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.

Thursday, October 31, 2019


Where have you been all my life, Premiere Opera Foundation? Seriously, we love competitions and try to attend all of them; somehow this one escaped our notice but this is only the second annual one and we were highly impressed with the quality of the winners and their performances. There were 400 applicants from which 150 came to New York from all over. From these 150, a distinguished panel of judges chose 20 finalists. There were 10 winners and we were fortunate to hear a magnificent seven of them.

It was a special treat for us to hear several that we have reviewed on frequent occasions and we have a special leaning toward those whose development as artists we have been monitoring. Nonetheless we will make an attempt to rise above our bias and give a fair account of a recital that was thrilling from start to finish.

Mezzo-soprano Xeni Tziouvaras has been on our radar since her student days at Manhattan School of Music. We liked her performances so much that we invited her to sing at our first Around the World in Music; she sang Ravel's Cinq Mélodies Populaires Grecques which she had translated into Greek. We were so impressed with the sound of the language and how well the text fit into Ravel's melodies. We were even more impressed with Ms. Tziouvaras' stage presence and the dramatic way in which she created a world in a song,

For this recital we got to hear more of Ravel's sensuous and colorful writing. We heard the deeply felt "O, N'antselos eisai matia mou" with its haunting melody, and the frisky "Gelaroumbi"--both delightful. This wonderful artist immerses herself into the song before she even opens her mouth, creating a mood and sustaining it right through to the end.

Her French was as fine as one might wish in "O, ma lyre immortelle" from Gounod's Sapho which is the heroine's "swan song" after her lover has been deceitfully turned against her. Ms. Tsiouvaras' unique timbre served her well and she successfully employed dynamic variation and word coloration to get the tragedy across. There was an effective crescendo bringing the aria to a stunning close.

Another singer we have been watching is baritone Xiaomeng Zhang whom we first heard five years ago at Manhattan School of Music in the role of MacDuff in Ernest Bloch's Macbeth. But we really became aware of his potential at his Master's recital shortly thereafter when he sang in five languages. In his post-graduate stint at Juilliard, he mastered several operatic roles with the most impressive being the lead role in Mozart's Don Giovanni.

He has retained the flexibility he manifested in his many bel canto performances but his voice has expanded to the point that he can wow an audience with his performance of "Vy mne pisali" from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin. We attended his coaching session for this role and thought at the time that it suited him very well. 

His phrasing and gesture indicated that he really knew what he was singing about and to whom he was singing. It was impossible to judge his Onegin too harshly. Mr. Zhang created a character who seemed more like a "Dutch Uncle" than a callous cruel man. His instrument has a lovely timbre which he used effectively and the aria built in intensity and swept us along.

He also sang a Chinese song called "Grand River Gone East" by Zhu Qin; although we don't understand the language and there was no translation in the program the emotional content came through loud and clear. We felt the poet's sorrow and sense of loss. We checked it out with Mr. Zhang after the concert and indeed it is about all things passing away, even life.

Another baritone we know well has a different sort of voice; Takaoki Onishi gave a riveting performance of "O Carlo, ascolta...Io morro" which took us back to the time we heard the late Dmitri Hvorostovsky in the role of Rodrigo, Marquis de Posa in Verdi's Don Carlo. We thought we'd never enjoy that aria sung by anyone else but Mr. Onishi gave us a riveting portrayal of the loyal and selfless friend of Don Carlo. 

The texture of his voice is that of a true Verdi baritone--a singer of power who can combine passionate involvement with beauty of tone. It was interesting to us that he could also sing a tender and romantic love song with a lovely pianissimo, marking him as a singer of versatility. Ivor Novello's "I Can Give You the Starlight" went straight to the heart. If someone had told us that we would enjoy a 20th c. English song, we would not have believed them. We didn't even know who Novello was and were obliged to google him. He was a Welsh actor, singer, and songwriter who wrote "Keep the Homefires Burning". Who knew!

Time for a tenor!  And what a tenorrific artist is Dashuai Chen! What sets him apart from so many other tenors is that he doesn't push his voice. When a tenor goes high and loud we often feel our throat hurt. No such problem bothers Mr. Chen with his easy sound production. As a bitter and miserable Edgardo in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, he performed the lovely legato lines with beauty but never shortchanged the character's pain. He has won a number of competitions with this aria and it just keeps getting better.

