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.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

MUSE OR MONSTER


 Rebecca Ringle Kamarei and Bryan Wagorn

The fascinating evening presented last night at the Italian Academy by Aspect Chamber Music examined the life and art song output of Alma Mahler, wife of composer and conductor Gustav Mahler. The worthwhile approach of Aspect Chamber Music is to include not only performance but also  information and imagery, making the evening stimulating as well as interesting.

We were not unaware of the "scandalous" exploits of this captivating woman but brief illustrated talks by musicologist Nicholas Chong contributed a great deal to our understanding and appreciation. We are familiar with sapiosexuality but we don't know the term for someone attracted to artistic gifts. Alma had a constant stream of lovers and husbands, all of whom were famous in their fields and considerably older than she. Both she and Gustav had acquaintance with Sigmund Freud who no doubt pointed out that the early loss of her gifted father just might have been responsible.

The saddest part of her story is that Gustav insisted she abandon her musical gifts and so we were left with just a small output, all of which deserves a wider hearing. How fortunate we are that we got to hear four of the five songs from her Fünf Lieder. Her settings of texts by Richard Dehmel, Otto Julius Bierbaum,  and Heinrich Heine were filled with invention and eroticism. Raised on rhyme and scan, we related best to the Heine text "Ich wandle unter Blumen".

The songs were brought to life by the elegant mezzo-soprano Rebecca Ringle Kamarei whose precision with German was that of un eingeboren. Consonants were crisp and every word was given meaning.  Add to that her rich timbre, meaningful phrasing, and elegant stature. It was not lost on us that her hairstyle and gown suggested the turn of the 20th century.

Her fine performance was accompanied by pianist Bryan Wagorn who was an equal partner throughout. We were impressed by Alma's writing of the piano part which shuttled between commenting on the text and contrasting with it. Mr. Wagorn's sensitivity mirrored Ms. Kamarei's.  These songs definitely merit further hearing.

We cannot recall whether we liked Gustav's songs as much upon first hearing as we do now.  Perhaps they seemed strange at first but the familiarity we acquired makes us respond more instantly than we did to Alma's songs.  We never tire of his settings of folk songs with their likable melodies and danceable rhythms.  "Rheinlegendchen" is just plain fun whereas "Ich atmet' einen linden Duft" makes the most of Rückert's sensual text. Both artists gave a nuanced performance.

The evening was rounded out by other interesting works.  There was a surprise introduction when pianist Adam Golka captivated our ear with a deeply felt performance of Chopin's familiar "Nocturne in E-flat Major". This had absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the program but Chopin is always welcome and Mr. Golka's sensitive touch and depth of feeling set him apart and  elevated this familiar work to a higher status.  We loved the expressive rubato, the dynamic variety, and the clearly articulated runs.

Three Pieces for cello and piano by Alexander Zemlinsky (who taught Alma when she was a young woman) were delightful in their variety and contrast. Mr. Golka was joined by cellist Brook Speltz and the two bounced melodies off one another.  The first piece was lyrical and melodic but incorporated a fiery section. The second piece was tender and melancholic and at times suggested gypsy music.  The third piece was a spirited tarantella during which it was difficult to sit still.

We were not nearly as enchanted by the final work on the program, Erich Wolfgang Korngold's Piano Trio, Op.1 in which Mr. Golka and Mr. Speltz were joined by violinist Adam Barnett-Hart. It is indeed astonishing that this child prodigy, so admired by all the musical figures of that period, could produce such an accomplished work, but it was not to our taste. It was filled with 20th c. angst and scarcely seems to have come from the pen of a 13-year-old. The motifs were fragmented and angular and we were unable to find a structure to latch onto.

We find the opera he wrote when he was 20 years old,  Die tote Stadt, more accessible and the film scores he wrote in Hollywood after fleeing the Nazis even more so.

In sum it was a fine evening and we left feeling entertained and enlightened, having been transported to the early 20th c. world of music.

© meche kroop


Sunday, May 15, 2022

GOODNESS TRIUMPHS


 William Hicks, Chelsea Bonagura, Frank Mathis, Mary Beth Nelson, and Kofi Hayford


The title of Friday night's concert at the National Arts Club could be taken several ways--the goodness of the arts? the goodness of the artists?  In any case, a stylish and sizable crowd was ecstatic at the return of live vocal artistry provided in this case by Salon58. Unfortunately Loro Aroyo fell victim to Covid and was unable to attend in person but she was definitely there in spirit.

We got to hear lots of our favorite songs and arias and some of our favorite singers. Let us do the familiar SATB format!  But before beginning we need to get on our soapbox once again to urge singers to commit their songs to memory. The dreaded music stand made its appearance rather frequently and had the effect of hampering our connection with the singers. 

Attempts were made to "act" but the precious connection was broken every time the singer glanced at the score, however briefly. We have been compelled to overlook this lapse on the occasion of a singer being a last minute substitution but there was no excuse Friday night. When there is a duet and one singer has made the effort and the other is "on the book", they cannot even connect successfully with one another. We will give our attention primarily to those selections that were best performed. Enough said!

Soprano Chelsea Bonagura had an enormous impact in her creation of the character of Lucia in the Donizetti tragedy Lucia de Lammermoor. It is important in the Act I aria "Regnava nel silenzio"  that the singer foreshadow Lucia's breakdown by being quite clear about the fragility of her sense of reality. Ms. Bonagura's bright clear voice and facility with fioritura were matched by her acting. We actually could see through her eyes the terrifying hallucinations. There were some delicately spun out notes that had us holding our breath and a killer trill.

We also admire Ms. Bonagura's superb diction in her performance of two songs in English. Every word was clearly enunciated and that is a rare thing.

Mezzo-soprano Mary Beth Nelson won our heart in her performance of "Non piu mesta" from Rossini's Cenerentola. She totally captured the graciousness of the character and utilized a perfect amount of vibrato in her clean fioritura and upward skips in the vocal line. Readers may have gathered that we love a good trill and we got more than one.

In the duet with Frank Mathis--"Only make believe" from Rogers and Hammerstein's Showboat, we admired her strength in the middle and lower register which were appealing in their resonance.

The aforementioned Mr. Mathis was listed as a tenor but we enjoyed the baritonal resonance in the lower range of his voice. He gave a most ironic and chilling laugh in "Vesti la giubba"  from Leoncavallo's Pagliacci  that seemed to foreshadow Canio's capability for the violence that would follow.

However, two of his songs (two of our favorites) suffered from some pushing for the high notes. I wish male singers of whatever fach would learn that "high" doesn't mean "loud". Pushing is distinctly unpleasant to the ear. We do hope that Mr. Mathis learns to float his high notes and that we get to hear Rachmaninov's "Spring Waters" and Strauss' "Cäcilie" again with more delicacy.

