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.

Friday, September 24, 2021


 Cav&Pag by New Camerata Opera
(Photo by Michelle Rofrano)

We confess we had our trepidations about traveling to the depths of Brooklyn to see a mashup of Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana and Ruggero Leoncavallo's Pagliacci. These two operas are most often presented in a double bill, an evening which we have always found satisfying. Both operas take place in small Italian villages and give us a glimpse of what life was like in the late 19th c. Both deal with similar themes of adultery and its consequences in the lives of ordinary people--a period in opera known as realismo.

If that epoch manifested a certain code of honor that is unknown today in civilized countries, our epoch is no stranger to toxic masculinity, abused women, adultery, and revenge. The idea of combining these two operas is not really that farfetched since the music of both composers is written in the same style and the characters are subject to the same passions.  But how to combine them is the question.

We imagine it took a great deal of effort on the part of Director John de los Santos, Music Director Samuel McCoy, and Dramaturg Cori Ellison to weave the two stories into a seamless whole.  The effort paid off and we were rewarded with a gripping evening of entertainment without any "spoon-feeding" to force us into seeing parallels with current social mores; we are left to do our own thinking about the consequences of our behavior.

The director set the story in a small Sicilian village called Poggioreale following the devastating earthquake of 1968. The stage is littered with debris and the citizens are cleaning up the mess. Of course, this cannot fail to remind us of the upheaval in our own lives caused by Covid. It is tempting to think that chaos contributes to peoples' bad behavior. We leave this to you, dear reader, to decide for yourselves.

The singing was excellent with Megan Nielson's lustrous soprano bringing to life the misery of Santuzza, seduced and abandoned by Turridu, played by tenor Steven Wallace as a feckless fellow who flits from woman to woman. In the opera he has fallen for the married Lola (well sung by Eva Parr) and ditched Santuzza. Mamma Lucia was well played by mezzo-soprano Leslie Middlebrook who managed the transition from hostility to sympathy for her son's discarded mistress.

The acting was believable with Ms. Nielson growing in dramatic stature as the story evolved and Mr. Wallace playing a narcissist to the hilt. But the most convincing acting was that of baritone Costas Tsourakis who not only has a superb voice but also impressive acting chops. He had us literally trembling in fear when his Alfio accosts Turiddu. This is opera up close and personal if ever we experienced it.

The role of Canio was played by tenor Erik Bagger who evoked both sympathy (as a victim of his partner's infidelity) and horror equally, as he does what you all know he does. To watch him decompensate as he watches his faithless wife onstage enacting the equivalently faithless Columbine was wrenching. 

Soprano Samina Aslam made a fine Nedda and we particularly enjoyed her slapstick performance as Columbine. An unexpected brilliant performance by a singer formerly unknown to us is a special treat and the size of the role, as you know, means nothing. Rashard Deleston has a sweet plangent tenor which he employed beautifully when Arlecchino serenades Columbine.

The role of Nedda's lover Silvio was persuasively performed by Angky Budiardjono who employed his beautiful baritone instrument to create a most importuning lover, one that would be difficult to resist.

The vengeful Tonio was effectively played by Stan Lacy as a character for whom one feels no sympathy. It is he who sets the tragedy in motion. No one likes a tattletale. Similarly Santuzza is not rewarded by Alfio when she blows the whistle on his errant wife.  The two stories echo each other in a manner that provokes thought.

The townspeople operated as the chorus of onlookers at the traveling show and were effective as a unit and also as individuals reacting to the events.

Director John de los Santos kept the action moving at a lively clip. A bit of comic relief is always welcome in a tragedy and the rubber chicken that Columbine was about to cook found its way into Tonio's pants in a "cock"adoodledoo maneuver that we have never seen before. He utilized the aisles as well as the stage giving the audience a surround sound experience.

Music Director Samuel McCoy was in full command of his reduced orchestra comprising a string quartet augmented by a particularly eloquent string bass, a flute, an oboe, and keyboard. All of the themes were elucidated and one had the impression of a much larger ensemble. We loved the flute's birdsong which inspires Nedda's aria "Stridono Lassu".

Dramaturg Cori Ellison wove the two stories together successfully, inventing some recitativi and dialogue that seemed integral.

Asa Benally's costumes amounted to mid 20th c. streetwear with the shamed Santuzza in black and the flirtatious Lola in a bright dress. Notable were the commedia dell'arte costumes for Columbina and Arlecchino which were adorably silly.

Emily Clarkson's lighting was effective in calling attention to the dramatic moments.

We had a wonderful time and you will too. There will be three more performances and a second cast which promises to be just as good as this one. The venue is a short walk from a stop on the L train and is actually a circus school--a spacious establishment that lent itself well to the performance.

© meche kroop

Saturday, September 18, 2021




A frisson of anticipation filled the theater of The Mansion at Murray Hill. A sizable group of opera lovers, thirsting for live vocal artistry, filled the theater to capacity and rewarded the four splendid singers with enthusiastic applause after every offering. The accomplished artists deserved this wild applause, made even wilder by Covid-related deprivation. We felt like a starving person encountering a buffet table loaded with goodies.