A Chinese song "Singing for You" by Yong Chen contrasted well by virtue of it's gentle melody and lyrics. We loved the alternation between major and minor modes. We want to see one more thing from Mr. Chen. We'd like to see him step away from the piano so his gestures can reflect the feeling as effectively as the voice does. Every time he let go of the piano we said in our head "YES!". We enjoyed the performance so much that we invited Mr. Chen to sing in our next Around the World in Song on February 28th.

We have heard mezzo-soprano Carolyn Sproule only twice--both times thanks to the George London Competition. There was a lovely "Aire des lettres" from Massenet's Werther one time and the other time Aldagisa's Act I prayer from Bellini's Norma. For this concert, she went in a different direction, creating the exuberant character of Octavian in Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier. The appealing timbre of her voice stood out and she showed an understanding of the character and his situation. Her German was quite good. The only "problem" was that she is a very feminine beautiful woman and without costuming and makeup it was difficult to see her as a young man!

The other selection of this highly versatile artist was "Je vais mourir...Adieu fière cité" from Berlioz' Les Troyens--a very different telling of the tale of Dido and Aeneas than the Purcell. We were very happy to hear this beautiful and moody suicidal aria without dealing with the fatigue of the four preceding acts! There was plenty of variety of dynamics and color as Dido's mood shifts. The pianissimo was gorgeous.

Completely new to us was Armenian soprano Anush Avetisyan, a guest artist who did ample justice to the stirring melody of Rusalka's "Song to the Moon". We heard some superb shaping of Dvorak's phrases, lovely legato (especially considering the consonant-heavy Czech language), and some finely tuned turns. It would not be an exaggeration to say that she wove a spell. We were enchanted.

As a follow up she sang "Kakavik" by the Armenian composer Komitas. We were amazed by the beauty and singability of the language.

Russian mezzo-soprano Anastasiia Sidorova sang the "Seguidilla" from Bizet's Carmen with a beautiful voice and effective coloration; however she did not convince us that she was Carmen trying to seduce a reluctant Don Jose. She did loosen up a bit as the aria progressed, but the role didn't seem to suit her.

We liked her much more in Tchaikovsky's "Otchego" which she sang with Russian passion. Possibly she feels more relaxed in her native language.

Accompanist for the evening was Gerald Martin Moore who has the softest hands and a preternatural ability to support each singer and to tailor his accompaniment to their differential skill set as well as to the demands of the music.

Planning for next year's competition is already underway and we refer you to the website to find out about an interesting partnership that will make the competition even more valuable to the singers who apply.  Go to this URL and click on "Vocal Competition".

© meche kroop

Wednesday, October 30, 2019


Michael Fabiano, Ermonela Jaho, Angel Blue, Stephen Costello, Artur Rucinski, Lisette Oropesa, Maestro James Gaffigan, Ailyn Pérez, Christian Van Horn, Jamie Barton, Lucas Meachem, Brian Michael Moore, and Corrie Stallings.
(photo by Dario Acosta)

Last Sunday saw the gathering of the tribe, denizens of what Fred Plotkin so aptly dubbed "Planet Opera", for the annual celebration of the Richard Tucker Music Foundation, famed for forty years of aiding the careers of worthy young singers. The list of their award recipients looks like the Who's Who of Opera.

This year's award recipient was the stupendous soprano Lisette Oropesa who bedazzled the audience twice--once with "Come dolce all'alma mia" from Rossini's Tancredi and later with "Qui la voce...Vien diletto" from Bellini's I Puritani.

What we observed about her performances were a lovely evenness throughout the register with a soaring top which lends itself perfectly to the demands of coloratura. The Rossini is replete with scales and wide skips which she negotiated effortlessly. The Bellini involved some long lines that she phrased perfectly. The legato of the aria contrasted well with the fireworks of the cabaletta. Ascending and descending scales were performed with precision.

Soprano Ailyn Pérez, an all-time favorite of ours, was called upon to tell a story in "Chi il bel sogno di Doretta" from Puccini's La Rondine--and what a storyteller she is! With consummate musicality, her phrases soared with emotional content and vocal beauty. 

