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, April 20, 2019

POISE AND PRESENCE

Bronwyn Schuman and Anneliese Klenetsky


Soprano Anneliese Klenetsky is about to say farewell after eight years at Juilliard, from pre-college to Master of Music; we are pleased to report that she will be staying in New York City for the immediate future--so we can avoid a tearful goodbye. A presence like hers is a joy to behold, as beautiful of spirit as she is of voice, and as well endowed. We enjoyed her gracious tribute to Juilliard almost as much as her performance.

We will never forget her starring role as the Governess in Britten's Turn of the Screw, nor her spirited performance in NYFOS at Juilliard, nor her performance with Juilliard 415, not to mention the numerous recitals.

As a matter of fact, we were delighted to revisit works that she has performed before, among which the set which contrasted views of Ophelia from Shakespeare's Hamlet was our favorite. Brahms' Fünf Ophelia-Lieder are gorgeously melodic and portray Ophelia as a pathetic victim; Richard Strauss' Drei Lieder der Ophelia portray her as deranged. The same text set to wildly different music gave the singer an opportunity to show off her versatility.

Ms. Klenetsky has a bright and brilliantly focused soprano that is never harsh; she employs it with fine technique that never calls attention to itself but exists to serve the music. Following the two sets of Ophelia songs, she ended her program with a charming a capella folksong "Let no man steal your thyme", the melody of which had a rather Irish sound.

Another set that we have previously heard her perform comprised songs by Francis Poulenc--the anxious tale of "Le disparu" counterintuitively set to jolly piano music, the sad "C" and the surreal "Fêtes galantes". Ms. Klenetsky has a real feeling for Poulenc and his ironies. She uses gesture generously to get the songs across.

The evening opened with an assist from the harpsichord (Francis Yun) and a string quartet comprising violinists Rachel Ellen Wong and Ethan Lin, violist Sergio Muñoz Leiva, and cellist Madeline Bouïssou. Vivaldi's work In furore lustissimae irae, sung in Latinopened with a spirited Allegro, the heavily ornamented line of which provided Ms. Klenetsky with the opportunity to display marked flexibility. There was a sorrowful recitativo, a Largo and a rapid fire conclusion with a melismatic "Alleluia".

The Händel which followed was more to our liking. "Caro! Bella!" from Giulio Cesare amounts to the swapping of endearments and we found it endearing, thanks to a delightful performance by Ms. Kelentsky and countertenor Jacob Inbar. We were completely captivated.

Even better was "Io t'abraccio" from Rodelinda in which the overtones of each singer's voice augmented those of the other's. Mr. Ingbar had some low notes here but was undaunted. Both singers excelled.

There was also a cycle of songs by Lili Boulanger, the sister of the famous Nadia Boulanger. This promising musician died tragically at the age of 25. Neither the text nor the music of the cycle Clairières dans le ciel appealed to us but the performance was highly expressive and made good use of dynamic variation. The piano writing was more interesting than the vocal line but we did like the melodic "Nous nous aimerons tant".

It was an impressive and enjoyable farewell recital; tribute was paid to all those folks who fostered Ms. Klenetsky's development as an artist, especially her teachers Edith Wiens and the late Sanford Sylvan, who would have been very proud of her.
(c) meche kroop

BIG AND BEAUTIFUL

Bronwyn Schuman and Katerina Burton

We love big beautiful sopranos with big beautiful voices and were delighted to get a further hearing of Katerina Burton whom we so enjoyed as the housekeeper Mrs. Grose in Britten's Turn of the Screw. Since then we have heard and enjoyed her sizable soprano a few more times; yesterday we found ourself grabbing one last chance to hear her at her Graduate Diploma Degree recital before she departs for Opera Theater of St. Louis' Young Artist Program.

Every time we have heard her in recital she has performed songs of Joseph Marx, a choice which delights us. Yesterday she explained that the composer defied the atonal and serial innovations of his contemporaries (Berg and Schoenberg) to write tonal melodic music. This serves to explain why he never achieved the fame he merits and also why we like his songs so much!

Ms. Burton's instrument is rich and full with spacious resonance at the top and Marx's songs offer many opportunities to show it off. It would be difficult to pick a favorite but we particularly enjoyed the tender "Selige Nacht" as collaborative pianist Bronwyn Schuman joined in with gentle arpeggi. Both artists invested "Der bescheidene Schäfer" with charm. There was an immediacy to "Waldseligkeit" that we felt to be shared among the poet, the composer, the two artists, and the audience.

Equally thrilling for us was the set of songs by Jean Sibelius, sung in Swedish. We did not know that he composed over a hundred songs, having heard only a few of them. (This gives us something to look forward to!) The four selected by Ms. Burton were familiar to us, especially the passionate "Flickan kom ifrån sin älsklings möte" and "Var det en dröm" in which the low notes didn't phase Ms. Burton at all. "De första kyssen" was beautifully phrased and "Soluppgång" made use of dynamic variety to great effect. 

Three 20th c. English songs on the program offered pleasures of varying degrees. We had not heard of British composer Michael Head but his strophic song "The Ships of Arcady" pleased us with its lovely melody, rhyme scheme, and repetitive motif. Ivor Gurney's "Sleep" lacked an interesting vocal line so we found our ears tuning in to the haunting piano writing, so well played by Ms. Schuman. Frank Bridge's "Love went a-Riding" is familiar to us and we always enjoy it.

The set of songs by Charles Tomlinson Griffes, settings of text by Fiona McLeod, failed to hold our attention in spite of the fine performance. Again, the lack of a compelling vocal line allowed our attention to wander to the piano.

On the other hand, two French songs compelled our attention by virtue of their melodiousness and Ms. Burton's fine French. Henri DuParc's "L'invitation au voyage" always carries us away to a land of fantasy and Reynaldo Hahn's "Si mes vers avaient des ailes" was sung with appropriate romantic delicacy.

