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, December 17, 2023


At the urging of one of our favorite directors (Bea Goodwin) we were persuaded to trek to a performance space in the East Village to listen to some new music--instrumental music, no less, called Chasing the Light. Our lack of enthusiasm turned to rapture within the first five minutes. To us "new music" (anything in the last 3/4 of a century) has meant sitting in a concert hall dimmed to the point of obscuring the boring composer's notes in the program, figuratively scratching our head, looking at our watch, impatient for the piece to end so we could get on to the Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, or Mahler that we came to hear.  Little did we know that "new music" could take us to places buried in our unconscious or places never before imagined. For an hour and a half we were transported to inner space and outer space.

The closest we have ever come to such an experience was at events called "happenings" that we attended long long ago. But this event, immersive as it was, took at its starting point the music of Whitney George which she herself conducted. The work comprised 16 episodes (movements?) that had as a unifying theme the use of the interval of a 2nd with the two notes on the scale rubbing against each other and creating overtones that bounced around the performing space. There were brief motifs and partial scale passages but no melody to speak of.

Ms. George's composition was performed by six musicians--a pianist, a flutist, a clarinetist, a violinist, a cellist, and a percussionist. We doubt we have ever heard such interesting textures. Often, the combination of instruments led us to believe that there were more than six instruments involved. We've never heard that before.

But this was not just a musical event. It was an immersive experience that went far beyond. "mixed media". Fortunately, there were none of those projections that annoy and distract us. Rather there were "light boxes", also vaguely recalled from long long ago, projecting biomorphic images on the walls.

The space was pitch black, which augmented the experience of focusing on the moment as well as, paradoxically, allowing the imagination to run wild. Each episode had its own "light show" , illuminating inner space and sometimes outer space. One was continually surrounded by an environment which enhanced the music.

Another element was that of dance, or body movement if one prefers that term. In one episode the dancer's silhouette was projected as shadows on the walls. The most striking episode was one in which the space was filled with fog and one could see the dancer, or part of her body, through the fog as it shifted around the space. She was accompanied by the violin. This evoked a long forgotten memory of being stranded at the top of the Matterhorn in Switzerland during a whiteout in which we waited for the briefest interludes in the fog to slowly pick our way down the mountain.  Only later did we learn that the episode included the use of the scent of pine, which we might have perceived at an unconscious level. 

Our words here are only a feeble attempt to describe something that was meant to be experienced. We can only say that we spent an hour and a half in an altered state and left filled with wonder. The chamber music collective which created this work is called Curiosity Cabinet.

© meche kroop

Tuesday, December 12, 2023


Victoria Magnusson,  Anna Maria Vacca,  Scott Rubén La Marca, Huiying Chen,  Tamara Teine-'Aulelei Bowden, Alexander Young, and Zhenpeng Zhang

Mozart wrote La Finta Giardiniera when he was 18 years old! That it has survived for 250 years is a testament to its sparkling melodies, tumbling over each other whilst suffering from a case of l'abbondanza. Mozart ha been characterized as "classical", overcoming the excesses of the Baroque period and preceding the lavish embellishments of the Bel Canto period. Watching his youthful excursion into opera, one could be forgiven for debating that assertion.

The youthful voices of The Manhattan School of Music Graduate Opera Theatre did exemplary justice to Mozart's composition. The libretto (variously attributed) is silly but no sillier than many operas of the late 18th c.  The tropes invariably involve mismatched lovers and disguises. 

The kindly servant Roberto, under the assumed name of Nardo (Zhenpeng Zhang) is taken with the devious servant Serpetta (Victoria Magnusson) who is in love with her befuddled boss the Podesta (mayor) played by Alexander Young. He, in turn, is in love with the unhappy gardener Sandrine (Huiying Chen)  who has entered his employ to escape from her former existence as The Marchioness Onesti. She is still in love with the fickle Count Belfiore (Scott Rubén La Marca) who stabbed her in a fit of jealous rage. The Count arrives at the home of The Podesta to marry the latter's demanding niece Arminda (Samara Teine-'Aulelei Bowden) who is rejecting her former lover, the loyal Cavalier Ramiro (Anna Maria Vacca in travesti).  

Got all that? If you have a few moments to spare, you might enjoy reading our humorous take on these romantic entanglements in a review from several years ago.  Here's the link. http://www.vocedimeche.reviews/2015/08/crazy-in-love.html
Actually, we saw this charming work thrice in the space of two years and always enjoyed it.

Every member of the cast was outstanding both vocally and dramatically. If we were not otherwise engaged we would return to see it tomorrow with a different but equally excellent cast and again  on Wednesday with the same cast! We had a smile on our face for two hours and are smiling again, recalling the joyful performance. We reckon that the cast enjoyed themselves equally.

The work was directed by Jennifer Williams who made the complicated relationships quite clear but did not have a solution for the weird scene in the forest which Eric Einhoirn wisely omitted in the On Site Opera production we also reviewed. In her defense, neither the Santa Fe Opera production nor The Juilliard Opera Center production made sense of it either.

But it mattered little in the overall scheme of things because by whatever deus ex machina, all the couples get sorted out by the end. Reading the program notes on the way home confirmed our opinion that the so-called "Director's Notes" should be left out of the program.  Either a work speaks for itself or it doesn't. As a matter of fact, it speaks to each of us differentially, dependent upon what we bring to it. Given a certain orientation one might even put a social class interpretation upon it, as we might on Mozart's Nozze di Figaro. We might see it as an expression of poor romantic judgment, or of forgiveness, or of emotional growth, or of acceptance of fate. Whatever!

We find mating behavior fascinating--pursuit, rejection, betrayal, reconciliation--far more than stories about terrorism, politics, and inventions. We wish more contemporary composers would write about romance. Don't we all love to see our foibles onstage?