Bass Kofi Hayford demonstrated some fine French in his performance of "Vous qui faites l'endormir"  from Gounod's Faust. We enjoyed the sense of menace he projected as well as his full tone and the manner in which he alternated between a lovely legato and a pungent staccato.

Along with that fine showing of deviltry, he used a different color for Ibert's "Chanson à Dulcinée"  which we don't get to hear as often as the Ravel cycle.  

There was some good ensemble work as well. Ms. Bonagura and Ms. Nelson made some beautiful vocal harmonies in "Dome epais" from Delibes' Lakmé.  But the delicious dynamic between the two characters was destroyed by the presence of the music stand.

We always love the first act trio from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte --"Soave sia el vento" --and was glad to see it on the program.

Piano wizard William Hicks always manages to give each singer the necessary support and we were glad to hear him again after the long lull in live performance.

We were still wondering about "Goodness Triumphs" when the program ended but never did figure it out unless it was referring to Cenerentola.

© meche kroop 


Wednesday, May 11, 2022

CAREER BRIDGES GALA


 Career Bridges Grant Winners of 2022

The most gala of all galas was held last night at the Metropolitan Club to celebrate The Career Bridges Grant winners. It was particularly gala since it was the first "gathering of the tribe" since the onset of the Covid epidemic. What a grand pleasure it was to see all the luminaries of the opera world there to celebrate a new generation of young opera singers.

This was the 18th such celebration brought to us by that most glamorous and warmly welcoming couple--David Schuyler Bender and Barbara Meister Bender who co-founded the Schuyler Foundation for Career Bridges. For anyone who doesn't know about this worthy foundation, their mission is to help young singers to launch their careers, a mission dear to our heart. They accomplish this goal over a period of three years during which these talented young singers are provided with grants, expert mentoring, training, and performance opportunities. So far, there have been 160 grant winners and over half of them can be considered "launched" whilst 20 are having major careers.  Pretty good results, wouldn't you agree?

Part of the evening comprised awards given to notable luminaries of Planet Opera. The Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Maestro Eve Queler whose enviable conducting of the Opera Orchestra of New York at Carnegie Hall introduced us to many young opera singers who went on to major careers and also to rarely performed operas.  We recall climbing endlessly to reach the top balcony of Carnegie Hall, binoculars in hand, to participate in these highly anticipated events.

The Distinguished Achievement Award was given to Jane Shaulis who had a long distinguished career as a character mezzo and whom we know mainly from Opera Index, another group of opera lovers who support young singers with generous cash awards. Under her stewardship, generations of young opera singers have been brought to our notice. We were delighted by her sense of humor which brought wide and knowing smiles to those who understand the roles played by mezzo-sopranos. We do believe there is a rather funny song that describes that and if any of our dear readers can tell us the composer and title we will be forever grateful.

The entertainment part of the evening came as "courses" along with the food (dinner must be served) and we hope to hear each and every one of the award recipients in an environment where we might focus more intently on their artistry. Musical Direction and piano accompaniment was provided by Ted Taylor with impressive versatility--from Baroque  to Broadway. As a matter of fact, the evening began with Handel and ended with Broadway.

Accompanied by the sonorous trumpeting of David Glukh, mezzo-soprano Joanne Evans gave a fine account of "Or la tromba" from Handel's Rinaldo. We noticed and enjoyed the clarity of her fioritura.

Bass Matthew Soibelman delivered "In diesen heil'gen Hallen" from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte with consummate authority and depth of resonance at the bottom of his register.

From Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier, soprano Kayleigh Riess  performed the Presentation of the Rose with the requisite air of innocence. She floated the high notes in a manner that any tenor would do well to emulate.

Tenor Thomas Cilluffo colored his fine tenor in the gentlest fashion for Duparc's delicate melodie "Phydilé" in magnificent contrast with his later performance of Mime's aria "Zwangvolle Plage" from Wagner's Siegfried. Accompanying himself with clanging sticks to emulate the sound of the forge, he imbued his character with bitterness and frustration.  What a pleasure to witness such versatility!

Baritone Samson McCrady gave an expansive performance of Figaro's aria from Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia. We enjoyed his facility with the rapid patter and his leaps into falsetto for humorous effect. Later we would hear him close the program with "The Impossible Dream" from Leigh's Man of La Mancha, joined by the rest of the singers as chorus.

Countertenor Key'mon Murrah utilized a finely wrought vibrato in his performance of "Ah! quel giorno ognor rammento" from Rossini's Semiramide.  Not everyone loves this fach but we surely do!

Mezzo-soprano Lisa Rogali has a true mezzo sound that was just right for Rosina's aria "Una voce poco fa" from Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia. We heard some more than usually interesting embellishments of the vocal line,  all successfully negotiated.

Mezzo Mary Beth Nelson gave a heartfelt performance of "Sein wir wieder gut!" from Strauss' Ariadne auk Naxos, reminding us that opera is a "heilige Kunst".  We enjoyed the expansiveness at the top of her register.

Mezzo Mala Weissberg gave a lighthearted reading of "Nobles seigneurs, salut!" from Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots. Her fine French was particularly lyrical.

From Bellini's I Puritani soprano Kungeun Lee  performed "Qui la voce sua soave...vien diletto". We enjoyed the long phrases, the skips, and a well executed portamento.

No evening is complete without the "Flower Duet" from Delibes' Lakme. Ms. Reiss and Ms. Weissberg performed it in perfect hermony, to our delight.

We don't often hear Wagner in recitals like this so it was a special treat to have 2005 Winner John Dominick III perform Wotan's aria from Das Reingold.  "Abendlich" would have us believe that things would go well for the gods, LOL.  We take it, judging by Mr. Dominick's performance that things are going well for him!

It was a completely satisfying evening and we look forward to the success of this year's award winners

© meche kroop

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS


Ahmed Alom Vega and Rosario Armas

There are pleasant recitals, there are excellent recitals, and there are recitals that one will never forget.  Mezzo-soprano Rosario Armas, just completing her Master of Music degree at Manhattan School of Music, gave a recital in collaboration with her new husband Ahmed Alom Vega that has us groping for superlatives.
 
Before describing the program let us begin by trying to analyze what made this recital so outstanding.  There are a lot of great voices out there; many programs are designed to show off the singer in many languages and styles; but rare is a recital in which the singer's artistry is such that he or she melts into the character.

We were not at all surprised that Ms. Armas perfectly inhabited the character of Cherubino in the recent production of Mozart's Nozze di Figaro at Manhattan School of Music. However, doing the same thing in an art song is far more challenging.

