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.

Sunday, January 29, 2023



Mannes Opera Students

Although Managing Artistic Director of Mannes Opera Emma Griffin announced the evening as a "workshop" with minimal rehearsals, we thought the production given to Nico Muhly's Dark Sisters was first rate and required no apologies. Laine Rettmer's direction told the story (based on a true event) effectively; Geoffrey McDonald's conducting of the orchestra was up to his customary high standards; the singing of the six women and the lone bass-baritone was exemplary and notable for the clarity of their diction.

The story concerns the effects of the government raid of a compound occupied by  "The Prophet" and his five "sister wives" in which all the children were removed. The opera opens with a disturbing and dissonant orchestral clash followed by the five women lamenting the loss of their children in an interwoven choral episode. Choruses were performed a cappella or with spare accompaniment which we preferred to what sounded to our ears like a mismatch of voice and orchestra.

Although there was some interesting orchestration to be heard, the vocal lines were not among them.  More credit goes to the cast for making music out of Stephen Karam's prosy libretto. We thought this would have made a fine play! However, we did not think the music added to the story in the way that Poulenc's music and libretto (based on a play by Georges Bernanos) complemented and reinforced the storytelling of a different true story--Dialogue des Carmelites.

It is easy to be critical of the beliefs of religions other than one's own but that amounts to throwing stones when one occupies a glass house. Did "The Prophet" truly believe the nonsense he foisted upon his wives? Or was this just another case of men controlling women to suit their own desires.  We couldn't help but think of the animal world in which one male keeps a herd of females for his own insemination.

The way the talented Christopher Lau portrays him manages to sustain a hint of ambiguity.  There is plenty of ambiguity in the women as well. Eliza (well portrayed in the Saturday night cast by Sofia Durante) is the rebel in the group and uses her feminine wiles to blow the whistle on The Prophet. As the seriously troubled Ruth, Ziwan Nie was nearly mute but heartbreaking. The other women kept up the pious front and vied for the "favors" of The Prophet, probably brainwashed into believing the need to "stay sweet", a euphemism for obedience and submission. There was plenty of female "cattiness" and rivalry as one might expect. A parallel might be drawn with the complex households in ancient China in which there were several wives, often sold into what amounted to sexual slavery at a very tender age.

Mr. Lau had another role as a TV reporter, sitting in front of a photo of the Utah red rocks and interviewing the women who responded in unison as they had been brainwashed to do.  To his credit, he colored his voice differently and altered his posture for this secondary role.

The other women in the cast were equally fine, including India Rowland, Emily 
Summers, Joohyun Kim, and Carolyn Boulay.

The orchestral music, whilst not particularly melodic, offered some fine solos and duets for instruments of which we are very fond--English Horn and Bass Clarinet, not to mention the cello, harp, and percussion. No credit for costuming was given but the women looked appropriately inhibited in long drab garments and clunky boots.

© meche kroop


 Eric Sedgwick, Julio Mascaro, and Daniela Yurrita

Your self-styled opera critic, Dear Reader, has strong opinions that not all of you will agree with. There are opera lovers that focus on the minutiae of vocal technique and get all bent out of shape if a note is a trifle sharp or flat, or if the soprano interpolates a higher note than is written, just because she can. (We actually read an entire argument on this point in a youtube of a performance by a famous soprano, who shall remain nameless.)

We, on the other hand, come to the opera to be entertained. No matter how exquisite the singing is (and last night's concert of arias certainly did have some exquisite singing) we want to be transported to another time and place by believable characters, inhabited by artists who share our predilection. This is, of course, easier to achieve on the stage of an opera house with the help of sets and costumes. To do so in a recital is far more difficult, and yet it can be done.
Our passion for opera was preceded by a passion for theater and this verisimilitude is essential for us to enjoy an aria or duet. We have seen and heard some very famous artists stand in front of a full orchestra to "deliver" an aria with admirable vocal perfection. These events were not really "performances" and likely were not meant to be; still, they left us cold.

In a highly satisfying concert of arias we attended at St. John's in the Village, well known for providing a home for such concerts (a few of which we produced B.C.), our highest expectations were met. A pair of young artists sang with such involvement in their characters that we were drawn into the operatic scenes they were creating as if they were in costume and immersed in a set.

When rising star soprano Daniel Yurrita and terrific tenor Julio Mascaro sang a few selections from Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore, there was plenty of time to develop the characters of Adina and Nemorino. Both the center aisle of the sanctuary and the side door were employed to show their comings and goings. "Una parola Adina" gave the pair an opportunity to illuminate their individual characters as well as to establish their one-sided relationship with one another.  In "Una furtiva lagrima" we could feel Nemorina's elation as he realizes Adina's underlying affection for him. By the time Adina gives us "Prendi, per me sei libero" our heart was filled with joy for the success of their relationship.

A different slant on the independent woman was created by Ms. Yurrita as Manon in "Je marche sur tous les chemins...Obeissons" and Mr. Mascaro was similarly convincing as the love-stricken des Grieux  in "En fermant les yeux".

This made his creation of the elderly Don Ottavio even more impressive. All of his paternal caring for Donna Anna came across in the devilishly difficult "Il mio tesoro" from Mozart's Don Giovanni. Similarly Ms. Yurrita changed from the world conquering Manon to the despairing Pamina in "Ach, ich fühl's" from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte.

An entirely different set of emotions were conveyed in the tragic final duet from Verdi's La Traviata. In"Parigi o cara", Violetta is hopeful to the point of delusion and poor Alfredo is both grieving and ashamed.

