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, April 27, 2014


Brian Zeger, Evan Hughes, Susan Graham, Layla Claire
To augment their exhibit "The Passions of Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux", The Metropolitan Museum of Art presented an all-French recital of vocal music by the 19th c. sculptor's friends and contemporaries--Georges Bizet, Camille Saint-Saëns, Ernest Chausson, Alfred Bachelet, Charles Gounod, Hector Berlioz, Ambroise Thomas, Gabriel Fauré and Léo Delibes. 

Judging by the large crowd who applauded wildly after each and every song, we gather that the audience comprised more lovers of art than lovers of chanson.  Perhaps they were drawn by the fame of the incomparable mezzo Susan Graham; we have a feeling that after hearing this fulfilling recital they will be just as likely to be drawn to recitals by the two phenomenally gifted younger singers--soprano Layla Clair and bass-baritone Evan Hughes.  The beloved Brian Zeger, who wears many hats, here wore his "collaborative pianist" hat, accompanying all three artists with grace and style.

At what point do we abandon the term "rising star" or "young artist" and acknowledge their arrival to full stardom.  It seems to us that these two artists have arrived.  They both captivated the audience with their vocal gifts, dramatic artistry and the ability to communicate to the audience the essence of each song.

Ms. Claire, who just had a phenomenal success in Toronto as Fiordiligi in Mozart's Cosi fan Tutte, opened the program with a set of songs by Bizet.  The seasonal "Chanson dAvril" was the perfect choice.  Ms. Claire has a gorgeous instrument and employs it astutely with great attention to variety of dynamics and phrasing.  Our favorite was the Iberian-perfumed "Guitare" which allowed her to show off some gorgeous melismatic singing.  Mr. Zeger's piano made the most of the rocking currents in "Douce mer".  

Mr. Hughes possesses a warm and generous voice that can be stimulating or soothing and a lively onstage personality that seems to want to tell a story and to tell it well.  In the set of songs by Monsieur Saint-Saëns, the rhythmically energetic "Le pas d'armes du Roi Jean" provided an opportunity for the interpolation of a verse of sad quietude.  "Tristesse" showed a depth of melancholic feeling.  But our favorite was the humorous "Suzette et Sazon" in which our singer is torn between two women.  We enjoyed the rapid piano figures in "Tournoiement".

Ms. Graham next graced the stage with three delights; there is nothing to add to the wealth of praise she has received for her charming way of addressing the audience or her fine voice or interpretive skills.  But it needs to be said that singing "on the book" impairs the connection with the audience.  Every time the singer glances at the score or turns a page there is an interruption of contact.  We are more inclined to forgive this practice when a singer is a last-minute substitution and has not had time to learn the material.

That being said, we did enjoy the rapid-fire "Dance macabre" by Mr. Saint-Saëns which has been heard elsewhere as a violin solo.  Mr. Zeger made the most of the fluttering butterfly wings in Chausson's "Les papillons".

Mr. Hughes returned with some early songs by Fauré and we delighted in two songs in which one could feel the movement of water; "Barcarolle" impressed as a lovely partnership between singer and pianist and "Les berceaux" was filled with significance as the sailors of ships rocking in the harbor are pulled back from their adventures by the rocking of their childrens' cradles.

In a set of Gounod songs, Ms. Claire was at her best issuing a charming invitation to run barefoot through the dewy grass in "Viens! Les gazons sont verts".  The familiar "Sérénade" was given a tender but flirtatious reading with lots of trilling and melismatic singing to delight the ear.

Ms. Graham closed the program with the gorgeously melodic "Connais-tu le pays?" from Thomas' Mignon and Marguerite's lament from Le damnation de Faust--"D'amour, l'ardente flamme".  We were hoping that what she called "the operatic portion of the program" would be "off the book"; sadly, it was not.

The welcome encore was "The flower song" from Léo Delibes' Lakme.  We are not among those who listen to commercials so we never tire of this tuneful duet, here sung by Ms. Claire and Ms. Graham.  It was brilliant.

The recital has ended, the melody lingers on and the sculpture exhibit can be seen until May 26th.  It was organized by a partnership with the Musée d'Orsay.  Any excursion into the 19th c. is a welcome one for our eyes and ears.

ⓒ meche kroop

Thursday, April 24, 2014


Julia Bullock, Lacey Jo Benter, Elizabeth Sutphen (photo by Nan Melville)

It was a triumph of casting, staging and performance last night as Juilliard Opera presented Jules Massenet's 1899 opera Cendrillon.  Although updated to post-World War II Paris, the spirit of la belle époque shone through in the charming melodies and romantic sentiment.  If you did not smile from ear to ear when Lucette was reunited with her Prince Charming then you are immune to joy.

The libretto by Henri Cain hews closely to the Perrault fairy tale, as Rossini's Cenerentola (seen across the plaza at The Metropolitan Opera) does not.  The starring role was wisely given to the incomparable soprano Julia Bullock who is currently rocking the opera world with her gorgeous voice, stage presence and dramatic skills.

Here, she has created a truly lovable character who is not quite downtrodden, just neglected.  Her role gave her a chance to portray effectively a wide range of emotions, including terror.  Her opening aria showed her nobility of character.  Her duets with Prince Charming and with Pandolfe were equally memorable.

Poor Papa Pandolfe (the fine baritone Szymon Komasa) is the ultimate henpecked husband of the imperious and unpleasant Madame de la Haltière, brought to vivid life by the superb mezzo Avery Amereau.  Clearly, this character in this production gets by on the basis of stunning good looks and an acute sense of fashion!

Her daughters Noémie and Dorothée (here performed respectively by the excellent soprano Lilla Heinrich Szász and the fine mezzo Marguerite Jones) are neither vicious nor ridiculous, only privileged and controlled by their helicopter mother.  Indeed, one might say the story unreels as a domestic drama about a dysfunctional family.

But then, there is the magic of the fairy-tale component, so inextricably woven together with the reality.  And oh, what a piece of magic is soprano Elizabeth Sutphen whose thrilling coloratura nailed the florid trills and turns and runs of the Fairy Godmother. 

In the travesti role of Prince Charming, Lacey Jo Benter was completely believable as the bored and lonely prince whose father (the excellent bass Önay Köse) wants him to marry.  Ms. Benter sang with a warm tone, lovely phrasing and nearly perfect French diction (confirmed by our native French-speaking companion), obviating the need to look at the sur-titles.  Come to think of it, that was true for the rest of the cast as well.  What a treat it was to just sit and listen without reading!
 In the roles of the Prince's staff, we enjoyed tenor James Edgar Knight and baritones Kurt Kanazawa and Joe Eletto.  We couldn't imagine better casting.

