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, October 29, 2023


 Members of Manhattan School of Music Opera Theater
in Graduate Opera Scenes

We have lost count of the number of operas and opera scenes we have enjoyed at Manhattan School of Music. We have always gone home eager to share with you, our dear readers. What uncomfortable feelings we are having at the moment, reluctant to have anything negative to say. In no way do we have any negative criticism of the lovely young singers we heard Friday night. The negative feelings come from an egregiously directed program--feelings so strong that we will spare the director the embarrassment of being named. 

This was one of those loathsome "concepts" designed to show off the so-called originality of the director, rather than the gifts of the singers. The "concept" was so murky as to require a lengthy Director's Note to explain and so unwieldy as to leave us baffled. Operas from different periods and different languages were forced into a Procrustean bed with heads and feet chopped off willy-nilly. (And maybe some willys chopped off as well. We laugh that we do not weep.)

What was this Procrustean bed? Everything was meant to take place in the 1950's; why this unattractive decade has been favored by recent directors is beyond us.  Everything was meant to take place in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. We kid you not. Perhaps the director was stealing from Neil Simon's Broadway play Plaza Suite. We have neither the time nor the inclination to share the director's posturing but we will mention that she claims to have made great use of her experience with "Method acting". Perhaps this was fun for the students but we have seen much more persuasive acting from MSM students under the directorship of Thomas Muraco and Dona Vaughn, among others.

A printed paper tried to justify the scene changes thusly--"In the bridal suite" and "In the alleyway" and "Down in the banquet hall". If one knew the opera and understood what was going on, the setting and the text made even less sense. Some scenes were announced by students and it is here that we saw (heard) room for improvement. Diction and enunciation were sloppy and delivery was rushed; explanations could not be understood. Strangely, a young woman gave a couple of these announcements in Mandarin and, although we are a rank beginner in the language, we caught more words from her than from the English speakers. Singers need to learn how to use their voice differently when speaking.

As to the singing, a few singers caught our attention and by singling them out we apologize for not mentioning others who were equally good.  The problem was that it was difficult to focus on the singing whilst trying to figure out what was happening onstage. 

Ladies first! Sara Nicole Stevens whom we recently reviewed elsewhere, gave a riveting performance in a truly horrible scene from a Missy Mazzoli opera that we would not sit through upon pain of death or imprisonment. It was impossible to comprehend what was going on.

Ziyi Zhang accepted the challenge of "Come scoglio" from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte. This notoriously difficult aria will be something to work on. Verdi's music is considered beyond the grasp of young singers but given the small size of the Ades Performing Space, Brooke Romaine employed a large instrument in Leonora's aria "Tacea la notte...Infida! Qual voce!" from Il Trovatore , although the staging was puzzling, as we had come to expect.

As the Conte di Luna in that scene we liked Yeong Taek Yang's powerful baritone and threatening presence. In an evening marked by disappointing diction, Fernando Watts evinced fine French diction that we could actually understand in Rameau's Castor et Pollux.

In terms of ensemble singing, three female voices (Ziyuan Deng, Young-hae Jeon, and Yining Liu) created lovely harmonies in a trio from Berlioz' Béatrice et Bénedict.

Voccal coaches/Pianists for the evening were Ji Young Lee and Joel Harder. Perhaps it was because we were seated at the end of the row closest to the piano, there were many moments when the singers were drowned out.

Regarding the choice of scenes, we were puzzled.  Young singers profit most by learning roles in the standard repertory.  What good will it do them to learn roles from unknown operas that are unlikely to be produced. Of nine scenes, only two were part of the canon--the aforementioned Verdi and Mozart.

© meche kroop

Friday, October 27, 2023


 Jacob Ashworth, Christophe Rousset, Joshua Keller, and Jonathan Woody

Visits from the Washington D.C. based Opera Lafayette are always greeted with enthusiasm;  to the musical scene of New York City they bring value both entertaining and educational by means of their approach to 17th and 18th c. music.  Last night's concert at the Kosciuszko Foundation, entitled Couperin le Grand, brought many delights, both instrumental and vocal.

The elegant room provided not only intimacy but also an appropriate baroque feeling by virtue of its gilded ceiling, recreating the court environment that originally saw (heard) the same material.  The generous program introduced us to three myth-based cantatas and a pair of instrumental works. 