The artists were known to us and have sung either for Around the World in Song or for Voce di Meche's House of Music (Manhattan's tiniest venue-- our living room to be exact)--both situations for which we thought it unfair to review. Thus, it is our greatest pleasure to finally get to tell you what great choices City Lyric Opera has made for their upcoming season.

Beautifully accompanied by the lovely pianist Dura Jun, the singers took turns showing off their versatility.  We, however, will focus on the singers individually. As is customary, we will start with our soprano Shaina Martinez. Ms. Martinez has been on our radar screen since her days at Manhattan School of Music. We were there reviewing her dazzling performances when she won the Ades Competition 3 years ago and when she astonished the huge audience at Riverside Church with a song cycle by Turina. We have thrilled to her Fiordiligi and her Violetta. We never tire of her richly textured sizable soprano.  We love that she will tackle anything and make it her own.

Last night she sang "Glück, das mir verblieb" otherwise known as "Marietta's Lied" from Korngold's Die Tote Stadt, which we never heard her sing before. As in everything else she sings, the flawless vocalism was matched by depth of feeling and understanding of the character.

As far as the Puccini canon, we have enjoyed her Liu and last night found equal pleasure in "Chi il bel sogno di Doretta" from La Rondine, perhaps Puccini's most frivolous opera. Ms. Martinez showed herself to be a superb storyteller. There was one held note that took our breath away as it progressed through an entire rainbow of feelings.

As a prelude to CLO's first offering of the season--Pauline Viardot's  Cendrillon--Ms. Martinez performed "Si je n'y venais" which we had never heard before. The artist portrayed her as a gentle soul but not a victim. We were entranced and, no matter what variant Covid throws at us in December, nothing will keep us away from this production. We advise you to jump on it as soon as the dates are announced.

 Linda Collazo has delighted New York audiences with her richly toned mezzo-soprano and wide range. Indeed, she was the first artist we went to hear just as soon as we got vaccinated when she performed a program of arias and songs about strong women. This reminds us to tell you, dear reader, that CLO is a company founded by two strong women--the lovely Megan Gillis and the equally lovely Kathleen Spencer-- both participating in announcing the season with their winning enthusiasm. To add to the gynocentric orientation, CLO's new Music Director is Maestro Michele Rofrano (no relation to Octavian).

We have mostly heard Ms. Collazo singing zarzuela arias which we love. Last night we were pleased to hear her take on Bizet's Carmen in the "Seguidilla", thankfully sung without the clichés that leave us rolling our eyes. Her Carmen is more subtle and relies more on her voice than posing and strutting. 

"Smanie implacabili" from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte allowed Ms. Collazo to get emotional--even hysterical--which showed off her strengths throughout the register.

But it was "Una voce poco fa" from Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia that delighted us the most. We loved the way she gave Rosina a unique personality, using her phrasing most effectively. Readers will recall how much we lean toward bel canto. We enjoyed the very delicate vibrato, the notable decoration of the vocal line, and the fiery cabaletta. The descending scale passages were finely wrought.

Our tenor Cesar Andres Parreño is as gifted dramatically as he is vocally. We first heard him just before Covid struck when, as a student at Juilliard, he participated in a NYFOS program entitled "Cubans in Paris". We were so delighted by his talent that we recruited him to sing in our Around the World in Song.  He is not Cuban but rather Ecuadorian and represented his country magnificently with a selection of folk songs. 

What a pleasure it was to hear him again! He opened the program with an aria from Torroba's Maria Fernanda entitled "De este apacible rincón de Madrid" which suited his plangent lyric tenor perfectly. The timbre is just right for zarzuela and we were thrilled to witness his performance as he varied his emotional tone from tender to powerful.

We were over the moon when he performed yet another zarzuela aria, this one the famous "No puede ser" from Sorozábal's La taberna del Puerto. There is no way to fail to grasp the pain of deception and the delusional quality of one who cannot believe that a woman he loves does not share his moral compass.

In "Una furtiva lagrima" from Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore, the hero Nemorino has the great fortune of winning the woman he loves and Mr. Parreño captured the youthful innocence of his character with his sweet tone and effective acting. It takes courage to tackle an aria that has been performed by all the greats and to make it your own!

Baritone Andres Cascante is less well known to us than the others but we recall that he was one of Opera Index' prize winners about 4 years ago and had pleased us by performing a zarzuela aria.  Maybe he is less known to us but certainly not less appreciated! He made a wonderful Count Almaviva in "Hai già vinta la causa!" from Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro. He used voice, facial expression, and bodily gesture to bring the clueless Count to vivid life. He sang with full tone and total awareness of the text.

In Puccini's Gianni Schicchi, the main character is as arrogant as the Count but a lot smarter.  In "Si corre dal Notaio" he devises a plot to fool the greedy relatives of a dying old man. Mr. Cascante showed himself to be a most effective storyteller.

We must call Mr. Cascante's performance last night "3 shades of arrogance". The Count is arrogant by birth; Schicchi by wiliness; and Escamillo by public adoration. As our artist delivered "Votre toast" from Bizet's Carmen, he created a character enamored of his skill and fame. We just loved the subtleties that limned three very different characters with the same characterological feature.

We recall CLO's initial venture a few years ago when they called the company A.R.E.-- accessible, relatable, and enjoyable.  Although the name was changed, we are happy to report that their aim is the same and their aim is true.

© meche kroop