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.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

MANNING THE CANON

Efraín Solis, Matt Boehler, Daniel McGrew, and Scott Murphree

In celebration of the 50th Anniversary of The Stonewall Riots, the wildly entertaining concert Manning the Canon: Songs of Gay Life was revived ten years after its debut at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center. Just as we feel a little bit Irish on St. Paddy's Day, and a little bit Italian on Columbus Day, we feel a little bit "queer" this month.

It surely wasn't necessary to be a member of the tribe to appreciate the program. In the eloquent words of Steven Blier, taken from his copious and fascinating program notes, it is "a rainbow-colored celebration of wit, beauty, emotion, and forthright honesty". The concert is a co-production of Mr. Blier, Artistic Director of New York Festival of Song, and Jesse Blumberg, Artistic Director of Five Boroughs Music Festival--both champions in the world of song.

And what songs we heard! Sets of well-curated songs about gay life were interspersed with songs by gay composers. The songs were universal in appeal; we all have a wide palette of feelings about love and sex, longing and disappointment, closeness and distance. 

Our favorites ranged the gamut, from hilarious cabaret songs to serious 19th c. compositions. Let us describe a few. As readers may have predicted, for our ears Schubert always comes out on top. The four members of the cast joined in exquisite harmony for Schubert's "Der Gondelfahrer", a setting of text by Johann Mayrhofer with whom the composer shared a bed for a couple of years. The lyrics scan and rhyme just the way we like and the melody took its cue from the text. 

Walking on the wilder side, we loved the cabaret song "An Admission" by Joseph Thalken with funny and tender lyrics by Mark Campbell whose libretto for The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs enchanted us so at Santa Fe Opera. The subject was the disappointment felt when one's prospective bedmate undresses and appears in all his naked inglorious glory. We are quite sure that everyone could relate to that one! Tenor Scott Murphree got all the feelings across, including the resolution at the end.

Drag offers so many opportunities for humor and John Wallowitch's cabaret song "Bruce" gave bass Matt Boehler an opportunity to use his loose-limbed frame, mobile face, and deeply resonant voice to portray a man criticizing Bruce's over-the-top style of dressing. The rhymes were beyond clever and Mr. Boehler did a swell job of getting the song across.

On the serious end of the spectrum, baritone Efraín Solis imbued Manuel de Falla's "Polo" with the requisite pain and just enough Latin sabor. Mr.Blier's insistent piano added to the drama.

There are songs that were written about a man and a woman that can be readily co-opted and placed firmly in the gay corner. Perhaps at the top of the list is Cy Coleman's "Tennis Duet" from City of Angels, for which David Zippel wrote the incredibly clever lyrics, filled with double entendres. Tenors David McGrew and Mr. Murphree made a marvelously flirtatious couple, sparring wittily with tennis rackets and provocative dialogue.

The program ended with Cole Porter's "You're the Top" in which the repetitive phrase "Baby, I'm the bottom you're the top" took on new meaning and was all the funnier for being played mostly straight by the ensemble. Porter's rhymes are hilarious and it was worthwhile to search out the lyrics to catch a few words and references we missed. 

The encore was sensational--"My Guy", written by Smokey Robinson (of The Miracles). In true Motown fashion, there was plenty of extravagant synchronized gesture and terrific harmonies.

We are sure that every person in that room had their own favorites. Those were ours. We were there when the show had its debut at the same LGBT Community Center ten years ago and were happy to enjoy its warmth and wit once again. Indeed it remains a source of PRIDE for its creators and its cast.

(c) meche kroop

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

EURASIA FESTIVAL GALA

Eurasia Festival Opening Night Gala at Merkin Hall

They came from Kyrgyzstan. They came from The Republic of Georgia. They came from the Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Russia, China, South Korea, and the United States of America. In the words of Aza Sydykov, it was "a triumph of art over politics". As described by pianist Jonathan Levin, it was "the most beautiful music that you've never heard". All true! The two pianists are co-founders of the Kyrgyz American Foundation, whose mission it is to preserve and promote the multicultural heritage of Eurasia with the United States.

Let us begin by honoring the contributions of Kyrgyzstan. We must start at the end of the concert because we witnessed the most remarkable performance by Omurgazy Uulu Zhyrgalbek performing with flying fingers and fluttering wrists on the Komuz and the Dombra. The former has three strings and no frets; it is made from a single piece of wood. The Dombra is a long-necked lute with two strings. The artist appeared in native dress and we urge you, dear reader, to take a look at the carousel of photos on our Facebook page (Voce di Meche). We are rarely in such awe. There were times when the melody came from the left hand and not the right one which was strumming as fast as a hummingbird's wing.

Another performance which dazzled us was that of the Ukrainian flutist Denis Savelyev, accompanied by Mr. Sydykov, performing "Nocturne" by Zhanna Kolodub. We had an epiphany when we realized how much the flute resembles the human voice. With impressive breath control Mr. Savelyev negotiated the ascending and descending scale passages. After a lovely legato central section marked by graceful phrasing, the first part returned with high drama. 

He also performed Daniel Wood's "Valse Caprice" which had a graceful pastoral mood and reminded us of singers being "on the breath". He produces a lovely tone and can decrescendo to a delicate pianissimo. Not only were we impressed but our flutist companion also sat up and took notice.

Mr. Savelyev's younger sister Maria is a cellist who delighted us with "Melody" by Myroslav Skoryk, accompanied also by Mr. Sydykov. The piece was marked by a haunting and lyrical melody. Both of the aforementioned composers belong to the 20th c. but managed to avoid the deplorable trend of assassinating melody! She also performed in a trio, with Uzbekistan violinist Vartan Mayilyantz and Mr. Levin, selections from Kyrgyzstan's first ballet Cholpon, dating from 1944. The flavor of Mikhail Raukhverger's music was distinctively Eastern and we had a fine time imagining the choreography.

