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.

Monday, October 21, 2019

SUNDAY AFTERNOON AT THE MORGAN LIBRARY

Ryan Speedo Green and Latonia Moore

Our readers are probably already familiar with the top notch recital series at the Morgan Library sponsored by the George London Foundation. The Foundation runs a highly regarded competition that provides generous awards to young singers and is at the top of our list of worthwhile organizations supporting the very people we write about.

If you have not subscribed to this series of concerts or attended the annual competition, now is the time to do so. The competition features young artists and the recitals feature former winners who have already established major careers.

Yesterday's concert featured soprano Latonia Moore and bass-baritone Ryan Speedo Green, both stars at The Metropolitan Opera and also worldwide. As a young rising star at the Lindemann Program, we wrote about Mr. Green a number of times. Possibly our first exposure to his artistry was in 2012 when he won our attention with "La calunnia" from Rossini's Il barbiere di SivigliaWe heard a great deal of him in the next few years as he won awards from the Marcello Giordani Foundation, Opera Index, The Richard Tucker Foundation, and of course the George London Foundation. One might say he took the opera world by storm.

Strictly because of our taste, we have always preferred his comic performances, like Osmin's aria from Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail. Among our favorites was his grand performance as Don Pasquale. On a more serious note, we remember a stirring performance of Banco's aria "Come dal ciel precipita".

Yesterday was a gloomy rainy day and we had hoped for something more lighthearted than the dark philosophical songs on the program. Liszt's "Die Vätergruft" surely showed off the breadth and depth of his timbre as well as his keen dramatic instincts, as did Wolf's Michelangelo Lieder--both of which we have heard him sing before. Every word was appropriately colored; every gesture was motivated from within. 

Not that it is cheerful, but there was something about Mahler's "Urlicht" that touched us to a greater extent, especially when he shared with us why he was dedicating it to the memory of Jesse Norman. We are surely a fan of Mahler and had never heard Mr. Green perform any of Mahler's songs; this one seemed to us a perfect fit for his voice. The always wonderful collaborative pianist Ken Noda made much of the mysterious theme of the interlude after the first verse, a move which lightened the mood considerably.

We were held enraptured by his performance of Ferrando's aria in Verdi's Il Trovatore, as he told the backstory that always leaves the audience confused. The staccato section was particularly chilling. Mr. Green definitely knows how to tell a tale!

What we enjoyed most perhaps was the scene from Carlisle Floyd's Susannah in which the lustful Reverend Blitch tries to get the innocent young Susannah to confess her "sin" and pray. When she stands up for herself he rapes her (offstage, although there was a chilling scream) and then, having learned of her virginity, Blitch expresses shame and remorse. It wasn't Floyd's music which got to us; it was the intense and persuasive dramatic interaction between Mr. Green and soprano Latonia Moore.

Ms. Moore's instrument is a powerful one with overtones upon overtones. We have only heard Ms. Moore once before when she won a prize from the Licia Albanese Foundation with "Un bel di" from Puccini's Madama Butterfly, a performance which left us in an altered state.

Her French songs were lovely, ranging from the exotic eroticism of Duparc's "L'invitation au voyage", supported by rippling figures in the piano, to the excitement of his "Le manoir de Rosamonde" with Mr. Noda's propulsive piano as a backdrop. A pair of songs by Roger Quilter were pleasant and her English diction made every word clear.

What excited us the most was the hopeless lament of a woman driven to madness; we are referring of course to "L'altra notte in fondo al mare" from Boito's Mefistofele, which offered Ms. Moore the opportunity to let out all the stops, both dramatically and vocally.

Furthermore, she made a persuasive case for the Countess Almaviva in "Dove sono" from Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro. With expressive gestures and lovely legato phrasing, she conveyed a bereft state of mind with hints of hopefulness.

Her encore piece was "The Lord's Prayer" sung a capella.

Mr. Green's encore was the rueful "This Nearly was Mine" from Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific. This gorgeous aria confirmed our belief that the American Musical is the true inheritor of the operatic tradition. Mr. Green announced his choice by saying it wasn't opera but his performance told us otherwise.

© meche kroop














Sunday, October 20, 2019

THE DON DONE IN

Suchan Kim, Maestro Teddy Poll, Brace Negron, Sarah Hayashi, Jesus Murillo, Pavel Suliandziga, and Laura León
(Liana Guberman and Paul An not visible)

We have lost count of the number of times we have seen Mozart's meisterwerk Don Giovanni; this year alone we have seen it at least 4-5 times. We never tire of it; the marriage of Mozart's music and Da Ponte's libretto always makes for a great evening--but only if the singing is superb. Bare Opera assembled a stellar group of singers for their current production and we would expect no less of this exemplary company in their fifth season. There was no one onstage who didn't give their all.

Directors always look for something new to say about the reprobate Don--the pussy grabbing predator who uses his position of power to seduce or overcome women, a sociopathic narcissist who has no awareness of other people's feelings, one who will readily betray those who are dumb enough to fall under his spell. If this sounds familiar and relevant to you, dear reader, please know that it does to us as well.

Taking for granted that the performances were uniformly excellent from both dramatic and vocal standpoints, let us take a look at what Stage Director Malena Dayen added to our understanding of the story. Her Don was almost completely lacking in charm; baritone Suchan Kim (a very nice man--trust us on this point) was obliged to search for an inner demon to come up with such a nasty portrayal. Our only opportunity to hear the gentle colors of his beautiful instrument was in the serenade "Deh, vieni alla finestra".