The work was conducted with liveliness and precision by Maestro Djordje Nesic, who also served as Vocal Coach. The responsive chamber orchestra of strings was augmented by a keyboard, played by Eric Sedgwick, leading us to mistakenly hear some sounds of wind instruments.

The set by Matthew Leabo was simple with some large mirrored panels behind which characters could hide and some very apt gardening implements, including a lawn mower, which established the setting. A tray full of psychedelically colored mushrooms may have been an attempt to establish the setting as a "rave" which Ms. Williams intended, as we read after the performance.

The costumes by Asa Benally helped to establish the characters identity. and were mostly white. Sandrine and Nardo wore coveralls, the Podesta wore a natty suit suitable to his station whilst Belfiore's white suit smacked of narcissism. The pants role of Ramiro was less ostentatious. Armida, as befitting her demanding personality, wore riding boots and wielded a riding crop.

We never did figure out Serpetta's manipulation of a device which projected meaningless abstract projections on a side wall.  Oh well, we seem to be seeing projections everywhere these days and find them distracting.

The bottom line is--this is a "must see". You won't regret it!  Let us hope there are still tickets to be had.

© meche kroop

Monday, December 11, 2023


 the Cast of Peter and the Wolf

Sergei Prokofiev's 1936 symphonic fairy tale Peter and the Wolf was our very own introduction to classical music and led to a lifelong appreciation. To this day we cannot hear a bassoon without thinking of Peter's grandfather. The iterations of the piece are multiple and we once spent an inordinate amount of time searching for a copy of a jazz/rock version on the Deutsche Grammophon label. We failed.

But we always come to hear Isaac Mizrahi's version at the Guggenheim museum, part of their Works and Process series. The multi-talented Mr. Mizrahi conceived and directed the show, performed the engaging and droll narration, and designed the apposite costumes for the performers.

String players are placed stage right, percussion is stage left, and the wind instruments representing the various characters share the stage with some very fine dancers performing choreography by John Heginbotham. Maestro Michael P. Atkinson conducted the ensemble. The music is tuneful and accessible, not to mention enchanting.

The role of Peter was performed by Kara Chan wearing a propeller beanie.  Peter's antics were represented by five string players (string quartet plus bass from Ensemble Connect). Paige Barnett Kulbeth made a finely feathered bird, dancing on point with true avian disregard for gravity. Her flightiness was represented by the richly ornamented flute melody played by Anjali Shinde. Marjorie Folkman lurched around on large flipper feet as Sonya the Duck, represented by the mournful oboe of Joseph Jordan, whilst Zach Gonder exhibited feline friskiness as the Cat, whose nimble motion was echoed by Bixby Kennedy's clarinet. 

There was plenty of humor in Grandfather's untimely appearance which was gently remonstrated by Mr. Mizrachi. The role was performed by Norton Owen whose elderly plodding was seconded by the bassoon of Marty Tung.

But oh, that wolf! Daniel Pettrow was sitting on a park bench, hiding in plain sight behind an open newspaper, waiting for his cue. Never has the French Horn (Ryan Dresen) sounded so menacing! This lupine creature was kind of adorable, even as he terrorized the bird and the cat. He managed to swallow the duck whole but never fear for the tender feelings of your rugrats. She somehow survives and the wolf is taken to the local zoo.

Making an appearance toward the end is the Hunter, in this case, since we are in Central Park, a chubby and somewhat foolish park ranger, played by Derrick Arthur, supported by the booming percussion of Brandon Ilaw. Knitting the music together was the piano of David Bernat.

Judging by the rapt attention of the children in the audience, this modernized version of a Russian folktale made sense. It is rather sanitized and avoids the unconscious significance of the dangers of the forest which 
Bruno Bettelheim described as being useful in the psychological development of children in his book The Uses of Enchantment.

Nonetheless, it remains a fine means of introducing children to classical music. Unfortunately, we attended the final performance of this year but do keep it in mind for next December, as we are sure Works and Process at the Guggenheim will present it again.

© meche kroop

Saturday, December 9, 2023


Ekmeles Vocal Ensemble at The Crypt

We give Andrew Ousley a great deal of credit for creating unusual and compelling evenings in his series Death of Classical. We cannot, however, give him credit for the boiler breakdown at The Church of the Intercession as we sat shivering in The Crypt. We will say this. The atmosphere added to our sympathy for "The Little Match Girl", who freezes to death on the street on the last night of the year whilst having visions of warmth and food.  According to the fairy tale recorded by the 19th c. Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen, after envisioning her dear departed grandmother, she joins her in heaven.

Composer David Lang was given the commission for this piece by the National Chamber Choir of Ireland and the work premiered in 2008. It was written for four voices, percussion, and chamber choir. The version we saw last night omitted the choir; the four voices we heard brought the text to vivid life and the accompanying percussion went a long way toward amplifying the mood.

Mr. Lang followed the model of Bach's St. Matthew's Passion with the Andersen text interrupted by outpourings of grief, guilt, remorse, repentance, and cries for mercy. Most of these interpolations seemed to be  the voice of a mother who has wronged her daughter. We fantasized that perhaps it was the mother of the little girl sent out to sell matches on a cold wintry night. Personally, we would have been just as moved if the composer had simply  set the fairy tale. But Mr. Lang had something more spiritual in mind and evidently wanted to draw a connection with the Bach piece.

The story is heartbreaking and reminded us to not take our warm home and nourishing food for granted when refugees and hostages alike are suffering in the Middle East. We think of the approaching cold weather and the poor soldiers in Ukraine fighting for their freedom, as well as the Russian soldiers conscripted unwillingly. Yes, we do feel sorrow for them also and we feel sorrow for their wives, mothers, and children. The world is a cruel place for many but Andersen seems to imply that one can be hopeful nonetheless, as the little girl did when she hallucinated warmth and food and love by the light of her matches.

