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.

Saturday, April 30, 2016


Bryn Holdsworth as Andromède
Yeon Jung Lee as Le Feu and Amy Yarham as L'Enfant

It was a night of sheer delight spent with Manhattan School of Music Opera Theater. Credit for this extraordinary success must be attributed to the clever direction of renowned James Robinson, who told the tales with originality that was still true to the origins of the two works; to the beautifully balanced sound of the conservatory's orchestra under the baton of Pierre Vallet; and, above all, to the superb singing and acting of the young artists, mainly graduate level students.

The wisely chosen program comprised two French works of note, the first of which, Jacques Ibert's 1924 Persée et Andromède, has never before been performed in the United States, and the second of which, Maurice Ravel's 1925 L'Enfant et les Sortilèges, we have enjoyed on several prior occasions.

Ibert's librettist "Nino" (a pen name for his brother-in-law Michel Veber) turned the tale of Perseus' rescue of Andromeda on its head. In the myth, she has been chained to a rock as a sacrifice (long story!) and dreams of being rescued from the monster Cathos by a great hero.  Perseus arrives on a winged horse (Pegasus), slays the monster, and carries her off to live happily ever after (sort of).

In Nino's libretto, Perseus is so arrogant when he kills Cathos that Andromeda realizes that she has loved the monster all along and declines to leave with Perseus. Pining over Cathos, her grief brings him back to life as a handsome prince.

But wait! Mr. Robinson's concept is that this all takes place in a French museum with a reproduction of Cesari's 1596 painting of the legend occupying pride of place, flanked by supposed studies for the work. The museum guard must ride herd on a group of uniformed schoolgirls who get too close to the velvet rope and a mother with her two obstreperous children.

A beautiful redhead enters and lies writhing on a bench as she dreams of, what else, a romantic encounter. Soprano Bryn Holdsworth, whom we have written about before, sang with terrific tone and acted with conviction. She even convinced us that she was a natural redhead, so well did she embody her character.  And that's acting! It was a stellar performance, marked by some fine French diction, coached by Bénédicte Jourdois.

The superbly coached schoolgirls acted as Greek chorus, commenting on and giggling over the sleeping Andromeda, just as schoolgirls would. What an inspired concept! Chorus Master Daniela Candillari must have worked very hard to achieve this success.

As the museum guard, bass Hidenori Inoue, was peevish but far from a monster. He serenaded Andromeda with full round tone and tried to ease her boredom with stories and symbolic chess games.

Tenor Taehwan Ku made a humorously arrogant Perseus, waving a silk scarf with an image of Medusa imprinted, in place of the Gorgon's head. The "monster" was not intimidated.

Allen Moyer's set was a fine recreation of a museum while Paul Palazzo's lighting contributed a great deal, adding glowing warmth to the arrival of Perseus. James Schuette's costumes were consistently mid-20th c. and Tom Watson's hair and makeup design was apt.

And oh, that music! Much of it was impressionistic and shimmered with painterly colors, sounding just right for the setting. That made the climactic moment of crescendo all that more affecting. We were curious about the placement of the harps off to one side, and the percussion off to the other. Whatever the reason, it sounded sensational.

Ravel's charming work L'Enfant et Les Sortilèges started life as a ballet with a book by Colette; but this baby had a decade long gestation, finally achieving the stage in Monte Carlo in 1925. It is a favorite of music conservatories since it employs a large cast. It tells the tale of a naughty boy who treats people, animals, and furniture with equal contempt.

When the aforementioned furniture comes to life and turns against him, and the animals speak to him of their suffering, he learns compassion. It is a wonderful lesson for children, but also for adults. Behavior has consequences!

As the eponymous child, Australian mezzo-soprano Amy Yarham sang with beautiful inflected phrasing and easily understood French; moreover she created a most believable little boy bored with his homework, throwing a tantrum of destruction to retaliate against his mother.

The entire cast was excellent and we hesitate to single out only a few but we were struck by the precise coloratura of soprano Yeon Jung Lee who created a lot of heat with her red-sequined gown as well as her singing.

The audience loved the pair of fighting cats--mezzo Rachel Stewart and Christopher Stockslager and the linguistic hijinks of Emma Mansell's Chinese Cup and Gregory Giovine's Teapot.

We have always enjoyed Noragh Devlin who enacted a matronly looking mother, in high mid-20th c. style.  And Michael Gracco's Grandfather Clock created a striking image.

 Again, the sets and costumes were terrific.

Ravel's music for this work is highly eclectic and benefits enormously from a most colorful orchestration. The MSM Orchestra captured every nuance.

(c) meche kroop

Friday, April 29, 2016


Kelli O'Hara and Victoria Clark (photo by Erin Baiano)

Henry Purcell's first opera, first performed in 1689 by students in a school for young ladies, lay dormant for two centuries, but we have seen three performances of this seminal work this season. The one we saw last night at New York City Center had the largest audience by far. The large theater was packed and the audience enthusiastic. Much of the credit lay at the feet of Master Voices, the group formerly known as The Collegiate Chorale. They have, apparently, a huge following and tackle a wide variety of genres.

Not for nothing did they cast the major female roles with famous Broadway stars who were lavishly costumed by the designer Christian Siriano, whose fame was flaunted in the press. We say "Anything goes if it brings people to the opera!"

The glamour took nothing away from the musical values. Kelli O'Hara  made a sympathetic Dido and Victoria Clark's star turn as the Sorceress brought shivers of wicked delight. They both sounded terrific and if their voices were amplified it was done with subtlety.

