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.

Monday, September 30, 2019


Maestro Israel Gursky and cast of Verismo Trilogy presented by Teatro Grattacielo

If you wanted a glitzy Saturday night, you were probably enjoying Verdi's Macbeth at The Metropolitan Opera; but if you are a hard core opera fanatic you were celebrating Teatro Grattacielo's 25th Anniversary Concert at The Gerald Lynch Theater. Indeed most of the luminaries of Planet Opera were in attendance. Lucky us! We were treated to some rarely heard masterpieces and some stellar singing that left us walking on air all the way home.

We are well aware of several operas that "came in second", replaced by other operas that superseded them in the operatic canon. We are always grateful to companies like On Site Opera, Dell'Arte Opera, and Juilliard Opera for bringing them to our attention. Sometimes it is difficult to figure out why we can't have two Barber's, two Marriage of Figaro's, two Falstaff's.

Last night we heard Act I of Ruggiero Leoncavallo's La Bohême which premiered in 1897 at La Fenice. Puccini's opera, with libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, had premiered in Turin in 1896. Shortly thereafter, Leoncavallo tried his pen, utilizing the same source material by Henri Murger, and writing his own libretto.  And therein lies the failure, in our opinion.

Not having read Murger's episodic stories, we cannot say which version hews more closely to the source material but Leoncavallo's libretto is not very interesting. Perhaps it was an effort to emphasize the difference with Puccini's iteration, but Leoncavallo assigned the tenor role to Marcello and the baritone role to Rodolfo.

However, we found the music to be worthwhile, offering memorable arias for all the principals. Soprano Susanne Burgess played Mimi who, in this case, is not the central character and is already romantically involved with Rodolfo, here portrayed by the excellent baritone Suchan Kim, in his customary fine voice. Nonetheless, she is given an applause-worthy aria that suited her generous soprano perfectly. This was not one of Puccini's shy "piccole donne"

Mezzo-soprano Emily Hughes had the role of Musette who, in this version, is not the bold extravagant character created in Puccini's version; she came across as shyly flirtatious when she meets Marcello, sung by tenoriffic Alessio Borraggine who sang his gorgeous aria with ease and substance. 

The rest of the "Bohemians" comprised bass-baritone Stefanos Koroneos (also Artistic Administrator and Manager of Teatro Grattacielo) in the expanded role of Shaunard and baritone Robert Balonek (about whom more later) as Colline.. A role not present in the Puccini version is that of Schaunard's girlfriend Eufemia, finely sung by mezzo-soprano Anna Tonna.

Character tenor Ronald Naldi brought the role of landlord Gaudenzio to vivid life and tenor Jordan Weatherstone Pitts impressed us with the sweetest sound of the evening which belonged strangely to a character known as Un Becero, which translates as "a boorish or uncouth person". Now why that role would 
be given to such a silky voice we know not!

Bass Stefano de Peppo appeared in the small role of Barbemuche. Maestro Gursky conducted the outstanding orchestra with panache. We mostly remark upon the wind sections but in the Leoncavallo we were most impressed by the string sections, especially the contributions of the harp.
The second part of the evening was devoted to arias from the 1890 opera Loreley by Alfredo Catalani, who is better known for his opera La Wally. We have heard so many songs about the Lorelei who lures sailors to their death, but we didn't know the origin of the myth until the intensely dramatic music moved us to read about it.

Walter is betrothed to Anna, the daughter of the Landgrave, but falls for Loreley, whom he seduces and abandons. Loreley gets her revenge with the help of supernatural characters. She must pledge to love Alberich (!), Lord of the Rhine and throw herself into the river, but gains the power to seduce men. Anna dies at the wedding and Walter dies pursuing Loreley.

The arias we heard were so arresting that we wanted to see the entire opera. It could be staged in a manner similar to Rusalka, with which it has some similarities. Walter's Act III aria (a kind of mad scene) was given a powerful reading by tenor Jeremy Brauner whose intensity was riveting. Soprano Ashley Bell sang Anna's aria of disappointment, making us feel sorry for the abandoned bride.

Soprano Kirsten Chambers lent her sizable instrument to the highly dramatic aria before Loreley achieve her transformation by throwing herself into the Rhine. Not only were we mesmerized by her performance but noted the major contribution of the chorus of spirits--comprising Teatro Grattacielo's Young Artists, directed by Jason Tramm--accompanied by that gorgeous harp.

