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.

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

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