MISSION

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

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

OPERATIC TEASE AT DUANE PARK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(c) meche kroop











Tuesday, June 19, 2018

THE ART OF LISTENING

Javor Bracic, Suchan Kim, SungWook Kim, Liana Guberman, Kirsten Scott, and Laetitia Ruccolo

Regular readers may recall how highly we prize a little education along with our entertainment. Sunday afternoon we were fortunate enough to see a group of rising stars of the opera world participating in an unusual presentation, hosted by Javor Bracic and The Art of Listening. The Afternoon of Literature and Opera Scenes at the National Opera Center included member of the splendid Bare Opera, of which Maître de Chant Laetitia Ruccolo is the co-founder.

We have been a great fan of Bare Opera since their very first production. Nothing they have presented has been anything short of wonderful and everything has had an unusual and creative twist that has brought innovation and delight to operas in the standard repertory and some that are not often seen/heard.

Sunday's presentation comprised a selection of well known scenes from opera which were inspired by literature, prefaced by readings that shed light upon the scene to follow. Readings were performed by the glamorous mezzo-soprano Kirsten Scott who dazzled us by the potent drama of her readings as much as by the luster of her voice.  We shouldn't have been surprised since we have observed her throwing herself into every role she has performed.

We had never known that E.T.A. Hoffman was a critic of The Enlightenment and favored the dark emotional nocturnal life. Hence, Offenbach gave us "Belle nuit" in his opera Les contes d'Hoffman which was here given a lovely performance by Ms. Scott as Nicklausse (a role we had watched her grow in some years ago) and soprano Liana Guberman as Giullietta with their voices melding in luscious harmony.

After hearing a reading from Schiller's Don Carlos, we were in a position to relate more intensely to "Per me giunto" from the Verdi opera of the same name, performed by lyric baritone Suchan Kim. This is an aria we will forever associate with Dmitry Hvorostovsky but we have nothing but positive things to say about Mr.Kim's sincere delivery, marked by a pleasing vibrato and subtle dynamic variety.

Ms. Scott read both voices from the scene in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet in which the two young lovers meet for the first time--a truly magical moment filled with as much wit as romance. We learned that Gounod translated Shakespeare's words into French word-for-word with consummate respect for the text. Perhaps because much of the imagery of the text is religious, Gounod used a melody he had written originally about the Virgin Mary!

Ms. Guberman was lovely as Juliette, singing with pure youthful tone. Her Romeo, SungWook Kim, impressed us with the ease of his tenor instrument. Both handled the French just fine.

La dame aux camelias was the only novel written by Dumas Fils and it was based upon a true story. We heard an excerpt from the novel, followed by one of our favorite scenes. Germont Père arrives at the home of the courtesan Violetta determined to break up the relationship between her and his wayward son. Suchan Kim's interpretation was spot on as he softened the color of his angry voice in response to the gracious dignity of Ms. Guberman.

Indeed, just watching the expression on Ms. Guberman's face as she heard about Germont's innocent daughter, and hearing the change of color in her voice, was a revelation. She is hearing about a young woman who will have a socially acceptable lifestyle that is closed to her and is feeling pangs of envy. We experienced an empathy for Violetta that was greater than any we had felt before. This was really opera up close and personal!

There was only one sentence in Dante's 13th c. La Divina Commedia which inspired Puccini's one-act opera Gianni Schicchi. SungWook Kim made an expansive Rinuccio as he praises the glories of Florence and the resourcefulness of Signor Schicchi, whose daughter he is wooing. We loved the ease of his tenor and his Italianate phrasing in "Avete torto", an aria which showed off his ringing top notes and his lively personality.

Just as Puccini looked back several centuries for inspiration, so did Purcell, who wrote Dido and Aeneas based upon Virgil's Aeneid, from which Ms. Scott read an excerpt. We learned why the witches conspired to destroy poor Dido; Aeneas had a destiny to go on and found Rome, or so the mythology goes. Ms. Guberman and Ms. Scott are far too pretty to portray witches but they sounded wonderful together in the "Witches Duet".

The final work on the program was the quartet from Verdi's Rigoletto which was prefaced by a reading from Victor Hugo's The King's Diversion on which the opera was based. Suchan Kim as Rigoletto was on one side of the room comforting the highly distressed Gilda of Ms. Guberman, whilst SungWook Kim was on the other side of the room portraying the licentious Duke of Mantua who is having a grand old time flirting with an increasingly willing Maddalena, sung and acted in grand style by Ms. Scott. It was literally stereophonic!

Throughout the evening, Ms. Ruccolo appeared to be 100% at the piano and simultaneously 100% with the singers. Now that's some accomplishment!

