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.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019


Amy Irving and Victoria Clark (photo by Richard Termine)

Guest review by Ellen Godfrey:

Lady in the Dark achieved legendary status from the day it opened in New York City in 1941, where it ran for 491 performances. The musical made stars of the already well known Gertrude Lawrence, who’s picture was featured on the cover of Time magazine, and a young comic actor named Danny Kaye, who’s tongue twister of the song “Tchaikowsky" made him an instant star.  The creative team for the show were already giants in the field of theatre and music. Lady in the Dark was a ground-breaking work due to the unusual plot and the rich score. It was a bridge between the more light hearted and less sophisticated musicals preceding it and the more serious integrated musicals that followed.

The original idea for the dramatic musical show, involving psychoanalysis, was developed by Moss Hart, whom for many years had sought relief from his own depression and insomnia through psychoanalysis.  (His granddaughter  performed the small role of Barbara in the show).  Ira Gershwin wrote the extraordinary lyrics on his return to Broadway after the death of his composer brother George. 

The music was composed by the great Kurt Weill, who fled Germany in 1935 with his wife, the legendary cabaret singer Lotte Lenya. His 1938 musical Knickerbocker Holiday had a short run in New York, but introduced the “September Song” to America and the world. His first big Broadway hit was Lady in the Dark, which opened in 1941. Despite its great success, it was never revived for Broadway until Encores presented it to inaugurate the opening of their first Encore’s season in 1994.  It was made into a movie in the 1940’s.  

Weill wrote several other musicals including Street Scene, and One Touch of Venus  (starring Mary Martin).  He also composed some songs for movies and some orchestral music as well.  He died in 1950.

We owe great thanks to Ted Sperling, for bringing this wonderful work back to New York, along with his Masters’ Voices Chorus ,for three semi-staged performances. Mr. Sperling fell in love with this show when he was in college and was happy to present these performances as part of New York City Center’s 75th anniversary.

Before going any further, let me say that both Victoria Clark as Liza Elliot and David Pittu, as Russel Paxton were  terrific in their roles.  Tony Award winner Victoria Clark has brought her theatrical and vocal art to twelve Broadway musicals. With her ravishing voice and fine acting she was a perfect Liza Elliot.  David Pittu, who played the magazine’s photographer and the ringmaster in the circus dream, was charged with getting out all 50 Russian composers’ names in 35 seconds for the Tschaikowsky song and was appropriately applauded for his work.

The story of Lady in the Dark, involves a very successful and driven female fashion executive of a magazine called Allure, who decided to be  psychoanalyzed in order to conquer the fears and demons from her childhood.  The structure of the show is very original.  It is divided into three 20 minute acts, each with a different dream surrounded by pure play structure. We hear a bit of the song “My Ship” when we are first introduced to Liza at the beginning of the first act and this song is woven like a Wagnerian motive throughout the whole musical. At the end of the play, her psychiatrist has finally helped her to figure out why she was so disturbed. Suddenly all of the words of “My Ship,” come to her and she is finally at peace with herself.
“My Ship,” it is one of the most well-known and beloved songs of the musical and is sung quietly and hauntingly by Victoria Clark.  The other two popular songs are “The Saga of Jenny,” who couldn’t make up her mind, sung in a jaunty manner by Victoria Clark and the Tschaikowsky song. These three songs occur one after the other at the end of the musical .

Kurt Weill was a composer who could write in many styles. He was trained in his native Germany as a classical musician but he decided to write popular music to appeal to the people.  Throughout this musical there is a variety of musical styles; bolero, cabaret, romantic, fox trots, catchy tunes and music that points back to the Weimar Republic.

The show was performed as a semi-staged concert.  Ted Sperling led a dramatic and beautiful reading of the score. The great Orchestra of St. Lukes, one of America’s most distinguished orchestras, played the complicated score to perfection. The wonderful 120 person Master Singers were on bleachers in the rear of the stage. In addition to their glorious singing, they also were always in character.

