MISSION

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

Saturday, December 15, 2018

I'M DREAMING OF.....

Laetitia Ruccolo, Kirsten Scott, Eugenia Forteza, and Matthan Black

This was not your typical Christmas concert. It was more like an intimate gathering of friends. The salon setting in Williamsburg was comfortable and spacious. The material that was chosen seemed to be of a personal interest to the artists--songs remembered from childhood, songs popular in their country of birth, songs they loved.

Mezzo-soprano Kirsten Scott (Co-Founder of Bare Opera, along with Maître de Chant Laetitia Ruccolo) led off the evening's program with Martin and Blane's "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas". This is a song we've heard so often that it has bored us silly.  But-- big but-- Ms. Scott made it new and fresh. We don't think we've ever enjoyed it as much, Ms. Scott having revealed more feeling than we've ever observed--and without a whiff off "cross-over" condescension.

The versatile Ms. Scott gave a stirring rendition of "Chacun à son goût" from Johann Strauss II's. Die Fledermaus. We believe the first time we heard her perform this was a few years ago with Martina Arroyo's Prelude to Performance. We enjoyed it so much we hope that she keeps it as an encore piece.  We loved the way she wandered among the guests and engaged them, truly immersing herself in the part of Prince Orlovsky.

Soprano Claire de Monteil, who is new to us, thrilled us with a truly Gallic "La Vie en Rose". She is the recipient of an award from Opera Index and we hope to hear her gorgeous voice at  the gala in January.

She also performed along with baritone Sungwook Kim in Adolphe Adam's "O Holy Night" creating a spiritual mood in direct contrast with Prince Orlovsky's party song.  We heard verses sung in the original French (our favorite), in Korean, and in well enunciated English. When we heard the phrase "the weary world" it truly resonated with us.

Mr. Kim also gave us an excellent "Every Valley" from Händel's Messiah with a very spirited accompaniment from Ms. Ruccolo on the keyboard. Every word was clear, a situation we never take for granted. He showed off a flexible instrument and a truly excellent trill.

Mezzo-soprano Inbar Goldmann delighted us with a Hebrew song about miracles and struggles called "Shivchi Maoz" in celebration of Hannukah, showing a lot of strength in her lower register.

 Although the Sephardic tradition is not her own, you never would have guessed it from her charming performance of "Ocho Kandelikas" in Ladino, the language of Spanish Jews. We could actually understand the words! Her performance of "Avraham Avinu" got the audience clapping and stamping their feet. What we liked the best was the Andalus mode in the accompaniment.

She also sang "A Piece of Sky" from Michel Legrand's Yentl.

Soprano Eugenia Forteza contributed songs from her homeland of Argentina, where, we learned, the dialect of Spanish is Castellano, pronounced in the typical Argentinian fashion with  "j" sound for the "ll", instead of the "y" sound.

We enjoyed Guastavino's "Hermano", a song about community, and a delightful childhood song "Caballito Criollo", both delivered with beautiful tone, sazon, and a fine vibrato.

Matthan Black accompanied himself on guitar for "I'll Be Home for Christmas". Mr. Black comes from Arkansas where people gather together and make music. We like the little riff of "Jingle Bells" he inserted toward the end.

Irving Berlin's "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" was performed in three part harmony by Ms. Scott, Ms. Forteza, and Mr. Black, sounding as fine as we've ever heard it sung.

The entertainment part of the evening concluded with a rousing "Libiamo" from Verdi's La Traviata which definitely put us in a celebratory mood.

Lately we have been realizing the unique pleasures of song salons given in casual environments.  We listened, we drank wine, we ate cookies.  We walked out onto the rainy streets of Williamsburg completely satisfied.  Thanks Bare Opera!

(c) meche kroop

Thursday, December 13, 2018

REFLECTIONS ON CLASSIC STORIES--THROUGH A MODERN LENS

Cristina Maria Castro, Isabelle Freeman, Andy Dwan, David M. Sanchez, Carolyn Ramseur, Maria Brea, and Grant Braider

In an impressively short period of time, City Lyric Opera (née A.R.E. Opera) has made a large splash in the pool of boutique opera companies. Led by lovely ladies (Kathleen Spencer and Megan Gillis as Co-Founders and Co-Artistic Directors, with Grace Lazos as Artistic Coordinator), one of the most important part of their mission statement is to put the artist first. When we inquired about how they acquired such an excellent roster of artists, the answer was short--"We pay our singers". Great idea! They deserve it.

Ms. Spencer and Ms. Gillis will be giving a joint recital next month which we will announce on our Facebook Page (Voce di Meche), but tonight they served as narrators for the program. It was a lovely touch but rather unnecessary since the program spoke for itself. The participants, most of whom we have heard before, are as gifted dramatically as they are vocally. The scenes were directed with a sure hand by Mikhaela Mahony, Alexandra Clint, and Helen Heuttner--a gynocentric team for sure!

One aspect of the program which we particularly enjoyed (we do love having our opinions confirmed!) was that opera and musical theater pieces were presented with the same respect. Stephen Sondheim may deny this all he likes, but he has written operas far worthier than some of the pretentious and tuneless trash that some critics fawn over, but which opera lovers may see once but never twice.

"Tonight" from Bernstein's West Side Story opened the program with a bang. We were very taken with Cristina Maria Castro's bright clear soprano when we heard her recently at the City Lyric Opera gala. Tenor David Sanchez is new to us and made a fine impression as Tony falling in love with her Maria. The two artists convincingly portrayed the dawning of love in clearly sung English; they touched our heart.

The lucky Mr. Sanchez got to make love to two women in one evening.  His scene partner in "O soave fanciulla" from Puccini's La Bohême was the marvelous Maria Brea, a soprano we have long admired ever since Martina Arroyo's Prelude to Performance. We would not want to be asked to prefer one love scene over the other. There was not a "false note" in either portrayal of new love. We wished they had been performed consecutively because the first scene put us in a "new love" mood.