Canadian baritone Elliot Madore sang with honeyed tone and created a fine believable Aeneas such that we wanted to shout out "Don't fall for that false Mercury!" In Nahum Tate's libretto, which does not completely follow the story as told in Virgil's Aeneid, poor Trojan Aeneas is tricked into abandoning Dido, Princess of Carthage, in order to found Rome. Or so he is told by the false Mercury, enlisted by the Sorceress. No reason is given for the Sorceress to have such enmity toward Dido. We have missed Mr. Madore since he graduated from the Lindemann Young Artists Program and were very very happy to see him onstage once more.

Dido has two handmaidens--one is her sister Belinda who encourages her to consider Aeneas as a suitor. In this role, soprano Anna Christy, a favorite of the Santa Fe Opera where we have thrilled to her performances, has a gorgeous high clear voice with a beautiful timbre. The second handmaiden was performed by Sarah Mesko, whose lovely chocolatey mezzo voice graced the stage of the Santa Fe Opera as well.

Tenor Nathaniel Dolquist was given the role of the First Sailor; his aria was the one spot of humor in this very sad opera. Aside from singing it well, we might add that his every word was understood. The same can be said for Mr. Madore. We realize that higher voices are more difficult to understand and for this reason we feel justified in our sole complaint of this excellent evening--titles were badly needed. One tends to feel the way one does when listening to an opera in a language that one only half knows. One catches a word here and there and figures out the essence of the meaning but one wishes to hear and understand the entire thing.

There was a surprisingly delightful addition to the program. Since the prologue to the opera was lost long long ago, the task of writing one was given to Michael John LaChiusa who wrote both music and lyrics for "The Daughters of Necessity: a Prologue". He used every skill he possesses from his Broadway experience to write something that was both artistic and accessible.

He created a scene that reminded us of the Three Norns in The Ring Cycle. Three very funny Norns, as a matter of fact. He calls them Fates. The first, Nona, sung by Ms. Mesko, spins the thread of life and is focused on the past. The second, Decima, sung by Anna Christy, measures the thread and concerns herself with the present.  The third, Morta, sung by Victoria Clark, cuts the thread at the time of death and is, therefore, the one determining the future.

The punchy dialogue about life, love, and death worked extremely well with the music written by LaChiusa, which was interspersed with baroque music. Much of the humor came from the Fates' interaction with the Master Voices, arranged upstage in tiers. There was a running joke of Morta and her scissors ending the lives of various choristers who fell from the ranks and collapsed on the floor, to be hauled away. One of them, trying to avoid the deadly scissors, fled upstage. Ms. Clark's flair for comedy was impressive.

The singing of the chorus was exemplary and much of it employed such good diction that we got most of what they were singing. They seemed like a true Greek Chorus, commenting on the action and interacting with the singers.

No less could be said of The Orchestra of St. Luke's who performed superbly under the baton of Ted Sperling. Purcell's music has never sounded so fine!

If we did not have such antipathy toward barefoot modern dance, we might have found more to enjoy in the choreography by Doug Varone. His athletic dancers lept and spun and rolled around on the floor. They also moved the minimal furniture and interacted with the singers. Clad in black, they mostly moved as a unit. Our companion thought they added something to the performance.

It is not necessary to know the political atmosphere of the 17th c. but it is interesting. Purcell was born at the time of the Restoration and scholars have "found" an allegory in the story. Dido is said to represent the British people while Aeneas represents James II. The Sorceress is said to represent the repressive Catholic church, luring James to abandon his subjects by denying them secular entertainment.  Welcome Charles!!

This makes us wonder what is going on today that makes this story of deceit of a ruler by evil forces so relevant.  Hmmm.

(c) meche kroop


J.J. Penna and Kelsey Lauritano

Due to a prior reviewing commitment, we were only able to hear half of Kelsey Lauritano's graduation recital--from the Juilliard Vocal Arts Department--but it would be an understatement to say that it was well worth the mad dash to Juilliard followed by an equally mad dash to New York City Center.

By all measures, this mezzo-soprano has a wonderful future ahead of her. We have heard her sing cabaret music with New York Festival of Song; we have heard her sing Hugo Wolf songs in recital, and we have seen her performance as one of Mozart's "Three Spirits" last week at Juilliard in Die Zauberflöte.  We have even seen her sing and dance with fruit on her head.

So...we were not a bit surprised to hear her dazzle the audience at her recital.  She began with "Presti Omai" from Händel's Giulio Cesare--a difficult aria filled with long phrases requiring excellent breath control and flights of fioritura requiring flexibility. She succeeded admirably on both counts.

She has an engaging stage presence that invites the audience to share her pleasure. She exhibits consummate self confidence and never hangs onto the piano. She graciously shared with the audience her love for Debussy both in her introductory words and in her singing. In Trois Chansons de Bilitis she put her emphasis on the erotic, using her voice and gesture.

Learning about the three stages of the life of Bilitis, as expressed in the original poetry by Pierre Louÿs, added to our appreciation. In "La flûte de Pan", Bilitis achieves her sensual initiation. In "La  chevelure", she exhibits mature sexuality through her lover's dream. In "Le tombeau des Naïades", she is an older woman examining her youthful years. We have never enjoyed the songs more.

There were only two songs by Hugo Wolf in the next set, both from his Spanisches Liederbuch. First we heard  "Klinge, klinge, mein Pandero"; the text expresses both the joy of the dance and the anguish in the poet's heart. The original text by Alvaro Fernandez de Almeida was translated into German by Emanuel von Geibel, who also translated an anonymous text for the charming "Wer tat deinem Füsslein weh?"in which the singer gets to color her voice differently for the footsore woman and the man who wants to heal her pain.

