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.

Thursday, March 22, 2018


Joshua Jeremiah, Emily Pulley, and Jennifer Zetlan in Morning Star (photo by Pavel Antonov)

The hardy New Yorkers who braved the "fourth'easter" of the season were rewarded with a resonant evening, some insights into New York history, some fine music, and some very stiff necks. The latter point has to do with one of the hazards of staging works on site, which On Site Opera does very well; the space may be evocative but not comfortable.

Ricky Ian Gordon's Morning Star, originally commissioned by Cincinnati Opera, was staged in the sanctuary of the 1887 Eldridge Street Synagogue, now the Museum at Eldridge Street. General and Artistic Director Eric Einhorn has staged the work using all parts of the sanctuary, including the balcony. This worked dramatically but made viewing uncomfortable since much of the action took place at the rear.

The evocative story concerns a family of immigrants in 1911 and 1932. They came from Riga in Latvia where, we gather, some unspeakable things were done to Jewish folk. But this compelling story could be paralleled in present time with any new immigrant group trying to adjust to a difficult life in a new place. The destructive effects of family secrets and the effects of tragedy on successive generations are both common themes in the theater.

The story concerns the widowed Becky Felderman (performed by the powerful soprano Emily Pulley) who has immigrated to the USA with her three daughters. The eldest, Sadie (affectingly sung by mezzo-soprano Blythe Gaissert) is the smart one who has never felt loved. The second is Fanny (sweet voiced Jennifer Zetlan) who will marry Irving (terrific tenor Blake Friedman) who will not let her sing.

The youngest girl Esther (performed by soprano Cree Carrico who plays "adorable" very well) captures the love of Sadie's main squeeze, the teacher Harry (fine baritone Andrew Lovato). Poor Esther dies in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire (about which we have more to say further along) on her wedding day.

Important to the family is Aaron Greenspan who never gives up on his romantic pursuit of Becky. . Joshua Jeremiah used his keen dramatic instincts to create a believable character.  His powerful baritone matched well with Ms. Pulley's soprano. We particularly liked a song he sang in Yiddish which was mostly understood by this German-speaking reviewer. He was reminiscing about what he missed about Riga. Becky joined in with some not-so-happy memories.

We enjoyed Martin Bakari's sweet tenor in the role of Prince, a street peddler.  Smaller roles were taken by mezzos Chrystal E. Williams and Allison Gish. Only David Langan's bass-baritone was stentorian and unattractive as the rabbi.

Music Director Geoffrey McDonald did his customary superlative job conducting the American Modern Ensemble, a dozen fine musicians who made the most of Bruce Coughlin's orchestration for chamber orchestra. The wind section was particularly notable. The chamber orchestra was situated at the rear of the sanctuary and the sound floated forward with ease.

We have nothing but good things to say about the orchestral writing but we have a hard time finding something to praise about Ricky Ian Gordon's writing for the voice. The puzzling part of this is that Mr. Gordon wrote the most beautiful vocal line for Irving--"Oh Morning Star", a love song sung to woo Fanny.  Would that all the writing had been this melodic!

We did like the way that arias became duets and duets became ensembles.  The voices blended beautifully.  We just wanted to hear some melody! We liked Becky's song "Men come, men go, family abides". "Three loving sisters" was an interesting trio evincing a complex collection of emotions. 

Of all the sisters, Sadie was the most disagreeable and yet Ms. Gaissert's performance left us with sympathetic feelings. Her jealousy and bitterness clearly came out of feeling unloved.  She sang "Smart never won a man's heart". The early 20th c. was not kind to smart ambitious women. Her defensiveness was revealed in "Is it my fault?".

There was a 21 year gap between Act I and Act II; Summer Lee Jack's costumes were appropriate for both periods. Emilia Martin's wigs were as unflattering as wigs usually are. Shawn K. Kaufman's lighting design was splendid, especially for the fire which was so convincing that we nearly forgot it was "theater".

The libretto by the late William M. Hoffman seemed just fine, although a substantial amount could not be understood. Anyone who can rhyme "latkes" with "hot kiss" is OK in my book!

And now we come to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire story, the worst workplace disaster in NYC history until the World Trade Center attack of 2001.  The death toll was 146 people; greed and carelessness were to blame. If you seek more information, we refer you to http://rememberthetrianglefire.org/

The pre-opera lecture we attended added a great deal to our appreciation of the work itself. Two member of the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition spoke to the audience of their personal experience as relatives of women who lost their lives in the fire. These two generous speakers were Mary Anne Trasciatti and Suzanne Pred Bass whose memories brought the story alive for us. 

We were happy to learn that the tragedy had a silver lining in that the cause of labor was advanced; workplace safety has been addressed (and is still being addressed!) as was working conditions. The flagrantly indifferent owners of the factory were acquitted due to the efforts of a high-powered attorney who intimidated the young women witnesses.  So sad!

To bring the story to the present, Governor Andrew Cuomo has donated a significant amount of money to establishing a memorial so that this tragedy will be remembered.

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, March 21, 2018


Jonathan Heaney, Jessica Harika, Patrick McNally, Megan Gillis, Kathleen Spencer, and Eamon Pereyra

This month is International Women's Month and we just celebrated the success of an opera company founded by two wonderful women--soprano Megan Gillis and mezzo-soprano Kathleen Spencer. This perfectly affirms our belief that if you don't see what you want-- then create it.

Their creation is ARE opera.  The letters stand for Accessible, Relatable, and Enjoyable. In just one year, ARE has created major successes about which you can read by entering their names in the search bar.  Our personal favorite was Cenerentola. These two lovely ladies have a knack for finding wonderful talent and creating onstage magic.

Last night's recital at the Steinway showroom introduced us to a new singer and a few we've reviewed before, all of whom brought new life to old material, and gave us the opportunity to hear Ms. Gillis and Ms. Spencer as well. Ms. Spencer opened the program as a lively Carmen and Ms. Gillis gave us a Susannah from the eponymous Carlisle Floyd opera singing "Ain't It a Pretty Night" with such good English diction that we caught every word.

Tenor Eamon Pereyra, who did so well as Rinuccio in ARE's Gianni Schicchi, knows just how to build a song; he began "Maria", from Bernstein's West Side Story, very quietly and built to a dramatically effective climax. His personality shone and he made good use of vocal coloration to create a believable Tony who has just fallen in mad adolescent love. When he sang "The most beautiful sound" we were thinking "that's just what we are listening to...the most beautiful sound".

We got to hear another solo from Mr. Pereyra--"No puede ser" from Pablo Sorozábal's La taberna del puerto.  One very lovely aspect of this recital was that each singer addressed the audience, telling something about their song.  Mr. Pereyra mentioned that this was his favorite song and that comes as no surprise. He was totally immersed and so were we.

Baritone Patrick McNally performed the soliloquy from Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel and did so with such fine voice and dramatic intent that we felt that we understood for the first time what a prospective father goes through. This performance reaffirmed our belief that American musical theater is really the opera of 20th c. America and needs to be performed by trained operatic voices without amplification.  Only then can we see the connection with its operatic origins.

We got more Carousel when Ms. Gillis an Mr. McNally sang the fine duet "If I Loved You". Mr. McNally paired with mezzo-soprano Jessica Harika for the charming duet "Dunque io son" from Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia. We always get a laugh seeing how Rosina's cleverness exceeds that of Figaro. We particularly enjoyed the cabaletta with the two voices playing against one another. Again, the acting was as fine as the singing.

Ms. Harika impressed with her performance of "What a Movie!" from Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti, an opera that never had much interest for us. We believe Ms. Harika changed our mind with her riveting and expressive performance. She created quite a character!