Now, what about the music?  Regular readers recall our distaste for contemporary music but let us mark this as an exception. This was our first time hearing the Ekmeles Vocal Ensemble and we found them to be artistic and effective.The music is tied together by a recurring motif comprising an interval of a fourth followed by just a note or two or three of an ascending scale passage. This motif not only ties the work together but amplifies the chill of the score. Rarely do we hear a work in which the vocal line so well matches the text. No, it isn't at all lyrical but it serves the work well.

This motif is established and repeated by the alto part, strongly sung by Amber Evans who also made good use of the glockenspiel. The soprano part was sung by Charlotte Mundy, who also played the sleigh bells and scraped lightly on a disc called a break drum, which was new to us.  Also new to us were the crotales, small tuned cymbals. Tenor Tomás Cruz  took the tenor part and also played the glockenspiel and tubular bells. Bass Steve Hrycelak also played the bass drum. Each percussion instrument contributed a unique sound. The harmonies were interesting and appropriately chilling in effect, with great use of the dissonant second interval.  Maestro Jeffrey Gavett succeeded in keeping everything balanced and The Crypt was filled with pungent overtones. The overall effect was hypnotic.

We have never heard anything boring or commonplace at Death of Classical  and always eagerly await the announcement of the next adventure. Now we understand that these adventures will be expanding to other cities. We hope they find an audience as appreciative as the New York audience.

© meche kroop 


Thursday, December 7, 2023


 Lighthouse Opera Singers in Act I scene from Verdi's La Traviata

The Bronx is way out of our territory but the one time we went up there last year was to see one of our favorite artists perform the role of Violetta in Verdi's masterpiece La Traviata. How fitting that we got to see her in the ensemble that closed last night's gala--the party scene from Act I of the same opera. We also had the opportunity to hear other members from that same cast, but we will get to that later.

Our dearest pleasure in life is witnessing the growth of young singers. Lyric soprano Shaina Martinez is one of them. We have been writing about her since her time at Manhattan School of Music and watching her expand her repertoire. Last night we particularly enjoyed her performance of "Ernani involami" and are happy to see her expanding into new repertory as her voice grows in dimension. The aria was sung with both depth and breadth of tone and the fireworks of the cabaletta were finely executed, the ornamentation reminding us that Verdi composed on the heels of the bel canto composers we admire so greatly.

We also enjoyed a favorite aria from Bizet's Carmen. Alone and scared in the mountains near Seville, poor Micaëla "whistles in the dark", using her faith to bolster her courage in "Je dis que rien ne m'épouvante". Ms. Martinez successfully conveyed that mixture of terror and resoluteness that we want to see in the character, and did so with grand and powerful singing, filling the hall with overtones and filling the text with meaning.

Her Alfredo from the production we saw last year in The Bronx was tenor Michael Celentano, another singer whose progress delights us. . He made a convincing Don Jose in the final scene from Carmen--as convincing vocally as he was dramatically. We preferred him in that role as he portrayed Don Jose's complex emotions than his portrayal of  Walter von Stolzing from Wagner's Die Meistersinger. The fach of heldentenor may be more accessible somewhere down the road. If we noticed one thing that would top off Mr. Celentano's performance it would be some coaching in French and German.

His Carmen was portrayed by mezzo-soprano Ema Mitrevic whose selections of the evening involved three seductive women. Her defiant Carmen in the death scene with Mr. Celentano was a real hit and more believable than the "Seguidilla" in which she tries to seduce Don Jose with some not very Spanish wiggling. We found her far more believable as Dalilah in "Mon coeur s'oeuvre a ta voix" from Saint-Saëns's Samson et Delilah, creating seductiveness by means of vocal color.

Ms. Mitrevic has stayed in my memory as the Flora in The Lighthouse Opera's La Traviata,  and the fourth singer remembered from that production was tenor Scott Rubén La Marca who had portrayed Gaston. Last night he employed his sweet tenor to portray Ferrando in Mozart's Cosi fan tutte, singing "Un aura amorosa" with youthful romantic ardor.

Where he really shone was in a duet from the final act of Torroba's zarzuela Luisa Fernanda in which the heroine (beautifully sung by Ms. Martinez) tells his character Javier that she cannot marry him. (By a strange coincidence we just heard last night another duet from the same zarzuela!) Although the role of Luisa was written for the mezzo-soprano fach, it posed no challenge for the talented Ms. Martinez and the two singers worked quite well together.

The only other singer on the program that we had heard before was tenor Omar Bowey. Unfortunately, we had not had the chance to witness his vocal growth over the past decade and it was like hearing someone new. We cannot remember what he sounded like that long ago but last night we noticed an interesting vibrato. He injected a lot of dynamic variety into "Dies Bildnis its bezaubernd schön" from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte. However, we enjoyed his portrayal of the Duke in the quartet from Rigoletto even more.

We also got to hear some singers for the first time, which is always exciting. Bass-baritone Charles D. Carter has the resonant low notes and authoritative stage presence to make a fine Sarastro singing "O Isis und Osiris" from Die Zauberflöte. He also made an excellent Sparafucile from Verdi's Rigoletto showing characterological versatility--all the way from heroic to villainous. He offered his assassination skills to the hunchback Rigoletto, excellently realized by baritone Robert McNichols, Jr. who was a guest artist for the evening.

Also new to us was baritone Phillip K. Bullock whom we only got to hear once. His portrayal of the virile and self-satisfied Escamillo in Carmen was memorable,  blending nonchalance and arrogance. It left us wanting more.

Finally, soprano Lisa Eden showed a facility for French in "Depuis le jour" from Charpentier's Louise. We thought this aria suited her voice better than "Piangero la sorte mia" from Händel's Giulio Cesare. Perhaps she just liked the character more.

In the quartet from Rigoletto, Ms. Eden took the role of Gilda, Ms. Mitrovec took the role of Maddalena (another seductive woman!), Mr. Bowey performed the Duke, and Mr. McNichols, Jr. portrayed Rigoletto. The voices balanced perfectly.

