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.

Friday, May 31, 2024


Maestro David Hayes and Counter-tenor ChuanYuan Liu

We do not usually review choral events but getting a chance to hear two "new" (new to us) works was tempting; sealing the deal was the opportunity to hear our favorite countertenor Chuan Yuan Liu as soloist at last night's performance by The New York Choral Society at The Skirball Center of New York University. The evening made a fine impression, combining excellent artistic values with compelling entertainment.

As is our wont, we will ignore any intended concept in favor of sharing with you, Dear Reader, our own impressions. The first half of the double bill was a fine performance of Leonard Bernstein's  incidental music for a Lillian Hellman play- The Lark. There was nothing "incidental" about this work which combined some gorgeous singing of what we believe to be a mass in Latin with a dramatic reading by Sam Turlington who, "incidentally" self identifies as non-binary. 

Personally we don't care what Turlington identifies as because this artist is dramatically exceptional. The exceptionalism was exemplified by the costume which appeared to be white on one side and black on the other, with trousers on one side and skirt on the other. Visually interesting perhaps but incidental to the impact of the affecting reading of the words of Joan of Arc, the anniversary of whose death took place (incidentally)  on this very date in 1431. Such a performance was Broadway worthy, with all the youthful passion and innocence well delineated.

The Latin choruses sung by the massive force of The New York Choral Society, under the direction of Maestro David Hayes, were marked not only by consummate musicality but also by the crispest diction we have ever heard from a chorus, every word coming through clearly.

The solo part, customarily sung by a soprano, so we hear, was performed by the afore mentioned Mr. Liu (who has not requested a gender neutral designation). He has the most angelic voice that fulfilled the role in a spiritual work just as successfully as he did the secular but fantastical role of Oberon in Britten's opera A Midsummer Night' Dream.

The second half of the evening was an equally rare experience. Gian Carlo Menotti's The Unicorn, the Gorgon, and the Manticore seemed, to our ears, far friendlier than most 20th c. music. The libretto seemed to be a fable which, like most fables, makes an allegorical point. What we took away from this is the foolishness of following trends, a point with which we strongly agree, having despaired over the influencers on social media with their throngs of followers. 

In this fable, a spoiled Countess makes demands on her poor husband for rare creatures which she tires of and slaughters, always wanting a new one. The townspeople follow her taste blindly and, of course, that's when she must rid herself of the prior longed for creature and manipulate her poor husband into meeting her demands for a new one.

For this work, the chorus was augmented by some woodwinds and lower strings (the very fine Experiential Orchestra), whereas the Bernstein work involved only a bit of percussion and some clapping. As if the work were insufficiently entertaining, a troupe of a dozen dancers (Emerge 125) performed some dancing in which the costumes were more interesting than the choreography. They comprised floaty sheer white garments overlaying gilded tops. The heads of the dancers were covered with gold woven helmets reminding us of fencer's masks but completely obscuring the face and hair. Perhaps others in the audience had a greater appreciation for "modern dance" than we do; we were reminded of some strenuous classes at the local health club. Far from adding to the work, it was distracting.

Nonetheless it was a most worthwhile and satisfying evening!

© meche kroop

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