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.

Saturday, March 9, 2024



Meghan Kasanders

Thanks to Carnegie Hall Citywide, New Yorkers were treated to another lovely vocal recital at St. Paul and St. Andrew United Methodist Church on the Upper West Side. Our only complaint was that it ended too soon. It left us wanting more.

We love what we do to support young singers in New York City, following them through their conservatory years and getting a thrill witnessing their respective stars on the rise. This is far easier when they remain in the area but most of them wind up leaving for Europe which seems to offer more opportunities, or they sing with companies in other cities, or join young artist programs.

And so it happened that our numerous reviews of dramatic soprano Meghan Kasanders are all from 5 to 7 years ago.  Although we missed witnessing the gradual evolution of her artistry, we got plenty of satisfaction from re-reading those reviews (available by typing her name in the search bar) and observing that we recognized her talent even when she was an undergraduate at Juilliard.

This gifted artist has taken everything she learned at Juilliard and all her experience winning awards and prizes, and added them to her naturally ebullient and engaging personality in order to craft an exciting career. Yesterday's recital was a fine taste, but we crave the entire vocal banquet of which she is more than capable of serving.

She opened her program with Sieben frühe Lieder by the early 20th c. composer Alban Berg. These seven songs are nowhere near as accessible as those of the 19th c. composers of art song. The harmonies are strange to an ear accustomed to those of the 19th c. and the melodies wander. With this in mind, we were impressed by the way Ms. Kasanders conveyed the mood. There is one song that always stands out for us--"Die Nachtigall" ;  we like the text by 19th c. poet Theodor Storm so much that we enjoy reading it aloud to appreciate the rhyming scheme and the iambic rhythm. Perhaps that is what inspired Berg to write a melody that remains in one's memory.

Nonetheless, we found much more to cherish in the set of songs by Sergei Rachmaninoff. We got the feeling that the artist really enjoys singing them. There is considerable variety which permitted dramatic interpretation-- from the frisky "The Ratcatcher" to the mournful. "Sing not to me, beautiful maiden", to the ecstatic and timely "Spring Waters". Our companion, who is fluent in Russian, granted a seal of approval.

The program ended with a humorous curiosity that struck a chord with every woman in the audience and gave the artist an opportunity to show off her comedic skills. We are not familiar with the composer Richard Pearson Thomas. who seems to have used as his text some Yelp ratings of hairstylists. He entitled the work Hair Emergency

The work encompasses five songs, each one relating the experience of the writer,  but with music adding another layer, that of emotion.  It was difficult to tell who was having more fun, Ms. Kasanders or the audience. We love to see an artist let go and immerse herself in storytelling; the overall impact was that of a woman telling a friend about her (mis)adventures at a hair salon. The facial expressions and gestures came across as spontaneous; however we suspect it involved a great deal of experimentation and coaching to achieve.

We have yet to say anything about the artist's vocal technique. When the technique is perfect, we get to focus on interpretation and connection. The singer becomes a conduit through which the audience can connect with the music and the text.When one is served a five-star meal, one doesn't think about whisking and tempering and searing!  

We can, however, say that Ms. Kasanders possesses an ample voice, one with pleasing tone and lots of overtones that filled the sanctuary of the performance space. We could definitely see her in Verdi roles and we think she'd make a fine Sieglinde, which just so happens to be our favorite character in Wagner's The Ring Cycle.

At the risk of repeating ourself, it is quite a thrill to hear an artist achieving the potential that was recognized years ago!  We are still smiling.

Collaborative pianist for the recital was Dror Baitel, also a graduate of Juilliard (Doctoral Program) who will probably be familiar to those of you who love Broadway shows.

© meche kroop

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