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.
|German Forum President Barbara Heming, pianist Babette Hierholzer, oboeist Julia Obergfell, and baritone Äneas Humm|
Last night's German Forum presented their Fall Concert at Lincoln Center's Bruno Walter Auditorium and we are pleased to report that in spite of ex-President Henry Meyer-Oertel's retirement, the music and good fellowship remain intact under the stewardship of new president Barbara Heming.
Guests were welcomed, the mission reiterated, and the young artists presented. We were introduced to the astonishing young baritone Äneas Humm several years ago when the German Forum brought him here from Switzerland. We were amazed by his artistry back then and he has only gotten better each time we hear him.
Last night his light lyric instrument served well in a selection of Schubert lieder. In "Der Wanderer" (the one with text by von Lübeck) the poet is lonely and unhappy; this was successfully conveyed by the singer's word coloring. The contrasting third stanza ("Wo bist du") was filled with anguish. Mr. Humm rose to the challenge of the low tessitura.
The poet in "Der Wanderer an den Mond" is also lonely; but the colors were different as he contemplates the moon and compares their differing situations. The excellent collaborative pianist Babette Hierholzer established a walking rhythm.
"Der Jüngling an der Quelle" tells of a youth filled with unrequited longing; both singer and pianist filled out the music with sweetness.
We can think of no lieder composer we love more than Schubert but we have no love for "Der Zwerg". The problem is not with the music or its performance. We just hate the story of the jealous dwarf who strangles his Queen and throws her into the sea. Still, our singer is a master story-teller.
Robert Stolz's compositions of the early 20th c. bring fresh delights to the ear. From his operetta Mädi, we heard "Bisschen Liebe tut gut" and for this our singer assumed a rakish pose and a charming seductive mien that suited him well.
Not as well suited to his voice was "Sorge infausta una procella", sung by the magician Zoroastro in Händel's opera Orlando. This aria is usually sung by a heavy bass and was not the best choice for a lyric baritone. Furthermore, work needs to be done on the articulation of the fioritura.
Far better were two songs by Viktor Ullman, the Austrian composer who wrote the satirical opera Der Kaiser von Atlantis which we have twice reviewed. Mr. Humm performed two songs of his that were translated from Farsi--"Vorausbestimmung" and "Betrunken". The music is replete with early 20th c. irony.
Co-starring on this interesting and varied program was young German oboist Julia Obergfell who began her musical childhood as a pianist until she fell in love with the oboe. We have also loved the oboe solos in symphonic works but have never heard the oboe in recital. Last night we realized how similar to singing it is. Breath control and phrasing and color are all important.
The first movement of Schumann's Romance, Op. 94 had some graceful phrasing and a mournful feel. In contrast, we heard Telemann's Fantasy in B minor which demanded a crisper sound and some impressive staccato. Ms. Obergfell's artistry is unmistakable.
Her major work on the program was Poulenc's Sonata for Oboe and Piano. The Elégie was melodious and mysterious and had an impressive trill. The Scherzo was frisky and fast with fleet fingering required on the repeated notes. The final movement Déploration involved some pensive phrasing and lived up to its meaning--"lamentation". In Ms. Hierholzer, the singer found a worthy piano partner indeed!
We were so happy to see Mr. Meyer-Oertel in the audience and equally happy that the German Forum continues its worthy mission of bringing young artists from German speaking countries to the USA to perform. We have a high level of confidence in the new President Barbara Heming. You too can be part of this valuable organization for a modest contribution. Music, food, wine, and good fellowship!
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|Justin Mock, Nicolette Mavroleon, Sara Couden, John Taylor Ward, Drae Campbell, and Jamilyn Manning-White at Roulette|
We didn't even have to think of a clever title for our review. The supernally creative team at Heartbeat Opera did it for us. Conceived by Co-Artistic Directors Louisa Proske and Ethan Heard, and directed by Mr. Heard, the 2018 version of Heartbeat Opera's annual Halloween drag extravaganza left us grinning from ear to ear. What an overdose of imagination we witnessed, surpassing even last year's Mozart in Space.
The overall concept was that of the blind poet Homer, wearing golden winged shoes provided by Mercury,visiting various mythological creatures in ancient Greece. He encounters one phantasmagoric creature after another, many of whom offered arias of the Baroque period, when operas were written based on mythology.
The entire evening was dazzling and we scarcely know what to write about first. Since our focus is on opera, let us begin with Nicolette Mavroleon in drag as Nerone singing "Come nube che fugge dal vento" from Handel's Agrippina, fiddling on a golden violin whilst Rome burned virtually through projections by Shawn Boyle. Nero renounces love in favor of political power. We confess to being distracted by her golden costume but not too much to miss appreciation of a fine vocal performance.
Similarly, Jamilyn Manning-White's elaborate black and silver costume, complete with snakes coming out of her head almost distracted us from the world premiere of "Feed the Snakes", composed by Co-Music Director Daniel Schlosberg with lyrics by Royce Vavrek. Ms. Manning-White is a riveting performer with equal dramatic and vocal skills.
These two fine artists reappeared as Sappho and her Muse singing "Pur ti miro, Pur ti godo" from Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea, the gorgeous final duet between Poppea and Nerone.
Sara Couden impressed as Dejanira singing "Where Shall I Fly?" from Handel's rarely produced Hercules. Dejanira has gone mad after causing the death of her husband Hercules. She gets many changes of mood, color, and tempi.
The always marvelous John Taylor Ward appeared as the scary-looking cyclops Polyphemus, singing "Fra l'ombre e gl'orrori" from Handel's Aci, Galatea, e Polifemo. Who but Mr. Ward has the vocal range and agility to pull off this buffa aria!