The Juilliard Orchestra, always excellent, responded to the lively conducting of Emmanuel Villaume, who also addressed the audience in the persona of Charles de Gaulle, a fine touch.  The music ranges from sweet gentle love melodies to the rapid-fire and energetic music of the bickering family, while the fairy music has an other-worldly feel.  All were effectively communicated.

A fine directorial hand was shown by Peter Kazaras.  It was an interesting choice to set the piece in 1947, the only anachronism being the presence of a king and a prince.  However, the directorial choice allowed for some interesting sets and costumes.  Sadly, the extensive ballet was cut.

Scenic Designer Donald Eastman created a very authentic appearing bistrot, complete with Thonet chairs.  Lucette's step-mother was the proprietress with Papa being the barman.  When the fairy godmother gets Lucette and the Prince together, it is not in a garden but in a cinema.

Costumes were witty and accurate to the period with Lucette's ball gown evoking Dior's "New Look" in Schiaparelli pink--simply gorgeous.  The Fairy Godmother looked rather prim with eyeglasses and a tailored suit.  Her six helpers were dressed like bellboys; think vintage Philip Morris advertisements.  In a stroke of luxury casting, we heard Kelsey Lauritano, Nicolette Mavroleon, Hannah McDermott, Mary-Elizabeth O'Neill, Kara Sainz and Angela Vallone.  We heard them but we would never have recognized them in those costumes and wigs.

We have only seen this opera once before, in Santa Fe about 8 years ago.  Joyce DiDonato sang the lead, Eglise Gutierrez sang the Fairy Godmother and Jennifer Holloway sang the Prince.  Our notes read (verbatim) "Best opera of the Santa Fe season.  Original costumes, colorful and outlandish".  Now we have two stellar productions to hold in our memory.

© meche kroop

Friday, April 18, 2014


Stephen Wadsworth, Alex Penda, Harry Bicket, Noah Baetge

Last night's program at the Morgan Library, in collaboration with The Santa Fe Opera, was both entertaining and educational.  Performances by soprano Alex Penda (formerly known as Alexandrina Pendatchanska) and tenor Noah Baetge bookended a lively panel discussion in which Ms. Penda, Mr. Wadsworth and Maestro Harry Bicket discussed the upcoming performance of Beethoven's Fidelio at the SFO.  We already had plans to review Beethoven's sole opera on our annual visit to Santa Fe and the program only served to increase our anticipation.

This will be the first time that SFO has presented Fidelio which was written in 1805 but not published (in revised form) until 1826 and not performed in the USA unil 1922.  One of the interesting points made was that Napoleon's invasion of Vienna caused the opera-going class to flee Vienna leaving behind only French soldiers who probably did not take too kindly to German opera.  On the plus side, Napoleon introduced the age of meritocracy and paved he way for Romanticism, allowing the rise of the individual who had the courage of his/her convictions.

Ms. Penda discussed her feelings about the character of Leonore whom she will portray.  She finds it easy to relate to this modern woman of strong character who surely has the courage of her convictions when she defies an oppressive political regime, dons male clothing and rescues her husband from prison.  Apparently, the censors were not happy about this!

Maestro Bicket, newly appointed Chief Conductor at The Santa Fe Opera, will be on the podium  for this summer's performances; last night he demonstrated how Mozart influenced Beethoven and played parallel melodies from the operas of Mozart and then from Fidelio.  The opera begins with mundane and worldly themes then moves into the spiritual dimension with the quartet.

Also discussed was the evolution of the instruments and also the size of the orchestra.  Modernization of instruments resulted in greater volume and a smoother sound with more consistency of volume; the loss was in flexibility.  We are eager to hear Maestro Bicket's conducting and how his vast experience with early music will affect his conducting of Beethoven.

Ms. Penda spoke of her experience with Mozart and how her voice has evolved to the point where she now sings Strauss.  Indeed, we were at SFO for her performances there as Vitellia in La Clemenza di Tito and also for her performance in Rossini's Ermione as the title character.  Last night's "Come Scoglio" from Cosi Fan Tutte magnified our high estimation of her artistry.

Mr. Baetge closed the program with Beethoven's An die ferne Geliebte, Op. 98.  We recall from various music instructors the "received wisdom" that Beethoven's greatness lay in his intense rhythms but that he was a poor melodist!  In this work, we are confronted with one gorgeous melody after another.  Mr. Baetge's impressive breath control, dynamic variety, lovely legato and fine phrasing served to emphasize these melodies.

We have seen Mr. Wadsworth's stagings in Santa Fe for over ten years, the most recent being a superlative King Roger, the rarely produced opera by Szymanowski.  Here in NYC at the Metropolitan Opera he is a frequent director as well.  We can scarcely wait to see what he will do with Fidelio.

If you do not already have your tickets for Santa Fe for this summer, consider yourself encouraged.  We have never been disappointed!

© meche kroop

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


Peter Dugan, Dave Baron, Leonardo Dugan

This is the time of year when music students are called upon to give a recital as partial requirement for their degrees.  This is the time of year when we are overjoyed to see them move on to establish their careers.  This is the time of year when we feel twinges of sadness, wondering when we will have the opportunity to see/hear them again.

On Monday, piano wizard Peter Dugan took this opportunity to show his amazing versatility.  He is indeed a quadruple threat:  soloist, collaborative pianist, arranger and jazz musician. He greeted the audience with warmth and told of the seven years at Juilliard, culminating in a Master of Music Degree.  He opened with Beethoven and closed with The Isley Brothers. His theme for the recital was music for the night.  Let's take a closer look.

He began Beethoven's "Moonlight" sonata at a rather rapid tempo, more rapid than we have been accustomed to, and there was an indefinable hesitancy.  It was in the rhythmic second movement that he got into his groove and demonstrated fine dynamic control.  By the time he got to the third movement his flying fingers gave evidence of mastery.  The air literally crackled with excitement.  He absolutely nailed this difficult movement with his virtuosity.

"Deux Nocturnes" by Chopin showed a different side to his artistry with thoughtful limning of Chopin's mournful melodies and nationalistic themes.

Lovely mezzo-soprano Kara Sainz joined Mr. Dugan for Brahms's  "Gestillte Sehnsucht" which she sang with deep feeling and crisp German.  A. J. Nilles added to the beauty with some sweet viola playing that gave the lie to all those viola jokes.

Baritone Tobias Greenhalgh lent his expressive voice and dramatic artistry to Schubert's "Der Doppelgänger", confirming our impression that he excels at the mysterious and creepy. (See review of Mörike lieder.) We consider ourselves fortunate to have heard his powerful voice two nights in a row!

