We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Monday, February 26, 2024


 Joseph Parrish

What can we say about bass-baritone Joseph Parrish that we haven't already said? We were curious to see how many times we have reviewed this gifted artist who seems to be singing everywhere these days, especially after being chosen by Young Concert Artists in 2022. We believe the first time was in Pauline Viardot's Cendrillon with City Lyric Opera as the Baron Pictordu. His gifts were already evident and noted.

Yesterday we heard him again, thanks to Carnegie Hall Citywide at St. Paul and St. Andrew United Methodist Church with collaborative pianist JoyAnne Amani whose fine playing kept up with him every step of the way. There were two instances however, when Mr. Parrish elected to accompany himself, a situation we perceive as rather miraculous. To be excellent in one art is impressive.  To be excellent at two? Astonishing!

The program was untitled but every song was about love! There was plenty of variety from German lied  and French mélodie to songs of The American Songbook. We have learned from our dear Steven Blier that the category doesn't matter. If a song is well written it merits our esteem.

Mr. Parrish opened the program with a pair of songs by Henry T. Burleigh, a composer who, as Mr. Parrish shared with the audience, was the first to record spirituals on paper. But we were not to hear those spirituals yesterday; we heard his love songs--four of them, all of them tender and melodic.

One of Mr. Parrish's most appealing features is the manner in which he addresses the audience, as if he were in a room full of friends, completely natural and without any pretension whatsoever. The sanctuary was packed and the members of the audience were held spellbound.

His fine technique includes the use of rubato and dynamic variation for emotional effect, as well as the generous use of gesture and facial expression to tell a story.  This was most notable in his performance of "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" from Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady in which he created quite a portrait of Henry Higgins.

We have heard him before accompanying himself in "Calling You" written by Bob Telson for the film Baghdad Cafe and we are always happy to hear it again. He sang it simply and played the spare searching accompaniment with depth of feeling.

After a generous program ranging from Schubert, Debussy, and Duparc to Dizzy Gillespie, Cole Porter and Jerome Kern, this versatile artist ended with a more recent song by Adam  Guettel which emphasized the importance of community. We then realized that Mr. Parrish had created a community within the audience. Somehow we think everyone there felt both loving and loved.

An encore was demanded and we believe it was Luther Vandross' "Only for One Night" in which we heard a fine falsetto!

© meche kroop

Saturday, February 24, 2024


 The Cast of Cavalli's Erismena

When Francesco Cavalli composed the music for Erismena, opera was in its infancy. The work premiered in Venice in the mid 17th c. and is reported to have been a success. The music is absolutely gorgeous with subtle harmonic touches that could be better described by an expert in Baroque music. The libretto by Aurelio Aureli seems influenced by Shakespeare's comedies with lots of gender bending and unpredictable twists and turns, surprising revelations, and a happy ending.

The credit for the opera's success at Juilliard this week rests on the shoulders of  the nine post-graduate students of the Vocal Arts Department, the performances of the instrumental ensemble led by Maestro Avi Stein, and the heroic work of Director Lisenka Heijboer Castañon who took on a challenge of immense proportion. We never read the Director's Notes until after the opera so we can allow the work to speak for itself. How gratifying it was to not have to read the customary drivel about what the director was trying to say. 

Rather, this artist of the stage employed her notes to describe the Herculean task of assembling an opera from several extant versions and laboring to discover the essence of the opera in a way that would be meaningful for the audience. That we understood the story, in spite of confusing names and an even more confusing storyline, is evidence of her success. Participating in the revision of Aureli's libretto were Mo. Stein, Scenic and Costume Designer Julian Crouch, and Ligiana Costa. One never had the feeling of "too many cooks". Fortunately, the prologue was omitted since it added nothing to the story.

For us, the libretto had many angles and many stories to tell. One of them was about finding out your true identity, another was about the fickleness of lovers, another still about the wanton exercise of power, yet another about accepting the losses of aging, not to mention the value of forgiveness. Yet, it all came together as a meaningful whole.

The aging King Eramante was played by the entire ensemble carrying a model of a kingly head with four arms, manipulated by various cast members who also sang his lines in turn. A frightening nightmare about losing his crown and his power has made him rather testy. He wants to marry the beautiful Aldimira (portrayed by the silver-voiced and appropriately beautiful soprano Song Hee Lee) who has grown up in his court. She already has two lovers--the Iberian Prince Erineo who is disguised as a servant (whose low-lying part was effectively handled by mezzo-soprano Stephanie Bell) and the gallant Orimeno, (terrific tenor Geun-hyeong Han) who pulls feathers from his helmet and bestows them on others.