Donna Anna (the splendid soprano Laura León) was the Don's victim-- excuse me, she was a "survivor" in today's parlance--and there was not a whiff of disdain for the loyal Don Ottavio (tenorrific Pavel Suliandziga) who evinced strength of character in place of the usual wimpiness. We have no doubt he will stand by his beloved until her grief abates and they will wed.

Zerlina (portrayed by the winsome Sarah Hayashi) is rather narcissistic herself, wanting to have her cake and eat it too, manipulating the poor Masetto (the excellent Jesus Murillo) who is understandably angry but just as enthralled by her as Donna Elvira is by Don Giovanni, and just as ready to forgive--an interesting parallel.

In this production, Donna Elvira is not a source of amusement but one of those women who just cannot give up on her desire to reform a "bad boy". Soprano Liana Guberman in the role showed a wide range of emotions from rage to forgiveness. We get it. She is complicit in her own misery which we see a lot in women who are taken in by sociopathic men. The vocalism was as fine as the acting.

Bass Brace Negron did a swell job creating the role of Leporello and demonstrated how flunkies can be bought by an artful and deceitful leader. So much of this story resonates with the current political climate.

Paul An made a brief appearance as the Commendatore trying to protect his daughter's honor and later as the statue who invites the Don to dinner in Hell.

There were directorial touches that we liked a lot. Our favorite one found Don Giovanni seducing Zerlina in a partner changing dance that was choreographed by Troy Ogilvie with Emily Morrison's assist.

There were a few minor lapses as well. Changing the duel between Don Giovanni and the Commendatore into the Don stabbing the Commendatore in the back emphasized his evil nature but gave the lie to Donna Anna's anguish about the wound in her father's breast.

Also, if the text involves calling someone over, it seems strange if they are already there. And to say someone has fallen when they are still standing is likewise a minor flaw. But we notice the little things; just can't help it.

There were several omissions or cuts that kept the story moving along without comic relief. We rarely see the scene between Zerlina and Leporello and did not miss it but we must admit that we missed the final scene in which the Don is dining and teasing Leporello who is sneaking food behind his back. We also missed the epilogue in which the moral of the story is reiterated.

In terms of musical values, it seemed criminal to omit "Il mio tesoro" with such a terrific tenor as Mr. Suliandziga on board. Yes, we know that Mozart himself revised his own work to suit the artists available and that only strengthens our case.

Under the direction of Maestro Teddy Poll, the chamber orchestra (string quartet plus bass, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and horn with Laetitia Ruccolo performing the piano part) sounded just right except for the ballroom scene in which there are three types of dance music played simultaneously. There just wasn't enough "manpower" to pull that off.

The major innovation brought by Ms. Dayen was the use of video projections designed by Sangmin Chae. This is an interesting idea to replace sets with video but the results were mixed. The offstage rape scene is always difficult to accept; what woman pursues her would be rapist???? But the video projections during the overture did not do much to illuminate the event. We saw a distorted face and maybe some hands choking a neck.

At one point something was projected that looked vaguely like an apple. We found much of this distracting and puzzling. Our companion kept looking at us and shrugging and peppered us during the intermission with questions we couldn't answer.

The projection of the Commendatore's face in the final scene was projected as an old fashioned "negative" with white and black reversed.  It just looked like an ugly mask. And there was a delay between the sound and the visuals that just looked like bad lip-syncing. The presence of the videographers on set and next to the orchestra was distracting and audience members kept twisting around in their chairs.

The work was performed in a large empty space with the audience seated on two opposing sides in two rows, an arrangement providing a sense of intimacy with the story. One minor improvement of such an arrangement might be to angle the chairs a bit toward the center. This is the same problem we observe at the New York Philharmonic in the levels above the orchestra, as well as the side boxes at the Metropolitan Opera House.  Just sayin'.

Costumes by Theresa Miles were completely off base and Donna Elvira's was completely unflattering. Donna Anna's wig was just plain awful. The only distinguishing feature of the aristocratic women was the headdress--you know, the comb with a mantilla. It seems important to us to mark the difference between the aristocrats and the peasants. A sense of time and place was lacking.

Before we close we would like to acknowledge the contributions of the ensemble: Estelina Syla, Folei Browne, Sarah Blau, Pedro Sequera, Zachary Sebek, and Sanford Leff.

There is only one more performance today and, as of last night, only two seats remaining. Will you be the lucky one?

© meche kroop

Saturday, October 19, 2019

INTERNATIONAL MASTERS ACADEMY OF OPERA

Kelly Singer, Juan Hernandez Tair Tazhi, Corinn Springer, Polina Egudina, and Samantha McElhaney
Juliet Morris, Margarita Gushcha, Diana Skavronskaya, Samuel Chiba and Unknown Person who did not sing

We love hearing singers for the first time and being surprised. Sometimes we are happily surprised and sometimes we are disappointed. Last night's IMAO program at Weill Recital Hall had more pleasant surprises than unfortunate ones. All were beautifully accompanied on the piano by Christian Ugenti and Giovanni Longo--both excellent.

Let us begin with a bass from Kazakhstan--Tair Tazhigulov. He gave the lie to the saying that the bass voice is a late maturing fach. Of course, we do not know Mr. Tazhigulov's age but he appears young whilst having a mature sound with depth and breadth. In "Come, dal ciel precipita" from Verdi's Macbeth, he conveyed Banquo's tenderness toward his son Fleanzio with lovely phrasing, and used a different color to limn the anxiety, urging the youth to flee the assassins.