Readers know how much we love duets and we heard two more worth mentioning. Ms. Gillis and Ms. Spencer performed "Prendero quel brunettino" from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte. We have never seen two singers looking more believable as sisters!  It swept us right into the plot. Their voices blended beautifully.

And finally, there was the highly romantic duet from Act I of Puccini's La Bohême--"O soave fanciulla" with Mr. Pereyra as Rodolfo and Ms. Gillis as Mimi. They walked offstage arm in arm, lost in the throes of love at first sight.  

We left in the throes of artistic delight. What a satisfying recital, drawing no distinction between vocal genres, treating every song with respect, making everything accessible, relatable and enjoyable for the audience.

At the piano, doing a superb job accompanying all those varied styles, was Music Director Jonathan Heaney, who is also an excellent conductor.

You too can enjoy this yearling company's next production.  Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore is an opera that lives up to ARE's mission and is a real crowd pleaser.  May 18. 19, and 20 are the dates to save.

(c) meche kroop

Monday, March 19, 2018


Huayin Shadow Puppet Band from Shaanxi Province China

China's ancient musical traditions are in danger of being lost--but not if pipa virtuoso Wu Man has anything to say about it!

In our country there are musicians whose names are familiar to just about everyone and we'd like to think that this lovely and talented woman is similarly famous in China. Her participation in Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble and  the documentary film The Music of Strangers have made her famous. We were so happy to be exposed to her gifts Saturday night at the Society for Ethical Culture, as well as the unusual performance of the Huayin Shadow Puppet Band, presented by the World Music Institute (www.worldmusicinstitute.org).

The pipa is a lute like instrument which was customarily plucked with fingers when the strings were made of silk; but presently, in concert halls, the steel strings are plucked with plastic finger picks, one on each finger of the right hand whilst the fingers of the left hand depress the strings onto the sounding board.  Ms. Man's right hand moved so rapidly that we were reminded of nothing more than the wings of a hummingbird. At times we thought of the player of flamenco guitar creating rasgueados.

It is worthwhile to see her artistry up close on You Tube...https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rg_iZhUlyRE

If the amplification of Ms. Man's voice had been better we would have loved to tell you the details she shared about the instrument, but only those in the center section of the hall seemed to hear and laugh along with her good humor. We only picked up a few words, so we can only tell you that the music, which there was no trouble hearing, was exciting at times and subtle at other times.

There was no subtlety in the performance of the  Huayin Shadow Puppet Band, which comprises farmers from Huayin County, a rural village in Shaanxi Province in northwest China. The musicians evinced a wild gusto that communicated with the audience. Onstage were four er-hu, an instrument with two strings that comes in various sizes to cover various portions of the register; a "bench" (looking like a sawhorse) which was brought over from China and played by striking with a blunt object; an hexagonal bowed instrument with three strings, a shawm, a heraldic looking trumpet several feet long that sounded like an angry duck, and all manner of percussion--clappers, gongs, and cymbals.

The sounds were raucous and probably told of ancient battles, mythical heroes, and gods of the oral folk culture of the region.  The shadow puppetry was created upon a backlit white screen and was not so different from that found in Indonesia. The tradition first appeared in this village during the Qing Dynasty in the mid-18th c. It once belonged exclusively to the Zhang family but has recently been passed down to outsiders.

We wish we had understood the narration because it was difficult to figure out what was happening. One scene was perfectly clear.  Two warriors mounted on very small horses threw spears at each other in a long pitched battle. The other scene was confusing but it seemed as if a group of people were scolding a person.

At the end we heard a piece in which the melody was passed around from one instrument to another which we found quite lovely. What a fascinating discovery!

(c) meche kroop


Tami Petty and Michael Sheetz

We know well that the talented Tami Petty won the Joy in Singing award in 2014; we were there and wrote enthusiastically about her gifts communicating the essence of song to the audience. Since that auspicious debut, we have seen, heard, and enjoyed Ms. Petty's gifts a number of times at the Brooklyn Art Song Society and once with The Bohemians. Yesterday we enjoyed her gifts even more at a salon graciously hosted by one of Joy in Singing's devoted members.

Perhaps it was the intimacy of the surroundings or perhaps Ms. Petty has been working on her English diction because we got every word of her English--the only quibble we had four years ago.

The theme for the afternoon put women composers front and center. We had just heard Clara Schumann's "Liebst du um Schonheit" Friday night and wrote how it shouldn't take second place to Mahler's setting. Ms. Petty's performance reinforced our belief. The luster of her instrument and attention to detail in the phrasing were amplified by gesture and facial expression. We want to hear this song again and again!

Ms. Petty's German ist perfekt and served her well in Alma Mahler's "Ich wandle unter Blumen", another lovely entry in the female composer sweepstakes.

We heard some lovely French as well and always admire a singer who can switch gears for each language. Regine Wieniawski (Poldowski) set Paul Verlaine's  "L'heure exquise" in 1917, a quarter century after Reynaldo Hahn did so --another tempting pair for Mirror Visions Ensemble. The two settings are different but equally lovely. The start is delicate but Ms. Petty opened up her sizable voice whilst collaborative pianist, known mainly through his work with Classic Lyric Arts, put forth some lovely arpeggi.

Cecile Chaminade's songs were popular in her time--all 125 of them!  There were clubs celebrating her oeuvre right here in the USA. Yesterday we heard the delightful "Ecrin" which was performed in a most flirtatious manner. The French was crystal clear but one got the message even if one didn't understand the language.

Pauline Viardot's "Madrid" was written for the mezzo fach but that didn't stop Ms. Petty who conveyed the high spirited vocal line whilst Mr. Sheetz conveyed all the flamenco inflected accompaniment. We loved it!

The remainder of the songs were in English but that didn't stop us from enjoying them! Amy Beach's "The Year's at the Spring" was familiar to us but "Take, O Take Those Lips Away" was new to us.  Clara Edwards' "Into the Night" was filled with longing and quite lovely.

Liza Lehmann's  "Evensong" was seriously sentimental but her "There are fairies at the bottom of our garden" is filled with sly humor and Ms. Petty used just the right amount of camp, to the delight of the audience.

We even got to hear Mr. Sheetz perform Fanny Mendelssohn's "Pastorella" which reminded us of "Lieder ohne Worte" inasmuch as we were writing words in our head!  Indeed, Fanny probably wrote a lot of music that got passed off as her brother's because of restrictions enacted upon women by society and their families.

A fun aspect of yesterday's salon was that different guests were selected to read a brief bio about each composer. So many women composers were prevented from performing; others composed out of financial necessity.

As encore, we got "SHE'S got the whole world in HER hands". We couldn't keep from thinking that Ms. Petty has the world of art song in HER hands! That spiritual never made so much sense! And who can get a song across better than Ms. Petty!

Did you know that Joy in Singing is the oldest art song organization in the USA! Did you now that you too may be eligible to attend one of these intimate salons? We highly recommend the experience.

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, March 17, 2018


Nathaniel LaNasa

It is the time of year when students at Juilliard are fulfilling the requirements for their degrees and collaborative pianist Nathaniel LaNasa surely deserves the Graduate Diploma Degree for which he has evidently worked so hard. So how did he make it look so easy????  That's artistry!

Mr. LaNasa graciously thanked all the faculty who had contributed to the various facets of his education and explained to the audience what a collaborative pianist is and does, which is a great deal more than just accompanying. One could observe the truth of this by watching and listening. Mr. LaNasa chose his partners carefully--four singers and a violinist.  The material was also varied, some to our taste and some, not so much.

The part of the program we enjoyed the most was his partnership with soprano Kathryn Henry, on the basis of their performance of five selections from Richard Strauss' Op.10--his first published songs, filled with youthful enthusiasm and compositional promise, much like the artists!