Saturday, September 28, 2019


Our night at the Morgan Library

Thanks to some original programming at the Morgan Library and Museum, we have experienced another side of opera-going. Having focused so strongly at the opera on the singing and direction, we have, perhaps, given short shrift to stage design. It took just one instructive lecture and a tour of the galleries to open our eyes as well as our ears.  Yes, we heard some fine singing as well, which we will get to shortly.

Our engaging lecturer was Christopher Mattaliano, Artistic Consultant of the Portland Opera. Now a renowned director, Mr. Mattaliano was mentored in his youth by the team of Stage Director Frank Corsaro, a pioneer in bringing theater direction to the field of opera, and Artist/Illustrator Maurice Sendak; he was generous with his personal anecdotes from working with them on three operas. Their approach to Mozart's The Magic Flute, Janacek's The Cunning Little Vixen, and Prokofiev's The Love for Three Oranges was different for each opera but always creative, always original.

All three productions were created in the 1980's; since the post-lecture performance involved the Mozart, let us focus on The Magic Flute, created for Houston Grand Opera in 1981. The team decided to allow all three themes of the opera to be brought out--the fairytale aspect, the serious Masonic theme, and the ribald vaudevillian business as well. Slides of the sketches and the sets derived therefrom illustrated the talk. Although the sets were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Mattaliano was able to meticulously reconstruct them. The production had a lot of "mileage" and was intensely popular.

The Cunning Little Vixen was given a dark emphasis with "cuteness" avoided. The strange opera The Love for Three Oranges was set at the time of the French Revolution and staged as a play within a play.

Please visit our Facebook page (Voce di Meche) to see a selection of photos.

After this informative lecture we were ready for some entertainment and were delighted to see and hear Joshua Jeremiah, whose mellow baritone is well known to us, as a very playful Papageno. Although he was not in costume his expressive delivery gave us everything we needed to know about the character. 

Soprano Lindsay Ohse made a very sweet Pamina with her affecting timbre in the sad aria "Ach!, Ich fuhl's" but was even better as Papagena, joining with Mr. Jeremiah for the well-loved duet. Their interaction was spirited, even without feathers! Kristen Kemp was the fine accompanist.

Although we prefer the opera in German, we must admit that the translation into English worked well. Rather than trying to shoehorn the English word for word into the vocal line, the translator wrote lyrics that scanned and rhymed whilst preserving the intent of the text.

The next time we go to the opera and a bunch of people come out at the curtain call after the singers and conductors, we won't have to scratch our head; we will know that they are the team responsible for the "look" of a piece. Although we generally credit them in our reviews we had no idea what went on behind the scenes--the drawings and the models, all resulting from intense artistic collaboration.

We were inspired to peruse the exhibit after the lecture to see the sources of inspiration for Sendak, often the works of Venetian painter Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696–1770). We recommend this exhibit if you would like to see what goes on before the opera reaches the stage.

© meche kroop

Thursday, September 26, 2019


Cast of Oedipus: Sex with Mum Was Blinding

We were intrigued by the title of the show at Brooklyn Academy of Music and were interested in experiencing an "immersive opera". In no way can we consider this post-modern techno-theatre piece with questionable "music" as an opera; it would take some stretch of imagination to call it "immersive". 

At one point the audience was urged to read aLOUD 4 different sections from the printed material in the program--simultaneously. At another point audience members, previously instructed to turn off their cell phones, were asked to look at their faces on the same cell phones. At another point they were asked to answer questions out loud about their feelings toward their parents. Perhaps this might be considered immersive, but we were not immersed, in the sense that good theater engages us--and very good theater provides a shared experience.

No doubt in Ancient Greece, theater performed that function for a community and the chorus would provide commentary on actions and events that were taking place before the audience. By doing this the chorus would create a deeper and more meaningful connection between the characters and the audience.

At last night's performance three players wore interesting looking helmet-masks but shed no light on the "drama", of which there wasn't much. On stage left, a doctor, presumably a psychiatrist taking notes, asked probing questions of a woman in white-face about her identity. We couldn't help thinking that a great opportunity was lost, an opportunity for a deep examination of guilt for acts for which an individual is not responsible.