A duet of a totally different nature overwhelmed us with its clever dialogue which fit the music perfectly.  "Have a Little Priest" from Sondheim's  Sweeney Todd employs satisfying rhymes, witty beyond measure. The song was done justice by soprano Isabelle Freeman, who struck us as a strong spinto, and baritone Andy Dwan who has a mobile face and body, just right for comedy. It would be an understatement to say we enjoyed the duet immensely.

And what about a duet for two men? From Sondheim's Into the Woods we heard "Agony" in which two "princes charming" lament the unavailability of their love object. The very funny Mr. Dwan was joined by another baritone Grant Braider in this stellar performance. We love the way Sondheim marries short punchy phrases to music--the best way to deal with the rhythms of the English language.

Ms. Freeman as Vitellia was joined by mezzo-soprano Carolyn Ramseur as Sesto in the duet "Come ti piace" from Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito. Until Titus pardons them, they get to raise all kinds of hell-- but with voices this melodious, who could dislike them?

Let us move on to some dazzling solo offerings. We have never been a fan of Tom Cipullo, nor had we ever heard of his opera Mayo.  Some online research revealed that Mayo premiered last month at SUNY Potsdam. We don't know how Ms. Castro got her hands on the score but we loved "Valeria's Aria" which was (gasp!) actually melodic. Come to think of it, it was Ms. Castro who introduced us to some wonderful music at the gala last month. We now consider her our "go-to" for something new and special.

Ms. Brea gave a winning performance of "Depuis le jour" from Charpentier's Louise. Her French was finely rendered and the work was beautifully shaped and dynamically varied. The upward skips were smooth and the line was lovely.

Ms. Ramseur made a fine showing in the "Composer's Aria" from Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos. The phrase "Musik ist eine heilige Kunst" could have been the theme for the entire evening. The German was clearly enunciated and the aria was delivered with just the right degree of passion.

Ms. Freeman got to show her stuff in "Tacea la notte placida" from Verdi's Il Trovatore. This is a large voice with interesting overtones and a lot of what financial analysts would call "upside potential". We liked the vibrato, the dynamic variety, and the Italianate legato. We loved the contrasting cabaletta.

Mr. Braider's solo was "Hai gia vinta la causa", Count Almaviva's aria from Mozart's Nozze di Figaro. The vocal qualities were excellent and what we'd like to see, to take the performance to the next level, would be to witness the inner workings of the Count's mind on his face. He's a rather dense character and he's trying to put 2 and 2 together but only comes up with 3 1/2. We in the audience need to be able to laugh at his benightedness.

Mr. Sanchez' solo was "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" from Franz Lehar's Das Land des Lächelns. He began in good German and switched to English for the final verse, a nice move we thought.

What evening is complete without a little cabaret? Mr. Dwan performed a pair of songs by William Bolcom, putting a very fey and very ironic spin on "Amor", and then told the tale of poor "George".

The famous Act III quartet from La Bohême is often heard on programs whenever you have a tenor, a baritone, and two sopranos.  We almost always enjoy it but last night was one of the best we've heard. The contrast between the reconciling Mimi and Rodolfo and the embattled Musetta and Marcello was not only well-delineated vocally but also dramatically, due to some fine direction.

We also liked the direction for the closing number--the "Habanera" from Bizet's Carmen. Ms. Ramseur changed out of her male "drag" and appeared in a sexy gown, seducing with her voice and body. The rest of the cast was onstage, acting as chorus. It was a swell way to bring the evening to a close.

Music Director Jeremy Chan's contributions to the evening were significant. We particularly noticed his artistry in the Verdi and the Puccini. He found an entire orchestra within the piano!

City Lyric Opera is a company to watch with many interesting activities both educational and entertaining. Do visit their web site for more information--www.citylyricopera.org.

(c) meche kroop

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

LONGING, LOVE, AND LAUGHTER

Ryan Hurley, Marina Iwao, Santiago Pizarro, Bronwyn Schuman, Maxwell Levy, Kathleen O'Mara, and Brandon Linhard at Juilliard Liederabend

We accidentally spelled Juilliard with three "l"s, possibly because of the presence onstage of love, longing, and laughter. In another delightful liederabend, coached and curated by Cameron Stowe, an adventuresome program was offered without anything to injure our tender ears. As a matter of fact, our tender ears felt absolutely caressed.

So then, what was the adventuresome aspect? It was the creation of a faux song cycle by Schubert. Well, it wasn't exactly faux. Schubert composed the music for these four songs as a group.  However, Goethe wrote the texts separately and they were published separately, but a case could be made that Schubert had some resonance in mind as he composed the music, a resonance picked up by Mr. Stowe.

In any event, we enjoyed the juxtaposition as well as the expressive singing of tenor Ryan Hurley. "Der Musensohn" is well known and one of our favorites; we enjoyed the lively rhythms although we would have preferred a lighter touch in Marina Iwao's piano.

The following three songs are lesser known and we were happy that Ms. Iwao's enthusiasm abated so we could better hear the text. The plaintive text of "An die Entfernte" received the appropriate coloring from both voice and piano who matched better with each other. The sad feelings continued in "Am Flusse" whilst "Wilkommen und Abschied" ended on a more optimistic note.

We found ourselves wishing that we had poets like Goethe today. We also found ourselves wishing that the ignorant members of the audience would withhold applause after every song. Perhaps this advice could be stated right on the program!

There was more Schubert to come from Kathleen O'Mara with her lovely sweet soprano instrument. "Die junge Nonne" is such a wonderful song, filled with opportunity for variation in coloration which we hope Ms. O'Mara will develop. There could be more contrast between the storm and the inner peace felt by the young nun. We did hear that contrast in Cameron Richardson-Eames' piano.