We were obliged to miss Dominick Argento's setting of From the Diary of Virginia Woolf. 

We would like to highlight Ms. Lauritano's facility with languages. French and German are both difficult in different ways but she nailed them both. The fine collaborative pianist J.J. Penna accompanied in his customary fine style.

(c) meche kroop

Thursday, April 28, 2016


Victor Herbert Renaissance Project Live!

We wish more opera lovers were aware of the joys of operetta. The art form is part of American musical history and laid the foundation for the American Musical. They provided grand theatrical entertainment for both Americans and Austrians of la belle époque. Their plots are delightfully silly and their music is gloriously tuneful.

King of the composers of operetta was Victor Herbert, who was born in Ireland and raised in Germany; he composed his great hits in the USA around the turn of the 20th c.  For bringing his works to the attention of New Yorkers, we have Alyce Mott to thank; her visionary stewardship of the Victor Herbert Renaissance Project Live! has resulted in an ever-growing audience.  Last night, Christ and St. Stephen's church was packed to the very last pew with adoring fans.

Last night's production of The Serenade, Herbert's second big Broadway success, employed the original libretto from 1897 by Harry B. Smith. The preposterous situation involves a Duke (the wildly funny David Seatter) who is so possessive of his flirtatious ward Dolores (the stunning Vira Slywotzky) that he is ready to murder anyone of whom he is suspicious.  The running joke is that the beautiful "serenade" is sung by almost everyone in the show at one time or another.

Dolores is in love with Alvarado (the wonderful Bray Wilkins), a star of the Madrid Opera who has won her with his "serenade". Also in love with her is the tone-deaf tailor Gomez (the effective Brian Kilday) who gets a singing lesson from the retired tenor Colombo (the hilarious Glenn Seven Allen). With three characters like this, one can just imagine the hilarity of the has-been teaching the never-will-make-it!

Colombo has a beautiful daughter Yvonne (performed by coloratura Natalie Ballenger, who IS beautiful, both in appearance and voice). We don't get to find out whom she will marry until the very end.

Meanwhile we get exposed to the Royal Madrid Brigands Association with their pop-guns. In a move worthy of W.S. Gilbert, they become politicians at the end. As a matter of fact, in his skill with wordplay and rhyming, Mr. Smith comes close to Mr. Gilbert. But Mr. Herbert's music owes no debt to any other composer.

Our funny bone was tickled by the hijinks of hiding in cloister and monastery and by the changing of costumes between Yvonne and Dolores, which fools the near-sighted Duke. Our ears were tickled by the gorgeous singing.

Led by Stephen Faulk (who had a stunning ballad toward the end-- "I Envy the Bird") and by Matthew Wages, the group of brigands included Daniel Greenwood, Drew Bolander, Jovani McCleary, and Seph Stanek. Their choral numbers were finely handled and exhibited good English diction. We particularly enjoyed their rendition of the "serenade".

The female chorus was also fine--Angela Christine Smith, Sarah Caldwell Smith, and Chelsea Friedlander--all nuns led by Mother Superior Katherine Corle. It was a bit more difficult to understand their words, as it usually is with higher voices.

Some highlights of the evening included Mr. Seatter's patter song "A Duke of High Degree", the female chorus' number "In Our Quiet Cloister" (which was rhymed with "oyster"), and Dolores and Alvarado's duet "Don Jose of Seville". One very special aspect of VHRPLive! is that they are an ensemble company and one gets to enjoy the same wonderful artists in different roles.

Alyce Mott did a swell job as Stage Director and Music Director Michael Thomas not only conducted but sounded the chimes, as William Hicks played the piano score, which was compiled by Dino Anagnost.

We are already planning to enjoy more of VHRPLive! next year but you can still catch them this year since The Serenade has one more performance tonight at 8:00.

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, April 27, 2016


Compositora: Songs by Latin American Women

We love the sound of Spanish with its pure vowels and were glad to hear that Maestro Steven Blier was programming a New York Festival of Song evening of songs by Latin American women. All the music was fine but we never got to hear a single canción from a zarzuela, the Latin American equivalent of operetta. It suddenly dawned on us that perhaps there are no zarzuelas written by women. Let's put that on our wish list, if we are not a century too late!

We did get to hear some fine artists including two excellent singers recently graduated from the San Francisco Opera Adler Fellowship program, a world class guitarist, a guitarist making his New York recital debut, as well as two excellent percussionists. We even witnessed pianist Michael Barrett playing a gourd shaped Latin American percussion instrument that we cannot name. 

These women composers led interesting lives, overcoming barriers both political and social to achieve fame. They were born all over Central and South America but many of them received their musical education in diverse countries. The program notes were fascinating.  

Some of the music was of a serious nature, utilizing the poetry of Garcia Lorca, for example. But the music we most enjoyed comprised settings of simple romantic poetry that rhymed and scanned. We loved the tuneful "La Casita" by Dolores Castegnaro, who wrote both words and music; soprano Maria Valdés turned the simple ditty into an operatic aria. Ms. Valdés has a fine instrument and a most expressive way of telling a story.

Baritone Efrain Solis used his mellow voice and impassioned delivery in Maria Grever's "Júrame", one of the few songs that we have heard before. Ms. Grever also wrote both lyrics and music.  Similarly, Ernestina Lecuona (sister of the famous Ernesto Lecuona) wrote both lyrics and music to the wonderful "Sólo a ti te quiero"; for this piece, Mr. Solis was accompanied by the renowned Pancho Navarro, whose guitar playing showed evidence of serious study of many genres.

