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.

Sunday, March 31, 2013


Lilla Heinrich-Szász
Lachlan Glen

The beautiful soprano Lilla Heinrich-Szász managed to create on short notice a beautiful recital with the collaborative pianist Lachan Glen, who always makes a major contribution with his nuanced playing.  The entire recital was delightful but what swept us away was her closing number--"Heia in dem Bergen" from Imre Kálmán's Die Csardasfürstin.  This highly spirited aria was given its full measure by this gracious performer who put her entire heart and soul into it, not to mention her whirly-swirly hand-clapping dance, after which she graciously thanked her voice teacher Marlena Malas, her mentor and her piano partner.  We have seen her perform this aria before and hope she will use it to conclude every future performance.  It is unique to her.

With a bright crystalline sound and melismatic skill, she performed several selections from the baroque repertory--"With plaintive notes" from Handel's Samson and two selections from Les fêtes d'Hébé by Rameau.  We especially admired the mood shifts in "Fuis, fuis, porte ailleurs tes fureurs".

The Grieg songs were well handled with "Lauf der Welt" being particularly charming.  Marie's "Salut à la France!" from Donizetti's  La Fille du Regiment was completely enchanting.  José Serrano's "Marinela" from La Canción del Olvido was so lovely that we wish to learn it ourselves.  (Hooray for the recent interest in Spanish canciónes!)   In Verdi's "Arrigo! Ah, parli a un core" from I Vespri Siciliani we were impressed by the fine trill and the roller coaster-like descending scale.
There is a unique pleasure in witnessing a young singer's completion of her work at Juilliard, having enjoyed observing their growth.  But there is also a feeling of sadness to see them spread their wings and leave the Juilliard nest.  We want to thank Ms. Heinrich-Szász for so many fine recitals and wish her luck as she takes her Master of Music Degree into the wider world.

© meche kroop

Saturday, March 30, 2013


Maestro Jorge Parodi
Director Dona D. Vaughn

 With stunning showmanship, Director Dona D. Vaughn has presented a memorable Orphée aux Enfers at the Manhattan School of Music.  Marshaling abundant musical resources, far outweighing meager budgetary resources, the performance of Jacques Offenbach's first full-length opera from 1858 was of the highest quality--dramatically, visually, and musically.  We have dared to call it an opera because we believe the title "operetta" would diminish its value.  We believe that opera can be, no should be, above all else, entertaining,

Liberated from some prior licensing restrictions, Mr. Offenbach was free to tackle his topics in greater depth, to give free rein to his gentle satire and to delight his audience with ideas that must have seemed risqué at the time.  We are fortunate that his oeuvre has aged well and that we today can be as delighted as were his contemporaries.

The tale being told is a frisky retelling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.  In Gluck's opera Orphée et Eurydice, quoted musically in Offenbach's work, Orpheus grieves for his beloved Euridice and goes to the underworld to beg for her release.  In Offenbach's off-kilter version, the two dislike each other and Euridice is happy to be dead so she can be with her lover Pluto who had appeared to her disguised as a shepherd.  It is only the character known as Public Opinion who represents morality and insists that the recalcitrant Orpheus travel to the underworld to beg Pluto for her release.  After many plot twists and turns, there is a happy ending in store for all.  All except for Public Opinion who has been defeated.

Offenbach's music readily engages the ear with charming melodies right from the overture when the wind section seems to be having a blast, punctuated by pounding of the bass drum.  The small orchestra responded to the lively and impassioned conducting of Maestro Jorge Parodi (whom we have seen a great deal of lately, and only in the best places) with some superb musicianship.  We would expect no less!

And the singing!  There must be a great deal of depth in the Opera Program, of which Ms. Vaughn is the Artistic Director, to allow the parts to be so perfectly cast.  It is difficult to believe that the performers are all seniors in the program and that this is their first fully-staged performance with orchestra.  Monica Danilov used her bright lyric soprano and charm to fill out the role of the fickle Eurydice.  Stephen Biegner used his fine tenor as the musician Orpheus whose violin playing irritates his wife to the point of distraction.  This gorgeous melody was performed by Concertmaster Sven Stucke in the orchestra.