We also heard three singers. Chinese soprano Nilara Mutalifu, an ethnic Uighur, let her generous soprano soar in three lovely songs by three different composers. The Uighur language was totally strange to our ears but the sound was sizable and the emotions deeply felt. Accompanying her on the piano was Mr. Levin who also performed his own composition --an original piano arrangement on a Kyrgyz theme based on the sounds of the Dombra. It was a world premiere. He also played another world premiere--a virtuosic arrangement by Eric Thompson of a Milos Rosza composition. Mr. Rosza is famous for writing film scores.

South Korean tenor Choong Lee performed a pair of songs by Rachmaninoff--"Dream" and "Do not sing, my beauty". He was accompanied by Russian pianist Vera Danchenko-Stern and in the second piece was joined by Mr. Mayilyantz who played an arrangement by Fritz Kreisler in which the violin took over some of that haunting melody. Mr. Lee has an easy full-throated voice production and came across much better when he relaxed and became freer with his gestures. He has a beautiful pianissimo.

Also from South Korea, baritone Hyungjoo Eom performed two Korean songs. At last month's concert Around the World in Song, soprano Sulgi Cho explained that the "art song" did not exist in Korea until rather recently but Hak Jun Yoon wrote one called "Majoong" on the cusp of the 21st c. and Mr. Eom gave it a lovely performance, along with a charming and spirited folk song.

We were quite impressed with Kyrgyzstan clarinetist Bakhtiyar Dooranov who gave an expressive performance of two 20th c. pieces which gave a colorful line to the clarinet with some staccato in the upper register and some well executed runs. Mr. Levin had some rumbling figures on the piano.

Another clarinetist, the Georgian Marita Pataraia was accompanied by Georgian pianist Merab Ebralidze for a piece by Irakli Gejadze. The clarinet enjoyed some rapid scale passages whilst the piano got involved in some interesting figures.

Mr. Mayilyantz played a cheerful "Waltz-Scherzo" by Tchaikovsky which we'd never heard. We liked the pensive central section and the highly embellished return, much like a bel canto aria.

Georgian violinist Gvantsa Butskhiridze was joined by Georgian pianist Marina Ghurchumelia for a frisky "Scherzo" by Vaja Azarashvili which featured a lot of pizzicato.

Kyrgyzstan flutist Eliza Salibaeva was accompanied by Mr. Levin for yet another U.S. premiere of Kalyi Moldobasanov's expressive "Rondo-Scherzo" and Muratbek Begaliev's Asian flavored "Elegy".

We cannot recall another concert with so much variety and so much international cultural sharing. Mr. Sydakov was right. Art definitely trumps politics.  Oh dear!  Was that a slip?  Well, we'll let it stand! Maybe art trumps Trump.

(c) meche kroop

Monday, June 24, 2019

SHAKESPEARE SURVIVED!

Matthew Zimmerman, Lisa Monde, David Serero, Ashley Brooke Miller, David Mohr, Patrick Clark,
and Felix Jarrar

Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet has survived post-modern productions, filming, ballet, West Side Story,and marionettes. The story is timeless and impresario/baritone David Serero has put his unique individual Jewish spin on the tale of star-crossed lovers, moving the action from Verona to Jerusalem, and pitting the Sephardic Capulets against the Ashkenazic Montagues. Contrary to our pre-performance expectations, they were not hurling matzo balls and falafel balls at each other! 

Frankly, we never thought the two branches of Judaism had any animosity toward one another and an interesting conflict might have been between a Jewish family and an Arab family. But that would have deprived the audience of the pleasure of hearing folk songs from both cultures--the Ashkenazic family sang in Yiddish (which our knowledge of German did not help us understand), and the Sephardic folks sang in what we took to be Ladino, because we caught a few words that sounded at times like Italian and other times like Spanish. There was even a lovely song in Russian which we did not understand but liked a lot.
That Mr. Serero has a devoted audience is undeniable; the entire run was sold out and the standing ovation was generous. Mr. Serero is well known for abridging the classics (both opera and theater) and if this brings people into the theaters and opera houses to get a deeper exposure that is all to the good.

Most of the important speeches were there and Mr. Serero made sure that the basics of the story were told. Minor characters were eliminated as well. Although we didn't understand the music, the interpolated non-Shakespearean dialogue was mostly in Yiddish-peppered English. In any case, we all know the story. The production reminded us of a singspiel.

The costumes were gorgeous, giving Mr. Serero some funny lines at the curtain call about most of the budget going toward the costumes. In place of sets there were appropriate projections. Well known composer/pianist Felix Jarrar slid easily between his own improvisations and the various types of music.

No one minded the injection of humor into this tragedy and most of it came from stereotypes. The very elegant Lady Capulet (portrayed by Lisa Monde) donned a wig and became Romeo's guilt-inducing cheek-pinching Jewish mother. Matthew Zimmerman did double duty as the pugnacious Tybalt and Juliet's stern controlling father who had picked out "the wealthy Mordechai" to be Juliet's husband. Paris was booted right out of the play.

Friar Laurence became Rabbi Laurence who prayed a lot. The role of Romeo's friend Mercutio was well performed by Patrick Clark. And as for the fair Juliet, Ashley Brooke Miller was convincing in her innocence and willfulness.

Mr. Serero himself took the role of the ardent Romeo and garnered most of the laughs with his English dialogue. The sword fights between Tybalt and Mercutio were well executed and ended in Mercutio's death (of course) and the retaliatory fight between Romeo and Tybalt ended in Tybalt's death (of course). We didn't quite get the part where Romeo stabs himself after being banished, but then reappears in the next scene. Neither did our companion.

Mr. Serero made sure that everyone had a great time. What more could one want after all that tragedy, leavened with laughter and tunes? Well, there was more. The evening ended with the cast performing a popular song which was just as unknown to us as the Ladino, Yiddish, and Russian ones; disco dancing filled the stage. That was the one thing we could have lived without as it seemed to undercut the tragic ending.

