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.

Sunday, March 31, 2019


Brian Holman, Eilin O'Dea, and Byron Singleton

Guest review by  Cullen Gandy

Opera, and opera outreach, is important. The first point of contact for any prospective opera lover is the grassroots artistic effort; made available in their community. When we as the arts community come together to put on concerts for audiences to enjoy, it is a great opportunity and privilege to be able to do so. They don’t have to be large productions, either. Simple operations where there’s a voice, a piano, and an audience, there too you can find great art. I have experienced it in my hometown, with the, mostly student-run, concerts of Opera On Tap. These shoestring budget companies who put every single dime, and then some, back into their performers. So when I review Fusion Theatre’s offering of opera highlights from three Italian favorites, that is the perspective from which I am reviewing.

At the Opera Center today, Fusion mounted a production that highlighted two singers and a pianist in an intimate, minimally staged and costumed style. The repertory was rather ambitious, if not unrelenting, for even the most seasoned of vocal performers. The first half of the concert comprised highlights from Madama Butterfly and Aïda; the second half was from the inimitable Tosca.

Tenor Byron Singleton began the show by singing Pinkerton’s first aria “Amore o Grillo” (Love or whim). He has a well produced sound, and fairly good control in the middle, up through the passaggio between registers. It has a nice brightness, but with a fair amount of depth. While the voice may not be suited for some of the roles on display tonight as a career, it was more than capable enough to meet the challenges in this setting. His acting was earnest, and one felt the sense of ease in his movements and gestures.

It’s not uncommon for companies to want to offer these big sings to audiences, because they are lovely, memorable melodies. My qualm here was that he had to keep singing all of the most difficult passages of the big Italian repertory; all night. Injudicious tenors (and believe me, I am counted among them) relish the opportunity to sing into these arias like rock anthems.

Note that what makes this repertory so big is the size of the orchestra. Absent the orchestra, I think it is important for tenors to give themselves permission to sing it in their comfortable dynamic intensity. Like so many caught in the trap before, gunning it for the duration of the evening in this type of music can lead to a straining at the very top, and an unease in more nuanced passages at softer dynamics. This happened to him in a few key spots at the end of the concert (such as in the more furtive passages of "E lucevan le stelle", and understandably so. That being said, he has a fine instrument, and I would love to hear more of him; especially in Dichterliebe, which was listed in his biography.

Eilin O’Dea was having a little bit of a rough night. For whatever reasons, she seemed to be struggling with low blood sugar, or some kind of sickness that caused her to have to disengage and walk-off stage in the middle of the Aida/Radames duet. It was apparent from the inception of the evening that something on the voice felt a little bit weary.

The majority of the singing that a spinto soprano is going to have to do in these large Verdi operas, lies a bit lower in the voice that a normal lyric soprano. The voice absolutely has to retain the breath pressure connection, and include a sufficient amount of squillo (resonance); to be carried up through the more swelling, romantic passages. Her voice lacked too much of that connection. Her vibrato was unevenly distributed in that register, and sometimes even absent. When Ms. O'Dea ascended through her medium-high range, however, she really projected a sizable, resonant, impressive sound. Sometimes though, in her enthusiasm with that sound, she overshot, and there were intonation issues throughout the evening as a result. It became kind of like a tale of two voices.

Diction was also an issue here, more with the soprano than the tenor. Though there were no subtitles to convey the meaning of the text, proper attention to Italian diction lends so much to the flavor and the authenticity of the style.

The pianist Brian Holman conducted the entire endeavor with grace and class. It’s no small feat to accompany Italian opera arias. There is this constant game that they have to play with how much rubato to let singers have, and how much of the reins should be taken in. He had no reservations, and the scenes ran smoothly, cleanly, and with musical intention; one to the next. He was vocally opportune, too, with some of the bit parts throughout the Tosca finale; which was fun and added a nice touch.

That analysis may have been daunting, and there is a lot for this company to unpack; with regard to the programming and preparation for these concerts. That being said, I think it is vitally important that we support companies like Fusion Theatre. Anyone can have a less than stellar night, but there were some really bright spots to be found on offer tonight. Take as many of them as you can, dust them off, and then try to replicate more of that for the next time around.

(c) meche kroop


Kofi Hayford, Kevin Johnson, Maestro Keith Chambers, Jonathan Green, Rachelle Pike, Sara Beth Pearson, Raymon Geis, and Eugenia Forteza

What a special Saturday night!  We enjoyed a surfeit of aural, culinary, and intellectual nourishment provided by New Amsterdam Opera. The legendary culinary creations of Leslie Ritch were accompanied by appropriate libations; renowned artist manager Ken Benson was on hand to instruct us about Massenet's rarely heard opera Hérodiade and how it differs from Richard Strauss' Salome; the cover cast of the upcoming May 10th (SAVE THE DATE) production by New Amsterdam Opera provided the entertainment, teasing us with a selection of arias, duets and an ensemble from the opera.

As much as we enjoyed eating, drinking, and socializing with the luminaries of the opera world who attended (including Eve Queler and Jane Shaulis) let us get right to the music which was outstanding. We were wondering "If the cover cast is this stellar, what must the first cast be like?" Maestro Keith Chambers was at the piano and the works were performed concert style, mainly "on the book".

There were only two selections that are well known. "Il est doux, il est bon", which we just heard at the Manhattan School of Music Ades Competition, is a tender aria upon which Massenet lavished abundant melody. Soprano Sara Beth Pearson as Salomé gave it a beautiful reading with bright tone in the upper register. As Mr. Benson pointed out in the introductory lecture, she is not the lascivious heroine of the Strauss opera, but an innocent young woman in love with the prophet Jean (John the Baptist).

There is an impressive duet between Hérode (sung by the fine baritone Jonathan Green) and his wife Hérodiade (given intense life by the excellent mezzo-soprano Rachelle Pike). Here the music was strange to our ear. "Venge-moi...Ne me refuse pas" is a wife's attempt to get her husband to soothe her injured feelings in a kind of "Let's you and him fight!". Ms. Pike sang with appealing resonance and fiery drama. 

