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, August 31, 2018


Kathleen Felty, Kaitlyn McMonigle, Kathleen Reveille, and Erica Petrocelli
(photo by Bobby Gutierrez)
Amy Owens and Colin Ramsey (photo by Bobby Gutierrez)

What a dazzling finish to our time in Santa Fe!  The exemplary nature of the final Apprentices Recital left us with glorious memories and the determination to return next August. Under the experienced guidance of Gayletha Nichols, the next crop of young artists have a high bar to surmount! There is a reason why the pair of Apprentice Recitals are always sold out. The young artists get a chance to be center stage, performing in a varied selection of scenes and the members of the audience get a chance to see the stars of tomorrow at a very modest ticket price of $15. In our opinion, the evening is worth tenfold the price.

Opening the evening was one of our very favorite scenes--the opening of Tchaikovsky's 1881 Eugene Onegin. This scene successfully establishes the characters of Tatyana and Olga, the two very different daughters of Madame Larina; it also shows us life in provincial Russia in the late 19th c. (We are always grateful for the preservation of the original setting; this opera demands it.) 

Soprano Erica Petrocelli made a lovely introspective Tatyana and allowed us to see the reserved dignity that would make its appearance by the finale of this tragic masterpiece; her tone was youthful and distinctive.  With three mezzo-sopranos onstage at once, we were happy to note their differentiation. As the bubbly sister Olga, Kathleen Reveille had a girlish spontaneity, whilst Kaitlyn McMonigle injected a note of maturity and a touch of melancholy as she and her friend, the nursemaid Filipyevna (Kathleen Felty) reminisced about their own youth. 

We love the easy way the two women had with one another and recall their message about the mature acceptance of the routine of life, a message Tatyana would live by as well. James Robinson's direction and Mackenzie Dunn's costumes brought everything together. The excellent singing was marked by some fine Russian diction.

The second scene brought us to the world of comedy, not just comedy but silly hilarity. In this scene from Jacques Offenbach's 1858 operetta Orphée aux enfers, Jupiter disguises himself as a fly and buzzes around the bored Eurydice. Soprano Amy Owens and bass Colin Ramsey distinguished themselves with some superlative singing in glorious Gallic style. We have included a photo to show Reilly Johnson's clever costumes. Director Mo Zhou ensured that the singers made great use of the space, the feathers, and the wings.  What a treat!

Act III of Verdi's 1851 Rigoletto is unutterably tragic; soprano Regina Ceragioli made a touching Gilda with the innocent coloring of her sweet soprano. Baritone Kenneth Stavert colored his voice darkly and gave an impressive performance as the eponymous jester. We have always found a great deal to admire in the performances of mezzo-soprano Gina Perregrino; her Maddalena lived up to our expectations, and perhaps exceeded them. This Maddalena was a real character, not a stereotype! Bass-baritone Vartan Gabrielian had the right low notes for Sparafucile and the fine Mexican tenor Abraham Bretón wowed the audience with his "La donna è mobile". Director Fernando Parra Borti staged the scene well but, for some reason, ended the scene abruptly after Gilda enters the tavern at midnight. This left us hanging and feeling unfulfilled.

Puccini's lighthearted 1917 La Rondine is always fun. Soprano Meryl Dominguez made a lovely Magda, out for a flirtatious night at a café dansant  in disguise, experimenting with a new "self". Sitting with Ruggero (tenor Mackenzie Gotcher) she is "discovered" by her chambermaid Lisette (soprano Abigail Rethwisch) whilst the poet Prunier (terrific tenor Joshua Blue) tries to cover up for Magda. Kathleen Clawson's excellent direction created a whirlwind of excitement with Lisette acting wildly. Sage Foley's turn of the 20th c. costumes were lovely.

Mr. Borti also directed the Act II sextet from Mozart's 1787 Don Giovanni. We loved the singing but did not care for the "update". Everyone wore contemporary street clothes; Leporello (booming bass Brent Michael Smith) and Donna Elvira (the full-throated soprano Sarah Tucker) were depicted in bed together!  There are those who enjoy these updating but we are not among them. We did, however, enjoy the singing, especially that of soprano Mathilda Edge, whose Donna Anna was superb. We were happy to hear Mr. Ramsey again in the role of Masetto with mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Sarian as his flirtatious bride Zerlina. Rounding out the ensemble was tenor Elliot Paige as the loyal Don Ottavio. The voices harmonized beautifully, thanks to Music Director Glenn Lewis.

Handel's 1711 Rinaldo was represented by the Act III duet between Argante, King of Jerusalem, and the sorceress Armida. The duet was perfectly cast with the admirable bass-baritone Erik Van Heyningen and the exceptional soprano Stacy Geyer who impressed us so highly as Elvira in L'Italiana in Algeri. James Ramsay Arnold's baroque costumes were absolutely gorgeous, and the entire scene felt authentically baroque.

Leoncavallo wrote a most affecting duet for Nedda and Silvio in his 1892 Pagliacci. Silvio pleads for Nedda to run away with him but the frightened Nedda resists. Director Mo Zhou gave the pair some very interesting stage business which added greatly to the excellent performances of soprano Shannon Jennings and baritone Benjamin Taylor. They drew us into their private world and we wound up caring for them, although we knew their tragic ending.

We would have been happy to end the evening there before a scene for Carlisle Floyd's mid-20th c. Wuthering Heights. Although the melodramatic story has an operatic grandeur to it, the opera seemed to reduce it to a drawing room conflict that made no sense. We did not like the music at all. Readers will recall that our 19th c. ears are never quite comfortable with music written after Richard Strauss. Still, the singers were all excellent, although we were never completely sure who was whom. . So we will leave it at that with kudos for Ms. Petrocelli, Ms. Dominguez, Gillian Lynn Cotter, William Hughes, and Anthony Ciaramitaro who did their best with the unmelodic vocal lines, and also for costumer Rebecca Kendrick who had everyone looking perfectly 19th c.  If only the music had sounded like the costumes!

Well, the evening was varied and provided something for everyone, with all centuries represented and several languages as well. We can scarcely wait for next year and hope that many of these talented artists will be invited to return.