The program closed on a high note with four songs by Rachmaninoff in which singer and collaborative pianist met in perfect partnership. "Ne poy, krasavitsa, pri mne" has always been one of our favorites. The Eastern melancholy touches our heart and the melismatic singing, like a glorious vocalise, weaves its way into our ears and enchants us. (We had the thought then that we'd love to hear Ms. Burton sing "Bachianas Brazilieras".)

"Son" introduces a gentle Russian melancholy over a dream of yearning, whereas the dream of "Zdes' khorosho" is a dream of solitude and communion. The evening ended joyfully with the seasonally appropriate "Vesenniye vody". The snows are melting, the streams are swollen, Spring is here!

Thank you Katerina for this fulfilling recital (and all the other ones as well) and best wishes in St. Louis! You are destined for success.

(c) meche kroop























Wednesday, April 17, 2019

FOUR LOONY DIVAS

Cáitlyn Burke, Alexis Cregger, Sarah Best, and Anne Slovin at The Players

This is the 13th year for Light Opera of New York, co-founded by Carol Davis. We have enjoyed their operettas, four of which have been recorded, as well as their more casual cabaret evenings at The Players on Gramercy Park South. Last night was special! It was special because we heard four lovely ladies of the opera world performing a great variety of songs from the world of opera, light opera, cabaret, American musical theater, and whatever. We love the fact that there were no dividing lines. Any song that is well written and well sung can stand along any other song with the same qualifications.

Director for the evening was the engaging Gary Slavin who introduced the program. Able accompaniment was provided by Music Director Seth Weinstein.

We love Gilbert and Sullivan and were delighted by the opening number "I have a song to sing, O" from Yeoman of the Guard sung by the entire ensemble. The patter song "I am the very model of a modern Major General" from their H.M.S. Pinafore provided no obstacle for these four songbirds!

"Cheerily carols the lark" from Ruddigore was given a lovely interpretation by Sarah Best and Cáitlin Burke. "I cannot tell what this love may be" from Patience was sung by Anne Slovin and Alexis Cregger.

We never tire of Gilbert's clever wordplay or Sullivan's memorable tunes and we enjoyed this Savoy feast.

There were other lighthearted songs on the program. "Vodka" (makes me feel oddka) was given a delightful performance by Ms. Best. This song came from the 1926 musical by George Gershwin and Oscar Hammerstein II  called Song of the Flame. The lyrics are clever and Ms. Best's interpretation was, well, "the best".

We also enjoyed her subtle rendering of "Meadowlark" from Stephen Schwartz' The Baker's Wife as well as  "I hate men" from Cole Porter's Kiss Me Kate. "Always true to you in my fashion" from the same show was given a knowing delivery by Ms. Cregger.

Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I produced so many fine songs and "Something Wonderful" was beautifully performed by Ms. Burke, as was "Climb Every Mountain" from Rodgers and Hammerstein's The Sound of Music.


From a failed show entitled Rags by Charles Strouse we loved the song "Children of the Wind" sung by Ms. Slovin.

Since we did not grow up in the world of American musical theater, most of these songs were new to us and hearing them was a revelation. We are far more familiar with the world of opera and operetta.

From the world of operetta we heard the beautiful "Vilja" from Franz Lehar's Die Lustige Witwe sung by Ms. Cregger and Ms. Slovin's rendering in lovely French "J'en prendrai un deux, trois" from Jacques Offenbach's Pomme d'Api.

From the familiar world of opera, we found Ms. Slovin's performance of Norina's aria "So anch'io al virtù magica" from Donizetti's Don Pasquale to be absolutely enchanting and dramatically valid .

We have saved for last our thrill at hearing the versatile Ms. Cregger perform "Dich, teure Halle" from Wagner's Lohengrin with heroic sound and lots of impetus from Mr. Weinstein's equally heroic piano!

What a splendid night going from one gorgeous song to another with nary a longueur. The time just flew by! Everyone left smiling. Good music will do that for you!

(c) meche kroop




















UNDERGROND SALON


José Luis Maldonado, Shaina Martinez, Amir Farid, Michael Celentano, Chantal Brundage, Christa Dalmazio,
Angela Candela, and Andrew King

We found out about Underground Salon's April Showcase quite by accident and we are so glad we did. Angela Candela is a young woman after our own heart; we share the same goals of fostering the careers of young singers. Her idea was to get together some friends and colleagues from Manhattan School of Music and to offer them a safe space to try out new repertory. No auditions, no competition, no judgments. What a great idea!

We were delighted to hear some of our favorite young singers in a different situation. All singers know, and Joyce DiDonato pointed this out several times in her master classes last weekend, that a safe non-judgmental space makes it possible to experiment. Surely breakthroughs happen when we experiment with something new!

We would like to point out at the very start how effective it is when the singers introduce themselves and tell what they will be singing. In this salon, they went even further and told a little about the aria they would be singing and its place in the opera. They all spoke clearly and we appreciated it.

Baritone José Luis Maldonado is well known to us; indeed he was selected to sing a set of Spanish songs for the April 29th concert at St. John's in the Village--"Around the World in Song". But on Sunday we heard him sing in Russian! The selection was "Ja vas lyublyu" from Tchaikovsky's Pique Dame and we were mightily impressed.

What strikes one about Mr. Maldonado is the kind of generosity of spirit that we haven't seen since Pavarotti. The sound is generous and so is his presence. There is a magnificent connection with both the aria and the audience; one experiences him as a conduit and feels the feelings so intensely that one might overlook the superiority of his technique.

One might call him a "stage animal". There is no holding back; it's all "out there", witness his performance of Billy's soliloquy from Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel which proved to our satisfaction that this work is truly an American opera, far more than the tuneless pieces we have been sitting through lately. The texture and resonance of his instrument combined with the way in which he employs them, make for a thrilling listening experience.