The stage area was small and with only a few props…a lamp, a sofa, a desk, and a chair, Doug Fitch, the director of the show, was able to create the right atmosphere for each for the three dream acts.  The choreographer, Doug Varone, choreographed a series of dances for each of the three dream sequences, making great use of the small areas of the stages.  The dancers whirled around in circles or groups and gave energized performances.

In the musical, Liza  Elliott is a fashion executive so Ted Sperling and his Costume Designer Tracey Christensen decided to go to fashion designers to create high fashion outfits. Hamish Bowles, Vogue’s international editor at large, helped introduce them to appropriate designers for the dream sequences. For the Glamour dream sequence, Zac Posen designed outfits for Victoria Clark and the female dancers; for the Wedding dream sequence the Bridal gown was designed  by Marchesa, and for the Circus dream, Thorn Browne designed outfits  for the  principal actors and the jury. 

The actors were an excellent ensemble of Broadway theatre professionals. Many of them also worked in television and movies. Amy Irving, played a very sympathetic psychoanalyst and the scenes between her and Victoria Clark seemed real. Ashley Park, as Miss Foster, made her a very efficient secretary and helper for Liza. Ron Davis played up the self importance of the Hollywood star Randy Curtis. Christopher Innvar was excellent in his portrayal of Charley Johnson whom Liza found annoying at first, but by the end of the musical realized his kindness.  Ron Raines was patient as the character Kendall Nesbitt who was Liza’s boyfriend, even though he was already married. He was wonderful in the scene where, in a trial, he has to give evidence of her inability to change her mind and expresses his sadness and surprise when Liza decided she didn’t want to marry him. 

There was great applause at the end of the show from the very appreciative audience. Hopefully, we will not have to wait another 25 years for its return to Broadway.

(c) meche kroop

Monday, April 29, 2019


Manhattan School of Music Junior Opera Theater

Every time we attend one of Catherine Malfitano's productions we have the same reaction. "How does one create such engaging performances from a group of undergraduates?"  Attendees see only the finished product; we can only imagine how much hard work goes into creating such an entertaining event.

This iteration used two lighthearted Paris operettas to provide raw material for singers of superior talent--we don't just mean vocally but talent in creating interesting characters by means of movement and gesture. Coordinator and Stage Director Ms. Malfitano made sure that the eye was as engaged as the ear. Her ten year collaboration with pianist Eric Sedgwick is an extraordinarily successful one.

Ms. Malfitano's years of onstage stardom are being used to advance the artistry of her students and this is something we applaud. She welcomed the audience and explained that roles would be multiply cast. There was no story line one could follow nor were we always sure who was whom, unless we knew the singer from other performances. In that case, we will credit them with apologies to the singers whom we couldn't be sure of identifying accurately.

The first operetta from which the scenes were chosen was by Reynaldo Hahn, whose early 20th c. songs hark back to earlier epochs, and are famous for their melodious nature. His operetta Ciboulette was unknown to us but, having heard the music, we would just love to see it. All we know is that it is the story of a farm girl named after a vegetable of the allium family (chive) and her romance with an aristocrat.

We loved the romantic duet sung by soprano Shan Hai and tenor Jeh Young (Michael) Woo--"Les parents, quand on est bébé". There was also a charming duet which we may have heard before but definitely wish to hear again--"Nous avons fait un beau voyage" sung by soprano Alexis Rose Seminario and baritone Sung Shin, whose artistry we know well from his Arias Under the Arch in Washington Square Park.

Other artists bringing these scenes to life included sopranos Ripley Lucas-Tagliani, Bela Albet, and Alina Eva Flatscher, tenor Nathaniel McBride, and baritone Keith Smith.

The singers provided their own costumes and all of them looked colorful and charming. In the second operetta of the evening, Emmanuel Chabrier's late 19th c. comedy L'Étoile, the singers costumed themselves with witty abandon (corsets, petticoats, striped leggings), photos of which you can see on our Facebook page (Voce di Meche).