In "Calmez donc vos fureurs", the lovesick Salomé tries to win over the resistant Jean, sung by the terrific tenor Raymon Geis.

The duet "Que ce philtre...Vision fugitive" is the other selection from the opera that one gets to hear rather often. Here, Hérode acquires some kind of sleeping potion from a Babylonian woman, portrayed by soprano Eugenia Forteza, whom we are always happy to hear. Here, we got a clearer picture of Mr. Green's pleasingly textured vibrato.

Just like at the Metropolitan Opera, we had an intermission special--an opera quiz which was way too challenging for us but not for the contestants--critic John Yohalem, pianist William Hicks, and OperaWire co-founder and editor-in-chief David Salazar.

Bass Kofi Hayford lent his interestingly textured voice to "Dors, o cité perverse!...Astres étincelants" in the role of Phanuel, an astrologer. We look at the stars and see STARdom!

Awaiting execution, Jean sings "Ne pouvent réprimer" and here we got to appreciate Mr. Geis' delicate vibrato and emotional connection, as well as some lovely arpeggi in the piano accompaniment, so beautifully played by Maestro Chambers.

The Act III ensemble "Peuple juif" brought all the singers together, along with Vitellius, the Roman Consul, sung by Kevin Johnson in warmly resonant low tones.

All of the singers exhibited fine French and were easily understood. We don't know who has been cast for the May 10th performance at The Center at West Park on West 86th St. but we would not have a moment's disappointment to hear any of the singers we heard tonight.

We hope you will be tempted to share this performance with us. We don't believe New York City has heard this opera in twenty years when Maestro Eve Queler conducted it with Opera Orchestra of New York at Carnegie Hall. It's about time to revive it!

We cannot close without lauding the encore which was from Richard Strauss' comic opera Die ägyptische Helena. Soprano Kirsten Chambers has a voice made for Strauss and we loved her aria "Zweite Brautnacht". Perhaps New Amsterdam Opera might consider giving us the whole enchilada!

If you like the sound of this gala evening, you too can become a member of the New Amsterdam Opera family. The post-salon reception lasted way longer than planned because the "family" remained in lively and rewarding conversation long after the food and drink were stowed.  Now that's a memorable evening!

(c) meche kroop

Friday, March 29, 2019


Polixeni Tziouvaras, Sasha Gutiérrez, Hyeree Shin, Kelly Singer, Daniel Rich, Sae Lin Kim, Hannah Friesen,
and Xiaotong Cao

Yesterday eight accomplished singers competed for some mighty generous prize money awarded by the dear Joan Taub Ades, who works tirelessly for Manhattan School of Music and their students, as did her late husband Alan M. Ades who was here honored in the performance space bearing their names.  This was the ninth annual competition and drew a huge crowd of opera lovers.

We heard six of the eight competitors (thanks MTA!) and were rather overwhelmed by the quality of the performances. We tried to imagine a phrase analogous to "rubbing one's eyes in disbelief". Somehow "rubbing one's ears" didn't quite make the journalistic cut; we will just say that so much talent onstage within a couple of hours was most impressive.

It is not our custom to list winners and how much money each one received. In our eyes (ears, once more) they were all winners. All the singers will receive degrees from MSM in May. Nominated by their respective teachers, and selected for the finals by means of audition, yesterday's competition was the last step.

We apologize for missing the performances of soprano Hannah Friesen who was accompanied by Travis Bloom, and that of mezzo-soprano Sae Lin Kim, who was accompanied by Eric Sedgwick. It couldn't be helped. We heard from our seat neighbor that both were excellent. 

The first thing that impressed us was the confidence and clarity with which each singer introduced her/himself. We have been known to complain about singers who mumbled their introductions and the titles of the arias they were about to sing. No such failures here!

The first singer we heard was Colombian soprano Sasha Gutiérrez of whose versatility we got a very clear picture. She performed Dona Elvira's aria "Ah fuggi il traditor" from Mozart's Don Giovanni with suitable angry intensity. The judges requested from her submitted repertory "Il est doux, il est bon" from Jules Massenet's Hérodiade which she sang with a sweet tone and a nicely modulated Gallic line. Mr. Bloom provided excellent support.

Next we heard the aptly named Kelly Singer who used her impressive artistry in two very different arias. She performed "Non, Monsieur mon mari" from Francis Poulenc's satirical operetta Les mamelles de Tirésias. Every gesture and facial expression seemed spontaneous but we are quite sure that she labored mightily to get every one just perfect. It was fine and funny and very French.

The judges asked to hear Händel next. "Piangerò" from Giulio Cesare was a perfect contrast to the Poulenc and gave us an opportunity to appreciate Ms. Singer's coloratura in the vocal fireworks of the middle section.  When the first theme reappeared we enjoyed the lavish embellishments. Cory Battey was her supportive accompanist.

Baritone Daniel Rich, the only male singer in the group, opened with "Avant de quitter ces lieux" from Gounod's Faust, a common choice for baritones in competitions. We enjoyed the depth of protective feeling he expressed for his sister. Gounod's "four-square" writing does not help to elicit a long legato line until the first theme recurs. But Valentin is going off to war so the march-like rhythm works dramatically.

The judges requested "Warm as the autumn light" from Douglas Moore's The Ballad of Baby Doe. The work is far more melodic than most 20th c. operas and Mr. Rich's clear English diction added to our enjoyment. We didn't miss a single word. Mr. Sedgwick accompanied effectively.

Soprano Hyeree Shin dazzled us with her instrument's lovely resonance and abundant overtones. Ophélie's mad scene "A vos jeux mes amis" from Ambroise Thomas' Hamlet is a true showpiece for which Joan Sutherland was famous, and Ms.Shin gave it a superb performance with great clarity in the coloratura and a killer trill. The various shades of madness were well conveyed from one section to another.

We were completely satisfied at that point but the judges requested a hearing of "Take me back up the hill" from Ned Rorem's Our Town, an opera based upon the Thornton Wilder play which, in our opinion, gained nothing by adding music. However, it gave us a chance to hear Ms. Shin's clear English diction. William Woodard accompanied on the piano.