Mr. Greenhalgh was joined by Ms. Sainz for Schumann's "In der Nacht" just after Mr. Dugan played a piece by the same composer with the same title, from Fantasiestücke.  The duet was new to us and we loved the way the voices harmonized at times and at other times overlapped.  What a superb choice!

For Rachmaninoff's "La nuit...L'amour" from Suite No. 1 for Two Pianos, Op.5, Mr. Dugan was joined by his piano teacher Matti Raekallio who must be bursting with pride.  This is a luscious work for four hands and seemed to envelop us with sound.

The final "act" of this varied recital permitted Mr. Dugan to show off his skills at arranging.  For Jimmy Forrest's "Night Train", he was joined by Leonardo Dugan on saxophone, Dave Baron on bass and Will Kain on drums.  Paul McCartney's "Blackbird" was given a most unusual and fascinating arrangement with Charles Yang plucking his violin strings to make some avian sounds and the piano doing some bluesy jazzy riffs.

To come full circle, Alice Cooper's "Welcome to my Nightmare" made references to the Beethoven with which the recital began, drawing the program to a satisfying conclusion--but not before an encore of The Isley Brothers' "Don't Say Goodnight When It's Time For Love".

© meche kroop


Karita Mattila (photo by Pete Checchia)

An evening spent with Richard Strauss is a glorious evening indeed.  And with principal conductor of the Metropolitan Opera Fabio Luisi replacing an ailing Lorin Maazel on the podium, we have no complaints.  We have never seen Maestro Luisi as animated and energetic as he was at Carnegie Hall, putting the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra through its paces.  We enjoyed hearing works from different periods of Strauss' life.

The final work on the program was Ein Heldenleben, Op.40, a programmatic work which premiered in 1898.  Strauss composed the work with himself as the eponymous hero; his youthful narcissism fits right in with contemporary culture.  This is a colorful work in which Strauss filled the pit with no less than 8 horns and 5 trumpets, even more than in his Der Rosenkavalier Suite which he arranged nearly a half century later.

This orchestral mammoth shook Stern Auditorium with its vibrations.  It is divided into six contrasting segments and is replete with variety from the bombastic opening theme to the dissonant depiction of his enemies, the critics (uh-oh),  to the gentle love theme and the wild battle scene.  Most notable was the virtuoso violin solos so gorgeously performed by Concertmaster Sreten Krstič.  The ending was marked by a horn-violin duet that was astonishing in its beauty.

The opening work, Der Rosenkavalier Suite, was orchestrated and premiered in 1944.  Anyone who loves the opera, present company included, was sitting there in total bliss as scenes from the opera were evoked.  Indeed, we found ourselves seeing the sets in our mind's eye and visualizing the opening scene which culminates in a rather intense climax in both senses of the word.  Likewise for that charming tinkly theme on the celeste involving the presentation of the silver rose. 

The score is filled with waltzes, some taken at a very slow tempo and others which made us want to get up and dance.  Maestro Luisi did the dancing for us as he used his entire body to rouse the orchestra to great heights.  Luscious sweeping melodies were played by the massive corps of strings.  There was dynamic variety aplenty.  We loved the renunciation theme which was followed by a fast-paced, raucous and dizzying waltz which brought the work to a stunning close.

From the very last period of Strauss' long life, we heard  Vier letzte Lieder sung by the world famous soprano Karita Mattila whom we well remember for her stunning performance in "Salome".  Her huge voice cut through the massive orchestral forces like a hot knife through butter and her voice was thrilling from the highest register to the lowest, but the words were sadly not understandable, although that is often a difficulty with writing in such a high register.  My native born German companion likewise needed to read the text. 

Three of the texts are by Hermann Hesse--"Fruhling";  "September", with its elegiac message and taps-like trumpet solo; and "Beim Schlafengehen" which opens with a growling from the double basses.  Our personal favorite and the one with the most direct end-of-life symbolism was "Im Abendrot", the setting of a text by Joseph von Eichendorff, with its thrilling horn introduction and its use of the piccolo to represent larks.

It was a fine survey of Strauss' oeuvre--50 years in two hours.  One wondered whether he changed styles all that much!  Not that we object--Strauss is, after all, Strauss-- and this Strauss-fest was just about right.

© meche kroop

Monday, April 14, 2014


 Dominic Armstrong, Miori Sugiyama, Nell Snaidas, Tobias Greenhalgh, Julius Abrahams      

German Romantic poet Eduard Mörike was as prolific a poet as Hugo Wolf was a composer of lieder.  He was no longer alive when Wolf published his first songbook comprising 53 lieder, all settings of texts by Mörike.  We think, had he heard them, he would have been pleased by the composer's attention to detail and to the diverse moods of the songs, be they serious, funny, pious or fragile.  It is astonishing to learn that Wolf composed them all in a few brief months.

And if Wolf were alive, we think he would have been thrilled that the Brooklyn Art Song Society was devoting two very special evenings to these songs.  And we ourselves were thrilled to hear the songs inhabited by three superb singers, accompanied by two fine collaborative pianists.

A wise choice to open the program, baritone Tobias Greenhalgh impressed us, not only with his enviable technique and skill at conveying the depths of the songs but also because he took the time to learn them and sang "off the book".  Although the other singers managed to convey a lot of feeling "on the book" we personally find that the connection with the audience is impaired in such cases.  We are fully cognizant of the fact that time to memorize songs cannot always be found, especially when time is short; nonetheless, we admire the effort it takes to memorize and relish the connection the singer can establish with the audience.

Of the ten songs Mr. Greenhalgh sang, our personal favorite was "Die Geister Am Mummelsee" in which he enraptured us with a ghostlike tale, infusing his story-telling with both mystery and horror.  His "Peregrina I" and "Peregrina II" were filled with passion, "An die Geliebte" was filled with reverence for the beloved, and "Heimweh", with alienation.  At the phrase "Die Augen gehn mir über", our own eyes nearly spilled over.

Along with his intense involvement with the text and his innate musicality, Mr. Greenhalgh has a voice of gorgeous timbre and a fine command of German.  The Theater an der Wien made an excellent choice in offering him a contract but we will miss him in New York.

Julius Abrahams accompanied Mr. Greenhalgh in the first half of the recital and we loved the way he played the prelude of "Lied Eines Verliebten" and the expressiveness in the minor key of "Bei Einer Trauung".  Mr. Abrahams also accompanied soprano Nell Snaidas in this part of the evening.

Ms. Snaidas has an exciting soprano with interesting overtones and knows how to color different voices successfully as she did in "Der Knabe und das Immlein".  We always knew what lads sound like but now we know how a bee would sound if he could sing!