But Mr. Serero wants everyone to have a good time!  And they did!

Watch out for an upcoming Nozze di Figaro next month, also presented by The American Sephardi Federation at the Center for Jewish History. Mr. Serero was quick to point out the Jewish connection. Lorenzo DaPonte was indeed Jewish. But David, tell us, was he Sephardic or Ashkenazic?

(c) meche kroop



Saturday, June 22, 2019

WHAT A FINALE!

Directors Marc Verzatt and Brittany Goodwin taking a bow with participants of IVAI

We were completely bowled over last night at the second and final evening of opera duets, trios, and ensembles. In the week we attended we witnessed something akin to a miracle--the transformation of a group of somewhat insecure and unsteady young artists into fully fledged performers. Perhaps all the requisite skills were there just waiting to be brought out. And brought out they were!

Much credit must be given to coaches Joan Dornemann, Jane Steele, Pei-Wen Chen, and Dura Jun and to the teachers on the faculty whom we never met; there is no doubt in our mind that they kept the students busy with constant lessons and coachings which we did not observe. What we did observe were the juicy fruits of their labor, tastefully arranged for our delectation by directors Brittany (Bea) Goodwin and Marc Verzatt who, without sets or costumes, created meaningful onstage interaction.

There were a number of instances in which we learned something new about characters that are customarily portrayed in a "stock" fashion. Let us provide a couple examples. In the card reading scene from Bizet's Carmen, our doomed heroine (the marvelous mezzo-soprano Jihyun Choi) was set on stage right brooding whilst Frasquita (lovely soprano Hanna Lee) and Mercedes (marvelous mezzo Xiaohan Chen) were having a gay time talking about their future fortunes and upcoming romances. This contrast emphasized the tragedy to come.

There's an even more poignant example from the same opera. Country girl Micaela is usually portrayed rather blandly, as an oblivious innocent. Last night, the way soprano Miriam Chaudoir portrayed her, she sensed, by his indifferent embrace, that Don José (Alonzo Jordan Lopez) was not really present for her. He sings of his joy in hearing from his mother and she sings along but you could tell from her facial expression and body language that she was hurting. She wanted him to sing about his joy in seeing her! This subtle difference made Micaela a complete character, not just a plot device.

In Rossini's Semiramide, the deluded title character, portrayed by soprano Melanie Spector, indicated by her posture and the imperious way she held her head that she couldn't even imagine that Arsace would prefer another. We might add here that Ms. Spector's coloratura fireworks were never impaired by the acting but rather served to illuminate Semiramide's character. Furthermore, Keymon Murrah's countertenor was superbly employed and one could read on his face his discomfort around the heroine's expectations. The two voices sounded so perfect together that we cannot imagine Arsace performed in a different fach.

Soprano Julia Katherine Walsh tackled Lucia's "mad scene" with relish and complete dramatic abandon while maintaining fine control over the vocal fireworks. She has resonance to spare in the high-flying tessitura that sent overtones bouncing around the room. Through her eyes we could see all of her frightening hallucinations. What a performance! 

Juliet Morris created an imperious Queen of the Night from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte, one that wielded authority without benefit of extravagant makeup and costuming. It was all done with posture, gesture, and vocalism. Ms. Morris really knew what she was singing about, making every word count.

The final scene not only knocked our socks off but also our shoes! We were completely unfamiliar with Rossini's Otello and are sure it would have been a major member of the current repertory, had not Verdi undertaken to write his Otello. What a treat to hear scenes from two serious Rossini operas in one night! 

Soprano Jaeyeon Kim was incredibly touching as the frightened Desdemona, singing the heavily embellished vocal line with flexibility and the most gorgeous timbre. In a world in which sopranos sound so much alike, it was a special experience for us to hear a unique instrument. As the jealous Otello, tenor Eduardo Belmonte was threatening and scary, without any holding back. The scene gave ample opportunity for him to show off a strong and full middle voice.

From Puccini's audience pleaser La Bohême, we heard "O soave fanciulla" sung by soprano Clara Iranzo and tenor Eduardo Belmonte. Was it the excellent direction that made their romance seem so very real? Or was it the fact that they are a couple? Like Oscar in Ballo in Maschera, we know but won't tell!

A scene from Puccini's La Rondine was charmingly executed with tenor Nicolas Gerst taking the role of the poet Prunier, starting "Il bel sogno di Doretta" with Ms. Irazo's Magda taking over. In attendance were a group of gossiping friends (Mithuna Sivaraman, Nicole Karrs, and Michelle Encarnacion Pozo) and a finely drawn Lisette (the maid) enacted by Angela Candela. She was so compelling in the role that we wanted to see the scene in the café dansant! She is one of those "stage animals" that can lose herself in any one of a number of characters.

We loved the scene from Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia in which Rosina beats Figaro to the punch. He is clever but she is still more clever. "Dunque io son" was given a humorous performance by mezzo-soprano Cloe San Antonio who is blessed with one of those distinctive voices of true mezzo timbre, flexibility in the fioritura, and a charming stage presence. Her chemistry with baritone Robbie Raso as Figaro was pure delight. We think this role suits him to a "T", giving ample opportunity for acting as well as singing.

From Massenet's Manon we enjoyed the scene in which the now-sophisticated heroine is enjoying some gambling with her fancy friends the "party girls", portrayed by Yingjie Zhou, Olesia Verzole, and Wenjie Zhang. They enjoyed being louche and we enjoyed their enjoyment. The harmonies were exquisite and the French was just fine.

More Massenet followed with a scene from his Cendrillon in which Prince Charmant (the ardent mezzo Heather Jones) becomes enraptured by the title character (soprano Lauren Curet) who sang with brightness and clarity. True to Massenet, the harmonies were again exquisite and no one failed their French.