Later in the program, she and baritone Lucas Meachem conspired to win the hearts of the audience with "Tu souvaint-il du lumineux voyage" from Massenet's Thaïs, with a lovely prelude from The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, led by Maestro James Gaffigan. We couldn't keep from visualizing the ballet scene set to the Meditation from Thaïs, the melody of which has remained with us, here played by the Concert Master.

The French was excellent, the delivery passionate, the dynamics nuanced, and the climax passionate and devastating.

Soprano Angel Blue's creamy tone was just right for "Depuis le jour" from Charpentier's Louise. Her portamenti were particularly exquisite. She evinced the generous size of her instrument in a fraught duet she sang with baritone Artur Rucinski--"Udiste...mira d'acerbe lagrime" from Verdi's Il trovatore. She showed her dramatic chops as a desperate woman and Mr. Rucinski sang with power. The cabaletta was especially exciting.

Mr. Rucinski seems to be a consummate Verdi baritone, as seen in his delivery of "Il balen del suo sorriso" from the same opera. He sang with admirable phrasing, gorgeous tone, and a delicious decrescendo. This role is just about perfect for his fine technique.

Tenor Stephen Costello, whom we first heard as Lord Percy, gave an excellent interpretation of the bewitched Don Jose in "La fleur que tu m'avais jetée" from Bizet's Carmen. He sang with beautiful tenorrific tone and fine French, convincing us that he was a man possessed.

He was similarly persuasive as Lt. Pinkerton in the wedding night scene with Cio-Cio San from Puccini's Madama Butterfly. Unfortunately soprano Ermonela Jaho was anything but convincing as the doomed heroine. She has her petite stature working on her behalf but her exaggerated gestures suggested anything but a 15 year-old Japanese girl. 

We liked her much better in "Io son l'umile ancella" from Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur in which exaggerated gestures are more suited to the stage actress she was enacting. We liked the well executed crescendo at the end.

Mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, another favorite of ours, has a most wonderful stage presence and unique vocal texture. Her voice has not only texture but a satisfying weight without any sacrifice of flexibility. She gave us two selections from Verdi's Don Carlo. In the "Song of the Veil" we noted the echoes of major thirds and some rapid turns which put her flexibility to good use.

In "O don fatale" we perceived the change of mood and color from passionate to introspective. We love a performance that is so heartfelt!  Ms. Barton makes a splendid Princess Eboli. We might add that for the second aria she exchanged her very becoming black gown for one that made a political statement--by flashing a rainbow. The crowd loved it. See the photos on our Facebook page (Voce di Meche).

Tenor Michael Fabiano put a unique spin on "Kuda, kuda" from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin. He began quietly and built in power and dynamics until the aria reached a stunning conclusion. We really enjoyed the rare quality of floating his high notes. We also noted the contributions of the orchestra, especially the wind section.

Mr. Meachem injected new life into the clichéd "Largo al Factotum" from Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia. He entered coming down the aisle from the rear of the hall and began at audience level, only climbing onto the stage a bit later. His gestures were unique and he colored his voice differentially when describing la donnetta and il cavaliere. What fun! In the patter part he was perfect (alliteration intended).

Introduced by resonant chimes from the percussion section, bass-baritone Christian Van Horn created a chilling and authoritarian Scarpa in the "Te Deum" from Puccini's Tosca.

The evening ended with the sextet from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor in which Ms. Oropesa's Lucia was joined by Mr. Costello's Edgardo, Brian Michael Moore's Arturo, Corrie Stallings' Alisa, Mr. Rucinski's Enrico, and Scott Conner's Raimondo. Of course with all that talent onstage it was memorable.

The contributions of the Metropolitan Orchestra were immeasurable and performed with their customary excellence. We want to see more of Maestro Gaffigan whose musical stature far exceeds his physical stature.

© meche kroop

Sunday, October 27, 2019


Madison Marie McIntosh, Kofi Hayford, Damian Wayne Faul, Susie Scott Krabacher, Wil Kellerman, Reyna Carguill
Kelly Griffin, Amanda Tarver, Steven LaBrie, Raymon Geis, and Maestro Keith Chambers
The beautiful Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church played host for yesterday's benefit performance, organized by composer Theodore Christman who is writing a music theater piece (a word less "scary" than opera to those who think they are two different forms of entertainment) based on the inspiring career of Susie Scott Krabacher.