We always enjoy duets and particularly enjoyed the harmonies of "Como la cigarra" in which the composer Maria Elena Walsh, also writing both text and music, describes the life of a survivor. We are noticing a pattern here of favoring composers who wrote their own lyrics. Hmmm.

Percussion for the evening was provided by Leonardo Granados and Jeremy Smith. Guitarist Brendan Cowan made a most auspicious debut on the stage of Merkin Hall, accompanying Mr. Solis'performance of the beautiful song "Enquanto a noite durar"
by Brazilian composer Clarice Assad who was present for the performance.

We were delighted with the encore--Maria Grever's "Tipitipitin".

(c) meche kroop 

Monday, April 25, 2016


Sanjukta Wagh

Every culture has its creation myth and India's epic poem, the Mahabharata dates back about three millennia. At the heart of the tale is a dynastic war; since history is told by the victors, it can always be questioned with reference to which are the bad guys and which are the good guys.

A 20th c. scholar/anthropologist/educator, Irawati Karve, undertook to re-examine the story of Gandhari, the mother of 100 sons lost in battle. She was married off to a prince and felt betrayed when she learned that he was blind; she blindfolded herself for life. Karve re-interpreted the act as not a sacrifice but rather an act of rage. In the story, she gives birth to a stone that she hacks into 100 pieces and all of them were her sons.

Celebrated dancer/choreographer/writer/director Sanjukta Wagh created this award-winning piece "Rage and Beyond: Irawati's Gandhari" which was presented last night at Symphony Space as part of World Music Institute's "Dancing the Gods".

Ms. Wagh is an absorbing artist whose performance entranced us for the full hour and a half. Her dancing was eloquent. Every small gesture was replete with meaning. We particularly enjoyed and completely understood the part where she prepared for her wedding--washing, styling her hair, and applying cosmetics. After all those preparations, of course she was distressed that her husband could not see her!

The part in which she shows her pregnancy and delivery and the hacking up of the stone was similarly effective. We also liked the ending when she removes the blindfold, joins hands with the mother of the winning dynasty, and leads her blind husband into the mountains where they would all die in a forest fire.

Her chanting had a marvelous sound, especially when the syllables she chanted mimicked the sound of her stamping feet, which was augmented by the bells she wore around her ankles.

She also sat in a chair and related the words of Ms. Karve. We thought this interrupted the flow of the piece and might have been better presented in one chunk, either at the beginning or the end.

Obviously, there are socio-cultural and politico-historical aspects to the story which seemed academic and unnecessary. The piece could stand alone as dance/theater art, since Ms. Wagh is such a superb storyteller.

Musical accompaniment was performed by Hitesh Dhutia  who also was responsible for the sound design. We had expected traditional Indian instruments--sitar, tabla, harmonium and such and were surprised that he played the guitar. The music was very lovely, even so, and sustained the mood perfectly. However, we did not care for the sound design which involved unattractive amplification both for his guitar and for Ms. Wagh's vocalizing.

In sum, we had a fascinating glimpse into another culture and an exposure to a work that left us feeling both enlightened and entertained.

(c) meche kroop

Sunday, April 24, 2016


Lochlan Brown and Tal Heller

It's been a year and a half since we heard mezzo-soprano Tal Haller sing at the Classic Lyric Arts gala.  My how her talent has grown under the tutelage of Arthur Levy!  The only flaw we could find in her splendid graduation recital at the National Opera Center was the brevity. Not that we were disappointed; although she gave an excellent sampler of her skills, we could have happily listened to her for another hour.

Ms. Heller has a pleasingly bright instrument that has a lovely soprano-y sound in the upper register. The vibrato is just about right and the overtones are most agreeable. She scored well in the expressive department and we found ourselves pulled into the songs.

Mozart's concert aria "Vado, Ma Dove?" opened the program in true Italianate style.  But it was the set of Reynaldo Hahn songs that impressed us with their excellent French. Ms. Taller's sojourn with CLA in France served her well. "L'Heure Exquise" was quite romantic and the large upward skips were perfectly negotiated.

From Hector Berlioz's Les Nuits D'Été, we heard a lovely performance of "Sur Les Lagunes", a sorrowful chanson with some very low notes. Ms. Taller performed it with great commitment to the text.

We love Brahms' settings of German folk songs and "Von Ewiger Liebe" is one of our favorites.  It requires the singer to color differentially the voices of the young man concerned about the reputation of his sweetheart and the sweetheart's firmness in her unshakeable love. This Ms. Taller accomplished most effectively.

The second half of the program comprised two Tosti songs.  "Ridonami La Calma" was sung with prayerful feelings and successful dynamic variety.

We also heard a pair of Mahler songs with which we were strangely unfamiliar.  We could not fathom what the text had to do with Don Juan but "Serenade" and "Phantasie" were well done and gave the artist another opportunity to hit those very low notes.

We noticed one little thing about Ms. Taller's German that could be improved. Often the final "ich" was glossed over as if she were afraid to "do it wrong". That being said, she had no problem with words like "nicht" and "nacht".  It would be a simple matter to borrow the "ch" from those words.

Closing the program were two songs by Ricky Ian Gordon, a contemporary American composer. The most important facet was the excellent English diction that made the words completely comprehensible. And the words to "My Mother is a Singer" are critical. The melody of "A Horse with Wings" was more interesting and the words made us think that Ms. Taller herself is the one with wings, ready to fly.

