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.

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


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


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


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


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


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

Attachments area

Monday, May 14, 2018


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

Friday, May 11, 2018


Stephanie Chase, Isabel Pérez Dobarro, Anna Tonna, and Robert Osborne

Last night's recital was much more than a recital. It was a dramatic and musical biography of a notable female figure who is rather unknown in the USA but who deserves to be celebrated. For this celebration we must thank The Hispanic Society Concert Series which was initiated in 2010 to promote the music of Spanish and Hispanic composers.

Teresa Carreño was born in 1853 in Venezuela to a musical family which moved to the USA. A childhood prodigy she toured the world as singer, pianist, composer, and conductor. A huge arts complex in Venezuela bears her name. This fiercely independent woman lived life on her own terms and married four times; two of her husbands were brothers. The program notes of dramaturg August Ventura (best known for his film about the Verdi fanatics of Parma) were replete with interesting tidbits.
Mr. Ventura's script, tying all the musical numbers together, made use of Carreño's own words and those extracted from the correspondence of those who knew her, as well as critics and contemporaneous biographers. The selections on the program were composed by her, or by those in the music world who championed her, befriended her, or studied with her.

It was surely a labor of love to research all this material and construct a script. Bass-baritone Robert Osborne performed the musically equivalent labor of love in reconstructing and transcribing her scores and manuscripts.

Her talent was so varied that two artists were required to represent her onstage. As Carreño the singer, we had mezzo-soprano Anna Tonna; as Carreño the pianist, we had Isabel Pérez Dobarro. Both women, as well as violinist Stephanie Chase rocked gorgeous late 19th c. gowns and hairstyles, transporting us to our favorite epoch.

Mr. Osborne portrayed the men in her life and was also spiffily clad in period attire and in fine voice as well.

The program opened with her jaunty Intermezzo scherzando which left no doubt about her superb writing for piano. Gottschalk's The Dying Poet was given a lyrical waltz treatment. That she could write for other instruments as well as piano was demonstrated by her Romance for violin and piano.

But our favorite work for piano was Chopin's Mazurka, op.33, no. 1. The work is in Rondo form and the first theme overwhelmed us with it's sorrow; it is never lugubrious but we heard plenty of pain. The second section sounded a note of triumph. Each time the first section was repeated, the color became a little brighter and by the end it was almost cheerful. Ms. Dobarro must be a magician on the keys to limn so much subtlety.

There were two devilishly difficult pieces on the program that did not faze this gifted pianist: "Lizst's Transcendental Etude #10" and Edward MacDowell's "Hexentanz".

We enjoyed a couple of duets from Ms. Tonna and Mr. Osborne. We particularly enjoyed Anton Rubinstein's tender Der Engel. "La ci darem la mano" from Mozart's Don Giovanni can be performed countless ways and our two artists put their own spin on it.  Mr. Osborne's Don was more authoritarian than seductive and Ms. Tonna was less coy and sang some of the lines as if they were private thoughts, not shared with the Don. We usually hear a soprano in this role but Ms. Tonna's voice was well suited to the role.

Ms. Tonna also excelled in Rossini's "A Granada" which seemed perfect for her warm tone and graceful phrasing. There was some lovely melismatic singing in a Carreño piece entitled "Barcarola".

Another Carreño piece "Feuillet d'Album" was sung by Mr. Osborne in his customary fine French which he also employed in Gounod's famous "Sérénade", a melodic setting of text by Victor Hugo to which Stephanie Chase's violin contributed.

We liked these better than "Sebastianos Tanzlied", composed by Eugen d'Albert, one of Carreño's husbands. This had nothing to do with Mr. Osborne's performance but it seemed off-kilter that a French composer wrote about a Spanish theme, in German.

The program ended with "La Serenata" by Gaetano Braga, a duet with which Carreño usually ended her program. All four artists joined for a beautiful finale.

The program entertained and educated. We hope to see works by Carreño on more programs.