© meche kroop

Friday, August 24, 2018


Elyse Kakacek (Zerlina) and Eric Lindsey (Don Giovanni)-- Photo by Brian E. Long

Mozart's Don Giovanni is one of our very favorite operas and we always prefer to see it as Mozart and librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte intended. But this year we have seen a few radical interpretations that held our interest. Last night, Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble presented a version directed by Owen Horsley that was informed by the #MeToo movement. It is no secret that men in power often operate with a sense of entitlement that expresses itself toward attractive young women. Da Ponte didn't invent the concept!

The problem with presenting centuries-old stories with a modern twist is that of the Procrustean bed. Situations don't always fit right and those of us familiar with the traditional will be more than usually aware of the lapses. Those new to opera, like our companion last night, seem to take these lapses more easily.

Particularly, we hadn't a clue as to why Donna Anna, dressed like a secretary applying for a job,  was sitting on a chair outside Don Giovanni's door, from which she fled shortly after entering with her hosiery falling down. Perhaps she was meant to be an actress auditioning for a part. Who could tell? Of all the characters, hers was the one lacking a point of view and a backstory. We simply couldn't connect.  And after being brutally beaten with his own cane by Don Giovanni, why does the deceased Commendatore get up and walk out?

Well, this is opera so let us focus on the musical values which were splendid all around. To begin with, Maestro and Artistic Director Chris Fecteau wielded his baton with precision and gusto, giving us a satisfying reading of Mozart's score. We were delighted to hear some of the inner voices that often get swallowed up in larger venues. The Dell'Arte Festival Orchestra played beautifully for him and Lucas Barkley made some fine sonorities on the harpsichord. 

The overture was replete with portentous chords and anxious ascending and descending scale passages, setting the stage for the drama to follow. We always love the musical jokes when the onstage musicians play for Don Giovanni's dinner and Leporello complains about hearing an excess of Mozart's music! But here, the musicians were not onstage. We also missed the strange music in the party scene in which we hear music both refined and rustic in simultaneous cacophony.

The singers were superb. As the eponymous Don, Eric Lindsey's low and resonant voice was employed with fine phrasing. His Don walked a fine line between being charming and being violent. His immersion in the character was total and we found ourselves alternatively drawn in and repelled by him. The "Champagne Aria" was splendidly performed.

His scenes with Zerlina were some of the best of the evening. The duet "Là ci darem la mano" was delightful. Soprano Elyse Kakacek, another Dell'Arte regular, stunned us by her unwavering presence in the role. Her bodily and facial gestures were completely consonant with what was happening onstage. She was an all-too-willing "victim" for Don Giovanni's seduction. Her "Batti, batti" was beautifully sung, as was "Vedrai carino", strangely delivered sitting in a chair, facing the audience and not Masetto.

Nobuki Momma's Masetto was a well wrought characterization and his interactions with Don Giovanni and with Zerlina were completely convincing and seemed very au courant. We loved the scenes of the wedding with bridesmaids and ushers taking selfies and Masetto taking offense at Zerlina's unseemly behavior.

An outstanding performance was delivered by Jonathan Harris in the role of Leporello, Don Giovanni's much-abused manservant.  Like Ms. Kakacek, every facial expression and gesture reflected what was happening onstage; he used his excellent instrument with artistry. We loved his duet with Ms. Kakacek "Per queste tue manine" which we have rarely heard, and his sensational "Catalog aria" made use of a portfolio of photos, rather than the customary list.  Very 21st c.!

Three cheers for the Donna Elvira of soprano Jessica Mirshak. Not only was her "Mi tradì quell'alma ingrata" convincing in its self-righteous anger but her entire characterization gave us the feeling that we knew who she was and how she suffered and how entranced she was by the vile seducer.

Tenor Morgan Manifacier fulfilled the demands of the role of Don Ottavio, whom Donna Anna will probably never marry. He exhibited just the right degree of ardency which was just not ardent enough to win her affection. "Il mio tesoro" was cut (and missed) but he did well with "Dalla sua pace".

Soprano Jenny Lindsey lent her lovely voice to Donna Anna in "Non mi dir"; our only problem was trying to understand who she was. Perhaps it was the unflattering costume and some very distracting flashy sandals but she came across as a cipher. Perhaps a stronger directorial influence was needed. A novel directorial approach was that she was clearly lying to Don Ottavio about the so-called rape. This confused us further. He was never masked and she entered what appeared to be his hotel room willingly.

Hector Mori took the role of the Commendatore whom Don Giovanni invited to dinner. He appeared with stripes of white chalk on his face, presumably representing ghosthood.

Matthew Iacozza's set comprised a bunch of identical doors, through which characters came and went, lending a more farcical tone to the action than we might have wished. There were several instances when we were confused about what space the characters were entering or leaving. We sometimes wished that they had just walked in from the sides. 

The theater at La Mama has a balcony on three sides and we also wished that the serenade scene "Deh vieni alla finestra" had made use of it! There was nothing onstage to indicate the cemetery scene. We could have been anywhere. Props like cell phones told us that the drama was taking place in the present.

Dante Olivia Smith's lighting didn't quite succeed. A number of scenes would have benefited by being darkened, especially when Leporello exchanges clothing with his master and fools Donna Elvira. 

Claire Townsend's costumes were satisfactory, except for that of Donna Anna who sported flashy sandals with a modest dress. Zerlina's wedding dress, on the other hand, was perfect in demonstrating her sexual wavering.

Although Mr. Horsley's concept paid total attention to the rampant sexism, it ignored the classism so important to the tale. There was no differentiation between the so-called aristocrats and the so-called peasants. Perhaps this was intentional. Lecherous men feel entitled to all women regardless of their social class! The important thing here was that the women all stuck together and celebrated the destruction of the man who behaved so badly.

To summarize, we had a marvelous time, enjoying both the music and the characterizations. Our puzzlement over some directorial choices did not hamper our pleasure and probably won't hamper yours either, dear reader.

Take our advice and try to snag seats for the final performance Saturday night.  You will be both entertained and stimulated to think about gender relationships.

