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, December 17, 2013


John Brancy, Theo Hoffman, Judy Kaye, Joshua Breitzer, Lauren Worsham, Joshua Jeremiah
Last night wasn't the first time Steven Blier's New York Festival of Song presented his program of yuletide songs by Jewish composers but it was a first time for us; it will not be the last since we plan on making this an annual celebration.  The musical selections were all over the map from serious to giggle-worthy.  The singers were all superb and Mr. Blier at the piano assumed his many equally winning roles of pianist, arranger and raconteur.  Although the songs could stand on their own, his narration took the experience to a whole 'nother level.  As was the case at the last event held at Henry's (a more-than-pleasant restaurant on the Upper West Side) the program was introduced by the versatile tenor Miles Mykkanen performing "Sing for Your Supper" from Rogers and Hart's 1938 musical The Boys from Syracuse.  We were completely enthralled by his charming delivery.

The program opened with the gleeful "God Bless the Christmas Jews" by Levitsky/Miller performed by well-known Broadway star Judy Kaye and operatic baritone Joshua Jeremiah who got right into the mood with none of the affectations heard in most crossover performances.  It was just a funny song delivered with personality and wit.  If that song was the funniest, the most serious one was baritone John Brancy's deeply felt "O Holy Night" by Adolphe Adam, a composer Mr. Blier pronounced Jewish with some rather tenuous evidence.  No matter.  Mr. Brancy sang it in English and then in French.  We have never heard Mr. Brancy sing anything without total commitment to the text; we were deeply moved.  His delivery of Walter Kent/Kim Gannon's "I'll Be Home or Christmas" was no less involved, coming as it did from Mr. Brancy's warm heart.

Lauren Worsham's light silvery soprano fairly gleamed in Jule Styne/Bob Merrill's "I'm Naïve" and her duet with Mr. Jeremiah (Frank Loesser's "Baby, It's Cold Outside" from Neptune's Daughter) was charming and finely acted.

Alan Kaye was on hand with his Klezmer clarinet while Cantor Joshua Breitzer performed  Johnny Marks' "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" as you've never heard it before.  You're probably sick to death of hearing it played in supermarkets and malls since Halloween but if you've never heard it sung in Yiddish, you haven't lived.  The audience roared with big belly laughs.

Roy Zimmerman's "Don't Let Gramma Cook Christmas Dinner" was performed by Ms. Worsham and Mr. Breitzer with guitar accompaniment.  In a world where everyone brags about their grandmother's cooking it was quite amusing to hear people sing about their fears of being poisoned by their untalented nana.

Ms. Kaye got everyone laughing even harder as she sang David Friedman's "My Simple Christmas Wish"; it was a wish to be rich and powerful and famous--nothing simpler than that!  Another giggle-getter was Felix Bernard/Richard B. Smith's old chestnut "Winter Wonderland" archly delivered by Mr. Brancy and Mr. Jeremiah.  We will never hear that song again the same way!

Baritone Theo Hoffman is at an earlier stage of his career than the rest of the cast; if we didn't tell you that you never would have guessed that he is still a Juilliard undergraduate.  His delivery of Mel Tormé's "Christmas Song" was completely professional and polished to a high sheen.  It made us want to find a fire and roast some chestnuts.  His sincerity eliminated all sense of cliché.

The evening ended with the cast joining together for Irving Berlin's "White Christmas".  Indeed, it will probably snow tomorrow but we will be warmed by memories of another marvelous evening spent with NYFOS.  We heard songs that were new to us and old chestnuts that were given new imaginative life.  YAY!

ⓒ meche kroop

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