Finally, we saw an appealing scene from Mozart's singspiel Die Entführung aus dem Serail. The two sopranos (Sarah Heilman and Hyune Kwon) and two tenors (Masachika Watanabe and Zachary Sebek) made some gorgeous harmonies together. It pleased us to see Mozart's genius with contrasting vocal lines so well executed.

This astonishing evening was, for us, the capstone of a wonderful ten days, although there will be one more performance--an evening of American song. We would like to point out that the youngest participant was but 18 years old and several of them are still undergraduates whilst others have completed advanced degrees. Obviously, the 50 participants began the program at varying levels of expertise but they all made a giant step forward. After a brief recess, the Institute will take place in Montreal. We wish we could be a "camp follower"!

(c) meche kroop

Friday, June 21, 2019

AN EVENING OF OPERA SCENES BY IVAI

Students of International Vocal Arts Institute

Last night we attended a delightful evening of duets, trios, and ensembles performed by participants in the International Vocal Arts Institute at Mannes College of Music. We were both pleased and astonished to witness the growth of these young singers in the space of only one week.

It was interesting to note the difference in performance quality as each singer worked with one or more scene partners, in contrast with their performances in solo arias. We imagine it is far easier to slip into a role under such conditions as opposed to singing an aria whilst imagining the presence of the other singers. Singers who hadn't captured our interest on prior nights made a significant impression; those we admired before made an even better impression last night.

The scenes that were performed were well chosen (heavy on the Mozart) for these young voices, effectively coached by Artistic Director Joan Dornemann, Jane Steele, Pei-Wen Chen, and Dura Jun. Directing the scenes were Brittany Goodwin (whose work we have always admired) and Marc Verzatt (whom we do not know). What we have to say about the direction is that every scene worked with only a few black boxes onstage and a curtain covering the windows, which made a fine hiding place for Cherubino. More about that later. Maestro Brent Chancellor was conductor for the evening.

The program opened with a charming scene from Mascagni's L'amico Fritz--the "Cherry Duet". Soprano Jennifer Jaroslavsky made a perfect shy Suzel and we loved the part where she climbed the tree (a black box) to pick the cherries. We could see the tree in our mind's eye! Tenor Alonzo Jordan Lopez made a fine Fritz and there was wonderful romantic tension between the two of them as they moved closer and closer. In our mind we were urging them on! And that's an effective performance!

There were two scenes from Mozart's Nozze di Figaro. Soprano Miriam Chaudoir had the role of the terrified Countess with baritone Robbie Raso as the jealous Count. Helping Cherubino (mezzo-soprano Megan Mateosky) escape was the clever Susanna portrayed by the excellent soprano Elizaveta Kozlova who, we were informed, stepped in at the last minute. We have enjoyed her performances all week and are presently even more impressed with her versatility. Watching her racing around the stage and hiding behind pillars made us chuckle. We have her tagged as one of those "stage animals".

This scene was followed by the Act III sextet in which Susanna (the lovely soprano Eugenia Forteza) convincingly showed her character's fury at discovering her fiancé Figaro in the arms of Marcelina (mezzo Nicole Karrs). There is so much warmth and humor in the reconciliation that we were grinning from ear to ear. 

Although we had to get accustomed to a different Susanna, the Count was again portrayed by Mr. Raso. Figaro (baritone Luka Jozic) was delighted to reunite with his mother and father Dr. Bartolo (baritone Gabriel Garcia) and we got "the feels", which is exactly what this scene should achieve. Tenor Nicolas Gerst took the role of Don Curzio, sharing the Count's dismay.

To thrill an audience, Léo Delibes' Lakmé requires two beautiful female voices. In this performance of the "Flower Duet" soprano Jessica Bayne in the title role and mezzo Xiaohan Chen as Malika could charm the birds from the trees with their gorgeous voices, their exquisite harmonic blending, and sympathetic friendship. We particularly enjoyed the change of vocal color in the repeat.

We returned to Mozart with a scene from Così fan tutte in which the wily Despina (Ms. Kozlova again) tries to convince the two sisters to accept the two prospective lovers. Ms. Kozlova accurately made the social class distinction between herself and her employers-the resistant Fiordiligi (soprano Hrun Osk) and the less resistant Dorabella (mezzo Emma Guo) who has the task of winning her sister over to the romantic adventure to follow.  It was all well done and dramatically convincing.

The prelude to Claudio Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea is not always included in performance but it makes a charming "stand alone" scene as three sopranos, symbols of three qualities, make a case for their own importance. Megan Mateosky exuded confidence as Fortuna. Kaylene Dahl presented Virtù with appropriate smugness, but we all know who wins out in the end. It is Isabel Springer as Amor! Of course, if it were a singing contest we could never have chosen the winner. They were all excellent.

Another return to Mozart brought us to Don Giovanni-- to a crucial scene in which each character reveals his/her own true character. Soprano Jinni Shen reveals her mistrust of Don Giovanni, soprano Angela Canela was particularly fine as the conflicted Donna Elvira, Don Giovanni (Luka Jozic) shows his deceitful nature and the supportive Don Ottavio (tenor Zachary Sebek) is there for his betrothed. We were glad to see Mozart's genius composition honored so well.

The opening scene of Mozart's Die Zauberflôte is a masterpiece of vocal writing in which Papageno (baritone Gabriel Garcia) can only hum his vocal line because he has a padlock on his mouth--a punishment for lying. The three ladies (sopranos Mithuna Sivaraman and Wenjia Wei with mezzo Heather Jones) offer forgiveness if he will go with Tamino (Yunxuan Zhu) to rescue Pamino. They present Tamino with a magic flute and Papageno with some magic bells. The complex vocal writing was beautifully realized by all five of them and the direction and props added to the fun.

The program closed with the oft-performed scene from Donizetti's Don Pasquale in which Dr. Malatesta (the versatile Mr. Raso) explains his plot to Norina (soprano Emilia Poma) in which she will portray his convent-bred sister and marry the elderly Don Pasquale. This offers a grand opportunity for acting and the two singers rose to the occasion. We particularly enjoyed the directorial move of having her gestures timed to the beat of the music. We could hardly keep a straight face.

