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.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

MADAME BOVARY, the musical

We are continuing our exploration of the American musical and trying to decide if this popular art form is the contemporary equivalent of 19th c. opera--popular entertainment in the language of the country of origin.  Paul Dick has adapted the novel by Gustave Flaubert and written the music and the lyrics; it is being presented UNAMPLIFIED in a black box theater at the Roy Arias space.  It was entertaining.

Does anyone not know the story of the romantically inclined young woman living in provincial France in the late 19th c.?  To a 21st c. woman, it is difficult to imagine her counterpart in that epoch without options.  There was no life for a woman without marriage and our heroine marries a country doctor who comes to tend to her father.  She rapidly succumbs to the tedium of being a wife without ever learning what it means to be a woman or even a person.  She descends into orgies of "shopping therapy" and a couple tawdry affairs and finally, deeply in debt, she kills herself with arsenic.  Sad story.

Mr. Dick has hewn fairly close to the book and has retained the original time period but has modernized much of the dialogue, making it familiar to contemporary ears but paying the price of loss of authenticity.  His music is tuneful and accessible; it was excellently played by Music Director Rebecca Greenstein and an orchestra was never missed.  The lyrics scanned and rhymed and were often clever, as in "I Insist!" or just plan lovely, as in "Rain on the River" in which the listener could hear the rain falling.

Direction and choreography were by Marlene Thorn Taber who kept the story moving along.  The minimal set design--a bed, a table, some chairs and an authentic appearing pharmacist's corner--were by Aaron Sheckler.  Period appropriate costuming was by Roejendra Adams.

The performances were of variable quality.  The weight of the show was carried well by petite soprano Hayley Hoffmeister as Emma Bovary; her acting was as good as her singing.  To her credit, she was able to arouse empathy for this unfortunate heroine.  Her boring but devoted husband was played by Roger Rathburn whose speaking voice was beautifully resonant but whose singing voice seemed frayed; we wondered whether he was meant to appear the age of her grandfather and felt that this casting choice added another dimension to Emma's unhappiness, one which was not in the novel.

As Rodolphe, Eyal Sherf was appropriately slimy as he plotted in advance how to seduce and abandon Emma; the audience's laughter seemed a bit inappropriate but, then again, that was written into the libretto and was never emphasized in the book.  More laughter, also deliberate, was provided by Christopher G. Teft who made the most of his role as Homais who manipulates Emma into buying things and then throws her into bankruptcy.

Leon was played by Patrick Thomas Spencer who did not convince.  In the ensemble were John Raymond Barker, Alison Novelli, Mia Rose Spackman and Carl G. Zurhorst.

It was a fine way to end the holiday weekend and we will be looking for more musicals by Mr. Dick who seems to have already written quite a number of them.

© meche kroop

Friday, May 24, 2013


Eric Brenner and Elise Jablow (photo by George
There's a very special feeling when an audience rises as one to give a standing ovation.  One knows one has been a part of a very special evening--in this case the New York premiere of Alessandro Scarlatti's comic opera Il Trionfo dell'Onore, which was first presented in 1718 in Naples.  This was contemporaneous with Handel operas but, unlike them, clocks in at just over two hours--and two delightful hours they were.

The story concerns a libertine named Riccardo (sung by male soprano Eric S. Brenner) who escapes the law in Lucca and comes to Pisa with his sidekick Capitano Rodimarte Bombarda (a big-voiced and very funny baritone Stephen Lavonier).  Two lovely ladies are pursuing Riccardo--both have been seduced and abandoned.  Leonora (sung by mezzo Maria Todaro) and Doralice (sung by soprano Elise Jablow) have voices that blended together impressively in their first act duet.

Riccardo is trying to get money from his uncle Flaminio (sung by Christopher Preston Thompson) who is betrothed to the local lady Cornelia (the excellent and very funny soprano Briana Sakamoto) but who is lusting after Cornelia's servant Rosina (sung by adorable and spunky mezzo Catherine Leech).  Also arriving in Act II is Erminio (sung by the impressive mezzo Stephanie McGuire who successfully negotiated all the changes of register), brother to Leonora and betrothed to Doralice.  This poor fellow must defend his family's honor and reconcile himself to his faithless fiancée.

Comparisons to Mozart's Don Giovanni can't be helped, but in this case the libertine repents in a splendid aria and everyone gets happily paired off in the end; the final octet is a gorgeous earfull.

The direction by Artistic Director Gina Crusco was superb; the action never let up and every gesture felt organic.  There was no straining for laughs.  Michael Minahan's set was simple but effective--a little table with two chairs on the left and the facade of a house with windows on the right.  Nothing more was needed. 

The costuming by Edgar Cortes was original.  During the overture, the eight performers lined up in identical white tunics, printed pants, white pumps and powdered wigs.  A woman in contemporary casual attire billed as a "casting agent" (Kelli Butler) but appearing more as a costumer or props person distributed accessories to suit each character.  The captain received epaulets, the servant an apron, Riccardo a codpiece, Cornelia a "dowager's hump", Erminio a breastplate and the ladies roses for their hair.

Musical values were superb on all counts.  Conducted from the harpsichord by Music Director Dorian Komanoff Bandy, Sinfonia New York comprised a string quartet plus oboe and recorder.  Evidently a lot of research was done by Mr. Bandy whose concept involved fidelity to the early 18th c. practice of taking liberties with the continuo and with original ornamentation suited to each voice.  He claimed to expect audiences to be shocked or unsettled by these liberties; not so!  We were only delighted.