(c) meche kroop


Joshua Blue onstage at Juilliard

A tenor with a point of view took the stage at Juilliard yesterday in a very personal program filled with passion, as befits his middle name, which is Vaspassion. Mr. Blue is about to be awarded a Master of Music Degree and he chose a theme for his graduation recital--the theme of oppression. Different sets were devoted to political oppression, sexual oppression, and racial oppression.

Mr. Blue has a voice that can caress or strike hard and he always colored his voice to suit the material. He employed the services of a number of different artists which made for a very compelling recital, although we have no doubt that he could have carried the recital on his own.

His collaborative pianist, Amir Farid, opened the program with the oceanic prelude to Rachmaninoff's "Arion", the setting of a text by Pushkin, selected from the composer's 14 Romances. Voice and piano worked together, creating both storm and peace.

Next we heard Sechs Hölderlin Fragments and were surprised at how significantly we preferred Britten's setting of German text over his setting of English. We cannot say whether it was Mr. Blue's powerful presence or the fact that German sings so much better than English. The rhythm of Britten's music seemed to fit the rhythm of the text in far better fashion. Mr. Farid's piano was exceptional in "Hälfte des Lebens".

For Ravel's Chansons madécasses, Mr. Blue and Mr. Farid were joined by cellist Matthew Chen and flutist Jonathan Slade who effectively created the bird song in "Il est doux". The songs related to the oppression produced by colonialism. "Nahandova" speaks of desire for the indigenous and exotic woman whilst "Aoua" speaks of betrayal by the colonializers.

Three art songs by some rather unknown Soviet composers captured our attention with marvelous melodies and texts that often seemed ironic in their praise of life under Communism. Perhaps these works were commissioned by the State but we have no way of knowing. 

"Lullaby" sounded suspiciously reassuring. "Times Have Changed" glorified life under Lenin and Mr. Blue amplified his forceful Russian with dramatic gestures. 

The final work on the program filled the stage with drama and fellow musicians. Guitarist Jack Gulielmetti, whom we remember from his appearances with New York Festival of Song, was joined by drummer T.J. Reddick and the four artists performed the world premiere of Andrew Seligson's rousing Break Your Chains--the subject of which was the Afro-American experience. 

We don't know whether to call it a cantata or a cycle of songs. We don't know what genre to which we can attribute it. Jazz Rock maybe?  It doesn't matter. It spoke to us and to the audience that greeted its conclusion with cheers. Although Mr. Blue warned the audience that they might be upset and close their ears to this cry of pain and injustice, he was preaching to the choir. The energy in the room was that of people truly listening, truly hearing, and those willing to be inspired.

Text for this work was provided by Andre Cardine, Epiphany Samuels, Preston Crowder, B.J. Tindal, the composer, and also Mr. Blue. There was a lot of anger and drive behind the words.

The message of the program has remained with us. Every battle needs a battle anthem! There are people all over the world fighting against oppression at this very moment. We see no reason for Mr. Blue to have included oppression of women in his program but our thoughts went toward women fighting to be free from sexual harassment, women in Saudi Arabia who seem to have won the right to drive, and Iranian women who are fighting against a rigid patriarchal dress code. Music is so powerful in mobilizing and inspiring people!  

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, May 9, 2018


Career Bridges Grant Winners

Career Bridges held their 16th annual gala concert and dinner last night at the Metropolitan Club. Citizens of Planet Opera gathered to honor distinguished soprano Martina Arroyo, whose Prelude to Performance has done so much to help young singers to launch their careers. Her Lifetime Achievement Award is so well deserved!

Patron of the Arts Award was given to Joan Taub Ades, a philanthropist on many fronts, famous at Manhattan School of Music for endowing the Ades Performing Space and for establishing the Ades Competition which, coincidentally, we reviewed last night. Scroll down to read about it. As if that were not enough, she started "Joan's Closet" which provides appropriate gowns for female singers.

What is unique about Career Bridges, founded by David Schuyler Bender and Barbara Meister Bender, is that they make a three year commitment to the chosen singers, providing training, mentoring, financial support, and performance opportunities. They also bring opera to young school children, whose ears, hearts, and minds are thirsty for this most absorbing of all the arts.

