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.

Monday, February 27, 2023



Yvette Keong  

Dear Reader, if you haven't yet heard about the free vocal concerts offered by Carnegie Hall, let me tell you about them now. Yesterday, in collaboration with St. Paul and St. Andrew United Methodist Church, we had the opportunity to catch up on a singer we have been following for the past five years since her undergraduate days at Manhattan School of Music. Nothing gives us greater pleasure than watching a young singer go from "promising" to "rising star".

We have enjoyed Yvette Keong , a lovely Chinese-Australian soprano, in a number of roles, in a masterclass, as a Gerda Lissner award winner, and outdoors in Washington Square Park a few summers ago. These memories came flooding back when Ms. Keong satisfied the audience with an encore--Stephen Foster's "Beautiful Dreamer" which we may consider her "calling card", sung as it was with perfect diction, gorgeous legato, and the tenderest of feeling.

The program was a challenging one, beginning with four songs by Arnold Schoenberg notable for their mysterious texts by Richard Dehmel and Johannes Schlaf. Two songs by the 20th c. composer Joseph Schwantner utilized texts that were translated from Spanish poetry of Agueda Pizarro that might better have been left in Spanish, which we find far more singable than English. There were some jagged vocal lines that were well handled by the singer but we enjoyed it more when she produced some gorgeous melismatic singing that reminded us of a vocalise. However, the piano writing was colorful and evocative--well performed by collaborative pianist Gracie Francis.

The lyrical "La maja y el ruiseñor" by Enrique Granados was far more to our liking. Ms. Keong's voice represented the girl of the title and Ms. Francis' piano played the part of the nightingale. Ms. Keong's eyes followed the bird in much the same fashion as Nedda's followed the birds in I Pagliacci. So we not only heard the nightingale but we saw it through the eyes of the girl. How completely compelling!

Six songs by Rachmaninoff covered a great deal of emotional territory from the sorrowful imagery of "In my garden at night" to the frisky "The rat-catcher" to the passion of "The Quest"--all sung in impeccable Russian and with flowing vocal line.

The final five songs on the program were our favorites. There is something about Chinese poetry that stirs our soul; there is a timelessness that carries through from the 11th c. to the 20th that we can only begin to appreciate in the English translation but which inspires the most exquisite melodies in the 20th c. composers.  The marriage of vocal sound and piano accompaniment left us feeling more than satisfied.

The next vocal recital in the series will be 4/13 when Jonathan Mc Cullough will perform. . Thanks Carnegie Hall!

© meche kroop


Sunday, February 26, 2023


 Adriana Valdés and Juan del Bosco

With apologies to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, love in the time of social media is just as fraught as Love in the Time of Cholera. In an unusual and ultimately fulfilling exploration of "Love, Hate, and Songs", many genres and languages were involved. 

Thanks to Steven Blier and his NewYork Festival of Songs, we have come to realize that great songs can be found outside of the world of opera. Still, our personal preference is for songs in Italian and Spanish, the vowels of which permit the best experience of a singer's resonance. In the case of Latin American music, we hear no evidence of the loathed atonalism and prosy libretti favored by North American composers. Popular songs feel very related to art songs when they are performed unamplified.

Last night at Opera America, fans of soprano Adriana Valdés and tenor Juan del Bosco packed the room to the bursting point, enjoying this eclectic program. With the exception of songs about the beauties of nature, most songs have been written about love--wanting love, feeling loved, unrequited love, broken love, etc. The presence of cell phones in communicating with potential, present, or former lovers seems to add to the pain, as illustrated in last night's program.

Accompanied by the versatile pianist Tristan Cano, Ms. Valdés showed off many sides of her artistry, from Moss Hart's jazzy "My Funny Valentine" and Johnny Mercer's "That Old Black Magic" to The 17th c. "Yo soy la locura" by Henri de Bailly in it's stirring minor key and, in more familiar territory, "Si, mi chiamano Mimi" from Puccini's La Bohême.

Similarly, Mr. del Bosco moved our feelings with  the late 20th c."Cómo quien pierde una estrella", the first international hit of the Mexican singer Alejandro Fernandez. This lament for lost love showed hints of Mr. Fernandez' origins in folk music and mariachi. We became a fan on the spot.

Ennio Neri's "Parlami d'amore Mariu" is a 20th c, Neapolitan song we always love to see on a vocal program and our tenor put heart and soul into his performance.

Also stunning were the tenor's forays into arias written by Giacomo Puccini. "Nessun dorma" from Turandot was particularly powerful. Counter-intuitively, the most powerful moment was when the artist brought his first "splendera" down to the pianissimo level before exploding into the grand climax. He also showed a more tender side in his duet with Ms. Valdés "O soave fanciulla". Playing into the 21st c. theme, our soprano became contemporarily seductive which the audience seemed to enjoy more than we did.