What happy news that she is staying on at Mannes College for Music to get her Master's Degree! But the summer break will take her to Chicago to sing the role of Mrs. Herring in Britten's Albert Herring. That should be a fine opportunity for her and a delight for the Chicago audience.

Collaborative pianist Lochlan Brown made a perfect partner for her fine singing. We particularly enjoyed his playing in the Berlioz.

(c) meche kroop

Friday, April 22, 2016


Jessica Rose Cambio, John Kaneklidis, Erik Van Heyningen, Eve Queler, Steven Herring, Antoni Mendezona, and Douglas Martin

Last night at The Kosciuszko Foundation we had the rare opportunity to learn something from Maestra Eve Queler about the singers who cover roles; this is something to which we have not given much thought. These singers learn a role that they may or may NOT ever get to perform. The five superb singers we heard are covers for the upcoming performance of Gaetano Donizetti's 1833 tragedia lirica Parisina d'Este which will be performed in concert version on May 4th at Rose Hall.

Eve Queler will be conducting, as she did when she introduced New York to this rarely heard opera in 1973-- with Montserrat Caballé, Luis Quilico, and James Morris. On May 4th there will be an all-star cast including Angela Meade, Yunpeng Wang, Sava Vemić, and Mia Pafumi.

Last night we heard the covers for these superstars and they are themselves far along the way to stardom. The opera was introduced by Maestra Queler and we heard a generous selection of arias, duets, and ensembles from the opera, with the singers explaining what was going on at that particular point in the plot.

The libretto by Felice Romani is based on a poem by Lord Byron which was, in turn, based loosely on real historical characters. The plot is a real pot-boiler! The story of a man who marries the woman beloved by his son was tackled later in Verdi's Don Carlo. You just know this is not going to end well.

In 15th c. Ferrara, women were chatel and were often married off for political reasons.  Poor Parisina is in love with Ugo who is the son of Duke Azzo's banished first wife. Ugo was raised by the Duke's minister Ernesto who has kept the parentage secret. Poor Ugo does not enjoy the favor of the court, especially when the Duke finds out that his second wife Parisina is in love with him, a fact the Duke learns when she talks in her sleep.   Uh-oh!

On this framework, Donizetti has lavished his melodic and harmonic genius. We can only wonder why the opera is so rarely produced. Perhaps it is because the singing is so challenging. The young singers serving as covers acquitted themselves brilliantly.

As Parisina, we heard soprano Jessica Rose Cambio who invested the lyric passages with beautiful phrasing and firm sound.  She has weight to her voice and an exciting upper register but more than enough flexibility for the fioritura; she was particularly remarkable in each cabaletta. 

She had a lovely duet with her handmaiden Imelda, tenderly sung by soprano Antoni Mendezona, and a touching love duet with Ugo in a melting minor key. Her lyrical phrasing was most evident in the aria in which she sings herself to sleep.

Her Ugo was stunningly sung by tenor John Kaneklides who opened the program with a duet with his foster father Ernesto, sung by Erik Van Heyningen, the strength of whose bass-baritone belied his youthful appearance. The two voices blended beautifully and the cabaletta was filled with excitement as Ernesto tries to warn Ugo to hightail it out of Ferrara.

Mr. Kaneklides' depth of feeling and lovely legato phrasing was manifest in his final aria as he accepts his tragic fate.

Baritone Steven Herring made a fine Duke Azzo as his feelings toward his wife morphed into murderous rage.  What a fiery cabaletta he produced!

The final quartet was marked by Donizetti's rich harmonies, alone sufficient reason to spend an evening with OONY. Piano accompaniment was provided by Douglas Martin.

Don't miss this opportunity to hear a largely undiscovered highlight of the bel canto repertory!

(c) meche kroop

Thursday, April 21, 2016


Edwin Davis, Brian Michael Moore, Janet Todd, Sarah Mikulski, and Matthew Hernandez

How lucky are we to hear TWO Mozart singspiels on two successive nights.! Our head is just bursting with gorgeous melodies. The youthful Mozart composed Die Entführung aus dem Serail in 1782 when the Ottoman Empire was a source of great interest to the Austrian people and the singspiel was an immediate success.

Last night,  Maestro Thomas Muraco led his Opera Repertoire Ensemble through this charming piece at Manhattan School of Music. He certainly does know his singers; he knew he had the right cast to tackle this comedy which contains two of the most challenging arias in the repertoire.

All of the singing was fine but two performances stood out for their vocal and dramatic excellence. Soprano Janet Todd portrayed Konstanze, an elite Spanish woman who was purchased by Pasha Selim from pirates and installed in his harem. He has not abused her but has been trying to win her love. Everything about Ms. Todd's performance was spot on. Her attack of the elaborate fioritura was sharp as could be but the melting lyricism of the expressive vocal line left nothing to be desired. Although the role is unidimensional, she created a warm character, loyal to her fiancé Belmonte. We held our breath throughout "Martern aller Arten", astonished at her facility.

Bass Edwin Davis impressed us with his portrayal of the comically nasty Osmin, servant to the Pasha. He so immersed himself in the role that it never seemed like acting. It would have been a mesmerizing performance if he had never sung a note; but his booming room-filling voice was marvelously employed to serve the role.  The difficult third act aria "Ha, wie will ich triumphieren" contains some of the lowest notes in the bass repertory and he nailed them.