As seen in the photo above, the evening concluded with the party scene from Verdi's La Traviata leaving the audience humming.

© meche kroop

Wednesday, December 6, 2023


 César Andrés Parreño, Steven Blier, and Shelén Hughes

The only song on the New York Festival of Song's satisfying program last night that was familiar to us was Chilean composer Violeta Parra's "Gracias a la Vida". We never knew that it was a farewell to life, written before her lamentable suicide. We must admit that this wonderful piece of music that always had filled us with joy filled us with sadness upon learning of its origins. Nonetheless, we felt "gracias a la musica", which we always feel after having spent an evening with Steven Blier and his well chosen artists and carefully curated program.

There is definitely a degree of magic in these evenings and we are not alone in feeling that. In a city in which there is such strenuous competition for an audience, Mr. Blier's concerts always fill the house, the house being the gracious Merkin Hall at the Kaufman Music Center. We come to be introduced to new songs (not newly composed, but newly "discovered" by Mr. Blier); we come to hear  the cream of the crop of young singers chosen by Mr. Blier; we come for Mr. Blier's charming anecdotes and fascinating tidbits about the composers.

Last night offered the additional benefit of focusing on Latin American music, music which is dear to our heart. Standing against the academic leanings of the early and mid 20th c., Latin American composers appear to have stood their ground in writing music with lyrical vocal lines and underlying rhythm that is so prevalent in the Southern Hemisphere. Folk music has been given a European classical treatment, elevating music of the people into an art form for the ages. If texts that rhymed and scanned were not found they were written by the composers themselves. There is no boring prose  to weigh down the music.

The program comprised songs from Argentina which went way beyond the tango, a song from Ecuador, from whence hails the compelling tenor César Andrés Parreño, a song from Bolivia, the native country of the adorable soprano Shelén Hughes, and more songs from Venezuela, Chile, Brazil, and Peru. It was a veritable banqueteado!

Ms. Hughes and Mr. Parreño are both in the Artist Diploma Vocal Studies Program at Juilliard but we have been enjoying their performances from earlier in their careers and have a secret sense of satisfaction from knowing that we spotted their gifts early on. Both of them share a common facility for expressiveness that makes each song come alive. Gestures are broad and illustrative whilst facial expressions reveal exactly what the composer/libretticist intended. It is more than acting. It is a form of channeling that we always appreciate. It is a quality one must admire in some popular singers, even when one doesn't care for their music.

We wondered what it must be like for Ms. Hughes to have shared the cuenca of her compatrioto Willy Claure who wrote the charming courtship song "Cantarina". We almost fell out of our chair when the brilliant bass-baritone Joseph Parrish, about whose recital we just wrote, joined her onstage for the dance! Guitar accompaniment was provided by the renowned Oren Fader.

Similarly, for Mr. Parreño to have shared "Despedida", the sad pasillo of his compatrioto Gerardo Guevara must have been a special experience.

There were so many other delights on the program that we scarcely know where to begin. It is no secret that we favor duets and the opening duet by Guastavino "Las puertas de la mañana" was particularly lovely as was the lyrical "Anhelo". The closing duet "Odeon" by Brazilian Ernesto Nazareth offered the pair an opportunity for storytelling, painting a picture of some old time movie going. 

Rivaling Gilbert and Sullivan's patter songs was "El Currucha" by Venezuelan Juan Bautista Plaza. It seemed more of a challenge for our ears to grasp  than it was for Mr. Parreño to sing. We admired how he made it look so easy.

Ms. Hughes shone brightly in two Brazilian songs. Heitor Villa-Lobos' "Evocaçao" composed in a minor mode and given a soulful and intense performance. Ernesto Nazareth's "Você nao me da!" offered her an opportunity to show her charming personality.

Of course there had to be an encore. which was yet more charming, a flirtatious duet from the zarzuela Luisa Fernanda --"Caballero del alto plumero". What more could a lover of Lain American music wish for!

© meche kroop


Sunday, December 3, 2023


Yihao Zhou and Joseph Parrish

We could begin our review by noting how well-curated the recital was, how deeply resonant was Joseph Parrish's spacious bass-baritone instrument, how crisp his diction, how apt his phrasing, and how his well-rehearsed gestures and facial expressions came across as totally spontaneous.

That would all be true! But something more important happened that brings us to the very purpose of music. At its best, music is healing and transformative. We arrived at the Engelman Recital Hall of The Baruch Performing Arts Center in a miserable state after a week of floods and computer disasters. An hour later, we walked out all smiles and lighter than air.  Hours later, the uplifted feeling remains.

We attend concerts and recitals on a regular basis. A few are disappointing, leaving us struggling for some kind words to put on the page. Most are pleasing, allowing us to be generous in our praise. Rarely do we spend an hour or two with an artist that brings us tears of joy, joy that there can be such artistic glories that transcend excellence.

How does one account for this magical effect that makes us forget the intricacies of vocal production and interpretation? It is the ineffable quality that intrigues us and elevates a performer to the heavenly realm. Part of it would seem to be the ability to communicate directly with the audience, to make each member of the audience feel as if the singer is singing to him/her. Even as Mr. Parrish introduced each set of songs we knew he was involved in what he was singing and cared as deeply for the text as for the music. As soon as he opened his mouth, we got the impression that he was self-effacing and allowing the song to come through him, not from him.

The program opened and closed with material that was not on the program. Mr. Parrish puts his own stamp on whatever he does and sitting at the piano, accompanying himself in Bob Telson's "Calling You", we felt something calling us. We have already ordered a copy of Bagdad Cafe, the film for which that song was written.

The first set of songs featured two songs by Donizetti. "Sull'onda cheta e bruna" was a lively one with the able collaborative pianist Yihao Zhou creating a barcarolle rhythm in the piano; "Amore e morte" was solemn with a great depth of feeling, limning different colors in the artist's palette. Donaudy's "Come l'alladoletto" offered a graceful legato. Granados' "El majo olvidado" was filled with pain in both voice and piano.