Mezzo-soprano Polixeni Tziouvaras performed "All'afflitto" from Gaetano Donizetti's Roberto Devereux in which Sara, Duchess of Nottingham, reveals her grief. Although Ms. Tsiouvaras has a mezzo instrument of depth, her top notes soar in a lovely upper extension. The vibrato is consistently appealing.

The judges requested "Wie do warst" from Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier and we enjoyed this even more. The delivery was passionate and convincing. Also we became aware of something for the first time--the space between the notes. It is difficult to describe but there was great feeling in the silences. This impressive performance was accompanied by the excellent Jonathan Heaney.

The final performance was by soprano Xiaotong Cao whose performance of "Stridono Lassù", from Ruggiero Leoncavallo's Pagliacci, brought to life the songs of the birds that she so envied; the trills received plenty of assistance from pianist Chun-Wei Kang whose delicate hands performed a ballet on the keys of the piano. The tempo seemed a bit accelerated compared to that which we usually hear in this realismo aria. The pair brought the aria to a stunning conclusion.

The judges requested "Come scoglio" from Mozart's Così fan tutte, Fiordiligi's killer aria of determined resistance. Ms. Cao negotiated the wide skips with excellence as well as effectively handling the lower register. The fioritura tickled the ear.

After all that aural pleasure, some gustatory pleasure awaited by means of a reception, serving to distract everyone from the anxiety of waiting for the judges' decision. The judges were Diane Zola, Peter Russell, and superstar soprano Denyce Graves.

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, March 27, 2019


Allison Gish
Eva Parr and Erik Bagger
We had a grand time last night at The Flea in Tribeca, where New Camerata Opera presented a very fun very gala evening of food, drink, entertainment, and a foretaste of some upcoming events.

The always adventuresome company not only presents works for us grownups but also brings opera into the public schools with their Camerata Piccolo Program and further has a program called CamerataWorks, creating short video operas for the video generation. One might say they have all the bases covered, if you will permit a metaphor from someone who knows nothing about sports. Let us say they are about to hit a home run with their upcoming performance of Britten's Rape of Lucretia.

Director Bea Goodwin (whose work we love and heartily endorse) gave a brief talk about female vulnerability which was brought to society's awareness by this story over two millenia ago; the situation has not yet been remedied. She spoke about the harsh reality of rape and its dire consequences.  She made a strong plea for defending citizens from tyrants. Can we relate to this when our own president is a "groper"?

Her talk was followed by some gripping performances from the opera which will be presented May 2nd, 4th, and 5th, also at The Flea, a comfortable and convenient venue.

Erik Bagger lent his soulful tenor to "Tarquinius' Ride" and showed admirable flexibility in adorning the vocal line. The excitement built just as Britten intended with the excellent Brian Holman accompanying on the keyboard.

Baritone Stan Lacy illuminated more about Tarquinius' character than we have ever heard in "Within this frail crucible of light" and, surprisingly, we found ourself understanding where this "bad dude" was coming from.

One of Ms. Goodwin's original directorial inventions was to have Amelia Hensley conveying the text of "Give him this orchid" in American Sign Language whilst the powerful mezzo-soprano Allison Gish sang the aria. The signing was so graceful to watch that we had trouble focusing on Ms. Gish's superlative singing.

Fortunately, we had another opportunity later in the program when this marvelous mezzo sang "Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix" from Camille Saint-Saëns' Samson et Dalila. Not since we heard Marilyn Horne sing this role have we enjoyed it as much.

Soprano Mithuna Sivaraman used her coloratura instrument effectively in "Da tempeste il legno infranto" from Händel's Giulio Cesare. The clarity of her enbellishments of the vocal line left no doubt about her gift for Baroque opera. We heard her previously in a contemporary piece but readers will have no doubt about our preference. We cannot evaluate a singer's voice until we hear him/her singing something Baroque or Bel Canto!

To end the entertainment portion of the evening, mezzo-soprano Eva Parr transported us to Lillas Pastia's taberna with "Les tringles des sistres tintaient" from Bizet's Carmen. This is not the first time we heard Mr. Bagger play the guitar and his accompaniment here was delightful and very Spanish. Ms. Parr's versatility as an artist made her a fine Carmen.

The third branch of New Camerata Opera is CamerataWorks and we watched a short video of a Charles Ives song "Songs my mother taught me". We confess that we don't "get" video and furthermore, on this topic, we prefer Dvorak! Still, it's a worthwhile project and sure to find an audience.

Aside from the upcoming Britten, on May 3rd there will be a concert of songs by women--Isabella Colbran, Pauline Viardot, and Maria Malibran. So...are the Heroines of Opera the composers, the characters of the operas, or the singers???  Let's find out on May 3rd.

(c) meche kroop

Tuesday, March 26, 2019


Xueyan Fan, Courtney Delisle, Edgar Jaramillo, and Scott O'Brien onstage at SpoonFed NY

We couldn't think of a better way to introduce a newbie to opera than by bringing them to one of Opera New York's cabaret style evenings. Last night's show "From Italy, With Love" was held at SpoonFed NY where the welcome is warm, the drinks are well crafted, and the food is genuine Soul Food.

The program was all meat and no fat. Each of the four singers, well chosen by impresario Judith Fredricks, got right into his/her aria or duet. The atmosphere in the room is intimate with room for only about 35 opera lovers, all of whom had a marvelous time appreciating the emotional content of the material, so difficult to get when you are sitting the length of a football field away from the stage.

Of the four singers, Edgar Jaramillo is the one we know the best. Over several years he has mesmerized us with the warmth and roundness of his tenor and his complete dedication to the material. Last night he gave a very well-rounded picture of his versatility.

He offered several examples of operatic suffering in "Vesti la giubba" from Leoncavallo's Pagliacci and "E lucevan le stelle" from Puccini's Tosca. The audience went wild for that long held money note!  He was one triumphant tenor in "Nessun Dorma" from Puccini's Turandot.

He also limned the joy of falling in love in a scene from Act I of Puccini's La Bohême with the lovely soprano Courtney Delisle as his shy Mimi. Speaking of versatility, Ms. Delisle was also able to do justice to the "bad girl" of La Bohême in "Quando m'en vo" in which Musetta torments her off-again-on-again lover Marcello.