Ms. Krabacher has written a book describing her 25 years spent facing the many challenges of helping the children of Haiti. She has taken unwanted children from orphanages, many of whom are handicapped, and provided food, shelter, education, and medical care. She hopes to educate future leaders for this unfortunate island nation, people who will pull Haiti out of its present hopeless-appearing situation. She is one of those people who create hope.

This does not sound, at first hearing, like material for "musical theater". However we got a preview of three songs from the work and were delighted by the clever and punchy lyrics of Donna Gay Anderson which matched perfectly with Mr. Christman's tuneful music. You heard right, dear reader! Mr. Christman's music is melodic, as we have written on several prior occasions. It was just waiting for the right story and the right librettist. We do believe he's got it and are looking forward to Unfolded, as it is called.

In "Babies for Sale", Amanda Tarver played Madam Marcellus, an unscrupulous woman trying to wrest money from a young couple. In "Wash the Dirt", mezzo-soprano Madison Marie McIntosh, portraying Ms. Krabacher, was given a strong melody to sing as she confronts her younger self, portrayed by soprano Michelle Guillot. "The Standoff" portrays a fictionalized version of Ms. Krabacher meeting her husband (baritone Wil Kellerman) for the first time. The acting and singing were similarly on point. Truth to tell, we hope Ms. McIntosh will be chosen to play the role.

The rest of the program comprised opera standards, ones we always love hearing. Ms. McIntosh is a young singer we have been writing about for several years. Possessor of a creamy mezzo with a dazzling upper extension, she is particularly perfect as a Rossini heroine. The flexibility of her instrument makes all kinds of embellishments seem natural and organic with respect to the character's feelings.

She opened the program with a tender performance of Mr. Christman's setting of "Ave Maria". There was a delicate diminuendo requiring exquisite breath control that had us holding our breath. His skill with writing melody made this a valuable entry among the many settings of this prayer. 

Her aforementioned artistry with Rossini could be appreciated in "Una voce poco fa" from Il barbiere di Siviglia. She evinced Rosina's spunky personality with a precision of fioritura and tickled us with a rolled "r" in "trappole"; it's the tiny details that set a singer apart from the others.

She also "plays well with others" as we observed in the famous duet "Mira, o Norma" from the Bellini opera in which her Aldagisa was matched with the Norma of Reyna Carguill who was previously unknown to us. Her sizable soprano was heard later in "Ebben? Ne andrò  lontana" from Catalani's La Wally. She impressed us with her breadth and depth of tone, just right for verismo roles.

Kelly Griffin is another soprano with a sizable instrument, making her perfect for dramatic Verdi heroines. We have heard her sing "Pace, pace" from La forza del destino more than once and might have been disappointed not to find it on yesterday's program; however, she was equally effective in "Tacea la notte placida" from Il trovatore.

Her duet from Verdi's Un ballo in maschera--"Teco io sto" was sung with tenor Raymon Geis as Riccardo. Both singers did justice to Verdi's magnificent melodies.

Mr. Geis had a fine solo in "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" from Franz Lehár's Das Land des Lächelns. He paid exquisite attention to the meaning of the text and carressed each word in the pianissimo sections, then drew the piece to a thrilling climax.

His duet from Bizet's Les pêcheurs de perles-- "Au fond du temple saint", sung with baritone Steven LaBrie, involves two men both bedazzled by the same presumably unavailable temple priestess. We picked up some teetering on the edge between trust and mistrust. 

Mr. LaBrie's solo was María Grever's popular "Júrame" which, in his golden throat, took on the quality of an art song, sung with sincerity of feeling instead of the customary grandstanding. We have been writing about Mr. LaBrie since we began writing and have always found his performances to be artistically and emotionally genuine.

There were a couple selections on the program that are not exactly opera. Amanda Tarver, previously unknown to us, performed a song by Jake Heggie with very funny divinely irreverent lyrics by Gavin Geoffrey Dillard. "In the Beginning" is a spoof of the first verse of the bible and is part of a cycle we've never heard called Of Gods and Cats. If we ever get to hear the entire cycle it just might change our mind about Mr. Heggie. Ms. Tarver's delivery was delicious.

Bass Kofi Hayford has pleased us with his resonant bass on prior occasions. Yesterday he sang "Old Man River" from Kern and Hammerstein's Showboat, which we consider an American opera, especially when sung unamplified by such a well trained voice . The feeling ran deep as the river itself and the low tessitura presented no challenge for Mr. Hayford.