For example, how many times we have enjoyed hearing a baritone singing Mahler's emotionally shattering cycle Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen; on a rare occasion we have heard a female singer make an attempt, leaving us with a kind of negative opinion of singers tackling works meant for the other gender. Last night was completely different! It was the essence of the text that came across as Ms. Armas completely disappeared. (If a baritone ever does the same with Schumann's Frauenlieben und Leben we may very well fall off our chair.)

Serving the music and the text to this degree requires the abandonment of self indulgence. The narrator in this cycle is suffering from the loss of his beloved and in spite of the beauties of nature he sinks into despair.  Eventually his agony yields to a calm acceptance.  Ms. Armas limned each and every emotion; even if the listener did not understand the German (which our singer enunciated with Teutonic perfection) one could not fail to understand.

The narrator of Henri Duparc's "Au pays où se fait la guerre" is in a different type of despair. She is pining for a lover who has gone off to war. The text was performed in an even Gallic style but was no less affecting.  We couldn't help but thinking that the world hasn't changed much.  Men still go off to fight foolish wars and women are left to pine. Here, Ms. Armas' phrasing was accompanied by a very affecting vibrato.  Variety from one verse to the next was achieved by astute variations in dynamics and tempi.

Three Italian songs from three different periods permitted the appreciation of those lovely Italian vowels.  From the late Baroque period we heard "Sposa son disprezzata" from Vivaldi's Bajazet.  A lovely pianissimo aria was followed by a fierce cabaletta marked by clarity in the fioritura; the ritornello was given a different color.

"Non t'accostare all'urna" from Verdi's Sette Romanze is one of our favorite songs and as Ms. Armas performed it we felt as if we knew the woman who was singing the words and we knew her as if she were a character in an unknown opera. We wondered whether Verdi had intended it that way.

The more modern "Nebbie" is a real mood piece and we found it chilling in its intensity, achieved by both singer and pianist.

Two selections from Kurt Weill's Trois chansons reminded us that there is truly no difference between a cabaret song and an art song. If the singer has a great voice and sings unamplified, even a Broadway song can stand next to an aria.  There is an operatic depth of feeling in "Je ne t'aime pas" and plenty of irony and denial, all made clear by our marvelous mezzo by means of word coloration. "Youkali" came as somewhat of a relief from all that pain.

More pain was experienced in two selections from Manuel de Falla's Siete canciones populares with guitar accompaniment by Eduardo Gutterres.  The pain of "Asturianas" is a gentle sorrow but the pain of "Polo" is an angry pain--all made clear by Ms. Armas' Iberian intensity.  If we are not mistaken, we were first introduced to the artist when she performed the cycle some years ago!

After all that pain it was surely time for some exuberance and fun.  From Obradors' Canciones clasicas españolas, "El Vito" was given a raucous reading my Ms. Armas, Mr. Gutterres, and Mr. Vega providing rhythmic accompaniment on the cajon. This may be a good time to mention how outstanding we found his pianistic collaboration throughout the entire concert. We particularly noted it during a set of Burleigh songs when he gave the most delicate introduction to "Among the Fuchsias" and some lovely arpeggi in "Till I Wake". There were some impressive trills in the bass register in Mahler's "Die zwei blauen augen".  There were also some sharp attacks in the Mahler that emphasized the pain.

There were more delights to come in a spirited performance of "Yo soy Maria" from Piazzolla's tango opera Maria de Buenos Aires. Rodolfo Zanetti was featured on bandoneon and Nicholas Danielson on violin with both providing interesting solos. Pedro Giraudo played string bass and Mr. Vega, the piano.

An encore was enthusiastically demanded and Agustin Lara's "Granada" was the perfect ending to a perfect concert, sending everyone out smiling.

We have said little about Ms. Armas' vocal assets. There is absolutely nothing to criticize, not a single quibble. It is a rich sizable instrument with a lovely quality. There is ample resonance in the lower register and a bright expansive top. It is seamless in its transitions. Languages are perfect. Phrasing is always elegant. All of this "technique" disappears into the performance; Its perfection is what allows the listener to focus on the music.

We have the greatest confidence in Ms. Armas' future, both on the opera stage and as a recitalist. All doors should open for such an artist.

© meche kroop


Friday, May 6, 2022

GETTIN' RELIGION


 Lachlan Glen and Michelle Bradley

We give very little thought to religion other than an idle curiosity about what other people derive from it.  But last night concert gave us a glimpse of how deeply held beliefs can affect an artist's performance, suffusing it with intensity, passion, and light.  It was the encore of Michelle Bradley's divine performance when she sang "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands".  Words fail us and that's rather unusual.  Let's just say we "got the feels".

The entire hourlong concert was way too short.  Ms. Bradley, a bright light on the world's opera stages, possesses a rich dramatic soprano of consummate flexibility and phrasing that likely took countless hours of practice to achieve such perfection--but seemed as natural as speaking. Not only is she a gifted artist but a charming raconteur, sharing intimate thoughts about her selections.

We continue to grow in our appreciation of Samuel Barber's Hermit Songs. One can perform them or one can reveal them. The range of moods of the monk-poets encompasses the deepest spirituality and also some naughtiness.  Our favorite is always "Scholar and Cat" with its lighthearted good humor and sensitivity to the poet's relationship with and respect for his cat Pangur. We only wish that Ms. Bradley had included the naughty one!

In terms of a challenge for a large voice, there is nothing like Richard Strauss' Vier Letzte Lieder. The texts are filled with references to the natural world and the mood is elegiac. We know well the collaborative piano artistry of Lachlan Glen but we had never heard him recite poetry before. He read a translation of each song with expressivity and fine rhythm.  He also alerted the audience to listen for the birdsong which was cleverly produced by an unseen flutist. A delicate violin accompanied for a brief period.

The final piece on the program was "Vissi d'arte" from Puccini's Tosca. Before last night, we thought of this aria as a showpiece, the highlight of the opera, the moment we are all waiting for with bated breath. The manner in which Ms. Bradley performed it, we realized how deeply religious Tosca is.  The aria is in many ways a prayer.  

In describing her deeply religious feeling and beneficent behavior Tosca cannot believe that her god would abandon her. She is begging for help. What we are left to imagine is how she then reconciles her beliefs with her murder of the evil Scarpia. It is more evidence of Ms. Bradley's artistry that we learned more about the character and experienced her in a new light.

Mr. Glen has a true knack for bringing new people into the fold of classical voice. He chooses only the finest artists to perform, keeps the program brief enough so that newbies could not possibly get bored, and includes socializing with wine and food.  Acquaintances are greeted and friendships initiated. After such a long Covid-fueled hiatus, it was a special treat to get together once more with opera lovers.