In terms of "trying out new material", the prize goes to soprano Shaina Martinez who took a risk with "Ombre pallide" from Händel's Alcina. The reason it was a risk was that a teacher once told her that her voice wasn't suited to Händel.  We think that's a tutelary error to tell a student something like that. The best singing comes when one sings a song one truly wants to sing. We heard that advice years ago in a master class and couldn't agree more.

Ms. Martinez performed this difficult Baroque aria with complete investment, passion, and connection. She tossed off the ornamentation with style but also handled the low notes effectively. We would like to cheer on her rebellious spirit (or "phase", as she called it). Please, singers, don't let other people tell you who you are!

Ms. Candela herself won our admiration for her performance of "Mi tradi" from Mozart's Don Giovanni. There was an effective contrast between the recitativo and the aria and an admirable connection with the character of Donna Elvira. If the work wasn't 100% stage-ready, that was not a problem. It's a work in progress but we have high hopes for the finished product.

Her pretty instrument was evident in "Hear Ye Israel" from Mendelssohn's oratorio Elijah. But oratorio, religion, and English are not our favorite things so we far preferred the Mozart.

Chantal Brundage performed "Robert, toi que j'aime" from Act IV of Meyerbeer's Robert le Diable. This underrated and underperformed composer seems to write well for the voice and Ms. Brundage employed her excellent resources to convey the emotions of the character, and she did so in fine French which we had no problem understanding. Her tone at the upper end of the register is beautifully brilliant. 

Christa Dalmazio has a sparkly soprano matched by a sparkling personality that was just perfect for "Poor Wand'ring One" from Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance. There was personality to spare and pretty good English enunciation but at such a high tessitura, one cannot get all the words.

However, in the "Silver Aria" from Douglas Moore's Ballad of Baby Doe, she made every word clear and captured the character of Baby Doe. 

Tenor Michael Celentano sang "Addio fiorito asil" from Puccini's Madama Butterfly with more grandstanding than subtlety. We want more variety from him--variety of color, dynamics, and pacing. His instrument is a large one and a promising one and when he gets it under control there will still be more than enough volume. We want him to forget about making big sounds and to try getting inside the character.

The same comments could be made about his portrayal of Rodolfo in the Act IV duet "O Mimi, tu piu non torni" in which Mr. Maldonado took the part of Marcello.

Supportive piano accompaniment was given to the hands of Amir Farid and Andrew King--both of whom are superb.

We are hoping there will be a May Showcase and that we will be available to attend. It was a truly exciting experience!

(c) meche kroop


Tuesday, April 16, 2019

THE MIRACLE WORKER

Justina Lee, Shannon McGinnis, Aaron Crouch, Maya Amir, Keymon W. Murrah, Alexandra Nowakowski, and
Joyce DiDonato (photo by meche kroop)

Guest review by Ellen Godfrey:


April in New York means that opera lovers get to see the wonderful three day event of master classes led by the exceptional and multitalented mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato. Most masterclasses take place on only one day, but she has the same four singers for three days in a row on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. In addition, she works with the young singers during the daytime as well. Students are selected through auditions of singers from around the world.

The classes are part of the Weill Music Institute held at the Resnick Education Wing of Carnegie Hall. The sessions are always filled to capacity and many of the audience members return year after year.

Joyce Di Donato is the most original and talented Master Class teacher of all the master classes I have seen over many many years.  She is so supportive of the students; they feel right at home with her.  She has a second sense about knowing what she can do to help each student and she uses a lot of physical exercises to free up the singer’s body and mind. She is like a dog with a bone; she will work on just a few measures over and over again and not give up until the singers succeed in finding their own personal way to sing those notes.

Ms. DiDonato made some opening remarks before the first session began. She emphasized that she is not a pedagogue nor a voice teacher. Her mission is to guide the singers in how to perform, to be artistic and to find the drama in what they are singing. We have the total liberty to cry or to laugh or to be daring. This is a playground, a chance to liberate ourselves and be free.

Ms. DiDonato welcomed the first singer, Alexandra Nowakowski, a Polish- American soprano.  She thanked Alexandra for taking the risk of being the first to  perform on the program. Ms. Nowakowski sang the “Caro Nome” from Verdi’s Rigoletto. She was very confident in her singing, had good resonance, a good trill, a beautiful messa di voce, and good portamenti. Her phrasing was also lovely and she  received a big hand from the audience. It seemed like a perfect performance to us, but there was still work to be done.

Ms. DiDonato asked her if, as Gilda, she felt different this day then the day before when she had encountered a handsome young man as she came out of church. Rigoletto is such a popular opera, everyone knows how it goes and they stop listening…so she was told to compose as though she were Verdi and to search out Gilda’s character.  Ms. Di Donato also told her not to be a coquette, but to have elegance; also to anticipate the beat and not just land on it. After she sang the aria again, the audience was astonished to see how much progress she made.

In the second session, she again sang a lovely “Caro nome.” She was advised to try to discover more in the music and text and to live it as though she didn’t want the moment to end.  Alexandra was quick to catch on to what she was being told and the modifications could be heard. 

She sang a different aria for the third class… “Come per me sereno” from Bellini’s La Sonnambula. Alexandra told us that this was the first time she sang this aria in public.  She sang it beautifully, with gorgeous high notes right on pitch.  Ms. DiDonato was very pleased with it but felt it lacked some fragility and suggested she be bold enough to play with the dynamics more. 

The second singer was the Israeli mezzo-soprano, Maya Amir, coming to New York for the first time. She sang Ottavia’s aria “Disprezzata regina” from Claudio Monteverdi’s opera L’incoronazione di Poppea. She has a lovely mezzo voice and a nice delicacy to her voice, but was told that she sometimes needs to make her voice ugly.  She is the Queen and needs to act as one. Ms. DiDonato worked with just the words of the aria several times to get her to be more dramatic. "You need to show your hate and you must spit out the consonants."  She was told after a lot of repetition of the phrase “Disprezzata regina”  that she was a thousand times better.