His duet with Blonde, Konstanze's English maid who was also purchased by the Pasha, was pure delight. It's a bit unusual for both female roles to be written for the same fach; soprano Sarah Mikulski made a most effective Blonde both dramatically and vocally; we enjoyed her sparring with Osmin whom she is rejecting just as successfully as her mistress is rejecting Selim.

Not only are both female characters sopranos but both male characters are tenors. Brian Michael Moore took the role of Belmonte, Kostanze's fiancé who has come to rescue her; Matthew Hernandez performed the role of Belmonte's servant Pedrillo.  What a pleasure to hear healthy young voices sing with clarity. Mr. Moore might improve his performance by not putting so much volume in his upper register.

Pasha Selim, a non-singing role, was performed by Paul Goodwin-Groen who might have better spoken his narration without amplification. At times the microphone was too close or too far from his mouth, leading to drastic changes of volume.

Maestro Muraco and his talented musicians reduced the score for two pianos (Jeremy Chan and Jonathan Heaney) and percussion (Stefano Baldasseroni and Jia Jun Hong). The percussion comprised a bass drum, cymbals, and a triangle in order to reproduce the sounds of a Turkish marching band.

We loved the the overture with its A-B-A-B form. We loved the duet between Osmin and Blonde, which included a lot of feminine retaliation with a broom. We enjoyed  Pedrillo's serenade in Act III and the love duet between Kostanze and Belmonte in which each got to sing the melody while the other held the same note constant. We loved the quartet of reconciliation when the two pairs of lovers forgive each other. We just then realized that all of Mozart's comedies seem to have two pairs of lovers.

We must also put in a good word for the chorus who seemed very well rehearsed.

The set was minimal--just a trio of screens to suggest "the Orient".

Costumes were streetwear for the Europeans and an appropriate turban and vest for Osmin.

There will be another performance tonight. Take advantage! Although the plot is simple, the music is marvelous.

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, April 20, 2016


Kara Sainz and Theo Hoffman (photo by Richard Termine)

Miles Mykkanen (photo by Richard Termine)

The most wonderful aspect of Mozart's operas, beside their glorious music, is their humanity. The singspiel that he wrote for his friend, the singer/actor/impresario Emanuel Schikaneder, is generally presented in all its mythic glory with elaborate costuming and sets. Many of these productions can be appreciated in the current exhibit at the Lincoln Center Library of the Performing Arts.

The production we saw last night at The Juilliard School was a production with another dimension. Gone were the fairy tale trappings of exotic sets and costumes, and, in their place, Director Mary Birnbaum gave us a human drama. We could identify with the universal psychological issues we face as we attempt to unravel the complexities of our existence and to evolve into more complete human beings.  This gave a new meaning to "enlightenment"--not just the 18th c. philosophical movement.

In Ms. Birnbaum's take on the opera, we witnessed real people, not cartoon characters, and not stereotypes. Tamino is not dressed like a prince but he evolves into a princely fellow, having earned the love of Pamina.  As sung by the incredibly sweet-voiced tenor Miles Mykkanen, he starts out as the helpless victim of...a row of hedges he takes to be a serpent! During the course of the opera he achieves menschheit by facing his fears during the trials. We witness his growth and cheer him on.

Pamina, perfectly portrayed by soprano Christine Taylor Price, must learn to accept the fact that her mother is flawed. She must integrate the "good mother" who wants to protect her and the "bad mother" who is possessive and filled with rage. She must learn to accept a father (or father figure) who loves her but has failed to protect her from the evil Monostatos and has placed her in a virtual prison. Ms. Price did well at creating a character who moves from innocence and helplessness to a position of equality-- "standing by her man" as he goes through the trials.

Not everyone is cut out to be a spiritually enlightened person. In a star turn unlike no other, baritone Theo Hoffman represented "Everyman". He wants his food, his wine, and his woman. His life has no meaning otherwise. His Everyman is not one to which one condescends; this is an Everyman to love; he is an Everyman who makes the world work. Mr. Hoffman revealed impressive comedic skills, utilizing flexibility of body and mobility of facial expression to get this across. . His task in life is to learn honesty and modesty. He learns that from the Three Ladies who also serve the Queen of the Night.

That role was wonderfully filled by coloratura soprano Liv Redpath whose top notes gave us chills by virtue of their clear ringing tones and pinpoint accuracy. The Three Ladies were performed by two superb sopranos (Alexandra Razskazoff and Caitlin Redding) and mezzo-soprano Avery Amereau whose smoky voice is completely distinctive and entirely memorable.

One of the funniest scenes was the first one in which these Three Ladies fight over the limp body of Tamino who has fainted from fright.

We loved the way bass Önay Köse created a Sarastro who was anything but pompous. He projected the air of a leader who was entirely human and not at all ecclesiastically boring. His voice rang out with power and authority.

As the wicked seducer Monostatos, handsome tenor Alexander McKissick had a hard time convincing us that he was "hässlich" but easily convinced us of his evil intentions toward Pamino. He had her imprisoned in an off-kilter underground bunker, reminding us of all those stories in the news about men who kidnapped young girls and kept them for years as sex slaves. We were quite relieved when she was rescued and Monostatos got punished! Tenors don't usually get to sing the bad guy and Mr. McKissick sang it very very well.

Mezzo-soprano Kara Sainz as Papagena was the perfect partner for Mr. Hoffman's Papageno. Not only was her singing excellent but she created a charming character who was totally convincing as an old lady climbing onto Papageno's lap, trying to convince him to marry her--one of the funniest moments of the evening.