Of chief interest to us was the recently discovered Couperin cantata Ariane consolée par Bacchus ;  for this discovery we must thank Musical Director and harpsichordist Christophe Rousset. The story parallels that portrayed by Richard Strauss in his opera Ariadne auf Naxos--minus the satirical element.

What made this, and the other two cantatas, so riveting was the passionate performance of bass-baritone Jonathan Woody. We were gritting our teeth, waiting for the appearance of the loathed music stand, but lo and behold there was none. That Mr. Woody invested the time and effort to commit to memory not just the Couperin, but also the other two, was sufficiently impressive;  it enabled him to share his consummate skill as storyteller. His artistry was rewarded by the well-deserved rapt attention of the audience. His dramatic delivery never missed an opportunity to heighten the drama by means of gesture and facial expression. The proverbial lily was gilded by his French diction.

The cantata La Mort d'Hercule Louis by Nicolas Clérambault and the cantata L'Enlévement d'Orithie by Michel Pignolet de Montéclair shared a number of characteristics with the Couperin but not the immediacy of the Ariadne story. This was not the boring dry performances we associated with the Baroque period before our ears were opened by Opera Lafayette. 

These are works filled with passion with each verse illumined differentially with its own tempo, texture, and mood. There is sufficient repetition of motifs to make the melodies memorable. The ornamentation of the vocal line captures the ear with roulades, trills, and appogiature. The harmonies are complex and often dense. 

The concerts by Couperin featured a succession of dance rhythms and provided enough variety to keep the ear constantly engaged; we found our body swaying and our toes tapping. Were it not for a sense of decorum, we might have gotten up and danced!

The musicians were impressive all around. The violin of Jacob Ashworth (whom we first heard some years ago with Heartbeat Opera) was spirited with excellent singing tone. The mellow transverse flute, played by the masterful Immanuel Davis, often echoed the melody introduced by the violin. The six-stringed viol, in the hands of Joshua Keller, created the bass line, whilst the harpsichord of Mr. Rousset provided a carpet of sound upon which danced the melodies of the violin and flute.

Opera Lafayette returns to New York City in May with two exciting programs. A little bird told us that the future holds more excursions to New York City, which will make us happy, along with a lot of other grateful fans.

© meche kroop

Monday, October 23, 2023


 Alex Munger and Lindsay Kate Brown

We recall hearing mezzo-soprano Lindsay Kate Brown over three years ago in the very same venue--The Morgan Library-- as one of the winners of the George and Nora London Foundation Competition. It was pre-Covid and there was a full house.  Yesterday Ms. Brown presented a beautifully planned recital in the same venue but the house was half empty. We realize that post-Covid, people are staying home more, so we are urging you, dear reader, to come out and support our vocal artists who work so diligently to bring artistry into our lives!

Ms. Brown entitled her program "Serenading the Hours: A Day to Night Recital" and it was evident that she put a great deal of thought into selecting a variety of composers; she sang in three languages--Russian, German, and English.  Having heard an entire concert of Rachmaninoff's music last night, our ears were particularly attuned to the Russian language and we were glad that political sentiment did not punish Tchaikovsky for Putin's transgressions. Art always trumps politics in our world!

The set of Tchaikovsky songs were well chosen, beginning with the haunting and melancholy "Autumn" and ending with the familiar "None But the Lonely Heart". Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's poignant text must have appealed to the composer who certainly had a lonely heart.  But it also appealed to Schubert who included "Nur ver die Sehnsucht kennt" in his Wilhelm Meister songs. But, on the other hand, it has also been set by Schumann and Beethoven. Someday we would love to hear all four settings on the same program!

Ms. Brown has an engaging onstage presence and chatted naturally with the audience, making us feel welcome. She has an ample instrument and one well suited to Wagner and Verdi but we found it most appealing in the rich lower register and especially in the pianissimo sections. At times when called upon to sing fortissimo in the upper register, we heard a sound that was harsh to our ears.