In "Kak vo gorode bïlo vo kazani" from Mussorgsky's masterpiece Boris Godunov, he sang with authority and dramatic validity. We couldn't help but think of all the bass roles that we would like to hear him sing.

We were also introduced to a very young tenor who showed a great deal of promise with a sweet unforced sound and amplitude of feeling. Juan Hernandez is his name and he is someone to watch. With the correct embouchure he produced a lovely Italianate sound in "Una furtiva lagrima" from Donizetti's comedy L'Elisir d'Amore. There was a lovely downward glissando, some admirable melismatic singing, and a finely drawn out decrescendo at the end. We thought of a fine silken thread suspended in the air.

He effectively created the character of the Duke in the final quartet from Verdi's Rigoletto. This quartet was not exactly up to snuff since the balance was off; the poor baritone was drowned out and the women overacted.

The "poor baritone" sounded just fine in his subsequent solo. Samuel Chiba has a pleasing lyric instrument and delighted us with "Pierrot's Tanzlied" from Korngold's  Die tote Stadt. We would love to see Mr. Chiba get rid of the stock gestures he employed and produce something meaningful from within to amplify the text.

Getting to the women singers, there was no faulting the gestures of the enchanting and aptly named soprano Kelly Singer, the only one on the program that we have heard many times before. Although we have enjoyed her Zerbinetta and her Clorinda, it is her performance of "Non monsieur mon mari", from the very funny Poulenc opera Les Mamelles de Tirésias, that we recall the best.

That seems to be Ms. Singer's signature aria, the one which earned her awards from both the Ades Competition and from Career Bridges. Ms. Singer knows exactly how to get a song across with the organic gestures that were missing from the baritone's performance. To say that we love her voice and admire her stage presence would be an understatement.

Soprano Diana Skavronskya is new to us and made an excellent impression with her sparkling delivery of "Ah! Je ris de me voir" from Gounod's Faust. This young woman has charm and presence to spare and had no problem creating the character of Marguerite, drawing us into the performance so effectively that we could see the mirror in our mind's eye, as well as the jewels that dazzled the poor girl. To ice the cake, her French was as fine as could be.

Innocent excitement would seem to be a specialty of Gounod and the aria "Ah! Je veux vivre dans le rève" from Faust was given an excellent performance by soprano Margarita Gushcha who used her scintillating soprano to bring Juliet's excitement and innocence to life.

We decline to name the singers who disappointed us; sometimes a singer is just having a bad day or has recently changed teachers and is in a transitional period.  We witnessed some instances of lackluster stage presence such as clutching the piano and some acting directed to a nonexistent  fifth balcony which one only sees in silent film, as well as a Dalila that couldn't seduce Samson with a note from her mother. We don't know which is worse, overacting or underacting.

We also heard several technical flaws that need correction as well-- a voice too far back in the throat and one with excessive vibrato that bordered on wobbledom. Nonetheless, the audience had a wonderful time and the hall was filled to the bursting point.

We have one complaint having nothing to do with the singing. We acknowledge that, in the absence of titles, it's a good idea to let the audience know what each aria is about, since there are always people in the audience new to opera. We love it when the artist him/herself addresses the audience. We don't mind if this information is printed in the program. What annoyed us was having narration read out loud. 

The "reader" was a well known author who has written a fine volume A Mad Love: An Introduction to Opera; we happily recommend it to all noobies. But the written word is not equivalent to speech as it is spoken. How much better it would have been if Ms. Schweitzer had just told us what she clearly knows. We were reminded of professional conferences in which the presenter read his paper. Total snooze, folks!

We might add that the evening was arranged along a time continuum from Monteverdi onward and ended with the entire cast singing "Make Our Garden Grow" from Bernstein's Candide--the perfect way to end an evening.

We praise IMAO for their vigorous talent scouting, intensive training, and their help in launching the careers of young singers.

© meche kroop










 

















































Friday, October 18, 2019

NEVER LOOK BACK!

Maestro Richard Owen, cast of Orfeo ed Euridice, and Camerata New York Orchestra


The legend of Orpheus and his descent into the Underworld to retrieve his wife Eurydice is a mutable one. Even Virgil and Ovid told the tale differently. Perhaps every age puts a different spin on the story to teach a lesson. Even before Gluck wrote his masterpiece in 1762, Jacopo Peri and Giulio Caccini had composed their own version in 1600, and Monteverdi had composed his in 1607. The theme has inspired innumerable books, plays, ballets, and songs as well as operas.

Just as Gluck stripped the music of baroque orientation, so librettist Ranieri de' Calzabigi stripped the story of extraneous plot elements. He does not even show us how Eurydice died. But, thankfully, he provided a happy ending. Perhaps the message of his age was that the god of love conquers every ill.

Last night at the gorgeous St. Jean Baptiste Church, we were presented with a unique and fortunate artistic collaboration between Mannes Opera (under the leadership of Emma Griffin), Mannes Sounds Festival (of which Pavlina Dokovska is Artistic Director), Graham 2 Dancers (choreographed by Virginie Mécène), and Camerata New York Orchestra (under the baton of Maestro Richard Owen).

Just to set the record straight, Maestro Owen conducted from the harpsichord senza baton, but with incredibly expressive hands; he is not only Artistic Director of Camerata New York but is also Music Director and organist of the church and conducts the Adelphi Orchestra.

A European symphony conductor of our acquaintance to whom we posed the question "Where is the best place to sit?" replied "As close to the conductor as possible". Last night we sat about five feet from Maestro Owen and indeed we heard some very specific touches that we might have missed had we sat farther back. 