Photos of these scenes can be seen on our FB page-- Voce di Meche.

There will be another similar evening tonight and we wouldn't miss it for the world. And you shouldn't either!

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

A WORLD TOUR IN SONG

International Vocal Artists at IVAI Concert

Last night the International Vocal Arts Institute lived up to the "international" part of its name, presenting a most enjoyable concert of songs from all over the world. This concert had a different format than the one we presented last month at St. John's in the Village. We had six singers, each one given fifteen minutes to sing in his/her own language. Last night we heard 26 singers, each one of them singing just one song. 

We heard songs from Russia and the Ukraine; South Korea, Japan and China; France, Germany, and Italy; England and the USA; Spain, Mexico, and Argentina; Sweden and Iceland. That's quite a world tour!

It is a given that everyone sang well and achieved a higher degree of ease in their own languages. So let us focus on the art of the art song. There is no plot. There are no other characters to deal with. No wigs. No makeup. No sets. It's just the singer and the song, the text and the music.

There are those who prefer a singer who employs only the colors of the voice. We are not of that ilk. We prefer a singer who tells a story using not just the voice but facial expression, gesture, and body movement. That is what draws the listener in to the text. Although hearing a language with which one is familiar gives the listener an advantage in understanding, a good storyteller can enrapture us in any case, even when we don't know the language.

The performance that most enraptured us was that of soprano Elizaveta Kozlova who gave us Mikhail Glinka's "Bird-cherry Tree Will Blossom." The song is about a bride preparing for her wedding and her groom's admiration. We admit we were helped along by the summary in the program and by Ms. Kozlova's costume which was colorful and indicative of a celebration. (Photos can be seen on our FB page--Voce di Meche). But the important thing is that she used the entire stage, dancing with joyful steps, and sharing the excitement of the event. We were reminded of a recital at Juilliard in which the Hungarian singer performed a Czardas.

Although all the South Korean singers were excellent, soprano Hanna Lee impressed us by conveying the several moods of "Miryang-Arirang" with a lot of personality. The embellishment of the vocal line with turns and trills and the rhythmic accompaniment gave her plenty of room for self expression.  Yes, dear reader, the choice of song does make a difference.

The gestures of mezzo-soprano Megan Mateosky brought significance to the Argentinian tango by Carlos Gardel--"El Día Que Me Quieras".

Soprano Isabel Springer used her body well in capturing the excitement of Claude Debussy's "Cheveux de bois". It seemed as if she were actually seeing the carousel and we could see through her eyes.

Baritone Luka Jozic appears to be a natural storyteller using face, gesture, and body to tell the story of Schubert's "Der Tod und das Mädchen". We hope he will work on differentiating the voices of the young woman and that of the death figure. That would take his performance to another level.

Mezzo-soprano Xiaohan Chen used all of her resources in a song about Lady Yang and Emperor Xuanzong from the Tang Dynasty --"Hitom with Autumn Wind". Everything came together in a lovely performance.

Soprano Olesia Verzole used her voice and face to tell the story of Ukrainian oppression "Time Passes" by Stefania Turkewich. We think more bodily involvement would make it even better.

Although we didn't care for the song (Britten's "Seascape"), Jessica Bayne did a lovely job of painting a picture. Even if we couldn't understand all the words we could see the seascape through her eyes.

All of the performances were lovely and it gave us great pleasure to hear so many languages. We have only described the ones that stuck in our mind due to the feature we were focusing on last night--storytelling.

The superb accompanists for the evening were Evgenia Truksa and Dura Jun.

There will be more concerts! Thursday and Friday feature scenes from operas and we are excited to see what these fine young artists will do with scene partners.

(c) meche kroop



Tuesday, June 18, 2019

AN EVENING OF ARIAS BY IVAI

International Vocal Arts Institute--an evening of operatic arias

Last night was the second of two evenings of arias presented by International Vocal Arts Institute.  Last week we described every single aria but this time we would like to do something different. Hearing twenty singers in one evening was both exciting and exhausting. Some we had heard before at Diana Soviero's master class; a couple we remembered from the first evening of arias; others we reviewed before at other venues.

The evening seemed to be a big blur of fine performances except for a couple singers who stood out by virtue of certain characteristics that we would like to mention in the hopes that it will be helpful to other young singers at the beginning of their careers.

Of course, it helps if Mother Nature has endowed one with a beautiful instrument or a unique one, as is the case with mezzo-soprano Cloe San Antonio who sang "Pensa alla patria" from Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri. The unique texture of her voice, augmented by the other factors which we will get to, made her performance memorable.

Similarly, counter-tenor Keymon Murrah electrified the audience with "Amour, viens rendre à mon âme" from Gluck's Orphée et Eurydice. This fach is rare and when the singer uses his instrument well, we are inclined to lean forward in our chair.

So, singers can't alter their instrument but they can learn to use it well. There is a reason that teachers put so much emphasis on breathing. Good support is the foundation for everything else. A beautiful legato is so important.

Musicality is inborn in some but can be developed. The ability to hear and respond to the accompaniment, be it piano or orchestra, plays a large part. Being attentive to phrasing is crucial. Running out of breath in an attempt to sustain a long phrase (think Bellini!) can ruin a performance. These phrases must be shaped with attention to dynamics. In our prior review we mentioned a few performances which grabbed us with a gorgeous decrescendo. It can make an audience hold its collective breath.

Mikayla Sager's performance of "Casta diva" from Bellini's Norma employed expressive phrasing and effective dynamic variation with a lovely descending portamento. This performance got our attention and has stayed in our memory!