The "Day" section of the recital continued with songs in English by Jennifer Higdon who provided her own original texts; they were sung with clarity of diction. We particularly enjoyed the lyrical piano part performed by the excellent collaborative pianist Alex Munger

The section ended with songs by Alma Mahler who was sadly stifled by her husband, the famous composer Gustav Mahler. The composer's choice of text seems to indicate a woman of great passion. Our favorite was the gentle "Bei dir ist es traut" which showed off the part of Ms. Brown's voice that fell most pleasantly on our ear. The rippling piano in "Ansturm" was a further source of delight. "Erntelied" ended with a lovely vocalise.

The "Night" half of the program began with songs by Joseph Marx, a composer whose lieder should be more frequently heard.  His "Suss duftende Lindenblüthe" produced feelings of sweet nostalgia, underscored by gentle rippling in the piano. Mr. Munger also captured the rushing brook in "Erinnerung".

Ms. Brown is considerably fonder of Samuel Barber's songs than we are although "Sure on this Shining Night" has an affecting text by James Agee.

Closing the program were six songs from Alban Berg's Sieben frühe Lieder. Although Berg composed about the same time as Marx, his works are far less accessible. Even after multiple hearings we find them difficult to relate to. There is one, however, that enchants us and that is "Die Nachtigall". Theodor Storm's text is rather mystical but the melody lingers and leaves us satisfied. The nightingale sings and roses bloom. A young woman wanders deep in thought.

We don't think we have ever heard a nightingale sing, at least not the avian version, but we just did hear a human nightingale and that is enough for us.

© meche kroop

Sunday, October 22, 2023


 Donghoon Kang, Yohji Daquio, John Viscardi, Sara Stevens, and Glenn Morton

Not even the stunning view across the East River could distract us from the fabulous French program presented by Classic Lyric Arts. CLA has, at present, summer programs of incomparable value in France, Italy, and The Berkshires, the latter focusing on the operas of Mozart. Graduates of these programs are showing off their acquired skills in theaters all over the world. One thinks of these programs as polishing the gems.

Yesterday's concert shed luminous light on the success of CLA's French program which provides an immersive experience for young singers who wish to up their game in French opera and mélodie. If this concert is accepted as evidence, the summer program in France has accomplished its objective beyond what one might hope for. The French language is notoriously difficult to master, largely due to the vowels, especially the nasal ones, and the necessity for long lines, almost free of the stresses one finds in English.

The program opened with CLA Artistic Director Glenn Morton accompanying Executive Director John Vicardi (a graduate of the programs from some years ago) in a moving performance of Henri Duparc's "Chanson triste". As staged by renowned director Daniel Isengart, the mood was fragrant with tristesse. This was no ordinary concert since each piece was lent dramatic impact and intent which augmented the very fine voices.

The gifted young pianist Xu Cheng accompanied the other singers in a program that seemed all too short. Most memorable were the following:  soprano Yohji Daquio singing Juliette's sparkling aria "Je veux vivre"  (from Gounod's Romeo et Juliette) with every ounce of impassioned young womanhood; baritone Donghoon Kang's  strutting demeanor as he created a formidable Escamillo, from Bizet's Carmen, capturing the hearts of the imaginary Spanish ladies (and perhaps those of the women in the audience as well); soprano Sara Stevens' performance of "Robert, toi que j'aime" from the rarely seen Meyerbeer opera Robert le diable.

We are glad that the collapse of Thaïs (Ms. Daquio) into the arms of Athanaël (Mr. Kang) from Massenet's Thaïs  was followed by the frisky "C'est l'amour" from Louis Ganne's Les Saltimbanques. The first brought us to tears and the second left us grinning from ear to ear.  And who doesn't love a happy ending!

© meche kroop

Monday, October 16, 2023


Joseph Sacchi, Younggwang Park, Chelsea Lehnea, Amanda Batista, Le Bu, Chanae Curtis, Spencer Reichman, Key'mon Murrah, Mary Pinto, and Ken Benson 

For over two decades, Gloria Gari has honored the memory of her late husband Giulio Gari with a foundation that supports young singers--in much the same fashion as the late Nora London did for George London. What better way to honor the memory than by passing the torch.

The list of finalists for this year's competition reads like a roll call of the most promising young singers around and the winners have all been seen and heard at our major conservatories and young artist programs around the country. We were thrilled to witness Maestro Eve Queler, founder of Opera Orchestra of New York, receiving an award for her immeasurable contributions to the field of opera. 