We were so happy to be introduced to "Dass sie hier gewesen" with Friedrich Rückert's poignant sentiment. Come to think of it, we could also use a Rückert today!  The lengthy paean to the joys and pains of love found in "Lied der Delphine" was another newfound treasure.

Tenor Santiago Pizarro was on hand to offer songs by Franz Liszt. We never knew that "Im Rhein, im schönen Strome" existed and utilized the same Heinrich Heine text that Schumann set in his cycle Dichterliebe, with just a single word change. Liszt's iteration has a totally different feeling and we enjoyed Mr. Pizarro's delivery.

Collaborative pianist Bronwyn Schuman produced some fine rippling figures as backdrop to the voice. Other moods were created as well--the gloom of "Ein Fichtenbaum steht einsam", the bitterness of "Vergiftet sind meine Lieder" and the confused feelings of "Freudvoll und Leidvoll". We think Mr. Pizarro will likewise develop more variety in his coloration.

The liederabend concluded with some cabaret songs by William Bolcom, sung with high drama and good humor by baritone Maxwell Levy, accompanied by Brandon Linhard. The only one of this group with which we were familiar was "Murray the Furrier". "Thius, King of Orf" was over after just one phrase. Perhaps our favorite was "Satisfaction". Mr. Levy has a real flair for cabaret and our conjecture is that he has spent some time with Steven Blier--or will do so.

Our major quibble with young singers is inconsistency in the pronunciation of the final "ch". Sometimes it is omitted; sometimes it is over-enunciated. Perhaps coaches don't work on it because they think very few people speak German. But we have to pick on something, don't we?

Nonetheless, we had a fine time at Juilliard and count on several more liederabende in 2019!

(c) meche kroop

Monday, December 10, 2018

LYRA NEW YORK INTERNATIONAL VOCAL COMPETITION

Michael Fennelly, Emma Dogliani, Andrew Egbuchiem, Jenny Schuler, Dilara Unsal, Megan Cullen, Michael McAvoy, Michelle Pretto, Emma Lavandier, Lars Fosser

Lyra New York's International Vocal Competition was held yesterday at the National Opera Center and we were present to hear the finalists, as well as a bonus--the finalists in the Mozart Vocal Competition. There was a distinguished panel of judges and the wonderful accompanist Michael Fennelly who manages to be just about everywhere.

The competition ran smoothly and everyone performed well; the judges must have had a difficult time choosing the winners when the differences in talent were so slim. As one might expect, we didn't always agree with the judges but that is to be expected.  What experienced adjudicators look for is not always the same as what an audience member reacts to.

What we will relate is from the viewpoint of an audience member and, as is customary for us, will not reveal which singer achieved what placement. 

In the Mozart competition, all three singers (Megan Cullen, Jenny Schuler, and Carla Vargas) sang the same aria from Mozart's Idomeneo. This will never be our favorite Mozart opera but it was interesting to hear how each singer handled the "laughing" part. We also liked the differentiation between the lyrical section and the cabaletta, with its fiery fioritura.

The finals which followed offered three categories--art song, oratorio, and operatic arie. (Guess which your reviewer enjoyed most!)  

In the art song category, we especially enjoyed bass-baritone Wooju Kim's expressive tonal quality which he employed well in an expansive song by Tchaikovsky which we cannot name and the lovely "Einsamkeit" by Brahms. We thought his performance might be elevated to a higher level if he relaxed his physical gestures to a more natural manner that would match the expressivity of his voice.

Emma Dogliani sang Richard Strauss' "Zueignung" and Bachelet's "Chère nuit"

In the oratorio section we heard counter-tenor Andrew Egbuchiem and baritone Michael McAvoy, both of whom sounded just fine although, to be honest, oratorio "ain't our thang". We will say that Mr. McAvoy delivered "Revenge" from Händel's Alexander's Feast as if it were an operatic aria, singing with drama, spirit and flexibility.

In the operatic division we were pleased to hear a promising Wagnerian singer--Jenny Schuler, who sang "Du bist der Lenz" from Wagner's Die Walküre. This suited her large soprano far better than the earlier Mozart.

Another highlight was soprano Dilara Unsal's performance of "O patria mia" from Verdi's Aida.  This is another large voice with a great deal of promise. There was plenty of strength at the lower register that made us speculate that she might have once been a mezzo-soprano. Yet, her top notes rang with soprano resonance. There were a couple vowels in her Italian that needed to be corrected but that's a minor quibble.

She also sang an aria from Tchaikovsky's Pique Dame with passion and conviction. Since we don't speak Russian, we cannot comment on her pronunciation but it sounded just fine.

Bass-baritone Lars Fosser, who neglected to introduce himself, gave a chilling interpretation of Iago's  "Credo" from Verdi's Otello. There was plenty of menace in the coloration which seemed to carry over into Don Giovanni's invitation to the party in which he hopes to seduce Zerlina. We would have preferred a bit more variety. Don Giovanni needs to be more seductive and charming!

We enjoyed Michelle Pretto's generous soprano which she put to good use in an aria from Verdi's Ernani. We were happy to hear another aria, one from Korngold's Die tote Stadt which she sang in fine German. 

There was only one mezzo present.  Emma Lavandier performed "Una voce poco fa" from Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia and "Gardez bien", Stefano's aria from Gounod's Romeo et Juliette.

We refer you to the website www.lyranewyork.com for information on the singers and the competition. The main distinguishing feature of this competition is, however, something we would like to share. There are no age limits! We can think of so many issues that might have delayed or interrupted a singer's career and it is a wonderful benefit to give everyone an equal opportunity.

In closing, we would like to paraphrase the advice we heard from the legendary centenarian Maestro Antonio Coppola in a master class he gave for Martina Arroyo's Prelude to Performance.  Come out onstage with confidence, say your name loudly and clearly.  Announce your selection loudly and clearly.  Although most of yesterday's singers gave their names, they mumbled the names of their selections. Please, singers, learn to project your spoken voice as well as your singing voice!