(c) meche kroop

Thursday, August 23, 2018


The sterling cast of Salieri's La Cifra, presented by Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble
(photo by Brian E. Long)
Leave it to Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble to uncover an opera heretofore unknown and to give it a sparkling and delightful American premiere performance. Its success rests upon many shoulders. Rising star director Brittany Goodwin has put a commedia dell'arte spin on Salieri's La Cifra which might have otherwise flopped. Actually, we can't imagine it presented in any other way, having enjoyed this zaniness so thoroughly. Ms. Goodwin is relentlessly clever.

And there are many other shoulders to credit. The Dell'Arte Festival Orchestra, led by Maestro Catherine O'Shaughnessy (and isn't it great to see a woman conducting!) played Salieri's tuneful music in a manner that led to total appreciation of this underrated composer.  As a matter of fact, having heard his Falstaff and this opera, we are sure that he would have been far more popular today had he not been eclipsed by the young Mozart. 

The fine cast of young artists appear to have profited handsomely from their summer session and avidly picked up Ms. Goodwin's direction, capturing the ancient commedia dell'arte style. Gestures and facial expressions were super-sized and outlandish. Yes, these are stock characters but they also managed to have individual personalities that went beyond what was expected.

In the starring role of Rusticone (rustic, get it?) bass-baritone (we think) Angky Budiardjono handled the vocal demands and the comedy equally well. His character, based on Pantalone, is a conniving old goat who has hidden the aristocratic identity of his foster daughter Eurilla, along with her inheritance, in the hopes of marrying her. In this role, soprano Rachel Barker-Asto revealed her bel canto chops and created a sympathetic portrait of a modest and good-hearted young woman. We loved the way her killing of a dangerous wild boar (with a paper rifle!) changed her personality to one of swaggering confidence.

She has grown up as Rusticone's daughter, unaware of her aristocratic birth. Her step-sister Lisotta, given an outsized portrayal by the excellent mezzo-soprano Allison Gish, is out to snag Milord (the aristocratic tenor Timothy Stoddard) who rode into town on a hobby-horse and promptly fell for Eurilla. Lisotta's character is vain, insolent, and self-important with aristocratic pretensions. There are funny scenes of the sisters fighting and reconciling.  Of course, Eurilla, with Cinderella-like magnanimity, forgives everyone in the end.

Sandrino is the Pierrot-like character, in love with Lisotta. The role was beautifully rendered by baritone Jay Chacon. This was a very anxious suitor, breathing from a paper bag, ostensibly to deal with panic attacks. We wondered whether 18th c. folk were aware of that remedy!

Milord's side-kick Leandro was performed by tenor Stephen Steffens; the excellent chorus comprised Makayla McDonald, Andrea Howland, Sam Strickland, Nicholle Bittlingmeyer, Ian Joyal, Charles Calotta and James Healy .

The inventive staging was as impressive as the singing. During the overture, members of the ensemble ran around setting up the stage with curious props. Sheets were suspended between ladders and later the ladders held a suspended clothesline. A head of cabbage made several appearances for characters to swear upon. Little light bulbs ran across the front of the playing area. Trunks were brought in and some basic furniture. Rain was created by tossing handfuls of packing popcorn. At one point, Milord wore glasses with bulging eyes popping out on springs. Every item added to the fun. Matthew Iacozza is credited with Scenic Design.

As far as Claire Townsend's zany costumes, they fulfilled Ms. Goodwin's concept to a "T", as one can see from the above photo.

Ms. Barker-Asto had her chance to shine in several arias; in her second act lament, a two-part aria seemed a preface to the bel canto aria with its lively "cabaletta". As a matter of fact, a number of features presaged the bel canto period, especially the wild and crazy sextet which ends Act I.

We enjoyed her love duet with Mr. Stoddard, replete with tenderness and exquisite 18th c. harmonies.  If serious drama requires comic relief, can we say that comedy requires some romantic relief?

Mr. Stoddard also did some fine work in his arias and in the male trio in Act I.  Mr. Chacon got his big aria in Act II but also had a fine duet with Ms. Gish.

There was a charming group dance when the townsfolk gathered, which reminded us of English country dancing. We understand that Owen Horsley, himself an award-winning Scottish dancer, is responsible for the choreography.

And once more we enjoyed Artistic Director Chris Fecteau playing the hell out of the harpsichord for the recitativi.

The ins and outs of this topsy turvy plot were created with panache by Lorenzo Da Ponte, whose libretti served Mozart so well. We recommend that you grab a chance to see this work. Who knows when you will get another chance. Try to get tickets for Friday night or Sunday matinée. You might get lucky!

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, August 22, 2018


Gabriel Hernandez and Nobuki Momma (photo by Brian E. Long)

What a brilliant idea was had by Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble to base their 2018 season on two contemporaries--Mozart and Salieri. There has been a centuries old rumor that the latter poisoned the former out of envy. The most recent iteration of that rumor was Peter Shaffer's 1979 play, later adapted for film. That the rumor has been disproven has not prevented writers from developing the idea dramatically.

Pushkin wrote a verse drama in 1830 based on this rumor, which  Rimsky-Korsakov set to music in 1897. Although this Russian genius wrote about 16 operas, we have only seen two prior to last night--The Snow Maiden and The Golden Cockerel. We have no idea why his operas are rarely performed in the United States and are thrilled that Artistic Director Chris Fecteau brought this one to our attention.

The moral behind the tale rests upon whether genius and villainy are incompatible. Listening to tenor Gabriel Hernandez and baritone Nobuki Momma bring Rimsky-Korsakov's rich music to life, and watching the interactions between the two men, was an enriching experience. We wished that this scene might have opened the program Vignettes from Vienna instead of closing the program because it might have brought new insights to the other three scenes which we will describe anon. 

Jason Goldberg directed this one-act opera with a sure hand. Mr. Momma clearly limned the embittered character of Salieri who labored mightily to achieve his post at the Imperial Court Theater of Vienna; how envious he felt over the boy genius Mozart whom he described as "unworthy of his genius". Mr. Hernandez did well at bringing the carefree Mozart to life; we wished he had been a little more outrageous in his portrayal. Both men handled the Russian well. Chris Whittaker conducted with Dura Jun at the piano, doing a swell job with Rimsky-Korsakov's marvelous music.