Sweet-voiced tenor Christopher Lilley turned in a fine performance as Pluto, god of the underworld masquerading as the shepherd Aristée; the score calls for some very amusing falsetto singing which he handled well.  Baritone Tyler Schoen made a superb Jupiter whose randy escapades were clearly annoying to his wife Juno, well performed by mezzo Claire Gellert.  (Hello Wotan and Fricka!)  Mr. Schoen was rolling-on-the-floor hilarious when he transformed himself into a lusty fly and made Euridice fall in love with him.

Mezzo Kendra Dodd was completely adorable as Cupid and used her voice well, as did mezzo Megan Samarin as Venus. Tamara Rusqué has a sizable soprano voice and used it well in Diana's showpiece aria.  Mr. Offenbach certainly knew how to write for the voice and all three women fulfilled the promise of the writing.

Baritone Alexander Chen provided even more laughs as the tipsy John Styx whose business it was to keep our heroine under lock and key in the underworld, to her obvious disdain.  Only Public Opinion was serious and mezzo Noragh Devlin made the pomposity funny.  We all love to see these scolds get the wrong end of the stick, don't we?  The chorus was superb and the can-can of the gods was enjoyed by audience and performers alike.  Denise DiRenzo is credited with the choreography.

The dialogue was appropriately spoken in English while the arias were sung in French.  Diction (coached by Bénédicte Jourdois) was as excellent as the singing.  Titles were present but barely necessary.  Sets and props were minimal, leaving the focus on the singers.  Costumes were partly improvised and coordinated by Rachel Guilfoyle, but that doesn't take away from their effectiveness.  There was not a wrong note (pun intended) in the entire evening.

An evening that puts a grin on your face for two hours should not be taken lightly.  The problem is that it is seven hours post-performance and we are still grinning.  Can we still call it opera?

© meche kroop

Friday, March 29, 2013


Our favorite hang

It is impossible to sit in Paul Hall at Juilliard during one of the liederabend without feeling grateful for the opportunity to hear the stars of tomorrow and being impressed by the quality of the talent.  These young artists are already performing professionally around the USA and abroad and/or recording.  We have them right here to enjoy and the recitals are free.  Take that, Cleveland!

Last night's program was bookended by barihunks.  Philip Stoddard, partnered by pianist Jung A. Bang opened with four selections from Mahler's Rückert-Lieder, performed with consummate sensitivity and musicality.  In "Ich atmet' einen linden Duft" one could sense the aroma in the air.  And just listen to what Mr. Stoddard did with the word "frühling"!  This delicacy was followed by the wry mood of "Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder" and the solitude of "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen".  We were totally transported by the variety of moods.  The lovely Ms. Bang has an equally sensitive light touch on the keys.

Partnered by Kyung Hee Kim, soprano Lindsey Nakatani used her bright soprano to perform Walzer Gesänge by Alexander Zemlinsky, settings of poetry by Ferdinand Gregorovius which Ms. Nakatani translated herself.  These are songs with which we wish to become better acquainted.

We have heard Mr. Bielfield and his superb tenor several times before and it was exciting to see him grow in a new direction, performing two selections from Liszt's Tre Sonetti di Petrarca.  With excellent support from pianist Ari Livne he conveyed the anxiety and the passion of the poet in "Pace non trovo". 

Soprano Lilla Heinrich-Szász sang Sechs Lieder, Op. 48 of Edvard Grieg accompanied by Dan K. Kurland, a fine partnership if we ever heard one.  Many moods were expressed and we especially enjoyed the lighthearted "Lauf der Welt" and "Die verschwiegene Nachtigall" and the always lovely "Ein Traum".  Ms. Heinrich-Szász will have the stage to herself Saturday night at 8:30 and we will be there.

Soprano Lara Secord-Haid and pianist Art Williford sang four selections from Enrique Granados' Canciones Amatorias.  We always welcome the opportunity to hear Spanish songs and these were lovely.