In a totally different role, Mr. Ward created a very tall and very skinny leather-bound fly, a manifestation of Jupiter, buzzing around the lovely Eurydice (lovely Ms. Manning-White) who attacked him with an electrified fly swatter, in the duet from Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld. There was also a performance of the famous "Can-Can" with a Minotaur doing a split at the end.
Drae Campbell was just right as Homer, feeling his way around with a blind man's cane. Justin Mock appeared as the winged Cupid, as Cerberus (the three-headed dog) and as the Minotaur. Aphrodite was performed by Pearl Harbor, whose real name is Wo Chan. This role was lip-synced and the beautiful voice we heard was that of Peregrine Teng Heard who also wrote the show with Mr. Heard.
Co-Musical Directors Jacob Ashworth and Daniel Schlosberg provided the music with Mr. Schlosberg's arrangements for violin (Mr. Ashworth and Mélanie Clapiès), cello (Clare Monfredo), bass (Dara Bloom) and clarinet (Gleb Kanasevich). Mr. Schlosberg conducted from the harpsichord.
The fantastic costumes, hair, and makeup were designed by Fabian Aguilar, Jon Carter, Miodrag Guberinic, and Andrew Jordan. Their contributions were essential to putting the concept across.
Choreographer was Heartbeat regular Emma Crane Jaster. Lighting was by Krista Smith. Props were designed by Corinne Gologursky.
All of these wildly talented people contributed to an evening that made our heart beat faster. We could not imagine a better celebration of the arts and gender diversity/fluidity!
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|JoAnna Geffert, Jonathan Fox Powers, Sarah Caldwell Smith, David Seatter, Joanie Brittingham, Bray Wilkins, Alexa Devlin, and Drew Bolander|
Victor Herbert Renaissance Project Live! is focusing its fifth season on (hold your breath)...LOVE! And we just loved its production of Victor Herbert's 1922 "play with music" Orange Blossoms. Artistic Director Alyce Mott has called upon her usual literary magic to adapt the libretto written by Fred De Gresac (the gifted female librettist responsible for several of Herbert's best works.
Ms. Mott has called the work a "play with music" because it lacks an overture and no grand finale. That's putting a rather fine point on it since the work has all the sparkling melodies we want in an operetta and a typically silly but enchanting plot.
Lawyer Brassac (played by David Seatter, the always splendid veteran performer of operetta) has a lovely but penniless goddaughter named Kitty (played by the charming VHRPL! regular Joanie Brittingham. She won the hearts of the audience with her ballad "A Kiss in the Dark" in which she recalls a man who won her heart and vanished.
He also has a client/friend, the pompous Baron Roger Belmont (played with high humour by company regular Bray Wilkins). Have you guessed who her vanishing lover might be?
Baron Belmont is engaged to the histrionic and affected Helene De Vasquez (performed in high camp by Sarah Caldwell Smith) but cannot marry her because he will lose his inheritance. It is up to Brassac to find a solution and he does. He plots to marry off his goddaughter to the Baron in a mariage blanc.
The Baron will support Kitty in fine style and then, having secured his inheritance, will divorce her and marry his demanding Helene. Pretty racy for 1922! The plot twists and turns are enhanced by clever lyrics set to memorable melodies.
The principals sang beautifully and were convincing in their portrayal of stereotypes, enhancing their portrayals with individualizing quirks.
As if that weren't enough, the plot is rounded out with some delightful characters who were also perfectly portrayed. Alexa Devlin, using an hilarious Brooklyn accent, enacted the secretary Tillie. Her inamorata Jimmy Flynn was performed by company regular Drew Bolander who works for the jealous Helene as a detective, pretending to be a gardener who talks about thorns on the carnations!
The always wonderful Jonathan Fox Powers made a fine and funny butler Auguste, flirting with Ninetta, the maid, played by JoAnna Geffert. A duel between Auguste and Jimmy had us in stitches.
Not only does Ms. Mott do an excellent job of modernizing the spoken dialogue, but she also directs with a firm hand. The company choreographer Emily Cornelius staged some lovely numbers for the chorus, comprising Jenny Lindsey, Alexa Clint, Elisabeth Slaten and Susan Case (various clients of Brassac) and their suitors (Colm Fitzmaurice, Quintin Harris, and Keith Broughton).
Maestro Michael Thomas kept the music flowing whilst William Hicks provided the piano accompaniment. We started out placing stars next to our favorite musical numbers but wound up starring everything!
We loved the funny duet between Tillie and Jimmy--"New York is the Same Old Place" in Act I--almost as much as we enjoyed their Act II duet "Way Out West in Jersey". Mr. Bolander had a frisky and funny solo as well, entitled "J.J. Flynn".
The ensemble had a great number as well--"Let's Not Get Married" with the line "That's where happiness ends". Oh, those Roaring Twenties! We have a feeling that Herbert got them off to a roaring start!
We don't ever want to miss any of VHRPL!'s productions so we have already entered them in our calendar. And so should you! "Falling in Love" will be scheduled for February 26 and 27. "Sweethearts", which also has a libretto by Fred De Gresac, will be scheduled for April 30 and May 1. All performances are at Christ and St. Stephen's Church and tend to sell out. Don't miss your chance for these highly entertaining evenings.
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|Natalia Katyukova and Paul Appleby at Zankel Hall|
Tenor Paul Appleby is another artist who began his career about the same time as we began writing about the vocal arts, a simultaneity that leads to our deep investment and joy in his success. Instead of writing yet another encomium, we invite you, dear reader, to use the search function to read dozens of reviews of this outstanding artist. We would prefer to get right into last night's program which was so carefully designed by Mr. Appleby, with intentions described in detail in the program notes.
We will skip right to the Schubert which is where the pathway from our ears to our heart was direct. Every recital we attend leaves us with an "ear worm" and we cannot silence Mr. Appleby's tender tenor timbre ringing in our ears as he performed "Ständchen". It took us back about five years when he performed an entire program of serenades in Santa Fe. Mr. Appelby can serenade us any time at all! What a treat!