We have a vague recollection of seeing this opéra bouffe long ago, enough to remember that Ouf was a king who put his faith in an astrologer and that Lazuli was a poor peddler in love with a princess in disguise named Laoula. Perhaps the story is silly but the melodies are gorgeous.

The one singer we could absolutely identify was mezzo-soprano Rosario Hernández Armas whom we just heard singing Manuel de Falla's Siete canciones populares españolas a couple days ago. Here, her French was as fine as her Spanish in the role of Lazuli in "Romance de l'étoile"

The role was shared with other mezzo-sopranos in the group: Kaitlin Barron, Jay E. Condon, and Emily Dubil.  The role of Laoula was sung variously by sopranos Emily Hanseul Park, Nicoletta Berry, and Elizabeth Perry--but also by Ms. Barron and Ms. Dubil!

Adding to the fun in various roles were sopranos Lilith Spivack and Lilly Eden Cadow, tenors Julien Thomas, Andrew Hoben, and Giovanni Xu; baritone Cole Marino and bass-baritone Evan Lazdowski.

Our favorite numbers were the tickling song "Couplets du chatouillement" and the final couplet "Nous voici, messieurs, à la fin" in which Ms. Perry and Ms. Condon created some gorgeous loving harmonies.

We were totally satisfied by the evening but were gifted with an enchanting encore performed by the ensemble--Gabriel Fauré's "Pleurs d'or"--a thoroughly gorgeous song that was new to us, a lagniappe for which we were grateful.
What a complete treat the evening was!

(c) meche kroop 

Saturday, April 27, 2019


Xiaomeng Zhang and Erik van Heyningen (Photo by Richard Termine)
Maritina Tampakopoulos, Gregory Feldmann, Jessica Niles, Hubert Zapiór, Erik van Heyningen,
Meghan Kasanders, and James Ley (photo by Richard Termine)

Mozart's 1787 masterpiece Don Giovanni was perfectly cast and magnificently performed by graduate students of the Juilliard Vocal Arts Department. One could not enjoy better performances on any of the world stages!

If you wanted an appreciation of baritone Hubert Zapiór's ability to create a complex character--an astute portrayal of sociopathic narcissism-- you would have three hours to do so. If you wanted an appreciation of his gorgeous instrument and the skills with which he employs it, you would have had to wait for his "Champagne aria" in Act I and his romantic serenade in Act II-- "Deh vieni alla finestra" which was accompanied by an onstage mandolin, played by George Meyer. It was our favorite moment of the evening, mainly because we love Mr. Zapiór's voice.

We will return on Friday night to see the Don of Xiaomeng Zhang and append the review.  Keep reading!

The main feature of sociopathic narcissists is how sensitively they can suss out the desires of their prey and to charm their way into that place. However, this type of character is only interested in his/her own advantage and hasn't a care for the well being of the chosen victim. These features were successfully enacted in Mr. Zapiór's performance.

And what about his victims? Soprano Meghan Kasanders sang with full open tone that rose to the heights and created a believable character--the aristocratic Donna Anna who is shocked to learn that her would-be rapist and the slayer of her father (Il Commendatore) is fellow aristocrat Don Giovanni. Ms. Kasanders delivery of the difficult arias "Or sai chi l'onore" and "Non mi dir" could not have been better. We believed her sincerity.

Due to the consistency of his interpretation in the role of Don Ottavio, tenor James Ley projected feelings of strength as her supportive suitor. This was not the wimpy Don Ottavio that comes across as easily dismissible; oh no, this was a big-hearted and dependable fellow, and one who could dispatch both of his difficult arias ("Dalla sua pace" and "Il mio tesoro") with ease. This tended to shift the balance in his relationship with Donna Anna. We sensed a different and more satisfying direction in their future; we believed that she would come around and marry him!