© meche kroop

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


Last night we celebrated the 25th Anniversary of NYFOS.  We celebrated the vast contributions made by Artistic Director Steven Blier and his Associate Michael Barrett.  We celebrated our broadening appreciation of different types of songs.  We celebrated the countless gifted singers and composers who contributed to the success of this venture over the past quarter of a century.

The woman sitting next to me had never heard of Mr. Blier until she read the touching tribute in the New York Times.  It was a "Where have I been all this time?" moment for her and we understood completely.  Mr. Blier's diligence, perseverance and fine ear for a fine song, combined with his delightful sense of humor have combined to create series of recitals (he doesn't like that word) or events that open our ears to the magnificence we may otherwise have overlooked.  His droll narration and his astute choice of artists continue to delight us.

From the rousing ragtime inflected opener "Play That Barbershop Chord" sung by James Martin to the beautifully sustained final note of "If It's Magic", sung by Darius De Haas, we heard a bountiful smorgasbord of songs in English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish. 

We just about swooned over NYFOS' Comedian Harmonists, five of our favorite Juilliard guys (Kyle Bielfield, Miles Mykkanen, Nathan Haller, Philip Stoddard and Leo Radosavijevic) clearly inspired by the German Pre-WWII close harmony group, singing "Mein Onkel Bumba".  They not only sang but had the choreographic moves down pat.  Another favorite Juilliard singer, the divine Julia Bullock, began the stirring "I Wish I Knew How It Feels to Be Free" a capella .  Wow!

Not only were Mr. Blier's current students represented but dear friends and colleagues from the past joined in the fun, and fun it was!  Our favorite LMAO moment was Mary Testa singing "I'm Going to Make You Beautiful".  It was equally thrilling to hear William Bolcom play his own composition "Black Max" with Joan Morris singing; "The Bird on Nellie's Hat" from 1908 was another hoot, as was Andrew Garland's "He Never Did That Before".  Sari Gruber's humor was a bit more on the wry side in "Just Like a Man".

In a more serious vein, we enjoyed Joseph Kaiser in Kurt Weill's "Love Song" and even more in Korngold's "Sommer" with his impeccable German.  Amy Burton and John Musto were on hand and we liked the French riffs in "Le chaland qui passe" but especially Mr. Musto's own "Penelope's Song".  There was pathos to spare in a selection from the recently heard (Opera Hispanica) Maria de Buenos Aires sung with great depth of feeling by Jennifer Aylmer and Ricardo Herrera, whose final diminuendo was stunning.

Judy Kaye took a Gershwin tune "Nice Work If You Can Get It" for a nice spin and Mr. Martin used his powerful voice to read a poem by Langston Hughes "Harlem Sweeties" before singing W.C. Handy's "Harlem Blues".  Some Portuguese songs were performed by Ms. Aylmer, Mr. Herrera, Jeffrey Picón, and Jesse Blumberg (who was reviewed two days ago).  The tables were turned on Smokey Robinson's "My Guy", sung by a male quartet (Mr. Mykkanen, Scott Murphree , Mr. Blumberg and Adrian Rosas who had some low notes that would outdo the tuba).

At the conclusion, the audience jumped to its feet as one and expressed their enthusiasm.  Mr. Blier said he hopes to continue for another 25 years.  To this we say..."Cent'Anni!"

© meche kroop

Sunday, May 12, 2013


Vira Slywotzky, Scott Murphree, Richard Pearson Thomas, Jesse Blumberg
Yes, music is food for the soul and last night at Weill Recital Hall we not only had our taste buds stimulated but we felt deeply satisfied and well nourished by Concert à la Carte, a recital of songs inspired by food.  It is "rare" to experience a recital as pure fun but this one was so "well done" that we can think of no better word to describe it.

Presented by Mirror Visions Ensemble, under the direction of Tobé Malawista, our only criticism was that the program was too short.  We would have welcomed a second half.  Not that any courses were missing.  Not that we left hungry.  It was just like a delicious meal where you want a second helping even though you are satisfied.

The singers included soprano Vira Slywotzky, just reviewed for her winning performance as Madame Paula in LOONY's Sweethearts, tenor Scott Murphree known from NYFOS and baritone Jesse Blumberg who is well known for his 5BMF, Five Boroughs Music Festival.  They were joined by Naho Parrini on the violin, Katherine Cherbas on the cello and Richard Pearson Thomas on the piano. 

Mr. Thomas was also the composer of the final work on the program, a cantata in celebration of sustainable food entitled Clean Plates Don't Lie.  This was a delightful piece of music with plentiful melodic invention and interesting weaving of voices with the strings.  We are always tickled by the skewering of people's obsessions and in this case the entire "farm to table" movement was gently satirized.  We heard arias, recitatives, a passacaglia, a fugue, choruses and a chorale with gorgeous harmonies.  The text comprised lists of ingredients from the menu of a well known restaurant which champions sustainable eating. 

Other songs were no less fun.  We have always loved Cole Porter's "Come to the Supermarket in Old Peking", sung by the trio.  Stephen Schwartz's "Bread" from The Baker's Wife, also sung by the trio, had some enormously clever internal rhymes and made everyone's mouth water.  (Isn't English a great language for clever rhymes?)