For the second session she chose the well-known aria “Lascia la spinta” from Handel’s oratorio Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno,  (I wish young singers would announce the name of their arias and their own name by projecting their voices so that we in the audience can hear their names and what they are performing). She sang with great fragility and softness. She was praised by Ms. DiDonato but she felt that somehow it seemed that Maya didn’t want to be seen or heard. She gave her a water bottle in each hand to use to give her energy as she sang.  After some work on this she told Maya that she had improved and she was coming out more.  For the final session, she sang Ramiro’s aria from Mozart’s La Finta Giardineri ,“E giunge a quest segno.” Ms. DiDonato said she needed more attack on the notes and that more grit is required for this aria. She complimented Maya for getting more out of herself.

For the first session, tenor Aaron Crouch, a native Bostonian, sang “Il mio tesoro” from  Mozart’s Don Giovanni. It was sung with good breath control and good coloratura, but there were a few times when his voice got a bit ugly. He is very personable and communicates well. "Welcome to where you are now", she said; "I’m sure you will be a major talent but you have to be patient and have a plan. We know what we want to sound like but it should be natural; you have an infinite amount of options and colors.  I love what you did this morning…just take some time to digest it".  

He started the second session with “Total Eclipse” from Handel’s Samson, which he also sang in the third session.  He was told that he has a lovely tone and that this would be a good audition aria for him. Ms. DiDonato worked with him a long time on the “e” vowel.  She said, "Don’t think about the sound you are making; you should feel the sensations". He made great progress from the second session and sang this aria beautifully with lots of feeling in the final session. 

Counter-tenor Keymon W. Murrah was the final singer on Friday. He sang Orfeo’s aria “Amour, viens rendre a mon âme ta plus ardente flamme.” from Gluck’s Orfeo. He had no trouble with the coloratura singing and used his breath well. Ms. DiDonato said "I love this piece and how you sing it. I want to hear the words enveloped in your glorious sound. You have so much natural talent but we have to get to the next level; you have to be patient." 

Keymon sang “Where'er you walk” from Handel’s Semele for the second session. Ms. DiDonato worked with him tirelessly on just a few words and getting the sound lighter and easier. She talked about comforting people and making the world a better place.  She then told him to go out and sing to the people individually in the audience. He made eye contact with members of the audience as he sang and sometimes shook their hands.  This was a beautiful moment and the audience gave him a big round of applause. Keymon said that he felt freer to be himself.  In the final session he sang “A quel giorno” from Handel’s Semiramide. He sang with freedom and good range from top to bottom. Ms. DiDonato had him sing with a pencil in his mouth to help his breathing and keep the vowels in place.

Justina Lee and Shannon McGinnis were the wonderful pianists who accompanied the singers.   

All four singers made wonderful progress under Ms. DiDonato. It was also evident that she loves working with these young singers and helping them to pursue their careers. 

Sunday, April 14, 2019

ALBERT HERRING PART II

Cory Gross seated and surrounded by Marie Masters Webb, Caroline Tye, Jonathan Harris, Glenn Friedman,
Rebecca Richardson, Sarah Marvel Bleasdale, Stephanie Feigenbaum, and Luc MacMillan

What a fine time we had last night at Utopia Opera's production of Britten's Albert Herring! Although we generally don't care much for 20th c. operas, which always seem to us to be plays with music, we were tickled pink by the exceptional performances; they came together in a delightful whole, greater than the sum of its parts, thanks to astute stage direction by Gary Slavin and the fine musical performance under the baton of William Remmers.

For information on the background of this opera and the plot, please consult yesterday's review of a different production by Manhattan School of Music Senior Opera Theater. Several people have asked us which production we liked better. The answer is that they were both equally likable; can one compare raspberries and blackberries?

MSM's production was set in the intended period at the turn of the 20th c. in which the characters behaved in a restrained manner, appropriate to that epoch. We smirked at their high-minded morality and stuffy manners. Mr. Slavin set the work in 1959, a time period in which rebellion against society's dictates was just flowering. There is the butcher's assistant Sid (Luke MacMillan) coming on like a louche James Dean and his girlfriend Nancy (Stephanie Feigenbaum) a real "bobbysoxer" with an appealing sympathetic side.

Both productions poked fun at the older generation's stuffiness and "morality" but the acting in this production was over the top and laugh-out-loud hilarious. Marie Masters Webb as Lady Billows had one of the most withering glances we have ever seen. The other characters reactions to her overbearing and disdainful mien were just as laugh-worthy.

Similarly, the stern housekeeper Florence Pike, enacted by Caroline Tye, brought fear with her wherever she went--a true master of intimidation. Vicar Gedge had a touch of hypocrisy--judgmental toward others but, in a clever directorial touch (just one among many), a bit importunate toward the lovely but resistant schoolteacher Miss Wordsworth whose avoidant facial expressions were priceless. We couldn't help thinking of how times have changed in a half century. Today she could tell him off with impunity!

Sarah Marvel Beasdale did her customary fine work as Albert's strict mother, severe in her approach to motherhood and a firm taskmaster. Ethan Fran made a fine Mayor Upfold and Jonathan Harris did well as Superintendent Budd of the Loxford Police. We enjoyed their hysterical reactions when our hero went missing overnight.

Children are children and have always been given to mocking their elders behind their back. The charming Emmie was played by Hannah Madeleine Goodman; Zoe Marie Hart was seen as Cis and Jen Wu as the rascal Harry. All three were convincing and added immeasurably to the fun.