Aldimira is fickle and toys with her lovers until she meets the titular character Erismena (marvelous mezzo-soprano Tivoli Treloar) who has disguised herself as a male warrior from Armenia who was injured in battle and rescued by two compassionate members of the enemy forces, Orimeno and Argippo (the very fine baritone Dongwei Shen). They take her to Aldimira who, thinking she is a man, promptly falls head over heels in love. (Oh, that naughty child Amor with his bow and arrow!)

The eponymous Erismena was loved and abandoned by Erineo who is really Idraspe. She recognizes him and wants revenge but he doesn't recognize her.
It is interesting how this all turns out. We know how librettists make use of a deus ex machina to sort things out!

Since this is a comedy, we must have our comic relief which comes in the person of the aging Alcesta who once was a wet nurse (we won't tell you who she nursed) and is now bemoaning her loss of beauty. In a directorial stroke of genius, the part, originally written for a contralto, was performed by the bearded baritone Trevor Haumschilt-Rocha dressed in a 17th c. gown, complete with panniers. He was clearly having a great deal of fun with this role, almost as much as we had from watching and listening.

There is also a secondary romance between Argippo and Flerida played by the winsome soprano Gemma Nha. The other roles were also well sung. Bass Younggwang Park sang the part of Diarte, a prison guard. Mezzo-soprano Kate Morton sang the role of Clerio, servant to Erineo/Idraspe. Everyone handled the lavish decoration of the vocal line with aplomb.

We enjoyed the singing all around, especially because the diction was quite clear, making the titles redundant. However, having listened to the video recording from the Aix-en-Provence Festival of 2017 with counter-tenor Jakob Josef Orlinski (an alumnus of Juilliard) as Orimeno, we strongly prefer the Italian version. As one might expect, the rhythm of the Italian language matches the melody far better than English. The English libretto was created for the British public a couple decades after its Venetian premiere and was quite a success there. The language is rather archaic and, we repeat, we think it should have been performed in the original Italian.

The instrumental ensemble. made use of harpsichords, a pair of violins, a cello, a theorbo, and a harp. How gorgeously they played Cavalli's music! We just learned from the program book that Barbara Strozzi, one of our favorite Baroque composers, was a student of Cavalli.

We particularly admired the scenic design and costumes of Julian Crouch. The set was simple but effective--a wide short staircase leading up to the stage. Six Roman shades separated the downstage and upstage playing areas.  Panels were raised and lowered as necessary.  Contrasting with the simple sets, the costuming was lavish and effective in limning the characters. The photo above will tell you more than our words.

We would call the evening a complete success, leaving us smiling broadly and thinking about fate and the vagaries of love.

© meche kroop

Friday, February 23, 2024


 Bernard Holcomb, Philip Cokorinos, and Christine Lyons
(photo by meche kroop)

No other company we know of does what On Site Opera does; they make a perfect match between an opera and a venue, taking us to many places we have not previously visited. Two of our favorite matchings were their production of Mozart's La Finta Giardiniera in a community garden on the Upper West Side and the production of Puccini's Il Tabarro on a vessel docked at the South Street Seaport.  Well, Dear Reader, we have added a third! Bach's Coffee Cantata taking place currently at The Lost Draft, a charming coffee shop on Broome Street. We regret to inform you that the run is sold out (as all of their productions are) so we will make an attempt to paint the picture for you.

After being welcomed into the premises, we were seated along the wall, the table in front of us set with coffee cups, cookies, and popcorn. Magically, the barista (Bernard Holcomb) became the narrator of the piece, a 45 minute comic opera written in the 1730's by J.S.Bach and (get this!), presented in a coffee house in Leipzig. And here we are three centuries later immersed in a family drama between an authoritarian father (Philip Cokorinos) who wants his rebellious daughter (Christine Lyons) to stop drinking coffee.

Papa uses all manner of manipulations and threats to convince her to give up her addiction. She only agrees if she is allowed to marry; she secretly plans to ensure that the marriage contract contains a clause that allows her to caffeinate herself to her heart's content. It is a simple story and we had no problem with its adaptation  to contemporary times.

Total immersion involved the artists going behind the counter, making and serving coffee, whilst the actual employees of the coffee shop became supernumeraries, although there was no chorus, LOL. Everything was happening in real time and three different coffees were served. We could readily imagine being in a Leipzig coffee house in the 1730's even though dress was contemporary (costuming by Beth Goldenberg) and the work was sung in English, with a very fine loose translation by Music Director Geoffrey McDonald.