Ms. Henry offers a generous sound, a pleasing vibrato, and clear German.  More importantly, she colored each song differently, giving "Zueignung" a full measure of passion, matched by Mr. LaNasa's piano. "Nichts" was given a lot of personality and a touch of humor, while the gorgeous "Die Nacht" established a mood of vague anxiety and just the right emphasis on the shift to the minor key.  "Allerseelen" was filled with painful longing, achieving some peaceful resolution with the piano postlude.

Baritone Gregory Feldmann was given similar support by Mr. LaNasa in three songs by Gabriel Fauré. His fine round tone was well matched by arpeggi in the piano in "Dans le forêt de Septembre". The ripples in the piano matched the vocal color of "La fleur qui va sur l'eau".

We have never enjoyed Olivier Messiaen's music but the bitter pill went down easily with the lovely soprano Nicolette Mavroleon tackling the nonsense syllables. We could only make out a few words like "green dove", "love", "water", "sky", and "time". We preferred "L'amour de Piroutcha" which had a lyrical line and a gentle piano part.

Messiaen often kept Mr. LaNasa's hands at the farthest reaches of the keyboard and he really got a workout. He explained that we were hearing extracts from a doomed love story based on a Peruvian legend.  Well, there's that.  In any case, Ms. Mavroleon seemed very involved in the work and can be forgiven for being "on the book" in the case of such a bizarre vocal line and text.

Even more bizarre was a contemporary piece by Tonia Ko called "Smoke and Distance".  This short piece did not appeal on an emotional level and seemed to us to be written from an intellectual perspective.  The singer, Lucy Dhegrae, merits major props for memorizing the vocal part, which involved strange sounds and humming.

It was the piano part that amazed us. Mr. LaNasa was called upon to pluck and strum the strings of the piano. We know this is not the first time a composer has called upon a performer to attack the piano in such a fashion but we prefer our piano played in the customary fashion!

We were back on more familiar territory when Mr. LaNasa was joined by Hahnsol Kim for Beethoven's Violin Sonata No. 3 in E-flat, Op.12 No. 3, an early work very rooted in the classical style. We heard a traditional Allegro, an expressive Adagio, and a lively Rondo with an appealing theme.

We were impressed by how the two artists related to one another, with the piano picking up and reflecting on the violin.  Good job Nathaniel!

(c) meche kroop


Petr Nekoranec, Valeria Polunina, and Hyesang in Lindemann Recital

Let's face it.  The Lindemann Young Artist Development Program gives matchless recitals.  Since 1980 they have discovered and developed the cream of the crop of young opera singers and collaborative pianists. Those fortunate enough to be chosen receive a bounty of instruction, coaching, and performance opportunities. The stages of opera houses worldwide clamor for their talent.

Yesterday's recital at the Bruno Walter Auditorium exceeded greatness. It lasted but 75 minutes but the after effects are still with us. A recital like this can leave you totally satisfied, yet wishing it had gone on and on.  Like champagne, even when you've had enough, you still want more!

What impressed us most about these young artists was how distinctive their voices are.  So many tenors and sopranos of today sound alike; it's a special pleasure to hear voices that have unique qualities.

The appropriately named soprano Hyesang Park opened the program with a pair of songs by Purcell--"Music for a While" from Oedipus and "Sweeter than Roses" from Pausanias. This 17th c. British titan knew how to pair text and music; Ms. Park's bright tone produces a visceral effect; we could feel the bones of our middle ear vibrating and tingling.  What an incredible sensation! It is particularly pronounced in the penetrating upper register.

Her English is so perfect that we missed nary a word. Perhaps some credit must go to Patricia Brandt's coaching in English. Not only was the enunciation clear but the meaning behind the words was emphasized by astute vocal coloration. The word "cool" indeed had a chilly sound and "trembling" literally trembled. Ms. Park's expressive face matched her expressive voice such that we really understood the songs. 

Purcell wrote some gorgeous melismas that took on the character of vocalises. The vocal fireworks of the fast section were exciting as could be.  It was great to hear this artist go from legato lyricism to rapid-fire embellishments.

Five songs by Clara Schumann followed, which involved some warm colors of regret and nostalgia. Rückert's romantic text "Liebst du um Schönheit" was set by her long before Mahler set it. We have always loved Mahler's setting but there is no reason to overlook Clara Schumann's version. Clara's style is not so different from her husband's and we hear the same attention to a singable vocal line and wonderful piano writing.

Collaborative pianist Valeria Polunina created quite a storm in "Er ist gekommen" and some delightful echoing effects in "Das ist ein Tag".

The program also included a charming pair of songs by Reynaldo Hahn who managed to keep melody alive into the 20th c.! "A Chloris" and "L'Enamourée" are graceful songs and Ms. Park sang them simply, creating a dreamlike mood. The effect was that of letting the songs speak for themselves.

Tenor Petr Nekoranec has an equally distinctive sound; we don't know how to describe it except "texture". It sounds rich and multidimensional. The last time we heard Mr. Nekoranec we loved his voice but not the material. Yesterday we were over the moon about his choice of material. Antonín Dvorák wrote his Gypsy Songs in German and that is how we have always heard them.

However, the composer reset them in Czech and we were amazed at the beautiful sound of the language and how well it integrated with the text. Singing in his native tongue permitted Mr. Nekoranec to immerse himself totally in the many moods of Roma life from wild abandon to deep sorrow. The work fits him like a suit of bespoke clothing. His colorful personality emerged as he gave his all.

We also enjoyed Six Romances, Op. 38 by Rachmaninoff. The partnership between him and Ms. Polunina was particularly striking.  "The Daisies" gives the piano score some lacy filigree whereas "The Pied Piper" has a frisky quality that Mr. Nekoranec augmented with his lively personality. The haunting piano line of "A-u!" brought this superb recital to a memorable close.

We longed for an encore but there was none. We kept wondering what these two unique voices would sound like in a duet. Well, now we have something to anticipate for the future.

(c) meche kroop

Thursday, March 15, 2018


Renate Rohlfing and Samuel Hasselhorn at The Morgan Library

Every generation produces its own standout artists! It is clear to us, after hearing baritone Samuel Hasselhorn on two occasions, that he is the standout baritone of his generation. He won first prize in the Young Concert Artists Competition in 2015 (among a legion of other awards and prizes) and gave a groundbreaking recital at Merkin Hall last year which we reviewed. (http://www.vocedimeche.reviews/search?q=samuel+hasselhorn)

If anything, our excitement about his career has only grown, along with the growth of his artistry. Once again, we were impressed by the ease of his stage presence, the mature timbre of his voice, his crisp diction (even in English), his storytelling prowess, and his ability to color his voice with all the tones of the vocal palette.

The major work on this afternoon's program was Schumann's Dichterliebe. With collaborative pianist Renate Rohlfing matching his mood every step of the way, Mr. Hasselhorn led us through the many stages of recovery from a disappointing romance. Anyone with a minimal knowledge of German could easily follow the text with its multiple metaphors.

The feelings were so intense that it was difficult to believe that the dramatics were just dramatics. It seemed as if Mr. Hasselhorn were living through the many shades of grief in real time. We only hope he has never had such despair, nor ever will.

Heinrich Heine's text may seem excessive by today's standards but anyone who has lived through the loss of a love will understand that the loss of a fantasy of future happiness is excruciatingly painful.  Better to write or sing about it than to turn to alcohol and drugs!

The way Mr. Hasselhorn interpreted the song cycle is that the poet is reflecting upon the past--his initial joy and subsequent despair as he works through his loss-- until the final song of the cycle. He employed a sweet color for "Im wunderschönen Monat Mai"; the song doesn't exactly end but trails off in a whiff of nostalgia.