The Three Spirits were adorable and harmonized just as finely as did the Three Ladies.  Dressed as schoolgirls in uniform, they represented the innate and instinctual wisdom of youth which contrasted well with Sarastro's hard-won rational wisdom. Christine Oh, Sophia Kaminski, and Kelsey Lauritano gave wonderfully physical performances.

Sarastro's crew of followers, dressed in suits, seemed to be a no-nonsense lot. Bass-baritone Thesele Kemane was excellent as The Speaker. Baritone Fan Jia and tenor Matthew Swensen made important contributions as First and Second Priest respectively, while tenor Samuel Levine did equally well as The Armed Man.

Ms. Birnbaum made sure that all the characters related to one another as people. That is one of the benefits of having a group of artists who know each other and can work well as an ensemble. It enabled so many moments of emotional depth and so many moments of humor. This could never happen at The Metropolitan Opera with stars flying in from all over the world!

The sets by Grace Laubacher were said to have been inspired by Joseph Cornell and his boxes. Indeed, they were boxlike and punctuated by doors down low and windows up high. Birds were flown from the balconies, Japanese-style, delighting the audience.

Anshuman Bhatia's lighting emphasized the difference between the darkness of the Queen of the Night and the light of Sarastro's temple.

Costumes by Maria Sine Clinton comprised streetwear for the most part but we were dazzled by the masks worn by the beasts who were tamed by Tamino's magic flute.

Choreography was shared by Adam Cates and Sean McKnight. The wildly successful break-dancing was performed by Jakub Jozef Orlinski who has delighted our ears with his angelic counter-tenor and here dazzled our eyes with his astonishing dancing. Now we know!

The singing was so fine all around that we decline to single out any one artist. The Juilliard Orchestra never disappoints; under the baton of David Stern they filled the Peter Jay Sharp Theater with glorious sound. During the overture, Maestro Stern's firm control allowed us to distinguish the emphatic chords and their progressions. We could hear things we'd never noticed before in the play of the strings against the winds. Totally wonderful!

(c) meche kroop

Monday, April 18, 2016


The cast of DIVAria Productions'  Don Pasquale

This is the third time we have had the pleasure of reviewing a DIVAria production and we left thinking that with directors like Anton Armendariz Diaz on "team opera", we do not have to worry about opera's future. 

Yes, we know that The Metropolitan Opera is trashing its beloved productions and losing subscribers en masse.  Yes, we know that the reborn New York City Opera is floundering due to poor artistic choices and inadequate marketing. Yes, we know that DiCapo Opera went under.  But, big but here, New York is replete with small companies that are redefining opera for new audiences with fresh ideas and presenting them in unexpected venues.

Last night we attended a production of Donizetti's 1843 opera buffa Don Pasquale that had excellent musical values and high spirits to spare, delighting the youthful audience and this reviewer.  Musical Director Fabio Bezuti performed at the piano in a reduced score which included two violins and a cello. The small group captured all of Donizetti's effervescence right from the overture.

Mr. Diaz' direction went a long way toward making up for the lack of titles. With our minimal Italian vocabulary and the dramatic skills of the cast, we knew exactly what was happening. Additionally, there was a narrator invented by Mr. Diaz with dialogue written by himself and Andrew Bell. This was no ordinary narrator but the chief servant in Don Pasquale's home who gossiped about the crazy situation and filled in the points of the plot. This non-singing role was taken by Christen Mathern who did a swell job.

The singing was uniformly up to snuff. Arias, duets, trios and quartets all came off well. Voices were well balanced in every case.

In the title role we had Jorge Ocasio whose resonant bass and fine comic timing excelled. His interpretation of the role was short on "nasty" and "pathetic", rather evoking sympathy for this poor old man who wants to recapture his youth by marrying a young woman. In an invented scene, choreographer Jody Oberfelder had him dancing in fantasy with a quartet of young women in poodle skirts, emphasizing the memories an old man would have of his youth. His performance was the very embodiment of Pantalone.

As Norina, Ashley Bell sang with bright coloratura.  This is the third time we have reviewed her performances and remain impressed. In keeping with the commedia dell'arte origins of the libretto, the acting was over the top. In a plot to get around the "foolish old man" character, she is obliged to masquerade as Sofronia, a shy convent girl who changes into a hellion once the marriage contract is signed. Ms. Bell handled the transformation well with some help by costume changes. She was the embodiment of the wily Columbina.

The "Scapino" role of Dr. Malatesta was wonderfully sung and acted by baritone Jim Wright who conveyed chicanery to spare, and the "Pierrot" role of Ernesto, Don Pasquale's nephew, was well sung by tenor David Guzman. This scheming trio treated Don P. so badly that our sympathies were shifted toward the poor old man.

The original 19th c. librettist Giovanni Ruffini removed his name from the score, so distressed was he by Donizetti's dominance. But the story is a variation of a story dating back to 16th c. Italy and associated with carnevale. And so, in keeping with tradition, Mr. Diaz has interpreted the tale in his own fashion. That it spoke to our need to see ourselves in all of our clichéd glory was made evident by the abundant laughter and applause.

Aren't we all a bit foolish? a bit devious? a bit gullible?

(c) meche kroop

Sunday, April 17, 2016


Ying Fang and Ken Noda

Newly landmarked St. Michael's Church played host for yesterday's Carnegie Hall Neighborhood Concert presented by the Weill Music Institute, as part of the Marilyn Horne Legacy. The gorgeous sunshine outside was no match for the gorgeous sunshine experienced within as the radiant soprano Ying Fang joined her vocal artistry with that of the renowned collaborative pianist, coach, and educator Ken Noda.

