered clemency by Tito are Sesto and Vitellia. Ms. Luna sang the latter whilst Ms. Liu sang the former in the the duet "Come ti piace imponi". Both duets were excellent. 

Perhaps everyone's favorite female duet is the famous "Dôme épais" from Leo Delibes' Lakme--also known as "The Flower Song". Ms. Liu and Ms. Yang sounded superb together and got the evening's entertainment off to a fine start.

Finally, tenor Omar Bowey sang "Deep River" with spiritual commitment. Pianists for the evening were Andrew King, Curtis Serafin, and Tamara Kim.

The quality of the performances was remarkably high and if what we have written sounds good to you, there will be lots more to come.  Next Saturday's Opera Under the Arch will begin at 7:00. Bring a cushion and stay for the evening!

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, May 19, 2018

LOVE FOR L'ELISIR


Christine Lyons telling the tale of Tristan and Isolde
Xiaomeng Zhang enlisting Charles Sy into the military

ARE Opera was founded just a year and a half ago by Megan Gillis and Kathleen Spencer, two singers who want to make opera Accessible, Relatable, and Enjoyable. So far, they have succeeded admirably.


They have chosen their productions wisely and cast them with talented young singers. They stage them in ways that are up front and personal so that audience members feel involved.  At one point Nemorino sat down in one of the very few empty seats in the house, right next to ours, and we almost put an arm around him to give him some encouragement in his struggle to win Adina's affection.  Now that's personal!

The proof of the pudding is in the audience reaction. At a few points we tore our attention away from the performers to glance at the audience and what we saw was glee and rapt involvement. The "newbie" we invited was delighted with the experience and full of questions and observations.

Let us take a closer look at what makes this production such a delight.  Of course, Donizetti's sparkling and tuneful music, played by pianist Andrew Sun (who is also Chorus Master), is at the foundation. Felice Romani's charming libretto is, well, felicitous! It allows the audience to identify with the underdog Nemorino (little worm) who is too shy and lacking in self-confidence to win the love of the landowner Adina, apparently the only literate person in her village.

Director Jessica Harika has wisely kept the action in the right time and place--a small village in the 19th c. She has added some pantomime to the overture showing us the two almost-lovers as children (Angel Figueroa and Alexa Sternchos) manifesting youthful crushes, their interaction giving us some backstory. She has credited Dean Anthony with the concept.

All of this excellent foundation laid the groundwork for some excellent performances. As Nemorino,  Charles Sy exhibited a rich but flexible tenor that grew in impact from his opening aria "Quanto è bella, quanto è cara" to his final "Una furtiva lagrima". We have heard Mr. Sy often in recital but it was a revelation to witness his dramatic prowess. He created a character that we cared about. We could laugh at him without looking down on him. He was funny in his gullibility and ignorance, but did not ever invite scorn.

As Adina, the proud object of his romantic longing, soprano Christine Lyons was given reason to reject him, dating back to their childhood experiences. Her lustrous soprano won us over from the start as she read to the villagers in her aria "Della crudele Isotta". At the end she has trouble actually declaring her love in "Prendi, per me sei libero"-- until Nemorino actually forces her hand. Although Donizetti has written some fabulous fioritura, for Adina he has given us just enough embellishment to add to her emotional range-- and enough to show us what Ms. Lyons is capable of.

The role of Sergeant Belcore is an interesting one. He must be a "player" with a macho show of arrogance and yet be more than a tool for Adina to make Nemorino jealous. We sense his humanity underneath the bravado. Here, baritone Xiaomeng Zhang, whose work we have enjoyed on many occasions, lent his expansive and resonant instrument to the portrayal and gave us a highly memorable performance. His delivery of "Come Paride vezzoso" was masterful and we loved the moment when he comments on helping his rival to succeed.

The lovable snake oil salesman Dulcamara was given a fine performance by bass-baritone Brent Hetherington who was just right for the part. His patter song, promising the naive villagers a cure for all their ills, is always a highlight--"Udite, udite, o rustici". Donizetti wisely gave Dulcamara a clever and tuneful duet with Adina  "Io son ricco e tu sei bella" and we have never seen it better performed.