(c) meche kroop




Saturday, December 8, 2018

MUSIC 10; PRODUCTION 2

Clara Lisle as Tatyana in Mannes Opera's production of Eugene Onegin
(photo courtesy of The New School)

If you want to hear a valid rendering of Tchaikovsky's luscious score, get yourself to John Jay College's Gerald Lynch Theater by 2:00 this afternoon. Maestro Julian Wachner, using his expressive body (and no baton), leads The Mannes Orchestra in fine fashion, laying down a silken carpet of strings, and bouncing the themes around among the various wind sections. We heard some mighty fine solos from the oboes, horns, and trombones.

We were happy with the fine singing of the cast, comprising soprano Clara Lisle dealing with Tatyana's desire, anxiety, rejection, and ultimate dignity; mezzo-soprano  Wan Zhao as her flighty sister Olga; baritone Hyunsoon Kim as a rather likeable Onegin; and the terrific tenor Oleksii Kuznietsov, well remembered from his stint with IVAI, as the ill-fated Vladimir Lensky.

This Ukrainian tenor was so superb in his deeply felt and carefully modulated "Kuda, kuda" that when he was shot by Onegin in the duel scene, we were wishing that the director Jordan Fein had been shot instead.

Although there was thankfully no lengthy exegesis in the program to "conceptsplain" the production, we were left to our own devices, trying to figure out the point of betraying Pushkin's verse to such an egregious extent.

This story is rooted in Russian soil and the times of serfdom and duels. Fein's iteration places it absolutely nowhere and in some amorphous contemporary time. We were surprised that Tatyana did not write her letter to Onegin on a laptop and that her name-day party guests were not taking selfies on their phones.

The story cannot be shoehorned into a modern dress production.  It simply DID NOT WORK! The duel scene was a joke with Onegin's "second" a drunken passed out Triquet (Jens Ibsen, whose tribute to Tatyana was delivered in French not worthy of an identified Frenchman). Onegin and Lensky just pulled pistols out of their respective backpacks and shot at each other.

The chorus sang well but instead of peasants they were just a group of young friends of the Larin girls who called Madame Larina "Mother", causing us to question "Did Madame bear 19 children or did she adopt them?" They sang of hands hardened from work!  The work of studying?

When the two young men are discussing the sisters, the girls are standing right next to them! And why was Madame Larina coming on to Onegin?

The party for Tatyana's name day involved some of the worst choreography (Chloe Kernaghan) we have ever seen. There was absolutely no relationship between Tchaikovsky's music and the movement of the young guests.  Come to think of it, there was the same problem in Act III at Prince Gremin's ball where the guests were doing some kind of conga line. The audience tittered.

Terese Wadden's costumes were similarly rebarbative. The young folks wore short shorts and backpacks. Madame Larina was rather more bejeweled than one would expect in the provinces. Only in Act III were the singers dressed appropriately with Gremin and Onegin in dinner jackets and Tatyana in a long gown.

Amy Rubin's set was nothing but a curved wall with chalk writing on it. It served to alter the acoustics with a few dead spots, impairing the audibility of the singers who deserved better.

Now that we have gotten our dismay off our chest, let us praise the singers for doing a swell job with this difficult opera. Although we do not speak Russian, it sounded fine to the ear. Roles were performed sensitively with good variety of coloration.

Bass Michael Pitocchi made an excellent impression as Prince Gremin as he sang of his love for Tatiana and how it changed his life. Taryn Holback sang the role of Madame Larina; Perri Di Christina made a fine Filippyevna.

Each young artist succeeded in making us care for their character which was quite an achievement since they had to surmount an insulting production.

(c) meche kroop


Friday, December 7, 2018

DOUBLE FEATURE AT MANHATTAN SCHOOL OF MUSIC

Joseph Tancredi and Carolina Lopez Moreno
(Photo by Carol Rosegg)

In the best of all possible operatic worlds, one witnesses art and enjoys entertainment simultaneously. This was the case last night at Manhattan School of Music when a group of young singers, comprising mostly graduate students, presented a felicitous choice of two one act operas--one we have often heard and one we had never even heard of.

The first opera was Nino Rota's I due timidi, a work written for radio performance on RAI with libretto written by screenwriter Suso Cecchi D'Amico. The work was broadcast live in 1950 and later adapted for the stage in London and in Bari. This epoch seems as remote from today as the 19th c.

The work is set in a pensione run by the crabby Signora Guidotti (mezzo-soprano Polixeni Tziouvaras, as excellent vocally as she was dramatically) who has her hands full with plumbing problems and irate guests. The superb set by Lee Savage is the courtyard of the pensione which has three cameriere (soprano songbirds Heather O'Donovan, Kaitlin Turner, and Bridget Casey) gossiping whilst doing their chores. Flowers grow in window boxes and laundry hangs in the sun to dry.

Director Dona D. Vaughn (Artistic Director of the MSM Opera Theater) created a sense of time and place that hasn't been equalled since the Metropolitan Opera's late production of Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana.  People shout out of windows and lower baskets for groceries and payment. Very realistic.

The protagonists are the shy pianist Mariuccia (superb soprano Carolina Lopez Moreno, so fine of voice and so successful at creating empathy) and the equally shy suitor Raimondo (the promising tenor Joseph Tancredi who is still an undergraduate, singing with fine tone and phrasing). 

This is a comedy with a bittersweet ending which we will not divulge, but which seemed just right. Through a series of misunderstandings, Il dottore Sinisgalli (terrific tenor Zhiyu Shi) persuades Mariuccia's mother (marvelous mezzo-soprano Erin Reppenhagen) that the daughter needs his love, whilst La signora Guidotti mistakes Raimondo's intentions for love for herself.