"Wenn ich in deine Augen seh'" shows the poet at his  most confused. Mr. Hasselhorn's coloration gave voice to the ambivalence.

"Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome" begins with some seriously ponderous chords in the piano echoed by the voice, depicting the great cathedral of Köln. The poet sees the face of his lost love everywhere, even in a painting of the Virgin Mary.

In "Ich grolle nicht" Mr. Hasselhorn began with a stalwart surface and a position of denial but his interpretation allowed the anger over the woman's betrayal to burst forth in an explosion of rage.

Ms. Rolfhing had her chance to shine in the hurdy-gurdy piano part of "Das ist ein Flöten und Geigen" but changed to a pensive mood in "Hör ich das Liedchen klingen" as Mr. Hasselhorn indulged in some 19th c. German Romantic grief. Today we would call it a "pity party".

"Ein Jüngling liebt ein Mädchen" begins with irony and ends, like the earlier "Ich grolle nicht" with an eruption of anger. The next song "Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen" is one of consolation and required an entirely different coloration. 

"Ich hab' im Traum geweinet" asks the singer to begin a capella; he is joined by rhythmic chords in the piano which punctuate his sad dreams like the beating of an aching heart. In this lied and the subsequent "Allnächtlich im Traume" he is working through the loss. Haven't we all had dreams in which a dream element that seemed important has vanished evanescently? Imagine the skill required for the singer to convey this puzzled quality!

He finds no escape into fantasy as shown in the longing "Aus alten Märchen winkt es" so the final resolution must be to bury the love and the angry songs in a hyperbolic coffin with a dozen giant pallbearers as described in "Die alten, bösen Lieder". The piano postlude achieves a kind of resolution with a nearly funereal peace.

The program also included some lighter material.  In a move worthy of Mirror Visions Ensemble, the same text, set by Schubert and Gerald Finzi, was performed.  Schubert's "An Silvia" was paired with Finzi's "Who is Sylvia" and we were surprised to learn that Shakespeare's words were as well set in English in the 20th c. as the German version was by Schubert in the 19th c. 

We generally don't care much for songs in English from the 20th c. but we were drawn to enjoy this music by Mr. Hasselhorn's and Ms. Rohlfing's fine performance of "O Mistress Mine". Possibly the elegant cadence of Shakespeare's text elicits good composition!

We were tickled by the singer's bird sounds in Hugo Wolf's "Lied des transferieten Zettel".  This is a setting of "Bottom's Song" from Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, translated into German.

There was yet more Shakespeare to come. Erich Wolfgang Korngold set "Desdemona's Song" from Othello,  as well as "Under the Greenwood Tree",  "Blow, blow, Thou Winter Wind", and "When Birds Do Sing"-- all from As You Like It.

So, now we know. We like songs in English as long as Shakespeare contributed the text!

Still, returning to German for the encore left us smiling; it was the very sweet Schumann lied "Du bist wie eine Blume". Schumann must have been thinking of Clara when he wrote that gorgeous melody!

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


Barbara Heming, Babette Hierholzer, Christine Reber, and Jacob Cirkel

The last time we wrote about the German Forum, we were bidding a sad farewell to long-term President Henry Meyer-Oertel. This time we are offering a warm welcome to new President Barbara Heming who seems to have the future of this outstanding organization well in hand. They will continue to provide performance opportunities for young artists from the German speaking world and enticing entertainment for members and their guests.

Last night we were offered an interesting program on the basis of the presence of a brilliant young instrumentalist--Jacob Cirkel, who has mastered the French horn, an instrument the sound of which we adore, even when it cracks.  It is like a beloved friend that we cherish, even when this friend is cranky, which, we confess, we felt about this concert.

The soprano, Christine Reber, sang into the detested music stand for the entire evening, with the exception of a couple minutes when she entered from the wings singing "Meine Lippen, sie küssen so heiss" from Franz Lehár's Giuditta. We were ready to celebrate her liberation from the score but, once again she sidled up behind the stand.

We wish we were telling you about her sweet warm ingenue tone and the pleasures of hearing German sung the way it should be; but, no, here we are feeling cheated of the very pleasures for which we attend vocal recitals. Sometimes we grit our teeth and overlook this recital shortcoming when there is a premiere of difficult new music. But when a singer has chosen a program of standard works and cannot go to the trouble to memorize them, we do feel cheated of the connection that elevates a live recital above listening to a recording.  Frankly, we felt we were attending a music lesson.

The good side of this, and we always do look for the good side, is that we focused more on the collaborative piano of Babette Hierholzer who has terrific technique and matchless ability to support the other artists. In Beethoven's lovely "Ich liebe Dich, so wie Du mich", she gave every verse of this strophic song a different color.

Beethoven's Sonata for French horn and piano, op.17 was a revelation. She and Mr. Cirkel passed melodies back and forth and handled the major/minor shifts so stylishly! It was easy to see the influence of Mozart on the young Beethoven.

We are not familiar with Josef Rheinberger but the opening movement of his Sonata for French horn and piano in E flat Major from 1894 opened with a marvelous fanfare.

For the Act III prayer "Und ob die Wolke sich verhülle" from Carl Maria von Weber's Die Freischütz, the French horn replaced the cello part. This opera was presented by Utopia Opera three years ago and we enjoyed it so much in all its supernatural glory.

The German Forum loves to bring in an instrumentalist so that rarely heard vocal works can be performed. This was the first time we heard Richard Strauss' "Ein  Alphorn hör ich schallen" and, indeed, Mr. Cirkel provided the offstage horn call. If only Ms. Reber had directed her sound toward the audience, instead of down into the score!

There is plenty of room for the development of color in her voice. Three songs by Strauss required much more variety, which we did hear in the piano.  Ms. Hierholzer invested the opening bars of "Morgen" with an ethereal color, very different from that of "Die Nacht", which is quiet in a stealthy way.  The wild enthusiasm of "Zueignung" was expressed in a wild flight of arpeggi.

Schubert's "Auf dem Strom" is another piece we rarely hear and the horn melody is absolutely glorious and well supported by the piano.

Fred Raymond's Maske in Blau is unknown to us but hearing "Die Juliska aus Budapest" made us want to see the entire work. Ms. Reber made an attempt to act but it is truly impossible when one is looking at the score.  Gestures tend to appear superficially pasted on, rather than emerging organically from the text and the music.

The evening closed with the lovely Act I aria from Rossini's Semiramide --"Bel raggio lusinghier" which we just heard at the Metropolitan Opera with Angela Meade.  Ms. Reber's skill with bel canto was impressively accurate and we sat there hoping that the next time we hear her we will hear her from the heart and not from the page. There is ample talent there but communication with the audience surpasses technique.

Membership in the German Forum is so worthwhile! Junior memberships for those under 30 are extremely affordable. An added inducement is the generous buffet reception offered before and after the musical program, giving every audience member an opportunity to meet and greet the artists.

(c) meche kroop

Tuesday, March 13, 2018


Margaret Kampmeier, Scott Murphree, Mischa Bouvier, and Vira Slywotzky

A recital of songs can be very serious and deeply moving, providing a catharsis for sorrow and the pain of human existence.  Other times, a recital can be just plain fun.  Last night's recital by Mirror Visions Ensemble at The Sheen Center had a theme that leaned toward fun. Most of the songs were about the animal kingdom but others were about humans who behave worse than animals.

The three singers of Mirror Visions Ensemble are all gifted with the ability to bring a song to vivid life. Of course, the standard requirements for vocal music are necessary but once once knows a singer well (and we know these three very well), one takes for granted their vocal skills--tonality, phrasing, linguistic ability, etc.--and focuses on their ability to get a song across.  And that is why MVE  always draws a substantial audience. We know a good thing when we hear it!

