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.

Thursday, February 28, 2019


Matthew Wages, Alexa Devlin, Jovani Demetrie, Claire Leyden, Andrew Klima, Sarah Caldwell Smith, David Seatter, and Joanie Brittingham

The world needs people with obsessions, people who care deeply about something and want to share it with others. Alyce Mott is just such a person. As Founder and Artistic Director of Victor Herbert Renaissance Project Live! , she is making sure that Victor Herbert's substantial legacy will not be forgotten. His music is timeless and melodic, having provided inspiration for composers such as Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern. If only contemporary composers would listen and be inspired!

Last night's program was a compilation of his love songs; the air in Christ and St. Stephen's sanctuary was filled with romance. The superb performer and baritone David Seatter served as narrator, wittily introducing the various sections about longing for love, missing love, awakening love, and curiosity about love. What other composer wrote enough love songs to fill an entire evening!

Music Director Michael Thomas provided the excellent accompaniment for the evening and the singers included the dapper David Seatter himself as well as sopranos Sarah Caldwell Smith, Joanie Brittingham, and Claire Leyden; mezzo-soprano Alexa Devlin; tenor Andrew Klima (new to VHRPL); baritone Jovani Demetrie; and bass Matthew Wages. They sang in various combinations and maintained a true ensemble feeling throughout.

Every song was a gem and no doubt every member of the packed house had his/her own favorites. We will mention a few of ours.

Mr. Klima was at his best in "Mary Came Over to Me" and we found our heart touched by the story of a young man from Ireland who was finally able to bring his sweetheart over to join him. There must have been many stories like that one and probably other songs but this was one that stayed with us.

The last time we heard Ms. Smith and Ms. Leyden sing "For Better or for Worse" in a performance of Princess Pat, we thought the harmonies rivaled those of Délibes in "Dôme épais", a real treat. We were thrilled to revisit it.

Ms. Leyden gave a beautiful performance of "The Angelus" from Sweethearts which will be presented April 30 and May 1, with orchestra. We can scarcely wait for it! She was joined by Mr. Demetrie and the entire company, giving us a great taste of what we can look forward to.

We didn't know that Herbert wrote a show about Cyrano de Bergerac with lyrics by Harry B. Smith, but the excerpt we heard "Let the Sun of Thine Eyes" was filled with humor as Mr. Wages as Cyrano sang a line beautifully  and Mr. Klima as Christian repeated it as unartistically as possible, trying to impress Ms. Leyden. 

Ms. Smith had a lovely solo in "Where the Fairest Flow'rs are Blooming" from Babette, which allowed her to show off her gorgeous coloratura in a prolonged vocalise. From the same show Ms. Devlin and Mr. Wages had a clever duet in which he was arrogant and she was resistant.

From The Debutante, Ms. Leyden and Mr. Demetrie had a cute duet "Never Mention Love When We're Alone", enhanced by some of Susanna Organek's graceful choreography.

From The Wizard of the Nile, Harry B. Smith's clever lyrics for "What is Love?" were given a sprightly melody by Mr. Herbert; Ms. Leyden portrayed the innocent girl questioning the wise senior of Mr. Seatter.

The four men created a delightful ensemble for "My Fair Unknown" from Miss Dolly Dollars. Again we found Mr. Smith's lyrics clever and charming.

Ms. Brittingham had several lovely solos which showed off her bright resonant sound but we favored "When Love Awakes" from Eileen.

Ms. Devlin's superb solo involved some reading of the cards in " 'Neath the Southern Moon" from Naughty Marietta.

The program closed with "Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life" with the entire company filling the sanctuary with joyous sound.

With our focus so heavily on opera, we might never have discovered this treasure trove of tunes from the turn of the 20th c. and for this we are extremely grateful to Ms. Mott. Long live Victor Herbert!

(c) meche kroop

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