For reasons elucidated in the program notes, our terrific tenor reordered the seven Rellstab songs to fit in with the theme of the program. We had no objections to the reordering although we did not quite grasp the storyline he devised. No composer has equalled the lied output of Franz Schubert; his major-minor shifts and modulations of key seem to wrench our heart in a most satisfying way.
Both Mr. Appleby and the superb collaborative pianist Natalia Katyukova brought out the emotions of the songs. The natural elements like babbling brooks and rustling tree tops were finely limned on the piano. The mood of anxiety in "Aufenthalt" was countered by the lively and cheerful "Abschied". The grim "Kriegers Ahnung" has a low tessitura that did not daunt Mr. Appleby.
We loved the way he asked the questions "Hinab?", "Warum?" and "Und Du?" in "Frühlingssehnsucht" which ended with a powerful and passionate "Nur Du!" The set ended with a Seidl song "Die Taubenpost", notable for its rollicking rhythm and charming text. We always have a quibble and here it is. The consonants were not crisp throughout the entire Schubert cycle.
By contrast, the diction for the songs in English was perfect and every word was clear. Songs of Imagined Love by contemporary composer Hannah Lash were based on four of the Schubert songs which would be heard later in the program. This was a world premiere and was commissioned by Mr. Appleby who sang them off book.
We daresay that Ms. Lash's songs will be performed long after Schubert's are forgotten--and not a moment before! They are not bad; they were just not interesting to us. When there is no melody in the vocal line our attention focuses on the piano and we enjoyed some pleasing tinkling sounds.
We did not enjoy the unpleasant sounds of George Crumb's "The Sleeper" in which the piano was violated. The music desk was removed and the pianist stuck her hand inside and groped. We call this a case of "piano abuse". If a composer wants plucking he can call upon the all-too-willing harp who flaunts her strings! The piano likes her strings tapped gently, if you please.
This was the first time we heard Benjamin Britten's Winter Words: Lyrics and Ballads of Thomas Hardy. We are a huge fan of Hardy's novels and have always thought that the stories would make great operas. But his poetry left us cold, as did Britten's setting. Clearly Mr. Appleby loves this cycle and poured his heart and soul into the performance. It just is not our taste.
We did enjoy Mr. Appleby's melismatic singing, especially on the word "journeying" in "Midnight on the Great Western" in which Ms. Kotyukova produced the clacking of a railway train. We also admired the way Mr. Appleby colored his voice differently for the narrator, the child, and the convict in "At the Railway Station, Upway".
Also on the program was a short setting of a John Milton text by Handel--"Thus when the sun from's wat'ry bed" from Samson. The text rhymed and scanned and the melody was memorable with a fine opportunity for Mr. Appleby's melismatic singing.
We hoped for an encore from Candide but instead we got two pleasing songs--"Believe Me if All Those Endearing Young Charms" by Thomas Moore, and Frank Bridge's charming "Love Went a-Riding".
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|Curtain Call time at Richard Tucker Gala at Carnegie Hall|
We don't have to worry about the future of opera as long as The Richard Tucker Foundation is around to support young singers. The sold out house testifies to the fact that there is an audience for opera and the standing ovation tells us just how enthusiastic this audience is. The gala was live streamed on medici.tv and can be seen and heard on Facebook. This is the foundation's 44th year and has succeeded admirably in honoring the memory of the great Richard Tucker.
Audience members received a warm welcome from Barry Tucker followed by two uninterrupted hours of pure aural delight. We have every intention of telling you about this year's winner but something else excited us so much that we are just bursting with enthusiasm to tell you about it.
Perhaps our enthusiasm is because we have been writing about soprano Nadine Sierra since we began reviewing and have a special interest in her career and a deep attachment to her success. Her winning the 2017 award last year surely helped to advance her rapid rise to stardom both in the USA and abroad.
Last night she literally stole the show. She gave a lesson in seduction the likes of which we have never witnessed. Sporting a slinky backless red gown, she proceeded to tear Des Grieux away from the priesthood in a manner that recalled the desperation of Madam Arkadina working her wiles on Trigorin in Chekhov's The Seagull. We have always thought of Ms. Sierra as "the diva next door"--all girlish innocence; so it was a revelation to hear her use her gorgeous instrument in the service of manipulation. On the receiving end of this manipulation in "N'est-ce plus ma main?" from Massenet's Manon was 2014 Richard Tucker Award winner tenor Michael Fabiano.
We saw a totally different side of this versatile soprano in a charming and lighthearted aria ("Me llaman la primorosa") from El Barbero de Sevilla, a zarzuela composed by Gerónimo Giménez and Manuel Nieto. This is a gloss on the Rossini opera and the singer is the soprano of a young company rehearsing that opera. Regular readers know of our enthusiasm for zarzuela and we love this aria but never heard it done so well. The fioritura virtually sparkled and there was a lovely "competition" with the flute.
So, dear readers, we received a lesson in seduction from a young woman of outstanding physical and artistic gifts; but we also got a lesson in seduction from a mature woman who dazzled us with an over-the-top rendition of the "Habanera'" from Bizet's Carmen. If you have already guessed that this was a surprise appearance by mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe (1999 award winner), you deserve one of the red roses that she showered upon the audience and Maestro Marco Armiliato, as well as the Concertmaster. This artist can still raise the temperature in the room and we love her dearly.
We might add that we got a bit teary-eyed when she sang "Take Care of This House" from Leonard Bernstein's 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Our tears sprang from the realization that no one is taking care of the White House these days. "This house is the hope of us all", sang Abigail Adams in the show. We comforted ourself by converting the house in the song to Carnegie Hall; this is a house we can take care of! And we must!