After an instrumental introduction in which pianist Margaret Kampmeier treated us to "The Cricket Marries" by Béla Bartók (the cricket is definitely NOT Bluebeard!) all three singers joined forces for Josquin des Prez' "El grillo" in high Renaissance polyphony. We have no idea why this Belgian composer set a Spanish text but it was definitely one of the highlights of the evening. We don't get to hear much music like this and probably wouldn't want to hear an entire evening of it! It did make a great hors d'oeuvre for the rest of the evening.

Tenor Scott Murphree gave a deliciously ironic slant to Camille Saint-Saëns who wrote "La cigale et la fourmi" four centuries later.  True to the mission of MVE--that of offering different settings of the same text--baritone Mischa Bouvier performed the same text, which was given a dramatically different slant by André Caplet.

Maurice Ravel's delicate "Le martin-pêcheur" was sung by Mr. Murphree in true Gallic style, hushed as if not to disturb the Kingfisher perched on the poet's fishing rod. Ravel's "La pintade" is a musical portrait of a very disagreeable female (perhaps a critic, LOL) and all three singers participated in bringing her to annoying life.

We don't get to hear much Hungarian but Kodály's songs "Youth is Like a Falcon" and "My Geese, My Geese" fell pleasantly on the ear since the text married well with the music. In the former, Ms. Slywotzky's voice was accompanied by some lovely rippling piano figures. In the second, Mr. Murphree sang of a woman who wants her geese to return, perhaps without her husband. We liked the way the singer showed her change of heart at the end.

Joaquin Rodrigo's "Canción del cucú" was beautifully arranged for three voices by Richard Lalli, Guest Artistic Director. The text appears to have been written by Rodrigo's wife.

"Son nata a lagrimar", the duet between Sesto and Cornelia from Händel's Giulio Cesare was performed by Mr. Murphree and Mr. Bouvier; it was so gorgeous that we have been listening to recordings of it all night. The "beast" in this case was Cleopatra's brother Ptolemy (Tolomeo) who beheaded Pompey -- Sesto's father and Cornelia's husband.  The two join in heartfelt grief.

Mr. Bouvier gave a dramatic reading of excerpts from "Ode to Napoleon Buonaparte" which was accompanied by Schoenberg's piano, a piece with which we are unfamiliar. Ms. Slyvotzky gave a highly dramatic and effective reading of Pompey's speech from Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra which was followed by Edith Sitwell's strange text set by William Walton.  

The set ended with a premiere of Scott Wheeler's "Et tu Brute Fanfare" in which all three singers took part, an MVE commission.

We have less to say about the second half of the program.  We adore Ogden Nash's text for its wit but Richard Pearson Thomas' music detracted from the pleasure one gets from reading or reciting these little gems, which never ever asked to be set to music! This too was commissioned by MVE.

Francine Trester was inspired by Sheridan Oman's animal engravings to write a commissioned work which premiered last night but did not affect us one way or another.

The next section was meant to say something about 20th c. tyrants Stalin, Franco, and Hitler. We did enjoy Shostakovich's "Fussy Mummy and Auntie" although we didn't grasp the connection with Stalin. Christopher Berg set Garcia Lorca's "Casida de las palomas oscuras" but we didn't understand what the text had to do with Franco.  

Similarly for Garcia Lorca's own compositions which were strangely sung with alternating verses. From Canciones Populares, we are familiar with "Las morillas de Jaén" and "Anda, Jaleo", but we failed to understand the connection. If you, dear reader, have insight into this connection, feel free to share in the comments section.

We also puzzled over Hanns Eisler's selections from Hollywooder Liederbuch. Interesting but in what manner were they commenting on Hitler?  We cannot say.

What we can say is that Tchaikovsky wrote some lovely songs! Ms. Slyvotzky sang of "The Nightingale", with avian support from Ms. Kampmeier and the trio sang of "The Cuckoo". Mikhail Glinka was sneaked in between with "The Skylark", sung by Mr. Murphree.

As encore we heard  Jean Wiéner's "Le Léopard", a setting of text by Robert Desnos, translated by Mr. Lalli, and performed by all three artists.  What fun!

(c) meche kroop

Monday, March 12, 2018


Anna Viemeister, Christine Moore Vassallo, Chantal Balestri, Nardo Poy, Juan Jose Lazaro, and Jeffrey Swann at the National Opera Center

Has it always been this popular for young opera singers to study abroad? We have noticed so many programs offering summer instruction; last night we were introduced to a new one with the romantic name of Lunigiana International Music Festival which will offer a new program of lessons, master classes, competitions, and concerts in the Tuscan town of Fivizzano from June 18th through June 28th.

By way of introduction Co-Founder and Artistic Director Chantal Balestri organized a concert to present the faculty for this festival, in which students and faculty will lodge and dine at the same hotel. The plan is to keep the all-in costs to a minimum.

Students of all ages will be accepted; voice, piano, and string instruments will be taught. Some unusual venues for performances have been planned. Some of the faculty members performed last night for an audience that included several luminaries in the field.

The program opened and closed with music by Chopin, sensitively performed by Jeffrey Swann. The opener was the lovely Nocturne op. 15 n.2 in F-Sharp Major to which Mr. Swann applied just the right rubato, dynamic variation, and a light touch for the embellishments of the line which, in vocal music, would be called fioritura. Would it be fair to call Chopin a bel canto composer?

The closing piece was the elaborate Ballade op.23 n.1 in G Minor, in which we heard a succession of diverse themes in different moods. Mr. Swann explained how the Ballade tells a story and, we opine, each listener can apply his or her own story.

As far as the vocal music which comprised most of the program, we were riveted by mezzo-soprano Anna Viemeister's performance of Eboli's aria "O Don Fatale" from Verdi's Don Carlo, one of our favorite operas. In this barn-burner, the Princess Eboli is filled with remorse for getting her beloved Queen in trouble. She blames her beauty. Ms. Viemeister was convincing both vocally and dramatically, with some wonderful sounds at the bottom of her register.

We can say the same about the equally passionate "Voi lo sapete", from Mascagni's verismo masterpiece Cavalleria Rusticana. We have not heard this role sung by a mezzo but the high notes were tossed off easily and we enjoyed the shifts in color as Santuzza reflects on her original happiness and eventual shame.

Soprano Christine Moore Vassallo played to her vocal strengths in the upper register in "Vissi d'arte" from Puccini's Tosca. We were happy to hear her in opera because both women used the loathed music stand for their lieder selections.

We were very interested in the two settings of the same text written in the Baroque period by one Lope Felix de Vega Carpio. Eduard Toldrá set it in 1940 and entitled it "Cantarcillo", part of his Seis canciones Castellanas  It is a lullaby for the baby Jesus sung by his mother, in this case, Ms. Vassallo.

We might never have recognized it as the same text Brahms used for his "Geistliches Wiegenlied" in 1884, for which Emmanuel Geibel adapted Carpio's text. Brahms scored it for alto, piano, and viola. Ms. Vassallo sang, Nardo Poy played the viola, and Juan Jose Lazaro gave us the same high quality piano we enjoyed as accompaniment for all the singing. The only disappointment was the presence of the music stand.

We also enjoyed Ms. Viemeister's performance of "Gestillte Sehnsucht", another work Brahms scored for piano, viola and alto. We will add that the German diction was excellent.

With talent such as we heard last night, the students accepted into this summer program will be fortunate indeed. We wish Lunigiana great success in their inaugural season and hope the success will be "over the moon". Co-Founder Andrea Rossi was not present last night but shared the dream of Ms. Balestri who did a fine job of describing the program.