© meche kroop

Monday, April 25, 2022

THE RETURN OF AARON BLAKE


 Aaron Blake and Ken Noda
 
Yesterday we had the good fortune of hearing a fulfilling recital at the Morgan Library given by tenor Aaron Blake with collaborative pianist Ken Noda. We have written about Mr. Blake for years; our familiarity with his artistry goes way back before he won the George London Competition in 2017 and now the George London Foundation had invited him back as a mature artist.

But we first heard him 10 years ago at the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation Competition Winners Recital when he sang "Oh Mimi, tu più non torni" from Puccini's La Bohème.  And how his career has blossomed! Since then, we have heard him singing with several opera companies and in various venues, from the lead in Gregory Spears' opera Fellow Traveller to an intimate gathering at one of Elad Kabilio's "Music Talks" where he dazzled us with Schubert's "Erlkönig". We even heard him sing in Czech (a rather bizarre Martinu opera) and in an adventurous production of Die Zauberflöte at the Mostly Mozart Festival.

This recital just added more lustre to his reputation.  The theme was "love in its many forms" and leaned heavily on our favorite period--Bel Canto. We thought we had our fill of this period the prior night at one of our salons at home (which we did not review, wishing to avoid a conflict of interests.) However, one can never have too much bel canto--like champagne.  The songs of Bellini and Donizetti served to highlight Mr. Blakes warm and flexible tenor and his artistry with fioritura.

Selections alternated between the two composers and moods varied. It is difficult to say which was "best" but we can say which ones moved us. We loved the contrast between the spirited "Me voglio fa' 'na casa" (Donizetti) and the propulsive "Malinconia ninfa gentile" (Bellini). The 6/8 time signature of Donizetti's "Il barcaiolo" had us swaying in our seat.

Mr. Noda, one of the most selfless collaborative pianists we have heard, was consistently superb.  Bellini's "La ricordanza" has a lovely piano introduction that he rendered with supreme delicacy.

The Bel Canto section was followed by another interesting set of contrasting composers--Richard Strauss and Tosti. If there is a more haunting melody than Tosti's "L'ultima canzone" we cannot name it. We love the contrast between the sorrowful introspection of the narrative interspersed with the lilting love song recalled by the narrator from happier days

Strauss' "Allerseelen" was meant to be sung at George London's centennial birthday, another casualty of Covid. We loved the way the final note just hung in the air; the entire audience seemed to be holding its collective breath.

A pair of Liszt's setting of the Petrarch songs lifted the excitement level. Again there was a lovely contrast between the anxious obsession of "Pace non trovo" which was introduced by the piano and the lyrical "I vidi in terra" with the piano inhabiting the upper register.  Again, the final note may have resolved harmonically but the effect was that of being suspended in air.

Perhaps our very favorite part of the program was Edgardo's aria "Tombe dei avi miei"  from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. We heard Mr. Blake sing this before (perhaps with New Amsterdam Opera?) and from it he wrings every drop of suicidal despair.

The last set of songs confirmed our opinion that American songs of the 20th c. belong in the art song canon without apology. We do believe that Steven Blier sees it the same way! We enjoyed George Gershwin's  "A Foggy Day" and Cole Porter's "It's De-lovely" meant to describe Nora London, and accompanied by a little Gene Kelly dance. Who knew Mr. Blake had such terpsichorean talent!

These jazzy numbers alternated with songs by Aaron Copeland.  "The Dodger" is amusing and Mr. Blake endowed the lyrics with abundant personality. The strophic nature of "Long Time Ago" must be Copeland's setting of a folk song; it reminded us of Brahms.

We were sitting there wishing the concert had ended on a more upbeat note; Mr. Blake and Mr. Noda made sure that it did.  The encore was the ever-popular "O sole mio" (by di Capua and Mazzucchi) expansively delivered. We left with a big smile.

What a well curated concert that was--a  real adventure departing from the standard "one set, one composer" tradition. Mr. Noda's piano was a true equal partner and Mr. Blake's admirable artistry was accompanied by a warm generous manner of addressing the audience, including some personal stories that left us feeling closer than in the usual concert.  Bravi tutti!

© meche kroop

Saturday, April 23, 2022

CITY LYRIC OPERA GALA


 Maestro Michelle Rofrano, pianist Dura Jun, Nate Mattingly, Mary Rice, 
Laura Soto-Bayomi, Kelly Guerra, and Scott La Marca

 Last night, City Lyric Opera celebrated in high style with their Spring Gala, an auditory feast that was as bubbly as the bubbly that was served. We have been a fan of CLO for all six seasons and well recall when their name referred to their mission--opera that was accessible, relatable, and enjoyable. The name has changed but the mission has thankfully been preserved.

We don't know of any other opera company that is helmed and staffed by women and focuses on a female point of view. This past year, female composers have been celebrated.  Pauline Viardot's Cendrillon was a huge hit. Music Director Maestro Michelle Rofrano is now also the Artistic Director.

We were warmly welcomed by Megan Gillis, Co-Founder and Artistic Director, who announced the final offering of the season--Elizabeth Raum's The Garden of Alice. We had a sneak preview by means of an aria charmingly sung by soprano Laura Soto-Bayomi. To our astonishment, the aria was melodic which is a quality we rarely see in contemporary works. We are actually looking forward to seeing it! Watch our Facebook page for announcements.

Another major treat of the evening was that we got to hear THREE arias from zarzuelas! Zarzuelas are so full of passion and melody that we never fail to feel drawn into the story, even when there is only a solitary aria presented. Mezzo-soprano Mary Rice performed "Carceleras" from Chapi's Las hijas del Zebedeo with Latin flair and a fine Castilian accent. We loved the tongue-twisting rapid fire delivery, the intense rhythmicity, the word coloring, the gestures, and the polished vocalism.

Mezzo-soprano Kelly Guerra filled out "La Petenera" from Torroba's La marchenera with a rich tone and such brightness in the upper register that a soprano might envy. We particularly enjoyed the mercurial changes of mood.

From Vives' Doña Francisquita, tenor Scott La Marca performed "Por el humo se sabe dónde está el fuego" with intensity and passion.  The many "turns" on the vocal line were clean and precise. Mr. La Marca is gifted in conveying a mood as we heard in "Lonely House" from Kurt Weill's Street Scene which felt as lonely as an Edward Hopper painting. Furthermore, he created a very winning Nemorino in "Una furtiva lagrima" from Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore. By means of word coloration, he made each verse different from the others.  There was a very lengthy drawn out pianissimo on "morir" that had us holding our breath.

There were more Italian pieces on the generous program. Baritone Nate Mattingly seems to have a real flair for nasty characters, although he seems to be very pleasant in person. His mobile face and lengthy limbs serve him well in creating a character.  We wouldn't call Figaro a nasty character but he does have a nasty moment plotting against his employer Count Almaviva in "Se vuol ballare" from Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro. There are some rather colorful jokes for those who speak Italian that let us know just how nasty he is feeling. Don Basilio, on the other hand, is a truly nasty character always plotting to rain on someone's parade. Mr. Mattingly's delivery of "La calunnia" from Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia started with a whisper and built to a climax--the sound of the cannon. The way he rolled his "r"s had us laughing out loud.