We also enjoyed her "Nixe Binsefuss" in which she colored her voice to sound very elfin.  What holding the book prevented her from accomplishing with body and gesture, she achieved with her voice.  Mr. Abrahams was right with her on the piano bringing out the fairy-like writing of Herr Wolf.

In the second half of the program, the collaborative pianist was Miori Sugiyama.   We enjoyed Ms. Snaidas in the timely but brief "Er ists" and the sorrowful "Das verlassene Mägdlein""Ein Stündlein wohl vor Tag" was another lament on the theme of a mistreated maiden and equally sorrowful.  In "Begegnung" Ms. Sugiyama created a perfect storm on the piano.

The other singer heard on the second half of the program was the brilliant tenor Dominic Armstrong, heard and reviewed a week ago.  We will always jump at any opportunity to hear his clarion voice and to experience the depth of his feeling.  He is a fine actor and managed to hold his book in one hand and to gesture dramatically with the other. 

We loved the adorable song "Auftrag" in which the poet pours his heart out toward the woman who has failed to write to him.  We were moved by the tragic irony of "Auf ein altes Bild" and loved the delicate filigree of "Auf eine Christblume II".  

But it was the three humorous songs bringing the evening to a close that we enjoyed the most, since Mr. Armstrong has a fine flair for comedy.  "Selbstgeständnis" is the tale of a child whose siblings have all left home; he alone has the burden of all the love and duty.  "Zur Warnung" tells the tale of a very bad hangover and "Abschied" relates the poets manner of handling his critics.  Mr. Armstrong sure knows how to tell a story.

Should you be regretting missing this fine program, Mike Brofman, Founder and Artistic Director of BASS, informed us that the remainder of the Mörike lieder will be performed on June 6th.  Not only the wonderful music but the gifted artists Mr. Brofman attracts make it very worthwhile to make the trip to Brooklyn.  And if you live in Brooklyn, so much the better!

© meche kroop

Sunday, April 13, 2014


Lachlan Glen and Kyle Bielfield (photo by Jordan Chaplecka}

What is the difference between a recital and a CD?  That's not a riddle but a question we have been asking ourselves during the fortnight since we came into possession of the chart-topping CD recorded by tenor Kyle Bielfield and collaborative pianist Lachlan Glen.

A number of answers come to mind but the most obvious one is that a recital is evanescent and very much "of the moment" whereas a CD is forever.  If you like it you can listen to it again.  And if you love it, as we do this recording, you can play it every day and find new delights each time you listen.

Another difference is the perfection that can be achieved in a recording studio that one cannot expect in a live recital. One other difference in this particular recording is that the songs have not been arranged in "sets" containing the works of one composer as they would be in a recital; rather they have been arranged to provide a balanced listening experience and to create a variety of moods by varying the tempi.

What is remarkable about "Stopping By" is the exquisite partnership between Mr. Bielfield's sweet tenor and Mr. Glen's fine collaborative piano.  All the songs are treated with equal respect.  The program notes distinguishe between "classically oriented" and "Americana".  We make no such distinctions.  Brahms set many folk songs which seem to our ears no less worthy than settings of renowned poets.

Our particular taste leans toward settings of text that rhymes and scans.  Thus it is that the songs of Stephen Foster, called "the father of American song" filled us with pleasure.  Made famous by Marilyn Horne in our own time, "Beautiful Dreamer" is here given an exquisite performance with a perfect ending in the upper register; in Foster's setting of the sad "Gentle Annie" Michael Samis' cello makes a lovely contribution.  Here is proof that a folk tune can be made into art.

Going from the earliest entry in this survey of American song to the most recent, Leonard Bernstein's "Dream with Me" tickled our ears with excellent phrasing on the part of all three artists, as did his "Spring Will Come Again" in which Mr. Bielfield seems to caress each word. Again, Mr. Samis' cello was a welcome addition to the music.

But our absolute favorite song in the album is Irving Berlin's "Change Partners"; anyone who has yearned for a person who was "taken" can relate to the futile hopefulness.  Mr. Bielfield's heart and soul was in this one!

A special treat is hearing three settings of Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening".  The splendid poetry seems to have inspired three equally fine but different compositions.  Perhaps the most accessible is that of Samuel Barber and the most melancholy that of John Duke in which the piano is given a superb prelude and postlude.  But Ned Rorem's is no less terrific for its spareness.

Two folk songs arranged by Aaron Copland captured the ear with their directness and simplicity: "Long Time Ago" and the Shaker hymn "Simple Gifts".  Paul Bowles' "In the Woods" requires the singer to whistle in imitation of birdsong; to our ears it sounded exactly like a mating call; we loved it.  Ned Rorem's brief gem "Snake" had a slithery vocal line and a churning piano.

"From the Land of the Sky-Blue Waters" by Charles Wakefield Cadman is a lovely old-fashioned ballad with some nice figuration in the piano.  Charles Griffes "The Water Lily" has an impressionistic feel.  Songs by Amy Beach, Celius Dougherty and Mark Abel are also represented in this compendium of American song.

By now you will have realized that this banquet of song offers something for everyone to enjoy.  We have mentioned our favorites but with further listening we are sure to appreciate some of the less accessible songs.  Please feel free to comment below on your favorites!

© meche kroop

Saturday, April 12, 2014


Baritone Ulrich Hartung
We hate to write a poor review of a sincere attempt but after suffering through an hour plus of the slow tortuous murder of Schubert's masterpiece "Die Winterreise" we have no choice but to warn you against Sunday afternoon's repeat performance.  We can scarcely imagine what the good folks at New York City Liederkranz had in mind in supporting this presentation by The German Society of the City of New York.  The program notes that this is a New York Concert Opera Production.  An internet search reveals that the singer, Ulrich Hartung, is the conductor of this organization which supports putting the conductor and musicians right onstage.  Right.

The lengthy program notes reveal that Maestro Hartung wrote a dissertation in his salad days, analyzing the original order of Wilhelm Müller's poems which was altered by Herr Schubert.  This is undoubtedly of interest to scholars but of little value in the appreciation of this profoundly moving cycle.

We are not even complaining about the prosaic photographic projections by Adryan Hartung (probably a family member) which seemed to be multiple views of Central Park.  They were inoffensive and barely distracting.

We have no quarrel with Stefan Kozinski's orchestration of the work because it gave us something to listen to as we tried to close our ears to the gravel-voiced Mr. Hartung whose phrasing and intonation were equally deplorable.  If he was ever a singer he is not one now.  We cannot even praise his diction since it sounded as if he, like Demosthenes, had a mouth full of pebbles.  Final consonants were often missing. To make matters worse, his stage presence involved a lot of distracting flapping of the arms  which appeared to be an attempt to show that he felt the music deeply.  Who are we to say that he didn't? 