On stage right a conductor, also in a clown's white-face, conducted music that was not played, or played as a recording. The overall effect was confusing and there seemed to be no justification for casting a woman as Oedipus, especially when she was stripped to a bare-breasted state.

There were a few video operators working with smoke and mirrors, the results of which were projected onto a large screen, clouding the images of what we took to be consumerism. At other times the cameras were directed at parts of the performers anatomy. We saw feet. We saw tonsils. We saw nostrils. All in highly enlarged images.

Voices were amplified and it was difficult to keep from giggling when a kiss between Oedipus and ?Jocasta resulted in a clash of head-mics. It was difficult to make sense out of anything seen/heard onstage. Was this a deconstruction of the Oedipus myth? Was it an examination of our images of ourself? Was it a dialogue about guilt and responsibility?

Any of those topics would be discussed better in an essay. Perhaps the creative team tried to tackle too much in 100 minutes which seemed to endure for at least 200, taxing our endurance.

We invited a native born Greek friend to accompany us, a friend who has witnessed a re-creation of the original tragedy in Athens. We had a discussion after the piece about Greek tragedy and its power to unite a community and reinforce social mores. We also discussed  the many ways in which this work failed to shed light on the theme.

The work was conceived, written, and directed by the prize-winning Elli Papapakonstandinou.  Original "music" was by Tilemachos Moussas and Julia Kent--also prize winners. As a matter of fact, everyone associated with the production has won prizes of various kinds. If that sort of thing interests you, or if you are inspired to witness for yourself, we refer you to the website
https://www.bam.org/oedipus. The limited run ends on 9/29.

As for ourself, we are unable to find nourishment in post-modern art. Technology doesn't seem to add anything. We go to theater to be entertained and or stimulated. Being shocked by the latest novelty leaves us annoyed and disappointed.

© meche kroop

Wednesday, September 25, 2019


Victor Khodadad and Barbara Porto

What a completely wonderful evening we had last night at New Camerata Opera's Black and White Gala! Aside from the free flowing bubbly and the interesting food (each dish cleverly named for a New York neighborhood) there was the spacious Open Jar Studio filled with interesting people, all there to support the diverse activities of this growing company.

Not only do they produce operas but they bring the art form into the public schools. In between sets of entertainment, we watched a video of an opera put on for children, something about Peter Rabbit, set to music from Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore. We all hope that exposing children to opera when they are young will create some adults who will "get" it.

The live entertainment emphasized the truth of one of our beliefs--that American musical theater, performed by good unamplified voices, can stand up successfully to opera. After all, in the 19th c. opera was a popular art form--entertainment, if you will. People went to the opera for the melodies and to see their favorite performers! We are waiting for contemporary composers to create works with melodies, works that we will want to see again and again.

So, going back to the 20th c. we had some great works by Rodgers and Hammerstein, and by Lerner and Loewe--works that still enchant us today. Speaking of enchantment, we loved the warm tone of baritone Stan Lacy singing "Some Enchanted Evening" from Rodgers and Hammersteins' perennial hit South Pacific.

Tenor Victor Khodadad and soprano Barbara Porto enchanted us equally in "People Will Say We're in Love" from the same team's other hit Oklahoma. Ms. Porto has a particular gift for American Musical Theater as evidenced by her winning performance of "I Could Have Danced All Night" from Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady. She joined again with Mr. Khodadad for "Tonight" from Bernstein's West Side Story.

We have no intention of giving opera short shrift here; it's just that we wanted to make a point. The NCO singers switched back and forth, further emphasizing the similarities.

Everyone loves the quartet from the final act of Verdi's Rigoletto and we never tire of hearing it. Last night the role of the eponymous court jester was performed by baritone Scott Lindroth, comforting his daughter Gilda (sung by Ms. Porto) whilst the licentious Duke (sung by Mr. Khodadad) was busy seducing the half resistant/half seducible Maddalena (performed by mezzo-soprano Julia Tang).

Tenor Erik Bagger exhibited a fine command of Russian in his performance of Lensky's famous aria "Kuda, kuda vi udalilis" reminding us of how thoroughly we enjoy Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin and how deeply felt this aria is.