Mezzo-soprano Rachel Arky made a fine Gianetta and the chorus was marvelously together, showing evidence of fine guidance by Mr. Sun and some substantial rehearsal time. Maestro Jonathan Heaney's conducting was as excellent as Mr. Sun's piano. We wondered if we were hearing Richard Wagner's piano reduction but there was no mention in the program. The costumes by Wardrobe Witchery were perfectly a propos with Dulcamara's plaid suit winning the prize for being the most colorful.

His entrance was marked by offstage trumpet and snare drum, played by Mitchell Curry whilst the lovely mezzo-soprano Alanna Fraize performed the role of Dulcamara's assistant, miming the trumpet playing--a moment the audience loved.

There will be two more performances at St. Veronica's church on Christopher Street--tonight and Sunday matinée. You could not find better lighthearted yet deeply enjoyable entertainment.

(c) meche kroop

Friday, May 18, 2018

KISSED BY EUTERPE

Maestra Speranza Scappucci and soprano Felicia Moore

Between the Verdi and the glories of Felicia Moore singing Beethoven we felt more at home at a symphonic concert than we usually do.  For this commencement concert, the remarkable Juilliard Orchestra was fortunate to have Maestra Speranza Scappucci on the podium. Juilliard is indeed her home.

One could also say she was kissed by Terpsichore since she used her entire body to elicit a focused and stunning performance from the students. The overall sound was that of a professional orchestra and better than many we have heard.

The program opened with Giuseppe Verdi's overture to La forza del destino, the music of which we hold dearer than that of any other Verdi opera.  Unfortunately the opera is rarely performed due to the three demanding major roles. The overture comprises the melodies from the opera itself and was added a few years after the opera premiered.

It opens with a propulsive theme conveyed by the brass but a lyrical melody follows close upon its heels. There is a wealth of melodic material and we particularly enjoyed the brass chorale. The familiar initial theme which we call the fate theme recurs several times with alterations, lending unity to the piece.

It is sad that Beethoven composed only one opera (Fidelio) so we must content ourself with a concert aria he wrote as a young man.  Who better to sing "Ah! perfido...Per pietà, non dirmi addio," Op. 65 than the stunning soprano Felicia Moore. 

It's the old abandoned woman story but it gives the singer an opportunity to marshal all her gifts in conveying a range of emotions from rage and revenge to self pity and pleading. We are left to imagine the opera Beethoven might have written around such a story.

Ms. Moore has uncommon talent and a huge voice that sails over the orchestral forces. We loved the range of emotion she displayed.

The final work on the program was Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 4 in A major, composed in his youth and known as The Italian Symphony. It began with a rhythmic Allegro that any lover of classical music would recognize immediately. Still, we prefer the weary minor key Andante with the basses plodding along. Even better was the third movement in waltz time with some lovely horn calls. The work ends with a Saltarello (an Italian dance form) played Presto. After a forceful introduction there were swirling figures moving through the orchestra that made us think of the music Mendelssohn wrote for Midsummer Night's Dream.

(c) meche kroop

MAGYAR MELODY

Gergely Bogányi, Réka Kristóf, and Äneas Humm

It has been a full five years since we heard Hungarian song. It was a Juilliard Vocal Honors Recital and soprano Lilla Heinrich-Szasz sang a Hungarian encore. We have wanted to hear more Hungarian vocal music for five years and Wednesday night our wishes were granted.

In 2015, the Armel Opera Festival partnered with Virtuosos, a televised Hungarian talent show, providing mentoring and performance opportunities for winners to make their debut in international concert halls.

New Yorkers were the fortunate beneficiaries of this program which introduced us to the splendid soprano Réka Kristóf. We have a sense that Virtuosos bears no resemblance to America's Got Talent but since we've never seen either television show we cannot say. What we can say is that Ms. Kristóf's talent is undeniable and that her program was compelling.

She has a sizable instrument and a lot of stage presence. Clearly her training has made the most of her gifts and we found ourself admiring her powerful sound, the ping-y top, the rich vibrato, the exquisite dynamic control, and her versatility.