"Tango du Dessert" by Christopher Culpo was nothing more than a recitation of the flavors of sorbet at Berthillon.  Mmm!  This was commissioned by Mirror Visions Ensemble and a worthy addition to the program.  Another personal favorite was Leonard Bernstein's "Tavouk Gueunksis" from La Bonne Cuisine, merely a recipe for breast of hen but with music that sounded to our ears a bit like Ravel's Don Quichotte à Dulcinée. Mr. Blumberg sang it with panache.  Betty Crocker's mid 20th c. recipe for Tuna Supreme was the text for Mr. Thomas' other contribution to the program.  Hearing what people ate 63 years ago was a hoot.  Perhaps it's time to stop writing and whip up a batch!

© meche kroop

Saturday, May 11, 2013


Perhaps Mr. Sondheim would not agree with our opinion but after delighting in Side by Side by Sondheim at The Manhattan School of Music, we consider his works to be operas.  They tell engrossing stories that are relevant to the audience; the music and the stories work together in a way similar to the operas of the 19th c.  They represent a continuation of the tradition far more than so-called "serious operas", the ones that we force ourselves to see once and never want to see twice.  American Musical Theater has evolved out of the operetta tradition and those works evolved from the opera tradition.  Well, no matter what you call them, they are superb.

The production given by MSM's American Musical Theater Ensemble was as superb as the work itself; we could see it transferred intact directly to Broadway!  Narrated by the singers themselves, the anthology of songs was introduced with a bit of background about the shows from which they came.  Carolyn Marlow directed the students of her ensemble with a sure hand; every gesture and action appeared motivated by the lyrics.  Vocal professionalism married with dramatic effectiveness and fine musical values added up to more than the sum of the parts.

The setting by Shawn Kaufman offered little besides a shimmering silver curtain and two pianos, played with high spirits by Musical Director Shane Schag and Eric Sedgwick..  The simple costumes of black and cobalt blue by Rachel Guilfoyle did not distract from the main event--the music.

And what music it was!  The rousing opening "Comedy Tonight" from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum was a perfect choice for starting things off with high energy.  Every song was a jewel but let us just mention a few that were for us highlights.  We loved Julia Suriano, just a sophomore in a group of graduate students, and Chelsie Nectow in "If Momma Was Married" from Gypsy (for which Sondheim wrote the lyrics and Jule Styne the music).  Ms. Suriano impressed us later with her interpretation of the flight attendant in "Barcelona" from Company.  Her sperm-of the-moment was beautifully portrayed by Kim Johansen.  We enjoyed this young performer once again in a unique interpretation of "Broadway Baby" from Follies.

Maren Weinberger and Clayton Brown were delightfully convincing  in "You Must Meet My Wife" from A Little Night Music; he waxed rhapsodic about his virgin bride and she did everything but roll her eyes.  What fun!  Ms. Weinberger has a flair for comedy as revealed in "I Never Do Anything Twice" from The Seven Percent Solution.

"Send in the Clowns" is one of our favorite songs and it was finely delivered by Christine Price who, with Ms. Weinberger, sang a moving operatic version of "A Boy Like That" from West Side Story (music by Leonard Bernstein).  Ms. Price was joined by Ms. Nectow and an hilarious Peter Tinaglia in drag for "You Gotta Get a Gimmick" from Gypsy--a number that gave costumer Rachel Guilfoyle a chance to shine and the audience a chance to laugh out loud.  Laughing out loud was also earned by Kendrick Pifer in "The Boy from..." from The Mad Show (music by Mary Rodgers).

As far as Colleen Durham's choreography, just look at those tappy-toes in "We're Gonna Be All Right" from Do I Hear a Waltz?;  Chelsie Nectow and Clayton Brown really showed their stuff!  If prizes were awarded for the Best Diction, we would choose Maren Weinberger for her "Losing My Mind" from Follies.  Accustomed to hearing German and Italian, we find that English is more difficult to comprehend; when lyrics are as special as Sondheim's are, we would have wished to grasp every single word.  We are not sure whether amplification makes it any easier; possibly the opposite is true.  In any case, in spite of the tradition of amplification on Broadway, we couldn't help wondering how the show might have sounded without body mics, taking into account the well-trained voices we were listening to.  Just sayin'.

©meche kroop

Friday, May 10, 2013


Alexander Lewis and Brian Wagorn
The season of recitals by Lindemann Young Artists ended with a bang of an encore--"Our Times" from Stephen Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along, as fine an aria as was ever written in bygone centuries and accorded the same respect by the thrilling tenor Alexander Lewis.  The entire recital was remarkable and it was obvious from the very start that Mr. Lewis chose songs that he loved and related to.  We felt as if we were invited into Mr. Lewis' world.

Mr. Lewis' world is broad in compass; he uses his expressive voice along with gesture and body language to convey the deepest meaning of a song, be it funny, sad or ironic.  The texture of his timbre is as pleasing as it is varied and he thankfully never pushes for a high note, a fault of most young (and not-so-young) tenors that hurts our ears.  As a matter of fact, his technique is so refined that one never notices it and is able to focus on his artistry.

He opened the program with selections from The Purcell Collection which were realized by Benjamin Britten.  Mr. Lewis' cheekiness, most notably in "Pious Celinda goes to Prayers", married well with the nature of these brief jewels but he switched gears readily for the tragic "Elegy on the Death of Queen Mary", sung in Latin.

Following, he sang eight charming songs written by Schubert when the composer was but 17-18 years old, an age at which today's youth is doing nothing more than skateboarding or watching TV.  The texts by Ludwig Hölty are delightful and have been set by other composers.  Each and every one merited second and third hearings, imbued as they are with the freshness of youth.