And what about our hero, the eponymous Albert? Cory Gross effectively employed facial and gestural expression to convey his varying moods. He began by appearing beaten down, gazing with envy at Sid and Nancy's fondling. (We noted that much more was made last night of the double entendres in the libretto.) His face and posture suggested wistfulness and a longing for escape.

The glances he made when notified that he was elected King of the May let us know how shy he was, how overruled he was in his objections, and how uncomfortable he was in being in the spotlight. With a little rum in his tum, thanks to the machinations of Sid, his entire expression changed and one couldn't help but egg him on to an exploratory adventure. The triumphant expression he evinced upon his return home the next morning left us feeling as happy as he looked.

The set comprised a couple tables and chairs which served all purposes. When we see opera on a shoestring, we use our imagination to fill in the blanks. In this case, we recalled the elegant settings from last night at MSM. Similarly, the costumes were also improvised by Eric Lamp and Angel Betancourt, but we cared not a whit. It was the dramatic and musical values that carried the evening.

We don't have much to say about the music that we didn't say last night. Still, there was an advantage in having the chamber orchestra front and center (well, actually, front and stage left, as it usually is) because we had an extra measure of pleasure glancing at the musicians when we heard that divine alto flute/bassoon duet, as well as the heraldic horn calls.

We noticed several examples of fugal writing which Maestro Remmers brought to the forefront and the excellent threnody when the townspeople believe Albert to have died. Such tragic writing in the midst of a comedy had an extra impact.

The music is not our favorite due to the fact that we are unable to truly appreciate a singer's vocal skills without a nice 19th c. melody. That being said, we did like the way Britten's instrumental writing emphasized the personality of each character. Would the work have succeeded as a play without music? Probably. With such excellent direction and acting we would have enjoyed the comedy. But we love music and have no complaints.

We do have one observation and that is about the staging. The small but comfortable Lang Recital Hall at Hunter College has excellent sightlines and good placement for the projection of titles. That was the sole edge the production had over the one at MSM. No matter how well the words are enunciated, we always miss some words at the higher end of the register and are grateful for the opportunity to fill in the gaps.

If you were lucky enough to have enjoyed what we consider Utopia Opera's finest production to date, we welcome your comments. If you missed it, we are very very sorry. There will be one more production June 7-9 of Laura Kaminsky's Some Light Emerges, a New York premiere. Mark your calendars.

Before closing we would like to report our delight that Utopia Opera is moving forward into territory more professional. We always have believed that artists should be paid and paid they will be. This company has grown significantly in its eight years and has, miraculously, covered its expenses by ticket sales. The new growth will require new funding.  Just sayin'!

(c) meche kroop

SARATOGA YOUNG ARTISTS IN RECITAL

Saratoga Young Artists


Guest Review by Cullen Gandy

Opera Saratoga put on the last of a series of concerts featuring their storied young artist program, last night at the National Opera Center. It performed a dual role, in a sense, as it also served to promote their upcoming 2019/2020 seasonal line up; programming an evening of songs that were composed by the same composers as are featured during the course of the opera season. In effect, the audience (comprising many of the opera company’s patrons) was exposed to all of the things that would make their experience there memorable.

It was, essentially, a season in microcosm — sung by three singers who represent the second oldest program for young artists in the United States. The idea of the young artist program is to give singing-actors, usually fresh from their university or conservatory studies, a new opportunity to incorporate what they know, and to learn vital new skills in a more professional setting.

Tenor Zackery Morris kicked the evening off with a small set of little known Donizetti art songs. The size and timbre of the voice is quite unique, and should be well suited to some of the light-lyric bel canto roles that he will be covering, in Daughter of the Regiment. The technicality of the singing, while not without some flaws concerning the negotiation of certain passages, had a good base. He drew out some lovely messe di voce in Donizetti’s "La lontananza", and displayed a surprisingly meatier sound down in the lowest end of the spectrum, when it was demanded of him.

But the largest impression that he made on me was with the dramatic chops he put on display in his English selection-- Ian-Gordon’s "We will always walk together". At one point, I didn’t know if he were legitimately about to weep (for some personal reason), or if he was really just that engaged. His bio stated that he also felt well-at-home in the realm of musical theater, and I concur. His strengths definitely portend a cross-over type of career, should he wish it.

Sydney Anderson, the soprano, was perhaps the evening’s most solid vocal technician. There didn’t appear to be any audible shifts or seams between her vocal registers, and the breath control always created an evenly supported sound, throughout. There was an especially smooth, full-bodied sound coming out in the higher sections of her voice, that made me want to hear more.

I liked her attention to detail in the textual interpretation, too. You can tell that she put in all of the work to translate every word of the German, in the Humperdinck set Liebesorakel. There was specificity in the acting that is only explained by this kind of word-for word translation of the text. If I had to pick on something, I think it would be that she seemed, at times, to have through-rehearsed gesturing of the songs — I remember thinking "She’s gonna make a plucking gesture", a few seconds before her plucking gesture in "Blauveilchen". That being said, all of her performances were earnest, and she engaged well with the audience.

In his opening set, Garrett Obrycki offered Four Romances opus 42, composed by Rimsky Korsakov. Russian music is a genre that I hold particularly close to my heart, as it is carries with it a subversive passion that, I would argue, really can’t be found in other art music. His voice has a good size and impact for this kind of repertory. He has a sturdy, fiery kind of sound, but also showed great sensitivity in interpretations; as witnessed in the elegy "Редеет облаков летучая гряда" (The clouds began to scatter). There was a little bit of rigidity in the periphery of the range of his voice sometimes, and that occasionally manifested itself in the posture.

Diction, in this language, sometimes can be fuzzy; especially when it comes to non-American singers. American audiences usually wouldn’t know the difference between a good idiomatic Russian sound from a bad one. Being hyper-vigilant, I was generally pleased with this effort, though. You could see attention to initial consonants in such words like черный/chorni (“black”); and the post consonantal “j” glides that often present prior to vowels, like in Сердечной (sort of like, “heart-filled-ly”). Jets of spit were often flying out with the articulations. It always good to see stuff like that, developing in emerging talent.