 A set of German songs brought new colors and new delights. Wisely chosen were two of Hugo Wolf's more accessible songs. In "Der Tambour" Mr. Parrish offered us the loneliness of a little drummer boy conscripted into the army who misses his mother. "Fussreise" is one of those joyful 19th c. songs extolling the joys of wandering through nature. "Aus! Aus!" is a Mahler song we had never heard before about a soldier taking leave of his sweetheart. He is joyful. She is not. One had to admire the crisp German consonants that never cheated the vowels. One was also impressed by how the artist assumed the role assigned by the text.

A trio of romances by Rachmaninoff showed off the lower end of Mr. Parrish's register and the warm texture of his instrument. We particularly enjoyed the delicacy of "The Lilacs" which succeeded in bringing forth a sense memory of Lilac Walk in Central Park in late Spring.

Ravel's cycle Don Quichotte à Dulcinée was sung with appropriate acting, giving high contrast between the prayerful and the intoxicated. The Gallic phrasing and line were just about parfait. 

The four songs that followed paid tribute to Afro-American composers of serious art songs, taking us way beyond the obligatorily programmed spiritual. The main thing we noticed was that each song was more melodic and pleasing to the ear than most American art songs of the early 20th c. We find vey few composers who can set the English language and these four truly hit the spot, deserving wider recognition. We heard Harry Burleigh's "Her Eyes, Twin Pools of Mystic Light", H. Leslie Adams' "For You There is No Song", and Florence Price's "Song to the Dark Virgin" all delivered with completely comprehensible words which we find so rare in the singing of English text. Also heard was Charles Brown's "A Song Without Words" which illustrated how a great performer can make much of humming, just as he can with a vocalise.

The audience paid rapt attention throughout and a standing ovation required an encore which we believe was the spiritual "Great is Thy Faithfulness".

In sum, it was a well-spent evening for which we are most grateful. Although Mr. Parrish has been on our radar and in our reviews for barely two years, we are not alone in recognizing his talent. Prizes and honors are already being heaped upon him. We might add that his artistry on the operatic stage is reflected in his art song delivery. To read our prior reviews, you can, Dear Reader, enter his name in the search bar on the right side of the page.  We can scarcely wait to see what the next two years will bring.

© meche kroop

Sunday, November 19, 2023


 Maestro William Remmers and the cast of Utopia Opera's H.M.S. Pinafore

There are two types of people in this world--those that love Gilbert and Sullivan and those who do not know their works. Darlings of the Victorian Age, Arthur Sullivan's tuneful music and W.S. Gilbert's clever lyrics enchanted audiences on both sides of the Atlantic, transformed musical theater forever, and inspired countless pirated versions, versions for children, and even a version in Yiddish.

The richness of Sullivan's musical invention has inspired more musical analyses of key changes than we can absorb and Gilbert's satire encompasses the British class system, the patriotism of the British empire, the two-party system, and the conventions of opera. Musical quotations and plot satires abound. As just one example, the switching of babies recalls Verdi's Il Trovatore.

We have no doubt that their work appealed to each of Great Britain's social classes for different reasons, which accounts for their popularity. Indeed, their works offer something for everyone. They originated the use of naturalistic scenery and costumes; engravings from that period are charmingly detailed.

Such sets and costumes were missing from Utopia Opera's production this weekend of H.M.S. Pinafore but the musical values and enthusiastic performances made up for the lack. We do not know any theatrical production off-Broadway that offers equal bang for the buck. Proof of the proverbial pudding could be seen in the full house and rapturous applause of the audience, augmented by a generous quantity of whooping and hollering.

One feature which made us very happy was the projected titles, allowing us to appreciate the extraordinary cleverness of Gilbert's libretto. Certain arias are so famous ("I'm called Little Buttercup" and "I am the Captain of the Pinafore") that we know them by heart; others are less well known but were found to be equally memorable. Minus sets and costumes we were free to focus on the music and the text.

If anyone reading is not familiar with the story, it takes place on a vessel of the Queen's Navy (satirically named after an article of female clothing). The 
Captain (played by renowned interpreter of the role Richard Holmes) has a lovely daughter (Christina Krawec) who he would like to marry off to The Right Honorable Sir Joseph Porter, KCB First Lord of the Admiralty (played by Maestro William Remmers himself). Naturally, the girl is in love with a "common sailor" named Ralph Rackstraw (Jeremy Sivitz) but he is an unsuitable match by virtue of his "lowly social class".

The couple plan to elope but their plan is foiled by the nefarious Dick Deadeye 
(Benjamin Spierman). The deus ex machina is provided by Little Buttercup (Stephanie Feigenbaum). Of course, Jack will have his Jill and everything ends happily.

Every moment of the production was worthwhile but a few scenes stand out, largely involving the rubber-bodied Maestro Remmers who managed to conduct the sizable orchestra and portray Sir Porter simultaneously with the mere addition of a cap. This would suggest a very special rapport with the orchestra and some anticipatory rehearsal. Remmers' delivery of "I am a Monarch of the Sea" was classic; the text refers to one W. H. Smith, a politician who had recently been appointed First Lord of the Admiralty despite having neither military nor nautical experience.

In an atypical arrangement, the 18 members of the orchestra were situated upstage with the singers downstage. The orchestra comprised the usual string quartet plus string bass and a very competent wind section--a. pair of flutes, an oboe, a pair of clarinets, a pair of cornets, a bassoon, a pair of horns, a pair of trombones, and a percussionist.

We enjoyed the chorus of sailors and particularly admired the voices of Henry Horstmann as the Bosun's Mate and Jonathan Fox Powers as the Carpenter's Mate.

The female chorus did a fine job as the "Sisters, Cousins, and Aunts" who accompanied Sir Porter. Some of the funniest moments of the show involved a particularly intrusive Cousin Hebe (Angela Scorese) whom Sir Porter kept trying to silence and dismiss.