Baritone Emmett O'Hanlon closed the program with some American songs, stepping out of the late 19th c. from whence came the other songs on the program.  Piano partner Lachlan Glen, well known from Schubert&Co's year long perusal of all of Schubert's 600+ songs, showed us a different aspect of his pianistic skills in the songs by Charles Ives which Mr. O'Hanlon sang with fine technique and depth of feeling.  The optimistic "He is there!" contrasted with the sad "In Flanders Fields".  In the former, flutist Daniel James added his silvery voice.  But it was in the final song that Mr. O'Hanlon was the most moving,  Lee Hoiby's setting of "Last Letter Home", an actual letter by Pfc. Jesse Givens who apparently lost his life in service to our country.  It was difficult to hold back the tears.

Let it be noted that the singers were all involved with their material and connected with the audience; they stepped forward away from the piano and used their entire bodies to convey the meaning of the song.  We have complained often about famous singers who hang onto the piano or who have not memorized the music and are so pleased to know that these young singers are not falling into those dreaded habits.

Mr. Stoddard's graduation recital will be April 8th at 8PM so if you missed his superb performance last night you will get another opportunity.

© meche kroop

Thursday, March 28, 2013


Dmitri Hvorostovsky

Ivari Ilja
 Decked out in a knee-length jacket with sequined lapels and tossing his shoulder length white hair, Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky commands the stage like no other. It is impossible to take your eyes off this operatic superstar.  The audience went wild and offered so much applause between songs that someone was obliged to come out on stage before the second part began to request that applause be held until the end of the cycle of songs.  Did that matter?  Not a bit.  Not even a chorus of "shushers" could silence the hearty applause.

That being said, it was not until the encores, which Mr. Hvorostovsky called "Part three of the recital" that we were able to experience him as the artist we know from the operatic stage.  Part of the problem, as we see it, is that the songs he chose were of an intimate nature and perhaps unsuited to the vast size of Carnegie Hall.  But how else could his legion of fans be accommodated?

A different sort of problem was Mr. Hvorostovsky's use of the music stand which he glanced at frequently.  That longed for feeling of connection with the audience and connection with the material just wasn't there until "Part Three" when Mr. H. threw himself into Rachmaninoff's "In the Silence of the Night" with which he seemed to have a deep connection and for which he needed no music stand.  The unfortunately unidentified encores which followed were supremely lovely.  Mr. H. has a voice of burnished bronze that is well focused and sets the air to vibrating with ample overtones.  There is no denying his exquisite musicality.

As collaborative pianist, the Estonian Ivari Ilja merits every accolade he receives.  His playing was so astonishing in its subtleties that we were able to see the scenes depicted in our mind's eye.  Sergei Rachmaninoff composed a large number of songs in his youth and the eleven we heard last night gave a fine depiction of the Russian soul.  The languor heard in "In my soul", the passion heard in "Once again I am alone", the aggressive chords in "The raising of Lazarus" and the delicacy of "Lilacs" (our personal favorite) combined to give a picture of a soul capable of great joy and equally great despair.

The second half of the program comprised a song cycle entitled Petersburg by the 20th c. composer Georgy Sviridov.  How reassuring to hear music of our own era that is tonal and rhythmic.  We realize that other music lovers may disagree with us but these are qualities that we love, along with a singable melodic line.  Sviridov's harmonies have surely evolved beyond those of Rachmaninoff's Late Romanticism but there is nothing abrasive to the ear, although the poetry by Aleksandr Blok is often despairing.

