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, August 27, 2023


 Dura Jun and Georgina Wu

What a satisfying recital we heard last night at the Bruno Walter Auditorium of Lincoln Center! What makes a recital so satisfying? It isn't just a beautiful voice; it isn't just fine technique; it isn't just a sensitive collaborative pianist; it isn't just a variety of languages and periods; it isn't just rapport with the audience.  It is all of the above added together in a rich stew of musical delights.

Georgina Wu is a fine mezzo-soprano and Dura Jun is an equally fine collaborative pianist; the pair showed evidence of pre-program planning and true collaboration to capture the essence of each aria. Consummate versatility was demonstrated by the inclusion of German, French, Italian, and English. Musical periods ranged from early 18th c. to 21st c. with the fortunate inclusion of bel canto, our favorite period. The program was well curated to show off Ms. 
Wu's unique gifts.

The opening was a strong one--"Wie du warst" from Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier-- with Ms. Wu capturing all of the juvenile passion of  the love-besotted and lusty young Count Rofrano--sung in excellent German. 

Next we enjoyed hearing a thrilling bel canto aria, the opening aria of Donizetti's Roberto Devereux in which Sara, Duchess of Nottingham, tries to hide her sorrow over her adulterous love for the title character.

Poor Charlotte is also suffering from an adulterous love in Jules Massenet's Werther but in "Va! Laisse couler mes larmes" she is releasing all the sorrow that Sara had to hide from the court in the aforementioned "All'afflitto è dolce il pianto".

What a contrast with Dorabella's fiery "Smanie implacabili" from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte. What Ms. Wu succeeded in getting across is the histrionics of a young woman who is taking herself very seriously. The wild vocal line did not daunt Ms. Wu!

We know very little about the 21st c. work on the program--"Penelope" by Cecilia Livingston who is composer-in-residence at the Canadian Opera Company. It was far more appealing than the boring 21st c. art songs set to prosy texts.  In this song, Penelope's text is written (by the composer herself) in short phrases that successfully convey the emotions of the woman waiting for Ulysses from Homer's The Odyssey. We actually enjoyed the music, both piano and vocal line, and found the internal rhymes somewhat reminiscent of Sondheim's texts.

In "Ah! Michele don't you know" from Gian Carlo Menotti's The Saint of Bleeker Street, a "fallen woman" is begging her lover to acknowledge her and take her into a local wedding reception attended by neighbors who have scorned her. We enjoyed being introduced to a work we have never heard and hope that we will hear it soon. We were thinking of Santuzza's rejection back in the "old country".

"Come nube che fugge dal vento" from Händel's Agrippina gave Ms. Wu the opportunity to exhibit some vocal fireworks as Nerone decides to abandon love for politics. Turns and trills and leaps and scale passages were all finely executed.

Equally outstanding was "Près des remparts de Séville" from Bizet's Carmen which Ms. Wu sang with enticing seductiveness, toying with the clueless Don Jose.  We have heard this aria countless times but Ms. Wu made it new again with an unusual flair.

From seduction to spirituality? No challenge for Ms. Wu who shifted gears for the musically spare "The Desire for Hermitage" from Barber's Hermit Songs. What was unusual about her delivery was that she conveyed a kind of sensuality within asceticism.

Capping the program was another aria by Donizetti, this one the famous "O, mio Fernando" from La Favorita in which Leonora expresses her complex feeling toward the man she loves who has been ordered to marry her, unaware that she has been the King's mistress. That's a lot of feeling for the singer to pack into one aria but Ms. Wu succeeded as she did with everything else on the program.

We would have problems trying to curate such a fine program with so much variety. The next time a mezzo-soprano complains to us that there is nothing great written for them, we will show them this program!

© meche kroop

Thursday, August 24, 2023


 Antonina Ermolenko, Chris Fecteau, Boris Derow, Matt Mueller, and Jennifer Gliere

Helmed by Maestro Chris Fecteau and his lovely wife Karen Rich, the dell'Arte Opera Ensemble is well known for their training of young opera singers and crowd-pleasing operatic productions.  Last night, in the Harvard Club's magnificently appointed dining room, new ground was broken by means of a tribute to Ukraine.

Feelings for Ukraine run high in New York City and even our Russian friends want Zelensky to succeed. In the midst of such tragic bloodshed, there is a small glimmer of good; that is the recent fostering of interest in Ukrainian music, as several institutions have been presenting concerts highlighting music that we have never heard before--music that merits our attention and admiration.

Last night's concert paid attention to art songs by Reinhold Gliere, Yakiv Stepovyi, Sergei Bortkiewicz, Platon Mayboroda, Mykola Lysenko, Kyrylo Stetsenko, and Anatoliy Kos-Anatolsky. Please don't feel ignorant if these names are unknown to you; they were to us as well. It will take a greater exposure for us to learn to distinguish one from another, just as it took awhile for us to learn the differences between the Rossini sound and the Bellini sound.