And now, let us move on to 2018 award winner Christian Van Horn. He is one of only three bass-baritones to have ever won the Richard Tucker award. He opened the program with an exciting aria from Verdi's Nabucco in which the high priest Zaccaria responds to his people's lament "Va Pensiero". (The incomparable Metropolitan Opera Chorus was on hand and we wished that his aria had been set up with a performance of that work.) It was a fine impassioned performance nonetheless, demonstrating the artist's flexibility in the cabaletta.
Later on, he tackled the complex "Ella giammai m'amò" from Verdi's Don Carlo, in which we are meant to feel compassion for the evil King Philip who oppresses his people and has stolen his son's intended bride. He even asks the Grand Inquisitor for permission to kill his son! It is only Verdi's music aided and abetted by Mr. Van Horn's artistry that permitted "sympathy for the devil".
The rest of the evening's program achieved its customary level of excellence. With big voices like these, we got to hear quite a bit of Verdi. Mr. Fabiano, the 2014 winner, performed "Quando le sera al placido" from Luisa Miller with pleasing vibrato, delivering a lot of angst in the recit and plenty of lyricism in the aria. We liked his use of dynamic variety and color.
Soprano Angela Meade tackled the fiery "No,no! giusta causa" and wrestled it to the ground. Ms. Meade, the 2011 award winner, is a force of nature with a rich tone and a soaring upper register. There were some gorgeous tones floated up toward the balcony but it was the fiery cabaletta that grabbed us. There were significant contributions from the Metropolitan Opera Chorus. We have never heard this early opera by Verdi-- I Lombardi al prima crociata, but somehow we feel we got the best moment!
Baritone Quinn Kelsey performed "È sogno? o realtà", from Falstaff. Accompanied by the horns, he delineated with building intensity, the ultimate expression of masculine pride and poisonous jealousy, as Mr. Ford believe his wife to have been unfaithful.
We had never heard tenor Yusif Eyvazov but what a sweet sound he has! He knows just how long to hold a note without strain or excess and his tone just sailed over the orchestra in Manrico's beloved aria "Di quella pira" from Il Trovatore. We liked the change of color and intensity in the recapitulation.
There were plenty of goodies besides Verdian ones. We were particularly fond of soprano Christine Goerke's performance of "Es gibt ein Reich" from Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos. Her voice and phrasing did justice to the composer's soaring vocal lines.
Ms. Goerke, the 2001 award recipient, reappeared as the excommunicated Santuzza singing the Easter hymn from Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana, supported by the chorus and organist--another superb performance.
Tenor Javier Camarena addressed the audience with a humorous anecdote before launching into an aria from an opera unknown to us--Manuel Garcia's Florestan. Himself a singer and father of two singers (Pauline Viardot and Maria Malibran) Garcia knew how to write for the voice. We loved the way Mr. Camarena handled the French and are pleased to learn that he is interested in promoting the career of Garcia, whom we only know of through a musical evening we reviewed that celebrated his introduction of Mozart operas to the USA.
In a lovely duet with Ms. Meade from the lesser known Rossini opera Armida, we enjoyed his flexibility in the fioritura, as he portrayed the Christian knight Rinaldo being seduced by the titular sorceress. More seduction!
We got to hear one more selection from Mr. Van Horn in the stunning duet "Suoni la tromba" from Bellini's I Puritani. Sharing the duet with Mr. Kelsey, it was a fine example of harmonic writing for contrasting voices, in martial rhythm.
We were waiting to hear soprano Anna Netrebko sing "Pace, pace" from Verdi's La Forza del Destino but that never happened. But we did hear her in a duet with Mr. Eyvazov, the final duet from Giordano's Andrea Chenier in which Maddalena and Chenier go to their death on the guillotine. Their two large voices filled Carnegie Hall with overtones.
Maestro Armiliato conducted the always wonderful Metropolitan Opera Orchestra; both orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera Chorus added greatly to the evening.
It was a sensational evening. We heard some of our favorite singers and some that were not yet known to us. We heard several arias and duets that we don't often get to hear. We renewed our appreciation for the Richard Tucker Foundation. And we made plans to attend Boito's Méfistofélè at The Met so that we could hear Mr. Van Horn, Ms. Meade, and Mr. Fabiano together!
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|Michael Pilafian, Edgar Jaramillo, Tate Chu, Judith Fredricks, and Joseph Flaxman|
What a clever title for a program of opera scenes, all of which dealt with death. Actors relish dying onstage and apparently so do singers. Last night's recital by Opera New York, helmed by Artistic Director Judith Fredricks, gave us lots of great music performed by a group of excellent young artists.
The first three scenes were extracted from Verdi operas, so you know the music was good-- but also challenging for the singers, who uniformly rose to the occasion.
In Ballo in Maschera, Riccardo, the Governor of Boston, meets his bloody end at the hands of his Secretary Renato, who has joined in the assassination plot because he learns of Riccardo's love for Amelia, his wife. Amelia tries to warn Riccardo, to no avail.
Edgar Jaramillo's warm tenor was perfect for the role of Riccardo and his bloody death by stabbing was convincing. Soprano Courtney Delisle made a fine Amelia; baritone Joseph Flaxman did well as Renato, and soprano Xueyan Fan opened the scene as Oscar, the page.
Opera New York has frequently put the Act IV quartet from Rigoletto on their programs, but this is the first time they have performed the final scene in which Gilda dies in the arms of her father. The actual stabbing had occurred earlier in the act at the hands of the assassin Sparafucile.
Here, we were able to get a better appreciation of the skills of Ms. Fan who went from the frisky Oscar to the tragic Gilda. The handsome Mr. Flaxman did a great job of hiding his assets under a black cloak and transforming himself into a hunchback. Mr. Jaramillo gave us some "La donna è mobile" from offstage and sounded great. Whoever was responsible for lighting (uncredited in the program) put the scene in the dark with flashing lights successfully creating the illusion of lightning.