We generally notice the wind instruments but last night we were able to focus on the violins right in front of us and to observe certain details of technique that held our interest. We particularly enjoyed the parts in which the harp joined in with the pizzicato violins. Not to shortchange the winds, we were captivated by the melodies produced by the flutes.

However, there was a price to pay for this experience. Although the acoustics at St. Jean Baptiste are highly resonant, the voices did not always carry over the sound of the floor level orchestra. Had there been an intermission, we would have moved to the rear to see how the sound was back there.

The higher register was no problem and Michaela Estrin sang beautifully as Euridice, investing her soprano instrument with wonder, anxiety, and joy, as the story demanded.

Coloratura soprano Yoonjeong Yoo made a pert Amore, carrying off her role with spirit and benevolence. Her voice also carried well, with a silvery sheen.

Mezzo-soprano Perri di Cristina fared less well, although she sounded superb in the upper register. We just lost a lot of her sound in the middle voice and lower register. Nonetheless, her Italianate vowels and legato technique were put into service as she created an Orfeo with depth of feeling. Her emotions ran the gamut from grief to hope, from despair to joy, as Amore restores his beloved to him. 

The highlight was, of course, the "Che faro senza Euridice", for which Ms. di Christina produced some finely crafted embellishments of the vocal line in the ritornello. We also loved the final duet between the two reunited lovers.

The chorus was splendid, filling the sanctuary with resonance and we would like to give props to Chorus Master Bryant Denmark.

Stage Director William Gustafson made excellent use of the enormous space. Most of the drama took place on the altar, just a few steps above floor level. Early on, the deceased Euridice appeared in a white gown way up near the dome. We wished there had been a spotlight on her because she was easy to miss.

Amore first appeared in the pulpit but later joined the despairing Orfeo and the dead Euridice on the platform.

The chorus appeared first as mourners dressed in black under large black umbrellas as Orfeo wept over Euridice's bier. Later they sang from the rear balcony and finally appeared clad in white.

Orfeo made his entrance coming down the aisle. It was altogether a fine use of existing elements. Initially we wondered why the opera was not presented downstairs in the theater, which has a pit. As the evening progressed we recognized how appropriate the sanctuary was.

Costumes by Taelen Richardson were right on point although vaguely contemporary. Orfeo was dressed in a mourner's black suit and Euridice in a white gown. Amore's fuschia gown brought a welcome pop of color.

We must confess that we generally dislike modern dance but loved Virginie Mécène's choreography for the Graham 2 dancers. They appeared first as the Furies who bar Orfeo from the underworld, wearing dark menacing costumes and making dark menacing movements. Later the dancers appeared in pastel flowing Greek-inspired costumes, gracefully accompanying Euridice on her journey.

Do take a look at photos on our Facebook page-- Voce di Meche-- to see the gorgeous costumes.  And do plan to attend the performance Saturday night at 8:00!

(c) meche kroop

Thursday, October 17, 2019

IL BARBIERE and EL BARBERO

Victor Khodadad, Costas Tsourakis, Stan Lacy, Caroline Tye, Maria Brea, Jose Maldonado, Anna Tonna,
Jay Lucas Chacon, and Brian J. Alvarado

Regular readers will recall how long we have yearned to see a zarzuela onstage with sets and costumes. For several years we have enjoyed arias and duets extracted from zarzuelas; we have attended seminars about zarzuela; we even tried to figure out how to produce one. Last night at a black box theater on the Lower East Side, our dream was realized. One of our favorite boutique opera companies--New Camerata Opera--joined forces with Latin American Theater Experiment Associates and fulfilled our dream.

The zarzuela they chose, El Barbero de Sevilla, was composed by Gerónimo Giménez and Manuel Nieto with a libretto by Guillermo Perrin and Miguel de Palacios; it premiered in Madrid in 1901 and is best known for the soprano aria "Me llaman la primorosa" which we have heard the marvelous Maria Brea sing in recital. How totally excellent it was to hear her sing the entire role of Elena, a wannabe diva who defies her strict father Nicolás (portrayed by baritone Stan Lacy) to star as Rosina in Rossini's masterpiece Il barbiere di Siviglia in a regional company in Burgos.

This gave Ms. Brea an opportunity not only to sing the afore-mentioned "Polonesa" as an interpolation for the voice lesson scene, but to also let out all the stops for "Una voce poco fa". Of course we have heard sopranos sing this mezzo role before, but we were particularly taken by Ms. Brea's  ability to handle the lower register as well as committing to the firework coloratura of the cabaletta.

Similarly satisfying was the performance of baritone José Luis Maldonado who has made Figaro's "Largo al factotum"  his signature piece; we never tire of hearing (and seeing) his interpretation. The joke, among many other jokes, was that he was secretly an opera singer masquerading as a surveyor--and furthermore, a baritone envious of tenors. But in this zarzuela, the baritone has the romantic lead as Elena's novio.

Two mezzo-sopranos shone in two different roles.  Anna Tonna created the character of Roldán, a diva with whom Nicolás is having a clandestine affair; she exhibited all the hauteur of a diva as well as the requisite spitefulness toward a younger rival.

Caroline Tye gave a fine interpretation of Elena's mother Casimira who supports her daughter's singing career and spirits her away to Burgos in the company of Elena's voice teacher Bataglia, a role given a fine comic turn by Costas Tsourakis who plays Don Basilio in the "opera within the zarzuela", making the most of his very large hat.