That being said, there is much in common in terms of mode and mood. The sound is filled with what we call "Slavic Soul", an undercurrent of sadness not unlike Portuguese fado, but leavened with snippets of joy and pleasure. At times, one is reminded of Brahms' folk songs. 

Singers for the evening comprised sopranos Antonina Ermolenko and Jennifer Gliere (a descendant of the composer), tenor Boris Derow, and bass-baritone Matt Mueller. Accompanying the singers was Artistic Director of dell'Arte, Maestro Chris Fecteau himself who also gifted the audience with intermittent instrumental selections, our favorites of which were the soulful "Languor and Longing" and the more lighthearted "Impressions of a Joyful Day" from Lysenko's Album from the summer of 1902.

Regular readers know how highly we prize duets and we very much enjoyed the two sopranos joining voices for Gliere's "Summer". We wondered what it must feel like to sing works composed by one's ancestor! Ms. Gliere also impressed with "Sweetly Sang my Nightingale".  The stunning Antonina Ermolenko flew in from Toronto to help celebrate Ukarine Independence Day and impressed with her finely wrought soprano. This set pf songs by Reinhold Gliere was particularly lovely with Mr. Mueller audibly enjoying the low tessitura of "Before me the sea is sleeping".

Mr. Derow gave a moving performance of a pair of songs by Stepovyi--"Not All Sorrows Have Died" and "Thought Follows Thought". Although no translations were available, we were dying to know what Gliere was relating in "The Mad Priest" in which Mr. Mueller seemed to be telling a most interesting tale, accompanied by Maestro Fecteau's march rhythm in the piano. Kos-Anatolsky's "White Roses", by contrast, seemed to have a tango rhythm.

It was a most pleasurable evening with guests enjoying a menu of Ukrainian delicacies along with the music!

© meche kroop

Sunday, August 20, 2023


 Chiara Cremaschi, Alessandro Loro, and Maestro Diego Basso

The weather was perfect, the crowd was enthusiastic, and New York City Opera (The People's Opera)  is to be thanked for giving New Yorkers two generous and excellently curated programs in one glorious weekend. Last night's program comprised mostly Italian opera , Neapolitan songs, and some instrumental works for good measure.  It was indeed "A Grand Night for Singing"! 

From the point of view of a true opera lover, the amplification precluded any assessment of the artistry of the singers. What we could observe is stage presence. For all we know, Alessandro Lora may be the tenor of tomorrow; and given good direction on the opera stage he may also be a convincing actor. However, last night he relied completely on exaggerated stock gestures and "money notes" produced at maximum volume. Perhaps the amplification was at fault because he sounded better during the pianissimi passages.

Sound design is a mystery to us but the balance of the excellent New York City Opera Orchestra was mostly way off and the esteemed musicians sounded nothing like they do in a concert hall. The oboe solo in Morricone's "Gabriel's Oboe" sounded more like a harmonica than an oboe.  Perhaps an acoustic engineer could explain this to us.  Nonetheless, we decided that one doesn't need to apologize for "film music" which sounds much better than contemporary "academic music".  As we said in last night's review, in order to succeed, music must be melodic.  Morricone's music fulfilled that requirement.

Co-starring with Mr. Lora was the lovely soprano Chiara Cremaschi who seemed to have the chops to tackle roles as diverse as Queen of the Night from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte and Lauretta in Puccini's Gianni Schicchi. Like her tenor stage companion, she did not know what to do with her arms. Whereas Mr. Lora opened wide and reached for the sky, Ms. Cremaschi kept hers folded over her midsection. We deleted dozens of photos which made her look insecure-- until we found one in which she used her arms. Neither singer looked natural. Overly expansive stock gestures look trite and cocky whereas folded arms not only look insecure but create a hunched over posture. None of the gorgeous gowns worn by Ms. Cremaschi could compensate. We wanted so badly to get her to stand up elegantly and use gesture to create character!

Possibly had we been able to appreciate the voices we might not have noticed this failure of stage presence. We might add that most people were there to have a good time, to sit outdoors in the grass and be entertained. They seemed happy to clap along in the "Libiamo" from Verdi's La Traviata. Perhaps they couldn't see the stage as we could way down front. Perhaps television has "taught" people what to expect from opera singers.  Perhaps subtlety is not possible in an amplified outdoor environment.

As far as the conducting both Maestri seemed in control of the orchestra and, for all we know, standing up there on the podium had no idea of what their musicians sounded like to the audience. Maestro Diego Basso conducted one of his own compositions entitled "Vigneti come Pentagrammi" which we hope we get an opportunity to hear under more sanguine circumstances. He also conducted an arrangement of "Core 'ngrato" sung by Mr. Lora.

