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.

Friday, June 29, 2018


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(c) meche kroop

Thursday, June 28, 2018


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(c) meche kroop

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

FAR AND NEAR (and also DEAR)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(c) meche kroop

Monday, June 25, 2018


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(c) meche kroop

Sunday, June 24, 2018


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, June 20, 2018


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


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


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


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


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