We know Bellini as the composer of operas in which the arias have long arching phrases, so beloved by singers and listeners.  His song "Torna, vezzosa Fillide" took us by surprise with its short phrases.  It was composed for voice and piano but Bryan Wagorn's exuberant pianism brought in all the richness of a full orchestra.  Arpeggios, chords and runs seem to drop like pearls from Mr. Wagorn's fingers.  Mr. Lewis conveyed every drop of the shepherd's despair as he mourned his lost love.

Reynaldo Hahn's Venezia, a collection of lovely graceful songs, was performed in such an Italianate style that we were sure Mr. Lewis had some secret Italian genetic material.  We do love barcarolles and Mr. Wagorn's piano had us swaying in our seat.  Some of the songs are incredibly romantic and others are ironic.  Mr. Lewis' dramatic chops echoed his talents on the opera stage, which we have long enjoyed.

The judges who gave awards to Mr. Lewis certainly knew what they were doing.  It took a lot of hard work to make everything look so effortless!

© meche kroop


We confess to having been ignorant of the glories of operetta until recently; now we cannot get enough.  Victor Herbert's Sweethearts, while never one of his more famous ones, is chock full of delights to the eye and ear.  Light Opera of New York gave this charming work a fine production, using a revised libretto by Alyce Mott and the late Dino Anagnost.

The silly but enormously entertaining story concerns a royal infant put into the arms (well, into the tulip patch) of the worthy Dame Paula (Vira Slywotsky) who runs a laundry in Bruges under the name of Mother Goose with her daughters whom she calls "goslings".  The child's birth country has survived a revolution and is now calling for the return of the monarchy.  Will the child, now a beautiful young woman, be discovered and returned to the throne or will the handsome prince (Peter Kendall Clark) be crowned instead?  Well it all works out in the end in spite of the machinations of the spiteful Liane (Stefanie Izzo) , the scheming playboy Lieutenant Karl (Eapen Leubner), the rascal Mikelovsky (Victor Khodadad) and other assorted fortune hunters.

The action is narrated by Dame Paula and Ms. Slywotsky was as effective dramatically as she was vocally.  The two romantic female leads were equally fine although we thought Ms. Xanthopoulu might have played her part with a bit more innocence to contrast with the worldly wise nastiness of Ms. Izzo.  Mr. Kendall Clark made a fine princely male lead with a fine resonant voice and Mr. Leubner was appropriately cast as a military man.  There was not a vocal weak link.

The role of Von Tromp was played by Jonathan Fox Powers and David Seatter was a very funny Slingsby--both excellent.  The four "goslings" made some marvelous music together--Samantha Britt, Katherine Corle, Eva Giorgi, and Gillian Hassert.  The four soldiers were played by Brian Long, Christopher Nelson, Adam Strube and Miguel Angel Vasquez.

Director Gary Slavin did a commendable job making sense of this screwy story and moving people around a small stage with no scenery to speak of.  Wisely, the work was presented "straight" and with consummate respect; there was not a whiff of condescension.  Costumes by Stefanie Genda were colorful and well suited to the time (beginning of the 20th c.) and place.

Mr. Herbert's frothy music, under the direction of Conductor Michael Thomas was glorious.  The tunes are delightfully melodic, many of them in waltz-time.  We heard echoes of Gilbert and Sullivan and even a song that foreshadowed Sondheim.The small orchestra comprised Jeremiah Oliver at the piano with violin, cello, bass and flute making valuable contributions to the texture; notable was the variety of percussion effects played on a variety of instruments. 

LOONY is a perfect example of a small company that does much with limited resources.  There was nothing about the production to suggest economy; we don't know how they did it but they did it.  We will be sure to augment next year's opera-going with some operetta-going!

© meche kroop

Thursday, May 9, 2013


Emalie Savoy and Nimrod David Pfeffer
We are thrilled to report that soprano Emalie Savoy's third season with the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program has resulted in a finished artist who would grace any opera stage with her exciting voice, physical beauty and relatedness.  We have long admired the purity of her voice and her musicality but this past year has put the finishing touches on her performance.  The connection with the material has increased in depth and consequently, the connection with her audience.  There is a new relaxation and welcome warmth about her that was evident from the first song.

The program opened with Poulenc's Banalités which gave this dazzling soprano an opportunity to explore many moods from the languor of "Hôtel" to the sadness of "Sanglots" to the utter joy of "Voyage à Paris", the latter being our personal favorite.  We were ready to go home and pack our bags!

Hugo Wolf's Mignonlieder was sung with intensity and dramatic artistry; one could feel a deep connection with the tragic character from Goethe's 1795 novel Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre.  Ms. Savoy's German diction was just as fine as her French.  This set of songs also gave collaborative pianist Nimrod David Pfeffer an opportunity to play a stunning postlude in "Mignon III" and to indulge in some wildly powerful playing in "Kennst du das Land".

The final set was Samuel Barber's Hermit Songs.  We especially enjoyed Ms. Savoy's warmth in "St. Ita's Vision", the lightheartedness of "The Heavenly Banquet", the terror of "Sea Snatch", the humor of the brief "Promiscuity" and the gentle "The Monk and His Cat".  With her expressivity of voice and gesture, each song had great character.  Mr. Pfeffer's piano was no less expressive.  There was a bone-chilling eerie quality in "The Crucifixion" and he made the roaring of the sea audible in "Sea Snatch" as well as the pouncing of the cat in "The Monk and His Cat".