Javor Bracic seems to have as much interest in enlightening and educating his audience as in entertaining them. He encouraged questions from the audience which the singers seemed to enjoy answering. Many of the questions were about the acting and how singers can draw from experiences to act without letting the emotions affect the quality of their vocal production. 

In such an intimate format as this was, without orchestra, sets, costumes, or distance to "hide behind", how does the singer manage the exposure and intimacy? There is really a back and forth between singer and audience and we concluded that this intimacy is at the root of opera. When opera began, it was a means of socializing and forming community. These days, we have the Met for spectacle, but we have small opera companies such as Bare Opera which provide this sense of community and intimacy. We relate to the singers. We relate to the characters. We relate to the music. We leave fulfilled!

We can scarcely wait for Bare Opera's next season. They will be doing Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea in November and Piazzolla's Maria de Buenos Aires in the Spring. We have seen both operas before but we are sure we will be seeing them as if for the first time.

(c) meche kroop






Saturday, June 16, 2018

TURANDOT--SENZA PING PONG

Joseph Flaxman, Michael Pilafian, Therese Panicali, Judith Fredricks, Edgar Jaramillo, and Xueyan Fan

Tomorrow we will be listening to the broadcast of Turandot from Chicago Lyric Opera on WQXR; we don't expect to enjoy it nearly as much as we enjoyed Opera New York's production, heard last night at the Church of the Sacred Heart. 

Artistic and Stage Director Judith Fredricks produced a slightly abbreviated version of this beloved opera (Puccini's last and not-quite-finished score which premiered in 1926), omitting the scenes with Ping, Pang, and Pong, as well as the decapitation of the Prince of Persia. We find producing Turandot to be a brave choice; but if you have the voices, why not?

There were no projected titles but the enthusiastic audience received a program with a summary in English; a narrator spoke the summary in Spanish for the Spanish-speaking members of the audience. The opening decrees were spoken in English by Robert Montgomery.
The piano reduction was played by Michael Pilafian, who has played for many of Opera New York's productions. To our great surprise, soprano Elena Heimur played the other orchestral parts on the organ, situated above and behind the audience. Not a day goes by that we don't learn something new about the singers we love. So Ms. Heimur's proficiency at the organ simply dazzled us.

Ms. Fredricks' stage direction made the most of the space, utilizing the rear gallery and the aisle. We were so busy listening to the grand voices that we barely missed the huge spectacle provided at the Met. What we gained was a feeling for the intimate relationships of the four main characters. Behind the lavish sets and costumes, this is really a family story.

Our newbie guest wanted to know how father and son came to be separated and then reunited in a foreign land. We couldn't answer but we could certainly make up a back story. Se non è vero, è ben trovato!  Here goes!  Son went off to find his fame and fortune and a princess to be his bride.  Father lost his sight and was deposed and thrown out of his kingdom; wandering into the neighboring kingdom, he ran into his son on the street. He was being led around by his loyal and devoted slave girl who loved Calaf the Prince because he once smiled at her.  (OK folks, how'd I do?)

Calaf, sung by tenor Edgar Jaramillo with rich full tone and ringing high notes, is headstrong like many young men we know. He gets a glimpse of that radiant celestial Princess Turandot and is determined to win her, even with the risk of losing his head, like so many previous Princes had.  Of course, his helpless father is threatened and tries to dissuade him. Unsuccessfully. Mr. Jaramillo was exceptional in "Nessun dorma".

This icy Princess Turandot is bearing the weight of #MeToo. Because an ancestor of hers had been sorely abused and murdered, she is a real man-hater, eager to decapitate all comers by challenging them with difficult riddles. In this role, it was a pleasure to hear dramatic soprano Therese Panicali whose huge authoritative voice limned the character of Turandot in "In questa reggia". The fact that she is young, slender, and beautiful made Calaf's willingness to take the challenge more believable for us. We count ourself among those who want casting to be believable. She was even believable in her change of heart at the end, even without support from Puccini's pen.

The turning point for Turandot is Liu's willingness to take her life rather than reveal Calaf's name. She is being tortured by Turandot's minions and stabs herself so that she won't cave. In this role, soprano Xueyan Fan was also totally convincing. She did an excellent job of conveying the deference of a slave, while singing in impressive Italianate style. Of the entire cast, her role is the most sympathetic. We loved her "Signore, ascolta".

As the blind father Timur, Joseph Flaxman also did a fine job with great singing and some very effective simulation of blindness as he crouched over his walking staff.  Since the singer is young and handsome, this represented a triumph of acting.

This Turandot rested on the artistry of the singers. There were no sets and the costumes were rudimentary, but they worked. The small chorus (Brooke Dobossy, Betsy Cangelosi-Lind, Umberto Ross, and Patricia Ruiz) contributed to the success.