The Donna Elvira of Maritina Tampakopoulos was not someone we could laugh at. Her love for Don Giovanni was not crazy, just misguided. The strength of her soprano lent verisimilitude to the characterization. The difficult "Mi tradi" was colored with more than anger and we realize that her character is more complex than we had thought. All those wild skips suggest characterological imbalance but we experienced them as the battle between love and rage, fire and ire.

Zerlina was well realized by soprano Jessica Niles; her character has a touch of narcissism as well, in her willingness to betray the feelings of her husband on their wedding day. In the role of Masetto, baritone Gregory Feldmann was believable as the poor guy who is not too effective in controlling his errant spouse. The scenes of the two of them together involved every possible emotion between two spouses--love, possessiveness, protectiveness, anger, and forgiveness. 

We have a great big cheer for the Leporello of bass-baritone Erik van Heyningen. In this role, everyone waits for the "Catalog Aria"; as good as it was, we took in his entire performance and were impressed by his comedic skills. He made a perfect foil for Don Giovanni who seemed humorless; most of the funny moments in the opera belong to him and he made the most of them. We think Mr. van Heyningen owns this role!

Although he doesn't have as much to sing as the other characters, bass William Guanbo Su made a huge impact as Il Commendatore with his forceful stage presence and deeply resonant instrument.

We noticed that all the artists were more than usually expressive in their gestures as well as in their voices. No movement was wasted and each one seemed connected to what they were singing about--or the subtext. If director Emma Griffin is responsible for this, we give her credit.

However, we found fault with the production as a whole. Clearly Ms. Griffin had some "concept" in mind, but it had absolutely nothing to do with the story or Lorenzo Da Ponte's libretto. We enjoyed her direction of Cunning Little Vixen and of Les mamelles di Tirésias (both at Juilliard) so we were terribly disappointed with this illogical and confusing betrayal of the story.

It would take more space than we have to outline all the misjudged directorial decisions but the major one is that all sense of place, period, and class structure were lost. Don Giovanni first appears in a fencing mask and several chorus members were periodically onstage in full fencing gear and even escorted a dead but vertical Il Commendatore offstage.

The opera ends with Don Giovanni being waterboarded or drowned in a fish tank!  He emerges to join in the final ensemble making us wonder if that is meant to be a ghost since none of the other characters seem to see him. But if that's the case, how can he drag Donna Anna offstage by the hair?

In between were dozens of similar inconsistencies, lapses, and anachronisms. If the libretto mentions peasants who are friends of the wedding couple, we want to see peasants in their Sunday best, not kids in gym clothes. If the libretto mentions Don Giovanni wearing a cloak, we want to see a cloak. And why were people taking off their shoes and performing barefoot? What were the modern dancers and fencers doing in the ballroom scene?

There was no set to speak of although Laura Jellinek was listed as "Scenic Designer". There was a fussily patterned backdrop with two doors through which characters came and went without any sense of origin or destination. Occasionally a chair appeared but mostly characters were obliged to sit on the floor. In Act II the small playing area was opened up to include the entire stage with a fish tank way upstage. This was distracting throughout the act but just risible when it was put to use.

Olivera Gajic's costumes were colorful for the main characters but way off base. Il Commendatore appeared as Karl Lagerfeld with white hair and dark glasses. He looked striking but...WHY? Massetto was dressed like a slob in an ill-fitting white suit and inside out tie, whereas his Zerlina was wearing a sparkly bustier with a voluminous pink skirt.  Was she supposed to be a Mafia bride in a Long Island marriage hall? We are meant to laugh at Donna Elvira's timely interruptions and at Leporello's lip-syncing of Don Giovanni's serenade; must we also laugh at the costumes?

Don Giovanni wore a shiny red suit with black sparkly slippers. Only Leporello looked the part, wearing a service apron. There was a funny moment when he and Don Giovanni exchange clothes and the latter doesn't know how to "Don" an apron.

Even the lighting (Mark Barton) was flawed. If the libretto speaks of it being too dark to see, the lighting should be dimmed.

We have no quarrel with a director finding something new to say about an opera if what he/she has to say is not just original but valid. This was not valid. It reminded us of another awful production we saw years ago that set the opera in what looked like a church basement during an AA meeting.