Again, our attention was drawn to the evocative playing of Mr. Ilja.  The cycle depicts St. Petersburg, or perhaps the St. Petersburg of Mr. Blok's imagination.  Church bells can be heard in the beginning and at the end.  The songs offered Mr. H. and Mr. Ilja the opportunity for a great deal of dynamic variety, particularly in "The Golden Oar".  In "A Voice from the Chorus" Mr. H. seemed more connected with the despair than he had in much of the rest of the program.  In "I am nailed to a tavern counter" Mr. H. held the climactic note just long enough.  "Those born in obscure years" was unremittingly grim.  Our personal favorite was "The Bride" which tells the story of a widow in a funeral procession for her late husband.  One could speculate on the symbolism or just enjoy the music.  "Petersburg Song" permitted Mr. Ilja to convey the sound of an organ grinder, reminding us of "Der Leierman" by Schubert.  But the former has a happier ending, as did this recital when Mr. H. finally showed us the intense involvement that we want to hear from him.

(c) meche kroop

Sunday, March 24, 2013


Takaoki Onishi and Dimitri Dover
A good recital shows the artist off to his/her best advantage and comprises, with certain exceptions, a variety of styles, moods and languages.  A GREAT recital does all the above with finely honed artistry.  Such was the case last night at Juilliard when a capacity crowd was treated to a memorable recital, as is so often the case at Juilliard.  One tends to run out of superlatives.  As they say, "You had to be there!"

We have seen both artists perform before and are always impressed by their musicianship and total involvement.  Last night seemed like a culmination although Mr. Onishi has been accepted in the Artists Diploma Program and we are glad of it since it will provide a further opportunity to hear this stunning young baritone.  He has a large voice that sets the very molecules of air to vibrating but this generous sound is under complete control.  His tone is consistent throughout the register.  In spite of the fact that none of the languages are his first language, he makes absolute sense out of all the poetry.

He began the program with four songs by Respighi that we never before found very interesting since the poetry is rather spare.  But Mr. Onishi's artistry brought out subtleties that we'd never before heard, such as the exquisite diminuendo in "Nebbie".  Mr. Dover's artistry contributed a great deal as he elucidated the descending chords, emphasizing the sadness and loneliness.  In "Pioggia" his pianism so realized the falling rain that we nearly reached for an umbrella.

Mahler's Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen is a song cycle much beloved by us and what a treat it was to hear it sung with such depth of feeling. The abundant melodies are familiar from Mahler's symphonies.  The composer himself wrote the poetry and it is heartbreaking.  A young man's beloved has married another and he is filled with despair, then anger, then regret and resignation.  Finally he finds peace under a linden tree.  This gives the singer an opportunity and a challenge to convey all these mood swings with word coloring.  Mr. Onishi rose to the challenge and left us stunned.  His intense involvement with the work made us hope that he has not had such a heartbreak in his own life and that it was "only" artistry.

We also enjoyed the stylish way he performed Ravel's songs from Don Quichotte à Dulcinée.  He sang "Chanson romanesque" with impressive nobility, "Chanson épique" with earnestness and "Chanson à boire" with a lively sense of fun.

He closed the program with three songs by Rachmaninoff.  If we preferred "Vesennije vody" it was only because it was more familiar to our ear.  Mr. Dover's piano conveyed the rushing of the water.  How appropriate to end the recital with a reference to Spring!

But fortunately for the audience Mr. Onishi graciously provided two encores.  Since most of the program was on the sad side, it made perfect sense for this fine artist to share his humorous side with Tartaglia's aria from Mascagni's "Le Maschere" in which the stuttering commedia del'arte player cannot quite sing out what he wants to say.  The second aria was a lovely strophic Japanese folk song that made everyone feel relaxed after the high-wire breath holding of the rest of the evening.

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, March 23, 2013


Do we take for granted what is in our own backyard?  We were asking ourselves that question during last night's recital by the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program.  Here in New York the six gifted artists we heard are known as "young artists" or "emerging artists".  If we lived in any other city in the United States or any European City, they would be (and actually are) considered superstars of the opera stage.  They often assume relatively small roles on the stage of The Metropolitan Opera but are uniformly capable of assuming lead roles in other companies.