Soprano Xueyan Fan also had a chance to shine in a variety of roles. Our favorite character always was, is, and will be Violetta from Verdi's La Traviata. In the first act her lengthy aria involves a number of changes of mood as she weighs the fantasied pleasure of submitting to love against the joy of living a wild and free life style. Ms. Fan was totally convincing and used her beautiful soprano effectively with changes of vocal color as called for.

We also enjoyed her performing a very different role--that of the shy and modest Liu from Turandot--investing the slave girl with nobility of character. Even more different was her performance of "Chi bel sogno di Doretta", Magda's light-hearted aria from Puccini's La Rondine.

New to us was lyric baritone Scott O'Brien who sang "Finiculli, Finiculla" and "Santa Lucia" with so much garlic that we have decided to rename him Salvatore Obriano!  (Please don't kill us Scott!)

The evening closed with all four singers performing "O Sole Mio", taking us back many years to operatic evenings at Caffé Taci when such a stunt was regularly performed. 

Michael Pilafian was the excellent accompanist for the evening.

(c) meche kroop

Monday, March 25, 2019


Warren Jones, Amy Owens, and Anthony Dean Griffey at George London Foundation Recital

We first heard the adorable coloratura soprano Amy Owens five years ago when she was an Apprentice at the Santa Fe Opera. She sang Zerbinetta's aria from Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos and dazzled us with her high flying voice and presentation. Since then we have heard her at the George London Competition, with Steve Blier's New York Festival of Song, with New Amsteram Opera, and with On Site Opera. She excels at everything she does but we were particularly delighted to hear her reprise the role of Zerbinetta yesterday onstage at the Morgan Library. She absolutely owns that role! We wanted to hear it again right on the spot. 

Audiences let the artists know what they like best with their applause and we must say that the rest of the audience was as impressed as we were with her stage presence, acting, phrasing, and artistic use of her natural gift--a bright and clear instrument that is as flexible as it is sonorous.

The applause was not nearly as generous for Donald Waxman's Lovesongs for Soprano, Violin, and Piano. Ms. Owens used the detestable music stand, although she barely glanced at it. Perhaps the lack of musicality in the vocal line made it too difficult to commit to memory.

As is the case with post-Strauss art song, we found ourself listening more to Warren Jones' customary excellence at the piano and Cindy Wu's violin weaving through the piano part. We heard Ms. Owens' voice as just another instrument, a very pleasing instrument that was especially ethereal at the upper end of the register. Perhaps that is what Mr. Waxman intended but we prefer the human voice singing a melody.

The high tessitura of Darius Milhaud's Chansons de Ronsard presented no challenge to her. We enjoyed the sound of the French language and the way she used gesture to convey the various moods. 

Although Ms. Owens enjoys a wide variety of material, we feel singers do well to select works that highlight their special gifts. If we consider audience applause as votes, the Strauss won the day.

We had similar feelings for the performance of tenor Anthony Dean Griffey. We did not have the same opportunity to watch him "grow up". He was already famous when we heard him and we always associate him with the lead role in Britten's opera Peter Grimes.

Yesterday we enjoyed him best in a group of folk songs because of their melodic vocal lines. It was the first time we heard the strophic song "The Roving Gambler" and quickly decided that was our favorite. The situation of a man winning a woman away from her family of birth is one that is not tied to any epoch or ethnic group; it is something we can all relate to, one that evokes memories or anticipations. 

What struck us about Mr. Griffey's performance is how deeply he feels whatever he sings. One gets so caught up in the mood or the story he is telling that one almost forgets to notice the exquisite nature of his instrument. No matter how much labor went into polishing a performance it always feels spontaneous. That is no small gift!

We were less enchanted by Three Songs for Tenor, Cello, and Piano by Frank Bridge. We have on occasion enjoyed Bridge's songs but there was something about the poetry that dictated a vocal line of less than customary interest. We found ourselves listening more to the melodic line of David Heiss' cello as it wove through Mr. Warren's piano tapestry. 

That being said, Mr. Griffey's terrific timbre and expressive delivery made the most of what amounted to a monotonous vocal line. 

Mr. Griffey seemed to be personally invested in "Mitch's Aria" from André Previn's opera A Streetcar Named Desire, a Tennessee Williams play which never asked for music and never needed it. He also performed "Sam's Aria" from Carlisle Floyd's Susannah with great intensity.

Aside from the thrilling Strauss, our second favorite piece on the program was "The Song That Goes Like This" from Eric Idle's Spamalot. This clever duet is a meta-observation about songwriting and singing. The phrases are short and punchy; and they rhyme. Ms. Owens and Mr. Griffey gave it their all and the audience responded in kind.

The program ended with "You are Love" from Jerome Kern's Showboat. As far as music from the 20th c., we vote for American Musical Theater over pretentious "art song".

(c) meche kroop                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

Sunday, March 24, 2019


The Cast of Meyerbeer's Dinorah onstage at The Riverside Theater

Amore Opera's tenth anniversary season has been a raging success with a super delightful Così fan tutte-- and now the sold out production of Meyerbeer's pastoral opéra comique--Dinorah. Artistic and Stage Director Nathan Hull has fleshed out this silly story with talent so outstanding that we readily forgot the trivial story. Happily, it was treated respectfully, as it deserves. No irony here!

How trivial is this story you might ask? The individuals in a small community in Brittany seem happy with their shepherding and goatherding although they are held in bondage by their occult superstitions vying for attention with their religious superstitions. It is the one year anniversary of poor Dinorah's abandonment at the altar by her lover Hoël. She has gone mad.

Mr. Hull wisely presented the backstory in mime during the Overture.  Hoël had been seized by the evil spirit Tonyk, a character impressively danced by Nina Deacon in a wild costume befitting a sorceress. Hoël has been absent the  entire year whilst Dinorah has been wandering around in a daze searching for her pet goat Bella.

The slim storyline concerns Hoël's search for a treasure that he cannot touch. The first person to touch it must die and so the manipulative fellow tries to get the innocent timid bagpiper Corentin to accompany him and touch the treasure first.