There was a very funny bit of hostility between two critics--Brian J. Alvarado's Pérez of the publication Tapas Today and Victor Khodadad's López from the newspaper The Manchego Gazette. It was especially funny because we personally just adore our fellow critics and enjoy sharing ideas with them. Perhaps in early 20th c. Spain there was significant rivalry of which the librettists were poking fun.

Jay Lucas Chacon took the role of Benito, Nicolás' sidekick and we must relate how much fun it was to see all these singers we know stretch themselves in new directions.

As far as the music, zarzuela is delightfully tuneful and this one is no exception. Maestro Pablo Zinger, Mr. Zarzuela himself, performed the reduction of the score and conducted from the keyboard. The chamber orchestra comprised violin, cello, bass, flute, and clarinet. We wondered why the keyboard was chosen when there was a piano onstage. Perhaps conducting from the piano would have suffered from impaired sightlines.

Aside from the solo arias, the most delightful musical moment was the scene backstage  in which all the characters were onstage at once, voices blending in charming cacophony.

As delightful as was the music, the frequent musical references to operas we know and love reminded us of how outstanding was 19th c. Italian opera. An interlude between scenes gave us the melody from Germont Père's Act II aria "Di Provenza il mar il suol", among other tributes to famed operas. The entire zarzuela can be seen as a tribute to Rossini's comedy.

Audience members who didn't know the operatic underpinnings could still enjoy the work for its engaging melodies and farcical story; but those who know and love opera could get an additional layer of pleasure from identifying the musical references.

Speaking of comedy, this piece has all of the farcical moments for which one could hope. There is the secret affair, the deceiving spouse, the lies, the coverups, the running in and out of rooms--here the various dressing rooms of the Burgos opera house--, the strict father (like Dr. Bartolo), the rebellious daughter sneaking around behind his back (like Rosina), and a facilitator (the voice teacher, unlike Don Basilio who was an obstructor to Rosina's romance).

The work was directed by Rod Gomez who chose to set the work in the 1950's, giving it the feel of a mid 20th c. sitcom. Although the Spanish was retained for the singing, dialogue was spoken in English. We got the sense that certain things that were funny in Spanish were not as funny when translated into English. There seems to be no other solution when presenting the work to a mixed audience. Although we personally can converse in Spanish, we would probably not understand rapidly spoken Spanish with wordplay and double entendres.

Aside from the ridiculously funny situations, there was an improvised moment of pure genius provided by Mr. Tsourakis who played his impresario role as Donald Trump. The audience loved it.  As a matter of fact, the audience loved the entire piece and we hope this leads to more zarzuela productions in New York City.

The simple but effective set was designed by Omayra Garriga Casiano and lit by Daniela Fresard Montero. Angela Huff designed the costumes.

Mr. Zinger spoke of his many productions in the 1980's but that was before our time and we regret having missed them. For those readers who have not read our writings about zarzuela, let it be known that the art form began in Madrid in the 1640's as an entertainment for royalty. It had a welcome revival in the mid 19th c., probably as Spain's response to Italy's grand opera. It was carried to the colonies in the New World and was regularly composed and performed for the next century, particularly in Cuba and Puerto Rico. Just as Spain lies between Europe and Africa, so zarzuela lies between opera and musical comedy.

We hope we have tempted you to enjoy this wonderful art form. This weekend will see several more performances and you just may be able to snag a ticket if you move quickly, since last night was a sellout-- in spite of the rain.

(c) meche kroop



Tuesday, October 15, 2019

A TRIP DOWN THE RHINE


Guest Review by Ellen Godfrey:



Last night at St. John’s Church in the Village, the genius of Richard Wagner’s music abounded in the pairing of the Wesendonck Lieder with two selections from his passionate opera, Tristan und Isolde. 

In 1849, Wagner had to escape from Dresden to Switzerland with his wife Minna, to avoid being arrested as a rebel. He was invited to live in a small cottage on the estate of one of his patrons, Otto Wesendonck, and his wife Mathilde. While the Wagner’s were there, Mathilde wrote a cycle of five poems for women which Wagner set to music.  The cycle became known as the Wesendonck Lieder.  The song cycle was composed between 1857 and 1858. There were unconfirmed rumors that Wagner and Mathilde were having a love affair. 

Wagner was two thirds of the way through composing his unmatched 4-opera Ring Cycle, when he took a 12 year break after almost completing Siegfried, the third opera of the cycle. Wagner was very interested in finding new expression in music and drama. He became very interested in the 19th century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, who wrote a book called The World as Will and Repression. He started to compose a new opera, Tristan und Isolde, which pointed to a new kind of music which eventually led composition into the 20th century.   

The highly gifted soprano Julianna Milin performed both the Wesendonck Lieder, and, after a brief intermission, two selections from Tristan und Isolde, no easy task.  In the first part of the program, Miss Millin used her  beautiful, big voice in a lighter vein, as is befitting a lieder singer.  In the second half of the program, she let her voice rip, with a much bigger sound and beautiful high notes and deep low notes. Her accompanist was the talented Juan Jose Lazaro, who has performed in many major symphonic halls. He has also accompanied many singers in masterclasses. He was a very supportive partner throughout the two part program.

Ms. Milin sang the first poem “Der Engel “(The Angel) very softly and ended it on a very quiet note. This song has several musical references to Das Rheingold, the first opera of Wagner’s Ring Cycle. In the second song "Stehe Still “(Be still), the pianist sailed easily through the difficult very fast moving music, like the rushing wheel of time, which is the first line of the song. Ms Milin was equally adept in her performance.