In the playing out of this comedy of errors, the principals were each given a lovely aria so we could savor their vocal gifts. Acting as a one-man Greek chorus was the Narrator, bass Yi Yang whose rich voice convinced us that he was a worldly-wise observer.

Rounding out the cast were Laureano Quant as the porter and Sidhant Seth as another resident of the pensione.

Nino Rota would go on to compose film scores and had a particularly fruitful relationship with Federico Fellini.  But we doubt that his music was ever played as well as it was last night when the esteemed Maestro Giovanni Reggioli led the MSM Opera Orchestra in a lively reading of this colorful score.

Although Ms. Lopez Moreno was completely convincing as a pianist, the sound came from the beguiling offstage piano of Anna Smigelskaya.

Tracy Dorman's costumes looked just right for post-war Italy. Tyler Micoleau's lighting created a sunny Italy. Italian diction was excellent, thanks to Glenn Morton's coaching. Steven Jude Tietjen's supertitles were excellent for those who couldn't understand the very clear Italian.
Michelle Blauman and Xiaotong Cao (photo by Carol Rosegg)

Giacomo Puccini's Suor Angelica, celebrating its centennial, has been heard many times, mainly as part of an evening's production of Il Trittico, comprising Il tabarro, Suor Angelica, and Gianni Schicchi. There was something special about seeing this work up close and personal that resulted in our experiencing the work anew and being moved in ways that we had not been before.

Instead of a collection of nuns, we observed each one exhibiting a different personality behind the nearly identical ecclesiastical habits. We consider it a major triumph of director Dona D. Vaughn that we had different feelings for each one!

The eponymous Suor Angelica was portrayed by superb soprano Xiaotong Cao. She seemed on a different level from the others.  Apparently she had adjusted to the cloistered life although her admission to the convent had probably been not exactly elective. Culture at that time was not kind to girls who got pregnant out of wedlock, especially if they came from aristocratic families. Hiding the "sinners" away in convents was considered the only solution to deal with the family's shame.

This in itself seems tragic but tearing a mother away from her infant seems even more tragic. Poor Angelica has harbored secret wishes for a visit from her family but when the visit finally comes it is her aunt, La zia principessa who arrives with no love or forgiveness, just disdain and some documents through which Angelica must sign away her inheritance.

The role of the aunt was played by Michelle Bauman with rigid posture, icy demeanor and wonderful mezzo-soprano tone. We tried to figure out why she was costumed in the Italian version of Dior's post-war "New Look" with a silly hat. It was probably done to provide some chronological resonance with the first opera on the program but it served to undercut her critical authoritarian stance and gave the lie to her arrival in a coach with a family crest.  We far prefer the character wearing a long black dress and veil!

Another mezzo, Erin Reppenhagen, shone in the role of the Monitor, doling out corrective punishment to the nuns for their minor infractions. Yet another mezzo, Gabriella Chea, excelled as the Abbess.

Among the nuns, our favorite character was Suor Genovieffa, sung by the sweet voiced soprano Hannah Friesen. When she sung of her longing to hold a lamb, we were quite moved.

But the most moving moment was toward the end when Angelica rips off her wimple and collapses on the floor in tears, lamenting the death of her son. Having poisoned herself she believes herself to be damned and thereby separated eternally from the boy. We confess to a bit of water in the eyes.

We enjoyed the two Lay Sisters played by Michelle Capano and Cambrey Willhelm. The Mistress of the Novices was sung by mezzo Mengran Jia and her charges comprised Amanda Larkin, Lauren Curet, Duqingna, and Nicole Rowe.

Xiao Xiao and Sophie Blatt portrayed the Begging Sisters who brought provisions via bicycle. Corinne DeJong was Suor Osmina and Bridget Casey was Suor Dolcina.

The set was repurposed from the first work, this time with the second story shutters tightly closed and a fountain in the center of the courtyard. Mr. Micoleau's lighting was effective but we would have loved to see the golden light which purportedly illuminates the fountain only three days a year!

This is such a great opera with so many female roles, giving opportunities to so many female singers. Each one was wonderful in her own way.

There are three more opportunities for you, dear reader, to share in this outstanding experience--tonight, Saturday night, and Sunday afternoon. The newly redecorated Neidorff-Karpati Hall has excellent acoustics and is just the right size.  Don't miss out!

(c) meche kroop

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

BANGING AND BOWING

Juilliard Percussion Ensemble at Alice Tully Hall

Last night we stepped way out of our usual territory to review some exciting new works for percussion by faculty members and graduate students from Princeton University, a leading incubator of compositional talent in the United States. Whilst we have found contemporary vocal compositions to be largely boring, contemporary percussion compositions we found to be rather exciting, as they created an exotic soundscape.

We heard six works and weren't bored for a minute. The opening work Four for Flexatones by Juri Seo captured our attention not only because of the originality of the handheld instruments but because of the aspect of body movement. The four musicians walked around the stage and tossed the sounds around as if they were balls. It was a playful dance in which the musicians became dancers accompanying themselves. At one moment, they simultaneously drew bows from their backpacks and appeared like samurai.

Steven Mackey's Madrigal, conducted by Daniel Druckman, created a pleasing sound world in which the female voice was just another component. Soprano Michelle Geffner has a lovely voice but, unfortunately, the text she sang was incomprehensible. We are not even sure it was English. But it didn't matter. It was the texture of the voice melded with a variety of percussion instruments that was so pleasurable to the ear.

We loved Donnacha Dennehy's Surface Tension in which the percussionists produced waves of sound, rising and falling with varying dynamics. The idea was to let the drums sing on various pitches, manipulating the tone by means of blowing air through a tube into the side of the drum. Various other techniques were seen.  For example, the keys of the vibraphone and the marimba were sometimes bowed instead of struck, producing interesting timbres.

Oscar Bettison's Four Drums for Dresden was the least interesting of the six pieces, relying more on a theoretical concept than on a compelling result. The idea was to get live percussion to imitate electronic dance music. To our ears, it sounded a lot like noise, although we did enjoy the syncopated central section.