In the third Verdi scene, extracted from Don Carlo, baritone Roberto Borgatti performed the role of the heroic and loyal Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa, who "takes a bullet" for his friend Don Carlo. We enjoyed hearing his "Per me giunto" and "Io morrò", happily recalling the time we heard Hvorostovsky sing the role at the Met.
The last operatic selection was the final scene from Gounod's Faust in which Marguerite, imprisoned for killing her newborn, of which Faust was the father, is visited by Faust and Méphistophélès. Soprano Tate Chu has a lovely instrument and was convincing as the unbalanced Marguerite. Mr. Jaramillo demonstrated his versatility by singing Faust in excellent French, and Mr. Flaxman created a devilish devil, dragging Faust away in a move reminiscent of the Commendatore dragging Don Giovanni to hell.
We even had organ music from Walter Hartman joining the offstage chorus for that uplifting spiritual moment. Otherwise, pianist and Music Director Michael Pilafian accompanied the singers with his customary professionalism.
All that death and dying was relieved by Scott O'Brien singing "If I Can't Love Her" from Alan Menken's Beauty and the Beast, and the dazzling coloratura of Jennifer Ter Keurst animating "Glitter and Be Gay" from Bernstein's Candide, an aria that always leaves us happy and humming
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|Cameron Richardson-Eames and Xiaomeng Zhang|
In the several years we have been attending the liederabende at Juilliard we have watched the sparse audience grow to a packed house. And why not! Music lovers have an opportunity to hear some splendid singers accompanied by polished pianists in some compelling programs. And attendance is free!
Last night's program was curated and coached by Gina Levinson and comprised entirely Russian songs. This was an ambitious undertaking for the new semester and the young singers acquitted themselves with poise and some fine performances.
We liked the fact that the singers introduced themselves and said a few words about their program but very much wished that they had spoken more slowly and clearly. Obviously, projecting the spoken voice is a different skill than projecting the sung voice.
Furthermore, we wished that the detestable music stand had been left offstage where it belongs. We do understand that it is early in the semester but a performance is a performance and the main goal is to connect with the audience. The music stand is always an obstacle, even when the singer barely glances at it.
Take for example the difference in communication when soprano Shakèd Bar abandoned the stand for a Tchaikovsky song "To forget so soon" after not reaching us at all with a set of four songs by Prokofiev. All we remember of the Prokofiev is that she was undaunted by a somewhat low tessitura.
When the singer does not reach us we tend to focus on the piano and Richard Fu was marvelous, creating sunlight when called for and pleasing our ears with some thrumming chords in the final Prokofiev and producing a delicate arpeggiated ending in the aforementioned Tchaikovsky song of lost love. At this point Ms. Bar connected by being off-book and we enjoyed the variety in her tone color.
Soprano Lydia Graham achieved a rewarding rapport with five Tchaikovsky songs. We loved the lively Italianate "Pimpinella", with which the singer and her collaborative pianist Brandon Linhard appeared to be having as much fun as we did. We liked the variety with which the pair imbued the delicate "Lullaby in a Storm", the intensity of "I Wish I Could in a Single Word" and the mournfulness of "Not a Word, O My Friend". In the pessimistic "Does the Day Reign?" we heard some admirable ripples in the piano.
Mezzo-soprano Olivia Cosio, partnered by pianist Mariel Werner, performed a quintet of songs by Rimsky-Korsakov, a composer responsible for our childhood love of classical music. We wished she had not read the introduction but she was off-book for the songs and impressed us with some lovely melismatic singing in "A Nightingale Sings to a Rose" which just happened to be our favorite song of the set. It makes use of a mode that just might be Phrygian and we hope a reader will clarify that for us. It is a distinctively Eastern sound, like a minor scale on steroids. It tugs at the heart.
We heard it again when the long admired baritone Xiaomeng Zhang performed with pianist Cameron Richardson-Eames the gorgeous and well known Rachmaninoff song "Do Not Sing to Me, My Beauty". Mr. Zhang's melismatic singing and Mr. Richardson-Eames grumbling chords in the lower register conspired to tear at our heart, in spite of the music stand. It seemed to be a crutch that Mr. Zhang really does not need. I hope he will become more secure in this song and abandon the book because it suits his voice well.
We also enjoyed the dynamic variation of "The Dream". He stowed the stand for "In the Silence of the Mysterious Night" and thrilled us with a passionate climax.
He did not need any crutches for a performance of a pair of songs by Sviridov, whose writing managed to avoid the tedium of most 20th c. composers. In "Foreboding" the forceful piano was met by some lovely singing in which Mr. Zhang connected with the text, employing variations in color and dynamics to express the emotions of the text.
"Drawing Near to Izhory" was lively and fun--a perfect way to end the Liederabend.
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|Jonathan Tetelman, Emily Birsan, and Ethan Simpson|
We can think of no opera we like better than La Traviata, nor can we think of a heroine who touches our heart as deeply as Violetta does. Readers, you are about to hear an extravagant encomium. We have seen dozens of performances of Giuseppe Verdi's masterpiece and have never seen one so perfectly cast as the one we saw last night at Merkin Hall.
Who but Daniel Cardona of Martha Cardona Opera takes the time and does the hard work to discover young artists with big impressive voices and fine technique--and to give them a New York stage on which to show their stuff. Production values in this semi-staged production may have been at a minimum but the casting was first rate.
As the tragic heroine Violetta, soprano Emily Birsan used her generous instrument with emotional accuracy by means of vocal coloration and consummate skill in the fioritura, which never seemed gratuitous but always connected with the feelings of Piave's text.
We love Violetta for her dignity and emotional freedom and we love witnessing her characterological growth from the wild spirit of Act I to the desperate frail creature she becomes by the end. We watch and hear her deal with ambivalence in Act I; what independent woman has not felt such ambivalence about accepting love into her life with all its concomitant risks! Ms. Birsan captured it all in a way that no one could fail to grasp.