After a warm welcome from Mrs. Gari herself, and some introductory comments by Linda Kundell, the charming Ken Benson took over the hosting duties and Mary Pinto took over as accompanist for the afternoon. The talented Ms. Pinto seems to be able to play just about anything and always went above and beyond to support the young singers on the program.

A couple of the winners on the program were more well known to us than the others so let us begin with them. Bass-Baritone Le Bu astonished us with a riveting performance of the hateful Philippe II of Spain in "Elle ne m'aime pas" from Verdi's Don Carlo. The King is hateful because he stole his son's intended bride and then consigned his son to death.  However in this aria, Mr. Bu showed us the lonely and disappointed old man and got us to feel sympathetic! And that's the artistry that astonished us. And he did so in perfect French.

When a singer's technique is this secure he can disappear into a character and take us to new places. He also sang the aria of a very different father. Senta's father Daland sings "Mogst du mein kind" with enthusiasm and it was great to hear Mr. Bu portray a very different character. Every facial expression and gesture had meaning; nothing was generic. The German was flawless and the characterization utterly compelling.

Chelsea Lehnea is known to us since winning the Premiere Opera Foundation Competition and through a starring role with Teatro Nuovo. She knows how to chew the scenery, so to speak, and, like Mr. Bu, creates characters from whom one cannot turn away. In Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, the eponymous Lucia must, in her Act I aria, give a foreshadowing of her ultimate madness. She is clearly hallucinating and must get the audience to see visions through her eyes. This was thrillingly accomplished by Ms. Lehnea through vocal fireworks known as fioritura, so well composed by Donizetti.  All one needs is a stellar coloratura soprano to bring those notes to life and this we got in spades.

Not everyone appreciates the Countertenor fach as much as we do but there was no shortage of applause for Key'mon Murrah who performed "Ah quel giorno ognor rammento" from Rossini's Semiramide. He has a big bright top and was undaunted by the runs, jumps, and trills. The familiar "Parto, parto, ma tu ben mio" from Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito was similarly satisfying.

Bel canto was well represented on the program and Younggwang Park's booming bass was well suited to "Vi ravviso" from Bellini's I Puritani and "Song of the Viking Guest" from Rimsky-Korsakov's Sadko. The voice is substantial, especially in the lower register, and his embouchure permitted vowels that were clear and well matched ensuring a lovely legato in the Bellini. We hope to see him loosen up in his body to match the expressiveness in his voice.

In Mozart's Don Giovanni, Donna Anna must convince the importuning Don Ottavio that she really does love him in "Non mi dir". Chanae Curtis used her bright resonant soprano to convey emotion and let us realize from what source the bel canto composers drew their bags of tricks. This was Mozart laying the groundwork. Showing her versatility, she also performed the "Ave Maria" from Verdi's Otello, showing off the quiet legato of the lines, portraying an innocent woman facing death at the hands of an unreasonably jealous husband.

Speaking of jealous husbands, we enjoyed baritone Spencer Reichman's performance of "E sogno, o realta?" from Verdi's Falstaff. Mr. Reichman did a fine job of using the consonants effectively to convey Ford's jealous rage.

Joseph Saachi's powerful tenor was just right for "Durch die Walder" from Von 
Weber's Der Freischutz. We liked the texture of his voice and the way the aria grew in intensity. We got to hear him again in a duet with soprano Amanda Batista when they performed a happier scene from Otello--"Gia nella notte densa". We enjoyed this duet vocally but we wished for more interaction between Otello and Desdemona.

We enjoyed Ms. Batista singing "Donde estas Cristobal?" from Daniel Catán's Florencia en el Amazonas, one of the few contemporary operas that we enjoyed, having seen it some years ago during New York City Opera's heyday. Spanish sings so beautifully and Ms. Batista surely did it justice.

The concert was followed by a buffet dinner at which the singers and the guests mingled and each table had enthusiastic conversation about the performances. It is this interaction that keeps opera alive!

© meche kroop

Friday, October 6, 2023



Yorgos Lanthimos, Emma Stone, and Dennis Lim, Artistic Director of the NewYork Film Festival

We observe a rugged bleak landscape with goats clambering up and down the rocks. They stare impassively at the camera. Inside a simple dwelling, a black clad woman stares at the camera with similar impassivity. The room is filled with old women, expressionless. We guess that it is a wake. We are correct. The priest and the guests leave and finally the woman feels free to express her anguish. In the next room is a corpse.  His face is not hidden. We guess it is her dead husband. We are correct.

