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.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


Theo Hoffman, Annie Rosen, Olivia Betzen, Miles Mykkanen
Sometimes the singer "makes" the song; he or she puts an interesting new spin on a song we never liked much or have grown tired of.  Sometimes the song "makes" the singer; it is so well written that it brings out the best in the one who sings it.  And sometimes both singer and song are perfectly matched.  Such is the case when recital wizard Steven Blier creates an evening of song for the New York Festival of Song, of which he is Artistic Director.  He always has an unusual theme in mind and always curates just the right songs and finds the right singers to bring them to life.

The theme of last night's recital was travel.  Composers who used texts describing adventures in other more exotic lands were given a hearing, for example Anton Rubinstein's setting of a text by Friedrich Martin von Bodenstedt "Gelb rollt mir zu Füssen" based on an Azerbaijani text describing Persia.  Now that's rather international in scope!

The recital was a culmination of a weeklong professional training residency at the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts and the five rising stars on the program appeared to have had a great deal of fun along with their prodigious efforts.  The joy they felt in singing was contagious; we comprised a happy audience.

Coming out on top of the collection of songs were those by Cole Porter and Noël Coward; the English language lends itself so well to humor!  The remarkable tenor Miles Mykkanen, who has acting chops to match his matchless voice, gave a performance of "The Kling-Kling Bird on the Divi-Divi Tree" that is unlikely to be equalled.  It beggars description.  You will just have to attend tonight's repeat performance at 7:00 and you will likely write us a thank you note for the recommendation.

The marvelous baritone Theo Hoffman, not to be outdone, gave an hilarious performance of Coward's "Uncle Harry", not missing a single opportunity to draw giggles from the audience.  Both of these versatile artists joined forces for Hoagy Carmichael's "Hong Kong Blues", while Mr. Blier accompanied them with some very jazzy riffs on the piano.

Mr. Hoffman showed his serious side in Carlos Guastavino's "Pampamapa, aire de Huella" which expresses the pain of exile.  He sang it in perfect Argentinian dialect with some admirable melismatic singing.  It was heartbreaking.

Soprano Olivia Betzen is new to us but we will be very happy to hear more of her.  Her performance of Georges Bizet's "Adieux de l'hôtesse arabe" (one of the few songs on the program with which we are familiar) was delivered with sensuality and a fine trill.  We also enjoyed her performance of Enrique Granados' "Callejeo"; we are always delighted with zarzuela and tonadillas.

Mezzo-soprano Annie Rosen, also new to us, was delightful in William Bolcom's "To My Old Addresses" in which Leann Osterkamp (who shared accompanying with Mr. Blier) got an opportunity to show off her skill at the piano.  Ms. Rosen was heart-wrenching in the desperate "J'attends un navire" by Kurt Weill.

The four singers and Ms. Osterkamp worked very well as an ensemble.  We particularly enjoyed Coward's "In a bar on the Piccolo Marina" for its raunchy English music hall humor.  In Wilhelm Stenhammar's "I seraillets have" their harmonies teased the ear with pleasure, as they also did in the encore, Frank Loesser's "Slow Boat to China".

In an all-too-brief 90 minutes we were transported to South America and Europe, Scandinavia, India, Asia and the Middle-East--all without fighting for space in an overhead compartment.  Viva NYFOS, and ....thanks for the memories.

© meche kroop

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