And finally, we heard Damian Wayne Faul perform "If I Loved You" from Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel, another work we consider an American opera. Mr. Faul also eschewed grandstanding for the sake of character, strangely giving  Billy Bigelow an accent that was more Southern than New England. Oh well, as a carnival barker perhaps he was itinerant!

Accompanist for the concert was the always wonderful Maestro Keith Chambers.

It was a fine afternoon of music, not to mention the lovely reception at which we got to speak with Ms. Anderson and Ms. Krabacher who has written an inspiring book about her life and experience in Haiti--ANGELS OF A LOWER FLIGHT: One Woman's Mission To Save A Country One Child At A Time. We hope that Mr. Christman's opera will serve to call attention to her work as founder and president of the Mercy and Sharing Foundation (www.haitichildren.org).

© meche kroop

Saturday, October 26, 2019


Ashley Emerson and Jennifer Check

We have just had an experience that compares with most operagoing experiences as a dinner at La Grenouille would compare with a fine dinner at home. It was way more than delicious and nourishing; it was one of those evenings that will be indelibly etched in our memory. It was Britten's Turn of the Screw performed on the beautiful estate Wave Hill.

Eric Einhorn's concept for On Site Opera is to produce just such experiences that add up to more than the sum of their parts. There is always a location that amounts to way more than seats in an audience facing a stage with sets. There is always an intimacy with the story and the singers. It must be quite a challenge to find just the right location for any given story but it always works.

There was not enough space for more than a fortunate few and we count ourself among them. Because you, dear reader, probably did not make the cut (the show having sold out within minutes of its announcement), we would like to cut right to the chase and describe the experience. Trust our judgment on the point that the parts were superbly cast and magnificently acted and sung and that Geoffrey McDonald's conducting of his chamber orchestra made the most of Britten's score, adding layer upon layer of anxiety and suspence. 

A team of guides handed each one of us a lantern and guided us through the pathways until we reached a gothic looking building with a balcony from which a narrator introduced us to the story. The opera is based upon a gothic ghost story--a novella by Henry James. Myfanwy Piper wrote the concise and effective libretto.

Next we met The Governess in the person of soprano Jennifer Check, in perfect period costume, who led us to the front door of the country house where she was to take care of two orphaned children, without ever bothering their uncle who had hired her. She shared her excitement and anxiety with us and even asked someone to hold her suitcase whilst she opened the front door.

From then on we felt like a fly on the wall, observing her meeting the housekeeper Mrs. Grose (mezzo-soprano Margaret Lattimore) and then her two charges who stood holding photographs of the former governess Miss Jessell and the valet Peter Quint, both of whom had died recently. 

The children had been instructed by Mrs. Grose to bow and curtsy but we knew instantly that something was wrong. One couldn't have seen the subtle facial expressions underlying their politesse at the Met but it was obvious from a few yards away.

It seemed clear to us that The Governess is not going mad when she sees the ghosts of Mr. Quint and Miss Jessell. (We have seen a film in which she is portrayed as hysterical and the children as needing to be rescued from her care.)

As Mr. Einhorn has so astutely directed the action, moving the audience from one room of the large mansion to another, the illusion of knowing the characters took hold and gripped us by the throat. We lost the concept of ambiguity from James' novella and identified strongly with the terrified Governess as she faced the two ghosts.

Dominic Armstrong was completely riveting as Peter Quint; the way Mr. Einhorn directed his scenes with Miles (counter-tenor Jordan Rutter) we were convinced that Quint had seduced the boy whilst he yet lived and was trying to snatch his soul now that he had died. We rarely see such a portrayal of evil onstage with Mr. Armstrong coloring his voice to match the text.

Adriana Zabala made a rather more sympathetic Miss Jessell. In a directorial coup,  there was a parallel scene with the current Governess and Miss Jessell walking the same pathway in tandem. This added to the gothic element of the storytelling and gave us the shivers. We wondered whether the poor (unnamed) Governess would also die. It is a mark of great storytelling and great acting that we were so caught up that we wanted to know what happened to her! Ms. Check made us feel on her side from the start.

As Flora, Ashley Emerson acted the part of a young girl with considerable success. As Miles, Mr. Rutter was totally convincing. He is small and slender of stature and his treble voice lent considerable verisimilitude. Both "children" gave evidence of secrets and secret lives.