Far more interesting was Caroline Shaw's taxidermy in which the musicians played on flower pots. This sounded original and was especially pleasing when they were played in intervals of a minor third. We thought of the glass harmonica and how simple household objects are worth exploring for their unusual voices. The spoken text at the conclusion of the piece added nothing of value. The music spoke for itself.

In Pillar IV, Andy Akiho used a variety of experimental techniques to produce a collection of odd sounds. There were some highly pitched sounds punctuated by the forceful bass drum. Conventional percussion instruments were played in unorthodox manners, reminding us very much of children at play who don't follow the rules. It was a freeing experience watching drums being beaten on their frames and vibraphones being struck on the tubes instead of the keys.

Let's have a big round of applause for innovation and experimentation! The Juilliard musicians were Omar El-Abidin, Simon Herron, Euijin Jung, Yoon Jun Kim, Benjamin Cornavaca, Toby Grace, Joseph Bricker, Tyler Cunningham, Stella Perlic, Yibing Wang, Jacob Borden, Harrison Honor, Mizuki Morimoto, and Leo Simon.

(c) meche kroop

Monday, December 3, 2018

TRISTAN UND ISOLDE--NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART

Cast of Tristan und Isolde at National Opera Center

By guest reviewer Ellen Godfrey




Producing, preparing, and performing Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde is not for the faint of heart.  Wagner’s operas demand so much from the singers, musicians, designers, and directors…arguably more than any other composer.  Artistic consultant Peter Randsman started thinking about the possibility of a concert performance of the opera without orchestra, but with piano, to be performed in a small intimate performance space. His goal was two-fold; first to have the singers articulate the text…to be dramatic and to get the emotion out there without scenery or costumes and secondly to give singers a chance to perform this great and taxing opera and to give the audience the opportunity to hear it.

 Peter and his colleagues assembled a fearless cast of singers. Coordinating the performance was conductor and music director, Maestro David Gilbert, chief assistant to conductor Pierre Boulez at the 1976 Wagner Bayreuth Festival, and pianist William Hobbs, a soloist as well as featured pianist with orchestras, and ensembles. LeAnn Overton wrote the English subtitles. She is a vocal coach on the faculties of Manhattan School of Music and Montclair University. Peter Randsman has performed as an actor/singer in many musicals, has sung with the New York City Opera, and has his own artistic management company. He was very involved in working with the singers.

This Tristan was performed at the National Opera Center in New York City, to a sold out house on Friday evening, November 30. I am happy to report that it was a great success.  Maestro Gilbert’s conducting was firm and totally attuned to every nuance of the difficult score. William Hobbs was amazing at the piano; for over four demanding hours he played with passion, drama, sensitivity, and understanding.

The opera was sung in German, with English subtitles and, as is common in concert versions of operas, the singers had scores. However, they were still able to convey their emotions and interact with each other. The rehearsal period was only three weeks. The only singer in the cast who had ever sung Tristan was Adam C.J. Klein, who performed the role at the Seattle Opera. It truly is amazing that the performance came together so well.

Tristan und Isolde is based on a 12th century Germany legend. Tristan is bringing Isolde to Cornwall by ship for her marriage to King Marke. Isolde and Tristan have both fallen in love with the other, but both keep their feelings hidden. Brangane, her maid, can see that Isolde loves Tristan and substitutes a love potion for the poison Isolde and Tristan were preparing to take. Under the spell of the potion, Isolde and Tristan admit their love for each other. 

Later they have a passionate encounter at night, but are discovered by King Marke, who is furious. Tristan flees to France despite the wounds inflicted on him by his former friend and betrayer Melot. Isolde follows him to France,but by the time she gets there he is dying. She dies by his side, enraptured and transfigured by love.

The singers were all up to the task. After the first act prelude, the tenor, Jeremy Brauner, sang a lovely Irish song beautifully and clearly. He was equally at ease with three other roles; the betrayer Melot, a steersman, and a shepherd.

There are few opera soprano and tenor roles that have as much singing as  Isolde and Tristan do. Both Julia Rolwing, as Isolde, and Adam C. J. Klein as Tristan, proved to be wonderful in their parts.  In Act I, Isolde’s narrative and curse, Julia Rolwing displayed the anger boiling inside.  She has an even dramatic soprano range, from top to bottom and has no fear of the high notes. Her voice has a lovely dusky quality.  

Adam C. J. Klein was equally fearless in his singing. He has a bright tenor voice and uses it for dramatic purpose when called for. After drinking the love potion, they sang lovingly to each other.  The Act II duet, which runs about 30 minutes, was introduced very delicately by William Hobbs and was sung with great love, excitement, and intensity.

Act III belongs to Tristan; who sings for about 40 minutes, with a couple of interruptions by Kurwenal. While some tenors take some cuts in the third act, Adam insisted he would sing it uncut. The length of the scene did not prevent him from singing with passion and a strong, dramatic voice. 

The end of the opera belongs to Isolde. After all that singing, Julia Rolwing could still sing an unforgettable Liebestod…starting off slowly and gradually increasing in sound and going easily higher and higher until the music fades.

Brangane, Isolde’s maid, was performed by Alison Bolshoi. Although she was a soprano, she is now a contralto. She has an exciting and even big booming voice from top to bottom.  The lower notes of her contralto voice are absolutely gorgeous.  Her singing of Brangane’s watch in Act II, was outstanding.

Kurwenal, Tristan’s retainer, was sung by helden-baritone Bryan Glenndavis. His voice beautiful voice is very expressive and big. He is perfect for Wagnerian roles.

King Marke, who is to marry Isolde, was sung by bass Eric Lindsey. I was  extremely impressed with his distinctively beautiful bass voice. He sang without pushing his voice and was very dramatic in his castigation of Tristan.