Take for example tenor Mario Chang who will sing the Italian Tenor in Der Rosenkavalier next season at the Met but who just performed Nemorino abroad.  Last night we enjoyed his full-throated round Italianate voice, his melting messa di voce and melismatic grace in five Venetian songs by Reynaldo Hahn, accompanied by equally talented Alexandra Naumenko.  His use of the music stand, however, diminished his connection with the audience; we were far more thrilled at the end of the recital when he sang Turina's Poema en forma canciones without the music stand and we could fully appreciate his connection.  It also gave Ms. Naumenko an opportunity to show her stuff in the "Dedicatoria".  

Let us then consider Russian baritone Alexey Lavrov who is only in his first year at Lindemann and will sing some small roles at the Met this season but has sung the title role in Eugene Onegin at the Rheinsberg Festival in Germany.  Mr. Lavrov has a mature sound and an uncanny gift for choosing a variety of songs that showed off his dramatic skills.  In "Chi sprezzando" from Händel's The Passion he was stiff and harsh as the text demands.  In "Deh vieni alla finestra" from Mozart's Don Giovanni he was louche, lounging against the piano and smirking.  His partnership with collaborative pianist Bryan Wagorn is a match made in vocal heaven.  Rimsky-Korsakov's "Redejet oblakov", a setting of poetry by Pushkin, thrilled us with its passion, Mr. Lavrov's matched by Mr. Wagorn's. In Georgy Sviridov's "Oh, my homeland" he was absolutely heroic.  In "An eine Äolsharfe" we heard him caress each vowel without shortchanging the consonants.  The only other singer we know who can perform this magic is Jonas Kaufmann.

Also a yearling, tenor Andrew Stenson has sung Orphée at the Seattle Opera, amongst other roles.  Last night, accompanied by the brilliant Nimrod Pfeffer, he performed Beethoven's "Adelaide" with such connection to the material that we could visualize all the elements of nature described therein.  Just watching and listening, one could tell that Mr. Stenson was seeing them as well.   In Schubert's "Epistel 'An Herrn Josef von Spaun'" Mr. Pfeffer's control over dynamics and rhythmic thrust impressed us greatly, as did his fleet fingering in the Liszt.  It was in the Liszt Tre Sonetti di Petrarca that Mr. Stenson loosened his grip on the piano and stepped forward, giving himself a major step forward in engaging the audience.

What great fortune to hear these six talented artists right here in our own backyard!

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


The plucky chamber opera company known as The Little Opera Theatre of NY has unearthed a little-known comic opera by Christoph Willibald Gluck; L'ivrogne corrigé, a short one-act piece premiered in Vienna in 1760, just two years before his well-known Orfeo ed Euridice.  The stock situation of a young couple whose romantic plans are obstructed by a guardian is familiar to us from literature and opera libretti.

The venue chosen, 59E59 Theater worked surprisingly well.  The sightlines are superb and Scenic Designer Neil Patel did a most effective job in dividing the small stage on the diagonal placing the musicians (comprising a string quartet with oboe and harpsichord) to one side and the operatic stage to the other. Nothing more was needed than a couple chairs, some hanging lights, and a wardrobe that doubled as a bed and a platform.  Costume Design by Lara de Bruijn was lovely and appropriate to the period.  Director Philip Shneidman kept the action lucid.

Herr Gluck wrote some gorgeous music here, some of it presaging his later works.  Conductor Richard Owen at the harpsichord brought out many subtleties in the score; it was oboist Slava Znatchenii who captured our ears most often, as well as first violinist Francisco Salazar.  The duet between the eponymous "hero" Mathurin, sung by tenor Anthony Wright Webb and his drinking buddy Lucas, sung by a very funny baritone Ron Loyd, involved some beautiful vocal blending.  A subsequent duet between Mathurine the tippler's wife, sung by mezzo Teresa Buchholz, and her niece Colette, sung by soprano Jessica Sandidge delighted the ear with its harmonies in major thirds--very appropriate for two women discussing the price women pay for marriage.

The plot centers around the two women plotting along with Cléon, Colette's love interest, sung by tenor Jonathan Winell, in an effort to forestall Mathurin's plan to marry Colette off to Lucas.  The three of them get the two unconscious drunkards onto the bed together (providing the audience with no small degree of laughter) then wake them and convince them they are dead; they then don masks and present themselves as Pluto and two furies who first condemn the men to the underworld but finally relent and allow them a reprieve if they beat each other.  Mathurin must promise to drink no more and to allow his niece to marry Cléon.