Whilst they are approaching the treasure, Dinorah falls into the ravine and must be rescued. Hoël realizes that she herself is the treasure he wants, convinces her that her madness was just a dream, and weds her with full blessing of the community on their annual pilgrimage.

Meyerbeer initially intended a one-act opera and chose as his librettists the well-known Jules Barbier and Michel Carré. It was decided to expand the opera to three acts and he wrote the text himself. For this production, Mr. Hull wrote the dialogue in English, most of which was rather clearly spoken by the cast.

The opera premiered in 1859 and was a raging success until about a century ago when it disappeared from the repertory. Perhaps Richard Wagner's disparagement and anti-Semitism played their parts; perhaps opera goers lost interest in pastoral themed entertainment. In today's anxious and hi-tech environment, a pastoral comedy seemed just about perfect, witness the wide smiles on audience members exiting the theater.

Meyerbeer, largely responsible for creating French Grand Opera, must have enjoyed composing this playful work and lavished upon it endless melodic invention and unusual orchestral effects. One which particularly dazzled us was the music occurring around the dream revelation. Hannah Murphy's harp joined the string section for a tapestry of ethereal sound that would have been right at home in Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream.

Standing out by virtue of her onstage charm and stratospherical extension was coloratura soprano Holly Flack. One could not have cast a better Dinorah than Ms. Flack whose instrument is gorgeous and judiciously employed to serve the character. Her performance of "Ombre légère", known as "The Shadow Song", took our breath away with such vocal fireworks that she made to appear easy.

As her off-again-on-again suitor, baritone Suchan Kim sang with full round tone and flowing French line; his remorse in "Ah! Mon remords te venge" was convincing and we were able to forgive his character for his prior distasteful behavior.

Tenor Juan Hernández provided comic relief as the bagpiper Corentin. He has a sweet sound and portrayed his character's timidity with success.

We enjoyed the scene in Act III in which we got to meet some of the countryfolk. Bass Kofi Hayford made a fine Hunter; tenor Daniel Foltz-Morrison sharpened and wielded his scythe in a manner that convinced us that he knew how to harvest. Sopranos Christa Dalmazio and Alyson Spina made a lovely pair of shepherdesses. 

Maestro Richard Cordova worked hard to bring together the occasionally ragged orchestra and succeeded rather well, especially when illuminating some of Meyerbeer's special moments. Although a quarter century had transpired since Donizetti wrote Lucia's mad scene with glass harmonica, Meyerbeer made such duets sound fresh and original. 

Corentin's bagpipe was imitated by clarinet in duet with Ms. Flack's vocal line. Mr. Kim's duet took place with trombone. The "Shadow Song" paired Ms. Flack's line with the flute. There was also a sensational duet between the two men in which syllables were bounced back and forth between the two of them. We don't think we have ever heard the like! We also enjoyed the brass chorale at the opening of Act III.

Thanks to French language coach Danielle Feaster, the French sounded just fine and easily understandable. Props to Susan Morton who provided a marvelous chorus. We never take that for granted!

Richard Cerullo's sets were simple and two-dimensional, suiting the storybook character of the plot. We wished that Duane Pagano's lighting had been up to its usual high standards. The lightning in the storm scene could have been better coordinated with the thunder in the pit! When characters mention how dark it is, we'd like the lighting to dim preceding the observation. Just one of our tiny quibbles!

The bottom line is that we had a marvelous time. We feel grateful to Amore Opera for their choice of this musical masterpiece. It's a great idea to switch between beloved favorites and neglected works that deserve a hearing. This earns Amore Opera a very special place in our heart and a special place on Planet Opera.

Coming up is Un Ballo in Maschera, opening May 24th. We don't often get to hear Verdi outside of The Metropolitan Opera. New York must be filled with young singers in the process of developing a larger instrument who can fill out the cast and get the roles under their belts.  Can't wait!

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, March 23, 2019


Sara Jakubiak, Maestro Leon Botstein, Aaron Blake, David Cangelosi, Alfred Walker, Kevin Burdette, Rebecca Jo Loeb, Philip Cokorinos, Tichina Vaughn, and Raehann Bryce-Davis

Diehard opera lovers, fans of the rare, and a sprinkling of Czech nationals gathered in force last night at Carnegie Hall for a concert production of Bohuslav Martinu's Julietta, a 1937 opera based on a French play Juliette, ou La clé des songes by Georges Neveux. There must have been something very appealing about the theme for the composer to get it translated into Czech by Alex Zucker.
We speculated about the historical forces extant in Europe at that time--the insecurity of living on the same continent as a megalomaniac madman (What's old is new again!) making a dream world more appealing than reality. We thought at length about the surreal aspects of the story which gave the composer free rein to utilize massive orchestral forces in strange and colorful ways, developing new and wonderful colors with surprising rhythmic twists. 

We loved these orchestral colors, the French Horn fanfares, the use of the English Horn and the Bass Clarinet. Liberal use was also made of an accordion and there were sounds we could not identify.

The odd story concerns a Parisian bookseller (performed by terrific tenor Aaron Blake) who revisits a small coastal town where three years earlier he had become enchanted by a woman singing a love song, heard through an open window. There are some pretty strange things going on in this town; the citizens have no memories and live in the present. The railway station disappears. Michel gets elected to high office because he has memories--of a rubber duckie from childhood. 

The chief of police (astutely enacted by David Cangelosi) later becomes a postman and denies his earlier occupation. Everything is off-kilter, the way it is in dreams. So, we realize that Michel is dreaming. But was his earlier visit also a dream? One can only speculate; but credence is lent this theory by our own experience of returning occasionally to a certain place in our dream life that doesn't really exist.

Dreams are utilized in the theater quite often.  Think of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and Pedro Calderón de la Barca's La Vida es Sueño. Although Eastern religions claim that what we call reality is really maya or illusion. Nonetheless, we are Westerners and see things differently.

In this libretto, an innkeeper tells stories to an elderly couple, which makes them happy. Is that not true today when many rely on film and other media to make life more interesting?