It was clever to show the attitudes of the two composers as they introduced their works with silent gestures. The opening entry was an excerpt from Act I of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte, following a very brief excerpt of Salieri's prior and failed attempt to set DaPonte's libretto. 

Desiree Baxter directed Mozart's scenes with a great deal of invention; we believe that singers make the best directors for several reasons but one is that they don't put the singers into positions that interfere with the vocal production!  The set comprised several doors and the two sisters interrupted a board game they were playing to open two of the doors to reveal their suitors. Although tenor Vincenzo Catarisano and baritone Jay Chacon (a Dell'Arte regular) did well as Ferrando and Guglielmo, we were most taken with the voices of soprano Heather Bobeck as Fiordiligi and mezzo-soprano Andre Howland Myers as Dorabella. In the trio "Soave sia il vento", the sisters were joined by the young bass Ian Joyal who produced some fine Italianate sound as the cynical Don Alfonso; the vocal blending was entirely captivating. Nicholle Bittlingmeyer made a spunky Despina and added to the fun. The stylishly costumed Whitney George conducted with panache.

The other Mozart on the program comprised excerpts from Act II of Nozze di Figaro. Soprano Maria Servodidio sang Countess Almaviva's "Porgi amor" with dignity and despair. Her voice has a wide vibrato which gave an interesting depth to her portrayal and lent distinction between her sound and that of Makayla McDonald who portrayed the spunky Susanna. Dell'Arte regular SarahAnn Duffy had the travesti role of Cherubino and had great fun portraying a boy who gets dressed up as a girl and tries to walk in high heels.  (Oh, those racy 18th c. Viennese!) We wished she had paid a bit more attention to Ms. George's baton since she was not 100% on the beat.

Lyric baritone Sung Shin made a huge impression as Count Almaviva, singing with gorgeous Italianate phrasing and a most pleasing vocal quality. Mr. Chacon reappeared as the wily Figaro. Ms. Baxter directed and Ms. George conducted with Ms. Jun at the piano and Maestro Fecteau playing the recitativi at the harpsichord as they did for the Cosi. 

Representing Salieri's contribution to the evening were excerpts from his Falstaff which we reviewed four years ago at Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble's 2014 season. Chris Whittaker conducted with sensitive hands and no baton. Of course there are reasons why Verdi's version eclipsed that of Salieri but the latter's opera is very worth hearing.

We enjoyed the warm tenorial sound of Charles Calotta, which we so admired at Amore Opera, in the role of Mr. Ford. As Mrs. Ford we liked the bright soprano of Elise Kakacek. The versatile Mr. Chacon portrayed Mr. Slender with the indignant Mrs. Slender sung by mezzo-soprano Inbal Milliger, who gave us a marvelous aria portraying Falstaff in the most unflattering terms.  The role of Falstaff was taken by bass Hector Mori with bass Will Esch as the ill-used Bardolfo.

Matthew Iacozza's set design for the evening was simple--the aforementioned doors were put to good use and not much else was needed, save for a few random pieces of furniture. Heather Denny's costumes were contemporary streetwear for the most part with Mozart and Salieri sporting those 18th c. coats that make men look ever so dashing. Lighting was by Rafa.

Tonight is a wonderful opportunity to catch Salieri's La Cifra, which we heard is hilarious. Tomorrow you might have a chance to get seats for Don Giovanni but better hurry because last night was a sellout.

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, August 18, 2018


Patrick Carfizzi (Taddeo), Daniela Mack (Isabella), Scott Conner (Mustafa), Stacey Geyer (Elvira), Suzanne Hendrix (Zulma), Jack Swanson (Lindoro)...Photo by Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera

It was difficult to tell who was having more fun at the Santa Fe Opera last night at a riotous performance of Rossini's 1813 laugh riot L'Italiana in Algeri. The cast sparkled with glee and the audience roared with laughter. The original production by Edward Hastings premiered in 2002; we were there and we remember best the part in which Isabella arrives in Algeria by bi-plane!

We doubt that Rossini could have foreseen the Wright Brothers' invention so we will assume that this production has been advanced from the 19th c. a full century into the future.  That a forceful female character was invented by Rossini in the early 19th c. is rather remarkable.  Her setting an example for the dependent and lovelorn Elvira has resonance for us in the 21st c.

The story concerns this independent Italian woman who has gone searching for her missing beloved Lindoro; he had been captured by pirates and enslaved by the lecherous and self-important Sultan Mustafa, a ridiculous character whose arrogance makes him easy to fool.

Isabelle is accompanied by Taddeo who adores her.  She adores him not.

Mustafa is trying to rid himself of his adoring wife Elvira who needs some good mentoring by Isabella.  Mustafa has a yen for an Italian woman and Isabella arrives at just the right moment.  The opera story involves her plotting to free all the Italian slaves as well as Lindoro. Thus the opera became catnip for the Italians--not only for its memorable melodic score but also for patriotic reasons.

The setting in Algeria, then a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire, reminds us of Europe's fascination with all things exotic at that time. Indeed, not too long before, Mozart wrote his Die Entführung aus dem Serail, the theme of which is not too different.

During the overture, tiny bi-planes were "flown" up and down the aisles of the theater. A somewhat larger bi-plane appeared on the set, and when it was time for Isabella and Taddeo to make their entrance, a much larger bi-plane appeared on the stage.

This masterstroke of creativity set the audience to laughing and the laughs wouldn't stop all night long. For our taste, Shawna Lucey's direction was excessive but the audience loved all the gyrations, wriggling, pelvic thrusting, wild gesticulations, and Broadway chorus-style dancing. There was one trick that Ms.Lucey missed.  When Isabella and Lindoro take off in a hot-air balloon at the conclusion of the opera, there was a basket but no balloon!

We did love the set design by Robert Innes Hopkins which was well lit by Duane Schuler. There was a flat playing space with palm trees on each side; the floor unfolded upward to reveal Mustafa's palace with its Moorish arches and pillars. It reminded us of those greeting cards that are cleverly constructed to reveal a cut-out when one opens them.