The entertainment portion of the evening was most generous, and continued all through dinner. Not only did we hear 2018 winners but also winners from prior years and guest artist tenor Jonathan Tetelman.

There were so many excellent performances we don't know where to begin. So let's begin at the beginning when mezzo-soprano Rachel Arky (2012) and baritone Robert Balonek (2007) got the evening off to a great start with the charming Papageno-Papagena duet from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte. The audience went wild when he picked her up in his arms and carried her offstage.

Baritone Michael Gracco (2018) gave a powerful performance of Valentin's aria "Avant de quitter ces lieux" from Gounod's Faust. Mezzo-soprano Yinpei Han (2018) was artistically forceful in Dorabella's aria "Smanie implacabili" from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte.

Baritone Matthew Ciuffitelli was appropriately annoyed as Count Almaviva in "Hai gia vinta la causa" from Mozart's Nozze di Figaro. Soprano Brittany Nickell reprised her "signature aria" "Robert, toi que j'aime" from Meyerbeer's Robert le diable with the fine French we well remember.

Baritone Emmet O'Hanlon (2018), whose Juilliard days we fondly recall, gave a landmark performance of "Largo al factotum" from Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Soprano Emily Misch (2017) performed the delightful "Ch'il bel sogno di Doretta" from Puccini's La Rondine.

Super-charged baritone Joshua Conyers (2018) lent his large instrument and dramatic intensity to "Nemico della patria" from Giordano's Andrea Chenier. Soprano Megan Nielson (2016) sang "To this we've come" from Menotti's The Consul. There is no denying her artistry but we wish she had chosen a different aria. We have heard her many times and love her voice but that aria just doesn't do it for us.

What did do it for us was baritone Hubert Zapior (2018) who sang Eugene Onegin's aria "Kogda bi zhizn domashnim" by Tchaikovsky. This was a special treat because Mr. Zapior just appeared on our radar screen this year and because this is the year we have developed a fondness for Russian opera. The performance was flawless and character driven.

From Cilea's rarely heard L'Arlesiana, tenor Jonathan Tetelman sang a beautifully rendered "Il lamento di Federico", filled with sorrow and longing.

Soprano Teresa Castillo (2017)was glittery and gay in Bernstein's sensational aria from Candide and captured Cunegonde's dual nature. Baritone SeungHyeon Baek (2015) performed his "signature aria"--the Prologue from Leoncavallo's Pagliacci--and was just as superb as we remembered.

An inspirational closing was provided, as it was last year, by baritone Jesse Malgieri singing a medley of Mitch Leigh's "Impossible Dream", from Man of La Mancha, and Richard Rodgers' "Climb Every Mountain" from The Sound of Music

With such a wealth of talent in every fach, performing the final quartet from Verdi's Rigoletto was a kind of foregone conclusion and we very much enjoyed Ms. Misch, Ms. Arky, Mr. Tetelman, and Mr. Balonek whose voices blended beautifully.

Music Director for the evening was Ted Taylor and the host was WQXR's Robert Sherman. It seemed like everyone in the room was on the same page, doing whatever they could with whatever resources they have, to foster these brilliant young singers. We loved each and every one of them and imagine they will all go far!

(c) meche kroop

Tuesday, May 8, 2018


Craig Rutenberg, Shaina Martinez, and SeokJong Baek

This is the time of year when singers we know and love are graduating from our three local music conservatories; it is a bittersweet time for us. We are thrilled for their accomplishments and excited about their summer programs and young artist programs; we feel sad because we will miss them; we always hope they will stay in touch and let us know how they like their "new homes".

Thankfully, Opera America's Emerging Artist Recitals series (the last of the season) presented two singers who won the Alan M. and Joan Taub Ades Vocal Competition; the purpose of the competition is to select singers who possess outstanding talent and potential for careers in opera. As pointed out by Dona D. Vaughn, Artistic Director of the MSM Opera Theater, the winners' prize money is used to support the singers' professional development in many ways, subject to approval.