The final offering of the night was an ensemble arrangement of the well-known Ian-Gordon song, "Joy". It was fun to see the artists let loose, and interact a bit with one another. They harmonized well, and injected a good deal of energy and movement into the work, to send everyone off.

The production of the event was top-notch. translations were projected on screens above the performers, and it scrolled with the text as they sang. They recorded the concert event, so that the artists could use the recordings for promotional reasons. A small banquet/wine tasting was held after the event was over, to help familiarize the donors with the artists. This is the kind of care that companies give to full on productions, and it really shows how much they value their investment in the young artist program.

It’s funny — I had the occasion to meet Lawrence Edelson (the general director of the Opera) yesterday evening. He was pleasant and professional, giving small speeches about the nature of the work that they do there. After the show, I went over to the bathroom to wash my hands, and I could hear him going over into the green-room (where the young artists were gathering their things). He said something to the effect of, “You did papa proud!” It was spoken in a jovial, familiar kind of way — the way that someone would expect a friend would encourage someone.

These folks really are passionate about this work, and, if you have a chance, you should definitely check out Opera Saratoga’s upcoming 2019/20 season.

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, April 13, 2019

ALBERT HERRING/ ALBERT HERRING

Sung Shin, Gabriella Chea, Joseph Tancredi, Riley Bragg, Adam Goldstein, Erin Wagner, Edward Lim, Yvette Keong,
Christina Parsons, and Sam Krivda

By a strange quirk of scheduling, we found ourself at two different productions of Britten's Albert Herring two nights in a row. We could never consider ourself a big fan of Britten but we recalled a delightful production of the comedy seen in 2010 at the Santa Fe Opera and decided to explore the opera further. 

The work premiered in 1947 at Glyndebourne, using the same chamber orchestra used for Britten's 1946 tragedy The Rape of Lucretia. The work is perfect for presentation by a conservatory, offering juicy roles for 13 singers and not requiring massive orchestral forces.

For anyone who does not know the story, it is about a bumbling but virtuous (inhibited) youth who rebels against his mother's domination with the subversive help of a pair of friends. Because the selection committee is unable to find a sufficiently virtuous young woman to serve as Queen of the May, Albert is chosen to be King. His friends surreptitiously get him drunk and he goes out on a bender, driving his entire village into a state of anxiety and then mourning when they believe him to be dead. When he turns up alive and disheveled their grief turns to anger. But he has cut the apron strings!

At Manhattan School of Music Friday night, the MSM Senior Opera Theater brought the work to comic life with Dona D. Vaughn's detailed direction, offering many sly comic touches which, along with Britten's writing, gave each character his/her own particular character. Maestro Jorge Parodi's crisp conducting brought out the nuances of the score, particularly in the fugal sextet which closed the first scene. Act II brought a gorgeous duet in which an alto flute (Michelle Pokley) joined harmonics with a bassoon (Morgan Davison). We also enjoyed Sonia Bize's harp.

The singers were uniformly sensational and one could scarcely believe that they are all undergraduates! In the title role we had the sweet-voiced tenor Joseph Tancredi whose growth we have been watching for a couple of years. As agile of acting as he is of singing, we enjoyed watching his resentment grow until he liberated himself and got out from under his mother's thumb. His discomfort about being manipulated into his role as King of the May was a joy to observe.

As his naughty friends, Sam Krivda made a superb Sid, a young man with a carefree and wild side; as his sweetheart Nancy, Christina Parsons was especially likable when she sang of her remorse over tricking Albert with spiked lemonade.

The imperious and judgmental Lady Billows was given a fine realization by Riley Bragg; Gabriella Chea, as her equally judgmental housekeeper Florence Pike, sang well and also had the best and plummiest accent in the cast.

The selection committee comprised Vicar Gedge, whose arias were beautifully realized by Sung Shin; schoolteacher Miss Wordsworth, gorgeously sung and enacted by Yvette Keong; Mayor Upfold, finely etched by Adam Goldstein; and Superintendent Budd, sung by Edward Lim, whose rich bass could only have been tutored by James Morris. Their scene in Lady Billows' drawing room was filled with Britten's sendup of self importance.

Erin Wagner cut a fine figure as Albert's strict and controlling mother. Three children of the town were believably portrayed by Melissa Lubars, Hyejin Yoon, and Yunchan Zhou. They comprised a sort of Greek chorus, commenting on the action. The scene in which Miss Wordsworth tries to get them to sing for the May Festival was absolutely adorable.

Maureen Freedman's sets and costumes were just about perfect. In the opening scene, everyone was in grey monotones. In the Festival scene, ridiculous flowered hats added to the fun. The embarrassed Albert was made to wear a white suit with a crown of blossoms. Poor Albert!

The effective set for Mrs. Herring's greengrocer shop included a pot bellied stove, burlap sacks of potatoes and turnips, trays of herbs, bins of produce, and flowers. It was all deliciously realistic.

We have but minor quibbles. One is that the stage was elevated about three feet off the ground with seating on three sides, causing the audience to be always looking up and also obscuring the titles. It might have been better to have raised the audience!

The presence of titles was rendered almost unnecessary by the clarity of enunciation, thanks to Kathryn LaBouff. Perhaps this is too much to expect of undergraduates but we would have liked to hear different accents from the working class than we heard from the professional class. That's just how it is in England!

In spite of the charm of the "book" we found Eric Crozier's libretto to be somewhat leaden. Setting English is so challenging. W.S. Gilbert was long dead by then and Sondheim not yet born. It was obvious that Crozier could at times rhyme and scan but those moments were few and far between. As is usual in 20th c. opera, the interesting music is in the orchestra with not much melody going on in the vocal lines. It is to the credit of these young singers that their phrasing and tonal quality made music. We could scarcely believe that they are Seniors (and one Junior). What a wealth of talent!