As encore, Ms. Savoy and Mr. Pfeffer let loose with "Il est doux, il est bon" from Massenet's Hérodiade; he played some marvelously articulated rolling chords and she stunned us with a huge high note at the climax. 

One may no longer consider this prize-winning artist an emerging artist.  To our ears, she is now a fully fledged star.  Another triumph for the Lindemann program.

© meche kroop

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


Peter Dugan, Wallis Giunta, John Brancy
In John Brancy's voyage through Juilliard we have heard him sing the old, the new, the borrowed and the blue; we have even heard him sing Icelandic poetry.  We have never been anything less than thrilled with the authenticity of his performance, not to mention the mature burnished timbre of his baritone voice.

At his graduation recital last night, we were filled with joy for his success but felt twinges of sadness that this six-year voyage is coming to an end.  Mr. Brancy sings from the heart and throws his entire being into every word, every note and every gesture.  He is a consummate storyteller.

The opening story was Britten's tall tale about The Crocodile; Mr. Brancy's delightful sense of humor got the audience giggling.  In an entirely different mood, Kurt Weill's "A dirge for two veterans", a setting of a poem by Walt Whitman about a father and son fallen in battle, gave the artist an opportunity to evoke feelings of grief amplified by a sustained high note.  It also gave collaborative pianist Peter Dugan the opportunity to create drum sounds on the piano, an impressive feat.

We delighted in Mr. Brancy's performance of Ravel's Don Quichotte a Dulcinée which permitted him to create the many faces of Don Quichotte; the idealistic in "Chanson romanesque", the prayerful in "Chanson épique" and the bibulous  in "Chanson à boire".  No matter how many times we have heard these songs they always delight us.  Mr. Dugan created a wonderful contrast in the first song--between Mr. Brancy's long legato vocal lines and the syncopated Spanish rhythms in the piano.  In the second song, Mr. B. gave us an exquisite messa di voce in the final "Amen".

His German was impeccable in Wolf's Morike lieder; no translations were necessary.  We particularly enjoyed "Nimmersatte liebe".

A special added attraction of the evening was the presence of Mr. Brancy's sweetheart, mezzo Wallis Giunta, who joined him for some wonderful duets.  The pair were in perfect harmony in Ralph Vaughn Williams setting of Shakespeare's text "It was a lover and his lass".  But Schumann's "Ich bin dein baum" was the one that touched us most deeply; it is about the mutual dependency of the gardener (Mr. B.) and the fruit-bearing tree (Ms. G.)  Ms. G's pleasing vibrato somehow made us think of a peach tree.  But....the best was yet to come.  Henri Duparc set a text by Pierre-Jules-Théophile Gautier entitled "La Fuite" in which a woman tries to persuade her lover to run away with her in spite of his objections.  She's the romantic and he's the realist.  The acting was so on point that it seemed like a scene in an opera waiting to be written.

Mr. B's dark timbre is very well suited to Russian and we loved what he did with Rachmaninov's "In the silence of the mysterious night"; there was a delicate decrescendo at the end.  Our disappointment at not hearing the Czech language in Cunning Little Vixen was lifted by hearing Dvořák's "My heart is often in pain"; certain motives reminded us of his "Song to the Moon"--absolutely ravishing with its unique sonorities.

After two beautiful Bellini songs with their long vocal phrases and typical arpeggiation in the piano, off came the jacket, out came the stool and Mr. B. enchanted us with his stirring performance of "The Soliloquy" from Carousel.  As if that were not enough, as encore Mr. B. called Ms. G. back onstage for Daniel Hunt's "All the Way".  Never has a pop song sounded so good to our ears!  And it gave Mr. Dugan an opportunity to improvise some great jazzy riffs on the piano.

Mr. Brancy faces future fame and we will feel rather smug telling his fans "I remember him when..."

© meche kroop

Sunday, May 5, 2013


Joseph Kaiser, Myra Huang, Susanna Phillips
We jump at any chance to hear major opera stars up close and personal in a recital format.  Sometimes they fall a bit short without the drama, the scenery and the costumes.  No such disappointment existed at the Morgan Library Sunday afternoon when Metropolitan Opera stars Susanna Phillips and Joseph Kaiser shared the recital stage with collaborative pianist Myra Huang and violinist Michelle Ross.  This was the last recital of the season presented by the George London Foundation for Singers.

We reviewed Ms. Phillips solo recital at Carnegie Hall last February which completely blew us away  (see "From Snow to Glow") but had never heard Mr. Kaiser in recital.  This afternoon's  program was entirely in French.  We delighted in hearing some familiar favorites, especially Ms. Phillips' performance of Mozart's "Dans un bois solitaire et sombre" and Martini's "Plaisir d'amour".  But it was her performance of "Certain coucou" by André Grétry that completely charmed us.  Those who love Mahler will recognize the tale of the voice competition in which the nightingale is overlooked by the donkey judge in favor of the owl and the cuckoo.  We couldn't help opining about the current taste in music which makes us think that many audiences are composed of...donkeys! 

Tenor Joseph Kaiser was a pleasure to hear as well, particularly in Henri Duparc's "Phydilé" in which he showed exquisite dynamic control which was matched by the super-sensitive collaborative pianist Myra Huang who always seems to breathe along with the singer.  Mr. Kaiser also introduced us to a song that was new to us but will surely become one of our favorites--"Si vous croyez que je vais dire" from André Messager's Fortunio.  We are known to be suckers for melody and what a gorgeous melody did we hear.