From Pietro Mascagni's realismo opera Cavalleria Rusticana, the chilling aria "Ah! Lo vedi!", in which Santuzza confronts Turridu, was given a passionate performance by Mr. Bagger and soprano Eva Parr.

Taking us into the early 20th c. with "Pierrot's Tanzlied" from Erich Wolfgang Korngold's Die tote Stadt was Mr.Lacy who ended the aria with the most exquisite diminuendo. This is an opera we have yet to see but it is high on our wish list.

Speaking of our wish list, NCO will be presenting a zarzuela next month! As our readers may recall, this is a musical form that is dear to our heart and we are totally twitterpated about it. El Barbero de Sevilla, by Giménez and Nieto with libretto by Palacios and Perrín, will be performed with dialogue in English and songs sung in Spanish. Pablo Zinger, Mr. Zarzuela himself, has reduced the score for chamber orchestra.

The superb accompanist last night was Eric Sedgwick whose 10 fingers on the piano made almost as much music as an orchestra.

We would like to end by relating how the two young women at our table, opera newbies both, had as much fun as we did. It's exciting young companies like NCO that will draw young people into the world of opera.

© meche kroop

Sunday, September 22, 2019


Pavel Nersessian and Katrin Bulke

What makes a great recital?  Of course, one wants to listen to a voice that stirs us; a close partnership between singer and collaborative pianist is essential; and there is also the matter of the program. Sometimes a great singer can give us pleasure even when singing material that is not to our taste; but when a singer we love sings songs that we love, we are over the moon.

Last night at St. John's in the Village, soprano Katrin Bulke, in partnership with pianist Pavel Nersessian, put us well over the moon in a program we couldn't have enjoyed more if we had chosen it ourself. Ms.Bulke has appeared a number of times in our reviews so it would be redundant to describe her impressively clarion tone, musical phrasing, and impeccable linguistic ability.

So, let us focus now on the dramatic interpretation. Schubert's songs are like mini operas.  Take for example "Die Forelle" in which there are three characters which the singer can bring to life: the titular trout, the predatory fisherman, and the observer who seems sympathetic to the poor deceived fish. Listening to the perfect marriage between Schubert's music and Schubart's text, sung as only a native speaker of German can, we felt at one with the observer standing on the bank of a river.

Similarly, "Gretchen am Spinnrade", Goethe's tale of a deceived woman,  reminded us of every woman who's ever been ghosted-- filled with despair at one moment but also ecstasy in the memory of a lost love. Schubert's music kept the spinning wheel spinning and Ms. Bulke gave us every emotion of the poor girl. In this lied, one can almost hear what came before and what will come after.

In "Auf dem Wasser zu singen", the metaphor of the boat gliding over the water stands for the soul and whilst Ms. Bulke's voice floated above the piano line, we thought of the transitory nature of life.

Mozart's concert aria "Vorrei spiegarvi, O Dio!" is made devilishly difficult by unbelievably wide upward skips into the vocal stratosphere; it was in no way  daunting for the intrepid Ms. Bulke. The aria sounds as if it came from an opera and it did, but not from one by Mozart. It was an "insertion aria" for an opera by Pasquale Anfossi. It predated Mozart's Die Zauberflöte by several years and shares some of the challenges he would pose in the arias for the Queen of the Night.

Ms. Bulke's operatic interpretations are as artistic as those for lieder. We were so enthralled with "Ah, non credea mirarti" from Bellini's La Sonnambula that we recorded it on our cell phone and posted it to Instagram where you can watch and listen to the dramatic artistry for yourself (IG: vocedimeche). You may also find it on our personal FB page (meche kroop).

Of course, there is no more dramatic scena than Violetta's Act I excursion into female ambivalence. "Girls just want to have fun" does battle with the possibility of true love. Every emotion was limned from recitativo to aria to cabaletta. We would gladly have heard it repeated.

Ms. Bulke's talent for lighthearted fun was exhibited in the encore--"Mein Herr Marquis", otherwise known as Adele's "Laughing Song" from Johann Strauss' Die Fledermaus; in this aria, Adele in disguise tweaks her employer who is also in disguise.

Ms. Bulke's dramatic artistry utilizes not just vocal coloration but the generous use of gesture and facial expression. The overall effect is deliciously involving.