The singing was fine throughout, as was the acting.  Mr. Loyd was consistently hilarious.  Mr. Winell was a bit stolid as Cléon but made much more out of his playing the part of Pluto.  Diction was variable and therein lay the sole problem with this delightful evening.  The original libretto by Louis Anseaume and Jean-Baptiste Lourdet de Santerre was written in French in rhyming couplets.  Here we got a ham-handed translation by Ivana Mestrovic which did not scan and did not rhyme.  Musical accents and verbal accents seemed at war with one another.  The irony is that the plot is so straightforward that no one would have protested a performance in French, even without titles.  This was an (un)artistic decision which we failed to understand.

Nonetheless, it was an enjoyable evening and we count on the feisty Little Opera Theater of New York will bring us more undiscovered gems in the future.

(c) meche kroop

Monday, March 18, 2013


Jorge Parodi
JP Jofre
Marcelo Guzzo
Maria de Buenos Aires was composed over 40 years ago by Astor Piazzolla and has been getting produced all around the world.  This past weekend it was given an admirable production as the capstone of the Opera Hispanica Festival; Founder and Artistic Director Daniel Frost Hernandez left no detail to chance, assembling a fine cast and production team.  Nine musicians were in the capable hands of Maestro Jorge Parodi, Artistic Director, Music Director and conductor of undisputable talent.  Chief among them was JP Jofre whose electrifying playing of the bandoneon is both music and dance.  Guitarist Tali Roth also stood out for her fine musicianship.  The opera has a marvelous melody "Tema de Maria" which is reprised a couple times throughout the opera, a tune which we have been humming all night.

There were only two sung roles; performing the part of the eponymous heroine was Solange Merdinian whose movement skills were just as impressive as her voice and baritone Marcelo Guzzo as El Payador, a gentle country poet whose dark chocolate voice reminded me of Guinness.  (Well, it was St. Patrick's Day!)  Having learned a bit about the Argentinean dialect from Maestro Parodi at the master class a couple days earlier, we feel confident in saying that the diction was right on point.

The spoken role of El Duende was performed by Gerardo Gudiño and one couldn't ask for any more from an evil spirit  reciting surreal poetry.  As far as the libretto by Uruguayan poet Horacio Ferrer, it had a lovely rhythm in Spanish and was replete with symbolism but not in narrative coherence.  The projected English translation was not much different from other translations into English; neither comprehensible nor poetic.  The story is not even meant to be a narrative but a rather surrealistic examination of redemption.  Allusions to the story of the virgin birth and perhaps also to Jesus' resurrection are also present.

Stage Director Beth Greenberg did her customary excellent work in keeping one's attention focused on the significant action.  Maria in Part I is an unfortunate prostitute from the ghetto and in Part II, after her death, a "shadow" (perhaps what we call "a shade") who gives birth to herself for what may be a second chance at life.

Choreographer Daniel Fetecua Soto along with dancers Gayle Madeira and Sidney Grant provided the tango dancing.  We have never seen a tango for three dancers and found it rather compelling.  When not dancing, the trio sat at the back of the stage at a table, drinking and passing the time.  Projections were provided by Brett Banakis and Anka Lupes was credited with the costume design.

Choosing a nightclub in Greenwich Village as a venue was an interesting choice.  The buzz about the tango opera was huge and there was insufficient standing room for all the folks who wanted to attend.  The applause was deafening and the many curtain calls responded to the adulation of the audience.  On the other hand, the multiple distractions of people ordering food and drinks as well as the consequent delivery and consumption of same was a bit distracting.  To those accustomed to nightclubs it wouldn't be a problem; to those who attend musical events in an auditorium it would be.

We are eager to see what impressario Daniel Frost Hernandez has up his sleeve next!

(c) meche kroop