Much of the humor comes from watching characters taking themselves seriously in such preposterous circumstances. We can only imagine the delight experienced by the audience in 1878!

The complicated history of this career-making comic opera is fascinating but way too detailed to get into here.  Likewise the strained interaction between Gilbert and Sullivan which was depicted in a highly recommended film a quarter centry ago by Mike Leigh entitled Topsy Turvy.

© meche kroop

Friday, November 17, 2023


 Curtain call at Manhattan School of Music for Benjamin Britten's "A Midsummer Night's Dream"

We lost count of the number of times we have seen the Shakespeare play but the production we saw last night of Benjamin Britten's operatic adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream  best captured the spirit of the work. Shakespeare's text in iambic pentameter has its own music and, in our opinion, does not inspire memorable vocal lines. However, Britten's instrumental music creates a soundscape that evokes a world of fantasy and magic. The opening scene gave the chamber orchestra, so well conducted by esteemed Maestro George Manahan, frequent glissandi that tickled the ear.

The success of the production rests firmly on the professional level performances of the Manhattan School of Music Graduate Opera Theater and the Director John de los Santos who has a long list of professional successes but is known to us mainly through his work at MSM and New Camerata Opera. His work on this piece is marked by originality, creativity, and imagination. It is also marked by some ribaldry and naughtiness of which Shakespeare would have surely approved.  (Ask us about the toilet plunger and the ass' ass.)

We did not miss the opening scene of the play which takes place in an Athenian courtroom. The opera begins in the forest, the land where fairies lead their magical lives and play tricks on mortals. The gods in Wagner's Ring Cycle display as many characterological defects as the humans; similarly the fairies in Britten's opera are beset by romantic problems just like the mortals.

Titania, played by the tiny powerhouse soprano Sofia Gotch-Caruana, does not want to relinquish the changeling infant to her demanding husband Oberon, played with appropriate majesty by Haolun Zhang whose ethereal counter-tenor, effectively accompanied by the celeste, fulfilled the role with excellence.

The lovely Hermia (mezzo-soprano Ya Gao) has fled Athens with her beloved Lysander (tenor Isaiah Traylor) because of parental disapproval. The couple are so adorable together that we are cheering for them right from the start.

In contrast, poor Helena (soprano Madison Marie Fitzpatrick, well remembered from last year's Caccini opera) is pursuing Demetrius (baritone Ross Macatangay) who rejects her because he is in love with Hermia and wants nothing more than to take Hermia away from Lysander.

That Shakespeare created this romantic mess five centuries ago gives us pause. His work endures because of his keen insight into human behavior which seems not to have changed in half a millenium!  How do you think this romantic situation can be resolved? By the help of the fairies of course!

Oberon enlists the help of the sprite Puck, a non-singing role that was well spoken and extremely well-danced by Johannes Linneballe who made use of the entire stage as his playground. We saw no choreographer listed in the program; shall we assume that this gifted member of the graduate vocal program self-choreographed?

Shakespeare himself said "The course of true love never did run smooth"; so, of course, Puck's performance of Oberon's instructions is mistaken and the bewildered Helena winds up fighting off two lovers and poor Hermia is abandoned. Of course, things are set aright but the complications, emphasized by the music, keep us involved.

Thinking about Wagner's Ring Cycle and the gods interfering with the lives of mortals, we notice also a setting apart of a less genteel and less educated working class, i.e. the "rustics" who win a competition to provide entertainment for the wedding of Theseus Duke of Athens (the smooth-voiced baritone Donghoon Kang) and Hippolyta Queen of the Amazons (the regal Xiaowei Fang).

The six "rustics" provided comic relief and a welcome break from the romantic struggles of the Athenian upper classes. Outstanding among them is Benjamin R. Sokol as Bottom the Weaver who wants to play every part in the play within the play, another grand insight of the Bard.  Don't we all know someone like that? Mr. Sokol garnered plenty of laughs during the process of casting Pyramus and Thisbe but even more when he is transformed into an ass and becomes the love object of Titania who has been tricked by her manipulative husband. Did we mention how well he sang?

The other rustics were also excellent: William Velasco de Jesús as Flute, reluctantly playing Thisbe in drag, Xingxiang Liu as Snout, Gregory Gropper as Starveling, Jon Carr as Snug, and Liyuan Liu as Quince, trying to direct the project. Each performer evinced a different personality.

In contrast, the fairies comprised a unified chorus and worked more as an ensemble. We heard Suzana Ikeda, Margaux Frohlich, Nadine Nagyeong Li, Abigail Williams, Zixuan Zhang, and Morena Galan.

In the final scene, order is restored and Britten has his fun lampooning the golden age of opera with the performance by the rustics of "Pyramus and Thisbe" including murder and suicide. The bored Athenians gently decline to see the Epilogue. "All's well that ends well", as they say. All are successfully matched and we have been royally entertained by this superlative cast. We are left hoping that they enjoyed themselves as much as we did.

Let us not fail to credit the excellent costume design of Ashley Soliman. The fairies were fantastical with extravagant attire whilst the Athenians were costumed in contemporary streetwear with the rustics in contemporary workmen's attire. The Duke and his bride were appropriately elegant. Abbey Wiker's scenic design was simple but effective with multi-leveled playing areas and vertical sliding elements that altered perspective.

We are also left reflecting upon how often Shakespeare's works have inspired operas. The ones that came to mind first are Verdi's use of Macbeth, Othello, and The Merry Wives of Windsor. We also thought of Thomas' Hamlet. We will think upon this more and invite you Dear Reader to make any additions in the comments below. Obviously Italian opera of the 19th c. had far more interesting vocal lines which we attribute to the musicality of the language, as opposed to Shakespeare's iambic pentameter.