New York is replete with small opera companies, each with a unique approach. Unfortunately, we do not have affordable small theaters and these companies have been finding homes in churches. The surroundings are beautiful but the acoustics are spotty and one's auditory pleasure rests upon finding a seat in just the right spot. Won't some captain of industry build a small theater? We can just imagine how much that would improve the cultural landscape of New York City!

(c) meche kroop











Friday, June 15, 2018

NON GIOVANNI

Charles Gray, Javier Ortiz, Jennifer Allenby, David Serero, Anna Cley, and Pablo Veguilla

We wish we'd been able to review David Serero's Don Giovanni earlier in the run; we'd have advised you to bring all of your opera newbie friends to this 80 minute abbreviated version of our favorite Mozart opera. There were laughs aplenty provided by Mr. Serero's adaptation with recitativi eliminated in favor of English dialogue, replete with jokes.

As a matter of fact, although the music was all Mozart and nothing but Mozart, Lorenzo Da Ponte's libretto received short shrift, which was curious in light of the fact that Mr. Serero's operatic productions favor stories about the Jewish people or which were written by Jewish people. (We don't, however, expect to see Verdi's Nabucco on the modest stage of the Center for Jewish History--not even with the "Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves".) So, the Jewish connection  was based upon the libretto of the Jewish Da Ponte. To honor him, Mr. Serero moved the setting from Seville to Venice, Da Ponte's birthplace. However, he also changed the story a bit.

Mr. Serero is quite a showman and the moment he stepped onstage we immediately thought of POTUS.  Therefore we were not surprised when he did outright imitations of our Liar/seducer in Chief; and they were very good imitations at that, providing lots of laughs for the audience. (There were other references to popular culture as well, but most went over our high-browed head--something about Lady Gaga and Starwars.)

In any case, he threw himself into the part, portraying Don Giovanni as a smarmy cad. He surrounded himself with some excellent singers, ensuring that the brief evening of the major arias, connected by English dialogue, was of musical value to those of us who are not newbies. Sometimes, we girls just want to have fun!

Charles Gray made a very funny Leporello, Don Giovanni's servant and side-kick, bearing an iPad on which he swiped, in order to show Donna Elvira all of his master's conquests in the "Catalogue Aria".  Mr. Gray not only sang well but put all kinds of physical comedy into his portrayal.

The women singers were all excellent.  We heard the strong voiced Anna Cley as the very angry Donna Elvira and Jennifer Allenby as Donna Anna, and a very fine Donna Anna she was. In the role of Zerlina, Yi Wang portrayed her as more innocent than most, making Mr. Serero's vile seducer seem even more vile. He said he was "reeling her in like a fish", which he mimed. 

Her sposo Masetto was portrayed by Javier Ortiz who did double duty as the Commendatore.  There was a funny bit when he was slain and lying on the stage until the next scene and was told by Mr. Serero to get up and get out because his scene was over, and Mr. Ortiz replied that he had fallen asleep.

And finally, Pablo Veguilla took the role of Don Ottavio and did a fine job with "Il mio tesoro". We particularly enjoyed the trio of Donna Anna, Donna Elvira, and Don Ottavio.

The piano reduction was perfectly performed by composer/pianist Felix Jarrar, right from the overture until the end when Mr. Serero jumped offstage into the waiting fires of hell whilst Disney's "That's All Folks" was projected on the rear wall. A good time was had by all.

(c) meche kroop









Tuesday, June 12, 2018

IVAI AND MASTERY AT MANNES

Diana Charlop and Joan Dornemann

It's June busting out all over once again as the International Vocal Arts Institute offers its annual program of concerts, recitals, lessons, and master classes to young singers on the cusp of professional careers in opera. Under the guidance of Artistic Director Joan Dornemann, these young artists are poised to make a major leap forward, with tutelage from an impressive faculty. There are still nightly events open to the public and we deem them highly worthwhile. Were we not previously engaged we would have arranged to attend them all.

The institutes have been presented all over the world for over thirty years.  We are not sure how many years it's been since we first observed Ms. Dornemann teaching a master class but we well recall the contents; soprano Olga Makarina sang "Mi chiamano Mimi" from Puccini's La Bohème and Ms. Dornemann gave Ms. Makarina interesting pointers on interpreting Mimi's encounter with Rodolfo.  We can never watch La Bohème without recalling that special moment. Of course, Ms. Makarina went on to superstardom and is herself a master teacher.

Every master teacher has his/her own style. Ms. Dornemann doesn't waste time swooning over how wonderful the student's voice is but rather cuts right to the chase. She identifies one thing that needs work and addresses the issue right away--with humor and not harshness.