Just watching her blossom in Act II, only to have her butterfly wings pulled off by the self-righteous father Giorgio Germont, who manipulates her into leaving his love-besotted son by playing the religion card. Stunned by the magnificent performance of baritone Ethan Simpson, we observed this stiff-necked provincial soften when faced with Violetta's dignity and devotion.
In Act III one could observe the outcome of her enormous sacrifice. Love is the best medicine but loss of love is totally toxic. Her frailty and thin thread of hope kept the audience riveted until she collapsed into Alfredo's arms.
And what an Alfredo we had last night! Tenor Jonathan Tetelman is a star on the rise and if you were there last night, you got to say you "heard him when". Finding a tall handsome tenor with terrific tone is almost impossible, but one with superb technique is beyond belief. We heard marvelous phrasing, lovely legato, superb command of dynamics, and a variety of vocal colors. Significantly, he doesn't push his voice but floats the tone confidently.
Alfredo also grows as a character. He begins as a love-sick pup in Act I and blossoms into a loving man in Act II. His apparent rejection by Violetta creates grief and then anger. The sympathy of his father in Act II becomes disdain and shame in Act III when Alfredo behaves badly toward Violetta. Only in Act IV is there resolution, when all three principals can share their grief.
What a pleasure to see three young artists interact so believably! It was impressive to watch the young Mr. Simpson convince us that he was a middle-aged father by the manner in which he moved his body and the authoritative tone in his voice! This is surely a baritone to watch! Both his arias in Act II were outstanding.
Another dramatic "deception" was seeing the beautiful young soprano Maria Brea transform herself into the elderly and exceedingly dowdy Annina. Although she had but a few lines, they were well sung.
As the unpleasant Barone Douphol, we had the excellent baritone Eric Lindsey whom we always enjoy. He and Mr. Tetelman created the requisite tension in Act III without benefit of a gambling table. Tenor Ganson Salmon was effective as Gastone, Alfredo's friend. Mezzo-soprano Stephanie Sanchez made a fine Flora with bass Neil Eddinger as her Marchese.
In a semi-staged production like this, the acting took place in a narrow space in front of the orchestra with only a couple pieces of furniture. It is testament to the vocal and dramatic skills of the principals that we were able to focus on them and to create scenery for them in our mind's eye.
Maestro Gregory Ortega is a conductor of precision; he evoked an excellent performance from the Martha Cardona Opera Orchestra. We could not have asked for better musical values. We might have asked for better titles, but if the only quibble we have is with a recalcitrant projector, that should tell you how much we enjoyed this production.
The highly regarded Jestin Pieper served as backstage conductor (Mr. Tetelman's offstage singing at the end of Act I sounded great as did the Carnival crowd in Act IV) and master of the excellent chorus who portrayed party-goers.
Watch out for these rising stars! May they fill the operatic firmament with their glitter.
(c) meche kroop
|Rachel Barg, Sooyeon Kang, Theodore Christman, Madison Marie McIntosh, Jennifer Allenby, Alyssa Brode, and Nobuki Momma|
Theodore Christman has been on our radar screen for two and a half years, since Madison Marie McIntosh performed a song cycle he wrote and accompanied at the piano. Mr. Christman writes music that is accessible and tuneful; it is anything but academic. We were very enthusiastic.
We have since heard a couple of short operas he composed which he customarily pairs with a well known opera by a "dead white male". Yesterday, at the National Opera Center, we heard two of his one-act operas--a reiteration of Adriana McMannes and a new opera entitled A Metamorphosis.
The first is is an Upstairs/Downstairs tale in which a widower falls in love with his daughter's governess. The obstacle to their marriage is the widower's mother-in-law who spreads ugly gossip about the governess' mental stability. Fortunately she is made to retract her words and the tale has a happy conclusion.
A new director, Mark Watson, has changed the tone of the work and pushed it in the direction of over-the-top comedic melodrama, with exaggerated gestures. Marvelous mezzo-soprano Madison Marie McIntosh gamely gave the director what he asked for with no sacrifice of her prodigious vocal skills. She was particularly excellent with the coloratura work in the second act, in which she batted her eyelashes in time with the trill. Her love duets with the miscast tenor Kevin Courtemanche produced some lovely harmonies.
Reprising her role as Mrs. Fowler was Sarah Knott, a very different sort of mezzo-soprano who relished her role as the mother-in-law from hell. Soprano Eugenia Forteza made a fine showing as the disagreeable Mrs. Tonti who employed Adriana.
The flaw in the work was Anna Winslow's libretto. The story seems to belong to a different epoch, one in which the rumor of mental illness might lead to ostracism and when a woman making an overture toward a man would be shocking. We couldn't help thinking of Britten's comedy Albert Herring, the libretto of which is also "old fashioned" but consistent, whereas this libretto is uneven in tone. Furthermore, many of the words seemed tortured into submission in order to fit the vocal line, especially in the recitativi. Mr. Christman's music deserves better!
The second work on the program, A Metamorphosis, also seemed burdened by an anachronistic and awkward libretto. A woman named Arinyae (mezzo-soprano Rachel Barg) runs a theater named Shadowland as a sort of commune, providing food and shelter to homeless teens, in exchange for their services as actors and artists.
The framing device was a lonely old woman named Juniper who is reflecting back on her youth as a part of this group. In this role, Ms. McIntosh used bodily gesture as well as vocal color to portray both the elderly woman and the teenager she recalls. Her singing was exceptional.
But the story is muddled with an unnecessary sub-plot about the members of the group dealing drugs by delivering paintings to Buzzman, the owner of a lamp store played by Mr. Courtemanche, who was more believable in this role than he was as a romantically inclined widower.