Friday, April 12, 2019

A FRENCH GERMAN NIGHT AT ST. JOHN'S IN THE VILLAGE

Emma Lavandier, Eric Sedgwick, and Katrin Bulke

St. John's in the Village is rapidly becoming one of our favorite venues for recitals. Rector Graeme Napier is a fellow music lover and keeps his lovely sanctuary filled with music. Last night's musical offering was a lovely recital performed by soprano Katrin Bulke and mezzo-soprano Emma Lavandier, accompanied by the excellent collaborative pianist Eric Sedgwick. We have enjoyed all three artists on prior occasions and you will find several reviews of each by entering their respective names in the search bar, in which we described their respective vocal gifts.

What was particularly attractive about last night's recital was hearing French sung by a native French speaker and hearing German sung by a native German speaker. Mr. Sedgwick speaks perfect piano!

Another appealing aspect of the recital was the presence of many duets. The more duets we hear the better we like them. They seem to add up to even more than the sum of their parts as overtones meet overtones and create ear-tickling delights.

Take for example the duet between Giulietta (Ms. Bulke) and Nicklausse (Ms. Lavandier) from the Venice scene of Jacques Offenbach's only opera Les contes d'Hoffman.This Barcarolle always makes us smile and sway in our chair.  Quelle belle nuit! 

The "Flower Duet" ("Dôme épais") from Léo Delibes' Lakmé has transcended its popularization and remains one of the most gorgeous duets in the canon. To enhance the performance, the two singers entered together and somehow managed to create the verdant scene without any sets whatsoever.

From Richard Strauss' delightful comic opera Der Rosenkavalier we enjoyed the scene in which Octavian (Ms. Lavandier) presents a silver rose to Sophie (Ms. Bulke) and the two fall in love. The acting added to the singing and there was an actual silver rose which you can see if you look at the carousel of photos on our Facebook page, Voce di Meche.

Another charming duet was that between Hänsel (Ms. Lavandier) and Gretel (Ms. Bulke)--"Brüderchen, komm tanz mit mir" from the Humperdinck opera; both singers performed the dance together and we were smiling from ear to ear.

Even the encore was a duet, but one manufactured for the occasion. Ms. Bulke let loose with "The tipsy song" from Johann Strauss II's operetta Eine nacht in Venedig; the song is otherwise known as the "Annen-Polka" and is filled with clever rhymes like "prickelt und kitzelt"; if that doesn't make you chuckle there is something wrong with you! Meanwhile, Ms. Lavandier sang "Je suis grise" from the Offenbach operetta La Perichole. Performers just love to portray intoxication but there aren't many such arias written for female voices. If you can think of any, dear reader, please leave them in the comment section below.

Another special aspect of this recital was that each singer introduced her song and told what it was about. Each singer got to do a military number, which was cute. Ms. Bulke sang Marie's aria "Salut à la France" from Donizetti's charming comedy La fille du régiment and Ms. Lavandier performed "Ah! Que j'aime les militaires" from Offenbach's 1867 operetta La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein which we so enjoyed at the Santa Fe Opera in 2013 with Susan Graham in the title role.

There were other more serious pieces on the program, some of which were marred by the use of the detestable music stand. Readers are probably bored by our complaints so the less said the better. Suffice it to say that our attention wandered which gave us an opportunity to focus on the piano, so beautifully played by Mr. Sedgwick.

We enjoyed his playing even when the singer was totally present as was Ms. Bulke in some songs by the underappreciated Clara Schumann. He surely created the storm in "Er ist gekommen in Sturm und Regen" with some roiling in the piano but also provided some delicate arpeggi when called for.

It was an evening well spent in the presence of three fine artists.

(c) meche kroop

Thursday, April 11, 2019

MIGNON DUNN'S STUDENTS IN RECITAL

Students of Mignon Dunn at Manhattan School of Music

The perfume of promise permeated the air at the Miller Theater as a dozen students of Mignon Dunn performed a concert called Opera Moments. And what moments they were! We had no problem guessing what the marvelous Ms. Dunn has been teaching them; what was uniformly notable was their impressive stage presence. No one gripped the piano for security; each one utilized the entire breadth of the stage and created a character by means of body movement and gesture. 

Superlative support was provided by the sadly uncredited pianist Dura Jun who never missed a beat. We took many photos and we refer you dear reader to our Facebook Page where we will post as many as we can. In writing about these young artists, please bear in mind that we have a bias toward operas that we love, especially bel canto. It is more difficult for us to appreciate opera in English but we will try to give credit where it is due. Furthermore, our strong preference for duets causes us to laud them first.

The adorable duet between clever Norina and the wily Dr. Malatesta was performed by soprano Hyeree Shin and  baritone Jeremy Leung. Dr. Malatesta  is instructing the widow Norina how to convince Don Pasquale that she is his shy convent-educated sister. Donizetti gives us plenty of giggles along with some gorgeous melodies in "Pronto io son".  Just before this, Mr. Leung used plenty of strength at the bottom of the register in "Bella siccome un angelo", the aria in which he sells Don Pasquale on the attributes of his "sister".

Ms. Shin also impressed us in "Nel grave tormento" from Mozart's Mitridate, re di ponto in which she colored each section differently. We liked the pinpoint fioritura and her fine vibrato.

Another duet yielded similar delights with an emphasis on harmony and balance -- that of soprano So-Chung Shinn and countertenor Luke Paulino who performed "Scherzano sul tuo volto" from Händel's Rinaldo. We particularly enjoyed the slow section.