We have nothing but praise for the fine supportive accompaniment by Pavel Nersessian. Still, it took a few piano solos for us to appreciate his versatility. It's been some time since we failed to master Schubert's Impromptus so we were thrilled to hear them the way they are meant to be played. Mr. Nersessian's hands are soft on the keys with fleet fingers. Schubert seems to like arpeggi in one hand and melody in the other with roles exchanged readily. We particularly enjoyed #4 which totally defeated us in spite of significant labor; Mr. Nersessian made it seem easy. The several sections are varied and the overall effect was profound.

The #2 from the same op.90 has a great deal of filigree and Mr. Nersessian succeeded in bringing out the melody. He also played a few pleasing works by Georges Bizet.

We walked on air for the rest of the night! 

This concert was sponsored by Get Classical and The Foundation of the Revival of Classical Culture.

(c) meche kroop

Friday, September 20, 2019


Emilie-Anne Gendron, Melody Fader, and Michael Haas

We are scarcely an expert in chamber music and rarely step outside of our operatic comfort zone. But last night's private recital sounded too good to miss and it surpassed our high expectations. In a uniquely artistic Soho loft we got to hear world renowned soloist, chamber musician, accompanist, and recording artist Melody Fader playing a 130 year old Steinway concert grand piano.

We have never been a fan of Bach but there was something about Ms. Fader's fingers and heart that woke us up to Bach's genius. The piece we heard, his Toccata and Fugue in C minor, was filled with intricacies, each one of which was brought out in a way to which we could relate.

To us it seemed fiendishly difficult in technique, but it was the expressive phrasing and dynamics that took us by surprise . There was a spirited section filled with fireworks that reminded us of an operatic cabaletta. What unique sensibility!

Chopin's Preludes are among our favorite pieces for piano. We have even learned to play some of the easiest ones ourself, but hearing them played by a master of the keyboard was a "whole 'nother thing". Chopin has always been dear to our heart and his varying moods are perfectly suited to our Romantic sensibility.  It might have been the fourth that was so profoundly sorrowful and the sixth which had such aspirational ascending arpeggi alternating with defeated descending scale passages. (Please don't hold us to account on the numbering; we were lost in the listening.) The seventh (?) seemed to be a Polish dance form that we would be hard put to name. We loved them all.

After the seven Preludes on the program we heard Chopin's "Aeolian Harp".

The final work on the program was Beethoven's Archduke Trio for which Ms. Fader was joined by violinist Emily Gendron and cellist Michael Haas. May we say that Ms. Fader "plays well with others"? 

The first movement was in Sonata-Allegro form and we will be happy to argue with anyone who says that Beethoven was not a melodist. We heard a marvelously melodic statement carried by the violin  that seemed increasingly marvelous in the restatement and even more so in the recapitulation. The second theme is a frisky one that was initiated by the piano and picked up by the cello. Both string parts made good use of pizzicato technique.

The second movement was a playful Scherzo to which we swayed in our seat. We were sure it was our favorite time signature--6/8--but Ms. Fader assured us that it was in 3/4 time, played fast! In any event, it was filled with invention.

There was a pensive Theme and Variations in which an odd minor note in place of the expected major reminded us a bit of Mozart. The final Allegro Moderato was a lively one with plenty of syncopation that had us ready to get up and dance.

It was a fulfilling program altogether with all three musicians winning our attention and affection. Ms. Fader's mother surely was gifted with precognition when she named her daughter Melody!

(c) meche kroop

Monday, September 16, 2019


Samina Aslam, Joseph Krupa, Janara Kellerman, and Amber Smoke

"To My Friend, With Love" was the title of Janara Kellerman's recital yesterday at Rutgers Presbyterian Church. The recital was dedicated to WWII veteran and veteran baritone/coach Charles Dunn; however it also reflects the feelings that members of the audience must have felt in the warm embrace of this welcoming artist with stage presence to spare.

What makes a singer memorable comprises a warm stage presence, a thrilling instrument, well-developed technique, keen dramatic instincts, and linguistic capability. Mezzo-soprano Janara Kellerman is so gifted in each aspect that we wonder why she is not onstage at The Metropolitan Opera.

She was brought to our attention three years ago by Maestro Keith Chambers, Founder and Music Director of New Amsterdam Opera who has a knack for finding grand voices and putting them to good use. We last heard Ms. Kellerman grabbing the lead role of Massenet's Hérodiade in her teeth and running with it.