From the same opera, Ms. Guerra did great justice to Rosina's "Una voce poco fa" in which the young heroine is also plotting--but not to hurt anyone else, just to get out from under the thumb of Don Bartolo. We enjoyed the steps she went through to come up with a plan.  There was not a bit of cliché in her performance,

Ms. Guerra is excellent at comedy. We are completely unfamiliar with Derrick Wang's opera Scalia/Ginsburg which has been around since 2015 but never produced in New York City (tant pis). We have been so fed up with boring contemporary operas that we began to tar them all with the same brush.  What a joy to hear excerpts from two that we enjoyed, one of which CLO will produce next month.  Perhaps they could be persuaded to do the Wang opera in the near future. The aria performed by Ms. Guerra, "You, Sir, are wrong here" was marked by clever rhymes and rhythms. We enjoyed every phrase.

Ms. Soto-Bayomi delighted us with "Stridono lassu" from Leoncavallo's  realismo opera I pagliacci. We have heard her perform it before and consider it her signature piece. For the opera to work we have to feel sympathy for a cheating wife and it is not only Leoncaallo's music that works on us but the artistry of the singer. In this case we saw the birds overhead and felt her longing for freedom.

Another side of her was shown in "Klänge Der Heimat" from Johann Strauss' Die Fledermaus.  There is our heroine disguised as a Hungarian countess and playing it to the hilt--a delightful performance.

There were also some ensembles on the program, well-directed by Mo. 
Rofrano. The trio "Soave sia el vento" from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte allowed her to show her skill at balancing the three voices. In the quartet "Bella figlia dell'amore" from Verdi's Rigoletto each vocal line was given clarity and the whole exceeded the sum of the four parts.

Pianist for the evening was the talented Dura Jun who seems to be able to play handsomely in any style.

What a splendid evening! New York is fortunate indeed to have a company that can entertain us opera lovers so well; and young singers are fortunate to be valued and paid for their artistry.

© meche kroop

Monday, April 11, 2022

A WELL DONE CLASSIC

Laura León and John Riesen (photo by Richard Termine)
Cast of On site Opera's Gianni Schicchi (photo by Richard Termine)

Luis Ledesma (photo by Richard Termine)

Of all the opera companies we have missed, On Site Opera heads the list. Unique among opera companies, On Site Opera makes an asset out of "homelessness".  As they say, home is where the heart is, and On Site Opera's heart is wherever they can set a given opera in a meaningful locale. 
For tonight's delight, Director Eric Einhorn decided quite rightly that The Prince George Ballroom, ornate and dripping in luxury, would be the right home for Gianni Schicchi, Puccini's late life comedic masterpiece.

Any dramatist will tell you that comedy is more difficult to write and more challenging to act, than tragedy. It must also be true for composition because neither Puccini nor Verdi tackled the genre until the end of their writing careers.  As a matter of fact, it was the last work to which Puccini set his pen. Although he intended the work to be part of a trilogy, this trilogy has often been broken up and this work, the most popular of the three one-act operas, has been wed to quite a number of other one-act operas. On Site Opera chose to present it alone which, given the discomfort of sitting with a mask over one's breathing organs, was a wise decision. Coming in at one hour it was just right, leaving the audience with (sadly invisible) smiles on their faces.

How was this delight achieved? To start with, Giovacchino Forzano's libretto, derived from an 1866 edition of Dante's Inferno (based on real 14th c. Florentine characters), pokes fun at the greed of a selfish family of "aristocrats" and also at the contempt they had for the rising "middle class". Now isn't that the kind of satire we can relate to today? Do we not also get a secret kick out of scoundrels getting away with bad behavior? And what about that very very valuable mule?? There is something truly hilarious about this family fighting over said mule!

Secondly, Puccini's music is filled with humor. We cannot say what makes music amusing but likely a musicologist could elaborate on the rhythms and recurrent motifs lacing the score that tickle the ear and bring a smile to the face. There is a wonderful contrast between the dirge-like music as the family pretends to be grieving, the frisky music of everyone rushing around to create their false scenario, and the romantic music for the lovers. Geoffrey McDonald's conducting of his chamber orchestra--strangely but effectively situated behind the audience--brought out every twist and turn of the score such that we heard things we had not noticed in prior hearings. 

Finally, It is the joyful attitude of the cast who seemed to revel in their creation of characters drawn somewhat from the commedia del'arte tradition. In the title role we had the rubber-faced Luis Ledesma whose fine baritone filled out the role as effectively as his shape filled out the apropos costume of a man climbing out of the peasant class by means of a sharp wit and a lack of compunction about breaking the law.

This seems a rather odd association but we kept thinking about Tony Soprano, a criminal who won over his audience by charm. He kept his dirty dealings from his daughters, much the way Schicchi protected Lauretta by sending her out to feed the birds whilst he schemed and set up his self-serving plot. In the character's way of thinking, he was providing for his daughter's future, even risking hell for himself. There is nothing odd about a parvenu marrying into an aristocratic family headed for impoverishment, as we observed in Il Gattopardo, taking place at the time of the Risorgimento.

As Lauretta we heard the charming soprano Laura León who interpreted her character as a sweet innocent girl who loves Rinuccio for who he is, wealth or no wealth. To her is granted the most famous aria of the opera "O mio babbino caro" which, in a master directorial stroke, she delivered standing on top of a trunk, allowing her not only a sense of importance but also permitted her to mime throwing herself into the Arno. The winsomeness of her presence and the clarity of tone and phrasing made this an unforgettable performance.

As Rinuccio, tenor John Riesen turned in a similarly winning performance. He was successful in winning over his nasty squabbling relatives with his finely tuned tenor in "Avete torto... Firenze è come un albero fiorito" as well as winning over the audience. His duet with Ms. León was particularly fine with their voices blending in well balanced fashion.

David Langan's resonant bass and haughty demeanor were just right for Simone in an interpretation that we had not witnessed previously. As Zita Patrice P. Easton created a formidable matriarch who tolerated no nonsense. The lower part of her register was just perfect and at one point she took the artistic risk of growling out her line and we couldn't keep from laughing out loud.  It was one of those perfect moments.