Even Mrs. Grose, portrayed by mezzo-soprano Margaret Lattimore, seemed to have secrets, only some of which were shared with The Governess. At one point we saw her drop something in a cup of tea but were not sure for whom it was meant or whether it were poison or sedative. Ambiguity was everywhere and we believe James wanted us to be puzzled by unanswered questions.

The chamber orchestra was as Britten intended, comprising a string quartet plus a bass and one each of the necessary winds. The versatile instrumentalists seemed adept with the flutist handling piccolo and two registers of flutes; the oboist doubled on English Horn and the clarinetist switched to the Bass Clarinet, one of our favorite sounds in the orchestra. There was also a French Horn, a Bassoon, and a marvelous harpist who created quite an atmosphere. 

The pianist and the percussionist added to the texture; there were chimes, some soft Kettle Drumming, and what might have been a celesta. We meant to inspect the percussion section after the curtain call but we were still in some kind of state that lasted until we got home. The atmosphere of the performance was so intense that at one point we accepted what occurred onstage as reality and felt as if we were a ghost.

The costuming by Amanda Seymour was perfect and completed the illusion that we were back in the 19th c.  What a completely strange experience! Talk about total immersion!!!

On Site Opera's contribution to the New York opera scene is valuable and unique. Our only regret is that his productions cannot accommodate more people.

© meche kroop

Friday, October 25, 2019


Photo credits: Ian Bostridge by Sim Canetty-Clarke, Brad Mehldau by Michael Wilson
We have thrilled to the recorded sound of tenor Ian Bostridge and approached his recital at Zankel Hall with a great deal of anticipation; sadly we were woefully disappointed and are not likely to attend any of his future recitals. How could it happen that such a beautiful instrument failed to touch us? How is it possible that so many in the audience appeared to be thrilled when we were not?

It seems to us that Mr. Bostridge is a particular kind of artist that has acquired a cult following from a select group to which his particular style appeals. He seems to be intensely related to the text, overemphasizing variations of color and dynamics. His stage presence seems awkward and his physical movements distracting. He grabs the edge of the piano; he wanders aimlessly; he tilts his head forward so far one wonders how he gets that beautiful sound out. It seemed altogether mannered.

As much as he connects with the material, we didn't feel his connection with the audience. Perhaps others did but we and our companion didn't get "the feels".

At first we attributed it to the non-melodic song cycle composed by his collaborative pianist Brad Mehldau, on commission from Carnegie Hall, which was having its premiere.  A good piece of music stands on its own merit and doesn't require three and a half pages of mansplaining in the program. Apparently the cycle had something to do with desire and its protean manifestations.

For the most part some excellent poetry was selected--so excellent that attempting to set these works to music seemed gratuitous. The texts were often obscure and symbolic, requiring patient reading, reflection, and analysis. The music added nothing in our opinion. The poets included The Bard himself, represented by a pair of sonnets, and works by W.H. Auden, William Butler Yeats, and William Blake. 

Particularly disappointing was a setting of Goethe's "Ganymed" which will be sung long after Schubert's setting has been forgotten--but NOT A MOMENT BEFORE! It takes some arrogance to tamper with a song that is so perfect!

"the boys I mean are not refined" is a text by e.e.cummings, legendary for its filthiness; it rhymed and scanned and was fun to read, and was given a jazzy accompaniment.

"Über die Verführung von Engeln" by Berthold Brecht was, as the story goes, submitted to a magazine under the name of Thomas Mann as a prank. It is even filthier than the cummings and, therefore, more interesting! The English translation was not in the program but was read aloud by Mr. Bostridge in a very soft voice; we looked up the text as soon as we got home!

The closest the music came to being melodic was in an excerpt from "Sailing to Byzantium" by Yeats.

One thing that puzzled us was this.  If a composer is writing for a singer he knows well, why would he provide so many low notes that strained the singer's instrument to a point at which those notes seemed disconnected from the middle voice?

We convinced ourself during intermission that we would be sure to love the Schumann which followed. Contrary to what appeared on the Carnegie Hall website, Dichterliebe sounds nothing like a man missing his beloved. The texts chosen by Schumann from Heinrich Heine's Lyrisches Intermezzo loosely tell the story of profound disappointment in love! Heine's work comprised a prologue and 65 poems. From these, Schumann chose twenty, although the first four are rarely included. These sixteen remaining ones have a dramatic arc.

