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.

Saturday, October 5, 2019


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

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