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, November 30, 2012


"Under Cover of Night" was the title and theme of last night's Alice Tully Vocal Arts Recital, a theme we can well relate to since, by all accounts, we operate nocturnally.  Soprano Jennifer Zetlan chose this theme in connection with the lost sleep of her pregnancy and motherhood, wondering how the night affects us emotionally and behaviorally.  The night is given over to fantasy, to romance, to fears, melancholies, dreams, nightmares and terrors.  In our case, it is given over to writing.

And what a pleasure it is to write about this lovely, gracious and talented singer whose gifts were evident from the very first "Oh" of Handel's aria from Semele, "Oh, sleep, why dost thou leave me?" which was marked by a beautifully controlled crescendo.  This was only the beginning of a varied program that gave Ms. Zetlan the opportunity to show her skills in German, Russian and Spanish and to connect with her audience as well as her material.  Her piano partner David Shimoni always supported with appropriate technique and never overwhelmed the singer or the song.

The bulk of the program was give over to the late 19th c. which is our personal favorite.  Songs by Grieg, Brahms, Wolf, Debussy, Strauss, Granados and Rimsky-Korsakov were performed with poise and secure technique.  Each song was given its own particular interpretation that sounded nothing like the other songs.  Ms. Zetlan is a remarkable story-teller and we especially enjoyed the mini-operas written into Wolf's songs, both the humorous "Elfenlied" and the horror-filled "Die Geister am Mummelsee".  The melodic "Po nebu polunochi" by Rimsky-Korsakov was filled with spiritual awe.  Strauss' "Die Nacht" expressed the poet's anxiety about losing his loved one.

Ms. Zetlan is a champion of new music and was joined by the Attacca Quartet for Nico Muhly's Far Away Songs in their world premiere.  As encores, she sang Rachmaninoff's "Son" and Irving Berlin's "Yiddishe Nightingale" which left the audience grinning as they exited.  Nighttime never sounded so good!

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


  It seems clear that angelic voices come not only from Leipzig, as reviewed recently, but also from right here in New York City.  Soloists from the Clarion Music Society were presented by the 5 Boroughs Music Festival (5BMF) in a concert of late 16th century music featuring works by Salamone Rossi and Claudio Monteverdi.  Jesse Blumberg, Artistic Director of 5BMF, lent his fine baritone to the ensemble, while Steven Fox, Artistic Director of the Clarion Music Society and Cantor Joshua Breitzer provided not only strength in the tenor section but educational insights as well.

The Hebrew liturgical music we heard was among the very first polyphonic settings and were performed a capella as they had been heard in synagogues at that time.  Early 17th c. pieces by Monteverdi were performed in Latin as they might have been heard in the court of Mantua.

The second half of the program comprised mostly secular songs in an early Italian that seemed quite understandable.  We particularly enjoyed Monteverdi's "Lamento della Ninfa" in which soprano Sherezade Panthaki bemoaned the loss of her lover while tenors Steven Fox and Daniel Pincus joined Mr. Blumberg in an ensemble which related the story somewhat as a Greek chorus might.  We also loved soprano Molly Quinn's deeply felt performance of "Tirsi Mio" by Rossi; one cannot help noting the strong presence of abandoned women in the secular songs of the period!  (Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.)

These songs were accompanied by harpsichordist Bradley Brookshire who also played a dazzling solo--Bernardo Storace's "Ciaconna" which included some rather frisky scale passages and trills.  David Walker performed a solo on the theorbo, a member of the lute family invented in 1580 to accompany singers.  Composed by Bellerofonte Castaldi, it was entitled "Lusinghevole passeggio".  We enjoyed learning a little about this amazing instrument that covers so many octaves and has a neck as long as a giraffe. Carlo Gesualdo's madrigal "Moro, lasso, al mio duolo" was performed with both theorbo and harpsichord.  The harmonies and key changes were strange, modern and arresting.

The lengthy closing number, Rossi's "Eftach na sefatai" was notable for the stereophonic effect of having two antiphonal choirs separated by the length of the chapel.  At this point, we must comment on the setting for this lovely concert.  We felt as if we were in a Renaissance palazzo but we were in a rustic chapel of Brooklyn's Congregation Beth Elohim which, as we learned, was completed just before the stock market crash of 1929.  The floor is composed of variegated stones of grey, green and terra cotta hue.  Wrought iron candelabras abound and the roughly plastered walls are of ochre.  The carved wooden ceiling is actually faux but the painted plaster could have fooled us.  It was the perfect setting for some fine music.  The concert delighted the eye as well as the ear.

5BMF never lets us down!  Unusual programs are brought to the outlying boroughs of New York and ticket prices are eminently affordable.  Watch out for concerts in January in both The Bronx and Brooklyn.

(c) meche kroop

Sunday, November 18, 2012



Opera Moderne has another rousing success on its hands with a superb production of Viktor Ullman's opera Der Kaiser von Atlantis, written in 1943 in the Nazi showcase concentration camp Terezin, with libretto by Peter Kien.  The opera was seen in rehearsal after which both men were hustled off to Auschwitz and tragically exterminated.  The opera has been produced in Europe but has been rather neglected in New York.  The tragic circumstances of two talented lives cut short lends import to a work that easily stands on its own.  For this, we thank Ullman's fellow prisoners who managed to rescue the work when Terezin was liberated as well as the spiritualist who purportedly communicated with Ullman's ghost in finishing the instrumentation!  For bringing the work to life this weekend we thank Rebecca Greenstein, Executive Director of Opera Moderne as well as the Czech Center, the Austrian Cultural Forum, Deutsches Haus at NYU and Air Berlin.

Now, what about the work itself?  It's a one act piece of great cynicism which makes one think of Brecht and Weill.  Ullman's music is at times rather jazzy, referencing composers of many periods and scored for 13 instrumentalists, including a saxophone, a banjo and a harmonium; it never sounds boring or "academic".  Conductor Ransom Wilson led the ensemble known as "Le Train Bleu" who performed with distinction.

The story is an ironic one in which the Kaiser (a stand-in for Hitler) tries to co-opt Death which results in Death taking a holiday.  No one dies.  The world is filled with the walking dead.  A better image for prisoners in a concentration camp could not be imagined!  In the middle of this, a soldier and a girl find love.  At the end, Death takes the life of the Kaiser.

The work was directed by Markus Kupferblum whose artistic choices astonished and delighted us.  The use of "steampunk" as a design element for the costumes gave delight to the eye and relief from the sense of grief.  Angela Huff, the costume designer, even outfitted the staff in extravagant attire.

The voices were excellent without exception.  Baritone Vince Vincent sang the title role.  The role of Harlekin was illuminated by Brian Downen's fine tenor.  Mezzo Elspeth Davis enacted Der Trommler; Jeffrey Tucker made a fine Death.  The romantic couple comprised tenor James Baumgardner and soprano Gan-ya Ben-gur Akselrod.  Baritone Kelvin Chan was Der Lautsprecher.

Vicki Reynolds' choreography was performed by Ariel Seidman-Wright and Jasmine Ladiner.  The effective make-up design was by Rachael Wagner.

The work is scarcely more than an hour in duration and we found ourselves wishing there were more to see and hear; a better recommendation could not be made.  We can scarcely wait to see what Opera Moderne comes up with next!

(c) meche kroop