Searching for a benefit to be derived from this dispiriting evening, we decided to take pleasure in the hearing of these four songs and the gaining of  the knowledge of why they are rarely included. They are just not up to the quality of the other sixteen.

Starting with "Im wunderschönen Monat Mai", the poet sings of his ardent love for the beloved. His excitement in "Die Rose, die Lilie, die Taube, die Sonne" are filled with youthful abandon. Mr. Bostridge and Mr. Mehldau took it at a very rapid tempo. 

There was no break between the songs. Mr. Mehldau's piano postlude in "Ich will meine Seele tauchen" was quite lovely. In "Das ist ein Flöten und Geigen" it was propulsive. We liked the mournful quality in "Hör' ich das Liedchen klingen", and we liked the way the chords punctuated the text in "Ich hab' im Traum geweinet". So much for the piano.

Vocally, we searched for something to admire and found it in the way Mr. Bostridge caressed each word in "Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen"; but we feel compelled to mention that the consonants were given short shrift more times than we could count--particularly the final "ch".

The audience was very enthusiastic and there were three encores. The first was a jazzy number from Noel Coward's Cavalcade, given a contemporary political twist; we could not make out the words. The second was "These Foolish Things" by Eric Maschwitz, writing under the pseudonym Holt Marvell, with music by Jack Strachey. Mr. Mehldau exhibited his jazz chops and Mr. Bostridge bent the notes like a jazz singer.

The final offering was Cole Porter's "Every Time We Say Goodbye", another jazz standard which, along with the second encore, was made popular by Ella Fitzgerald.

© meche kroop

Thursday, October 24, 2019


Winners of the 13th Concurso Alejandro Cordero

On prior occasions we have visited the Americas Society to review young singers from the Instituto Superior de Arte, the training division of the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires. This year we were already booked for the date of their concert, but thanks to the Consulate General of Argentina and their excellent cultural program, we were able to hear these fine singers in recital on a different date. 

We were on our way to Carnegie Hall and had just enough time to hear sopranos Romina Jofré,  Ivana Ledesma, and Marina Torres; mezzo-soprano Estefania Cap; and tenor Cristian Taleb. All were accompanied (and directed) by pianist Marcelo Ayub and joined by special guest baritone Mariano Gladic who rounded out the company. 

The artists were winners of the 13th Concurso Alejandro Cordero but they won our heart as well. The opening scene of Mozart's Die Zauberflöte is always enchanting, provided the voices are well balanced, which they were. This was a fine introduction to all of the singers except for Ms. Jofré who was introduced to us in the next selection.

"Je veux vivre" from Gounod's Roméo et Juliette is a showpiece for a coloratura soprano who can sparkle vocally and also convey the tragic heroine's youthful abandon. We particularly enjoyed Ms. Jofré's interpretation. She was equally excellent as Norina in "Quel guardo il cavaliere" from Donizetti's Don Pasquale demonstrating fine facility with the fioritura passages.

Later in the duet "Come s'en va contento" from Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore she was joined by Mr. Gladic in the role of Dulcamara.  Donizetti's melodies bounced from soprano to baritone to piano-- to excellent effect.

Mr. Gladic delighted us with "Votre toast" from Bizet's Carmen exhibiting a burnished baritonal sound. 

Tenor Cristian Taleb had a fine solo from Massenet's El Cid--"O souverain" was sung with fine French and fine feeling. He also sang a duet with Ms. Ledesma--"Toi! Vous!" from Massenet's Manon which was quite persuasive. Her voice and acting constituted an irresistible force meeting Mr. Taleb's almost immovable object.  Guess who won!

Mr. Taleb also had a duet with Ms. Torres--"Bimba dagli'occhi" from Puccini's Madama Butterfly. Mr. Taleb sang it with sincerity, not giving us a clue about Pinkerton's carelessness toward Cio Cio San's innocent love. Both singers had a good feeling for Puccini's phrasing and sustained the romantic mood. Ms. Torres impressed us with some beautifully floated notes.

Ms.Torres' soprano has enough weight to carry "Pace, pace" from Verdi's La Forza del Destino which was delivered with passion and depth of feeling. We enjoyed the variation of dynamics and an effectively rendered messa di voce. There were some lovely arpeggiated figures in the piano as well.