We confess that Bach has never been one of our favorites. Aside from this winning piece of fluff, he never wrote an opera and we find oratorios and cantatas ponderous. However, the charming nature of this piece allowed us to recognize his compositional skills, particularly his intricate counterpoint, as it served the witty dialogue perfectly.

The singing was delightful and there were titles available by using one's cell phone but we preferred not to take our eyes off the action, directed by Sarah Meyers. The charming score was performed by a quartet of fine musicians, comprising the American Modern Ensemble-- Violinist Nikita Yermack, cellist Valeriya Sholokova, guitarist Dan Lippel, and flutist John Romero who also played the recorder. Maestro McDonald's orchestration was completely on point. 

We have only one quibble.  It was over too soon. We enjoyed the flirtation between the barista and young lady and all the hijinks of the stage direction. We wanted a second act! We wish Bach had written about the interaction after the young lady gets married!

We raise our coffee cup to toast On Site Opera and the lovely staff at The Lost Draft!  And now, we are going to make ourself a cup of coffee!

© meche kroop

Thursday, February 22, 2024


 Daniel McGrew, Erin Wagner, Chelsea Guo, Megan Moore, Joseph Parrish, and Francesco Barfoed

What a fortuitous collaboration it was at Merkin Hall last night when New York Festival of Song joined forces with Young Concert Artists for an evening of ensemble singing. Five fantastic singers gifted a most delighted audience songs from five hundred years of music history. It would have been a great thrill to spend an evening with any one of those gifted artists, but five at once? It was like winning a trifecta, or to coin a phrase, a "pentecta". Both NYFOS and YCA share the same mission which just so happens to coincide with ours--fostering gifted young singers. It is no coincidence that there is overlap between NYFOS performers and YCA winners.

Regular readers know how fond we are of duets but we rarely get to write about ensembles with the exception of a few reviews of Brahms' Liebeslieder, which would have been right at home on last night's program; however our dear Steven Blier loves to introduce his NYFOS audience to works they likely have not heard before.

Although we loved the accompanying piano of Mr. Blier and Francesco Barfoed, we must say that there is something even more special when voices are heard a cappella. Take for example the opening number which just happens to be the oldest and also our favorite of the night. The song by Clément Janequin, a famous French composer of the 16th c., entitled "Les cris de Paris," was thrilling in its harmonies and surprisingly contemporary in its text. One could imagine it describing a marketplace in any populous town.

From Mozart we heard two of his Sei Notturni, one of which might have been a sketch for his soon-to-be-penned Cosi fan Tutte.  Schubert has written more than one serenade but the "Ständchen" we heard was a group effort which, we imagine, occurred when a man gathered his friends together to bolster his self-confidence as he went to woo his beloved.

We never thought of Beethoven as a composer of songs but he did set 12 Irish Songs--folk songs by nature. We were completely distracted by the density of the piano accompaniment, so well played by Francesco Barfoed that our ears were teased by a recurrent phrase that must have inspired Mendelssohn. Discussing it afterward with a couple singer friends, no one was able to identify it but it did make us think of the music for Midsummer Night's Dream and a fairyland scene. Or could it have been a Schubert lied about a supernatural creature? Dear Reader, if you heard it too and could possibly set our mind to rest, please write your thoughts in the comment section below. Otherwise, your reviewer will lose a lot of sleep!

Brahms' lovely "Die Meere" was written in 3/4 time signature and, like any barcarolle, had us swaying in our seats. The French also had their voices heard, namely Camille Saint-Saëns' "Pastorale" and Gabriel Fauré's "Pleurs d'or", the text of which was so lovely that we want to read Albert Samain's text aloud.

We never knew that Shostakovich set Jewish Folk Poetry, and in Yiddish no less. His mid 20th c. compositions have never tickled our ear  but we appreciated his evocative setting of "Winter" which actually gave us a chill.

Not all music of the last hundred years is distasteful to us. We actually enjoyed Libby Larsen's very funny "Jack's Valentine" in which each singer's lines overlapped another's with the repetition of "I love you. A whole lot. Very very much. A whole bunch. Forever." No piano accompaniment was needed. One could enjoy the vocal lines weaving together in a humorous tapestry.

A special treat was the New York premiere of Matt Boehler's setting of Robert Louis Stevenson' "Let Beauty Awake". We knew of Mr. Boehler as a singer and we have always said that vocal music should be written by singers and this proved our point. Mr. McGrew and Mr. Parrish did it justice.