The same two artists performed arias from Britten's Midsummer Night's Dream, Mr. Paulino evincing clear English enunciation and effective gesture whilst Ms. Shinn demonstrated neat work in the fioritura with some nice ascending scale passages. 

Soprano Sulgi Cho tickled the ear with some gorgeous resonance and a killer trill in "Ah! Douce enfant" from Massenet's Cendrillon. The fine vibrato and effective phrasing made her the perfect Fairy Godmother. The tone was pleasing throughout the entire register.

Soprano Jury Lee did well with "Stridono Lassú" from Leoncavallo's Pagliacci after setting it up with a fine recitativo. The realismo came through loud and clear.

Soprano Yue Huang gave us the provocative "Quando m'en vo" from Puccini's La bohème with a delicate decrescendo just before the end.

Soprano Cambrey Willhelm made a lovely transition from the recitativo to the aria "Dove sono" from Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro.


Mezzo-sopranos were in fine fettle as well. Emma Guo showed strength in the lower register in "Va l'error mio palesa" from Mozart's Mitridate. Fan Yu created the character of Cherubino in "Non so piu" from Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro, even without wearing pants. 

William Walton's 1967 opera The Bear was based on the Chekhov short story of the same name. We are astonished that we actually enjoyed a 20th c. opera in English but we did! Let us credit the effective performance of Xiaoya Liu who introduced us to the wry humor of "I was a constant faithful wife".

Shu Li had an inviting presence as Carmen performing a nicely paced "Seguidilla" from the Bizet opera we all know and love. We liked the embellishments in the repeat.

Mengran Jia sang "Se Romeo l'uccise un figlio" from Bellini's I Capuleti ed i Montecchi; we liked the contrast between the sections. Her top was bright and shiny and there was plenty of strength at the low end of the register.

There was a tenor as well and Lincoln Lin made an outstanding connection with the audience in "Se per te giungo a godere" from Händel's Rodelinda. He clearly understood what he was singing about!

We also heard two additional baritones. Philip Godfrey made the English clear in "Look! Through the port" from Britten's Billy Budd. In a very different mood, Yongjae Lee sang "Vien Leonora" from Donizetti's La Favorita with a pleasing vibrato.

It was a wonderful opportunity to witness what a terrific teacher can impart to students. Without stage presence a great voice can go unheard!

(c) meche kroop



Tuesday, April 9, 2019

MASTER AT THE PIANO

Matthew Pearce, Tamara Banješević, Katerina Burton, Shereen Pimentel, Courtenay Cleary,
and Cameron Richardson-Eames

Last night we attended Cameron Richardson-Eames' Master of Music recital at Juilliard and we were rewarded with a night of magnificent music making. We know Mr. Richardson-Eames mainly through his performances with students from the Vocal Arts Program and had never really considered that collaborative pianists play with other instrumentalists. We are happy to report that this one "plays well with others".

We thrilled to his performance of César Franck's Sonata for Violin and Piano in A Major; the violinist was the superlative Courtenay Cleary and did they ever make music together! The first movement, Allegretto ben moderato opened with some descending arpeggi of minor triads which soon yielded to a theme of descending scales. These two themes would reappear periodically knitting the work together with a feeling of unity and familiarity. The overall emotion was one of nostalgia.

The Allegro which followed opened with some rumbling in the piano, leading to a veritable storm of anxiety. There was an "eye" to this hurricane but the storm recurred with increased passion.

The third movement (Ben moderato) seemed reflective to us and we liked the liquid manner in which the arpeggi reappeared in the piano, whilst the violin was given some lovely trills.

The fourth movement reminded us of a vocal duet in which the piano and violin each had a different melody with both contributing to a whole that was greater than the sum of the parts. In no way do we consider ourself to be knowledgeable about piano technique but we know artistry when we hear it because we get "the feels".

The second half of the program was on more familiar territory for us since Mr. Richardson-Eames collaborated with four different singers, singing four different styles of song, readily demonstrating his adaptability.

Soprano Katerina Burton, just reviewed a few days ago for some lovely performances of Joseph Marx lieder, has a real feel for this composer and sang "Hat dich die Liebe berührt" and "Nocturne" in which the interludes of rippling in the piano tickled the ear. Ms. Burton's voice opened like an umbrella at the top giving us tons of overtones. We cannot wait to see how Juilliard will polish this particular gem.

Already polished and enjoying a fine career overseas, Tamara Banješević was on hand to perform a pair of songs by Henri Duparc. Chansons can get a bit effete but not these! We have missed hearing Ms. Banješević and found her presence last night to be a very pleasant surprise. "Chanson triste" sounded splendid with the two artists in lovely harmony, both of them expressive and making good use of dynamic variety. "L'invitation au voyage" was performed with almost indecent sensuality and we loved it!

Tenor Matthew Pearce performed two songs in English from the early 20th c. We didn't get much out of Herbert Howells' "The Goat Paths" with its simple vocal line which didn't stay with us, and its spare accompaniment. We preferred the rather silly "I have twelve oxen" by John Ireland, a strophic song that sounded like a folk song. The rhythm was fun and Mr. Pearce has a lovely high register achieved without pushing, and an admirable clarity of diction.

The program ended with soprano Shereen Pimentel singing two songs from Stephen Schwartz' 2003 Wicked--"The Wizard and I" and "I'm Not That Girl". We would far prefer to hear these songs than what passes for contemporary "art song". Ms. Pimentel has incredible stage presence and a lively personality best suited to songs that require dramatic intent. We once sat through Wicked on Broadway, with teeth clenched against the cruel amplification, unable to understand the words. Last night we heard the songs unamplified and could appreciate the artistry of the composition as well as the artistry of Ms. Pimentel's performance.

It was a perfect way to end the recital and we left completely satisfied. Mr. Richardson-Eames demonstrated his artistry and flexibility and is a credit to his teacher, the highly esteemed Brian Zeger.

(c) meche kroop