Drama works best when it is specific. The generic nature of the characters and setting left us cold. If a reader is interested in discussing some original ideas about this story, we would be happy to share our own! But they had better be valid!

What about the musical values? We have nothing but good things to say about the Juilliard musicians, both the ones in the pit and the ones who performed onstage in the party scene. We love this score from the portentous opening D minor chord to the cheerful closing ensemble. So how come we felt a sense of emptiness? With Joseph Colaneri on the podium, we expected more.  More what?  More color? Deeper probing of each character's music?  We still haven't figured it out. Perhaps it was just the entire feeling of alienation we felt from the production.


Juan José Lázaro, Rosario Hernandez, Sonya Argiro, Anna Viemeister, and Valentin Peytchinov

We have heard Juan José Lázaro performing on the piano at Manhattan School of Music, most often with Maestro Thomas Muraco conducting the Opera Repertoire Ensemble. There was no way we were going to miss his Master of Music recital! Collaborative piano is an art form into and of itself. The collaborative pianist must not only be an exceptional technician and artist, but he must also learn the art of collaborating with other musicians.

Because of our passion for vocal music, most of our knowledge comes from listening to voice/piano collaborations. Not mentioning any names, but we have heard one who is very famous who drowns out his vocal partner. There are others who provide inadequate support. The best of this art form know when to "keep it down" and when to "let out all the stops". The art of coaching is yet another aspect of this art form. Many singers have their favorite coaches and prefer to take the stage with ones they know they can count on to make them sound their very best.

We consider Mr. Lázaro to be one of the top collaborative pianists of his generation. Yesterday he collaborated with four very different singers, each with his/her own repertory. Certain choices seemed designed to show off versatility.

The pianism could not be faulted. Mr. Lázaro's technique is flawless and he indulges in just enough expressiveness to credit the composer and the singer, without indulging in theatrics or grandstanding.

In the first set he accompanied soprano Sonya Argiro in some deeply felt Russian music that went right to the gut. "Lisa's aria" from Pique Dame was sung by Sonya Argiro with great intensity. Mr. Lázaro created the mood right from the start and emphasized the repetitive descending figures.

Two songs by Sergei Rachmaninoff provided an entirely different experience with gentle coloration in "How Fair this Spot" and, in "Do Not Sing to Me", sufficient emphasis of the "Oriental" mode to convey painful nostalgia.

As far as Ms. Argiro, she poured plenty of feeling into the song and delivered some gorgeous melismatic passages, but interrupted her connection with the audience by being on the book, as did all of the other singers, to our dismay.

Anna Viemeister used her pleasing mezzo-soprano with lots of variety of coloration, matched by Mr. Lázaro, in Barber's Hermit Songs. Their joint artistry moved us along the path toward liking this cycle. We particularly enjoyed the delicate colors of the brief "Church Bell at Night". Although it is not our favorite song, the duo conveyed the delusional quality of "St. Ita's Vision". We always like the irreverent "The Heavenly Banquet" and the sweetly personal "The Monk and His Cat", all given the appropriate colors.

Manuel de Falla's Canciones Populares Españolas is a favorite cycle of ours, with its varying moods, rhythms, and tempi. The fingerwork in "Seguidilla Murciana" is challenging but one would never know that because Mr. Lázaro dispatched the challenge with ease. We also liked the rubato in "Jota" and the anguish of "Polo".

Mezzo-soprano Rosario Hernandez performed the songs in perfect Castilian and the texture of her instrument was perfectly suited to them. She actually surmounted the presence of the music stand, although we hope to hear her perform this cycle again without the score.

We know bass Valentin Peytchinov primarily as an impresario and pedagogue, a nurturer of young talent. We came to opera too late to hear his onstage performances so it was a special treat to hear him yesterday in the Mussorgsky cycle Songs and Dances of Death. In these songs, Death is conceived as a female figure who comes gently to take a suffering infant, an ailing maiden, an elderly drunk, and soldiers in battle.