With baritone John Ford, she worked on how to walk onstage looking as if one belongs there. If a singer is auditioning, he or she must appear to be a winner! The singer must be in control and set the pace for the accompanist (in this case, the excellent Binna Han).

In Belcore's aria from Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore ("Come Paridi") sixteenth notes must be observed and not sung as grace notes. This sounded very difficult to do since the rhythm is different in the piano and the vocal line!  Every note must be vocalized and a good way to accomplish this is to practice on "Na"; at first on every syllable, then on every other syllable.

Soprano Dounia Behna was asked to think about what worked and what didn't work instead of just labeling a performance "good" or "bad". Many interesting subtleties of Puccini's writing for Mimi's "Senza rancor" aria were outlined, including an unexpected key change. 

Soprano Diana Charlop was coached to be less elegant in her role as Despina in Mozart's Cosi fan tutte  She was urged to pay more attention to double consonants, lest laughter be evoked in her performance of "Una donna di quindici anni"!

Soprano Lindsey Chinn performed "Ach! Ich fuhl's" from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte; the originalities in Mozart's cadences were highlighted so that certain notes could be emphasized rather than swallowed.

Soprano Isabella Lamadriz sang "Dearest Mama" from Douglas Moore's The Ballad of Baby Doe and gave Ms. Dornemann an opportunity to discuss the flow of language as it connects with the music.  This aria needed to be less "measured" and to sound more like speech.

Soprano Samantha Nahra had a great time with "I'm full of happiness", Lady Billows' aria from our favorite Britten opera Albert Herring. She was counseled to consult the International Phonetic Alphabet to get all the vowels and diphthongs of American speech as accurate as possible. We ourselves have often commented that American singers fail to make English clear.

Soprano HaYoung Jung performed "Deh vieni non tardar" from Mozart's Nozze di Figaro. A lot of time was spent on the meaning of the words --"giunse" indicates a very important arrival; "goder" indicates more than simple enjoyment.  Susanna is putting on a show for Figaro and laying it on with a trowel. She is getting revenge for her groom's mistrust.

At the conclusion of the evening, we realized that there is nothing Ms. Dornemann doesn't know.  She knows the subtleties of the score, the knows the meaning of each phrase of the libretto, she knows the characters and just how to reveal them. It was a most illuminating evening.

(c) meche kroop


Sunday, June 10, 2018

OPERA FOR THE PEOPLE

Sung Shin at Opera Under the Arch of Washington Square Park (photo by Ken Benson)


The ever-expanding crowd did not give up when Opera Under the Arch was delayed due to a prior event occupying their space.  New Yorkers know a good thing when they hear it, and the audience has been growing in this, the second year of Opera Under the Arch, a public festival organized by baritone Sung Shin.

Perhaps there were some tourists in the audience as well, and apparently everyone left satisfied by the exceptional performances, when the festival was obliged to move along at 10:00 by some complaining neighbors. Who could possibly object to such gorgeous music on a warm summer night!

The musical values were of the highest order and the audience was unusually attentive.  Yes, cell phones were out but only to take photographs. No one was texting or talking. The selections were wisely chosen from among the most popular opera standards, reminding us that in the 19th c. opera was a popular art form, not "highbrow culture". How good it felt to see people having a good time!

Baritone Sung Shin chooses his singers and collaborative pianists wisely. At the keyboard we had composer/ pianist Hohyeon Kyung and Andrew King. Sopranos included Show Yang, Yvette Keong, Natalie Eccleston, Sara Jayne Blackmore, and Isabel Vigliotti; mezzo-sopranos included Jordyn Goldstein and Lu Liu; the two tenors were Joseph Tancredi and Omar Bowey; baritone roles were performed by Sung Shin himself; our notable bass was Hidenori Inoue. We have reviewed them all and have only good things to say about them.

The program opened with "Dôme épais" from Léo Délibes' Lakme, an audience pleaser if ever there was one. Ms. Yang's crystalline soprano was joined by Ms. Goldstein's well-matched mezzo in that soaring melody we so love.

The aptly named Mr. Tancredi did a swell job as the Duke in "Questa o quella" from Verdi's Rigoletto, showing us everything we needed to know about the fickle Duke. Mr. Tancredi has a fine set of pipes and Italianate phrasing. His voice is perfumed with garlic!  Later in the evening we got another look at the licentious Duke when Mr. Bowey performed "La donna e mobile".

Ms. Yang returned for Blondchen's aria "Durch Zärtlichkeit und Schmeilchen" from Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail, showing as much facility with German as she exhibited in the French.

Ms. Keong wowed us with her bel canto technique in Norina's aria "Quel guardo il cavaliere" from Donizetti's Don Pasquale. Later we heard Mr. Shin and Mr. Inoue exhibiting wonderful comedic chops in the very funny "Cheti cheti immantinente" in which neither one was daunted by the rapid-fire patter. 

From Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito, we enjoyed the duet "Ah perdona al primo affetto", performed by Ms. Vigliotti as Servilia and Ms. Goldstein as Annio.

Sara Jayne Blackmore captured all the excitement of the innocent Juliet in "Je veux vivre" from Gounod's Roméo et Juliette and the audience responded with wild applause.

Response was similarly enthusiastic for Ms. Eccleston's winsome performance of Adele's Laughing Song "Mein Herr Marquis" from Johann Strauss' Die Fledermaus. Her voice was bright and the trill delicious.

Mr. Sung delighted us with "The Impossible Dream" from the 1965 Broadway musical Man of La Mancha composed by Mitch Leigh with lyrics by Joe Darion. This sounded more operatic than some of the contemporary operas we've heard in the past few years, especially the way Mr. Sung sang it.

The audience went wild for Mr. Inoue's performance of "Le veau d'or" from Gounod's Faust. A small dog in the audience joined in for some canine tenor input and Mr. Inoue broke the surrounding fourth wall and interacted with the audience. He certainly made Lucifer fun and accessible!

Délibes showed up again in an aria from Les Filles de Cadix that we have never heard before. Ms. Vigliotti's sensational performance made us want to hear the entire opera with its Spanish inflected score. She ended with a crystal-breaking high note.

We have heard "Una voce poco fa" from Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia many times this month and always enjoy seeing what a different singer can do with it. Ms. Liu's marvelous mezzo, personal charm, and artistry with embellishments brought something new to the aria, as we had hoped it would.

What a win-win situation! Greenwich Villagers had another evening of priceless entertainment and the talented young singers got to do what they love doing. There was so much enthusiasm and responsiveness on both sides, especially toward the end when the audience was encouraged to close in around the piano. We were all moved by the spirit of community and that is one of the great features of good music!

Watch our page on Facebook (Voce di Meche) for information on the next installment of Opera Under the Arch--most likely in July.

(c) meche kroop



Saturday, June 9, 2018

LATIN AMERICAN ART SONG

José Meléndez and Maya Hoover in an ASPS recital at Manhattan School of Music

This has been the week in which Manhattan School of Music hosts The Art Song Preservation Society, a week of master classes and recitals, culminating in The Mary Trueman Vocal Competition Finals taking place today at 1:00.

Regular readers will recall our affection for Spanish music. We are always glad when a recitalist includes a Spanish language set on his or her program, but it is always the same few offerings.  Imagine an entire recital given over to the songs of Latin America! Heretofore, only Steven Blier and his New York Festival of Song has "dared" to make much of Latin American art songs.

Last night, as part of this exciting week of art song, we enjoyed a program comprising art songs from all over Latin America. In case you are wondering what the attraction is for us, it is partly the beauty of the language with its pure vowels, and partly because the composers in Latin America managed to escape from the dictates of 20th c. academia that have crippled North American music with atonality and absence of melody.

We strongly believe that it is melody that involves our hearts. It tickles our ears, enters our brains, makes us want to hum or sing or whistle. That is why Carmen and Barber of Seville are such popular operas.  People take something home with them. From modern music, all we take home is irritability!

Now we will step down from our soapbox and tell you how wonderful it was to hear songs from Argentina, Bolivia, and Cuba (the ABC's of Latin America), not to leave out Mexico and Brazil and Puerto Rico.

Mezzo-soprano Maya Hoover and her collaborative pianist José Meléndez have been performing together for twenty years and have that trust and comfort with one another so necessary for a successful performance. Ms. Hoover has written the book on this art form!  It is called Guide to the Latin American Art Song Repertoire: An Annotated Catalog of Twentieth-Century Art Songs for Voice and Piano. So of course the songs on the program were well curated.

The songs we heard melded influences of European, African, and Indigenous peoples. We believe to truly appreciate this music, one should know about the history of each country. We are just beginners and not yet able to discriminate one nation's style from another. But that didn't prevent us from enjoying the melodic music.

We particularly enjoyed the piano parts, since Mr. Meléndez gave voice to so many colorful elements. In Argentina's Carlos Guastavino's "Cita", we could hear the chirping of crickets! (Europe mas have their nightingales, but Latin America has crickets, LOL).

In Cuba's Gisela Hernández' "Mi corazón lo trajo el mar", we heard the strumming of a guitar. At other times, we heard interesting arpeggi, simple chordal accompaniment, or repeated folk motifs. 

The vocal lines were invariably lovely and Ms. Hoover is a gifted storyteller. Some texts were puzzling or surreal, but for the most part they were direct and accessible. Guastavino's "Balada" was a familiar tale of lost love. 