The recital opened and closed with exhibitions of madness. In "D'Oreste, d'Ajace ho in seno i tormenti", from Mozart's Idomeneo, Elektra lets loose her wish for revenge. And in Richard Strauss' "Der Frühlingsfeier", a group of female pagans are expressing some fanatical lust for Adonis. There was no doubt about Ms. Kristóf's passionate delivery with its notes of wildness.

In a show of versatility she gave us a frightened Micaëla, reassuring herself of her fearlessness as she searches for her Don Jose in the mountain pass outside of Seville. The two sides of her nature were clearly limned.

Yet another manifestation of versatility occurred when she sang Rosalinde's aria "Klänge der Heimat" from Johann Strauss' Die Fledermaus. Here, Rosalinde is laying on the Hungarian Countess act with a trowel, pranking her gullible husband. 

But Strauss' opera is in German and we wanted to hear some Hungarian music.  And we did! We heard an aria from Bedrich Smetana's The Bartered Bride and several songs by Zoltán Kodály, including a melodic song of longing and a humorous song in which Ms. Kristóf and her excellent accompanist Gergely Bogányi both imitated the sound of a cricket. There was also a song by Béla Bartók.

It was a new sensation for us, listening to songs in a language of which we knew not a single word. There were no titles and no translations in the program but the dramatic skills of the artists got the meaning across. We might add that as strange as the words look on the page, they sound beautiful when sung. We attribute this to the singer's artistry but also the ability of the composers to wed text to music.

The second singer on the program was Swiss baritone Äneas Humm, about whom we have written a great deal. We are mostly familiar with his lieder performances so it was a special treat to hear him sing "Sorge infausta una procella" from Händel's Orlando. Along with a lovely legato, we observed a lot of flexibility in the fioritura.

In contrast with this tempestuous outpouring, there was the sweetness of Richard Strauss' "Breit über mein Haupt". But our admiration was brought to its peak by a series of duets by Robert Schumann, with the voices of the two singers blending beautifully. 

When you put a soprano in a room with a baritone you just know you are going to hear "La ci darem la mano" from Mozart's Don Giovanni. Mr. Humm made a very confident seducer without a shred of malice and Ms. Kristóf made an all-too-willing Zerlina. We love the way different singers give different interpretations of the characters!

Attention must be drawn to the virtuoso pianism of Mr. Bogányi. Performing on a custom designed space age piano that looked as if it would be taking off for another planet, he dazzled the audience with Franz Liszt's arrangement of the melodies from Don Giovanni. There were rapid-fire ascending and descending scales, trills and turns of every variety. Now we understand why Liszt was called "the rock star of his age". Surely Mr. Bogányi was channeling Liszt!

(c) meche kroop












Thursday, May 17, 2018

MAGICAL MASTER CLASS

Fabio Bezuti, Zachary Goldman, Xiaotong Cao, Glenn Morton, Oleksii Kuznietzov, Donata D'Annunzio Lombardi, Yvette Keong, and Tal Heller

How does it feel when a master teacher comes along and contradicts everything a singer has learned about her voice and vocal production?  We guess it feels pretty good when the results seem magical. We just attended such a class taught by famed Italian soprano Donata D'Annunzio Lombardi. This is our third or fourth opportunity to observe her working with young singers and the results have left a huge impression on us.

Her teachings are based on extensive experience with anatomy, bioenergetics, and osteopathy. She has assembled valuable advice from several famous singers. She can immediately diagnose exactly where tight muscles are blocking sound production and provide strange seeming exercises and postures to ease the blockage. We have heard dramatic changes in the students' voices within minutes!

Her focus is very much on accessing the back of the body and the several diaphragms that are apparently as important as the familiar one. The commonly taught posture and method of breathing into the belly seems to be all wrong.

Students got down on their hands and knees.  They lay on their belly and swam on the floor. They pinched their lips. They showed off their uvulas. They bent over the piano. Wow!

Participating students were sopranos Xiaotong Cao and Yvette Keong, mezzo-soprano Tal Heller, tenors Zachary Goldman and Oleksii Kuznietzov, and baritone Sunyeop Hwang. They all sounded just fine initially but after a half hour work with Ms. Lombardi they each sounded glorious with enhanced resonance. Accompanist was Fabio Bezuti.