Returning to the theme of magic realism, the fourth leg of this stable table was Mr. Magic Chef who not only sings and cooks but also performs magic tricks involving cutting a rope into pieces which then reconstitute themselves. Baritone Ago D'Agostaro did a fine performance of the famous popular song "Volare" and also one in French--"La vie en rose". To his credit we understood his French as well as we did his Italian. His cabaret style brought interesting variety to the evening.

It was an unusually diverse evening, held together for us by the theme of magic. And isn't love magic?

© meche kroop

Wednesday, February 22, 2023


 The Red Mill by Victor Herbert, presented by VHRPL!

It is 1906 and Italian audiences are crying their eyes out over Puccini's Madama 
Butterfly; meanwhile, in New York City, audiences are laughing and reveling in the warm feelings of Victor Herbert's The Red Mill. This work had over 800 performances on Broadway and cemented Herbert's reputation as the Father of American Musical Theater. 

It is a delightful work and contains most of theater's favorite plot points.  There is a headstrong daughter who plots to marry the man of her choice whilst her obstinate father insists she marry to enhance his social standing. There is the young woman's passionate love for an impecunious young man. There is a secondary surprise pairing at the end. There is plenty of comic relief.

All of this joy is brought to you by The Victor Herbert Renaissance Project Live!, the Artistic Director of which, Alyce Mott, has devoted her artistic life to bringing Herbert's masterpieces to vivid life. All of Herbert's charming melodies are there as are the lyrics of Henry Blossom; but Ms. Mott has made notable improvements.

 Having read the original synopsis, we can appreciate what a labor of love it is to tighten up the plot, get rid of extraneous characters, and rewrite the spoken dialogue to appeal to contemporary audiences.  And appeal it did! The lovely Theater at St. Jean's was packed on opening night and the audience was giddy with joy. Women were humming the tunes in the ladies room during intermission! Finding this new home with raked seating and an orchestra pit opens the door for this nine-year-old company to become a major force in New York City's musical world.

The somewhat silly but ever-engaging story takes place in a mythical town in the Netherlands in which is situated the eponymous Red Mill, which seems to draw tourists by virtue of the legend of its being haunted. The innkeeper Berta (played by mezzo-ssoprano Alexa Devlin, a VHRPL! regular) has a hard time keeping employees and finds her inn overrun by struggling artists and their models (played by a sextet of fine young artists--Alonso Jordan Lopez, Sophie Thompson, Justin Chandler Baptista, Paige Cutrona, Keith Broughton, and Annie Heartney)-- freeloaders all.

She is planning the wedding of her niece Gretchen (played by the lovely soprano Sarah Caldwell Smith, also a VHRL! regular) daughter of her intransigent brother Jan van Borkem, the Burgomaster (ably played by another regular company member David Seatter). She is also dealing with two American conmen who try to slip away without paying their bill. One is named Con Kidder (Vince Gover) and the other, Kid Conner (Andrew Buck).  We kid you not! (insert ROFL emoji)

Gretchen's beloved, the seafaring Captain Dori van Damm ( the excellent Andrew Klima) arrives on the scene in the nick of time but winds up imprisoned by the Sheriff (John Nelson) and our lovely heroine winds up imprisoned in the Red Mill. Meanwhile comic relief is provided by the two Americans who have been pressed into service as waiter and tour guide, the latter purported to be multi-lingual. In a very funny scene, a French Countess (an hilarious Sarah Bleasdale) arrives on the scene and said "translator" must translate her French, which he clearly must invent on the spot. (We fondly recall this as an exercise in improvisation, one that is always enjoyed by the audience). Jonathan Fox Powers, another "regular" was seen as British solicitor Joshua Pennyfeather who carried off a running joke about wanting a cognac.

We could scarcely wait for the intended bridegroom to arrive on the scene. The Governor of Zeeland was portrayed in fine style by baritone Colin Safley who wowed the audience with one of the best numbers in the show "Every Day is Ladies Day with Me", the sexism of which was matched by the female lament "I'm Always Doing Something I Don't Want to Do", sung by Gretchen and Berta. 

Another number we particularly enjoyed was "Always Go While the Goin' is Good", sung by the two conmen. Another duet we liked was sung by the Burgomaster and the Sheriff--"You Never Can Tell About a Woman".

The romantic weight was carried by Gretchen and Dori in "I Want You to Marry Me" and "The Isle of Our Dreams". Perhaps the most memorable number was "The Streets of New York". Every voice in the show was superb and accompanied by fine acting. The afore-mentioned chorus of six harmonized well and knit the show together. 