From Bolivia, we heard "Brisas del lago" by Emilio Guttiérez Illanes, which had the character of a folk dance. The tenderness of Eduardo Caba's "Kapuri"  was followed by "Kori Killa", his frisky paean to a sweetheart. Here, Quechua terms were included and reminded us of a trip to Cuetzalan in Mexico where the priest adopted Nahuatl attire and had a Nahuatl woman leading the Mass in that language.

Narciso Figueroa of Puerto Rico gave us the romantic "Madrugada" and the mournful "Muerta" and our favorite song of the evening--"Vida criolla", a simple song about a simple life, told with strong rhythmic accents. 

The Brazilian composer Alberto Nepomuceno studied voice to achieve a better understanding of how to write for it. We just wrote two days ago how we wished more composers would do just that! His "Corração triste" showed evidence of this study and was one of our favorites. 

Hernández' "Romancillo", a setting of text by Federico Garcia Lorca was another favorite of ours. The text was simple and to the point and the piano writing was spare and effective.

Mexican composers included in the program were Agustín Lara and the famous María Grever. Lara's song "Arráncame la vida" taught us a new word!  We believe that "arrabal" is equivalent to our "bridge and tunnel people". 

We loved Grever's "Te quiero dijiste", of which the lyricism belies the sadness underneath.

The program ended with "La comparsa" by the famous Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona in which Ms. Hoover accompanied her singing with claves. The rhythmic complexity of the piano was only enhanced!


(c) meche kroop




Friday, June 8, 2018

THE TRIUMPH OF MUSIC

Fanyong Du, Anna Viemeister, Ricardo Rivera, Richard Owen, Megan Nielsen, Riad Ymeri, and Andrew Cummings in Camerata New York Gala

How well we remember last year's star-studded Camerata New York Gala! This year's version was equally thrilling. The theme was "The Triumph of Music" and the same successful formula that packed St. Jean Baptiste Church last year was again put into play. Favorite arias and duets from well known operas were performed by a cast of international opera stars; each piece was introduced by Maestro Richard Owen who gave the audience just a brief synopsis.

Once again, we had the notion that the audience was partly opera devotés and partly newcomers attracted by the stellar cast, the popularity of the pieces, and a modest ticket price--less than one would pay for a balcony seat at the Met. There were no titles and we didn't see many people reading the translations.  We got the impression that people were truly listening and feeling entertained.  And that's what opera is all about, isn't it?

Readers will recall how much we love duets and the program opened with a solo performed by two tenors!  After the wonderful Camerata New York Orchestra treated us to the Easter Morning Prelude to Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana, not neglecting the underlying menace in this familiar melody, the "Siciliana" was sung by Fanyong Du and Riad Ymeri, both sounding tenorrific. Pardon our neologism!

Mr. Du appeared again with baritone Ricardo Rivera in the Act IV duet from Puccini's La Bohème in which the two Bohemians chat about their lost loves with seeming carefree nonchalance. Puccini's music gives the lie to their jolly chatter. Mr. Du's sweet tenor balanced beautifully with Mr. Rivera's substantial baritonal colors.

These two singers make a fine pair, as manifested in their "Au fond du temple saint" from Bizet's Pêcheur de Perles, in which their love/lust for the temple priestess Leïla threatens their friendship. By the end of the duet, they are affirming their amity.  But we know better that one of them is going to break that vow of friendship!

Yet another sensational duet was the final scene from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin in which Tatiana, still in love with Onegin, dismisses him partly out of duty to her husband Prince Gremin, and partly out of suspicion that Onegin is only interested in her because she has a high position in society. The lovely soprano Megan Nielson made a fine ambivalent Tatiana and baritone Andrew Cummings excelled as the importuning Onegin who just won't take "nyet" for an answer.

The final duet on the program was the Act I finale of Puccini's Madama Butterfly in which Butterfly was performed by Ms.  Nielson with Mr. Ymeri as Pinkerton. Mr. Ymeri's voice is so sweet we could scarcely believe that he is such a heel who will abandon this Butterfly with whom he is so taken. Their two voices soared as they invoked nature and he distracted her from the rejection she suffered at the hands of her family. It was a lovely way to end this very special evening.

But we are not ending our review here because we have yet to mention the marvelous arias we heard. Mr. Ymeri got a huge round of bravos for his portrayal of the troubled Riccardo, Governor of Boston, in Verdi's Ballo in Maschera. He must send away his aide Renato because of his love for Amelia, Renato's wife. Mr. Ymeri gave this aria "Forse la solia" an emotional reading without any hint of tightness.

Renato's rage, as he believes Amelia to have been unfaithful, permeated Mr. Cummings' affecting performance of "Eri tu".