Still, it was two opera singers we were enjoying and must say that our favorite part of the afternoon was towards the end when we heard two selections from Gounod's  Roméo et Juliette.  Ms. Phillips' thrillingly bright soprano made "Je veux vivre" totally scintillating.  What followed was a duet with Mr. Kaiser, the scene in which the enamored couple must part since Romeo has been exiled.  It was incredibly moving and no sets or costumes were needed for us to believe the tragedy of premature separation.

Included in the program was the Meditation from Massenet's Thaïs which gave us the opportunity to hear Ms. Huang accompanying violinist Michelle Ross.  It was outstanding--sweetly seductive and passionate.

© meche kroop


Lachlan Glen and Edward Parks
The poet paints a picture for the listener, poetry being conceived as a spoken art form; the composer of a lied adds another layer; the singer adds yet another.  Last night, for Schubert&Co.'s final recital, the master's Schwanengesang was chosen--his last published cycle.  It is a lovely and familiar group of songs but not an actual cycle as in Die Winterreise or Die Schöne Müllerin.  In this opus, Schubert has set texts by only three poets, seven by Rellstab, six by Heine and the closing lied by Seidl.

Who better to perform this than baritone Edward Parks and collaborative pianist Lachlan Glen!  Together they brightened the colors of the paintings and elucidated the outlines.  We heard these familiar songs as if for the first time with all the thrill of fresh discoveries.  Here, a brook murmuring in "Liebesbotschaft"; there, a strange and eerie arpeggio of a diminished A chord in "Die Stadt".  Voice and piano swelled together on the phrase "wasser schwoll" in "Am Meer".

Mr. Parks is a consummate artist and sings as if he were composing the words at that very moment, such is his involvement with the text.  His voice is naturally warm but comes across as powerful when that is called for.  The sweetness of "Liebesbotschaft"  gave way to the terror of death in "Kriegers Ahnung" and the restlessness of "Frühlingssehnsucht".  The tender and passionate "Ständchen" (our personal favorite) was followed by the tormented and tumultuous "Aufenthalt", the sorrowful "In die Ferne" and the cheerful "Abschied".  The romantic "Das Fischermädchen" led to the eerie "Die Stadt", the despairing "Der Doppelgänger", the tearful "Ihr Bild", the weighty "Der Atlas" and finally to the joyful "Die Taubenpost".

Mr. Parks is riveting as an artist.  He is unfussy in his movement and does his acting with vocal coloring, phrasing of exemplary musicality, finely tuned dynamic variety and accurate German diction.  One could not imagine Schubert better served.

Do not being surprised if there will be another post-series recital this month to make up for some of the songs that got left out due to singer indisposition.  We couldn't be happier about this piece of news.  We can never get enough Schubert!

Saturday, May 4, 2013


Lachlan Glen, Kyle Bielfield, Andy McCullough, Kristin Gornstein
As the New York opera season draws to a close, so does Schubert&Co.'s perusal of Franz Schubert's output of over 600 songs.  What an opportunity we have had all year, hearing rising stars of the opera world up close and personal in the rather intimate venue of Central Presbyterian Church.  If you have attended regularly, as we have, you know whereof I speak.  If you have not, you have only a few more opportunities to appreciate this remarkable endeavor of collaborative pianists and Co-Artistic Directors Lachlan Glen and Jonathan Ware.  Today there is a 3PM recital that sounds enticing but the 8PM recital is an absolute necessity for lieder lovers when the incomparable baritone Ed Parks will sing Schwanengesang.

Last night's recital offered mezzo-soprano Kristin Gornstein and two very different but equally impressive tenors, both known from former years when getting their Master's Degree from Juilliard.  The texts were by Mayrhofer whom, as Mr. Lachlan suggested in his introductory remarks, was likely a devoted partner to Schubert since they slept in the same bed for years.  Furthermore, poor Mr. Mayrhofer defenestrated himself shortly after poor Schubert met an untimely end.  Would that they both had lived longer and created more songs!

Andy McCullough has a powerful tenor and shone especially in "Schlaflied" and "Rückweg" in which he demonstrated low notes a baritone would envy.  Perfectly partnered by Mr. Glen, the pair demonstrated perfect control of dynamics.  We were rather taken by the poignant melody of "Rückweg".

Kyle Bielfield is a tenor of a different sort--gentle, sweet and endearing.  The two songs he performed with intense involvement were said to be representative of Schubert and Mayrhofer's awareness of their "outsider" status and perhaps a reflection of their putative secret relationship.  The loneliness of being different is expressed in "Abendstern, D.806" while "Nachtviolen, D.752" references a sacred union.  Mr. Bielfield lovingly caressed each vowel in a moving display of erotic love.

To Kristin Gornstein was given a quartet of songs, the most delightful of which was the drinking song "Zum Punsche".  How we love a good drinking song!  She has a true mezzo quality in her voice and Mr. Glen's piano brought out the thunder referenced in "Abendlied der Furstin" and some very gentle harp-like sounds in "Liedesend".  And just listen to the postlude of "Atys"!  Absolutely transporting!

We urge you to attend this weekend; you will not be disappointed.  Au contraire, you will be thrilled.

© meche kroop

Friday, May 3, 2013


Karen Vuong and Julia Bullock-photo by Nan Melville
We haven't shed tears at the opera since Violetta died, but we had tears streaming down our face at the conclusion of the Juilliard Opera's production of The Cunning Little Vixen.  It is difficult to believe that Leoš Janáček wrote his own libretto based on a child's comic strip.  As if a child could comprehend those deep philosophical ideas!  The 1926 work deals with man's relationship to the natural world and shows a deeply compassionate but unsentimental view of the cycles of birth and death.  There were also some anti-capitalist overtones to absorb.