We exempt the wonderful pianist Juan Pablo Horcasitas who also conducted the ensemble in a most unusual orchestration.  Eric Lemmon played the viola and Lenae Harris played the cello.  There were a number of wind instruments providing some coloration to the elements of nature mentioned in the text; the versatile Shelly Bauer played clarinet, bass clarinet, flute and saxophone; Lis Rubard played a very recalcitrant Flügelhorn and French Horn.

We reviewed a number of "Winterreise"s this year that ranged from good to extraordinary.  This was the first that was truly egregious.  When the singer picked up the saxophone for "Der Leiermann" we wanted to crawl under our chair. The next time we take a winter's journey we want to take it with a fine singer.  This is one trip where we could say "I wish I'd stayed home".

© meche kroop

Friday, April 11, 2014


Briana Hunter, Elizabeth Chang, Stella Papatheodorou (photo by Leslie M. Ritch)
 Classic Lyric Arts is an organization that shares our goal of advancing the careers of young singers.  President and Artistic Director Glenn Morton hosted a Spring Benefit Gala last night at the Kosciuszko Foundation which was supported by the Gerda Lissner Foundation.  This was a wonderful opportunity for guests to hear some promising young singers and an equally wonderful opportunity for the young singers to show off what they have learned at the two European training programs.  Most of the singers have attended both La Lingua della Lirica in Emilia-Romagna and L'Art du Chant Français in the Périgord region.

We not only heard the singers but had plenty of time to speak with them about their experiences in the programs.  On both accounts one can consider the programs of CLA a huge success. Students are trained in diction, style, repertoire, stagecraft and career development.  They learn this from native speakers who teach in their own language.  It sounds like a total immersion experience.

The recital portion of the evening was led by Briana Hunter whose portrayal of Carmen in Bizet's "Gypsy Song" was as spirited as it was richly sung.  She will be performing the role at the Music Academy of the West.  She was joined by Stella Papatheodorou and Elizabeth Chang.

Madison Marie McIntosh and Terence Stone (photo by Leslie M. Ritch) 
"C'est le dieu de la jeunesse", a thrilling duet from Leo Delibes' Lakme was performed by sparkling soprano Madison Marie McIntosh and Terence Stone, whose voices harmonized so beautifully.

 A fun Rossini trio from Il Barbiere di Siviglia "Ah! Qual colpo/Zitti zitti" was sung by Maya Yahav Gour (who has a fine rich mezzo) along with tenor Vincent Festa and Xiaomeng Zhang.  Embellishments were handled in admirable bel canto style.
Sean Christensen and John Viscardi (Leslie M. Ritch)

Tenor Sean Christensen and baritone (yes, he is now a baritone and a fine one) John Viscardi did a fine duet from Puccini's La Bohème--"O Mimi tu più non torni".

Xiaoming Tian and Tamara Rusque (Leslie M. Ritch)

 Tamara Rusque gave Nedda a great big sound and some intense drama in her duet with Silvio from Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci.  Her Silvio was guest artist Xiaoming Tian.

Donata D'Annunzio Lombardi and Leonardo Caimi (Leslie M. Ritch)
Guest artists from Italy Donata D'Annunzio Lombardi and Leonardo Caimi thrilled the audience with their star-quality delivery of the duet "Parigi, o cara" from Verdi's La Traviata.  Ms. Lombardi also gave a moving account of "Un bel di" from Puccini's Madama Butterfly in which she floated the high notes and sustained the tone beautifully from pp to ff.  Mr. Caimi gave an equally moving performance of "E lucevan le stelle" from Puccini's Tosca.  This heartbreaking aria was sung with gorgeous phrasing and dynamic control.  What a pleasure to hear familiar arias sung so well by native-born Italian artists.  The air fairly oozed garlic.

The trio from the finale of Gounod's Faust --"Anges purs, anges radieux" was sung by Adriana Velinova with a full and resonant soprano that filled the room.  Her Faust was Michael Papincak with Fan Jia as the Devil--both guest artists.

Mr. Morton accompanied Ms. Lombardi and Mr. Caimi.  Other accompanists were Eri Nakamura, Laetitia Ruccolo, Michael Sheetz and David Mamedov.

Closing the program was "Make our garden grow" from Leonard Bernstein's Candide, conducted by Michael Sheetz.  May CLA grow like Candide's garden!

© meche kroop

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


James Cusati-Moyer, Michael Cerveris, Tom Pecinka (photo by Dana Astmann)
We rarely tear ourselves away from the vocal world but the prospect of witnessing a multi-disciplinary production from the Yale School of Music and the Yale School of Drama drew us to Zankel Hall on Sunday.  The riveting production of "The Soldier's Tale" by Igor Stravinsky defies criticism.  There was nothing to improve.

The work premiered in 1918 in Lausanne, Switzerland.  It is both timely and timeless.  It originated as a Russian folk tale about a soldier, an Everyman, who is seduced by the devil in many disguises; sadly, he loses in the end when he tries to have it all.  The wanting to "have it all" is what makes the tale timely.

The libretto was written in French by C. F. Ramuz and was given a new translation by Elizabeth Diamond who merits a great deal of credit for a cogent and musical text that scans and rhymes; it was spoken beautifully and playfully by the famous actor Michael Cerveris.  The text went so well with the music that at times it sounded like the very best of rap.

Ms. Diamond, who is resident director at Yale Repertory Theatre, was also responsible for the staging which was as vivid as any dramatic piece could be, with the action between the narrator (here called The Reader) and the actors/dancers compressed between and around the seven musicians at the left of the stage and the narrator's desk at the right.

Although we have seen this work performed as a ballet, we have never seen it danced better than it was in this production.  Tom Pecinka as The Soldier moved with grace or with forcefulness as it was called for; he portrayed a sympathetic character with whom we could identify and for whose bad choices we mourned. When helpless, he lay on his back like a beetle, waving his arms and legs. When he lost to the devil we were moved to tears.

And what a devil that was, portrayed by James Cusati-Moyer!  He was seductive and crafty, then brutal and finally triumphant.  With each new disguise he used his unbelievably flexible body in a different manner; we could understand how The Soldier was fooled.   At one point, when he wanted to seduce the young soldier into parting with his fiddle, he matched his steps to the latter's.   Emily Coates was responsible for this incomparable choreography.   Mariko Parker portrayed The Princess and had a lovely duet with The Soldier after he cures her of a mysterious ailment.