Often, in an ensemble work like this one, it is difficult to differentiate the characters. However, up close and personal as this was, we were able to discern their individuality. Simone's son Marco and his wife La Ciesca were portrayed by baritone Jonathan R. Green and mezzo-soprano Alexandria Crichlow.  Poor relation Betto was sung by Jay Louis Chacon. The roles of nephew Gherardo  and his wife Nella were well sung by tenor Michael Kuhn and soprano Sarah Beth Pearson. Their son Gherardino was portrayed as a bratty kid who didn't want to run an errand without getting paid. The voluptuous Savannah McElhaney acted the part well without quite convincing us that she was a 7-year-old boy.

The small parts were also well cast and well performed. Brian McQueen managed to differentiate Dottore Spinelloccio and the Notario Amantio. Pinellino the cobbler was played by David Kahng. The non-singing part of the dying Buoso Donati was played by Martin Pfefferkorn.

We are aware that Woody Allen set the work in a tenement which makes no sense whatsoever. Lots of liberties have been taken with the work. Bringing it into the mid 20th c. by means of the costuming (Susan Memmott Allred) worked OK. But we couldn't stop thinking how this century-old work was composed at the time of the tragic flu epidemic and how that relates to the present. But these connections are best made in the minds of the audience.

© meche kroop


Sunday, April 10, 2022

HEART FAILURE

 

We have reviewed Heartbeat Opera's productions from its inception. We have often written "Our heart beats for Heartbeat Opera".  We have rushed home from their productions bursting with energy, eager to share their prodigious creativity with our readers.  Last night our heart went into arrhythmia; had Quando lasted another moment, we might have had a heart attack. In any case we are heartbroken.

We always like to begin our reviews with something we enjoyed about a production. The only positive thing about last night was the venue.  It is always fun to visit the McKittrick Hotel; the fellow who took us up in the elevator was pleasant.

We believe a work of art should stand on its own merit. Requiring a lengthy exegesis seems to portend disaster.  It's like trying to "explain" a painting.  You know the typical drivel from the Director' Notes--"The way I conceive this work is....yada yada yada".  "What I am trying to illustrate here is....yada yada yada".

There were, of course, note for the press. We generally don't read these, preferring instead to meet a work face on.  Either we "get" it or we don't. Well, dear reader, we did not. We were reminded of that species of "performance art" that is neither here nor there, but something existing in the self-absorbed mind(s) of the so-called creator(s). We decline to name the participants in this worthless production. They are probably filled with joy over the sold-out nature of the performances and we do not wish to rain abuse on their parade.

The performance began with a short film that made little sense, if any.  A  couple is sauntering down a dark street dressed in evening clothes. He thinks she is mysterious because she won't tell him her last name. They come close to an argument about protesting. She doesn't like his wealthy friends.  He tells her they are not friends, they just have "deep pockets".

Suddenly he urges her to pick up the pace. She dawdles spitefully, listening to a street performer playing a saxophone. He leaves her there.

A butler dressed in white is handing out white costumes to some people in their undies. One is wearing "tighty whities".  There seems to be some sort of protest with people carrying signs. There is an orgiastic quality.

The aforementioned woman arrives.  She and the aforementioned man sing some operatic arias, including a love duet from Verdi's La Traviata.  At this point, dear reader, we thought the idea was to expose members of the mostly young audience to opera, in which case the poor sound design did nothing to achieve the goal and did a disservice to the highly regarded singers who shall remain nameless. The woman appears to stab the man with what looks like a cello bow.  He bleeds from the mouth. The "protesters" were horrified. So were we.

There was a 5 minute intermission during which we went to the ladies rest room to eavesdrop. Young women were gossiping about their lives and no one said a word about the performance. We asked the young man sitting next to me what he thought.  "It's OK", was all he was willing to share. 

The performance resumed.  The women on the other side of me resumed their texting. The film was shown again and this time two characters called "Disruptors" made weird noises and hurled imprecations at the screen. The white haired woman banged the piano and played what seemed to be a flute. The young man banged on cymbals and scraped the edge of same with a bow. He cruised around the audience which remained impassive. The two reminded me of unruly schoolchildren. We felt like doing some disrupting of our own. Finally, we fled into the rainy streets, regretting the misuse of our Saturday night. 

Clearly, the "creators" wanted to say something but they failed abysmally to get their point across. If they were trying to skewer traditional opera, they only managed to send us running back to The Metropolitan Opera which, for all its flaws, does occasionally bring beauty into the world. Quando was produced in collaboration with Long Beach Opera and this was the world premiere. We cry "bullshit"!


© meche kroop

Saturday, April 9, 2022

INFINITE ENERGY


Erik Bagger and Brittany Fowler 

An evening spent with New Camerata Opera is always interesting, entertaining, and valuable. Their latest entry into the world of intimate opera is a production of a one act opera by Kamala Sankaram with libretto by Rob Handel. The opera is called The Infinite Energy of Ada Lovelace and  it is obvious that infinite care was given to the evening in order to focus upon women. Additionally, the cast brought the story to life with infinite energy.

We confess we knew nothing about Ada Lovelace before last night; however, we spent infinite energy in learning about her since the work in question succeeded in arousing my curiosity. Lady Lovelace was the legitimate daughter of Lord Byron and his half-sister Annabella who left her husband and raised her daughter to be scientifically curious. The young girl was undoubtedly precocious and without benefit of formal education became quite a whiz at science and mathematics.

She married William Lord Lovelace and bore him three children whilst becoming the world's first computer programmer, mentored by Charles Babbage. The mid-18th c. saw impressive discoveries as well as impressive opera!  Sadly, Ada was sickly and died at the age of 36. Her story is an impressive one, particularly light of the fact that she was a woman without any formal training.

The opera focused on her relationship with those around her--her somewhat supportive husband, her importunate mentor, and her disgruntled housekeeper who bemoaned her neglect of her children. She came very close to abandoning the project with Babbage.

Another independent and talented woman was written into the libretto--Harriet Beecher Stowe. In the opera, she came to the Lovelace household to interview Ada about the family scandal. We were unable to find any evidence that this visit took place but we were so fascinated by the idea that this prominent abolitionist who wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin also wrote the untold story of Lady Byron, written about extensively in the Atlantic in 1869. If she never visited Ada, she certainly had quite an involvement with Ada's mother.

The fact that the opera led us down this rabbit hole is evidence of a wise choice by New Camerata Opera. The story is indeed a compelling one and it is to the credit of the cast that we were so drawn in, in contrast with the stories of most contemporary operas that leave us uninspired.

We are quite sure that both casts are equally effective. The cast we saw impressed us by bringing the story to life. As the conflicted Ada Brittany Fowler created a forceful character, reminding us that talented women who reached beyond the boundaries of wifely and motherly duties to achieve something important are not unique to our own time.