Much credit for the emotional impact (as well as the aural delight) goes to the superior work of the singers of the Juilliard Opera who fulfilled the direction of Emma Griffin and to that of the musicians of the Juilliard Orchestra under the baton of Anne Manson.  The ensemble work was impressive yet each unique character stood out on his/her own merit.  Soprano Julia Bullock did everything right in her portrayal of the feisty vixen who outwits her captor in search of freedom, finds a mate, starts a family and meets her sad end (as people also sometimes do) due to an overweening sense of invulnerability.

Soprano Karen Vuong turned in a superior performance in the portrayal of the vixen's mate.  The foxy pair have a shotgun wedding when the vixen discovers she is pregnant and the neighbors are gossiping.  Bass-baritone Aubrey Allicock made a fine Forester who captures the vixen and treats her like a pet until her inborn qualities lead her to destroy his hens;  then he must tie her up like his dog (a fine Laura Mixter) and she must escape to the freedom of the forest.  Mezzo Lacey Jo Benter portrayed his wife who is somewhat intolerant of his bringing home strays.

Baritone John Brancy turned in another deeply felt and beautifully sung performance as Harašta the poacher who shoots the vixen (thus, the tears) because he wants a fur muff for his bride, the gypsy Terynka.

There is some comic relief in this production in the form of a gaggle of hens presided over by a rooster, played by a very funny Raquel González in male drag.  Soprano Mary Feminear was the "lead hen", and a fine "lead hen" she was. The hens all wore blond wigs and short nighties while the rooster wore suspenders.  We couldn't help thinking of a pimp with his group of "ladies of the evening".  Oh, the risks of anthropomorphization!

Tenor Martin Bakari played the drunken schoolmaster who also wanted to marry the gypsy Terynka; his drinking buddy the priest was played by sturdy bass Önay Köse who also played the badger whose home the vixen appropriated.  Elliott Hines, a bass-baritone, was the innkeeper with mezzo Rachael Wilson as his wife.  There was not a single vocal misfire in the cast.

Surprising was how effectively the cast performed Jeanne Slater's choreography; we were sure the dancers came from Juilliard's Dance Department and later learned that everyone came from the Vocal Arts Department.  If you think that watching dancers cavorting onstage in street clothes pretending to be woodland critters would be preposterous, guess again; the movement was entirely convincing.  And if you were wondering why woodland critters would be wearing street clothes, you would have to ask the director.   To us, the point being made was how much alike are humans and animals.  We humans are animals; we are not them but we are OF them.  Respect for their well-being is called for.  They live, they hunger, they mate, they thrive, they suffer, they die, just as we do.

This concept was further emphasized by Laura Jellinek's set which had nothing of the woodlands about it.  The humans and the animals all use the same brass bed, table and chairs; it was as if two worlds were sharing the same space.  The costumes by Jessica Trejos were witty and reinforced the same concept.

With all this visual and philosophical cud to chew, we still had the music in mind throughout; it held our ear with its Moravian folk melodies and interesting harmonic structure.  Although we would have preferred to hear it sung in Czech, we were quite pleased with the translation by Yveta Synek Graff and Robert T. Jones; the right syllables seemed to fall on the right beats of the music.  The jarring problems of most translations were completely avoided.

Major kudos to the Juilliard Opera and Orchestra for bringing this work to vivid life!

Thursday, May 2, 2013


The cast of Don Giovanni--New York Opera Exchange
In New York Opera Exchange's radical new production of Mozart's opera Don Giovanni, the eponymous "hero" is reimagined as a politician in l963.  His sense of entitlement is the same as it was centuries earlier and the media have not yet taken control of the daily dissemination of political scandals.  Men of power take what they want just because they can.

How successful is Director Jennifer Shorstein's concept?  Measured by the rapt attention of the audience, which comprised mainly 20-somethings, the production is a roaring success.  We did not observe the texting that takes place regularly at The Metropolitan Opera; cell phones were whipped out only during intermission.  We wondered whether it was the immediacy of the performance, the intimacy of the space or the youth of the artists.  Surely, few members of the audience had been born a half century ago and yet they seemed to relate.

Still, there are a few wrinkles that might bother a veteran opera goer who has seen Don G. more times than there are women he has seduced.  When a story is updated, there are generally conflicts between the libretto (Da Ponte's) and what happens onstage.  Supertitles (credited to Danielle Bendjy) dealt with the discrepancy by substituting the words that described what was happening onstage, i.e. "cavalieri" became "politician".  Audience members who understand Italian may be thrown off by this strategy but we doubt whether anyone cared.  People died, whether by sword or pistol.

We further doubt that anyone noticed a missing aria or the missing onstage ensemble in the ballroom scene.  Nor did anyone get the joke during the penultimate scene when Don G. is listening to arias from Nozze di Figaro.  None of this matters.  What counts is that young people were enjoying themselves and new opera lovers were being born.  We were overjoyed to see this.

Also adding to our pleasure is the knowledge that emerging artists are given an opportunity to add roles to their resumés as well as the opportunity to perform with full orchestra, just as Mozart wrote it, only with keyboards substituting for harpsichord continuo.  Maestro David Leibowitz conducted the New York Opera Exchange Orchestra, the only community orchestra focused solely on operatic repertoire.  We feel quite confident that as the relationship progresses, problems of balance between sections of the orchestra and between orchestra and singers will be on the upswing.