Part of the program was conducted by Maestro Maurizio Barbacini and he kept the orchestra full of energy in the "Prelude" from Bizet's Carmen. That and the Mozart were the only two numbers on the generous program which were not Italian.

We are looking forward to Gounod's Romeo et Juliette on September 8th which, we expect, will be performed with sets and costumes. Perhaps the sound will be more acceptable.

© meche kroop

Saturday, August 19, 2023



Sondheim's "A Weekend in the Country" outdoors in Bryant Park presented by New York City Opera

(Matthew Ciufitelli, Kristin Sampson, Drew Seigla, Sami Sallaway, Michael Nansel, and Devony Smith)

It is one thing to have a strong opinion; it is quite another to have your opinion brought to life and validated. We have long held the opinion that the line of inheritance goes from opera to operetta to Broadway, and not to the contemporary works that are called "opera". The public-pleasing works of the 19th c, the charming operettas of Vienna and later Broadway (think Victor Herbert), all morphed into the works of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, Bernstein, and Sondheim.

In a most unfortunate technological advance, sound amplification removed the need for operatically trained voices and much of Broadway became ear crushing. Meanwhile, operatic voices have assumed the role of keeping the classics of the opera canon alive for an unfortunately ever-diminishing audience, whilst managers of opera companies have moved toward presenting contemporary works of dubious merit with "relevant" stories better told at the theater, prosy libretti, and mostly tuneless music.

The critics may rave over the new works, the opera houses fill up, audiences come once but not twice.  Ticket sales are declining with the public unwilling to spend their hard earned dollars on entertainment that isn't entertaining. Meanwhile, tourists come from all over the world to see Broadway shows in which the stories are direct and the music tuneful.  Moreover, many shows in the Broadway canon have become classics and interest is renewed with successive generations wanting to see the shows, or at least films of the shows (think West Side Story). Of course, not every show is a good one. But not every bel canto opera was a hit either.  For every Il barbiere di Siviglia there were dozens of operas that failed or lasted but a season.

We have long wished for a company here in New York City that would present the Broadway canon unamplified with operatic voices. We will never forget New York City Opera's production of Candide.  And last night it was the same institution that gave us a taste of what we wish for--operatic voices singing the best of Viennese operetta and Broadway. 

It was indeed a gift from New York City Opera to New Yorkers who packed  Bryant Park from one end to the other for a picnic performance. In an outdoor environment, voices must be amplified which we fully understand. Often the vibrato of the singers seemed exaggerated and we would be hard put to comment on the individual voices.

That being said, we enjoyed the concept which supported our opinion.  Of course we did! And we enjoyed the performances, many of which were dramatically valid.  The material was well chosen and the audience was enthralled.

The most unforgettable performances were given by Michael Nansel, heretofore unknown to us. He impressed us in the well known aria from Leigh/Darion's Man of La Mancha--"The Impossible Dream", and as Tony in Loesser's The Most Happy Fella  singing a soliloquy addressed to his dead mother. Similarly, Bock/Harnick's Fiddler on the Roof  gave Drew Seigla an opportunity to charm us with Motel's aria "Miracle of Miracles". Matthew Ciuffitelli brought Billy Bigelow to vibrant life in the soliloquy from Rodgers/Hammerstein's Carousel. All of these shows (operas? operettas?) were before our time and we were absolutely thrilled to hear them, having only heard recordings.

Lehár's The Merry Widow  has fortunately stayed in the repertory for well over a century and we were delighted to hear Kristin Sampson singing the beautiful aria "Vilja". We must say, however, that we far prefer to hear it sung in German. Victor Herbert is well known to us from the regular performances by the rapidly growing Victor Herbert Renaissance Project Live (known as VHRPL!) which has no trouble attracting an enthusiastic audience. It was a pleasure to hear Sami Salloway sing "Art is Calling for Me" from his The Enchantress.

The music of Borodin is well loved by us and hearing one of his famous tunes (adapted for the show Kismet and entitled "And This is My Beloved") gave us pleasure. We hope Ms. Sampson enjoyed singing it as much as we enjoyed hearing it. Sondheim's Follies gave Devony Smith a great aria to sing as well--"Losing My Mind".

It must have been quite a challenge to select all those goodies from the grand buffet of operettas and Broadway. The evening was nearly two hours long and we could have listened all night. We kept thinking of so many wonderful shows that could have been included.  Let's hope that there will be more evenings like this!

The evening ended on a high note, so to speak, with the cast assembled for the Act I finale of Sondheim's A Little Night Music--"A Weekend in the Country", reminding us of all those wonderful Rossini ensembles from two centuries ago. It's good to know that we are still creating classics!

© meche kroop