Language skills are important. Of course one can learn an aria phonetically and this is what most singers will probably have to do for Czech or Hungarian. But there is no reason not to have a basic knowledge of Italian, German, French, and Spanish. We cringe when someone omits a final "ich" in German or pronounces it "ick". Perhaps most American audiences won't notice but you will be singing in Europe and THEY WILL NOTICE. 

Happily, the IVAI students we have heard so far had better than average language skills.

As you probably already know, flexibility is most important in lyric and coloratura sopranos. Readers have heard us praise a singer's pinpoint approach to fioritura. Audiences love "fireworks". A good trill (as explained by Ms. Soviero and mentioned in our review of her class) sends chills up and down the spine.

We noted no major technical flaws in the IVAI students and those we heard twice seemed to be improving in technique.

So what we would like to address is stage deportment and acting. Last night, Artistic Director Joan Dornemann coached the students on how to take a bow. This is something we have never considered! But we have paid lots of attention to how the singer uses the stage. Gripping the piano makes the singer look insecure. Stepping forward toward the audience makes us feel involved with both singer and music. We noticed how Elizaveta Kozlova used the entire stage in her taunting portrayal of Oscar in "Saper vorreste" from Verdi's Un ballo in maschera.

Now let us address the issue of acting. Some singers are natural born "stage animals" and some must learn. In an introspective aria like "E lucevan le stelle" from Puccini's Tosca or "Kuda, kuda" from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, or Nedda's "Stridono lassù" from Leoncavallo's Pagliacci, it seems right for the singer to disregard the following piece of advice.

When you are presenting an aria from a scene involving another character, you need to see that other character onstage so we can see through your eyes. This was the major flaw we noted in last night's concert. We heard some lovely voices but several singers just stood there and sang. We have bodies for a reason and we must use them to convey our feelings. "Stock" gestures don't count; they are boring. Each gesture must reflect what your character is thinking about or feeling. 

For example, Clara Luz Iranzo sang "Quando m'en vo" (Musetta's aria from Puccini's La Bohême) quite well but we never got the feeling that she was showing off for Marcello and taunting him. Similarly, Oleksandra Verzole sang well in "Giunse al fin il momento...Deh vieni non tardar" from Mozart's Nozze di Figaro; but we didn't get the important point that she was teasing Figaro and "laying it on with a trowel". Likewise, Yaewon Jun could do better at "smelling the rose" and shyly flirting with Octavian.

On the other hand Robbie Raso showed us what an arrogant fellow Belcore is in "Come Paride vezzoso" from Donizetti's L'Élisir d'amore. We could just visualize the local peasants surrounding him and the unimpressed Adina. And Xiaohan Chen's performance of the "Violin aria" from Offenbach's Les contes d'Hoffman made us feel Hoffman's presence as she tried to persuade him to turn away from frivolous romances and to devote himself to his art. (Actually, she persuaded us!)

We realize that some of the students were trying out new material and in no way did we expect a finished performance. We hope our suggestions will be taken in the helpful spirit in which we offer them and not as destructive criticism.

The Institute has several more days to go and we will be reporting on the next few events. Stay tuned!

(c) meche kroop

Sunday, June 16, 2019

WIN-WIN

The excellent artists of the International Vocal Arts Institute 
onstage at Mannes College of Music

It has become a yearly event that we look forward to every June--Joan Dornemann's International Vocal Arts Institute in residence for ten days at Mannes College of Music. Last night we wrote about Diana Soviero's brilliant master class and tonight we attended a concert of arias performed by the students. It was particularly interesting to hear singers we heard last night to evaluate how well they incorporated  what they learned. For some, it was too soon to telp but one soprano stood out.

Melanie Spector was last on the program last night but the first to come to mind since she took what she learned about breathing and let the sound fly. She performed Norina's scene from Donizetti's Don Pasquale with a voice twice the size of what we heard at the master class. Furthermore, she demonstrated an understanding of the text and a lot of personality. The ascending and descending scales were beautifully rendered, as was the trill.

This opera is full of humor and charm and we enjoyed baritone Gabriel Garcia's Dr. Malatesta as he tries to sell Don Pasquale on his so-called sister, the aforementioned Norina. His baritone has a nice texture and pleasing tone.

Donizetti was quite popular in this concert. We were thrilled hearing mezzo-soprano Jihyun Choi who performed "O mio Fernando" from La Favorita. Her intense involvement in the role pulled us right in. There was a lovely contrast between the legato of the cantabile and the animated cabaletto.

From the master's L'Elisir d'Amore, tenor Eduardo Belmonte performed "Una furtiva lagrima" with sincerity of feeling and generosity of spirit. He has a graceful crescendo which opens up his voice beautifully.

From the same opera, tenor Zachary Sebek lent his sweet tone to Nemorino's other aria "Quanto è bella". When he lets go of the piano and steps forward toward the audience he comes across much better.

Donizetti also set operas in French and Fille du Regiment is a favorite. Tenor Nicolas Gerst bravely tackled "Ah! Mes amis...pour mon âme" with some fine French and a lovely descending portamento at the end.

We do believe French is more difficult to sing than Italian but all of the students excelled. Soprano Hyune Kwon performed "Je suis Titania" from Ambroise Thomas' Mignon, an opera we have never seen. Her coloratura was excellent with fine execution of the fioritura; the upper register had an appealing bright tone. We wanted her to let go of the piano and act the part. The character Philine is an actress after all!

Édouard Lalo came along a generation later and his Le Roi d'Ys is high on our list after hearing tenor Yunxuan Zhu perform Mylio's aubade to his bride. We liked the timbre of his voice and his ardent delivery. Lalo's music is as melodic and rhythmic as one would wish. We'd like to hear more!

Massenet came along shortly thereafter and, although we are familiar with his more serious operas, hearing soprano Angela Candela sing Chérubin's Act I aria "Je suis gris" from his light hearted  opera of the same name made us want to hear the whole opera. We think singers love doing scenes of intoxication the way actors crave death scenes. Ms. Candela chewed up the non-existent scenery and created the character before she even began to sing. We loved it!