© meche kroop

Friday, November 10, 2023


Heartbeat Opera Gala Drag Show--"The Golden Cock"

Our beloved Heartbeat Opera has been undergoing major changes for the past couple years.  We are excited about an upcoming Eugene Onegin; they can be expected to put a most original stamp on it, as they usually do. We will withhold judgment until we see/hear it.  But there is never any doubt in our mind about the joyful entertainment provided at their annual drag show.

What we love about them comprises the wildness and originality of the costumes, the imaginative script, the bawdy gay humor, the clever play on words, the excellence of the musical values, and the sneaky topicality.

With Russian operas and Russian singers being cancelled (both literally and figuratively), how completely outrageous it was to do a send up of Rimsky-Korsakov's final opera The Golden Cockerel, composed in 1907 but not performed until after his death. It is rarely produced but six years ago we had the pleasure of seeing it twice! It is the story of an autocratic king who invades an innocent country (!) and gets advice from a bird.  The music is just as glorious as one might expect and the not-so-hidden message was as true today as it was in the early part of the 20th c. and six years ago.

The story was, of course, fractured and splintered to provide opportunities for typical Heartbeat hijinx and double entendres. Rimsky-Korsakov's music received lots of stage time but so did several other Russian composers. Our companion joined me in identifying most of them including Rachmaninoff's "vocalise" and Tatiana's waltz from Eugene Onegin. We also heard some Rossini for good measure.

Musical values are always excellent with Heartbeat Opera. The chamber orchestra comprised Co-Musical Directors Jacob Ashworth (violin) and Daniel Schlosberg (piano) with Angela Shankar playing clarinet and saxophone and Deanne Cirielli enchanting us with her harp. It was impressive that four musicians could create such a full sound, but with Mr. Schlosberg doing the arrangements, we would expect no less.

The singing was exceptional as well with bass John Taylor Ward towering over everyone else. Tenor Elliot Paige is another "regular" that we always look forward to seeing and hearing.  Countertenor Daniel Moody made a fine showing as well. The female voices had less stage time but were also excellent--soprano Ariana Wehr and contralto Sara Couden. Special guest artist John Holiday provided a rare treat as well with his inimitable countertenor

The show was created by  Mr. Ashworth and Nico Krell who also directed. The extravagant costumes were designed by David Quinn. The Master of Ceremonies was Maxim Ibadov. One thing about the annual drag show that impresses us is how well everyone works together; the ensemble feel is unmistakeable. Everyone seems to be having fun and this mood is infectious. The audience was filled with smiling faces.  Yours could be among them if you read this in time.  There will be two shows at Roulette tonight, Friday November 10th. It is well worth a trip to Brooklyn. In these troubled times, there is nothing like gay humor to lift one's spirits!

© meche kroop


Thursday, November 9, 2023


Woo Young Yoon and Alice Chung

Competition is fierce in the opera world.  Too little money, too many talented singers, too few positions. Opera Index is well known for a fair competition, a devoted membership, and generous awards. The selection of winners is highly anticipated and the 2023 winners have just been announced. However, last night's recital celebrated the artistry and versatility of  mezzo-soprano Alice Chung and tenor Woo Young Yoon, winners from last year. Both artists are well known by us and much admired. Watching their respective careers flourishing brings us joy. 

Ms. Chung is a powerhouse performer and has a very special gift for drawing us into her vision no matter what character she is inhabiting; it is far more than a portrayal. One lives through the scene with her and you experience the character just as she does. All of her exemplary technique is used in the service of the character and the scene. Of course, one cannot miss the consistency from one end of the register to the other, nor the scintillating vibrato, the impeccable phrasing, the effective dynamic variation, and the linguistic accuracy.  

We have written before about her performance of a Korean song by Choi Young-Sup entitled "Longing for GeumGang Mountain" and the reason why South Korea's art song tradition is so recent. Rather than repeat it, we urge you Dear Reader to enter Ms. Chung's name in the search bar. Last night the song was performed as a duet with tenor Woo Young Yoon with verses performed alternatively and then in harmony, to lovely effect.

Ms. Chung's songs in Russian were impeccably sung, as noted by our Russian-speaking companion. Rimsky-Korsakov was the first classical composer we were exposed to as a child and we still find his compositions magically colorful. We heard "When golden cornfields sway" and "Elegy" each given heartfelt involvement. An aria from Tchaikosky's Maid of Orleans went directly to the heart.

The artist's facility in French we could judge for ourself. By a strange coincidence, an aria we hadn't heard in years until last night was also on Ms. Chung's program. "Connais-tu le pays" from Ambroise Thomas' Mignon was performed with full attention to the mixed feelings of longing, nostalgia, regret, and hopefulness.

We knew vaguely about an opera written by Leoncavallo derived from the same Henri Murger stories that Puccini spun into the gold of La Bohême. Leoncavallo's version was rapidly eclipsed by Puccini's. Hearing Ms. Chung sing an aria from the Leoncavallo opera gave us the idea that Leoncavalllo's music was not the reason for the opera's disappearance. Reading the libretto written by the composer himself suggests that his storytelling lacked the emotional weight and continuity of the Illica/Giacosa adaptation. Nonetheless, we enjoyed the music and the performance.

What we enjoyed even more was an American song that we have always found trite and saccharine.  Leave it to Ms. Chung to transform "Somewhere  Over the Rainbow" from Harold Arlen's Wizard of Oz into a meaningful and highly personal meditation on wistful hopefulness. We will never hear it the same way again! 

Our very favorite part of the evening was the "Seguidilla" from Bizet's Carmen which we are sure was directed (and very effectively directed) by the artists themselves. It was unusually exciting to watch Carmen work her wiles on the hapless Don Jose, using every trick in the Book of Seduction. Mr.Yoon was equally effective as her victim, resistant at first and eventually succumbing to Carmen's spell.