We have also enjoyed her Preziosilla in Verdi's La Forza del Destino and her Ortrud in Wagner's Lohengrin, as well as her Santuzza in Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana--all with New Amsterdam Opera. Toning down her glamor, she made a fine Mama Lucia in the latter opera, with the Martha Cardona Opera.

Yesterday we enjoyed her generous mezzo-soprano instrument in a varied program that left nothing to be desired (and no post-modern atrocities to be endured), giving ample evidence of her artistic versatility.

Although Ms. Kellerman scarcely resembles Cinderella in her physical appearance, her facility with Rossini's florid writing made "Nacqui all'affanno...Non più mesta" a joy to the ear. Her voice filled the sanctuary of Rutgers Presbyterian Church, soaring to the rafters. The aria was delivered with expressive legato and clean fioritura; the cabaletta was filled with fireworks.

Switching to lieder by Brahms did not faze her a bit and her German was notably accurate. "Immer leise wird mein Schlummer" is a lied we could never  get through without tearing up and Ms. Kelllerman's dramatic delivery painted a picture for us of this dying woman desperate for a visit from a distant beloved. In "Die Mainacht", she wove a melancholy spell and in "Von ewiger liebe", she sang with steadfast tone, echoing the words of the faithful woman.

Dalila is the perfect role for a mezzo with dramatic instincts. This serpent of a woman must appear maximally seductive toward Samson, her prey; but the audience must get a whiff of her manipulative behavior and destructive intent. We have seen some famous artists in the role but don't think we have heard Camille Saint-Saëns' sinuous vocal line better sung.

We heard another side of her artistry in a trio of French mélodies--all little gems. Henri Duparc's "Chanson Triste" was delivered with gorgeous Gallic flavor and we enjoyed the pianissimo passages. "Extase" was performed with lovely languor. Alfred Bachelet's "Chère nuit" was a tender tribute to a lover.

Carmen is a role tailor-made for Ms. Kellerman, a role in which she can let out all the stops. We were fortunate to hear her build the excitement in "Les tringles des sistres tintaient" and later, as an encore to the program, the "Habanera" performed with plenty of gestural emphasis. This Carmen is one wild woman!

Ms. Kellerman is also adept in Castilian Spanish and we loved the varying moods of Manuel de Falla's Siete Canciones Populares Españolas. There is ironic inference, heartbreak, grief, tenderness, and even a gentle lullaby. But it is the insistent rhythm of "Polo" that leaves us shaking.

The program closed with a special treat--the trio in the Finale of Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier. Ms.Kellerman took the role of Octavian with guest artists soprano Amber Smoke as the Marschallin and soprano Samina Aslam as Sophie. We would have enjoyed it more without those loathed music stands but hey, we are always happy to hear three gorgeous female voices in harmony.

The excellent accompanist Joseph Krupa kept right up to every demand, every line, every rhythm, every mood. We particularly enjoyed him in the exotic music of Saint-Saëns and in the propulsive "Polo".

What a way to spend a Sunday afternoon! It was only 90 minutes of singing; we felt fulfilled but we could have listened for another half hour at least.

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, September 11, 2019


Jessica Niles, Eliza Bonet, Jessica Fishenfeld, Cory Battey, Scott Bradley Joiner, and Trevor Martin

In their fourth season, City Lyric Opera has everything going for itself. Helmed by two lovely ladies (incidentally, both possessors of lovely voices), this young company has garnered a highly invested young audience by virtue of their conviction and dedication to their mission. If you, dear reader, recall their origin as A.R.E. Opera, you will probably also recall what the initials stood for--opera that is Accessible, Relatable, and Enjoyable. Trust us when we tell you that these goals are still on the table, although there is a lot more to consider.

The idea of creating an artistic community in New York City is not a new one but it is rather new to the field of opera. Keeping ticket prices affordable--a price point of about $15-20 is eminently affordable--is also not new; but creating works of quality at that price point is a challenge they have met. Superb singers are attracted to the company and are treated as the artists they are, with generous fees paid.

This quality, combined with adventuresome programming relevant to our times, is responsible for their meteoric rise. Productions of operas are augmented by stimulating salon evenings and an annual WorkshOpera, one of which we attended last year; it was an eye-opening experience to learn about the creation of an opera!