David C. Woolard's costume design was wild and colorful for the Algerian court and suitable for the Europeans in their own fashion. We particularly enjoyed the scene in which Isabella tears down one of the curtains, snatches up some random decorations, goes behind a screen, and emerges in a stylish form-fitting costume.

The singing was excellent all around; Rossini's melodies paired with the vowel-dominant Italian language give one a chance to appreciate a singer's gifts--something that doesn't happen for us in contemporary operas in English. The best part of the singing was the work done as an ensemble. The voices blended in happy harmony with each character singing a different vocal line and expressing different emotions.

Mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack made a spunky Isabella, using her physical and vocal assets to get three men to do her bidding, making each one believe that he was the object of her desire. Her delivery of "Cruda sorte" was excellent.

Tenor Jack Swanson made a fine handsome Lindoro, one for whom a woman might go out searching. He was particularly admirable in his duets. Today's audience seems to love "patter songs" as much as the audience of two centuries ago; Mr. Swanson's rapid fire delivery was impressive.

Bass Scott Conner played the part of Mustafa to the hilt. His booming voice and imposing figure perfectly set off the silly nature of his actions. It is wonderful to hear that much flexibility in a large low voice.

As his rejected wife Elvira, Apprentice Singer Stacey Geyer lent her splendid soprano to the creation of a character a normal man would be foolish to abandon; but we did say that Mustafa was foolish.

Mezzo-soprano Suzanne Hendrix was excellent in the role of Zulma, Elvira's slave and confidant. She too showed a lot of spunk.

Bass-baritone Patrick Carfizzi was just about perfect in the role of Taddeo and succeeded in earning our sympathy for his unrequited love. He gets passed off as Isabella's uncle and avoids impalement by agreeing to join the court.

Baritone Craig Verm was humorously menacing as Haly, Mustafa's chief pirate and scourge of the slaves.

The chorus of Apprentice Singers served as slaves and pirates and eunuchs. We always want to thank Susanne Sheston since the chorus is always so well schooled in perfect diction. And all of them seem effective in whatever parts they are asked to play.

Last, but definitely not least, Rossini's music is a constant delight. Corrado Rovaris' baton led the Santa Fe Orchestra in a highly spirited and swiftly moving reading of the score. From the piping of the piccolo to the "Rossini Crescendo", he made every moment count.

Another triumph for the Santa Fe Opera!

(c) meche kroop

Friday, August 17, 2018


The Santa Fe Opera Chorus in Doctor Atomic (photo by Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera)

It would have been wonderful if the onstage nuclear scientists waiting for detonation of the atom bomb at Los Alamos had been accompanied by a real live storm but there was only a brief shower. We reflected upon the night at the Santa Fe Opera when the final scene of Verdi's Rigoletto was accompanied by real thunder and lightning, making for one exciting operatic experience.

Well, Doctor Atomic is no Rigoletto and John Adams is no Verdi; we doubt that audiences will be clamoring for this work in the 22nd c. However, if we accept the message of the evening, there may be no 22nd c. The part of the evening we enjoyed the most was the pre-opera lecture by Director Peter Sellars in which he made some very good points about the nuclear age and why he chose to present it as contemporary, with Gabriel Berry's costumes belonging to our present day. Although we strongly disagree we enjoyed hearing his rationale. 

We enjoyed even more the talks we heard from three of the Downwinders--an elderly woman, her daughter, and her niece--all suffering from crippling anxiety related to the decimation of their family by cancer, a consequence of the 1945 detonation of the world's first atomic bomb. Apparently, the government's fund to compensate the victims of fallout and radiation has not been extended to New Mexicans, a condition the Downwinders have been fighting for several years. The stories they shared were terribly tragic. The government did not evacuate them for fear the press would find out that "something was going on".

The production of Doctor Atomic, taking place just a stone's throw from Los Alamos, seemed to be a risk for the Santa Fe Opera but they put all their resources behind it and succeeded in selling out the entire run. Not only did we get to hear the voices of the afflicted but we got to watch members of nearby pueblos performing a corn dance onstage, a form of prayer for healing and for water to nourish their corn crop. The stage was filled with Downwinders who probably had as many tragic tales to tell as the three we heard in the lecture.

Our desire to learn about this tragedy created by the military/science complex was not matched by an appreciation for the opera itself, in spite of some stellar performances by artists we know and love. This lack of affection for the work is not due to the fact that it is political.  Verdi himself wrote several operas with political themes, both overt and covert.  But he did so with glorious music and singable melodies.

Although there were a few moments when Adams' orchestral colors pleased our ears, for the most part the music is harsh and dissonant. Peter Sellars' libretto is nothing if not "wordy". The text was derived from government documents, wire-tapped conversations, surveillance reports, first-person accounts, scientific data, and poetry loved by the Oppenheimers; none of it is singable, nor is the vocal line melodic in any way, shape, or form.

The fact that the voices were amplified, as Adams stipulated, did nothing to enhance the listening experience. NATO would describe the opera--No Action Talk Only.  There is only the conversation about the Manhattan Project, the waiting, and the concern with the weather. Emily Johnson's choreography involved some highly generic modern dance to give the illusion of movement--eye candy that was more sour than sweet. David Gropman's set was bare, save for a huge suspended reflecting ball.

Now that we got the negatives off our chest, let us relate the positives, which involve some pretty swell performances. Bass-baritone Ryan McKinny establishsed the complex character of Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer whilst the exceptional soprano Julia Bullock excelled at limning the character of his neglected wife Kitty. Most of her singing involved texts of poet Muriel Rukeyser which was abstract to the point of incoherence. We have written that Ms. Bullock could sing the phone book.  This came close.

In the sympathetic role of the physicist Robert Wilson, tenor Ben Bliss' youthful timbre was just right for the part. His "aria" whilst climbing to the top of the tower was probably the most musical part of the opera.

Contralto Meredith Arwady lent her distinctive sound to the role of Pasqualita, Kitty's Tewa housekeeper. Her singing of a Tewa native song was rather more listener-friendly. 