Act I sets the stage for the action which follows; Act II is surely more compelling as Julietta appears and seems to know and remember Michel. The music given to Julietta, so beautifully sung by soprano Sara Jakubiak, is the most lyrical of the evening. After a romantic reunion there is a spat and the frustrated Michel fires his pistol at the fleeing Julietta. But no one else hears the shot and there is no body. Visiting her home yields no further information. The resident denies her existence. Does this absurdity not resemble dreams of anxiety and frustration you may have had?

Act III brings things together. Michel is in the Central Office of Dreams and there are episodes of humor--a bellhop who wants to dream about the Wild West, a convict who wants dreams of a huge cell, a beggar who wants a dream seaside holiday. At the end Michel refuses to leave and becomes one of the "people in grey", madmen all, deniers of reality. How suitable for Hitlerian Europe!

The singers did yeoman's work in learning this extremely difficult language and managed to capture the rhythmic thrust of the sound as matched to the music. The vocal lines were not at all melodic, as is common in opera of the mid 20th c. The lines were often parlando and there were some lines spoken in English. Although there were no titles, libretti were distributed with the programs and house lights were left on. Most members of the audience elected to read along with the performance.

Aside from the outstanding performances of Ms. Jakubiak, Mr. Blake, and Mr. Cangelosi, we particularly enjoyed mezzo-soprano Rebecca Jo Loeb whose versatility animated a number of roles; equivalent versatility can be claimed by bass Kevin Burdette and bass-baritone Philip Cokorinos. The resonant bass-baritone Alfred Walker also fulfilled a number of roles to perfection.

Two mezzo-sopranos added significantly to the performance--Tichina Vaughn and Raehann Bryce-Davis who each assumed a number of different roles. The Bard Festival Chorale, directed by James Bagwell made significant contributions as well.

But the main event was the orchestra which played magnificently under the baton of Leon Botstein, who loves discovering neglected works. Julietta has not been heard in the United States before. Martinu was a prolific composer who left Czechoslovakia in 1923 for France where his music certainly acquired a degree of Gallic influence. This work premiered in Prague in 1938 but was also translated into French. Shortly afterward Martinu came to the United States, bringing the score with him. Strange that it had to wait nearly 80 years to be brought to the stage of Carnegie Hall. Thank you Maestro Botstein!

(c) meche kroop

Friday, March 22, 2019


Richard Fu, Bronwyn Schuman, Shakèd Bar, and Dominik Belavy

For those readers who have not read our prior descriptions of the Juilliard Vocal Arts Honors Recitals, here's the short version. Voice teachers at Juilliard nominate students of uncommon promise who then go through a rigorous audition process in which a distinguished panel of judges make their selection. The chosen recitalists work with their respective collaborative pianists to design a program for a recital at Alice Tully Hall. This is a win-win situation in which the artists get to perform for the general public and the public gets to join the Juilliard family as recipients of a generally thrilling evening of vocal entertainment.

Last night at Alice Tully Hall we enjoyed what amounted to two recitals for the price of one. Wisely, the artists did not alternate. We had a full hour of Schubert performed by baritone Dominik Belavy accompanied by collaborative pianist Richard Fu, and a very different recital of Israeli songs performed by mezzo-soprano Shakèd Bar with Bronwyn Schuman as pianist.

Although we loved Schubert's lieder long before, it was Lachlan Glen's year-long perusal of over 600 Schubert songs that revealed the wide scope and variety of his prolific output. Not every song he wrote is of equal quality but it is strange that most recitalists turn to the same handful of lieder for their programs. Not Mr. Belavy! He selected several of Schubert's less frequently performed songs and we found them to be of great value.

We cannot claim to have never heard them owing to Mr. Glen's ambitious venture about seven years ago; but we can claim to have perhaps forgotten them and to have enjoyed them afresh last night. The remarkable aspects of Schubert's compositions are a singable vocal line and a piano part that reveals the poet's subtext. He always finds the bittersweet element--the other side of the emotional coin, so to speak. He was also astute in his choice of text so that his music might enhance the intent of the poet. If only contemporary composers could do the same, we might be more open to contemporary art song.

We have been writing about Mr. Belavy for over four years and we are thrilled to witness his achieving the promise we then noted. His comforting baritone is warm and round. What struck us was his quiet command of the stage. He is not given to grand theatrical gestures but seems to get inside the song and to draw the audience in by means of phrasing and judicious changes in dynamics. 

We are so glad that he chose Schubert for his recital since we have already heard him sing in opera and also in art songs by other composers. We would like to add that not only did we find his German diction perfekt, but it passed muster with our German born companion. If there were one quality we wish to hear more of it would be variety of coloration.

Schubert set Goethe's "An den Mond" twice and we wish we had heard the two iterations consecutively to gain a better appreciation of Schubert's compositional evolution. They are both characterized by Schubert's bittersweet approach to mood, mode, and harmony.

Our favorite lieder however related to the water. In "Lied eines Schiffers an die Dioskuren"  (text by Mayrhofer) the lied is introduced by some rumbling in the piano, so effectively played by Mr. Fu. Both singer and pianist became forceful when addressing the confidence of a man facing a storm. 

"Des Fischers Liebesglück" (text by von Leitner) tells a charming story in which the fisherman's sweetheart joins him for a rapturous sail on the lake. So why is it written in a minor key? We don't know but the mood is sweet and gentle and the strophic verses lulled us into a blissful state. Mr. Belavy smoothly negotiated the repeated upward skips and Mr. Fu was particularly expressive.

The lively charm of courtship was revealed in "An die Laute" (text by Rochlitz), a simple folklike song which was followed by the anxiety ridden "Alinde" in which a man queries a succession of people passing by whether they have seen his sweetheart, who seems to be long delayed. We were happy to have not known the song because our anxiety built with each person too busy to help the poet look; consequently, we enjoyed the relief when the sweetheart finally appears at the end!

"Nachtstück" is a lied more familiar to us; it is a song about death but a peaceful welcomed death--given a peaceful performance by the two artists. "Der Winterabend" was also peaceful but there was a marked swelling of intensity before the final verse in which the poet waxes nostalgic over a lost love in his past.