Wagner was using two of the Wesendonck songs as a draft for a new opera Tristan und Isolde which he had started working on.  In the third song “Im Treibhaus" (In the Green House) Wagner used the music as part of the prelude to Act 3 of Tristan und Isolde. It started off with a beautifully played piano introduction by Mr. Lazaro as Ms. Milin started slowly and softly along with him.  The ending of the song was quiet, with both the pianist and the singer feeling the music very deeply. In the fourth song “Schmerzen"( Sorrows)  Ms. Milin was able to show off her deep low notes, expressing the sorrow of the song.

The fifth and final song is the most beautiful of the cycle--“Traume” (Dreams,) and was used by Wagner in the Act 2 love duet of Tristan und Isolde.  Ms. Milin sang a beautiful introduction to the song with much feeling and a good. understanding of the music.  It was really her most beautiful singing of the cycle. Mr. Lazaro accompanied her with great understanding and feeling.

What was missing from Ms. Milin’s performance of these 5 wonderful songs, was communication with the audience.  She too often looked at the music on her nearby music stand rather than relating to the audience.  Hopefully, by the next time she performs this music, she will no longer need the score.

After the intermission Ms. Milin returned to the stage to sing Isolde’s curse from the first act of Tristan und Isolde.  Here she was a different singer  She used her big bright voice to great effect for this highly dramatic music, and sang with great feeling when called for.  In the long narrative, Isolde spews out her rage against Tristan, with whom she is secretly in love, but who is escorting her to marry King Mark. Her singing in this portion was very exciting and she poured out wonderful high notes as she curses Tristan. Juan Jose Lazaro played with anger when needed but never overshadowed her singing.

The evening concluded with the  beautiful "Liebestod " (love/death).  The music began quietly with both pianist and singer. Ms. Millin sang with great feeling with perfect accompaniment by Mr. Lazaro. She had a beautiful pianissimo at the end and Mr. Lazaro finished on a quiet note. As the program ended, the audience cheered the performances of both artists.  It was a lovely evening of music and thoughtfully demonstrated the relationship between Wagner's song cycle and subsequent opera.

© meche kroop





Sunday, October 13, 2019

OPERA INDEX 2018 AWARD WINNERS RECITAL

Shiyu Tan, Katelan Terrell, Dashuai Chen, and Jessica Fasselt

As you may already know, Opera Index has been supporting young singers for a very long time--both with generous financial awards and also with performance opportunities.

Sunday afternoon's Award Winners Recital was just one of many events offered by Opera Index; if you were there you enjoyed one of the best recitals of the season; if you were not, you missed a very special event and an introduction to two up-and-coming opera stars.

The recital was well balanced in terms of mixing up opera and lieder with some operetta thrown in, as well as a Chinese folk song that made us want to hear more. Regular readers know how much we appreciate music from around the world!

Both soprano Jessica Faselt (forget Fafner) and tenor Dashuai Chen are artists to watch. We foresee a brilliant future for both of them. Ms. Faselt was accompanied by one of our favorite collaborative pianists--Katelan Terrell who has the softest of hands and an uncanny ability to breathe with the singer and provide superb support. Shiyu Tan is new to us but we enjoyed her accompaniment a great deal and look forward to hearing more of her.

Ms. Faselt, about whom we have written a great deal, has a magnificent instrument that is consistent throughout the register and imbued with gorgeous color. She also knows just how to use her body and face to amplify the text; she is a born storyteller.

Just listen to her command of the Faust story in Schubert's "Gretchen am Spinnrade". She drew us in and allowed us to experience all of Gretchen's yearning for and idealization of Faust. Meanwhile, Ms. Terrell kept the spinning wheel spinning in the background with periodic underpinnings of Gretchen's anxiety. We have never heard a better performance of this incredible lied.

She has a wonderful feeling for Strauss as evidenced by her performance of two of his Four Last Songs. Both "Frühling" and "Beim Schlafengehen" were heartfelt; a dramatic arc leading up to an expansive soaring top gave us several thrills. We loved the melismatic passages and the manner in which the mood was sustained between verses.

Wagner's "Dich, teure Halle" was sung with impressive emotional range.

Her French in Duparc's "Chanson triste" was lovely and we admired her facility with pianissimo singing.

Mr. Chen also sang a Duparc song and manifested some fine French in the lovely "Phidylé"; if we wanted someone to sing us to sleep we would want to hear his dulcet tones. He has a lovely instrument that pleased us most in the middle register. We loved the colors with which he invested Schubert's ethereal "Nacht und Träume". His utilization of dynamic variety was exemplary. It was all in the voice; there was very little gesture.

Later in the program, he seemed to relax and to use his body more. Some music lovers prefer a singer to stand still but we prefer gesture!

Mr. Chen made an excellent Edgardo in "Tombe degli avi miei...Fra poco a me ricovero" from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, drawing us right into the hero's loss and pain. This dramatic intensity was not quite as present in Don Ottavio's "Il mio tesoro intanto" from Mozart's Don Giovanni. Perhaps loyalty is more difficult to demonstrate than sorrow! Perhaps the tempo was taken too fast, not leaving room for much emotion, but we didn't know who this Don Ottavio was. Nonetheless, the singing was gorgeous, with the excellent breath control needed to provide sustained tone during the long melismatic passages.

The audience's favorite seemed to be Leoncavallo's "Mattinata" in which he captured the Italianate spirit of the piece. Similarly "Dein ist mein ganzes herz" from Franz Lehar's Das Land des Lächelns was given an expansive delivery which drew us right in.

Our personal favorite was a Chinese song about lost love. We had "the feels".

