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, January 28, 2013


Not everything in last night's recital was Schubert's settings of Goethe's poetry but it would be fair to say that the best of the program was just that.  Soprano Devon Guthrie opened the program with a trio of such marvels; our favorite was "Der Schatzgräber" in which the poet learns how to have a good life: "Work by day!  Guests by evening!  Hard weeks!  Merry feasts!"  This sounds like good advice to us! 

The supremely talented Ms. Guthrie was joined by bass-baritone Tyler Simpson for the scene from Goethe's Faust in which an evil spirit does everything in his power to intimidate poor Gretchen; Mr Simpson's large sound was produced in an admirably effortless manner.  He demonstrated comfort in his higher register in a subsequent song.

Soprano Mary Feminear used her agile voice and charming manner to good advantage in "Wer kauft Liebesgötter" and "Der Fischer", two lied we hope to hear again at some point.  The long strophic tale of "Der Gott und die Bajadere" also made a fine impression, reminding us of what a fine storyteller Goethe is.   Baritone Benjamin Bloomfield gave a powerful reading of "An Schwager Kronos" and shone as the defiant "Prometheus"; he is also capable of harnessing this power for some beautiful pianissimo singing. We further enjoyed the sweet countertenor of John Holiday who sang "Geistes-Gruss", "Trost in Tränen", and Meeresstille".

As usual the pianism of Artistic Directors Lachlan Glen and Jonathan Ware was exemplary.  We particularly enjoyed Mr. Ware in "Lied der Anne Lyle" and Mr. Glen's "Ganymed" in which we distinctly heard the nightingale call.

Again, we commend these artists for their total commitment to bringing over 600 Schubert lieder to life.  More to come!

(c) meche kroop

Sunday, January 27, 2013


Wilhelm Muller
Franz Schubert
In a near-magical synchronicity, our non-wintry winter here in New York became wintry just in time for Schubert&Co's presentation of Schubert's heart-breaking 1828 song cycle Winterreise.  The full moon last night was icing on the cake.  Walking along Central Park South by moonlight on the way to Central Presbyterian Church did much to establish the mood for the completely satisfying recital to follow.

We do not know whether the poet Wilhelm Müller experienced such terrible romantic disappointment in his life but he died young, a year before Schubert set his poetry to music.   Neither do we know whether Schubert experienced such grief.  We wonder whether it is the artists' imagination that allows them to plumb the very depths of the human soul.  We certainly hope that baritone Michael Kelly and collaborative pianist Jonathan Ware have never descended to such emotional depths and that they never will!

A better partnership could not be imagined.  Mr. Kelly's satin instrument and fine technique were utilized and augmented by astonishing interpretive skills in a way that made them all subservient to the intense inner journey that he seemed to undergo--a tragic descent from romantic disappointment into psychotic depression, complete with hallucinations.  There was no doubt in our minds that the crows were heard, the many suns seen.  Perfect German diction allowed any listener with even a meager knowledge of German to understand what was transpiring.

This is an interesting contrast with Müller's other collection of poetry set by Schubert and entitled Die Schöne Müllerin.  In that cycle, the hero describes an elaborate story of leaving home, finding work as an apprentice miller, falling in love with the miller's daughter, being supplanted in her affection by a hunter, and seeking death in the waters of his beloved brook.  In the case of Winterreise, the poet begins his journey following the romantic rejection; the outer journey through an icy landscape is symbolic of the inner journey he makes through his frozen internal landscape.

Schubert shows us a baker's dozen varieties of despair in this cycle and each one is different in tone.  Often there are changes of mood within the same song, achieved with changes of key, mode and rhythm.  The intensity of Mr. Kelly's performance was equaled by the intensity and subtlety of Mr. Ware's pianism.  The two artists seemed to breathe together.

This inspired teamwork never called attention to itself but existed solely to serve the music.  It was an astonishing evening and merited the prolonged standing ovation at the conclusion.  Our tears dried and the lump in our throat vanished but the catharsis lasted all night.  Bravissimi!

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, January 26, 2013


Giuseppe Verdi
Richard Wagner
What an excellent idea to present a program of arias composed by two 19th c. titans born two centuries ago!  The feisty Chelsea Opera, helmed by Lynne Hayden-Findlay and Leonarda Priore, took on this bicentennial celebration.  Christ and St. Stephen's Church was bursting at the seems with loyal fans.

The first part of the program was devoted to the works of Richard Wagner, works we all know and love.  Wagner is notoriously difficult to sing and the performances came across as rather mixed.  Soprano Maria Russo tackled Brünnhilde's "Hojotojo!" with a great deal of gusto and volume and tenor Caleb Stokes performed "Winterstürme wichen dem wonnemond", one of our favorite Wagnerian arias.  Jennifer Behnke performed "Der Engel" from Wesendonck Lieder.  Soprano Elizabeth Beers Kataria was convincing as Senta in "Traft ihr das schiff im meere an" from Die Fliegende Holländer but did not seem to have much connection with bass Steven Fredericks in their duet "Wie aus die Ferne"

Caleb Stokes reappeared as Parsifal in "Nur eine waffe taugt" and Ms. Russo returned for Isolde's "Liebestod" from Tristan und Isolde in which she failed to float her line successfully over the piano.  The best part of the Wagner program was the ensemble from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in which the voices blended and balanced well; the aforementioned singers were joined by Monica Hershenson Thuris and Shawn Thuris.

One would never call Verdi easy to sing but the singers in Part II, which was devoted to his works, managed considerably better.  Baritone Robert Kerr made a fine Falstaff in the eponymous opera, singing a rather touching "Va! Vecchio John".  In  "Reverenza", mezzo Leonarda Priore herself was quite amusing, enjoying her role as Mistress Quickly to the fullest, while tenor Jonathan Morales took the role of Bardolfo.  Mr. Kerr reappeared later in "Per me, giunto...O Carlo, ascolta!" from Don Carlo and impressed us with his Verdian legato and dramatic commitment.

We greatly enjoyed soprano Regina Grimaldi whose generous and expressive voice animated "Ernani, Ernani, involami" from Ernani.  She has a lovely vibrato and needs only a bit more support in her lower register.  She also did a fine job with "Morró, ma prima in grazia" from Un Ballo in Maschera. 

Mr. Morales reappeared as the Duke in Rigoletto.  The audience enjoyed his "Questa o quella".  Tenor David Kellett performed "Madre, non dormi?" as Manrico with the part of Azucena being taken by Ms. Priore.  Mr. Kellett reappeared later as Macduff from Macbeth in the deeply felt aria "O figli, figli miei".  To close the evening, the entire company sang the moving "Va pensiero" from Nabucco.  Accompanying the singers throughout the evening was Steven M. Crawford.

(c) meche kroop