Competitors are selected from among students getting their degrees from Manhattan School of Music.  The top three winners this year were baritone SeokJung Baek, mezzo-soprano Hongni Wu (who just won the Met National Council competition) and soprano Shaina Martinez, all of whom are being awarded their Masters of Music degree.

Onstage last night in Scorca Hall at the National Opera Center were Ms. Martinez and Mr. Baek, both covering wide musical territory that revealed their versatility. They were accompanied by the always wonderful Craig Rutenberg whose light touch and sensitivity toward the singers always impresses us.

Ms. Martinez opened the program with "Come scoglio", from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte; Ms. Martinez' sizable soprano was put in the service of Fiordiligi's resoluteness in the face of temptation. Whilst negotiating the huge leaps Mozart wrote (purportedly to embarrass an unpopular soprano) and some lovely embellishments, she managed to portray a young woman who "doth protest too much". 

This soprano is poised onstage and able to use expressive gestures to amplify her expressive voice. She switched gears for two selections from Poulenc's Fiançailles pour rire which shows Poulenc's lighter side--the languorous "Violon" and "Fleurs" with its delightful piano part. Her French was quite good.

But, for reasons of our own, we got the biggest thrill from her singing in Spanish, a language that resonates with us on par with Italian. We heard a trio of songs by the 20th c. Argentinean composer Carlos Guastavino. Ms. Martinez' partnership with Mr. Rutenberg was outstanding in "Pampamapa" with its vigorous rhythms. In "Abismo de sed" she sings "Soy cantor" (I am a singer) and we smiled. The third song was "Hermano".

Even better was "Hija del amor" from Gonzalo Roig's zarzuela Cecilia Valdés in which a mother vows to protect her daughter from the romantic betrayal she has endured.  The air was thick with passionate intensity and we were transported.

This versatile artist, having done justice to opera, art song, and zarzuela, joined Mr. Baek for the duet "Nedda! Silvio!" from Leoncavallo's Pagliacci. The pair left no doubt about the high stakes they were facing. Ms. Martinez limned Nedda's conflict; Mr. Baek used every strategy he could to persuade her to leave Canio--seduction, promises, and even guilt. Meanwhile, Mr. Rutenberg's piano sustained the tension.

Mr. Baek is similarly versatile and we were very happy to hear two of his "signature arias" which he performed in 2016 when we was an Opera Index Competition winner. His facility in French has gotten even better with more legato in the line; his interpretation of Valentin has also grown. His baritone is capable of silky smoothness and also vigor. In "Avant de quitter ces lieux" he used the vigor as he sang of battle and a smooth tenderness when he spoke of his love for Marguerite. His voice swelled to a passionate climax.

The other "signature piece" is Tosti's "L'alba sepàra dalla luce l'ombra" sung with great depth of feeling. We think we understood the meaning of the song for the first time.

Renato's rage at Amelia, the wife he wrongly suspects of infidelity, is the subject of the aria "Eri tu ce macchiavi quell'anima" in Verdi's Un ballo in maschera. Only an artist can reveal both the outer contempt of Renato whilst letting the grief and pain peek through. Looks like we have a new Verdi baritone worth celebrating! 

In yet another manifestation of versatility, he captured the wry humor of "La Maîtresse volage" by Poulenc.  Two other songs from Chansons gaillardes were "Madrigal" and the rather naughty "L'Offrande" in which Mr. Rutenberg's piano portrayed the postulate's innocence.

From Copland's Old American Songs we heard the tender "Long Time Ago" and the jaunty "The Boatmen's Dance". They were sung in crystal clear well-enunciated English and given the grace and simplicity they require.

It was over all too soon.  Mr. Baek leaves for San Francisco Opera's Merola Program and then will be a resident artist at Lyric Opera of Kansas City. 

We wish all good things to these artists but also to all of the wonderful students getting their degrees from MSM this month. We wish we might have heard all of their graduation recitals.

(c) meche kroop