Was there anyone in the audience who remembers The Beach Boys? Leave it to Mr. Blier to arrange Owen Wilson's "In My Room", a popular song from the 1960's, for the five voices. We looked it up online and, well, it was as different as day is from night. We loved the harmonies although the text sounded like teenage angst.

But wait! The closing number was even more radical. We admit that we had never heard of The Bobs, an 80's pop band, let alone the song "Trash" written by Gunnar Madsen and Richard Greene. We couldn't wait to get home to look for it online. Well, Mr. Blier always says "No song is safe from us" and in this case, his arrangement made a proverbial silk purse out of a sow's ear. The five singers grabbed microphones and had the audience in stitches, singing about a slovenly man whose presumably female companion couldn't deal with his trash.

We have avoided listing who sang what (with one exception) because this was truly an ensemble effort by soprano Chelsea Guo, mezzo-soprano Megan Moore, mezzo-soprano Erin Wagner, tenor Daniel McGrew, and bass-baritone Joseph Parrish. We have reviewed all of them except for Ms. Guo who is still an undergraduate and plays piano as brilliantly as she sings. In the final number, the group used microphones and she appeared to have just the right style and flair.  What a fine group of singers!  All seem well on their way to stardom and we feel privileged to have heard them as they launch.

© meche kroop

Wednesday, February 21, 2024


 Matthew Wages,  Alexa Devlin and. Ryan Allais
(photo by meche kroop)

We have no idea who was the intended audience for Victor Herbert's turn-of-the-20th c. hit musical Babes in Toyland nor are we experts in what is suitable for children these days.  All we can say is that we spent a most delightful hour with VHRPLive! which, regular readers will know, stands for Victor Herbert Renaissance Project Live. We wish that this magical musical hour  had gone on longer!

Let us mention that there is nothing "naughty" that is unsuitable for children and, if you have any, it might be fun to bring them along. Of course, today's children are accustomed to snark and smarm so we dare not predict the extent of their interest.  But for those of us of the adult persuasion, it is very refreshing to watch a work so charming and innocent, played without a shred of condescension. What fun to awaken the child in oneself!

The main attraction is Mr. Herbert's memorable melodies. Contemporary composers could use a lesson from the prolific Mr. Herbert who penned enough operettas to keep VHRPLive! (celebrating its tenth anniversary) going for at least another decade. When is the last time you left a theater smiling and humming? We want to give credit to the late Dino Anagnost for compiling the score some three decades ago.

What is also quite wonderful is the manner in which Founder and Artistic Director Alyce Mott has revised the libretto to bring the story to its charming peak, as she usually does. Furthermore she has tinkered with Glen MacDonough's lyrics to great advantage, with contributions from Craig Timberlake and Mr. Anagnost.  We take umbrage when an opera director alters the original intent and setting of our beloved classic tragedies such that they make no sense. This is a completely different "story", so to speak. We sincerely believe that if Mr. Herbert had been in the audience he would have shared our delight.

The "book" is nothing like Pixar's film Toy Story. The characters are not toys, they are nursery rhyme characters that most of us recall from childhood. Here they are all assembled in an imaginary place called Toyland, under the supervisory eye of Mother Goose, portrayed by mezzo-soprano Alexa Devlin who was costumed exactly as we might have imagined her (no credit for costuming in the program).  Her warm sound introduced us to "Toyland" which is probably one of Herbert's more familiar songs.

The romantic couple comprised BoPeep andTom, Tom, the Piper's Son. Soprano Joanie Brittingham, a VHRPL regular, was adorable in the role which had her being both tearful and fearful, as she searched for her missing sheep. New to the company is tenor Ryan Allais as Tom, as wonderful a romantic lead as we could have hoped for. His singing and dancing were completely on point and we don't mean on point shoes!

The villain of the piece was an almost unrecognizable Matthew Wages whose mellow baritone was twisted into a nasty snarl as he portrayed Silas Barnaby, waving a foreclosing mortgage that threatens to put an end to Toyland. He was accompanied by two henchmen, the brainy Rodrigo, played by tenor Chaz Peacock and the brawny Gonzorgo, played by tenor Andrew Buck. 

Mr. Barnaby wants to marry BoPeep but...(we are not going to give away the plot but we were thinking of the last act of Falstaff).  Does the villain twirl his mustache?  Does he get his just desserts? You are going to have to find out for yourself. We hope you can snag tickets for the two remaining performances and you can thank us later.