Mezzo-soprano Anna Viemeister did her best with Ulrica's aria "Re dell'abisso" but did not always penetrate the dense orchestration with the very low-lying tessitura. 
We enjoyed her much more in "Senta's Ballade" from Wagner's Der Fliegende Holländer, which is a soprano role.  Go figure! But she had the power and the top notes and the touch of madness needed to show us that Senta was a bit off-kilter. It was a splendid performance with the intervals of descending fourths particularly affecting.

We heard two popular arias from Gounod's Faust. Mr. Rivera's performance of Valentin's "Avant de quitter ces lieux" was particularly well handled with the prayerful part colored with tenderness and the patriotic part with resolve. Mr. Du did equally well with Faust's serenade of Marguerite "Salut! Demeure chaste et pure" which was filled with romantic longing, fine French phrasing, and a lovely messa di voce. 

Although opera was the major focus of the evening, the Camerata New York Orchestra was given their opportunity to shine, not only in the Easter morning prelude to Cavalleria Rusticana, but also in the "Polonaise" from Eugene Onegin. The lively ballet from Faust had a lovely lyrical central section. Similarly, the Prelude to the Madama Butterfly duet was filled with tenderness. Maestro Owen has wonderful command of his orchestral forces.

We found the harp accompaniment (Hannah Murphy) to the Mascagni particularly lovely and also heard a lovely flute solo in the Verdi.

The only downside to the evening was the overly resonant acoustics of the gorgeous St. Jean Baptiste church. This tended to smear the sound, but what can we do? Placing the orchestra at audience level with the singers behind is not a great solution but there seems to be no alternative. There are no suitable midsize theaters with an orchestra pit in Manhattan, although there are dozens of small opera companies that need one. To coin a phrase..."If you build it, they will come".

Let us call the evening "The Triumph of Music Over Acoustics"!

(c) meche kroop






Thursday, June 7, 2018

THE ROSE ELF OF THE CATACOMBS

Samantha Hankey (photo by Matthew Placek)
Kyle Bielfield, Alisa Jordheim, and Andrew Bogard (photo by Matthew Placek)

When Andrew Ousley of Unison Media informed us that he was producing a series at Greenwood Cemetery, we opined that it would be a hard sell.  Mr. Ousley laughed and said the run was already sold out. Our curiosity was aroused. Was it the excellent cast of singers? Was it the highly unusual subject for an opera (an almost unknown Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale)? Was it the composer David Hertzberg? Was it the director R.B. Schlather who made quite a name for himself directing Händel operas? Was it the exotic site? Was it the preceding whisky tasting? 

We have come to trust Mr. Ousley's taste in entertainment after some rather stunning evenings spent in The Crypt of the Church of the Intercession.  On that basis we decided to make the long trip to Brooklyn.  It was an enchanting evening on the whole.

A vigorous uphill climb led to a verdant spot overlooking the city where excited members of the audience were treated to a whiskey tasting complemented by snacks. Just as our taste in music is somewhat limited, so is our taste in beverages and we were happy that beer was available.  And just as other folks might love music that leaves us cold, so do other folks enjoy the taste of bourbon, scotch, or rye.

The pleasures of the view and the socializing lasted an hour after which we climbed even farther uphill to the catacombs, built in the 1850's and usually closed to the public. We entered a space at least 50 yards long but only 10 feet wide, with seats in a single row along each side, placing the artists either right in your face or else very far away.

And what artists they are! Called upon to do far more than sing, we recalled how much training in movement that three of the four had received at Juilliard.  Mezzo-soprano Samantha Hankey, tenor Kyle Bielfield, and bass-baritone Andrew Bogard are well known to us as former Juilliard students (and Mr. Bogard from his stint with the Santa Fe Opera), and coloratura soprano Alisa Jordheim is well remembered as Serpetta in Mozart's La finta gardiniera, produced by On Site Opera.

The good news is that the barrel ceiling of the catacombs ensured impressive resonance to these gorgeous prize-winning voices. The bad news is that the sight-lines were poor. And R.B. Schlather's direction provided much to look at. But audience members all leaned forward in their seats trying to see what was happening on either end, making vision even more difficult in this very long and very narrow playing space.

This was a very physical production with poor Ms. Jordheim being dragged the entire length of the concrete floor on her back! Nonetheless, the singers have every reason to be proud of their excellent performances.

The chamber opera was The Rose Elf, adapted from a barely known fairy tale, and developed within the Opera Philadelphia Composer-in-Residence Program by David Hertzberg.  It is part of the third annual New York Opera Fest.

We were glad to have read the story in advance because it was difficult to understand without foreknowledge. An elf who lives cozily within a rose gets shut out of his home by an early closure. Searching for lodging for the night, he witnesses a foul deed by an evil man (Mr. Bogard) who sends his sister's beloved (Mr. Bielfield) away on a trip but then murders him most foully. In the fairytale, the sympathetic elf (Ms. Hankey) comforts the young woman (Miss Jordheim) and achieves revenge on the brother with the help of some bees.