As her husband Lord Lovelace, Erik Bagger gave a sympathetic portrayal of a husband who wa somewhat protective and mainly supportive, however threatened he may have been by his wife's closeness to her scientific mentor/partner Charles Babbage, portrayed by a most effective Virdell Williams. Barbara Porto turned in her typically superb performance as Harriet Beecher Stowe. Heather Michele was believably grumpy and critical as the disapproving nanny and Ryan Allais made a welcome appearance as the butler.

If we have paid more attention to the drama than to the music, let us amend that right away. Music Director Nell Flanders conducted the string quartet plus piano with precision. Unlike most contemporary operas, the music was kind to our ears and definitely supported the action; like most contemporary operas, the vocal lines were not particularly melodic but better than most. Every member of the cast sang well; it's just difficult for us to say much about phrasing and technique with the particular style of writing. The libretto was surely adequate. Our companion agreed with our opinion that what we saw was a play with music--a very good well acted play with adequate music.

We applaud Jennifer Williams for her fine direction, Lianne Arnold for the set design which gave equal measure to science and mathematical equations, and to Asa Benally for her apt costume design.  We refer you dear Reader to our Facebook Page--Voce di Meche--for photos.

The all-too-brief work was bookended by cabaret acts.  We failed to appreciate the pre-opera singing of English translations of songs by Fannie Mendelsohn which involved masked singers; it was impossible to appreciate the vocal technique or the words. The post-opera performances were delightful with  members of the company performing the unexpected. We particularly enjoyed Ryan Allais singing something from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, acrobatics by Heather Michele and Emily Solo, and Kristin Renee Young singing an aria from Berg's Lulu. Our apologies to those we left out.  As is common these days, there was no printed program.

It was not until we found some information by scanning the hashtag that we learned that composer Kamala Sankaram also wrote a piece we saw some years ago involving data-mining of the audience.  It was called Looking at You and it totally freaked us out!

© meche kroop

Friday, April 8, 2022

Y VOLVER


 Pablo Zinger, Verónica Villarroel, Sonia Olla, and Ismael Fernández

Last night found us at the stunning theater of El Museo del Barrio for an exciting evening of Spanish music presented by the newly reborn Opera Hispanica. It was an exciting evening for us, dear Reader, not just because of the thrilling performances, but because we were there at the original birth of Opera Hispanica some years ago, with Daniel Frost Hernandez at the helm. We were overwhelmed with excitement that New York City would have a company to bring Spanish music to the forefront of the cultural scene.

And now, with brilliant conductor Jorge Parodi at the helm, Opera Hispanica is receiving a timely rebirth, just when we need Spanish music the most. Two years of pandemic restrictions and isolation have left our populace low in spirits and what could be better than Spanish music to lift them from lethargy to passion!

The title of the program Y Volver (I will come back) is not only the title of one of the songs on the program (Jorge Ramón Lucero/María I Lo Forte) but also symbolic of the comeback of Opera Hispanica and the comeback of the arts in NYC.

Starring in this extravaganza were world renowned Chilean opera star Verónica Villarroel,  Spanish flamenco dancer Sonia Olla, Spanish cantaor Ismael Fernández, and Uruguayan pianist Pablo Zinger who used his multiplicity of talents to provide interesting commentary on the program as well as to accompany.  As Musical Director, he also arranged many of the selections.

Before telling about the program, let us mention the fine guitar work of Olli Hirvonen, the double bassist Pedro Giraudo, and the percussionist Danny Mallon. Yang Yu's lighting design comprised brilliantly colored washes on the rear screen that consistently set off the artists' costuming and set the mood. As far as Anthony Riveron's sound design, it is worth mentioning, since we have no affection whatsoever for amplification, that is was never overamplified.

The program itself demonstrated the wide variety of Spanish and Latin American music. Not only was the singing in crossover mode but also the instrumentals.  Boleros, tangos, canciones populares, and Spanish art song existed side by side and melded into a guisado deliciosa.

Regular readers could probably guess that our personal preference lay in the unamplified delivery of Carlos Guastavino's "La Rosa y el Sauce", a tender art song that never fails to touch our heart. We have no doubt that Ms. Villarroel's voice could have easily filled the theater without amplification for the entire evening which we would have preferred.

Each artist had at least one selection that was unforgettable. Isaac Albéniz' "Tango in D" was stunningly delivered by Mr. Zinger and Mr. Giraudo.  We think Mr. Zinger must have a special connection with Albeniz because his performance of "Cádiz" was performed with particular attention to a gorgeous recurrent theme that lingered in the ear.

Mr. Fernández' emotional performance of Astor Piazzolla's "Oblivion" gave a flamenco slant to the tango master's composition,  accompanied by Mr. Zinger with Mr. Hirvonen's guitar solo capturing the ear.

Flamenco dance has long been a subject of our admiration but we have eschewed the sanitized over-choreographed performances that seem to have taken over the stage in recent years. We will probably never get to see a real tablao in a cave in Seville but Ms. Olla's performance surely satisfied our yen for authenticity. Her precise footwork was marked by rhythmic intensity; her arms were exquisitely expressive; the arch of her back was perfect. In one number she made great use of an enormous red mantoncillo--at first covering her entire body like a curtain and then swirling it around with great poetry of motion.

We always love the Canciones Españolas Antiguas which were arranged and popularized by Federico García Lorca; in this case they were jazzed up and amplified which may have pleased other members of the audience more than me.

Similarly, the romantic songs of the Mexican composer Maria Grever are among our favorites and we heard "Júrame" and the lovely "Te quiero dijiste".  Just the phrase "muñequita linda" gives us goosebumps. We would have preferred less jazziness. Still, we are always happy to witness a celebration of female composers. The program ended with the lovely "Gracias a la Vida" by Violeta Parra.

We have a quibble (when don't we?) that will not surprise our regular readers.  That quibble is the loathed music stand.  Just as amplification interferes with our auditory appreciation of a singer's natural voice, so does the music stand interfere with our visual connection. A phrase begins, we connect, the singer glances down, the connection is broken.  Just sayin'!

What we have seen and heard of Opera Hispanica' season has been exciting and rewarding. There is more to come and we refer you to www.operahispanica.org for details. 

© meche kroop
 

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

SUPPORTING UKRAINE


An International Group of World Class Artists in Support of Ukraine

Dear Reader! If you can't wait to read about the brilliant concert produced by Natalie Burlutskaya of Spotlight Artists Management, so graciously hosted by St. John's in the Village, please scroll down to avoid our rant.  Since this is our "soapbox" we feel the need to say something about the crisis in Ukraine. Tyrants must be stopped in their tracks.  Appeasing Hitler did not stop him from trying to take over the world.

There is nothing new about major world powers trying to colonize other countries and deprive them of their independence. The USA fought courageously to free itself from the yoke of Great Britain. Mexico had to drive the Spanish out. Of course, in all fairness, it is not lost on us that the USA is not innocent of meddling in foreign countries who want to be free of our influence.