Mr. Belavy and Mr. Fu ended their program with Schubert's final song, the familiar "Die Taubenpost" (text by Seidl) from Shwanengesang. This was performed by Mr. Belavy with plenty of personality which set us up for the final change of mood; the poet's faithful companion is longing. Schubert was no stranger to mixed feelings!

Before moving on to Ms. Bar's adventuresome programming, let us mention that Mr. Belavy is having his Master's of Music recital on April 4th at 4:00 and will be performing these Schubert songs again. We will not miss this and neither should you!

Ms. Bar honored her Israeli homeland by performing a program of songs in her native tongue and we confess to being amazed by how beautiful the language sounded in song. We have heard Hebrew spoken and could never have predicted that this harsh language could be so lyrical. Israeli song has a brief history, barely more than a century. 

The young composer Noa Haran was given a commission by Juilliard and was present in the audience for the world premiere of her work Be'ad Ha'eshnav, translated as Through the Lattice. The text by Hadas Gilad seemed to be fantasies based upon passages in the bible. "Edat Re'iya" seemed to be a story about Potiphar's wife seducing or being seduced by Joseph. "Yevava" seemed to be the lament of a mother when her son fails to return from battle.

Ms. Bar is a compelling performer, as is her collaborative pianist Bronwyn Schuman. The audience could not hold their applause and erupted with enthusiasm after every single number. In contrast to our long standing appreciation of Mr. Belavy's artistry, Ms. Bar has only recently appeared on our radar screen as a compelling interpreter of the role of Dido in a recent highly original production of Purcell's opera Dido and Aeneas at Juilliard (review archived). Now that we have seen another side of her artistry we are further impressed.

We loved her opening song "Khalamti et Shirat Hazamir" by Moshe Rapaport. If we never learn another word in Hebrew besides shalom, we will never forget that shirat hazamir means "nightingale's song". Not only did Ms. Schuman's piano create the song of the nightingale but Ms. Bar let loose with a volley of coloratura fireworks in the melismatic passages that exceeded that of any avian species! We do love sensual music!

A very different image was evoked in "Orkha bamidbar" as a caravan of camels wended their way through the desert. Ms. Schuman's piano clearly limned the oriental mode of the melody as well as the plodding of the camels. Later, her piano brought out the lyrical theme in "Shai" by Levi Sha'ar and was forceful in "Echezu Lanu Shualim" by Tzvi Avni.

The lengthy "Vidui" by Alexander Argov evoked feelings of anguish. Although we didn't always grasp the text, the feeling in the music came across. We appreciate the mashup of popular song, folk song, and art song; perhaps we may consider them one and the same. A good song is a good song, no matter its genre.

There were settings of texts from the Old Testament as well. Ms. Bar offered a lovely a capella start to Nira Chen's "Dodi Li" and the piano churned through Paul Ben-Haim's "Gan Na'ul". Aharon Harlap set Psalm 112 and 98. It was a thorough introduction to Israeli music.

(c) meche kroop

Thursday, March 21, 2019


Lech Napierała and Tomasz Konieczny at the Kosciuszko Foundation

Guest Review by Cullen Gandy.

Cullen Gandy is a former opera singer, based out of New York City, who writes about issues relating to the performing arts in America. You can see more at his blog www.arsravingmad.com which we recommend highly.

The building that houses the Kosciuszko Foundation in New York City, now 101 years old, was the beautiful stage for an interesting new adaptation of Schubert’s famous Winterreise (Winter’s Journey). Music for the evening was provided by two considerable talents, in bass-baritone Tomasz Konieczny and pianist Lech Napierała.

This recital featured an interesting twist on an established classical favorite; melding the haunting Schubertian harmony and melody of the inimitable song cycle, with the poetry of Polish writer Stanislaw Baranczak. A Harvard lecturer, and esteemed translator of many great works of fiction from English into Polish, Baranczak became enamored with Winterreise, and he determined to emboss it with poems that represent his own artistic experiences/ideas. This wasn’t simply some half-hearted attempt to jigsaw someone’s favorite poems into music they thought was appropriate. It was a deliberate endeavor, by a motivated artist, to imbue new meaning into the great works of the past. More of a posthumous collaboration than a ‘remix’.

But did it work?

As a preface, I should say that I spent a great deal of my graduate and post-graduate studies writing on, and singing, Winterreise (specifically the musical idioms Schubert used to represent text). It merits pointing out that Müller, the original lyric poet who wrote the text for Winterreise, published his work in 1822 and 1824, and Schubert set that text to music three years later. This is important to remember, because it means that the music was created with the words in mind, and not the other way around. The text initially informed the music, and, for the original iteration of the song cycle, they told a story in parallel.

In the original Winterreise, there are certain musical idioms that harken back and allude to ideas, words, emotions, and events that the wanderer has throughout the work. Though the songs, in a sense, can be seen as events or snapshots of the journeyman’s fateful voyage, they are thematically connected. The traveller walks, he leaves a note on the gate, he sees the wind playing with the weathervane, he sees a tree under which he used to sit, he sees a crow flying along with him, etc. All of these things are happening to him in real-time. As a result, no part of the textual story is exempted from Schubert’s influence. Rhythm, harmony, melody, silence, tempo, and macro-harmonic structure are all anchored to the wanderer’s experience of the journey. They transfigure the text, and serve as the setting of the story.

Though Baranczak’s poetry is often quite thoughtful and artful, his poems are disparate from the musical scheme over which they have been laid. As a result, the songs become more like individual vignettes, or one-off thoughts that occur to the poet as he is going through life. A journey of a certain sort, to be sure, but not one as coherent as that of the physical and emotional experience of Müller’s wanderer.

Müller was no Goethe or Rilke, and his poetic strengths lay with the ease of his meter and imagery. Though Baranczak mirrors much of Müller’s formal constraints, along with a certain German gloom, his poetry is often high-minded and political at times. There’s something avant-garde about it; treatises about the worse nature of humanity dialing in to hear about catastrophes, alongside the sports and weather news. It’s not the same kind of lyric poetry, and, to be fair, I don’t think it was supposed to be. But there was more than a little bit of cognitive dissonance on my part; hearing a continuous story in the music, and seeing an array of smaller stories in the room.

But it’s not important to talk about what this work is supposed to be, let’s simply take it for what it is.