Not everything came across as well as one would have wished but an interesting interpretation was that the brother, judging by body movement, was motivated by lust for his sister. 

We were not as moved by the libretto as we were by reading the fairy tale and the vocal lines were not melodic. Both the music and the libretto were written by prize-winning composer David Hertzberg who composed some lovely instrumental music for the chamber orchestra, which was placed at the far end of the "tunnel".  Maestro Teddy Poll effectively conducted the group which comprised a string quartet, augmented by a bass, a piano, a clarinet, a horn, and percussion. They made some gorgeous sound!

It is so often the case these days that we hear contemporary music that is interesting but lacking in a melodic line for the voice. We believe what is needed is music written by singers!

All of the singers enunciated English with clarity but the words failed to capture the magic of the story. Supertitles by Steven Jude Tietjen and Katie Lipow were projected for part of the performance but were not visible unless one were sitting directly across from them.

Costumes of flowery prints were worn by the two lovers and Ms. Hankey's elf wore a silver dress and boots.  Hairstyles and makeup did not impress us. JAX Messenger provided the lighting design for this eerie space.

The opera--a world premiere--was the initial offering in Mr. Ousley's new series called The Angel's Share. For those who are not whiskey drinkers, let us enlighten you. The Angel's Share is the distiller's term for the whiskey that evaporates during the distilling process--hence the whiskey tasting before the performances.

Other performances in this clement weather series will include some radical chamber music, which may be more to our taste. It is always interesting for us to see new works, even if we are not totally thrilled by them. It was a most arresting evening and we loved hearing such special singers, all four of whom threw themselves into the performance.

We are a fast walker and had the opportunity to pass by several groups of people descending the hill after the performance. We eavesdropped. Most of the comments were positive, praising the originality of the experience. Some were unhappy with the music or the sightlines.  But everyone loved the voices!

We saw several people trying to get last minute tickets at the gate but there were none available.  There will be two more performances on 6/8 and 6/10 but snagging tickets will be unlikely. We refer you to Unison's website for information on the remainder of the series. deathofclassical.com! Indeed!

(c) meche kroop






Wednesday, June 6, 2018

SLEIGH BELLS RING, ARE YOU LISTENING?

Pretty Yende and Maestro Michael Tilson Thomas with Metropolitan Opera Orchestra


We fell in love with Mahler's Fourth Symphony some years ago when we heard it thrice in one week from the conductor's box at what was then called Avery Fisher Hall. The second we heard the sleigh bells in the introduction, we were drawn into a magical soundscape. We have come to enjoy most of Mahler's symphonies but we find this one the most accessible.

Mahler's melodic generosity, his harmonic invention, his lavish orchestration--all conspire to make this turn of the 20th c. symphony a favorite. There is a sunniness to this work, with only occasional lapses into the minor mode. It's the kind of picturesque work that invites visions into the mind's eye. 

The first movement introduces us to a fairytale world with two lyrically melodic themes in succession, suggestive of the sonata-allegro form. The sleigh bells recur periodically reminding us that we are on a journey. We have no idea what other listeners hear and see but for us there is a peaceful forest where elves and ogres dwell.  There is a forest bird portrayed by the piccolo.  There is a haunting horn call. There is always the feeling of otherworldliness.

The Met Orchestra played brilliantly for the balletic Maestro Michael Tilson Thomas who abandoned his baton, swayed widely on the podium, using his body to extract every nuance of the score.  The first three movements, none of them lively, serve to set us up for the fourth movement, a setting of a song from Des Knaben Wunderhorn.

Star soprano Pretty Yende produced some gorgeous sound as she sang the strophic verses of the song "Das himmlische Leben"-- a child's view of life in heaven, free of earthly cares. It sounds as if the movement quotes melodies from the first three movements but, in fact, it is the other way 'round. The song was composed first.

We thrilled to the sound of Ms. Yende's voice, even when the German got lost in the dense sonorities of the large orchestra. This was also true in her performance of Mozart's Exsultate jubilate, a three movement sacred cantata in Latin, written just before the musical prodigy turned 17. He was inspired by the performance of a castrato named Venanzio Rauzzini with whom he became friends.

Thankfully, castrati no longer exist and one couldn't have asked for a better sound than the golden voiced Ms. Yende whose golden gown must have been selected to match her voice!

If there were a vein of gold to be found in the opening piece, we failed to mine it.  Carol Ruggles' mid 20th c. Evocations evoked nothing in us but distaste. We are sure there were more receptive ears in the audience than ours.

(c) meche kroop