We found ourself wishing that we had begun our vocal studies with Ms. Lombardi.  The bad news is that it is too late for us but the good news is that it isn't too late for you. This remarkable teacher, brought to us by Glenn Morton of Classic Lyric Arts, will be returning in October.

If you are a singer you absolutely must attend.  And if you are not, you can come and enjoy witnessing some miracles.

(c) meche kroop

NOT SO CHIARO

Sarah Chalfy in Artemesia: Light and Shadow (photo by Dongsok Shin)
By Guest Reviewer Chris Petitt


Last night in Tribeca dodging hailstones, cascades tossed from rooftop swimming pools and various urban debris rattling around the canyons of downtown Manhattan, this reviewer approached Artek’s premier of Artemisia: Light and Shadow with the same anticipation and receptiveness to surprise that we do all opening nights at the theater. The room was intimate, the house was not quite full, and the audience signaled pleasure at intermittent points throughout the performance. Unfortunately, the evening fell short of expectations.

Artemisia: Light and Shadow is a one-woman interdisciplinary performance that depicts moments from the life and career of Artemisia Gentileschi, the brilliant seventeenth-century painter who gained renown as an artist among contemporary patrons and peers throughout Europe. Once regarded as something of a curiosity as almost a minority of one as a female professional painter, recent art historians have rehabilitated her position as a leading artist of her time, a member of the “Caravaggisti,” followers of the great inventor of chiaroscuro, or the enhancement of drama through light and shadow.
  
Set designer Paul Peers, lighting designer Chenault Spence, and costume designer Carol Sherry created an effective and visually pleasing scenic space for the story to unfold. The stage props were used expressively by soprano Sarah Chalfy, a capable actress who ably inhabited the space and character. The selection and presentation of projections of Gentileschi’s artwork were engaging, as were the lighting effects. Projected translations, while not always complete or accurate, aided in the comprehension of a narrative that often lacked the dramatic import of its protagonist’s artwork and actual experience.

Disappointingly, the well managed aspects of the production contrasted with the poorly conceived dramatic premise, resulting, for this reviewer at least, in an icing-without-a-cake effect. Artek’s well-executed projections and lighting effects were impressive, welcome, and came as a relief, particularly given some spotty production values in the past. However, these elements served a dramatic conception that undermined, rather than elevated, both the subject and the music of her time.

The configurations of the Flea Theater render it a less than ideal venue for this program. As appreciated as the acting and overall presence of Ms. Chalfy was, one’s ability to evaluate the quality of her singing was limited by a stifling acoustic. The small black box theater is no place for a classically trained voice, rendering Ms. Chalfy’s fortes shrill and her pianos breathy because there was no space for her instrument to bloom so that we could hear it properly. In a period where music embraced the same dramatic chiaroscuro as the painting, the pleasant but un-daring accompaniment of Gwendolyn Toth (lute-harpsichord) and Hideki Yamaya (theorbo) did not do much to help things along, as charming as the instruments looked in the corner of the stage.

Perhaps most unsatisfying was the absence of any kind of list of musical selections in the program booklet. While a few pieces were familiar to us (the fragmented Strozzi masterpiece "Lagrime Mie," for example), the inability to identify individual works as they were being sung did no service to the brilliant composers of the era and the cause of early music itself. The idea of including works by one of the greatest female composers who ever lived in a show about one of the greatest female artists who ever lived is an inspired one. Why then undercut that idea by handicapping a singer’s ability to be heard properly and erasing any credit to the composer whatsoever? If there was an assumption that every audience member would automatically be able to identify the musical selections without a program list, then that premise deserves another look. One needs to ask why a production that set out to celebrate a woman artist and the music of her time ended up shortchanging both.

Artemisia Gentileschi was raped by a colleague of her father’s, and, unusual for her time (or even ours), saw him brought to trial. Nahma Sandrow’s script combined original speech that incorporated portions of Artemisia’s letters and sections from the transcript of the rape trial. There was a sense that the volume and ideas and themes could not be accommodated and developed within the compact structure and time constraint, giving the impression of someone with a checklist of milestones from Artemisia’s life, struggling to include all of them in a one-hour format. The effect was one of melodramatic biographic telling of fragments of a life, the connections between them not always well-articulated, interspersed with random anachronisms, (Were there really “court reporters” in the 17th century?) and lacking a strong dramatic arc.