There was only one issue that we think could be improved; like so many other tenors, Mr. Chen tends to push for a larger than necessary volume in the upper register. Scorca Hall is not a large room and we would have preferred his taking things down a notch.

The two artists created some romantic magic in "O soave fanciulla" from Puccini's La boheme. Both dramatically and vocally, it was flawless and involving. We never tire of scenes involving romantic chemistry!

Those of you unfamiliar with Opera Index are hereby encouraged to get familiar. Through Opera Index, we have been exposed to some great talents at early stages of their careers. Award winners have gone on to great success. There is a membership party on November 13th with more singing, and a potluck dinner with wine--surely an event worth attending. Bear in mind that the cost of membership is a paltry sum and includes the party!

© meche kroop

Sunday, October 6, 2019

COME TO THE CABARET!

Katharine Mehrling

We keep trying to expand our musical taste beyond opera and lieder; we have been only minimally successful in our attempt to relate to contemporary opera and song. So we did not have great expectation prior to our Saturday night venture--a cabaret performance at Joe's Pub, a very comfortable venue at the Public Theater. We did not even glance at the publicity. We believe art should speak for itself.

Well, we have nothing but admiration for an artists who can entrance us for an hour and a half by virtue of vocal and linguistic ability as well as stage presence. Berlin artist Katharine Mehrling richly deserved the standing ovation she got from her fans, an ovation which produced a second encore--"La Vie en Rose".

Let us begin with her stage presence. Ms. Mehrling illustrated the metaphor of "holding someone in the palm of her hand", but in this case it was the entire audience. It seemed to be an act of magic to unite all those people into a single unit, even getting people to sing along with her. Whatever she did seemed right in the moment, whether it was offering her wine to a lone man sitting ringside, tousling the hair of her pianist, blowing through a kazoo shaped like a mini-saxophone, or dancing around the stage.

The voice has an incredibly appealing quality, in spite of being amplified. She exhibited all the qualities we admire in an operatic recitalist, using phrasing and dynamics as well as gesture to get the song across. Our favorite moment occurred toward the end of the show, right in the middle of "Je regrette rien", when she put down the microphone for one enormously touching verse. We couldn't help wondering why the rest of the show was amplified. Her natural voice filled the room with beauty.

It seems to us that nowadays people have become accustomed to amplified sound--the louder the better. We noticed that the applause was the loudest when she sang like a pop star. We felt like a dinosaur because we treasured the quietest most intimate moments.

As far as linguistic ability, Ms. Mehrling sang in perfect French, superb Spanish, and barely accented English, as well as her native German. Regular readers have probably already guessed our preferences. When verses were performed in English translation next to the original language, it was always the latter which we felt on a deeper level. Diction was so good in every language that there was no problem understanding every word.

The programming had enough variety to suit everyone. She opened with the Brecht/Weill "That Old Bilbao Moon" in German and, whether she actually forgot the English lyrics or pretended to, it seemed to bring the audience together.

There was a sprinkling of engaging anecdotes about her hometown Berlin, especially about the Kit Kat Club, and climate change demonstrations. She mentioned that it is the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and that is surely something to celebrate.

She spoke about Marlena Dietrich and Edith Piaf, singing some of the songs they made famous like "I'm in Love Again...I Can't Help It".  Please forgive us if we are not as familiar with these songs as we probably should be, but we certainly did enjoy hearing them.

We are familiar with "Padam, padam, padam" through our friend Kim David Smith who introduced us to cabaret several years ago.

There was a cute story about her admission to the USA as a "German alien with extraordinary abilities", one of which was her ability to yodel; the anecdote was followed by a yodeling song that left us speechless. Now that's one technique that opera singers don't have.

Ms. Mehrling is not only a cabaret artist but an actress as well, and also a composer and recording artist. She told us how she grew up in a room over her parents' musical saloon where she was exposed to all kinds of music; indeed one could hear strains of jazz and bebop in her eclectic performance.

A great recital often results in our pursuing knowledge of something and one of the songs Ms. Mehrling performed in Spanish was "Gracias a la Vida"; how could we not know that this was one of the most recorded songs in Latin America? It was written by renowned Chilean singer/songwriter Violeta Parra in 1966 as a charity single, recorded by Voces Unidas por Chile; Ms. Parra committed suicide a year later. We dare you to read the lyrics online without being moved to tears.

Ms. Mehrling received superb support from her pianist and bassist who were not mentioned in the press release, nor on her website. It's a pity because they added greatly to the performance

© meche kroop








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Saturday, October 5, 2019

ROMA

Kristin Gornstein, Michael Brofman, Stanichka Dimitrova, Nana Shi, Tami Petty, and Michael Kelly

Roma! Perhaps you thought the name of this review referred to the Italian 
Capitol.  It does not! It refers to a people without a homeland, a people both revered and despised, sometimes scorned--but in the 19th c. elevated to a position of artistic reverence by the quest for exoticism inherent in the Romantic tradition. (We felt like writing ROMAntic.)

In its tenth anniversary season, the Brooklyn Art Song Society, helmed by pianist Michael Brofman, chose a theme of national identity as expressed through music, encapsulated by the word "Home". What a splendid theme! Last night we heard the first concert of the season, one which focused on the Roma people. 

Although we came for the songs and enjoyed the program immensely, what lingers in our ears is Franz Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody #2 in C-sharp minor, one of our favorite keys. This was the first time we experienced the piano artistry of Nana Shi. One minute she was giving perfect pianistic support to the gifted soprano Tami Petty and the next, without pause for applause, she launched into this rhapsodic Rhapsody which likely symbolises best the feeling of gypsy music.