Stravinsky's music in this piece is eclectic; he made use of all kinds of popular forms--tangos, waltzes, marches, ragtime and jazz--but it is, at heart, of a classical nature, lyric one moment and ironic the next.  The work is scored for seven musicians and the scoring is sufficiently spare and the musicians sufficiently gifted that we could identify and cherish the contributions made by each one.

We were fortunate enough to hear Ani Kavafian on violin as she played the theme of The Soldier.  The Devil's theme was given over to percussionist Georgi Videnov.  David Shifrin, the Artistic Director of Yale in New York created magic on the clarinet.  Samuel Suggs played the double bass; Michael Zuber took an active part on the bassoon; Mikio Sasaki played the trumpet part (originally scored for cornet); Stephen Ivany was the fine trombonist.

Costume Design by Ilona Somogyi was brilliant especially the multiple costume changes for The Devil.  No credit is listed for the effective make-up but costuming and make-up contributed a great deal to the macabre nature of the piece.  Scenic design by Michael Yeargan was minimalistic;  lighting was by Solomon Weisbard and made use of neon strips along the floor which changed color in a way that added to the mood.

The musicians and dancers/actors were all students or faculty members at Yale, creating "intergenerational art".  The piece has been called a music/dance chamber theater piece.  We call it a five-star triumph.  We would see it again tonight if we could.

© meche kroop

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


Annie Rosen, Olivia Betzen, Theo Hoffman, Miles Mykkanen, Steven Blier
It's been a scant three weeks since we enjoyed New York Festival of Song's delightful evening "Itinerary of Song" at the National Opera Center.  So why would we brave the nasty April weather to see it again?  Because we were over the moon the first time and yearned to hear those wonderful singers and songs once more.  (To read the original review, please insert "The Singer and the Song" in the search bar.)  The sensational singers from Juilliard tend to graduate or get their advanced degrees and move on, so each performance they give must be treasured.

Since many of these songs are cabaret songs, it was fun to hear the program in the lively and casual atmosphere of Henry's Restaurant on the Upper West Side.  The welcome is warm, the food is delicious and the service unobtrusive, so the audience can feel free to relax and laugh at the humorous lyrics--and laugh they did!

Tenor Miles Mykkanen opened the program with "Sing for Your Supper" from the 1938 Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart 1938 musical The Boys from Syracuse.  As a matter of fact, the title of this entire series at Henry's is "Sing for Your Supper--NYFOS After Hours".  We admit to some concern about who could ever sing this charming ditty when Mr. M. is engaged elsewhere.  He just oozes personality and good humor from every pore and evokes every nuance from the clever lyrics.

The staging of our other favorite number, Cole Porter's "The Kling-Kling Bird" had the two lovely women in the cast playing the part of the birds admonishing the traveler to stay away from the ladies of foreign lands, one of whom was a cannibal. The traveler at risk was, of course, Mr. M.  We were grinning from ear to ear.

Mr. M. is no less affecting when he is serious; Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov's "Song of the Indian Merchant" was sung in beautiful Russian.

Baritone Theo Hoffman had his turn at humor as well and the audience responded with peals of laughter to his delightful delivery of Noël Coward's "Uncle Harry"; he described in a charming British accent the adventures of Uncle Harry the missionary which led to his departure from an unnamed third world country.  Just a tad naughty.  Wheeee!  In perfect Spanish he showed his serious side in Carlos Guastavino's "Pampamapa".

Mezzo-soprano Annie Rosen gave a moving account of Kurt Weill's "J'attends un navire".  Soprano Olivia Betzen was the perfect choice to sing Ernesto Nazareth's "Nenê" by virtue of being beautiful and scintillating as the song requires.  These two lovely ladies were joined by the men for the hilarious tale of a newly widowed British mum who goes wild in "A Bar on the Piccola Marina" by Noël Coward.

And they also raised their voices together in gorgeous harmony for Wilhelm Stenhammar's song about Turkey "I Seraillets Have".

As is customary, Maestro Steven Blier accompanied on the piano and narrated the evening in his charming style.  Quel raconteur!  Although a few songs from the prior performance were omitted we did not feel cheated.  The joy of the audience was palpable as they surrounded and congratulated the artists.  We walked out into the nasty April weather, now oblivious to it, feeling only the contentment of an hour well spent.

As attached as we have become to these impressive young artists we have confidence that Mr. Blier will come up with other engaging evenings of song.

© meche kroop

Monday, April 7, 2014


Craig Rutenberg, Christine Brewer, Dominic Armstrong
Yesterday was the final George London Foundation for Singers recital of the season and a fine recital it was.  This series pairs younger artists with more senior ones, by which we mean those who have recently won an award from the Foundation with those who were given awards some time ago.  In this case, Dominic Armstrong was a 2013 winner and Christine Brewer won her award "at an early stage in her career".

Mr. Armstrong appeared and sounded nothing like a "junior partner".  He is a highly polished performer, relaxed and poised onstage in a way that allows him to serve the music.  He has a stunningly clear tenor with beautiful resonance and an enviable musicality, the kind of artist for which we have no reservations.  Apparently, the rest of the opera world thinks so too as his "dance card" is filled.

Ms. Brewer has a ginormous soprano that thrills and fills the hall with its particular texture.  What we like most about her is her comic style.  We greatly enjoyed her performance in the role of Lady Billows in Britten's Albert Herring at the Santa Fe Opera in 2010 and wrote about it (on a different website).  We have not heard her since and were delighted to hear her again yesterday.

Both artists were accompanied by the illustrious Maestro Craig Rutenberg who made an Idina Menzel-type gaffe when introducing Ms. Brewer.  She responded with gracious good humor.  And let it be said that that was the only false note in Mr. Rutenberg's performance; he played with consummate artistry and subtlety.

Mr. Armstrong opened the program with Beethoven's lengthy  "An die ferne Geliebte" which he sang in perfect German.  (Could this be Beethoven's most melodic work?)  Like a painter with a full palette, he never ran out of colors.  Longing for the beloved gave way to passion, angst and joy.  His phrasing was impeccable and, even in passages where Beethoven gives the singer the same note repeated many many times, he invested each with individuality.  And he knows when to stretch a phrase.

Some settings of Shakespeare's texts by Roger Quilter were sung with every word given its full measure.  We were very charmed by a lagniappe--a song not on the program--a setting of a Thomas Moore poem "'Tis sweet to think".

We were not as charmed by a group of sonnets by Michelangelo in which the flowery Italian text seemed to be at odds with Britten's music.  But we did notice that Mr. Armstrong's Italian was as perfect as his German.

