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

Wednesday, November 28, 2018


Kathleen Spencer and Megan Gillis of New York Lyric Opera

We celebrated "Giving Tuesday" with the two lovely ladies who founded one of our favorite boutique opera companies--City Lyric Opera.  Executive Directors Megan Gillis and Kathleen Spencer have a highly focused goal and have accomplished a great deal in the two years of their existence.

They began as A.R.E. Opera, making opera Accessible, Relatable, and Enjoyable. Their company is artist-centric; obviously when the artist feels free to express him/herself, the audience will respond in kind.

Let us just say that everything they have initiated in their brief two years has been of the highest quality.  All reviews are archived in case you haven't read them. We particularly enjoyed their Cenerentola and their L'elisir d'amore In all of their performances, there seemed to be no distance between artist and audience member.

Last night was a perfect illustration of their ethos. It was a salon held in a glamorous Upper West Side home attended by an elite group of opera lovers who sipped champagne in between sets of performances by four delightful young singers. The accepting environment was one which invited these artists to experiment with new material, as well as to entertain with confidence. Two of them were known to us and greatly admired and two were new to us.

Soprano Maria Brea has been a subject of our writing for quite some time; we love watching young artists grow and mature. We were thrilled to have a second hearing of "Me llaman la primorosa" from the zarzuela El Barbero de Sevilla, composed at the turn of the 20th c. by Gerónimo Giménez and Manuel Nieto. It had its premiere in Madrid.

This comic zarzuela concerns a young Spanish girl who wants an operatic career and in this aria she is auditioning for the role of Rosina and gets to be adorably over the top. Ms. Brea nailed it with her fine technique and expressivity.

Perhaps it was coincidence and perhaps it was planned but the other lovely young soprano performing at the gala, heretofore unknown to us, performed Adele's "Audition Aria" from Johann Straus II's Die Fledermaus. Cristina Maria Castro has a bright coloratura soprano and she clearly enjoyed portraying all the different characters that Adele was putting on display. We prefer this aria performed in German but must admit that the translation was excellent.

We regret never having seen David Yazbek's 2010 musical Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, adapted from the Almodóvar film of the same name.  Judging by "Model Behavior", sung in the show by Candela, it must have been wildly entertaining. Ms. Castro delivered the frantic monologue in rapid-fire fashion and we are determined to acquire a copy of the score.

We got to see another side of Ms. Brea in Despina's aria from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte--"Una donna a quindici anni". Her worldly wise character gets to instruct her young mistresses on how to deal with men.  Ms. Brea has just the right sound and personality to get the aria across.

Jordan Rutter is a countertenor who seems to be a William Bolcom specialist. His delivery of "George" was wry and heartbreaking. We loved his ironic delivery of "Toothbrush Time" which we'd never heard sung by a man; but it made perfect sense--much more than "Amor" which we think sounds better sung by a female singer.

New to us was baritone Grant Braider who gave an outstanding performance of Hugo Wolf's "Abschied", investing with high drama this tale of dealing justly with a critic. (We hope he won't kick us down the stairs!) From this one short lied, Mr. Braider created an opera scene!

He also sang a song of his own composition called "Who Cooks for You?" which had some finely drawn details of life, and "The Boss Poem" which we might have appreciated more if pianist Kanae Matsumoto had tailored her vigorous playing style to the size of the room.

It was a delightful evening and a lovely opportunity to connect with like-minded folk who appeared to enjoy the performances as much as we did.

We refer you to www.citylyricopera.org to learn more about the company's mission and their exciting season. One event we are sure of is the December 12th evening of opera scenes which we plan to review. We hope we will be hearing some of tonight's artists on that program.

(c) meche kroop

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