One of the members of the group named Peter (sung by the fine baritone Nobuki Momma) falls in love with the daughter of an insect-obsessed drug addict client (bass baritone Sean Kroll); her name is Clover (bright voiced soprano Alyssa Brode) and she joins the theater commune as well, to the dismay of Juniper who also loves Peter.
There is also an overdose by Soka (soprano Jennifer Allenby) and Ariyae's death with the theme of soul possession. Does this sound like too many threads for a one-act opera? It did to us! A retrospective view of the 60's is a great idea but this tale did not succeed.
The piano score was played to perfection by Music Director Marijo Newman. We do not know whether Mr. Christman has orchestrated the works but that would surely be something to look forward to. We would like to see his music get the libretto it deserves.
We acknowledge that the libretti we heard yesterday did rhyme and scan, which is admirable, but they were clunky and often unsingable. We think a one-act opera should focus on a simple story and be told clearly. English is spoken in short phrases that are "punchy"; it is difficult to be lyrical in English. Broadway lyricists seem to have mastered the art. So should opera lyricists!
(c) meche kroop
|Juan Lázaro, Katrin Bulke, Darrell Lauer, and Keith Milkie at St. John's in the Village|
The glamorous coloratura soprano Katrin Bulke first came to our attention a year and a half ago when she appeared through the auspices of the German Forum. We were highly impressed (review available through search bar) and wondered when we would have the opportunity to hear her again. Our wish was granted last night when we heard her debut solo recital in the United States, right here in New York City in the lovely church St. John's in the Village, a church renowned for supporting the arts.
Ms. Bulke curated the program herself, choosing material that would show off her artistry and versatility. She also chose a couple guest artists, one at the beginning of a promising career and one approaching the end of a successful one. As accompanist she chose Juan Lázaro, one of our favorite collaborative pianist whose graduate studies are at Manhattan School of Music with Maestro Tom Muraco, whom we absolutely cherish. She could not have made a better choice.
In this "mostly Mozart" evening we renewed our acquaintance with several of Mozart's heroines for whom this operatic genius composed gorgeous melodic arias; Mozart's writing for the opera has its own characteristic stamp but also individually reflects much about the character for whom he is writing. Ms. Bulke used her vocal and dramatic assets well to illuminate each character. With consummate versatility, she was able to create several characters in the same opera!
Take for example, Die Zauberflöte. Could any three characters be more different than the sweet innocent Pamina, the winsome Papagena, and the vitriolic Queen of the Night? And yet each character was limned by means of vocal color and gesture. "Der Hölle Rache" with its high-lying tessitura was the aria that so riveted our attention at the German Forum; the perfect accuracy of the coloratura passages and the brilliance of her upper register have only improved with time.
Pamina's "Ach, ich fühl's" was delivered with pathos and for the "Pa-pa-pa-pa" duet she enlisted young baritone Keith Milkie who came to our attention through Vocal Productions New York. The two artists had a wonderful flirtatious rapport.
The same pair were completely different in "Là ci darem la mano" with Ms. Bulke's ambivalence in counterpoint with Mr. Milkie's seductiveness.
We also heard Mr. Milkie in a solo aria from Le Nozze di Figaro-"Se vuol ballare". This promising baritone has an acting background and certainly got Figaro's intentions across.
Ms. Bulke again showed her versatility by performing the Countess' aria "Dove sono" with dignity and despair but with a change of color for the hopeful ending. Susanna's final aria "Deh vieni, non tardar" gave full attention to Susanna's loving deception of her husband. She would deal effectively with male jealousy right from the start!
There were more goodies on the program including Donna Anna's "Non mi dir" from Don Giovanni; her interpretation was one of sincerity. There was also a duet "Fuggi, crudele" with veteran tenor Darrell Lauer portraying the devoted Don Ottavio a role we are sure he has sung many times before since he also sang "Il mio tesoro", winning a big hand from the audience.
The lesser known Die Entführung aus dem Serail has two female roles and Ms. Bulke gave us Blonde's advice to Osmin "Durch Zärtlichkeit" as well as Konstanze's killer aria of firmness of character "Martern aller Arten". This comic singspiel shows us the lighter side of Mozart's genius and Mr. Lázaro showed us some gorgeous playing in the extended piano introduction to Kostanze's aria.
We applaud Ms. Bulke for her expressive melismatic singing and the crystalline texture of her instrument, especially revealed in the concert aria "Exultate, Jubilate".
There was even an encore in which Mr. Lauer joined Ms. Bulke for the "Libiamo" from Verdi's La Traviata. At this point we noticed how differently Mr. Lázaro colored the piano for Verdi's very different writing.
It was a splendid evening in a fine venue with great acoustics. Music lovers would do well to check out the varied musical programs at St. John's in the Village, the garden of which was employed for a lovely post-concert reception.
(c) meche kroop
| Joshua Jeremiah as Frankenstein's Monster (Photo by Kevin Condon)|
We are in the catacombs of Greenwood Cemetery, ready to be creeped out by another site specific work presented by Andrew Ousley as the last entry in a season called The Angel’s Share. And if you are curious about that name, please see our earlier reviews. Mr. Ousley seems to have a taste for the spooky, considering his other series in the subterranean Crypt of the Church of the Intercession.
The presentation lasted slightly over an hour, less than the time it took us to get to this remote corner of Brooklyn. The summer event had allowed us to stroll uphill through the verdant and peaceful resting place for New York notables. But tonight we were brought uphill by trolley, following a whiskey tasting, of which we did not partake. Theatrical judgment requires sobriety!
And what a theatrical evening it was, stimulating to eye and ear. We had composer Gregg Kallor at the piano, introducing sketches of an opera he is developing based on Mary Shelley’s 1818 Gothic tale Frankenstein. The scene we heard was the part in which the “monster” confronts his creator, the scientist Victor Frankenstein.