In spite of holding the score, Mr. Peytchinov astonished us with the depth of his interpretation and the resonance of his sound.

It was a valuable experience for us. Usually we focus on the singer but yesterday we got to focus on the piano and left with a better awareness of the art of collaboration.

(c) meche kroop


Steven Blier, Oren Fader, Corrine Winters,  Leonardo Granados, Efrain Solis, and Michael Barrett
(photo by Cherilynn Tsushima)

Guest review by Cullen Gandy:

NYFOS has been at the business of programming these evenings of music for decades, and its progenitor, Steven Blier, has been the glue for this endeavor in the New York classical music scene. It is for this reason that they enjoy a devoted following not only of dedicated audience members, but of equally devoted artists; many of whom perform with the company for the entirety of their careers. At a NYFOS concert, you are equally likely to see a Stephanie Blythe as you are any up-and-coming young artist, co-mingling to expose the public to great art song.
On April 24th, the New York Festival of Song featured music written to the poetry of Spanish poet, Federico García Lorca. It was especially neat to hear some music that was actually arranged by the poet himself, in the beginning of the recital (he being quite the musician in his own right).
The evening featured the vocal talents of two artists that I would consider to be well-established brands in the opera world, in Corrine Winters and Efraín Solís. These are voices that my generation have been able to follow in parallel, as they traverse the path from student, to young artist, and finally professional. It is exciting to see the product of the whole process that these relatively young artists have been working for, put on display. There were a number of really sensitive musicians shaping and guiding the voices, including, of course, directors Steven Blier and Michael Barrett at the helm of two large grand pianos.
The concert obviously featured an evening which consisted of a majority Spanish language offering; with the exception of one set of two English songs.
Corinne Winters’ soprano has a calm kind of depth to the voice that makes the Spanish sound as sanguine and romantic as you want it to, from the perspective of the audience. I wasn’t really surprised by that fact, as she is currently electrifying the field of opera in many of the great lyric soprano roles, like Traviata’s Violetta and Onegin’s Tatyana, both here at home and abroad. She is one of those rare singers that has the good fortune of having the attractive look to grab your attention, and the vocal control to keep it.
My favorite song that she sung of the evening was De Falla’s "Soneto a Córdoba". This song, written to the poetry of Góngora, gave Winters the ability to showcase her depth not just of range, but of color. It is a proud song, not unlike a national anthem with a pastoral-esque kind of poetic nature (featuring odes to different aspects of the city Córdoba). The accompaniment has a Renaissance, Moteverde-aria kind of effect; marked by rolling, wide open chords. The voice has to control the leaping intervals of the piece (a melodic line that is a different from the antique nature of the surrounding music) and make the melody smooth; as though it was step-wise motion. It seemed as though Corrine was able to accomplish this effortlessly.
Baritone Efraín Solís’ voice is elegant and clear as a bell. He has an earnest delivery that draws an audience into his face, almost as if you are watching him on a film, instead of a stage. I loved hearing how easily the flourishes and minor details flowed out of him, as he sang. One of the most endearing moments of the evening, for the audience, was when he sang "Take this waltz" by Leonard Cohen. It was one of the longer pieces on offering of the evening, but there was so much vivid poetry that everyone just ate it up. The emotionality of the singing really lent itself well to the verse, and he physically delivered it with an understated kind of grace.
This is one of the stronger aspects of the NYFOS company; they have been practicing so long at the art of programming, that they know how to elevate the enthusiasm as the concert goes on. The applause for each of the subsequent pieces was more and more energetic than the one that came before it. Every now and again, Mr. Blier would stop and give little dissertations about certain aspects of the songs as they related to the life of the poet. It felt half as if it were a lecture, and half as though the audience was chatting with a really knowledgeable guy at a piano bar in that respect. Though it was charming, and the audience loved it, I usually prefer when people leave the discernment for the program notes and the music.
I would be remiss if I didn’t make sure to point out how much the evening benefited from the guitar playing of Oren Fader. If the guitar is the salient symbol of the Spanish musical experience, then his playing encapsulated every bit of that panache. He was plugged into the sound system, but the blend and balance with the singers and collaborators was spot on.
If you get the change to make it to one of NYFOS’s many concerts throughout the year, I definitely entreat you to make the trip up to the Upper West Side to experience it.
(c) meche kroop