Yet, there is something particularly egregious about Putin waging war on his smaller neighbor and murdering his own people, mostly innocent women and children, to gratify his swollen ego. We are reminded of the narcissistic men who cannot control partners who want to leave them and react by maiming and murdering them. Unfortunately, there are no shelters or safe houses for the beleaguered Ukrainians in their own country.  The men are demonstrating remarkable bravery defending their homeland whilst their wives and children are fleeing to other countries--a version, we opine, of a safe house.

We have no faith in "thoughts and prayers". Those who are not in a position to affect national politics must be content with sending money. We urge you to support any four-star charity that is helping with food and medical supplies. Ms. Burluskaya created last night's benefit to help musicians in two cities of Ukraine. We must each of us find a way to help.

And now, let us speak of the artists who donated their gifts to raise money for this project. The cast comprised artists from Russia and Ukraine, Argentina, Turkey, China, and the United States.  Music knows no politics, no prejudice.  We are all on the same team. 

Before we get to the singers, we must credit the collaborative pianist Alexander Chaplinsky who put heart and soul into his fingers and brought forth an entire orchestra from a sole piano. We were not surprised to learn that Mr. Chaplinsky is also a conductor because we could hear the inner lines as clearly as the melody and the bass. Each section of the orchestra was right there in this amazing performance.

The program opened with his own arrangement of the Ukrainian Anthem which was filled with "soul". The program ended with his performance of "Golden Gate of Kiev", one of the episodes from Musssorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, marked by majestic chords and rhythmic vitality.

Just prior to that we heard the charming Galina Ivannikova singing a Ukrainian folk song called "Black brows". We did not understand the lyrics of Konstantin Dumitrashko but the haunting melody touched a place in our memory and filled us with hope and happiness.

Many of the evening's selections reflected upon the theme of fascism. (Make no mistake! Putin's government is fascistic and not particularly communistic.)
Puccini's opera Tosca is about artists fighting fascism in the person of Baron Scarpia. Soprano Dilara Unsal made a perfect Tosca in "Vissi d'arte", singing with passion for her art. Her vibrato was affecting and there was a lovely diminuendo.

Ms. Ivannikova sang Joan of Arc's aria of willingness to fight for her beloved homeland from Tchaikovsky's eponymous opera. There was some lovely phrasing and an admirable smoothness in the wide skips.

Menotti's The Consul is an opera about a displaced individual being crushed by an indifferent  bureaucracy. In "Papers"  Zoya Gramagin's expressiveness gave voice to a woman's anger, desperation, and despair. The unaccompanied phrases were particularly well rendered. Her eye color was "tears"; her occupation was "waiting". 

The evening was not all gloomy.  There was also romance (both happy romance and betrayed love) and lightheartedness. From Verdi's Ballo in Maschera, Ulrica's conjuring of supernatural forces was given particular menace by Ema Mitrovic's chilling contralto, convincingly bringing the seer to life. With incredible strength at the bottom of her range, the brilliance at the top was particularly impressive. We also enjoyed the dynamic variety.

Particularly moving was Amelia's "Morrò, ma prima in grazia" performed by Ms. Gramagin. The guilty wife's pleading with her husband melted our heart, if not her husband's! Portraying Renato was Jonathan R. Green whose big resonant sound gave life to a betrayed husband. He began with brutal coloration but later in the aria he gave us a different color--the hurt underneath the rage.

Sara Pearson performed an aria of a betrayed woman--Marguerite's aria from Gounod's Faust. She produced a lovely legato line whilst Mr. Chaplinsky delivered rapid figures in the piano representing the sound of spinning. We enjoyed the graceful portamenti and the lovely pianissimo ending.

One of our favorite young singers is Joseph Parrish whose deeply resonant tone is never booming but rather subtly colored. His portrayal of Aleko in Rachmaninov's opera of the same name was yet another example of betrayal. Mr. Parrish gave the character a range of sorrow by varying his dynamics. Although his voice is sizable, he is also able to rein it in for some stunning pianissimi. Mr. Chaplinsky's piano was admirably lyrical.

Later in the program he demonstrated another side of his artistry, singing "Deep River", an Afro-American spiritual which he sang with all the respect one would give to an art song--phrasing, coloration, and dynamic variety. We have never heard it sung like that and were deeply moved.

As far as art songs go, what is deeper than those of Schubert?  Another young artist of whom we are very fond, Xi Chen, performed "Der Lindenbaum" from Winterreise. This is our very favorite song cycle and we are waiting eagerly for the day when he learns the entire cycle. 

He also won an enthusiastic round of applause from the audience by his performance of the well known "Parlami d'amore, Mariu". His is a huge voice which he employs with a lovely legato.

Our stunning contralto reappeared for "Amour viens aider ma faiblesse", Dalilah's aria from Saint-Saëns' Samson et Dalilah. Just as she effectively created the character of Ulrika, she also created a seductive temptress-- by means of vocal coloration and bodily gesture. We reckon that the audience got seduced!

Regular readers recall how fond we are of duets and we were not disappointed. We got to hear one of our favorites--the "Barcarolle" from Offenbach's Contes d'Hoffman performed by Ms. Pearson and Ms. Gramagin in affecting and well-balanced harmony.  We must note Mr. Chaplinsky gorgeous introduction which set the mood before the singers began. We tried not to sway in our seat!

The lighter pieces we mentioned earlier were eagerly greeted as they provided some relief from the sad and the serious. The lovely young soprano-turned-mezzo Eugenia Forteza made a charming and believable Cherubino as she performed "Non so piu cosa son" from Mozart's Nozze di Figaro. We have watched Ms. Forteza for a number of years and take particular delight in her artistic growth. This aria should definitely be her signature piece. Were we auditioning we would definitely give her the part!

She also sang "Somewhere" from Bernstein's West Side Story which the program notes indicated was a "dreamlike world of peace"--something we all are wishing for.

There were also instrumentalists on the program.  Accompanied by Yuliya Basis, violinist Andy Didorenko performed "Meditation" from Bortkiewicz' Four Pieces for violin and piano. They also performed. Mr. Didorenko's own composition "Reminiscence" in which he treated the piano as an equal partner to his violin.  It is a lovely piece and was dedicated to his Ukrainian hometown.

What a full and generous evening! The energy in the sanctuary of St. John's in the Village was at a high level and the audience responded to every offering with gratitude and warm applause. 100% of the proceeds is going to people who lost their homes as a result of heavy shelling. Musicians from Kharkiv National Theater of Opera and Ballet are among them. Spotlight Artists Management stays connected with Dmitry Morozov, the Principal Conductor, learning about the situation first hand,  and avoiding the funds being stuck in huge foundations or national banks.

© meche kroop