The trills made us think of the flutter of hummingbird's wings and the playing in the upper register suggested the sound of the cimbalom. Liszt's melodic invention is astounding and Ms. Shi's brilliant technique gave different colors to the mad succession of themes. We particularly enjoyed the wild abandon of the fast section which had us almost dancing in our chair.

We don't want to give short shrift to Ms. Petty's performance of Liszt's evocative "Die drei Zigeuner". Ms. Petty is a consummate storyteller, using a variety of dynamics and vocal coloration to tell the tale. The timbre of her voice is gorgeous and she knows how to spin a top note into a silken thread of sound. We had to stifle our applause until the end of the instrumental piece but we enjoyed the buildup of tension.

Mr. Brofman himself accompanied baritone Michael Kelly for Antonín Dvorák's Zigeunerlieder Op. 55. We have heard this cycle of seven songs sung in Czech (fantastic), in German (wunderbar), and in English (meh!)--but somehow we never heard it sung by a man and we don't know why. Mr. Kelly's delivery was meticulous and passionate at the same time. The text fulfills every fantasy anyone ever had about the free gypsy life and Mr. Kelly gave it full expression. We enjoyed the melismatic passages in "Mein Lied ertönt" but our favorite was "Als die alte Mutter". Each song is a painting and all together they formed a magnificent mosaic.

Ms. Shi is equally excellent as a soloist and as a collaborative pianist. The lush violin playing of the adorably named Stanichka Dmitrova reminded us of how like the human voice is the violin. The two artists seemed to breathe together whether in the long legato lines (like an operatic aria) or in the spirited and fiery plucked passages (like a cabaletta).

For our 19th c. ears, Pablo Sarasate's Zigeunerweisen Op. 20 held a bit more interest than the more modern Tzigane by Maurice Ravel which opened with a prolonged solo and kept Ms. Dimitrova in the lower register for quite some time whilst Ms. Shi's fleet fingers raced up and down the keyboard. It sounded to us like a deconstruction of gypsy melodies, as if the themes were cut in pieces and thrown into the air to land in a new arrangement.

We wish we could say something lovely about Brahms' Zigeunerlieder, Op. 103 but there is just something about the use of the music stand that distracts and distances us from the artist. We have heard and enjoyed Kristin Gornstein's pleasing mezzo-soprano on prior occasions but last night we were bored and our attention wandered. There was one lied in the cycle of eight that did pull us in. "Wißt ihr, wann mein Kindchen" is a song in which a boy and girl take turns expressing what they like about the other, offering the singer an opportunity to alter the coloration to suit.

Let us not fail to mention the encore--a tribute to the late Jesse Norman. Ms. Petty sang Strauss' Morgen, putting the audience in a pensive mood, quite a change from the high-spirited gypsy songs.

The theme of "Home" will continue on November 1st with Chants D'Auvergne by Joseph Canteloube; the complete cycle will be performed at the Brooklyn Historical Society.

© meche kroop

Friday, October 4, 2019

A DON GIOVANNI FOR OUR TIME

Pavel Suliandziga, Laura León, Sarah Hayashi, Yuri Napoli, and Liana Guberman

Last night we were at the glamorous Norwood Club which is filled with stunning works of art, none of which could compete with the artistry of the singers assembled for the 6th annual Bare Opera Gala.

This fundraising event was held to introduce those of us who love Bare Opera to the cast and director of the upcoming production of Don Giovanni. Kirsten Scott, Co-Founder and General Director of this boutique opera company, gives good speech just as she gives good singing. If you didn't leave excited about the production you need to be on life support!

With Co-Founder and Artistic Director Laetitia Ruccolo at the piano, we were given a few selections from the production which premieres October 18 at the Bellwether, one of the more interesting spaces chosen by Bare Opera for their productions.

Not only does Bare Opera take opera out of the concert hall and into interesting venues, but they bring in directors with vision who can strip operas of their accumulated clichés, kinda like stripping barnacles off the hull of a boat.

Director Malena Dayen has interpreted Mozart's tragi-comedy in the light of the #metoo movement. It is difficult for us to perceive the gentle and handsome baritone Suchan Kim as a vile seducer but we suppose that's what acting instruction accomplishes.

We have no such trouble seeing tenor Pavel Suliandziga as a devoted Don Ottavio who, we understand, will not be the customary wimp. Having dazzled us with his Tchaikovsky at Around the World in Song, we are ready to be redazzled or bedazzled, if you will.  He is definitely the anti-Don.

The women will not be portrayed as victims and, we can tell you, soprano Liana Guberman makes a fiery but sympathetic Donna Elvira, not the comic figure to which we are accustomed. She was in superb voice last night and knocked our socks off.

The other two female roles were played by singers relatively new to us. Cuban soprano Laura León has the role of Donna Anna and connected well with Mr. Suliandziga.

Zerlina was sung by Sarah Hayashi who connected well with Mr. Kim, the smarmy seducer.

Each singer was interviewed by Yuri Napoli who asked all the right questions, encouraging each singer to reveal something about the character he/she would play.

Director Malena Dayen was present to tell us just enough about how she interprets the story to ensure our attendance at the performance. She will utilize the services of video artist Sangmin Chae to bring 21st century technology to this 18th century opera. We will not say too much about this innovation until we have the opportunity to see it in action.

Consider yourself encouraged to take a walk on the wild side with Bare Opera, Mozart, and Da Ponte. We've got our walkin' shoes on!

© meche kroop