Friday, April 26, 2019


Madalyn Luna and Samuel White (photo by Carol Rosegg for Manhattan School of Music)

Sometimes operas can be successfully updated or even changed to a different locale. And sometimes the changes strike us a just plain wrong-headed. In 1839, when Emmeline (possibly Emeline in real life) was sent as a 13 year old child to work in a factory in Lowell, Massachusetts, society was different. Her story tells us something about the effect on families created by the Industrial Revolution. It also tells us something about the social mores of the day.

It is 180 years later and we are in the middle of an Information Revolution with very different effects on society, its mores, and the economy. We have child labor laws. We have birth control. We have Planned Parenthood. We have means by which unwed mothers and adoptive children can find one another. A man who never learned to read is almost unheard of.

This is what was going through our mind during Manhattan School of Music's production of Tobias Picker's 1996 opera Emmeline which we saw last night. The performances were stellar, particularly that of the totally committed Madalyn Luna who created the role of the tragic heroine. According to Judith Rossner's book from which J.D. McClatchy's libretto was derived, the poor child was torn from her impoverished family and put to work in the mills to support her family with its numerous children.

Hungry for love, she fell for the blandishments of the boss' son-in-law and got pregnant. Her child was taken from her sight unseen and adopted into a family. Dismissed from the mill she returned to her family where she took care of others for a couple of decades. Unwilling to marry for wealth, she fell for a young man from the Midwest who married her. Her past came back to haunt her in a particularly tragic and mythic fashion.

In order to make this 19th c. story "relevant", Director Thaddeus Strassberger has forced it into a Procrustean bed. Toward the end he has religious bigots carrying posters and signs about "Sin" and "Pro-Life". Yes, we still have pockets of belief like that in the United States but it was wrong-headed to try to force this story to comment upon that. Yes, we still have men in power abusing young women but that's a different opera.

In spite of our disappointment in the production, we enjoyed this "play with music". The music was quite pleasant, particularly in the instrumental interludes, but the vocal lines did not hold our interest. The only melodies we heard were when the excellent chorus sang "Rock of Ages" and also when we heard riffs of a folk song which we couldn't quite identify.

Tenor Samuel White has a good sized instrument which he used well in the role of Matthew Gurney. His acting was persuasive as well. He had a believable connection with Ms. Luna who was more believable as a 13 year old than as a woman in her mid-30's.

Baritone Laureano Quant, whom we just enjoyed as Zurga in Les pêcheurs de perles, was also believable as Mr. Maguire, the "vile seducer".  His singing was just as fine as it was as Zurga but more difficult to appreciate in English, especially with the wandering vocal lines in the score.

Elisabeth Harris turned in a fine performance as the cold-hearted Aunt Hannah, and Gabriella Chea was winning as the warm-hearted landlady/housemother Mrs. Bass.

Kelly Singer filled the role of Sophia, a friend of Emmeline, and did it well. Yi Yang portrayed Emmeline's weak father. Emilyn Badgeley was scarily convincing as Emmeline's spiteful younger sister. Robert Ellsworth Feng was the fire and brimstone preacher.

This same excellent cast will be performing on Saturday; an equally fine cast (several members of which we can vouch for) will be performing on Friday and Sunday.

Paul Tate dePoo III's Scenic Design was believable and quite inventive for the factory scene.

The chorus, directed by Jackson McKinnon was in fine condition and the young musicians of the orchestra did their usual excellent work under the baton of George Manahan, giving Mr. Picker's score a fine reading.

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, April 20, 2019


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


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


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


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