Ms. Brewer sang three songs by Richard Strauss.  The walls themselves seemed to tremble when she sang in the upper register, although there is a somewhat harsh metallic edge at the very top.  There was a magnificent portamento in "Breit über mein Haupt", less frequently sung than "Allerseelen" and "Die Nacht" but now one of our favorites.  Ms. Brewer got the chance to exhibit a gorgeous portamento.

She did her entire performance "on the book" and we experienced that as a barrier between her and the audience.  We could understand how it was necessary for the world premiere of Douglas Cuomo's interesting piece "Sorry for Your Loss" in which the singer is trying to leave a phone message for an old lover whose mother had just died.  After a succession of embarrassing false starts which she deletes, we were convinced that an old-fashioned hand-written note was called for!  Unlike much contemporary music, we felt that the music added to the drama.

Three folksongs arranged by Benjamin Britten were given a most respectful and sincere performance by Ms. Brewer and Mr. Rutenberg.  In "The Salley Gardens" and "O, Waly, Waly" the music fulfilled the text but in "The last rose of summer" they seemed to be disjunctive.  But Mr. Rutenberg's well-articulated rolling chords were delightful to the ear.

The maestro took the opportunity to play Virgil Thomson's "Two Sentimental Tangos" which were not at all like the tangos to which one dances but were short and sweet to hear.

Ms. Brewer sang Mr. Thomson's "My Long Life" from The Mother of Us All, dating from 1946.  We reviewed the entire opera when presented this past season at the Manhattan School of Music and found that Gertrude Stein's peculiar writing style was better served with sets, costumes and staging illuminating the life of Susan B. Anthony.  The aria as a "stand alone" was a strange choice for a recital.

The final work on the program was from Britten's Gloriana--a duet between Queen Elizabeth and Essex.  We loved the drama of the scene as well as the singing.  And the lark in the text could clearly be heard in Mr. Rutenberg's piano.

As encore, the three artists joined forces for "My Hero" from Oscar Strauss' operetta The Chocolate Soldier.  The voices blended beautifully and Mr. Rutenberg's piano was appropriately tender.  It was a perfect conclusion to a most satisfying season at The Morgan Library.

© meche kroop


Reg E. Cathey (photo by Stephen de las Heras)
Here in 21st c. America we do not think very often about slavery and rarely talk about it.  But if you attended Salon/ Sanctuary Concerts on Saturday you would probably still be thinking about it.  We surely are!  The title of the compelling event was "Exodus-- Dreams of the Promised Land in Antebellum America".  It was reprised from last year and presented in the historical Fraunces Tavern, a building dating back to the American Revolution, the oldest surviving building in New York.

Jessica Gould, Founder and Artistic Director, conceived the program and her sister Erica Gould constructed the script  from several sources--curated  writings of former slaves who were interviewed during the Great Depression for the Federal Writer's Project of the WPA; the writings and speeches of abolitionists; and wisely interpolated passages from the Haggadah which is a Jewish text read during Passover telling of the liberation of the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt.

The texts were read by the impressively thunder-voiced actor Reg E. Cathey,  Rosalyn Coleman Williams and Jennifer Rau.  So many sad stories were read that it was difficult to stay dry-eyed.  Several thoughts stick in our mind--that Lincoln was compared to Moses since neither of them lived to see the fruits of their efforts; that there was a slave pen in the shadows of our nation's Capitol as described by Solomon Northrup, a free man who was kidnapped, drugged and sold into slavery right there in D.C.  Significantly, his book Twelve Years a Slave was recently dramatized on film.

It further sticks in our mind that women, at that time, were not permitted to vote and could only petition the government or try (gently) to persuade their husbands.  Listening to accounts of enslaved children being beaten was particularly painful.  We were thinking of the Law of Unintended Consequences and how many of our social problems today are the rotten fruits of slavery from a century and a half earlier, with disruption of families being a most direct one.

This feast for the intellect also included a generous helping of music from the period between 1780 and and the mid 19th c. performed a cappella by The Western Wind.  Until 1810, there was a singing school movement in New England which was established to improve the quality of congregational singing.  People got together as they do today in community choruses; these were social events at which men and women could mingle freely without chaperones. We got to hear a number of songs composed for these schools.

We especially enjoyed the humorous song "Complainer" sung by a trio of male singers who harmonized so beautifully--tenors Todd Frizzell and David Vanderwal and baritone Elliot Z. Levine.  The Western Wind also includes two sopranos--Linda Lee Jones and Michele Kennedy and counter-tenor William Zukof who also contributed some excellent program notes about the music.

After 1810 this movement spread to the frontiers. Another song that delighted us from that period was "The Marching Song of the First Arkansas" with clever lyrics set to the tune of "Glory Glory Hallelujah".  This song paid tribute to the African-American soldiers who fought for the Union and saved Washington.  Now how many people know that!

We noted that the first piece of music published in North America by a woman was "The Promised Land" by Matilda T. Durham in a widely circulated songbook  The Southern Harmony which is still in use in Kentucky! 

This song closed the program.  Our thoughts as we left this stimulating event were that this land we live in is the "promised land", not some place in the hereafter--and the sacrifices of our forebears have made it so.  But we also acknowledge that slavery exists in other lands and hope that members of the audience will be moved to support efforts to bring that sad feature of the human condition to a speedy end.  Three cheers for freedom!

© meche kroop

Saturday, April 5, 2014


Peter Dugan and Kara Sainz
Lovely mezzo-soprano Kara Sainz gave an impressive graduation recital last night at Juilliard.  She impressed with her poise onstage, her musicality and her willingness to take risks.

She addressed the audience in a most engaging and sincere way and it was easy to see that her love for Brahms was genuine.  Her choices of "Wie melodien zieht es", "Meine liebe ist grün, and "Die Mainacht" suited her voice perfectly and charmed the ear with melody.  Ms. Sainz has an enviable upper register with a soprano-y sound.  We loved her joy in singing these old chestnuts with a fresh youthful sound and her collaborative pianist Peter Dugan went right along with her.

Ms. Sainz shared with the audience her pleasure in reprising her role as Cherubino in Mozart's "Nozze di Figaro".  We were there for her performance and were just as delighted to hear her sing it again as she was in performing it.  All that onstage joy was contagious!

Four charming little gems of Gabriel Fauré were performed; our favorites were the jolly "Mandoline" in which she painted a lovely picture of serenaders of bygone days and the more serious "Les berceaux" which was sung with great soul.  She told the audience that this was the first song she learned in French; this reinforced the observation that this recital was a most personal one for her.

And now we come to the risk-taking part.  Pianist Peter Dugan, whom we have commended for his musicianship, has a brother named Leonardo who is a composer.  Last night Ms. Sainz and Peter Dugan premiered a work of Leonardo Dugan's written especially for this recital entitled "The Life and Death of Joan of Arc".