Justin McBurney, the English horn player had a lovely tone. He comes in for the third act. He played with great joy ,when appropriate and also great feeling.

Thanks to all who participated in this wonderful performance.  I found it very interesting just hearing the piano, especially played by such an excellent  pianist as William Hobbs. Maestro David Gilbert led a brilliant performance. There is nothing better than hearing opera voices live. I hope that Peter Randsman and his group can perform other operas in a similar manner.

LARGER THAN LIFE

Ken Noda, Will Liverman, and Michelle Bradley at the Morgan Library

Soprano Michelle Bradley and baritone Will Liverman are two artists whose careers we have been following for some time and whose performances we have been reviewing. Ms. Bradley has dazzled us with her sizable voice heard through the Lindemann program and Mr. Liverman has been on our radar screen since he won an award from Opera Index. Mr. Noda has been one of our favorite collaborative pianists for many years.

What a pleasure to have all three onstage at the same time yesterday at the George London Foundation recital series, held at the Morgan Library. The recital hall there has very lively acoustics which have been helpful to smallish voices but these acoustics kind of overwhelmed us when applied to such large voices, voices which easily fill the farthest reaches of The Metropolitan Opera House.

We heard a varied program of opera and art songs, with a generous helping of Christmas music as encore pieces. Given the size of the voices we preferred the operatic arias to the art songs. Ms. Bradley's voice is perfect for Wagner, Verdi, and Strauss. We greatly enjoyed "Es gibt ein Reich" from Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos which we just reviewed Friday night in an evening of scenes at Manhattan School of Music.

Ms. Bradley's upper register has power and brilliance but the depth in her lower register betrays her mezzo-soprano roots. She was every inch an abandoned princess waiting for Death. Later in the program Strauss' Ständchen was delivered with delicacy and romance, a nice contrast.

We adore Verdi's La Forza del Destino and wish it would be produced more often. Still, we grab any chance we get to hear Leonora's "Pace, pace, mio Dio", even though we know that poor Leonora will never get the peace she longs for. Ms. Bradley performed magnificently in this aria and Mo. Noda's piano limned the forceful theme with urgency.

We liked all of the above far more than Barber's Hermit Songs which we have heard a bit too often this year. Still, every singer gives her own interpretation and we liked the contrast between the joyful "The Heavenly Banquet" and the sorrowful "The Crucifixion". "The Desire for Hermitage" was quietly moving.

Mr. Liverman was at his best in "Heiterkeit und Fröhlichkeit" from Albert Lortzing's 1842 comic opera Der Wildschütz. We were so taken with Mr. Liverman's performance that we put Lortzing's opera on our "must see" list. We believe that this joyful song is sung by the Count.

Another favorite was "Grigory's Aria" from Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's The Tsar's Bride, an 1899 tragedy in which Grigory tries every trick in the book to win Marfa who is in love with another man but also chosen by the tsar as his bride.  You just know this will not end well. Our Russian speaking companion pronounced Mr. Liverman's Russian to be excellent. We are grateful to be introduced to some wonderful music, so well sung by Mr. Liverman, and hope someday to see this potboiler onstage!

In contrast, the Quatre Poèmes de Guillaume Apollinaire by Francis Poulenc seemed downright lighthearted with surreal poetry and plenty of irony in both voice and piano.

We are not crazy about Ralph Vaughan Williams' Songs of Travel which seem to be a favorite of baritones. We found ourself listening more to Mo. Noda's piano which produced some amazing ripples in "Let Beauty Awake" and some gorgeously modulated arpeggi in the lively "The Roadside Fire".

This banquet of music was served with a seasonal dessert. Mr. Liverman accompanied himself on the piano with a jazzy arrangement of "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" which incorporated riffs from other carols. Ms. Bradley's encore was a gospel arrangement of The Lord's Prayer.  

The final encore was sung a capella. Both singers took turns singing verses of "Silent Night" with a gospel inflection. The third verse was sung in glorious harmony with both artists joining voices. Several audience members were overheard commenting that the encores were their favorite part of the program.

(c) meche kroop








Sunday, December 2, 2018

ROMAN HÄNDEL

Juilliard 415 with Maestro Paul Agnew, Anneliese Klenetsky, Mer Wohlgemuth, and Siman Chung

The 22-year old Händel made quite a hit in Rome, writing weekly cantatas for the Accademia dell'Arcadia and laying the groundwork for his later operas. What a miracle that any of these cantatas survived and what a boon that we in New York were able to hear the 1707 Clori, Tirsi e Fileno, thanks to Juilliard 415, the renowned period instrument group, and some highly artistic singers, under the baton of Maestro Paul Agnew.

What a wealth of talent onstage bringing to vivid life this pastoral work about a shepherdess who strings along a pair of shepherds! The "faithless" shepherdess Clori was sung by the versatile soprano Anneliese Klenetsky whom we just enjoyed as the Governess in Britten's Turn of the Screw. With her sparkling soprano and flirtatious manner she was totally convincing and delightful to the ear.

Her suitors were portrayed by the superb Mer Wohlgemuth as the importunate Tirsi and by compelling counter-tenor Siman Chung as the more easily discouraged Fileno. Ms. Wohlgemuth has a somewhat heavier soprano than Ms. Klenetsky and the two voices harmonized perfectly. Ms. Wohlgemuth opened the cantata with a stunning "Cor fedele" in which she expresses her displeasure over Clori's faithlessness.

 Mr. Chung's fach is one which we favor and our favorite part of the performance was the final trio. The work ends with the two lovers resigned to the situation, declaring that it is impossible to live without love and to love without suffering. Tirsi and Fileno come to some kind of understanding at the end and a case has been made for a disguised homosexual resolution but such speculation is about as valid as an assumption of a ménage a trois.

We don't see that it makes any difference because what matters is the music and these three artists made music together, marvelous music.