The program ended with Ms. Ledesma singing the beloved aria "Vilja, o Vilja" from Lehár's Die lustige Witwe, after which the entire cast joined in for "Ein flotter Ehestand" in which the flirtatious Count Danilo gets to flirt with all of the grisettes.

The singers were all superb but we have a minor complaint about the program. There was not a single song in Spanish!!! We were hoping to hear some zarzuela but that was not going to happen. Maybe next year!

© meche kroop

Wednesday, October 23, 2019


The Love Suicides at Sonezaki (photo ©Hiroshi Sugimoto/ Courtesy of Odawara Art Foundation)

New York City has such a plethora of entertainment choices that it is difficult to decide where to go on any given evening. Surely, we made the right choice on Monday evening when Lincoln Center's White Light Festival brought an astonishing work of art to the Rose Theater. It was the United States premiere of The Love Suicides at Sonezaki, presented by Sugimoto Bunraku in association with The Japan Foundation and Odawara Art Foundation.

There are many credits for this production including the National Bunraku Theater (Bunraku Kyokai) and the Setagaya Arts Foundation and Setagaya Public Theater. We can only imagine how much work was involved in bringing this rarity to New York and how much artistry was involved in restoring a work from the early 18th century.

The original text was written by Chikamatsu Monzaemon, an uncommonly prolific dramatist who is thought of as a Japanese Shakespeare. The work glorified the concept of finding paradise through suicide; so many suicides resulted that in 1723 the Tokugawa shogunate prohibited its performances! The work lay dormant until 1955 and it had to be reconstructed from Chikamatsu's script for the narrator and some diagrams for the puppets. The current iteration was devised by the multidisciplinary artist Hiroshi Sugimoto; the work he created was as artistically valid and emotionally moving as one might wish.

The story concerns an impossible love between a 19-year-old girl who works in a brothel in what is euphemistically called the "pleasure quarter" (she is not so euphemistically called a "prostitute" in the English translation) and a lowly clerk who makes a series of unfortunate decisions. He rebels against an arranged marriage and has to return a dowry; he lends this money to a trusted friend who swindles him and accuses him of slander and trickery. His reputation is ruined; he is a broken man with no prospects. The "logical" decision is for the lovers to die together.

That puppets can make one weep is astonishing! Although we were sitting far from the stage we could not fail to miss the tilt of a head, the sweep of an arm, a reluctant footstep, a desperate embrace. All this without a single facial expression!

A master puppeteer was assigned to each character and a number of assistant puppeteers helped to move them in very humanlike fashion. Several illusions were artistically created, such as removing a sash, slicing it in twain, and tying the two lovers together. All the puppeteers were dressed in black, head to toe, almost invisible. The set was simple--a Torii gate when the heroine Ohatsu makes a pilgrimage, a simple elevated floor representing the veranda of the brothel in the second act and a projected forest for the death scene. Video projections by Tabaimo represented natural elements like birds flying and the forest.

And now about the music! Composer, Director, and lead player of the shamisen was Seiji Tsurusawa whose playing was augmented by several more shamisen players, all of whom had the last name of Tsurusawa. We cannot say whether they are members of the same family or adopted the name as an honorific. We heard what we think was a shakuhachi offstage as well as soft drumming and a gong.

The sung parts were listed in the program as "Narrators". They included Rosetayu Toyotake, Todayu Toyotake, Rodayu Toyotake, and Nozomidayu Toyotake. Again we suspect either a family relationship or an honorific. The sound rose and fell in splendid cadence as if the program were one long recitativo. All the narrators introduced variation of dynamics, tempi, and color to get the emotions of the story across.The overall effect was hypnotic. The effects have stayed with us and stimulated thoughts about hopelessness and suicide.

Not only in centuries gone by have couples wished to leave the earth together. It is not unheard of for elderly couples facing death and decline to do so, although it is uncommon in the young. Solo suicides, on the other hand, have been rising in the younger demographic. We do not think that they are expecting to wind up in paradise. More likely it is a tragic attempt to escape bullying, gender identity issues, or egregious parenting. And these suicides often stimulate "copycat" suicides. In our day these events are tragic.

Only in art can suicide become beautifully poetic!

© meche kroop

Monday, October 21, 2019


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


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. 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


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