General Leslie Groves was the U.S. Army Commander of the Manhattan Project, a demanding, aggressive, and overweight man; bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch got the first two qualities just right but the banter about his weight and his diet didn't make sense since Mr. Okulitch is admirably fit. 

Bass Andrew Harris portrayed the physicist Edward Teller and baritone Tim Mix took the part of the chief meteorologist for the Trinity test site. General Groves was casting shade on him for not producing better weather!  

Apprentice Mackenzie Gotcher lent his tenor to the voice of Capt. James Nolan who, as chief of the post hospital at Los Alamos, expressed concern for the well-being of the scientists working on the Manhattan Project. Most enjoyable for us was the chorus composed of Apprentice Singers. They blended onstage with the Downwinders and provided some visual as well as aural interest. 

The evening ended with a standing ovation, dear readers, so our comments are not meant as a value judgment, rather as the opinion of one opera lover who wants to be entertained. Mr. Sellars' libretto might have made good reading but those words we heard never begged to be set to music. Nor was any provided.

(c) meche kroop

Thursday, August 16, 2018


Anthony Robin Schneider, Jarrett Ott, Matthew DiBattista, Liv Redpath, and Terrence Chin-Loy (photo by Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera)

Liv Redpath and Amanda Majeski
(Photo by Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera)

Richard Strauss' 1916 opera Ariadne auf Naxos offers countless delights as well as a wonderful message--comedy can overcome tragedy and love can eliminate grief and stress. The richest man in Vienna is throwing a dinner party and has commissioned an opera to entertain his guests.  Unbeknownst to the unwary young composer, he has also engaged a comedy troupe starring the flirtatious and fickle Zerbinetta. This is enough to throw the arrogant and temperamental stars of this opera seria into a frenzy of disdain and scorn.

When the Major Domo announces in the plummiest of British accents (spoken dialogue was in English) that both troupes will perform simultaneously in order to finish in time for the fireworks, the composer and singers go ballistic. It is time for the young composer to face the reality of the music business! On a happier note, he and Zerbinetta fall for one another.

The show must go on with poor Ariadne singing in Act II (now in German) about her wish to die.  Theseus has loved her and left her, abandoned on a lonely island. She longs for Mercury to come and take her to the "other side". Zerbinetta and her troupe dance and sing and try to cheer her up, to no avail. Zerbinetta even tries to talk to her woman to woman about taking new lovers. Eventually, the young god Bacchus arrives on Naxos and becomes smitten with her. In a lovely directorial touch (Tim Albery) the Composer arrives at the side of the set and appears delighted at the apparent success of his opera. He is joined by Zerbinetta and the two couples are seen embracing in tandem.

As Zerbinetta, 2017 Apprentice Singer Liv Redpath simply stunned us with her glorious coloratura and engaging stage presence. Every note and every gesture served to illuminate her delightful character. She was far more appealing than the dour Ariadne, sung by South African soprano Amanda Echalaz. Ms. Echalaz was effective in Act I as the imperious prima donna but in Act II, her performance as Ariadne lacked the beauty and color we have come to expect in this role. Tenor Bruce Sledge distinguished himself by getting through this challenging role with beauty of tone and lovely phrasing.

The other Amanda in this tale of two Amandas surprised us. We have never been a great fan of Amanda Majeski, but in the travesti role of The Composer, usually sung by a mezzo-soprano, she absolutely shone and was totally convincing in her artistic despair and in her budding romance with Zerbinetta.

Zerbinetta's troupe of commedia dell'arte players was performed with great lively style by Apprentice Artists--Jarrett Ott, Anthony Robin Schneider, Matthew DiBattista, and Terrence Chin-Loy, whose singing and dancing (!) added so much to the evening's delight.

Sarah Tucker, Samantha Gossard, and Meryl Dominguez (photo by Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera.
Accompanying Ariadne on the isle of Naxos were three lovely ladies portraying the nymphs Echo (soprano Sarah Tucker), Najade (soprano Meryl Dominguez), and Dryade (mezzo-soprano Samantha Gossard). Strauss gave them some beautiful harmonies and they gave some beautiful singing to the audience. We got to thinking about Mozart's three ladies and then about Wagner's Rheinmadchen. We can think of no greater treat than three female voices in harmony. And those gals can really sing!

Smaller roles were all well handled. Kevin Burdette's Major Domo was a study in pomposity and self-importance. Rod Gilfrey portrayed the Music Master in a piece of luxury casting. Jarrett Logan Porter played the wigmaker, so badly abused by the temperamental tenor. Brent Michael Smith was the scurrying footman and Jesse Darden played an Officer. Brenton Ryan made a fine dancing master.

Maestro James Gaffigan did a swell job with Strauss' lavish orchestration and Tim Albery directed with a sure hand. Jodi Melnick's choreography for Zerbinetta's troupe was delightfully different and done in vaudeville style with the men sporting walking sticks. Who knew those guys could dance!!!!

Set and Costume Design by Tobias Hoheisel was highly unusual. The set for Act I was realistic and accurate to the period. We were shown a corridor in the rich man's home with a series of doors to dressing rooms.  Except, in a droll turn, one of them turned out to be a broom closet. During the overture, we could see the arrival of all the artists and get a good idea of their personalities.

The set for Act II was abstract with a pair of curved architectural elements enclosing Ariadne's "cave" which was shaped like a shallow bowl colored red. Thomas C. Hase's lighting design worked its magic.

Ariadne wore a long black dress, suited to her grief.  Zerbinetta and her troupe were not costumed in traditional commedia dell'arte garb but sported garments suited to the early 20th c. Zerbinetta herself looked like a model for Poiret.

We cannot close without mentioning our thought that Strauss often worked through his personal issues through his operas. In this case, he and his librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal almost came to blows as they worked out the necessary compromises to get this opera on the page and on the stage. Could we not notice similar attempts at working through issues in his Capriccio and in his Intermezzo?  In these cases, art surely imitates life!