Maestro Paul Agnew led Juilliard 415 in a well realized performance of the score. Particularly notable were the trio of recorders who, for unknown reasons remained unlisted in the program, and the archlute solo played by Adam Cockerham. Our knowledge of early instruments is somewhat limited but this instrument appears to be a smaller version of the theorbo.

Händel would go on to write countless operas; last night we got a glimpse of their birth. It seems to have been a favorable and effortless one. He just tossed it off in a few hours!

(c) meche kroop








GRAB A CHILD! ANY CHILD!

Isaac Mizrahi and the cast of Peter and the Wolf at the Guggenheim Museum

Sergei Prokofiev's 1936 Peter and the Wolf was our very own introduction to classical music and led to a lifelong appreciation. To this day we cannot hear a bassoon without thinking of Peter's grandfather. The iterations of the piece are multiple and we once spent an inordinate amount of time searching for a copy of a jazz/rock version on the Deutsche Grammophon label. We failed.

But we always come to hear Isaac Mizrahi's version at the Guggenheim museum, part of their Works and Process series. The multi-talented Mr. Mizrahi conceived and directed the show, performed the engaging and droll narration, and designed the apposite costumes for the performers.

String players are placed stage right, percussion is stage left, and the wind instruments representing the various characters share the stage with some very fine dancers performing choreography by John Heginbotham. Maestro Brad Lubman conducted the ensemble. The music is tuneful and accessible, not to mention enchanting.

The role of Peter was performed by Macy Sullivan wearing a propeller beanie. Elizabeth Coker made a finely feathered bird, dancing on point with true avian disregard for gravity. Marjorie Folkman lurched around on large flipper feet as the Duck, whilst Kristen Foote exhibited feline friskiness as the Cat. 

There was plenty of humor in Grandfather's untimely appearance which was gently remonstrated by Mr. Mizrachi. The role was performed by Guillermo Resto.

But oh, that wolf! Daniel Pettrow was sitting on a park bench, hiding in plain sight behind an open newspaper, waiting for his cue. Never has the French Horn (Tim McCarthy) sounded so menacing! This lupine creature was kind of adorable, even as he terrorized the bird and the cat. He managed to swallow the duck whole but never fear for the tender feelings of your rugrats. She somehow survives and the wolf is taken to the local zoo.

Making an appearance toward the end is the Hunter, in this case, since we are in Central Park, a chubby and somewhat foolish park ranger, played by Derrick Arthur.

We will post a carousel of photos on our Facebook page (Voce di Meche) which will show just how clever Mr. Mizrahi's costumes are. 

Musical values were marvelous and our love for the piece has been renewed.  There will be several more performances in the upcoming week so grab a kid and take advantage of this enchanting experience. Let it be noted that the many children in the audience were attentive and still in their seats.  That alone is quite an accomplishment. We hope the work will have the same effect on them that it did on us when we were that age!

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, December 1, 2018

A MEMORABLE NIGHT OF OPERA SCENES AT MSM

Joseph Andrew Yu, Xiaoya Guo, and Yvette Keong

We go to the opera to have a good time, not to boast of our interest in "highbrow culture". Last night we had a wonderful time watching scenes from four different operas at the Manhattan School of Music, all directed by the inventive Laura Alley, who never "plays a wrong note". Each scene was "pitch perfect".  The students, drawn from many parts of the world, exhibited healthy young voices with fine technique and impressive dramatic skills.

Two of the operas were oft-heard standards given beautiful productions and two of them were new to us but significant in the history of MSM. Scott Eyerly's The House of Seven Gables was given its world premiere by MSM in 2000 and Marc Blitzstein's spoof The Harpies was given its premiere in 1953 by MSM. It is rare that we enjoy contemporary opera in English but we did last night!

The program began with a scene from The House of Seven Gables in which boarder Holgrave (bass Weichang Wang) is photographing the Pyncheon family, comprising Aunt Hepzibah (mezzo-soprano Xiaoya Guo), Clifford (tenor Joseph Andrew Yu), and lovely young Phoebe (soprano Yvette Keong) who is having a lighthearted flirtation with Holgrave. We were pulled into the story and wanted to see the rest of the opera! Regular readers will be surprised since our taste for the modern is very rarely positive. The music was appealing, the acting was engaging and the voices just glorious.

Second on the program was The Harpies, which reminded us a bit of Offenbach by virtue of its wit.


The blind oracle Phineus (tenor Alexander Mason) is tormented by the avian Furies (Emilyn Badgley, Natalie Rumer, and Erin Wagner) who are not nearly as sweet as the Rheinmädchen in Wagner's The Ring Cycle.  Oh no, they eat Phineas' food and smell bad! Along come three Argonauts to the rescue (Taicheng Li, Daniel Rich, and Zachary Brown) and in a sensationally staged battle and chase scene, Phineas' wellbeing is restored.  The gorgeous goddess Iris (a radiant Shelén Hughes) appears in rainbow attire and sends the Harpies off to torture other victims. The voices were as fine as expected but the ensemble work was even better. We always love harmonies!
Returning to the familiar, we were delighted by the scene from Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos. Christina Roszhart has a huge soprano with promising roles in her future. She excelled as the eponymous Ariadne, abandoned on the isle of Naxos by her erstwhile lover Theseus. In lovely contrast were the voices of the three nymphs Najade (Hyeree Shin), Echo (Yejin Lee) and Dryade (Sarah Brownawell) who danced and sang their pity for her in suitable choreography and gorgeous vocal harmony.




Enter the feisty Zerbinetta (Kelly Singer) in full commedia del'arte attire, along with her troupe of entertainers. Esteban Zuniga portrayed Brighella, Alexander Mason had the role of Scaramuccio, Harlekin was portrayed by Marcel Sokalski, and Truffaldin was enacted by Edward Lim. Not only was the singing uniformly excellent but the staging and acting left no doubt about the talent onstage.