You will enjoy the company of Humpty Dumpty (mezzo-soprano Sarah Bleasdale, Wee Willie (baritone Keith Broughton), Mary Mary Quite Contrary, doubling as a gorgeous butterfly  (soprano Gabriella Giangreco), Little Miss Muffet (Maggie Langhorne), tenor Joe Marx and soprano Kathleen Raab (both making their debuts with the company) as Jack and Jill, soprano Mariah Mueller as Curly Locks, baritone Zachary Wobensmith as Simple Simon, tenor Matthew Youngblood as Little Boy Blue, and the familiar veteran baritone David Seatter as Old King Cole. Mr. Seatter is a founding artist of the company and has never missed a performance. We always await his presence with anticipation.

As far as the music is concerned we delighted in the live orchestra under the baton of Maestro Michael Thomas. We might add that The Theatre at St. Jean's is a rare find, a mid-sized theatre with an orchestra pit and raked seating. Everyone gets an unobstructed view and perfect sound. There is some voluntary audience participation in the finale and if you want to participate, learn the words to "Toyland". In terms of clever lyrics, we were particularly fond of "I Can't Do the Sum".

The choreography by Christine Hall was simple and stylish, adding a great deal of interest, as did the colorful but uncredited costuming. 

© meche kroop

Monday, February 19, 2024


 "The Relentless Nature of Dreaming"
(Photo by Kyle Froman)

Our introduction to ballet came by means of The Joffrey Ballet which performed regularly at The New York City Center Theater on 55th Street. We loved their style and we loved the dancers. We particularly remember a ballet about ruthless capitalists called "The Green Table" and "The Moor's Pavane", a terpsichorean representation of Shakespeare's Otello. We wept crocodile tears when this esteemed company left New York City. We have always wished that they would return and hoped that the recent visit of The Joffrey Concert Group might give us a sense of the past.

That was not to be the case. Art moves forward and new American choreographers seem far more interested in the abstract than in telling a story. Our jam is story-telling and we rarely attend the ballet unless we are going to see one of the classics such as Swan Lake, Giselle, or Romeo and Juliet. And so, Dear Reader, please take our lukewarm words with a sense of where we are coming from. The audience at the Alvin Ailey Citigroup Theater (also coincidentally on 55th St.) were vociferous in their applause and the seats were literally shaking.

We found a number of appealing moments, one of which we have chosen for the photo above from a ballet entitled, for no apparent reason, "The Relentless Nature of Dreaming". Bradley Shelver, Artistic Director of The Joffrey Concert Group, clearly states the mission of this project, entitled "In My Art"  which is the culmination of the 2024 Creative Movers Choreographic Initiative designed to explore creative experimentation and promote the work of new American choreographers. The evening provided a "voice" for two of them.

The entire evening seemed to represent classical ballet dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century, whether willing or not. We witnessed much crossover with modern dance, which we have seen at the annual Fall for Dance, with an interesting variation. Dancers here were wearing soft ballet slippers, not bare feet. And point shoes made a welcome appearance for certain sections without our understanding the rhyme or reason.

The opening work entitled "Dawn of Love" was choreographed by Vernard J. Gilmore. Although some moves were reminiscent of classical ballet, arms were wildly windmilled with splayed fingers. The work began with dancers wearing floaty pale costumes designed by Jon Taylor and Erica Johnston. Later in the work, costuming was more colorful. There was a nice solo by Mari Murata and a duet performed by Annika Davis and Sydney Williams and another by Breeanna Palmer and Faahkir Bestman.

The second work on the program was "Random People With Beautiful Parts", choreographed by Mr. Shelver himself who also created the costumes-- simple dark leotards The percussive score included some Bach who appeared to be favored over the course of the evening.  There seem to be only 3 or 4 men in the company so we got to see Mr. Bestman again, this time partnering Akari Kata.

The third work on the program, choreographed by Eryn Renee Young, "The Relentless Nature of Dreaming", appealed to us more. The dancers were costumed by Erica Johnston in simple leotards in varying shades of pink. Bach's music appeared again-- the Allegro movement of "Piano Concerto #1 in D Minor" almost unrecognizable because of the poor sound system. Bach was uneasily partnered with an original commissioned score by Heather Cook. The work was more appealing to us because of an interesting duet performed by a male couple that was unfortunately interrupted before it had a chance to develop. Somehow, dancers held aloft seemed more appealing than dancers somersaulting on the floor which made us question the flow of the work. The work desperately needed an Adagio movement.