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, August 15, 2018


Jarrett Logan Porter, Kaitlyn McMonigle, Elliot Paige, and Samantha Gossard (photo by Bobby Gutierrez for Santa Fe Opera)

Bille Bruley and Regina Ceragioli (photo by Bobby Gutierrez for Santa Fe Opera)

One of the very best parts of the Santa Fe experience is attending the Sunday night recitals of the Apprentice Singers. Chosen from among a huge pool of applicants, the current crop includes many young artists whose performances we have enjoyed in New York City, as well as some young artists we are discovering for the first time. Witnessing the artistic growth of the former is our delight; your delight would be catching these emerging talents before they are well known. 

It is astonishing to us that for a paltry $15, one can spend an entire evening in their company, seeing and hearing a well-chosen variety of scenes from all sorts of operas. There is indeed something for everyone, whatever your taste may be. Each scene is assigned to a director and is accompanied by a pianist. Singers who perform in the chorus or in small roles with the major productions here get to be center stage.

We attended the first of these recitals Sunday night and were impressed by a number of young voices. When a singer gets us to relate to an opera we don’t ordinarily favor, we know that something special is happening onstage.  Such was the case when tenor Bille Bruley performed excerpts from Act I of Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd. His truly remarkable dramatic skills complemented his fine vocalism, first in a scene with superb soprano Regina Ceragioli portraying Ellen Orford and then in a scene with Baritone Kenneth Stavert in the role of Captain Balstrade. Bruley’s exceptionalism was matched by both his scene partners who astonished us with their total immersion in their characters and their connection with Grimes, as well as with the audience.  The stage was bare except for a couple simple props, a wise choice by director Kathleen Clawson. Patrick Harvey did his part as accompanist. Hilary Rubio’s costumes were perfect. We were on the edge of our seat!

Another success of this type was that of Leonard Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti, another work which never held our attention.  In this case, also directed by Ms. Clawson and accompanied in jazzy style by Mr. Harvey, Mezzo-soprano Samantha Gossard did a star turn as Dinah. All eyes were upon her as she described the ridiculous film she had just seen. Her terrific singing was accompanied by some wild and totally appropriate gestures. Preceding her scene, which took place in a bar, we enjoyed the lively trio of waitstaff, portrayed by mezzo-soprano Kaitlyn McMonigle, tenor Elliot Paige, and baritone Jarrett Logan Porter, who sang and danced their way into our heart. We also enjoyed baritone Michael J. Hawk as Sam. Kenan Burchette’s appropriate 1950’s costumes added to the fun.

Another performance that blew us away was that of contralto Leia Lensing who sang the role of Cornelia in Händel’s Giulio Cesare. Her scene partner was mezzo-soprano Hannah Hagerty in the role of Sesto and their parting duet was both effective and affecting. Clinton Smith played Händel’s music with superb style; James Robinson directed the scene with admirable simplicity and James Ramsay Arnold’s costumes were gorgeous.

Hector Berlioz’ Les Troyens has the most luscious love duet between Didon and Énée, so beautifully played by pianist Francesco Milioto, accompanying the beautiful mezzo-soprano  Siena Licht Miller and tenor Terrence Chin-Loy. Magnificently costumed by Brighid DeAngelis with stunning makeup and hair design by Meredith Keister, Ms. Miller delighted both eye and ear. Mr. Chin-Loy sounded superb in the pianissimo passages; we hope he will learn that high doesn’t need to be loud and that floating notes in the upper register is way preferable to pushing them. Director for this scene was Fernando Parra Borti.

Mr. Borti also directed the final scene from Charles Gounod’s Faust. We did not care for the modern touch to the costumes by Rebecca Kendrick. Bass Anthony Robin Schneider in a dinner jacket managed to convey Méphistophélès' menace by means of his voice and presence. Tenor Justin Stolz in disheveled attire successfully colored his voice to reflect his desperate state; soprano Sarah Tucker in her blue prison jumpsuit was highly convincing as a woman gone mad with guilt and remorse. Mathew Mohr’s effective lighting turned the stage golden as she is “saved”.  Clinton Smith accompanied .

We loved Mo Zhou’s direction of the final scene of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore. What an abundance of dramatically valid stage business and believable gesture and facial expression! These touches were so original in their conception and so fine in their execution that we almost lost our focus on the singing! When two young people are meant to be together but are blocked by their individual forms of pride, there is room for all kinds of activity and Ms. Zhou elaboratd every nuance. Of course, she had great material with which to work; soprano Sylvia D’Eramo seemed to be having great fun as Adina and tenor Rafael Moras was completely convincing as the lovelorn Nemorino. We hope he will work on bringing his voice forward, which would bring his vocal performance to the same level as his dramatic performance.  Keun-A Lee accompanied to perfection. Sage Foley’s costume design for Adina was a wedding dress and Nemorino wore a cowboy hat. 

Ms. Zhou’s direction of a scene from Richard Strauss’ Arabella was similarly interesting. We particularly enjoyed the touch of Count Elemer (portrayed in all his arrogant glory by the excellent tenor Jesse Darden) addressing some of his comments about Arabella to the dress form on which was displayed her debutant gown. For us, however, this scene was impaired by being updated to the 1950’s. We almost always want to see operas performed in the original time and place. When the two sisters speak of sleigh rides we have a hard time accepting that they are living in the 1950’s! We do understand the concept of placing the opera in a period in which society women needed to find rich husbands but we can’t imagine 1950’s parents dressing up their younger daughter as a boy because they couldn’t afford two “coming out” parties.

A further problem was the paucity of choices for 1950’s costumes.  Poor soprano Mathilda Edge was obliged to appear in a most unflattering dress; we wonder if she had been in appropriate period attire whether she might have had a better handle on the character of Arabella, which failed to come across. Soprano Jana McIntyre transcended her feminine beauty and appeal to be convincing in the role of the cross-dressing Zdenka, as convincing as the afore-mentioned Mr. Darden. Financially embarrassed and desperate parents were played by bass Anthony Robin Schneider as Baron Waldner with mezzo-soprano Kathleen Felty as his wife Countess Adelaide. Carol Anderson did her best at the piano but we missed Strauss’ lush orchestrations.