His frightening appearance has caused him to be shunned by society. We couldn’t keep ourself from thinking about the “aliens” in our midst, those who arrive in our country without knowing the language, trying to learn and get accepted. But this monster knows he will never be accepted, although he has been hanging around a nice family, observing their customs and learning to read from their books. Only the blind old grandfather accepted him.
He is demanding that Frankenstein create a mate for him; in a blackmail move, he threatens to visit his creator on Frankenstein's wedding night; we know that it won’t be a friendly visit! Things go downhill from there but that part of the opera has yet to be written. Mr. Kallor’s piano was accompanied by Joshua Roman’s cello.
The music was filled with anxiety as befits the tale, although we preferred the rare lyrical passage. The libretto was a bit to literary for our taste and seemed awkward to sing, although baritone Joshua Jeremiah sang powerfully as the monster and acted the part every bit as well as he sang. In the role of the frightened Frankenstein, tenor Brian Cheney was similarly effective. As “the bride of Frankenstein”, Jennifer Johnson Cano made a brief and welcome appearance, trying to comfort her fiancé.
After a piano interlude celebrating Leonard Bernstein, Ms. Cano performed the chilling piece The Tell-Tale Heart—Edgar Allen Poe’s 1843 short story, a monologue by a murderous psychopath whose guilt leads him to have auditory hallucinations of the sound of a beating heart coming from under the floorboards where he buried the dismembered body. We heard this piece before at one of the Crypt performances; the review can be found through the search bar.
Although horror is our least favorite genre, we must admit that Ms. Cano’s intense and self-effacing performance held our attention and drove the audience to wild applause. For our taste, we have preferred her performances of more lyrical material, performances we have often reviewed. She is indeed a wonder of versatility!
Sarah Meyers directed the evening and Tláloc López-Watermann provided the highly effective and evocative lighting. Fay Eva’s costume design was just right, with the monster’s face mostly hidden by a hoodie.
The evening had a powerful effect; we were too shaken to walk down the dark pathway to the exit and were happy to ride the trolley!
Happy Halloween! We got a jump start on ya’!
(c) meche kroop
|Haodong Wu and Marisa Karchin at Weill Recital Hall|
Surely musicians do not have to be beautiful to look at but there's no denying the visual pleasure of seeing two such lovely artists onstage at Weill Recital Hall last night at the Joy in Singing 2018 International Art Song Award Debut Recital.
An interesting factoid is that we reviewed each of them separately in connection with Cantanti Project. Haodong Wu was the pianist for a recital of love songs and Ms. Karchin sang in Händel's Orlando. How fine it was to see both of them given an entire recital to show their versatility. Their introduction of each set was delightfully presented.
An unusual feature of Ms. Karchin's artistry is that we could understand every word she sang, in spite of the bright coloratura nature of her instrument. There is an appealing aspect to her vibrato as well. She chose her own program and wisely included plenty of material with melismatic passages, at which she excels.
There is nothing reticent about Ms. Wu's collaborative pianism. She didn't drown out the singer but she certainly didn't fade into the background. The result was a true matching of artistry.
The program opened with two songs by Purcell, one of the few composers who set English in a way that delights our ear. Both "Sweeter than Roses" and "If Music be the Food of Love" offer opportunities for word coloration and the artists availed themselves of the opportunity, whether the word was "sweet" or "warm", "freeze" or "fire".
Six songs from Lili Boulanger's Clairières dans le ciel were performed. If the French pronunciation left something to be desired (Yes, those nasalities and diphthongs are difficult to master!) at least the Gallic style was mastered, leaving us to hope that Ms. Karchin will get some additional coaching in French. Her cool tone is just perfect for French. We heard her in the duet from Delibes' Lakme three years ago and thought the same.
This is our week for Turina's music, which we just heard in a concert at Manhattan School of Music. We can never get enough of Spanish song and were happy that the program included Tres poemas from Opus 81. We particularly admired Ms. Wu's playing in "Tu pupila es azul". Again, we loved the melismatic singing. We heard some insecurity in the Castilian and even a touch of Argentinian accent at times--something that should be very easy to correct.
We have no such quibbles with the Russian since that is a language we have not learned. It was a brave move to put four songs by Nikolai Obukhov on the program. This so-called "modernist mystic" wrote dodecaphonic music, including all sorts of weird vocal utterances, that the audience listened to respectfully.
The final set by Strauss came as a relief and we noted that Obukhov's music will be performed long after Strauss' music has died--but not a moment before! (Insert laugh). In spite of listening with "open ears", we were gritting our teeth halfway through. We will say, however, that the artists gave the songs a committed and expressive performance.
The Strauss left us happy of heart. That man knew how to write for the voice! His Brentano Lieder appeared after a decade long hiatus from song writing and must have been greeted with as much glee then as we felt last night. The humanity and accessibility of the text is matched by the stunning vocal writing, filled with descending chromatic passages and wide skips.
Here, Ms.Karchin was in her element, bringing every passage to vivid life with her storytelling. Her artistic choice was to soften the "ch" sound, avoiding its guttural nature; this was fine since it was consistent. We get annoyed when a singer avoids the sound altogether or pronounces it inconsistently. A little brushing up of the umlaut sounds would make her German perfect.
Ms. Karchin's father is a composer and was in the audience to hear her sing his setting of two poems by Seamus Heaney, whose text, which neither rhymed nor scanned, led to a vocal line than was not memorable. We found our ears leaning toward the piano writing which was interesting.
Let us close by pointing out that Joy in Singing, in their sixtieth year, is under new leadership and is expanding its mission. They will now be known as Joy in Singing, The Art Song Institute. Visit www.joyinsinging.org to learn about their outreach in public schools (YAY!), their series Art Song on the Move, their Song Salons in private homes, their master classes and workshops.
(c) meche kroop