As an aside, several composers have tried to continue what Mozart and Rossini started with mixed results. We liked Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles and we hated Milhaud's La mère coupable.

But in telling the tale of the Almavivas, nothing can compare with Mozart's Nozze di Figaro and we enjoyed Cherubino's aria "Voi che sapete" sung by mezzo-soprano Heather Jones who showed that she knew what she was singing about. We remember Ms. Jones well from her performances with Cantanti Project, Light Opera of New York, and Mannes Opera.

From his Don Giovanni,  soprano Jaeyeon Kim gave a convincing portrayal of Donna Anna in "Crudele...Non mi dir". There was a good contrast between the legato and the fioritura. We appreciated that she stepped forward from the security of the piano and connected with the audience.

We found plenty of other works to enjoy from the Baroque and Classical periods.
From Händel's Giulio Cesare, soprano Mithuna Sivaraman tackled the long and difficult aria "Da tempeste il legno infranto" and wrestled it to the ground. We loved Cleopatra's enthusiasm expressed through accurate coloratura that served the text. Her performance reminded us of how much we enjoyed her performances with Cantanti Projects and New Camerata Opera.

From his Rinaldo, we heard the famous "Lascia ch'io pianga" given a splendid performance by soprano So-Chung Shinn who conveyed Almirena's grief by means of vocal artistry and facial expression. We would like to see her add some involvement with her body as well which would necessitate letting go of the piano! The embellishments in the return were finely rendered.

In the opera canon, Haydn is kind of a wild card. Baritone Luka Jozic conveyed the joy of a happy farmer in "Schon eilet froh der Akersmann" from Die Jahreszeiten, and he did it in good crisp German.

Sarah Heilman's German was also fine in "Ach, ich liebte" from Die Entführung aus dem Serail. Her bright tone was notable in the upper register.

We are looking forward to a performance of Carl Maria von Weber's Der Freischutz next season and got a good preview when soprano Hanna Lee performed Ännchen's aria "Einst träumte meiner sel'gen Base". This character has a lot of personality and Ms. Lee captured all the nuances as she related her scary dream to Agatha the bride. She had no problem establishing the character by means of expression and gesture. It was a treat.

We have saved for last the aria "My Darling Jim" from Tom Ciupullo's Glory Denied. This is one of those prosey arias that amounted to a weather report, apparently from a wife to her husband who is fighting in the Vietnam War. Soprano Jessica Bayne employed perfect diction and appeared involved but we were bored. This is generally the case with contemporary opera with which we rarely can relate. We crave melody!

The excellent accompanists for the evening were Jestin Pieper and Pei-Wen Chen.

Next week will bring another concert of arias and two recitals of opera scenes, all of which we intend to attend. The win-win situation here is that the students at the institute get an opportunity to perform and the audience gets a thrilling evening of singing, without cost. Do come!  You won't be disappointed.

(c) meche kroop







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Saturday, June 15, 2019

WORK OR FUN?

Pei-Wen Chen, Joan Dornemann, Melanie Spector, Diana Soviero, Emilia Poma, Cloe San Antonio, Jennifer Jaroslavsky,
Zachary Sebek, and Clara Iranzo

We have lost count of all the master classes we have attended. We have noted that each master teacher brings something else to the table. Some focus on role interpretation, some on language skills, some on stage presence, and other aspects of performance.

Last night, as part of the International Vocal Arts Institute at Mannes College for Music, we became acquainted with the unique style of superstar soprano Diana Soviero. Ms. Soviero is a "character" and we mean this in the best possible way. She is fearless in her attempt to get her students on the right pathway, even at the expense of making funny faces and saying funny things, and contradicting "received wisdom".

The true measure of her method is the change in the sound of the students. The six people we heard were all excellent to start out with but achieved a far fuller sound under her tutelage. We would say that they did the work and we had the fun but, truth to tell, they seemed to be having as much fun as we did. Ms. Soviero stands right next to the student and moves their arms, conducting them as they sing. 

Rather than describe what each one sang, we will share with you some of the valuable tips we gleaned. We confess that some of the tips exceeded our modest understanding but most of them made sense to anyone with a basic knowledge of vocal production.

Before the singing began, the arrival of a few latecomers became an opportunity to tell the singers to never turn their backs to the audience but to stand and wait, in character, until the audience settles down. She also pointed out how the orchestral introduction tells the singer when and how to begin. Never begin by belting the note but slide into it.

Of course, everything starts with the breath and most singers have an unclear picture of the role of the diaphragm and have been ill-advised to "push the breath". Ms. Soviero is careful not to label anything as "wrong" but prefers to call things "misunderstood". One way to keep the larynx and diaphragm down while going up is to try to lift the piano!

Some of the singers needed to be told not to hold back but to send the sound out. We have always heard the instructions to send the voice forward but her instructions were often to send it back. For our understanding, this would require a bit more explanation but it certainly made a positive difference. 

To achieve a diminuendo, she instructed the student to send the sound out with energy so it vibrates, and then to bring it back in. Another tip for a dry mouth is to suck in on your cheeks.  That's one we never heard before!

In a trill, the singer should put the lower note on the beat. That was a good one!

Since the tongue connects with the larynx, it is important to avoid mouth positions that tense the tongue. The upper molars should be well separated from the lower ones. "Nyeh, nyeh" is a good way to find the right place for the tongue.

It isn't necessary to open the mouth wide to get a big sound. We've never heard a teacher focus on the embouchure but she described the upper lip as a steering wheel that directs the sound. Singers should be careful about jutting the jaw forward.

Before going higher, lift the palate first. 

To find the center of the pitches one can practice humming them first. Hum the upward jump, then open the mouth. Keep the vowel in place for upward leaps.

Much of this comes from the Garcia technique, of which we have never heard; but since it worked so well for these six singers it would be valuable to learn more about it.