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, March 10, 2018


Elizabeth Bouk and Jonathan Fox Powers in Sondheim's PASSION at Utopia Opera

Most people enjoy having their opinions validated and we are no exception.  In the Director's Notes for Sondheim's Passion, presented by the reliably adventuresome Utopia Opera, Benjamin Spierman eloquently addresses the issue of opera vs. musical theater. We are in complete agreement that any division is unnecessary and only results in contentious discussion. Drama with music, when sung by classically trained singers without amplification qualifies a work as "opera" in our opinion.

One of the distinguishing features of "opera" is that it is passionate.  People die for love, kill for love, and live on the edge.  That is why opera is the perfect antidote for our "whatever" age, marked by indifference and irony.

The very title of Sondheim's work tells us so.  The story was adapted from Ettore Scola's film Passione d'Amore, itself adapted from the 19th c. novel Fosca by Iginio Ugo Tarchetti. The renowned James Lapine wrote the book. 

The story concerns a young military officer whose pity for his Colonel's sickly cousin ends up becoming love. Fosca is a disagreeable and demanding woman with a sad past and she stalks Captain Giorgio Bachetti obsessively until she wins him over.

That he has a romantic and sexual relationship with Clara, a woman he adores, does not stop Fosca from throwing herself at Giorgio without reservation or reason, sacrificing all dignity in the process.

Elizabeth Bouk was convincing as Fosca, somehow hiding her natural beauty to portray a woman who believes herself to be homely. It was satisfying to watch her blossom when she succeeded in winning Giorgio's love.

Giorgio was well enacted and sung by Jonathan Fox Powers who showed us his character's inner kindness but also his attempts to firmly reject Fosca's initial advances. His fine voice suited the part well.

We particularly enjoyed Dennis Wees' portrayal of Colonel Ricci, so protective of his unfortunate cousin and so angry when he believes that Giorgio has taken advantage of her. He also has a fine voice and employs it well.  

Actually, the encounters between Giorgio and Fosca were set up and encouraged by Doctor Tambourri, played rather woodenly by Jack Anderson White.

As Clara, Giorgio's married lover who loves with the necessary restrictions of a married woman who stands to lose her child in 19th c. Italy, Paige Cutrona was barely audible except when she employed the upper end of her register where she had an attractive sound. The spoken dialogue and lower notes could not be heard.

Mr. Spierman himself appeared as Fosca's father, in flashback, with Hannah Spierman portraying her mother with a fine sizable sound. Also seen in flashback was the "Count" Ludovic (Jonathan Price) who took advantage of Fosca which probably led to the decline in her health.

Comic relief was provided by the military men who gathered over meals and billiards, commenting on the action like a Greek chorus. Performers were Ray Calderon, Benjamin Herman, Platon Vavylis, Nick Miller, and Ross Schwaber.  It was in these scenes that Sondheim's familiar wordplay was most in evidence.

The music is through-composed with several impactful duets. Most of the arias involve the reading of letters written by Giorgio to Clara and by Clara to Giorgio. We hear Sondheim reaching for something grander in this work, arguably his most operatic creation. Under the baton of Artistic and Music Director William Remmers, the orchestra played well.  On the audience level we had a string quartet plus bass and two keyboards. On stage and off to the side, as usual, we had a pair of horns, a trumpet, percussion, and four wind players who alternated among oboe, English horn, clarinet, and flute. 

Originally Jonathan Tunick composed the lush orchestration and we have no evidence that this was changed for Utopia Opera's production. The score is definitely worth a repeat hearing.

Speaking of repeats, you will have a couple opportunities to catch this chamber opera. There is a matinee today and another on Sunday and an evening performance tonight at 8:00.  The work is seldom produced and we encourage you to seize the opportunity.

(c) meche kroop

Friday, March 9, 2018


I-Yun Tsai, Wenting Yu, Wen Guan Li, Zhihong Li, Jingci Liu, Pavlina Dokovska, and Ganson Salmon

Only in New York can one hear a highly professional concert and find out that the artists are students. The quality of the performances were uniformly splendid in last night's recital at the Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Last month we reviewed the graduation recital of tenor Ganson Salmon, the highlight of which was his performance of Robert Schumann's Dichterliebe, composed during the period when Robert's longing for Clara was at its peak. Last night's repeat performance was in honor of Clara, who was not only her husband's muse, but, as related by Pavlina Dokovska, created her own musical career after rebelling against her strict family and the extant cultural norms.

For details about Mr. Salmon's artistry with this song cycle, we refer readers to our recent review, http://www.vocedimeche.reviews/search?q=ganson+salmon. We will only say that Mr. Salmon, Heinrich Heine, and Robert Schumann seem even more united than before as Mr. Salmon has settled into the work; he held us spellbound with his mastery. The connection between him and his superb collaborative pianist Brianna Han has intensified.

The program included selections from Kurze Waltzer for four hands by Wolfgang Rihm. The thrill of hearing contemporary music that we actually enjoyed was quite overwhelming. The music is charming, accessible, listenable, and even danceable. 

The four fortunate hands that brought us such joy belonged to Wenting Yu and the very beautiful Jingci Liu who were totally in tune with one another.

There was sufficient differences among the brief waltzes that our attention was held throughout. There was great variety of melodic intent, mood, tempi and dynamics.  Now if we could only get Mr. Rihm to write an opera! He has written dozens of lieder and we mean to track them down.

The final work on the program was Johannes Brahms' rousing Piano Quartet in C minor, op.60. It opened with a muscular Allegro non troppo which was followed by the Scherzo in a somewhat unusual position. The third movement, Andante, opened with a lyrical theme in the cello, played by Zhihong Li, making it our favorite part.  The Finale featured the violin of I-Yun Tsai and the piano of Wenting Yu. And we all know that the viola fills in all the gaps. Wen Guan Li played it well.

Mannes can be very proud of their students, all on their way to superstardom.

(c) meche kroop


Jessica Gould and Diego Cantalupi at the Fabbri Mansion Library

Wednesday night's weather was atrocious but that didn't stop fans of Salon Sanctuary Concerts from finding their way to the stunning but geographically inaccessible Fabbri Mansion to hear music of the early 17th c. As a matter of fact, the concert was sold out and a second performance had to be scheduled to accommodate everyone who wanted to share in the artistry of soprano Jessica Gould and theorbist Diego Cantalupi. We New Yorkers will go anywhere in any weather when we sniff out a good thing.

And a very good thing it was! In a velvet gown, Ms. Gould was the image of a diva (think Tosca) but sang in a manner that expressed the spiritual nature of the text. As Founder and Artistic Director of Salon Sanctuary Concerts, Ms. Gould is known for her diligent scholarship. Every program is a means of "viewing history through the prism of music".

The period represented in this program, entitled I Viaggi di Caravaggio is the early 17th c. and the place is Rome. The Catholic church was re-asserting its dominance in a movement known as the Counter-Reformation. Adherents to the faith were gained by utilizing the unparalleled power of the arts. Spirituality and sensuality were mingled in architecture, music, and the paintings of Caravaggio--and also in the licentious behavior of the clergy.

Listening to the music on the program, one could not help but observe the bones of rigid adherence to Catholic doctrine clothed in the sensuality of the human voice and the theorbo, so perfectly played by Mr. Cantalupi.  Those of you who were unable to snag tickets to this concert may be interested in the newly released CD also entitled I Viaggi di Caravaggio, the tracks of which are a close replica of the concert.

Ms. Gould does not adhere to the rigid customs of Baroque period singing.  Of course, we have no record of how these works sounded four centuries ago, but contemporary performances often seem sterile, whereas Ms. Gould's performance was luscious and involving. It was always obvious that she knew what she was singing about as she shared her passion with the audience.