We believe the score was adapted for a handful of instruments by Maestro Michael Thomas and we consider that a huge success inasmuch as nothing was lost and there was ample support for the singers.  He conducted his chamber orchestra with intention and line.  In the pit were violin, cello, bass, flute, clarinet, and percussion. The always wonderful William HIcks was at the piano where he has served for so many of VHRPL!'s productions.

Ms. Mott herself served as Stage Director with Maestro Thomas as Music Director.Christine Hall was responsible for the modest but effective choreography. The evening took us to our happy place and we do hope, dear Reader, that you can snag a ticket to experience such joy for yourself.

© meche kroop

Sunday, February 19, 2023



Pianist Maestro Michael Fennelly, Foundation President John H. Hauser, and finalists in the 2023 Competition

The gracious presence of the late Nora London was greatly missed but we received a warm welcome from John H. Hauser, President of the George and Nora London Foundation. The prizes awarded in this competition are generous and the winners generally go on to great careers. The twelve finalists were of the very highest caliber and the judging must have been extremely difficult. We were glad not to have been among them! We love this competition because all finalists walk away with great honor as well as financial benefit.

If you must know which five of the twelve received the greatest honor, you must look on the foundation's website. We are sure it made a difference to the competitors but to our ears, they were all winners. There seemed to be more large voices this year and also a preponderance of sopranos and tenors with a lone mezzo-soprano, a sole bass-baritone, and a singular counter-tenor.

Regardless of who won the major prizes, several performances suited our taste to the point of lingering in our memory. That they just happen to be three beautiful young women "should" be considered irrelevant but it surely doesn't hurt one's career to be as appealing to the eye as to the ear.

Karoline Podolak put a smile on our face with a spirited performance of "Je suis Titania" from Ambroise Thomas' Mignon. There was charm and expressiveness in spades, utilized to underscore the fioritura which was cleanly delivered. It was altogether enchanting.

No less enchanting was the bright soprano of Erika Bakoff who performed "A vos jeux amis" from Thomas' Hamlet. It seems curious that we have heard very little of Thomas' works and here we got to hear two on the same program. We got to realize how well he writes for young light sopranos! Along with the lovely vocal line, we appreciated a terrific trill and a smoothly descending scale passage.

The role of Sophie in Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier must impress the audience in the same fashion as Sophie herself is impressed by the attention paid her by Count Rofrano as he delivers the silver rose. In this case, Elena Villalon succeeded in conveying innocence and wonder with a sweet coloration to the voice and the assumption of a modest demeanor. It was a completely convincing characterization.

We have been hearing quite a bit of "Aleko's Cavatina" from the Rachmaninoff opera that we have never seen in its entirety. Poor Aleko sings of his despair, his Gypsy wife having fallen for a young man of her own people.  Somehow we were reminded of old King Philips's aria "Ella giammai m'amo" from Verdi's Don Carlo in which the singer must generate sympathy for a murderous man. At this task, bass-baritone William Socolof succeeded admirably  with a carefully modulated performance, generous tone, and exemplary Russian.

Contrasting with the lowest voice in the competition was the highest male voice, that of counter-tenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen who performed "Inumano Fratel...Stille Amare" from Händel's Tolomeo in which the eponymous title character believes he has drunk poison and cannot make it through the da capo. Mr. Cohen dazzled with his mastery of this rare fach and it's vocal fireworks. If our opinion inspires you, you can hear his video for yourself on YouTube.

It is always interesting in a competition to be introduced to an aria with which one is unfamiliar but it is an entirely different story when a young singer tackles a very familiar aria. We feel the satisfaction one feels with the familiar but we are looking for something original or different in which the singer tells us something new about the character. Tenor Matthew Cairns took on "La fleur que tu m'avais jetée" from Bizet's Carmen and he did so with full tone and a lovely vocal quality. We particularly admired the dynamic variety and a smooth decrescendo.

Tenor Joseph Sacchi has a large powerful instrument just right for the role of Max in Weber's Die Freischütz. "Durch die Walder, durch die Auen" was performed in clearly enunciated German, augmented by meaningful gesture.

We always enjoy arias more when we understand the words and tenor Jordan Loyd delivered "Inutile regrets" from the final act of Berlioz' Les Troyens in fine French. He employed his fine vibrato to express Énée's despair in an emotional performance.

Another highly emotional performance was that of tenor Ricardo Garcia who put 110% into his portrayal of Lensky facing death in Tchaikovky's Eugene Onegin. The vocal line was lovely and the gestures were Russian in their extravagance.