We could not make much of the scene from Ricky Ian Gordon’s The Grapes of Wrath. We couldn’t stop thinking that Steinbeck’s moving book did not ask for music, nor did Mr. Gordon provide any. Pianist James Lesniak did his best with the score, as did the large cast of singers, but we love melody and did not hear any. Mezzo-soprano Katherine DeYoung as Ma Joad surmounted the musical deficits with the lovely texture and expressiveness of her instrument and soprano Amy Owen sang sweetly as Rosasharn.  Mackenzie Dunn’s costumes were suitably drab. James Robinson’s direction provided an elevated platform to serve as a truck which held the migrating Joad family, portrayed by Ms. DeYoung, Ms. Owen, Vartan Gabrielian, Benjamin Taylor, Michael J. Hawk, Jarrett Logan Porter, Jesse Darden, and Seiyoung Kim. Bass-baritone Erik van Heyningen appeared as the Inspector who gives the family the good news that they have arrived in California. We cannot fathom why this scene was chosen as it didn’t give any of the men much chance to show off their vocal artistry.

There will be an entirely different program this upcoming Sunday and we recommend the experience wholeheartedly.

(c) meche kroop

Tuesday, August 14, 2018


Ana Maria Martinez and Joshua Guerrero in the final scene of Madama Butterfly at the Santa Fe Opera
(photo by Ken Howard for Santa Fe Opera)

We have been known to get a bit moist in the eye at the opera, but the last time we were reduced to bawling like a baby was in 2010 when Santa Fe Opera mounted Lee Blakeley's production  of Madama Butterfly. The tall and handsome tenor Brandon Jovanovich towered over the tiny soprano Kelly Kaduce, emphasizing the total imbalance of power in this exploitative relationship between an arrogant American naval lieutenant and an innocent and deluded 15-year-old Japanese geisha. Last night we saw a revival of this production, astutely directed by Matthew Ozawa and we completely "lost it".

With eight years of additional opera going experience, we realized that it was not only the terrific performances that produced such grief but Puccini's music, so affectingly played by the Santa Fe Orchestra under the baton of Maestro John Fiore. The program indicates that we are seeing the Brescia version but we thought we were hearing Puccini's original 1904 version, the La Scala premiere of which was considered so unsuccessful that Puccini revised the opera in many respects. Indeed, there are five iterations extant, but this one is, in our opinion, the most powerful.

Librettists Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa pulled no punches in their depiction of an arrogant sexist American lieutenant, here performed by tenor Joshua Guerrero. He made his character so loathsome that he was booed at the curtain call. There was no doubt that it was the character being booed, and not the performance, which was marked by fine Italianate phrasing and topnotch acting. His "Addio, fiorito asil" was gorgeously sung; if it was meant to evoke sympathy for his remorse, it failed. This character is totally involved with himself and his own feelings with little concern for his abandoned bride.

The role of Cio-Cio-San was magnificently performed by soprano Ana Maria Martinez whose "Un bel di vedremo" deserved all the applause it received. Ms. Martinez is not all that shorter than Mr. Guerrero; nonetheless, her acting achieved the same result as in the benchmark performance that affected us so greatly eight years ago. Some interesting directorial touches evoked the thought that Butterfly's suicide not only represented "death with honor" but also could be perceived as an act of anger, what with all the violently overturned chairs. This amounts to a Westernized psychoanalytic view of suicide. 

Aside from the strength of the depiction of the characters, what makes this version so powerful is the elimination of the intermission between Act II and Act III. Instead, the audience has the opportunity to join Butterfly in the overnight vigil as she waits for Pinkerton. The melancholy "Humming Chorus" sets the stage for our emotional devastation. The feeling of dread mounted in our chest and we felt ourself trembling. The confrontation between Butterfly and the new Mrs. Pinkerton, ably enacted by mezzo-soprano Hannah Hagerty, added to the dread. The sight of little Trouble pointing his dagger at Pinkerton next to the body of his dead mother was one of the most chilling sights we have seen at the opera. His future seems like one more aspect of the tragedy.

Baritone Nicholas Pallesen had the good fortune to portray the wise and kindly U.S. Consul Sharpless. His voice was splendid and his dramatic portrayal was filled with appropriate gesture. The poor man was unable to convince Pinkerton to behave better; nor was he able to reason with Butterfly. We completely believed him in the role.

The other realist of the evening was Suzuki, Butterfly's servant, performed to perfection by the excellent mezzo-soprano Megan Marino. Suzuki knows the score but cannot get Butterfly to face reality. Her loyalty is above reproach and she endures a bit of abuse from the angry Butterfly.

Another powerful performance was that of the angry Bonze, realized by bass Soloman Howard who commanded the stage. Tenor Matthew DiBattista made a very slimy Goro. Baritone Kenneth Stavert played the role of Prince Yamadori without the customary excess of foolishness; this was a fine idea because it emphasized the idea that Butterfly's rejection was based upon her delusion that Pinkerton would return and resume their marriage, not on the idea that Yamadori was a poor choice.

We were delighted to see other Apprentice Singers onstage. Bass-baritone Erik van Heyningen made an excellent Imperial Commissioner, and bass Colin Ramsey was equally fine as the Registrar, both of whom officiated at the marriage. 

Maestro Fiore's conducting presented the music we know and love, along with some music that had been cut when Puccini revised the opera. Puccini successfully combined lyrical Western melodies with Asian folks songs. The chorus, under the direction of Susanne Sheston, sang beautifully and intelligibly, even when offstage.

The set design by Jean-Marc Puissant gave us every possible Japanese signifier including cherry blossoms, lanterns, and shoji panels for Butterfly's home. During the overture, the house itself took shape as panels were carried on and installed. The audience could readily grasp the theme of impermanence. We noticed that the interval of three years was marked by some modernization by way of utility poles with electrical lines. The 20th c. had arrived.

We always have a small quibble and here it has to do with the lighting design of Rick Fisher who missed the chance to show the dawn of which Suzuki sings. The sky never brightened. But the street lights did turn off.

Brigitte Reiffenstuel's costume design was traditional.

This is the Madama Butterfly that we will remember and cherish.  We hope we will not have to wait another eight years to see it again.

(c) meche kroop