Beyond the technical aspects there were a couple acting strategies that we'd like to share. In "Stridono lassù", the soprano should not keep looking up. A flock of birds doesn't remain overhead, they sweep across the sky. The singer can follow them just for a brief moment only! We never heard that before but it makes so much sense.

Also in Pagliacci, when Arlecchino serenades Columbina, he should be very relaxed and can . "tune the lute" before he begins to sing. It's these little gestures that make a performance believable and we were so glad to be made aware of them.

We expect big things from these six promising young singers!

We plan on attending the concerts of arias and opera scenes for the rest of this 10-day institute about which we have written a great deal in the past.  So should you!  Particulars are on the IVAI website.

(c) meche kroop

Friday, June 14, 2019

WE TOOK THE A TRAIN

Dimitri Dover, Joseph Lim, Leah Hawkins, and Mario Bahg at Jackie Robinson Park Bandshell

Lucky us!  Thor held his thunder until after the Metropolitan Opera recital and Tlaloc kept the threatened rain in abeyance. The crowd at the bandshell in Jackie Robinson Park in Harlem was sadly sparse but nonetheless wildly enthusiastic, sensing that the artists were giving their all for the occasion. If what we write is tempting to you, there will be several more opportunities to hear the same program in the other four boroughs. It would be a shame to miss it.

We know pianist Dimitri Dover since his student days at Juilliard and have always admired his artistry at the piano. Last night he moved readily from Mozart to Bernstein and everything in between. Not only did he play magnificently but he fulfilled the role of narrator, explaining to the audience what each aria was about and its place in the opera. Not everyone is an experienced opera goer and this knowledge went a long way toward enhancing audience appreciation.

We were first introduced to the astonishing talent of soprano Leah Hawkins by our dear friend, pianist/coach/conductor Lachlan Glen who knows a good voice when he hears it. We heard Ms. Hawkins sing in French and was immediately won over. Last night we heard her sing in Italian and English and continue to be impressed.

Ms. Hawkins is one of those big beautiful gals with big beautiful voices. We were immediately drawn in by "Io son l'umile ancella" from Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur. Puccini held no terrors for this gifted lady as she sailed through Liu's "Signore Ascolta" from Puccini's Turandot. We couldn't help thinking that we wanted to hear her sing the title role and we probably will some day.

From Verdi's Otello we heard Desdemona's final act prayer which was intensely moving. Even better was Clara's big aria "Summertime" from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, her encore piece in which she let out all the stops. Some of the notes were "bent" in true jazzy style and there was a delicious portamento. We had goose bumps.

We think it's important for a singer to choose her roles carefully and we didn't think that Maria from Bernstein's West Side Story was the right role for Ms. Hawkin's powerful voice; she is anything but an ingenue!

Joseph Lim is a fine baritone who was brought to our attention five years ago at one of Marilyn Horne's Spotlight Recitals during her birthday week at Carnegie Hall. We recall being quite impressed and was thrilled to catch him again at the Santa Fe Opera as a powerful Enrico in Lucia di Lammermoor. We lost track of him over the past few years but his star is on the rise and we were so happy to hear him again.

We recall that we were a bit nit-picky about his German and are glad to report that it is vastly improved. One of our favorite German arias is Wolfram's "O du, mein holder Abendstern" from Wagner's Tannhäuser. Hearing this aria changed the life of the peasant-turned-linguistic professor in the film Padre, Padrone by the Taviani brothers. It moved us greatly long ago when we saw the film and it probably stimulated our interest in opera! 

We loved the way Mr. Lim sang it. Having heard a lovely tenorial quality in his upper register in Guglielmo's "Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo" from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte, we didn't expect him to do so well with the low tessitura of the Wagner. Accompanist Dimitri Dover played some gorgeously modulated arpeggi that amplified the spiritual mood.

In "Ya vas lyublyu" from Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades, he sang the Russian with as much legato as we would want, making beautiful phrases in spite of the harsh Russian consonants.

Every singer loves a good drinking song and he did a fine job with Hamlet's "O vin, dissipe la tristesse" from the Tomas opera. The French was excellent and we felt Hamlet's underlying distress. In "Some Enchanted Evening", from Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific, the floated high note at the end added to the romantic feeling.

Tenor Mario Bahg is new to us and we grew to appreciate his artistry more and more as the evening wore on. He has a pleasing warm tone and a lovely legato technique. We enjoyed his performance of "Angelo casto e bel" from Il Duca d'Alba, attributed to Donizetti. We confided in Maestro Ken Noda that it sounded nothing like Donizetti and he confirmed that Donizetti didn't compose it!  Donizetti abandoned the opera and it was finished by his pupil Matteo Salvi after his death. Indeed that is so but it is a lovely tenor piece nonetheless.

His delivery of Faust's serenade "Salut! demeure chaste et pure" was completely convincing and splendidly romantic.  The same lovely legato was notable in everything he sang. As an encore piece, he gave a passionate rendition of "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" in gorgeous German.

Of course, we always have a quibble and we would like to see Mr. Bahg sharpen his fioritura. The ascending and descending scales in "Il mio tesoro" from Mozart's Don Giovanni were beautifully rendered but we wanted more clarity in the embellishments. He has a real feel for Mozart and we loved his rendition of Ferrando's aria "Un aura amorosa" from Cosi fan tutte.

The two gentlemen joined forces for "Au fond du temple saint" from Bizet's Les Pêcheurs de Perles and created some fortuitous harmonies. They made much of the contrast between the yearning first and final sections and the stormy central section.

That was our favorite duet since we didn't care too much for the English version of the waltz from Lehar's The Merry Widow nor did we experience the requisite chemistry in "Tonight" from Bernstein's West Side Story which we enjoyed so thoroughly the previous night at the Brooklyn concert. Again, it all comes down to choices. It is not enough for a work to fit into the program. It has to fit the voice and personality of the singer.

(c) meche kroop