The texts were often disturbing, dealing as they do with the crucifixion. But the music is always gorgeous and deeply affecting. If one did not understand Italian and Latin, one could be at an advantage! But if one does, one found the enunciation clear.

Melismatic singing appears in almost every song, or should we call them prayers! Sometimes they stretch into lengthy vocalises.  In Giovanni Antonio Rigatti's "Ave, Regina Caelorum" we enjoyed the joyful central section which Ms. Gould colored differently.

Contrasts abounded through this narrow slice of early 17th-century repertoire. The tender sweet lullaby "Figlio Dormi" made the horror of Tarquinio Merula's "Canzonetta spirituale sopra alla 'Nanna' "  which offers Mary’s sorrow-filled premonition of her babe's tragic future, all the more stark and shocking.

Giovanni Felice Sances' "Stabat Mater dolorosa" ended with an exquisite "Amen" but not until Ms, Gould let loose on the word "paradisi". We heard the same florid singing in Benedetti Ferrari's "Queste pungenti spine" on the word "saette" (thunderbolts). This fioritura and changes of vocal colors keeps things interesting!

It was a great idea to alternate the vocal works with instrumental ones, performed solo by Mr. Cantalupi. All the selections were composed by the same composer Girolamo Kapsberger, who, if we are not mistaken, was the teacher of Girolamo Frescobaldi, whose aria "Se l'aura spira" so enthralled us last month when sung by Anna Caterina Antonacci.

"Toccata IV" had a meditative quality and made use of intervals of a second. "Toccata VII" was similarly meditative but made far more demands for virtuosity on the artist. There were exciting scale passages and descents into the lowest register of that most complicated instrument, the theorbo. "Canzon I" had a lot of contrast and some lovely arpeggiated chords and trills.

But our favorites were the gentle "Sarabanda" in 3/4 time and the lively "Bergamasca" in duple meter which made us want to get up and dance!

(c) meche kroop

Monday, March 5, 2018


Craig Rutenberg, Kyle van Schoonhoven, and Heidi Melton

Among many other reasons, we love the George London Foundation because we get to hear competition winners a few years after they win; we love witnessing artistic growth. We first became aware of tenor Kyle van Schoonhoven in 2014 when Daniel Cardona put him onstage as Lt. Pinkerton in a recital of Puccini arias by the Martha Cardona Opera Theater. His sizable instrument made a sizable impression on us.  We were thinking "Wagner". He has proven us right.

Several times we heard him sing the mad scene from Britten's Peter Grimes and grew to enjoy that disturbing aria more and more. It was that performance that led to a breakout 2017 with awards not only from the George London Foundation but also the Metropolitan Opera National Council. We were overjoyed to learn that he would be singing Wagner at the recital yesterday at the Morgan Library.

Dramatic soprano Heidi Melton won her London award in 2009, before we began writing. But we did review her superb performance 3 years ago at the Schimmel Center when she dazzled us with her huge resonant sound, highly dramatic interpretations, and crisp English diction. Apparently Planet Opera has recognized her Wagnerian gifts and is keeping her busy.

That 2015 recital included Debussy's Trois Chansons de Bilitis which Ms. Melton reprised yesterday. She employed a fine vibrato that added shimmer to the sound and gave us some fine French, every word of which was comprehensible. This work requires the singer to provide three different colorations to the three songs. Ms. Melton nailed them all--the adolescent innocence and sexual awakening in "La flûte de Pan", the ripe sensuality of "La Chevelure", and the sad disillusionment of love grown cold in "Le tombeau des Naïades". She even captured the negativity and indifference of the male voice.  The contributions of collaborative pianist Craig Rutenberg added to the classical imagery.

"Isolde's Narrative and Curse" from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde was so exceptional that we reached a new level of understanding of this opera, an understanding that we did not achieve in the latest iteration at the Metropolitan Opera. First of all, there was an acoustic and linguistic clarity that was abetted by completely convincing dramatic intent and liberal employment of gesture and facial expression.

This lengthy scene requires Isolde to go through a wide range of emotions from the tender memories of nursing Tristan to rage at the injustice she is suffering, compounded by the shame of falling prey to her enemy. The performance was nothing short of riveting.

Mr. van Schoonhoven's performance was no less satisfying. He opened the afternoon with some 20th c. songs in English; that we actually enjoyed them says a lot since that is not our favorite language nor our favorite period. Ralph Vaughan Williams' "Silent Noon" was delivered with ringing tones, excellent diction, and a centered stage presence. We liked the delicacy of Mr. Rutenberg's accompaniment and Mr. Schoonhoven's equally delicate messa di voce.

That Britten set the folk song "O Waly Waly" with the same reverence he applied to W.B. Yeat's text "The Salley Gardens" reminded us of Brahms. The melodies are simple but the piano score interesting. The brief "Love Went a-Riding" by Frank Bridges benefitted from Mary Coleridge's verse which rhymed and scanned.

We never much cared for the text Wagner wrote for "Rienzi's Prayer" but the music is gorgeous and Mr. Schoonhoven applied his huge sound and a variety of dynamics to lend interest to the work. We far preferred "Mein lieber Schwan!" from Lohengrin, as the knight makes his farewell.  There we have a fortunate marriage of text and music; Mr. Schoonhoven made the most of it.

By the time these three outsized artists completed the "Bridal Chamber Scene" from Lohengrin, we had decided that this opera goes on our wish list. We have never seen it but we believe we have heard the best of it in this performance! The scene begins with warm and tender feelings on both sides until Elsa tries to get Lohengrin to identify himself.  Her suspicions have been aroused by the evil and manipulative Ortrud. The knight tries to evade her importuning but fails. We believed every dramatic moment.

After such a recital, an encore would not have been necessary but the audience demanded one and the artists generously complied with a romantic duet from Franz Lehar's operetta Der Zarewitsch in which the voices rose in sweet harmony.

It was quite an afternoon and we believe the air in the theater is still vibrating from those astonishing overtones. Mr. Rutenberg paid a well deserved tribute to our dear Nora London whose foundation has launched so many operatic careers. How happy we are that the recipients of awards return to perform. That is also a tribute!

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, March 3, 2018


Michal Biel and Alex Rosen

The only event that could psych us up as much as the debut of a new opera company is the debut of a new vocal series. A vocal series that highlights the advanced students from the Juilliard Vocal Arts and Collaborative Piano Departments would have been at the top of our wish list. We attend and love the monthly liederabends at Juilliard and the graduation recitals as well.  But we are greedy for vocal music and we admire the entrepreneurial spirit that made possible this extra-curricular series of performances.

In this case, two of our favorite Juilliard pianists--Katelan Terrell and Michal Biel-- have coordinated a new series called Songs from the Cellar, having joined forces with Alessandro Pittorino, Executive Director of Arts at Blessed Sacrament where he serves as organist.  Indeed, descending the staircase at the 71st St. entrance, one would expect to find oneself in a cellar; but no, we find ourselves in a spacious performing space with a big wide stage and ample seating with excellent sightlines. What a find!

That stage was graced and held last night by bass Alex Rosen and pianist Michal Biel. Mr. Biel, who graduated from Juilliard last year, has played at so many recitals there that we knew exactly what high quality to expect. Mr. Rosen has also been seen, heard, and reviewed by us multiple times but we had yet to hear him perform a complete recital.

Just a couple weeks ago he starred as Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor and gave a rousing performance filled with pathos and humor, not to mention full deep round tones. But his appearance was heavily disguised by makeup and a fat suit. Last night he appeared au naturel and we were reminded of how much we had enjoyed his way with Strauss' unique and lesser known songs, his part in Mozart's Requiem and his Monteverdi (with Opera Lafayette).