What happens after that in this chiaroscuro film, in the space of a half hour, is not so easy to guess. It appears that the woman satisfies her sexual urges with the corpse. It appears that the corpse comes back to life and dons the woman’s black garb. He drives off in a truck and thrusts a dagger into the ground and dances. By the end of the film we are mystified and shaken.

We are at the New York Film Festival watching Bleat, a black and white silent film directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, starring Emma Stone as the bereaved woman. We rarely review theater, ballet, and film, preferring to stay with opera, about which we know quite a bit; but something special drew us to this event. This silent film, never seen outside of Athens, can only be performed to live music. This was quite a novelty for the New York Film Festival audience. It made us wonder whether silent films a century ago were accompanied by live music. In this case there was an enormous chorus and a chamber group including a cimbalom, playing music by Bach, Knut Nystedt, and Toshio Hosokawa. The music amplified the unspoken feelings,  which, in our book, qualifies as "opera".

The film is a co-production between the Greek National Opera (GNO) and NEON, originally commissioned as part of the Artist on the Composer program curated by GNO’s artistic director Giorgos Koumendakis and NEON’s director Elina Kountouri.

The Q and A after the film involved Dennis Lim, Artistic Director of the New York Film Festival, interviewing Ms. Stone and Mr. Lanthimos. Probably related to the AGFA strike, the conversation skirted issues which were not able to be discussed but the director and actress were modest and engaging and the audience applauded wildly nonetheless.

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, October 4, 2023


 Francesco Barfoed and Joseph Parrish
(photo by Daniel Rosenberg)

There are a few people whose artistic instincts we trust completely and Andrew Ousley of Unison Media is one of them. He has introduced us to some major talents and inspired us to travel to distant venues, like Greenwood Cemetery, for his Death of Classical series. However, last night, the artist he presented in the Crypt of the Church of the Intercession is well known to us, often reviewed by us, and greatly appreciated for his unique gifts.

In what fashion is Joseph Parrish gifted?  Let us count the ways. On the most basic level, his bass-baritone is mellow and falls graciously on the ear. To continue, his technique is flawless with apt phrasing and superb control of dynamics. His messa di voce can have listeners holding their breath. His German is sung without the flaws which plague so many young singers. 

Moreover, his presentation is such that one never notices a particular gesture or expression but rather feels his connection with the material on a far deeper level. We thought of a cello in which the subtle and invisible contributions of the wooden body add so much to the visible fingering and bowing.  That is how Mr. Parrish uses his body, in a most organic fashion, amplifying the text and the subtext.

The atmosphere for his concert was unusual. The underground Crypt is lit only by candles, lots of candles. There are no titles or programs to distract  audience members nor were cell phones permitted. All this served to focus attention on the performance. The audience was completely immersed in the music.

The program began and ended with Mr. Parrish accompanying himself on the piano, evidence that this is an artist who will do things his own way to achieve his own goals, a quality we admire and prize. Apparently, the theme for this recital was a demonstration of the similarity between German lieder and American spirituals, inasmuch as both deal with love, loss, pain, elation,and spirituality. There was a seamlessness to the recital which interspersed works by Liszt, Brahms, and Mahler (our favorite being "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen") with works by Burleigh, Hogan, and Johnson and spirituals that we have heard before but which, in this context, felt entirely new. "Deep River" was sung with art but no artifice.

Except for the opening and the enthusiastically "demanded" encores, piano accompaniment was finely rendered by Francesco Barfoed whose sensitive playing served to underscore the idea that there should be no artificial categories like "art song", "popular song", or "folk song". We first became aware of this concept at Steven Blier's New York Festival of Song; Mr. Blier also mixes things up, so to speak, finding similarities more important than differences.

We find Mr. Parrish to be a major talent and are delighted that so many institutions have picked up on it--Santa Fe Opera, the Gerda Lissner Foundation, and Young Concert Artists among them. It will be exciting to see where his gifts take him in the future. Having heard his Aleko on other occasions, we have a hunch that Russian opera will be one of his strong suits.

© meche kroop