Gentileschi’s life story includes gaps as well as contradictions, and like most life stories, does not fit neatly into anyone else’s idea of a political narrative. One sensed the attempt here to flatten her varied and complicated biography into a #MeToo episode. This approach undoubtedly offered an easy sales angle to modern audiences, but ultimately betrayed this fascinating historical figure by reducing her complex story to a political meme. We are more interested in her as an artist who happens to be a woman, rather than as a member of the special category of women artists. While recognizing the influence of her experience as a woman on her artistic expression, it is a more dynamic position to assert the rightful presence of women in the community of artists. Also, such an approach would encourage reflection of the status of the artist in the seventeenth century and our own era.

Artek’s current series of performances at the Flea Theater are dedicated to Matt Marks, the young composer who died last week just a day after announcing recognition for his collaborative work with tonight’s set designer Mr. Peers on the opera Mata Hari by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. He was a colleague of this production’s star Ms. Chalfy as a member of the musical group Alarm Will Sound.

Artemisia: Light and Shadow will be performed again Thursday May 17, Saturday May 19, both at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday May 20 at 4 p.m. The Flea Theater is located at 20 Thomas Street in the Tribeca section of Manhattan. Consult artekearlymusic.org for descriptions of the other programs of Artek’s spring series at the Flea Theater, which concludes May 20.

(c) meche kroop


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Monday, May 14, 2018

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY

Richard Owen and the Adelphi Orchestra


It was a chance encounter with an oboist that led to our fortuitous awareness of the Adelphi Orchestra from across the Hudson. Learning of their program Bohemian Rhapsody we decided to attend and wallow in music of our favorite period, the second half of the 19th c. Happily, there were no nerve-wracking modern pieces to disturb our Romantic indulgence.

Not only did we get to hear some soulful solos from oboist Jacob Slattery, but we got a private inspection of all three oboes--the regular oboe, the mellow English horn, and the oboe d'amore that we've mostly heard in Early Music. We also heard a sensational young violinist tackle Saint Saëns' Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso which was written for, and made famous by Pablo de Sarasate.

At the tender age of seventeen, an age when a budding opera singer would best be overlooked, Nathan Meltzer is already playing all over the world, studying with Itzhak Perlman, and worthy of the loan from Juilliard of an 1844 Joannes Pressenda violin! And oh, what he did with that instrument! The virtuoso sections of the work were performed with style and the lyrical segments were performed with substance--and gorgeous legato. This is an artist to watch, dear readers, even if you, like me, are mostly addicted to opera.

Under the firm baton of conductor Richard Owen, the remainder of the program was similarly outstanding. We do not ever have to worry about music lovers in New Jersey being deprived! We love that Maestro Owen actually talks to the audience and tells them interesting things about what is on the program.

The program opener was Dvorák's Carnival Overture. It began with a maelstrom of lively sound, almost frenetic. The central section was lovely and lyrical.

Baritone Andrew Cummings was on hand for Mahler's Rückert Lieder which was composed initially for voice and piano and later orchestrated, adding a great deal of rich detail. We know and love these songs which are filled with deep feelings. 

Since Mr. Cummings was "on the book", we did not feel the connection that we value in vocal music so we concentrated on the orchestration, especially the marvelous oboe solos. We did admire Mr. Cummings' use of dynamic variety and his word coloration but would have to hear him another time without the score to have an appreciation of his value as a singer of lieder.

Of the five songs, our favorite was "Blicke mir nicht in die lieder" in which the string section created the sound of busy bees, hard at work making honey, Rückert's metaphor for creation.

The major work on the program was Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony in the stirring key of E-minor. So many symphonies strike us as a collection of varied movements; what distinguishes this symphony is a sense of dramatic unity. The theme heard in the opening movement reappears in minimal disguises in the subsequent movements and by the end of the symphony we are hearing it transmogrified by being in a major key.

We were particularly taken with the Waltz movement that occupied our imagination with scenes of a ballroom with glamorous dancers swirling around, much as one sees at the ballet.  As a matter of fact, our love of classical music came out of that very art form, which is how we can say that Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov are responsible for our being here today!

(c) meche kroop