This work is a fine artistic effort to breathe new life into a cherished medium. Polish is a lovely language in which to have this music set, and it shares much of the depth of character that German affords sung poetry. Baranczak’s poems, while not uniformly well-woven into the vocal line, were generally unobtrusive, and often quite complimentary. That just means the right kind of vowels went where they were supposed to go. I was prepared to be skeptical, or bored, but was quite entertained. There were deviations, too, in tempo and musical interpretation; many that enlivened the senses, and a few that didn’t hit the right mark for me.

The evening’s vocal offering by Mr. Konieczny (who can currently be heard at a number of productions at the Met) was as ambitious and thoughtful as the piece itself. His is a noble tone; befitting of his usual Wagnerian repertoire. The singing was vivid and full of color, only occasionally veering off of the breath in one or two of the higher, softer passages. The majority of the cycle was marked by his pleasing and even singing, even down through the very lowest notes. He sang over a stand of music, but was only lightly tethered to it, and he afforded a rich, interpretive, sometimes declamatory understanding of the text; in every phrase and line. He acted the words so effectively, that I came out of the room thinking that I understood Polish. Alas, I do not.

Mr. Napierała played the music exquisitely. Each touch felt as though it was choreographed instead of it being played. His interpretation had an extemporaneous feel to it; as though it were something totally new.

Together, the two of them seemed almost telepathically connected. Each song was marked by crisp rests, dynamic changes, fluctuations and continuities in tempo; catching the audience off guard again and again. Between them, there was a laser precision to each musical consideration in each song. It was really exciting to hear.

From an artistic perspective, this setting is worthy for the examination of more audiences to come.

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, March 20, 2019


Gina Perregrino, Devony Smith, Erik Van Heyningen, Danny Zelibor, and Philippe L"Espérance
surrounding Steven Blier at the piano

Is there anything to say about love that has not yet been said?  Is there anything to sing about love that has not yet been sung?  If there were, Steven Blier would have uncovered it and included it in his fulfilling program last night at Merkin Hall for New York Festival of Song. "Love at the Crossroads" was the title of the program which was organized into four parts to reflect the many stages of love. Mr. Blier related that his inspiration for the program was Mozart's opera Così fan tutte which we just reviewed three days ago.

The first "movement" of this Symphony of Love illuminated the early stages of what psychologists call "limerance". Infatuation is a state most people long for when they don't have it, suffer beautifully from when they achieve it, and get depressed over when they lose it or it transmogrifies into another state, as it must.

To express the glories of falling in love, Mr. Blier chose five songs in French by Camille Saint-Saëns, Ernest Chausson, Gabriel Fauré, and Édouard Lalo. The lovely lyrical lines could not have been given better voice than they were by soprano Devony Smith (well remembered from a Utopia Opera production of Britten's The Rape of Lucretia), mezzo-soprano Gina Perregrino whom we followed from Manhattan School of Music to Santa Fe Opera, tenor Philippe L'Espérance (our favorite Prince Charming), and bass-baritone Erik van Heyningen whom we have enjoyed countless times at Juilliard and with Mise-en-Scène Opera. We always enjoy concerts more when we know the artists.

Collaborative Pianist Danny Zelibor is new to us but we loved the way he supported the line of each singer and shared pianistic duties with Mr. Blier.

Getting back to the program, the entire set in French was filled with joy and wonder but our very favorite was Fauré's "Madrigal" performed by the ensemble. The wise and knowing text by Armand Silvestre dealt with one of the "puzzlements" of love--why we pursue those who shun us and shun those who love us.

The second "movement" comprised songs in English from Broadway shows. Mr. Blier's title was The Honeymoon's Over and the songs dealt with the reality of two people with different priorities and values coming to terms with disappointed expectations. 

Stephen Sondheim is a master of setting short punchy phrases to memorable tunes. Mr. Blier's witty description was "spitting Sondheim acid". We particularly enjoyed "Country House" from his Follies; it was both funny and painful to listen to a couple who are just not getting what they want from each other. It was like being a fly on the wall of a therapist's office. Ms. Smith and Mr. L'Espérance captured all the thwarted attempts to connect and did so musically and dramatically. This splendid song never made it to Broadway.

The third "movement" (a Scherzo) covered the subject of philandering--sowing wild oats, as it were. Ms. Smith and Ms. Perregrino were hilarious in "Modest Maid" singing about archery, bitchery, witchery, butchery, and lechery. Who knew that Marc Blitzstein had such a sense of humor!

Similarly, Mr. L'Espérance and Mr. van Heyningen put a gay spin on "The Tennis Song" from Cy Coleman's City of Angels. There were at least a dozen double entendre moments that tickled our funny bone and the two men mined every giggle they could from the risqué material.

Additionally, Mr. Van Heyningen led the ensemble in Ed Kleban's "Do It Yourself", another naughty but very clever ditty. All of these songs were new to us and throughly delightful. English lends itself so well to comedy.

There was an instrumental interlude by Brahms--his Waltz in G#minor played on two pianos by four hands. This is another piece we had never heard before and we could not imagine it in four better hands than those of Mr. Blier and Mr. Zelibor. How interesting it was to hear a smooth segué into Richard Strauß' song "Freundliche Vision" so warmly performed by Mr. L'Espérance with his beautiful tone.

The finale of this Symphony of Love was one of reconciliation. Readers will recall how much we love German lieder and we heard Schubert's "Licht und Liebe, Nachtgesang" sung by Ms. Smith and Mr. L'Espérance; Brahms' "Es rauschet das Wasser" from Vier Duette with Goethe's gorgeous text begging to be read aloud and set to music (so gorgeously sung by Ms. Perregrino and Mr. L'Espérance); and Schubert's "Die Geselligkeit" in which the ensemble of four voices rose in concert to extol the pleasures of companionship.

Nothing more was needed than to close the program with Manuel Oltra's setting of Federico Garcia Lorca's "Eco". Although we always enjoy the manner in which Mr. Blier's curates songs for New York Festival of Song, we enjoyed this program more than any other. When the last note of "Eco" died down, we wanted to hear the entire program again from the top!

(c) meche kroop