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, 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

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