The final work,"Oof", also choreographed by Mr. Shelver gave Ms. Johnston an opportunity to counterbalance her classic pink leotards in the prior ballet with some outrageous motley costuming. The music seemed to be Latin jazz. The movements themselves were foreign to us and seemed to be a parody of something like break dancing. Body positions were deliberately awkward and exaggerated. Clearly it was meant to be humorous. The woman next to us was screaming in joy so we came to the conclusion that we were missing the point. What popped into our mind was "Ballet slippers do not ballet make".

© meche kroop

Sunday, February 18, 2024


 Finalists and Judges of the George and Nora London Foundation 2024 Competition 
(Photo by Beth Bergman)

Whilst the esteemed judges (Carolyn Blackwell, Dimitir Pittas, John H. Hauser, and Susan Quittmeyer) were debating over the dozen finalists, audience members were ushered into the lobby where they enjoyed the opportunity to mingle with the finalists, offering hope and encouragement; they were also debating over their favorites and trying to outguess the judges. It is always a tense 45 minutes or so, softened by wine and nuts.

The twelve singers had made a fine showing, one and all. The audience was treated to a particularly diverse and enjoyable program and now were discussing among themselves the relative merits of their favorites.  After this lively and intense interlude, we were welcomed back into the auditorium of The Morgan Library to learn which six singers would receive the generous awards of $10,000 each whilst the other six finalists would be awarded $2000. It is a step upward in the world of vocal competitions to ensure that all finalists receive something. It is not our wont to tell you, Dear Reader, how much each finalist received. If that issue is important to you, we refer you (as we usually do) to the foundation's website.

We prefer to share with you our impressions of our most favored singers which, interestingly enough, were shared by our companion, a professional singer. The opening aria was a stunning one as soprano Adia Evans tackled Elisabeth's aria "Dich teure Halle" from Wagner' Tannhäuser. We liked the way she modulated her sizable instrument, shading it to the demands of the text. Furthermore, her German diction was quite good with no dropping of final consonants.

Baritone Benjamin Dickerson gave an excellent performance of the cynical aria "Nemico della patria" from Giordano's Andrea Chénier. He employed his finely textured instrument in a highly emotional fashion and used the full stage and his entire body to convey Gérard's complex feelings whilst preserving the legato line.
Mezzo-soprano Erin Wagner chose an aria that is a paean to music, sung by The Komponist--"Sein wir wieder gut". This rhythmically difficult aria from Richard Strauss' backstage comedy Ariadne auf Naxos was a fine choice. Ms. Wagner  handled the upper register with aplomb (Strauss wrote it for the soprano fach) and showed us all the intensity of a young composer in a most convincing fashion.

In Elisabetta de Valois' aria "Tu che la vanita" from Verdi's Don Carlo, the soprano gets to show off her skills with bel canto legato and also her wide range of registers. Katerina Burton did not disappoint, evincing a firm center and a pleasing vibrato that shows great promise for other Verdi roles.

Baritone Darren Drone got to perform "Schicchi's Aria" from Puccini's one-act opera Gianni Schicchi and perform he did! We enjoyed the personality with which he filled out the role and experienced all the requisite humor. This artist has personality to spare and so convincingly inhabited the character that his fine technique receded to the background. 

Piano accompaniment was provided by Maestro Michael Fennelly who can play just about anything. At moments when the voice was silent, we noticed his many gifts, especially in Massenet's Sapho and Britten's Peter Grimes.

The remaining singers each showed something noteworthy and if we didn't elaborate here, it is likely because they chose an aria that didn't suit their voice or their style.  Their names can be found on the foundation's website. We enjoyed them all to a great extent and had only two criticism, one of  which we have often mentioned here. We wish tenors wouldn't push their high notes, especially for the climax; we can feel our own throat constrict. It ain't pretty! Learn to float those high notes please!

We also have a criticism for the women. Please do not wear anything gaudy! When you are famous and giving a recital at Carnegie Hall, you can be as glamorous as you please, but when auditioning or competing, it would serve you better to dress simply, so as not to distract from your singing.  'Nuff said!

© meche kroop

Friday, February 16, 2024



Nicholas Kaponyas and Yohji Daquio

Last night's brilliant recital at the Kosciuszko Foundation was warmly introduced by Ewa Zadworna who spoke briefly about the good works of the foundation, named after the Revolutionary War hero who gave extraordinary help to the new colonies as they broke free of Great Britain. This reminded us of how dedicated Poland has been to the Ukrainian cause. We prefer to discuss music and not politics but for years we have admired Kosciuszko's portrait which hangs in the place of honor in the second floor space which has been home to so much fine music over the years. The foundation is celebrating their centennial, so cheers to the next hundred years.