Readers will recall how distasteful we find most contemporary music.  Let us reassure you straightaway that this work is not in that category.  Not at all.  Mr. Dugan (Leonardo) wrote his own text and happily it rhymes.  The piano part is jazz-inflected and relies on a repeated motif which helps the work achieve unity.  The vocal writing is melodic and accessible.

It is written in four parts.  From the outset, Saint Joan is depicted as ambivalent--torn between trying to rescue her homeland from English domination and her hatred of bloodshed.  At the end she is torn between faith and despair that her god has forsaken her.

In this work, the register is a lower one and Ms. Sainz gave a highly dramatic and moving delivery.  This was a risk that paid off in success for her and for The Brothers Dugan, not to mention the audience and for ourselves who now feel more inclined to give contemporary composers a chance.

© meche kroop


Brandon Cedel, Lachlan Glen, Benjamin Bliss
When you put three artists from the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program onstage together, you get an hour of bliss--Bliss, Cedel and Glen that is!  All three conspired to amaze and delight us with their respective gifts.

We consider Lachlan Glen to be he finest pianist of his generation.  After a year of his Schubert recitals we are constantly amazed at how many other composers he has mastered, how many different styles at which he excels  and how readily he responds to every singer with whom he collaborates.  He is not only versatile but original.

Take for example last night's Purcell to whom he gave some  improvisatory flourishes; no one can say whether old Henry would have approved but our ears were tickled and we can honestly say that we have never enjoyed Purcell more.  The songs chosen by him and tenor Benjamin Bliss have graced many a program and have sounded rather similar and, dare we say, a bit boring.  But last night they sounded exciting in a way that baroque songs rarely do. 

Mr. Bliss has a lovely clear sound, impressive legato and flawless diction.  He sings with a depth of feeling, using facial expression and gesture to mine every nuance of the text.  "Come All Ye Songsters" from The Fairy Queen is a fragile thing and Mr. Glen's delicate fingering matched Mr. Bliss' pianissimo singing.  "Music For a While" from Oedipus was swoon-worthy with a secure crescendo at the beginning and some impressive singing in the upper register at the end.  Just hear how Mr. Bliss leaned into the appoggiature!   The lavish ornamentation in "Sweeter Than Roses" from Pausanias was reflected from singer to pianist and the word coloring for "freeze" and "fire" surpassed what one would hear in Mozart's "Non so piu".

Three songs by Franz Liszt were revelatory.  We generally associate that composer with passionate turbulent music and were amazed by his "Wie singt die Lerche Schön" which is in a tender vein and gave Mr. Bliss an opportunity to demonstrate a fine portamento.  In "Es rauschen die Winde", Mr. Bliss expressed the internal sorrows of loss while Mr. Glen's piano evinced the storm without.  We had never heard Liszt's setting of Heinrich Heine's "Im Rhein, im schönen Strome" but it is a thrilling one and Mr. Glen's fingers were flying from one end of the keyboard to the other in an orgy of arpeggiation.  Mr. Bliss' German was flawless.

Bass-Baritone Brandon Cedel just keeps getting better and better.  His deep round sound is balm to the ear and his fortuitous choice of Schumann's Liederkreis  gave him the opportunity to show a wide expanse of emotional tone.  The loneliness of "In der Fremde" was followed by the sweetness of "Intermezzo".  We particularly enjoyed the menace of "Waldesgespräch" with the seductive rider and the vengeful Lorelei.  In "Die Stille" Mr. Cedel conveyed the gentle rapture of love and Mr. Glen's delicate touch in "Mondnacht" was a thing of great beauty and joy forever, to coin a phrase.  Similarly he conveyed the rushing stream in "In der Fremde".

"Zwielicht" conveys the same fear of loss as Strauss' "Die Nacht" and Mr. Cedel and Mr. Glen gave the song a poignant ending as they did in "Im Walde" when Mr. Cedel descended to his lowest register.  Happily the cycle ended with a sanguine verse about love fulfilled and Mr. Cedel's voice opened up with joy.  We have only one small quibble about Mr. Cedel's otherwise fine German.  Like many singers, he seems timid about final "ch"s as in "ich" and "dich".  That would be a simple thing to correct and then we could say he was perfect.

© meche kroop


Thursday, April 3, 2014


Kim (David) Smith at Le Poisson Rouge
Kim Smith is more than a singer; he is a performer, an entertainer and, in many ways, a magician.  He can wave his magic hands and transform an ordinary song into something totally original.  This Australian recording artist put on quite a show last night at Le Poisson Rouge, keeping the audience on the edges of their seats and quiet as mice.

What we enjoyed most was Kim unadorned, sans amplification, with only an accordion as accompaniment.  Not that there is anything shabby about his band; excellent musicians all--a versatile guitarist, bass player and drummer joined the accordion--but that as a lover of lieder we are most interested in his interesting voice and the well-chosen texts which were occasionally drowned out by the loud music.

Mr. Smith creates quite an image onstage--expressive eyes ringed in kohl, sparkles in his hair, wearing a white shirt and bowtie with a leather harness on top.  He has an angelic face but makes himself out to be an irresistible naughty boy.

But it is the way he uses his voice and his body that makes him so compelling a performer.  His phrasing is unique and his vocal colors highly expressive.  His gestures hold one in thrall.  All he needs to do is to crook a finger or two and we are in a trance.

His repertoire is heterogeneous, comprising German cabaret, French chanson, opera, American pop and seriously disturbing songs as well.  One of our favorites was "Pirate Jenny" from Kurt Weill's  Three Penny Opera with scathing lyrics by Marc Blitzstein.  Another was "Padam, Padam" made famous by Edith Piaf.  "Summertime" from George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, with lyrics by DuBose Heyward made an indelible impression.

Sonny Bono's "Bang Bang", made famous by Cher, was given an original twist.  Abel Meeropol's "Strange Fruit"--made famous by Billie Holliday--was performed within a medley of songs about the South and presented disturbing imagery.

If we had one disappointment in the evening it was a song we have heard Mr. Smith perform dozens of times, a song he sings better than any classical recitalist, and usually given by them as an encore--William Bolcom's  "Black Max".  The song has a wonderful melody and the words describe a most interesting character from the seedy side of Rotterdam.  It wasn't the singing or the superb interpretation that bothered us; it was the overly elaborate orchestration which detracted from Mr. Smith's performance. 

Mr. Smith's engaging banter wove the songs together as he flirted with the audience and drew them in, in his own inimitable way.  If you have never seen one of his frequent performances around New York, you owe it to yourself to watch for one in the future.  Or, you could buy one of his two excellent CD's.

© meche kroop