We are not sure how the founders, Kathleen Spencer and Megan Gillis, have managed to accomplish this so rapidly but we suspect it has much to do with commitment, conviction, dedication, and hard work.

Last night the season opener was a gala event held at Steinway Hall involving some glorious singing, free-flowing champagne, and delicious passed hors d'oeuvres. These gals sure know how to throw a party! This is a family worth joining!

The major joy of our work is watching the developing careers of young artists. Take for example the sublime soprano Jessica Niles whom we first heard at a liederabend at Juilliard a couple years ago, singing Russian songs which she had translated herself. We were impressed and subsequently caught her performances in Juilliard's opera performances --Zerlina in Don Giovanni and Anna in Nikolai's Merry Wives of Windsor--perfect ingenue roles. 

Last night she performed Adina's aria "Prendi, per me sei libero" from Donizetti's L'elisir d'Amore, showing a deep understanding of the character and exhibiting a nice clean fioritura in the cabaletta. Later, she sang Emily's aria from Ned Rorem's Our Town. Her dramatic interpretation was moving; however we'd be lying if we said we liked the music. We didn't think Thornton Wilder would have wanted his story to be set to music, especially music without a memorable vocal line. Just sayin'!

We were delighted by the performances of mezzo-soprano Eliza Bonet whom we haven't seen since she portrayed a dominatrix (!) in the clever Three Ways by Robert Paterson (libretto by David Cote), a couple years ago. It really takes some Italian singing to appreciate the quality of a singer's voice and last night her choice of "Cruda sorte" from Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri was just right to show off the terrific texture of her instrument and the spunkiness of her personality.

She delved deeper into her capacity for humor in Ben Moore's "Sexy Lady", written for Susan Graham--just one more funny song about the mezzo's dilemma. In this case, the words were more important than the music.

The meteoric rise of soprano Jessica Fishenfeld is another story that delights us. We first heard her as the Sandman in Humperdinck's Hansel und Gretel at Manhattan School of Music about six years ago. Then we saw her with Gramercy Opera in something called Big Jim and the Small-time Investors, a cute story with forgettable music. What we remember best was her duet with tenor Scott Bradley Joiner who joined her last night for the highly convincing love duet "Tornami a dir" from Donizetti's Don Pasquale. Hmmmm. Interesting. We wondered if they met during the production of Big Jim.

Absolutely dazzling was Ms. Fishenfeld's portrayal of Cunegonde from Bernstein's Candide, which opened the program last night. In "Glitter and be Gay" the word "revel" was never given such dramatic realization and the contrast between that and the crocodile tears of the slow section was impressive. Adding to the fun was a huge garment which Ms. Fishenfeld used well in the phrase "spread my wings".

She also performed a duet with baritone Trevor Martin (the only singer last night who was new to us)--"Make Believe" from the Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein musical Showboat, which is sounding more and more like opera.

(We might add that Ms. Fishenfeld appeared with New York City Opera the previous night at their 75th Anniversary Concert in Bryant Park. That was understandably amplified so we didn't appreciate the artist's development until the City Lyric Opera event last night.)

Mr. Martin made a convincing Escamillo in the "Toreador Song" from Bizet's Carmen, as well as a fine romantic partner in the Showboat number. He also sang "Joey, Joey" from Frank Loesser's Most Happy Fella, showing us again how operatic a Broadway musical can be when sung unamplified by an operatically trained voice. It was at this point in the program that we realized just how excellent was the accompanist Cory Battey. When the wind whispered to Joey, we actually heard it in the piano!

Similarly, Mr. Joiner got his solo number as well, the well-loved "Questa o Quella" from Verdi's Rigoletto, which was sung in garlic-scented Italian of which every word was clear.

Just as one might expect in this bubbly evening, the encore was a group sing of "Libiamo" from Verdi's La Traviata!

This was a marvelous introduction to City Lyric Opera's fourth season and presented many reasons for us opera lovers to give our support, both financially and otherwise.  The next Mainstage event will be Gian Carlo Menotti's The Medium which opens appropriately on Halloween. This will be preceded by a Salon Evening on Oct. 15th which should provide some interesting insights into truth and reality.

(c) meche kroop