Of all the recitals we have heard in that elegant historic brownstone, we cannot remember a better one than the one we heard last night in which a marvelous pianist collaborated with the scintillating soprano Yohji Daquio for a stunning hour of vocal music that left us feeling the same satisfaction we experience after a gourmet meal of artfully arranged small courses, leaving us smiling and satisfied and eager to return for more.

In a world of superlative sopranos, Ms. Daquio stands out for perfect technique that never calls attention to itself but allows the listener to feel her involvement with both text and music, bringing each selection to vivid colorful life. The performing area of the space offers plenty of room for a singer to move in and Ms. Daquio took advantage of it. She has a vibrant personality and knows how to use gesture, bodily posture, and facial expression to fill out the intention of each selection.

She entered the performance space singing "Je veux vivre" from Gounod's Romeo et Juliette which we have heard her sing on prior occasions. It just keeps getting better! We loved the way she limned the fleeting moments of sorrow peeking out from behind Juliette's joy of being young and alive. The contrast was achieved by means of variation in color and dynamics. We have no doubt that every phrase had been studied and practiced, but the final impression was one of spontaneity.  Now that's art!

Similarly, in "Regnava nel  silenzio", Lucia's entrance aria from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, she gave the character lots of room to breathe, to fear, to hallucinate. We could see the spooky vision through Lucia's eyes and feel the change in her mood as she thought of Edgardo, her beloved. Again, the artist used variation of color and dynamics to lend emphasis to the daring fioritura which was stunningly precise in execution..

This precision was also notable in "Der Hölle Rache" from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte, a point in which the audience realizes that this "doting mother" is not what she seems but an angry vengeful woman. We have our own ideas but never mind, this is what Mozart wrote and Ms. Daquio captured every bit of rage with pinpoint accuracy. These are the coloratura moments that make an audience swoon, and swoon we did. If anyone in the standing-room-only audience was new to opera, they are surely devoted fans by now.

In a sweeter vein was the much loved "O mio babbino caro" from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi. No father could have resisted her blandishments and Ms. Daquio perfectly enacted a perfectly spoiled daughter.

A pleasant surprise was Constancio de Guzman's "Bayan Ko!", a sad love letter to her colonized homeland (The Republic of the Philippines) sung in Tagalog, which seems to be a beautiful language, at least coming from Ms. Daquio. The melody was a lovely one and Ms. Daquio sang it with the requisite sincerity.

Yet another treat was the artist's original take on "Poor Wand'ring One" sung by Mabel to Frederic in Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance. In spite of the difficulty of diction in the soprano range, every one of Gilbert's words were crystal clear and the audience loved the way Ms. Daquio involved them.  The song is a bid for love and the the audience responded fully and joyfully.

Come to think of it, the audience was involved from the beginning since she introduced each song and aria in a most unaffected manor, recapitulating the mood of a salon.

Her facility with French was evident in a pair of Poulenc songs but the use of a music stand interfered with her ability to emote. Texts by Louis Aragon are clearly anti-war, written in 1943, during the German occupation. "C" is mournful and "Fêtes Galantes" rather frantic.

Collaborative pianist for the evening was Nicholas Kaponyas and his artistry was never overshadowed. He began the evening with a pleasing performance of Chopin's Waltz in G-flat major Opus 70, #1. This was charmingly played with even more rubato than is customary with some breath-holding moments. We liked it a lot more than the modern piece by Grażyna Bacewicz--the Vivo movement of Piano Sonata #2 which appeared devilishly difficult to play with lots of percussive themes and a dense texture.

The encores were well chosen--Isabelle Aboulker's "Je t'aime"--("Vocalise amoureuse pour Soprano éperdue") and "Love is Where You Find It" composed for the 1948 film The Kissing Bandit, written by Ignacio (colloquially, Nacio) Herb Brown.  This was a clever pairing for post-Valentine's Day, the first a tantrum by a rejected woman and the second a paean to love.

Ms. Daquio has earned our love and admiration. We have the highest expectations of this young artist who has already garnered many awards and prizes.

© meche kroop

Friday, February 2, 2024


Zankel Hall in the Round 
(Photo by Richard Termine)

Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall underwent a surprising transformation for an in-the-round presentation of the Young Artists Recital, presented as the final offering of the annual SongStudio in which young artists are given a week of coaching, workshops, and master classes,  helmed by the world-renowned soprano Renee Fleming, Artistic Director and Host.