As soon as Mr. Rosen began singing some serious songs by Schubert, we recalled that we had heard him sing two of them before. When a singer performs songs we don't care for in a way that brings us to favor them, it tends to stick in our memory. The sacred "Grenzen der Menschheit" and the profane  "Prometheus" make a fine pair. We especially love Prometheus confronting Zeus with his anger and disappointment. In between the two we heard the sad tale of "Der Atlas", sung with powerful intent and plenty of variety in the piano.

What impresses us most about Mr. Rosen, aside from the textured tone, diction, and phrasing, is his storytelling ability. Each song becomes a mini opera; he pulls us into each story with his involvement in the text. He is not afraid to throw himself into the text with generous gesture and facial expression.

Happily there was plenty of Schubert on the program. The opening set was particularly suited to the storm outdoors which the appreciative audience had braved for the occasion. There were storms at sea, boatmen, rivers and such. When Schubert wrote strophic songs, he must have hoped that they'd find their way into the repertoire of singers like Mr. Rosen who would know how to change the vocal color from one stanza to the next.

We particularly enjoyed "Liebhaber in allen Gestalten", with its romantic text by Goethe, and "Auf der Donau", in which the two outer sections allow the singer some lyrical legato singing, with plenty of contrast for the turmoil in the central section. Mayrhofer's text is introspective and philosophical and the vocal line revealed the beauty of Mr. Rosen's lower register.

In terms of charm, we loved "Fischerweise", von Schlechta's tale of a fisherman and a "wanton" shepherdess who is not going to catch that fish!

Hugo Wolf's songs made an appearance on the program with his Michelangelo Lieder--Wolf in his most serious mood. "Alles endet, was entstehet" gave Mr. Rosen an opportunity to show off his lovely pianissimo"Fühlt meine Seele das ersehnte Licht" ended with a heart stopping downward scale in the piano.

Just as actors love a good death scene, singers love a good drinking song and Wolf wrote some that were fresh to our ears--"So lang man nünchern ist" and "Ob der Koran von Ewigkeit sei". They were fun but there was even more fun on the program.

Francis Poulenc's very first youthful song cycle--Le Bestiaire-- comprised six short poems selected from 30 written by Guillaume Apollinaire about denizens of the world of fauna.  We wish that he had set them all, or at least published the additional six about which we have only heard. There is such a variety of rhythm, color, and mood that it takes a singer of Mr. Rosen's caliber to make the most of them. We kid you not, dear reader, but Mr. Rosen actually made a face like a camel and moved like a shrimp!

Our only complaint about this recital was its brevity.  But then it's always good to leave your public wanting more.  There will indeed be more, but not more of Mr. Rosen who has been snapped up by Les Arts Florissants, Opera Philadelphia, and Cincinnati Opera.

We urge you to get out your calendars and save March 9th, April 15th, and April 28th. We personally know the artists and can guarantee you a splendid evening at a modest cost.

About 6 or 7 years ago, pianist Lachlan Glen launched a series comprising Schubert, all Schubert, and nothing but Schubert lieder. Folks on Planet Opera are still talking about it.  We hope that 6 years from now, folks will be talking about Songs from the Cellar!  Don't miss out!  It's casual, comfortable, artistic...and there are projected titles so one doesn't have to look down at libretti.

(c) meche kroop

Thursday, March 1, 2018


Matthew Wages, Richard Holmes, David Seatter, Sarah Caldwell Smith, Daniel Greenwood, Natalie Ballenger, Joanie Brittingham, Alexa Devlin, Anthony Maida, and Tanya Roberts

Think of a string of beautiful colorful beads, gathered from many forgotten pieces of jewelry and strung together to create something novel. That was the image we got while enjoying Victor Herbert Renaissance Project LIVE! last night. 

Instead of presenting another complete operetta by this most prolific composer, Artistic Director Alyce Mott decided to create an evening of rarely heard gems extracted from a number of his operettas, written with a variety of librettists, including Henry Blossom, Gene Buck, Buddy De Sylva, Glen MacDonough, Harry B. Smith, and Robert B. Smith.

As usual, Ms. Mott supplied the libretto; the performers--gifted vocally and dramatically in equal measure--brought the songs to vivid life, under the direction of Emily Cornelius with charming choreography by Susanna Organic. Michael Thomas ably filled the job of Music Director and pianist.

Over the past couple of years attending these performances, we have developed an affection for what appears to be a repertory company. We can almost predict what roles each performer will play. There is a similarity to Herbert's "ladies" and he loves putting them in ridiculous situations. 

We saw scenes extracted from ten of his lesser known operettas dating from The Idol's Eye in 1897 to his very last one, the 1922 Orange Blossom. Herbert dominated Broadway for a quarter of a century and did not alter his style very much. He had a clear opinion of what his audience wanted and he gave it to them--interesting characters dealing with preposterous situations in a light-hearted manner.

We are glad that Ms. Mott compared Herbert to Sondheim. What other American composer beside Sondheim has ever managed to marry word and musical phrase in such an engaging manner! If only we had clever lyrics like that to listen to today! Which brings us to our only criticism--the clever lyrics were not always clear. But that happened only about 10% of the time and only bothered us because the rhymes were so darned clever.

Tanya Roberts and Anthony Maida did a swell job as narrators, establishing the background of each scene. Ms. Roberts was hilarious as "the 5' lady with the 8' kick". David Seatter delighted us as a hot air balloonist who "just dropped in" as he circumnavigated the world. And Mr. Seatter enunciated each word clearly. Alexa Devlin made use of the lower end of her register in "Song of the Priestess". These three songs from the 1897 The Idol's Eye made us want to see the entire work.

The complex overlapping vocal lines for the Ensemble in "The Face Behind the Mask" was the standout number from the 1914 The Debutante. It revealed Herbert as the gifted composer he was.

From the 1905 Mlle. Modiste, our favorite number was the marvelous satire involving a girl from Iowa--"The Keokuk Culture Club", sensationally performed by Ms. Devlin. It seemed very au courant.

Another sensational performance was that of Natalie Ballenger who portrayed a very catty woman in "She's a Very Dear Friend of Mine" from the 1904 It Happened in Nordland.

Tenor Daniel Greenwood paid vocal tribute to women in "The Century Girl", the hit number from the 1916 show of the same name.

Mr. Maida filled a similar role as he idealized "The Princess of My Dreams" from Ziegfield Follies of 1921. 

The 1922 Orange Blossoms contained two numbers that scored. In "New York is the Same Old Place", Ms. Roberts and Mr. Seatter had complaints about our fair city that seemed not to have changed in almost a century! But the very funny "Way Out West in Jersey" had Ms. Devlin and bass-baritone  Matthew Wages contemplating a move to the wild west across the Hudson River. Richard Holmes was absolutely charming as a former roué in "This Time It's Love".

Joanie Brittingham had fun portraying a woman whose education was deficient in "Professor Cupid" from The Debutante of 1914 and a sadder girl indeed in "The Lonely Nest" (from Orange Blossoms), in which Michael Thomas' piano stood out.

Sarah Caldwell Smith made the perfect ingenue in "If I Were on the Stage" from Mlle. Modiste.

The ensemble work showed evidence of a great team spirit in this company.  The entire evening was sheer delight.

Upcoming in April will be The Enchantress, from which we heard two numbers; but in April we will get to hear them with an orchestra. Yay!

Ms. Mott asked the audience which Herbert operetta they would like to see.  What a difficult choice! Based on what we most enjoyed last night, we would vote for Orange Blossoms

(c) meche kroop