The only mezzo-soprano on the program, Olivia Johnson gave an expressive performance of "O ma lyre immortelle" from Gounod's Sapho. (The program listed the composer as Massenet and indeed Massenet did write a piece of that name almost a half-century later but we are quite sure that what we heard was from the Gounod.)

The only Puccini aria on the program was from Edgar, about which we know little. Amber Monroe has a sizable soprano with an expressive vibrato put to good use in "Addio mio dolce Amore" sung by the faithful Fidelia.

Perhaps it was the stress of singing first but having heard tenor Alexander McKissic several times in the past, we didn't think we were hearing him at his best in "Se all'impero amici dei" from Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito, sung by the merciful titular character. He sounded best in the pianissimi passages with a lovely legato but as the volume increased his tone sounded rough which did not suit Tito's character. We found ourselves wishing he had not been first on the program.

Splendid accompanying in all these varied styles was provided by Maestro Michael Fennelly.

© meche kroop

Wednesday, February 15, 2023



Juilliard 415 and students from the Marcus Institute for Vocal Arts and Juilliard Drama

(photo by Rachel Papo, courtesy of Juilliard0

What a stunning and worthwhile entertainment! In Henry Purcell's time (17th c.)  King Arthur was called a semi-opera. What shall we call it today in the version we saw at Alice Tully Hall? Whatever we call it, we were enthralled for the duration. As is our wont, we declined to read about it beforehand, the better to allow the work to speak for itself. And it spoke loudly and clearly.

The evening was representative of a successful collaboration between orchestra, storytelling, dramatic enactment, and vocal music. Each element was outstanding  but the melding added up to more than the sum of its parts.

Let us begin with the storytelling. A new script was commissioned by Juilliard, a script that tells the tale of King Arthur--not the legends of the Round Table, but rather the story of King Arthur's defeat of the Saxon King Oswald of Kent as told through the "eyes" of the blind Cornish Princess Emmeline who sees things that the sighted cannot. Oswald had kidnapped Emmeline and Arthur had to defeat the Saxon army to win her back. The script by Margot Connolly is clear and direct and allows the audience to focus on two characters--Emmeline and a Traveler who, like any good interviewer, listens to the story and asks relevant questions.

As Emmeline, Maggie Scrantom was expressive without indulging in histrionics and readily won our sympathy. Clad in elegant garb suggestive of the Middle Ages (no credit for costuming could be found in the program) we had no problem believing her storytelling. As The Traveler, Lark White was similarly convincing. She was dressed in black with a back pack and a sun hat, suggestive of a character that wanders and collects stories.

Ms. Connolly's script went well with Purcell's "programmatic" music. His composition clearly supported battles, festivals, masques, and heathen worship with concomitant horrifying blood sacrifice. (Hello Woden, Thor, and Freya!) Purcell's orchestration utilizes the forces of his orchestra to paint an aural picture.  We figuratively see with our ears, just as Emmeline does. The Frost Scene surely inspired the "Winter" movement of Vivaldi's Four Seasons.

Juilliard415  met the challenge of the music in exemplary fashion. Lionel Meunier was listed in the program as Director, not as Conductor; we surmise that his role went far beyond his dynamic conducting of the musicians. In any case, the performance of this early music ensemble always casts a fine glow on Juilliard's reputation. 

It also produced a wonderful sensation in our ears, which so loved the soft sounds of the wooden instruments--all manner of recorders which appear to have anticipated the flute, and a lovely reeded instrument (perhaps called an hautbois) that seems to have preceded the oboe. There were various string instuments listed in the program as "plucked instruments", the only one of which we recognized as the  theorbo.  And was that mellow brass instrument a natural trumpet? The string section looked far more familiar and was headed by the renowned Robert Mealy.

As far as the vocal music, we are sure Purcell started his musical life as a singer. Only a singer could have written so well for the voice. The work is as thick with melody as a Tchaikovsky symphony, giving the singers an opportunity to show off their impressive vocal skills. Female voices were often gathered at one side of the stage, whilst male voices appeared on the other side. All vocal parts represented supernatural characters, shepherds and shepherdesses, or Roman gods.

These parts were sung by sopranos Song Hee Lee, Erin O'Rourke, and Jazmine Saunders; mezzo-sopranos Lucy Altus, Stephanie Bello,and Lauren Torey; tenors Colin Aikins, Geun-hyeong Han, and Samuel Rosner; baritones Minki Hong and Shavon Lloyd,; and bass-baritone Donghoon Kang.

Consider yourself fortunate if you got to see and hear this rarely performed work in this elegant version. Should we need to find a minor quibble it would be the projections.  Meant to suggest the Medieval settings, the goal was not quite realized; the rear wall of the stage is perforated and unfortunately one could barely make out what was being projected. Nonetheless, it was a magnificent evening.

© meche kroop