And what about those singers!  The three women had very different types of soprano voices, a real benefit in a vocal world where so many sound alike.  Kaley Lynn Söderquist was an excellent Donna Anna and was particularly lovely in "Non mi dir", with fine phrasing, evenness throughout her range and easily understood Italian.  Rebecca Shorstein has a darker soprano and threw herself into the role of the desperate Donna Elvira with gusto and a fine vibrato; we liked her "Mi tradì", although in Act I she was occasionally overwhelmed by the orchestra, as was Sydnee Waggoner as Zerlina, whose bright clear soprano sailed over the orchestra in the upper register but got lost in the middle register.

Nicholas A. Wiggins made an excellent Don G. both dramatically and vocally.  Likewise Andrew Hiers was a fine Leporello and Jacob S. Louchheim was an appealing Masetto.  Paul Khuri Yakub played the Commendatore with a sense of menace appropriate to a Mafia don (yes, that was in the synopsis) but was drowned out by the brass chorale in the final scene. Brian Michael Moore's sweet tenor was perfect for Don Ottavio and he gave a lovely rendering of "Il mio tesoro" such that we were sorry that "Dalla sua pace" had been cut.  Isn't it usually the other way round?

Sets were basic and costumes by Fabiana Pires Moore seemed appropriate to the early 60's.  Zerlina was payed as a "hippie chick" and looked perfect but Donna Elvira's costuming was unfortunate, especially when the libretto calls for her being described as noble and majestic.

There are several more performances until Sunday and you will surely have a good time if you go.  And just wait until you see what is in store for next season.  GO, NYOE!

© meche kroop

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


Philippe Talbot and Marie Lenormand--photo by Carol Rosegg
New York City Opera closed its season with another indisputable hit--Offenbach's charming 1968 Opera bouffe, La Périchole.  The silly plot concerns a couple of down and out street singers in Lima, Peru who are so unlucky or so untalented that they cannot afford a marriage license.  Don Andrès de Ribeira, the Viceroy, falls in lust with La Périchole and offers her a position at the court; she is so hungry that she accepts.  The Mayor of Lima, Don Pedro de Hinoyoso and the First Gentleman of the Bedchamber, Count Miguel de Panatellas, are charged with finding a husband for La Périchole because the law demands that the position must be filled by a married woman.  The two men unwittingly select her beloved Piquillo, get him drunk and obtain his consent to marry.

La Péerichole recognizes the man she loves but he doesn't recognize her.  When he sobers up he is furious with her and won't present her to the court and is thrown in a prison for "recalcitrant husbands", one of whom has been trying to tunnel his way out for a dozen years.  The rest of the story deals with their escape and the obligatory happy ending.  We have Henri Meilhad and Ludovic Halévy to thank for this wacky story.  But it is Offenbach to whom our most ardent thanks are given, for his frothy melodies delight the ear to such an extent that we have been humming them for days.

We also must express gratitude to Emmanuel Plasson for his Gallic spirit on the podium; he kept the orchestra humming along with one spirited number after another.  And the chorus? They too kept the action moving along and sounded just great doing so.  It could not have been easy to find such superb singers to enchant us with their singing and delight us with their comic skills.  Our compliments to the casting director!

Mezzo Marie Lenormand is a tiny gamine with a huge personality; she met the vocal and dramatic demands of the eponymous role with talent to spare.  As Piquillo, tenor Philippe Talbot hit all the high notes of comedy and pathos.  Even funnier was bass Kevin Burdette who created a lecherous wacky Viceroy by using his long loose limbs to great comic effect.  Baritone Joshua Jeremiah and tenor Richard Troxell filled the parts of the Viceroy's two henchmen in fine form.  The three cousins who cater the Viceroy's parties and have a lot of stage time were soprano Lauren Worsham and mezzos Naomi O'Connell and Carin Gilfry.  There was not a single weakness in the casting and there was a terrific sense of ensemble.  Special credit must be given to the hilarious bartender (Philip Littell) who did not sing but whose subtle facial expressions were an additional stimulus of audience laughter, not to mention his bassoon solo.

Director Christopher Alden can be credited for his plethora of ideas; director Christopher Alden can be blamed for his plethora of ideas!  He certainly kept the laughs coming but he tends to get carried away by his ideas and overdoes things to a certain extent.  We thought there was an excess of "shtick" but the audience seemed not to mind a bit.  There was a bit with a pair of tongs that amusingly clacked along with the music but then were used in a gratuitously sexual manner.  EWWW!

Sets by Paul Steinberg were lively in color and design and modern in time period.  The prison for "recalcitrant husbands" contained a Barcalounger with wrist and ankle restraints.  Piñatas hung from the ceiling and large saguaro cacti made us think of Mexico or Arizona rather than Peru.  Costumes by Gabriel Berry were also somewhat contemporary.  In the opening scene the chorus was dressed in shorts or clam-diggers with bright printed shirts, looking like guests at a suburban backyard barbecue.  Our suspicions were confirmed when the three passive-agressive cousins started passing out hot dogs.  The Viceroy appeared in a succession of outlandish costumes we call "Early Halloween".

The running joke is that the population of Peru must pretend to be happy about the Viceroy's rule but they are completely miserable.  We wonder how the director presented the opera back in Offenbach's day; at NYCO everything that could be done to make it funny to today's audience was done--and then some! 

Still, it was a vastly entertaining evening; audience members left with big smiles.  We are thrilled to see NYCO back on its feet.

© meche kroop