Mr. Yoon is a fine tenor with an appealing voice and impressive versatility. As a fan of bel canto, we particularly enjoyed his  "A te, o cara", a song about love from Bellini's I Puritani. He was as ardent as a tenor should be, and quite different in performance style from the other characters he portrayed. 

His Rodolfo from Puccini's La Bohême was both shy and expansive as he courts his neighbor Mimi in the opening scene. Mr. Yoon conveyed youthful passion in a manner that older singers cannot. Ask any young man who is trying to impress a desirable young woman with bravado whilst also dealing with fear of rejection!

However, his creation of the character of Alfredo in Act II of Verdi's La Traviata was completely different. Here was a young man who has snatched his prize away from the glamorous life in Paris and has her all to himself out in the country where they are experiencing their newfound love with "new relationship energy". He is deluded into believing that their love will last forever, that she will regain her health, and that his bourgeois father will be won over. That's quite a task for a tenor but was successfully conveyed by Mr. Yoon in "Lungi da lei...de miei bollenti spiriti"

We further enjoyed the passionate "Be My Love" from Brodszky's The Toast of New Orleans and were reminded how much clearer English diction is when sung by people whose first language is not English. There was not a moment during the entire evening when we wished for projected titles.

We noticed some lovely spun-out decrescendi in several pieces which gave us a better picture of Mr. Yoon's artistry than his fortissimi in the upper register which seems to be a thing among young tenors. Perhaps it is the enthusiastic applause from the audience that eggs them on, but we personally prefer the planissimi sections that draw us closer rather than blasting us away.

The excellent accompanist for the evening was Yeontaek Oh, whose gifts were most noticeable to us during a contemporary piece by Jake Heggie, in which the vocal line did not engage us as much as his playing. Had the singing not been so arresting we might have paid him more attention during the remainder of the concert.

© meche kroop

Wednesday, November 8, 2023


 William Hicks, Cameron Pieper, Jason Duika, Dylan Davis, Olivia Manna, and Jacob Beranek

Action for Artists is relatively new on the scene as an institution for supporting young artists with financial grants, educational resources, and mentorship, designed to bring their career aspirations into reality. This goal, as you know Dear Reader, is dear to our heart. This is a time that is particularly difficult for young artists, many of whom lost career momentum due to Covid.

Last night at The National Opera Center they celebrated their second year with a gala benefit concert by presenting their 2023 awards to five worthy recipients: three singers, all accompanied by the excellent William Hicks (Founder and President of AFA), a pianist, and a composer.

Mezzo soprano Olivia Manna (from heaven) enchanted us with her warm  resonant instrument and the finesse with which she employed it. We enjoyed hearing the wide range of her repertory from lied to opera to Broadway. Unlike other opinions we do not perceive Broadway music as different from opera. A well trained voice should be able to do justice to all kinds of song. 

From Ms. Manna's operatic repertoire we heard "O pallida" from Act III of Pietro Mascagni's L'amico Fritz. The gypsy Beppe (a trouser role) tells Fritz about his view of love, both the pain and the pleasure. Most opera lovers have not heard this charming but rarely produced opera but many know the "Cherry Duet". The aria Ms. Manna selected is a great choice for a mezzo and permits varying colors from one verse to the next.

Another selection was also chosen from a rarely hear opera--Ambroise Thomas' Mignon. In "Connais-tu le pays" the eponymous heroine sings of her homeland with sorrow and longing. The aria was sweetly sung.  Given appropriate delicacy was Richard Strauss' "Allerseelen" which was seasonably appropriate since All Soul's Day has just passed. "All the things you are" from Jerome Kern's Very Warm for May is an all out love song and an American classic, sounding extra special sung by a fine operatic voice.

Jason Duika is a hearty full-voiced baritone with uncanny acting ability. We reviewed his performance as Hérode in Massenet's Hérodiade about four years ago and this is what we wrote.  His virile instrument is of fine and full tone and his delivery of "Vision fugitive" was impassioned and moving. Now imagine how his voice has grown in four years! 

In addition to his performance as the self-important Escamillo in "Votre toast" from Bizet's Carmen, he presented two frightening villains. We might call this "many shades of menace". He was scary as Scarpia in Puccini's Tosca, even scarier as Iago reciting his misanthropic creed from Verdi's Otello, and scarier yet in "Eri tu" from Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera. Each aria was given a different coloration and Mr. Duika used gesture and facial expression to illuminate each character.

Tenor Dylan Davis also chose a variety of material to demonstrate his versatility. He has the kind of powerful tenor that is beloved by audiences. We thought the arrogant Duke singing "La donna è mobile" from Verdi's Rigoletto was a better choice than the shy Nemorino from Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore singing "Una furtiva lagrima" which usually melts our heart but did not on this occasion. Maybe big Verdian voices just don't do "shy".

His expansive singing seemed well suited to the impassioned "Bring him home" from Claude-Michel Schönberg's Les Miserables. To those of you who have heard the show in the original French, you may agree with me that the French is far superior. There is a long story with which we will not bore you about how the 1980 work was loosely "adapted" into the very successful English version seen by most people on Broadway and then (dig this!) re-translated back into French!

"Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" from Franz Léhar's Das Land des Lächelns was given a similarly expansive treatment. The audience loved it but our personal taste involves less "grandstanding". Methought he held his "money notes" just a couple seconds too long.

Pianist Cameron Pieper opened our eyes to the glories of Bach in "Fantasia and fugue in a minor" but closed our ears with two tortuous pieces by Elliot Carter which had us murmuring inaudibly "Stop, stop, I'll tell where the money is hidden". Mr. Pieper obviously enjoyed exploring the subtleties of these pieces but we did not enjoy the listening.

Finally, we were treated to a video of the Juilliard Symphony performing Jacob Beranek's Pilgrimatic Overture.  It was quite interesting to see the wind instruments picking up the themes which would have been very difficult to see in a live performance.

We wish all five winners of the 1923 Encouragement Awards the successful careers they deserve.

© meche kroop