Another set of emotions were limned in a charming selection from Torroba's Luisa Fernanda, one of our favorite zarzuelas. "Caballero del alto plumero" is a featherweight flirtation with the most memorable melody involving a turn that has become a dangerous "ear worm".

We haven't even gotten to the elation of "Maria" from Bernstein's West Side Story in which Mr. Mascaro differentially colored each iteration of his beloved's name. And how about the quieter romanticism of "Un aura amorosa"!

The evening comprised even more delights but we think you, Dear Reader, will get the point. Every emotion was covered from ecstasy to despair! So, how was this magic achieved? Much of it with vocal coloration but also with full use of the performing area, bodily freedom, facial expression, and minimal props. This is artistry!

For once, we have not a single criticism of the vocalism which was always used to develop character, rather than for show. We particularly admire the way bel canto style was used to convey character. Accompanying on the piano was the superbly versatile Eric Sedgwick.

©meche kroop

Monday, January 23, 2023


Last night at the Metropolitan Club, Opera Index honored legendary bass-baritone James Morris with a Lifetime Achievement Award--and who would deserve this more than the only Wotan in our memory who showed us the complexities of this character as we needed to see them. Of course, Mr. Morris' biography is an impressive and lengthy one but that is how we wish to remember him. Mr. Morris' "third act" is coaching young artists and we can tell you, Dear Reader, how many young artists have shared with us the incredible value received from his tutelage.

The evening was led by Opera Index President Jane Shaulis who herself had a legendary career and who now does so much to benefit young artists. Speeches were given, toasts were raised, and the room rang with applause. After the lengthy Covid related "intermission" this was a golden opportunity for a gathering of the tribe and we were overjoyed to see so many familiar faces. But let's get to the stellar entertainment!

Donghoon Kang, Moises Salazar, Chuanyuan Liu, Vladyslav Buialskyi, Siphokazi Molteno, and Le Bu

From among 350 applicants for the Opera Index awards, 29 finalists were chosen, and 19 winners received $74,500. in prize money provided by foundations and individually sponsored awards. We can only imagine the tough job tackled by the judges to narrow down such a wealth of talent. Guests at the gala were privileged to hear eight of the winners and thankfully, dinner was not served until after the performances. To tell the truth, we felt so satisfied by the entertainment we experienced no need for food. Maybe we should share this information with those who are trying to lose weight. Feed the ears!  Feed the soul!  Not the belly.

Opening the program was magnificent mezzo Maggie Renée who moved around the audience seducing us with a spirited  "Seguidilla" from Bizet's Carmen. It is quite a special gift to combine a rich mezzo tone with technical aplomb and firm dramatic instincts! 

Ms. Renée was not the only artist to use the entire space of the room. Ukrainian bass-baritone Vladyslav Buialskyi achieved dramatic realism in his valid portrayal of Figaro in Mozart's Nozze di Figaro, as he opens the fourth wall and addresses the audience in "Aprite un po' quegli occhi". With superb vocalism he created a character in such a sure manner that the entire scene came to mind.

It was surely a night for the bass-baritone and it came as no surprise to learn that Le Bu studies with Mr. Morris. Winner of countless awards, Mr. Bu is firmly stage ready and can look forward to inheriting Mr. Morris' roles. Tackling the moving expression of Procido's patriotism in "O tu Palermo" from Verdi's I vespri siciliani, he got everything right--a stellar performance in every respect. 

Since we are now in the midst of celebrating the Lunar New Year, it gave us pleasure to have three Asian artists on the program--and all from different fachs. Chinese countertenor Chuanyuan Liu brought out every subtlety of the fioritura in "Si, la voglio e la ottero" from Händel's Serse. The plot is as elaborate as the fioritura but, truth to tell, we appreciate the latter more than the former, especially when delivered with pinpoint accuracy and fine flexibility as it was by Mr. Liu. What would countertenors do, were it not for Händel and his crazy plots!

We heard more French from South Korean baritone Donghoon Kang who performed "Riez! Allez! Riez du pauvre ideologue" in which Sancho Panza defends his poor confused master in Massenet's Don Quichotte. Mr. Kang effectively employed variation in dynamics and expansive expression to achieve emotional impact--another fine performance. 

Yet another admirable actor took the stage in the "Chanson de Kleinzach" from Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffman.  Mexican tenor Moises Salazar is quite the storyteller and held us as spellbound as the character does to his audience in the opera. He colored every phrase with such dramatic interest that we almost missed noting the superb vocal qualities of his artistry.

The beautifully textured vocal quality of South African mezzo-soprano Siphokazi Molteno was also accompanied by firm dramatic intent as she portrayed the seductive Dalila in Camille Saint-Saëns'  Samson et Dalila. We have often heard "Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix" and indeed, it was our introduction to the Metropolitan Opera with Marilyn Horne as the doomed gypsy. It would be fair to say that in between that performance and Ms. Molteno's we have not enjoyed it as much.

We hear less French opera than we do Italian and were delighted to hear tenor Philippe L'Esperance perform Faust's serenade to Marguerite from Gounod's eponymous opera. Between Ms. Renée, Ms. Molteno, and Mr. L'Esperance we heard a lot of seduction in one night. Mr. L'Esperance's sweet tenor was well employed with some fine phrasing and Gallic style.

We did not get to hear all of the Opera Index winners but we are quite sure that the quality was equivalent. Young talent deserves our backing as well as our appreciation.  We hail the stars of tomorrow!

© meche kroop