The goal was to shed new light on the art song by adding novel elements-- designed to  bring the audience closer, both physically and emotionally. We wish we'd been able to attend the daily masterclasses as we usually do, but time constraints limited our participation to witnessing the end result without observing the daily progress.

We hope that the goal of bringing new audiences to this art form by endowing it with a fresh perspective was successful.  For our own part, we have always loved art song recitals and have always experienced the requisite intimacy by sitting on the front row. For this experience we were sitting rather far back and therefore felt rather less intimacy. To be fair, far back was not very far back because Zankel Hall had been reconfigured with the audience on all sides and the artists in the center. This must have been a challenge for the singers who were obliged to move around more than usual which could also be seen as a benefit. There was no "park and bark", an expression which grates on us as much as does the stolid stance.

The "theater-in-the-round" concept has been used off-Broadway with mixed results. The negatives are that the audience always feels that they are missing something when the performers' backs are turned. In the case of art songs in a foreign language, there seems to be no way to project titles.

On this particular evening, scenes were semi-staged with more than one singer on the "stage" (performing area?} at the same time with one of them reading the text. If they were rather minimally poetic in their reading, it can be excused by their being singers, not poets. The advantage was that the audience did not have to try to read translations and were able to focus on the singers. Were we meant to feel as if we were participating in a salon? Perhaps it will take awhile to adjust to this particular form of concert but we were left with mixed feelings.

Aside from the readings and the attempt at creating a scenario, we were "treated" to a dancer in a white garment who performed some kind of shapeless modern dancing that did nothing to echo or enhance the singing but served more as a distraction.

Aside from our mixed feelings about the staging, we enjoyed the young singers a great deal and found absolutely no disappointment in their collaborative pianists, who also participated in the week of coaching and workshops.

We loved the opening number--Brahms' "Ein kleiner, hübscher Vogel" from his Liebeslieder Walzer. The voices of soprano Khayakazi Madlala, mezzo-soprano Gabrielle Barkidjija, tenor Edmond Rodriguez, and bass-baritone Florian Störtz balanced beautifully and wove a tapestry of sound that was charming in its deceptive simplicity. Pianists were Jeong-Eun Lee and Yuriko Watanabe. We would have been content to sit there all night and listen to the entire song cycle which we adore.

But then we might have missed the riveting performance by counter-tenor Chuanyuan Liu of an 11th c. Chinese song by Su Chi entitled "When will the clear moon shine?". We hope we are not alone in loving Chinese art song and we grant that not everyone loves the counter-tenor fach as much as we do. The cadence of the language and the eerie sound of the voice filled us with emotion. How amazing that should occur ten centuries after the song was composed!  Mr. Yuan's collaborative pianist was Ye In Kwak.

We also responded to his performance of Fauré's "La lune blanche"and George Crumb's "Night" all accompanied by Ms. Kwak. How interesting that all three of his selections related to the moon!

There were so many other highlights. We always love hearing Debussy's Songs of Bilitis and mezzo-soprano Ruby Dibble, accompanied by Tzu Kuang Tan performed it with as much delicacy, mood shifts, and dynamic variation as one could wish for.

Similarly, baritone Gabriel Rollinson's interpretation of Ravel's Don Quichotte à Dulcinée captured the varying moods of the songs, transitioning readily from the romantically worshipful to the prayerful to the bibulous. And then--Surprise!--Ibert's elegiac "Song of Death" from his cycle Chansons de Don Quichotte et Chanson de Sancho. We have never heard them sung on the same program but in that order it worked magnificently. Collaborative pianist was Ms. Watanabe.

Settings of text by Shakespeare were well handled by baritone Felix Gygli who moved comfortably between the styles of various composers.  Our favorite was Korngold's setting of "Come Away Death".  Pianist was Aleksandra Myslek.

Ms. Madlala conveyed the perfume of the linden blossom in Joseph Marx's "Nocturne", accompanied by Natalie Sherer. Another German song we love is Alma Mahler's "Laue Sommernacht" performed by Mr. Störtz and Ms. Lee. With a similar mood but in a different language (Russian) Mr. Rodriguez sang Rachmaninoff's "Night is Mournful" accompanied by Daniel Peter Silcock.

Mr. Stortz brought the program to a stunning conclusion with Mahler's "Um Mitternaacht", accompanied by Ms. Lee.

There was one selection on the program that seemed just wrong. It was a prosy anti-war "lecture" with obvious and jejune sentiments, a text of the composer's own devising.  "What Can One Woman Do?" by Stacy Garrop. That one should have stayed at home.

© meche kroop