We get a special thrill from witnessing the development of young artists over the years and we have been writing about Ying Fang since 2012. She made a grand impression on us from the very start and we can only say that she keeps getting better and better, garnering prizes and roles at The Metropolitan Opera.

What great fortune for us to hear her up close and personal. This young lady has all the ingredients necessary for a major career. Her bright instrument is pure and clear and highly focused.  Her phrasing is gorgeous; her coloratura outstanding; her language skills prodigious.  But all this pales when one considers her ability to share her textual understanding with her audience. Every song becomes a mini-drama.

Three Handelian moods were conveyed in the opening set--the sensuality of "Endless Pleasure, Endless Love" from Semele contrasted well with the desperate supplication of "Angels Ever Bright and Fair" from Theodoro and the pure joy of "Oh, had I Jubal's Lyre" from Joshua. Her English diction was so clear that we forgot that we never enjoy singing in English.  This time we did!

Ken Noda's playing was crisp and precise and well suited to the material.  In the next set of Wolf songs, his playing became more lyrical and legato while Ying's singing brought apt story-telling to the selections from Wolf's Italienisches Liederbuch. We had just heard the sorrowful "Mir war gesagt" the night before but Ying put her own stamp on it.

The final two songs "Du denkst mit einem Fädchen" and "Mein Liebster hat zu Tische" provided opportunities for Ying to demonstrate her delightful sense of humor.

A trio of Bizet songs brought the first half of the program to a stunning conclusion with the seasonal "Chanson d'avril" followed by the charming "La coccinelle", a delightful ditty that gave her three voices to play with--that of the peevish girl, her shy lover, and the wise ladybug. Facial expression and gesture accompanied and amplified the changes in vocal color.

We loved what Maestro Noda and Ms. Ying did with "Ouvre ton coeur"; the piano marched forcefully but shifted continually from major to minor while the voice conveyed a Spanish influence.

The second half of the program opened with a trio of traditional Chinese folk songs by 20th c. composers.  "A little path" and "Spring Yearning" reminded us that all cultures, no matter what their politics are, deal with love, both anticipated and disappointed. The final song "Night Mooring at Maple Bridge", was replete with moody piano writing and evocative images. Ying sustained the image by painting pictures that we could see. It was as if her voice created a hologram of a painting. Moreover, the sound of Mandarin was particularly lovely.

The recital closed with six romantic songs by Sergei Rachmaninoff, all of them gorgeously sung. We enjoyed the contrast between the ethereal "Son" accompanied by Maestro Noda's dreamlike piano, and the passionate "A-u!"

We were completely satisfied by the program and yet we would never have missed the encore--the "Shepherd's Song" from Wagner's Tannhäuser, much of it sung in breath-holding (ours, not hers) a capella. This is a role she has performed at The Met. It was a special thrill!

(c) meche kroop


Christiane Karg and Malcolm Martineau

Superb German soprano Christiane Karg made her New York recital debut last night at the Weill Recital Hall of Carnegie Hall; she took the stage with perfect poise and carried the enthusiastic audience on a journey through Europe starting and ending with two settings of the story of the mysterious Mignon, a character in Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Lehrjahre.

This tale has inspired numerous composers.  Our journey began with "Kennst du das Land", the familiar version by Hugo Wolf, and ended with the somewhat less familiar "Romance de Mignon" by Henri Duparc.

And what a journey that was!  Ms. Karg is a wonderful guide and storyteller. Although there is nothing unusual about her instrument, it is a pleasing one; what astonished us is the way she employs it to squeeze every drop of meaning from each word and phrase. She seems to be tasting every word!

Such intense involvement with the text is exactly what makes a fine lieder recital. It seems to invite the audience to share the singer's experience. And we felt that involvement from the very first phrase. The trick is to make the performance seem, no matter how rehearsed, to be created spontaneously at that moment.

What a pleasure to hear Wolf's intricate songs flowing forth so effortlessly from a native speaker of German. Although the opener was our hands-down favorite, we loved the selections she chose from the Italienisches Liederbuch. There was the sad song of leave-taking "Mir ward gesagt", the frustrated maiden's "Mein Liebster singt am Haus", the ironic "Ich liese mir sagen", and the humorous "Mein Liebster ist so klein" and "Ich hab in Penna einen Liebsten wohnen".

No less pleasurable were the selections from Wolf's Spanisches Liederbuch. We particularly enjoyed the tender "In dem Schatten meiner Locken" in which the singer allows her lover to sleep, disdaining to wake him.

We do so love to be introduced to composers and songs that were unknown to us. Jesús Guridi composed his Seis canciónes castellanas in the early 20th c. and we hope we get to hear them again in the near future.  We do so love folk songs!  Our favorite, "Sereno!" had the most gorgeous melody and one would search far and wide to hear a more romantic song than "Como quieres que adivine".

The second half of the program was entirely in French, and sung with quite nice French diction. We were delighted to hear the familiar gem by Henri Duparc "L'invitation au voyage" sung with such sensuality.

Ms. Karg took no breaks for applause and launched right into Ravel's "Cinq mélodies populaires grecques"--a collection of charming folk songs that cover all the emotional bases. The romantic "Chanson de la mariée", the arrogant "Quel galant m'est comparable", the lively "Tout gai!"--all were performed with panache.

Malcolm Martineau's always wonderful piano partnership here became appropriately delicate.

There were two sets of songs that we'd never heard.  We know Reynaldo Hahn as the composer of very singable melodies that echo much earlier music. We'd never heard "Études latines" but did not care for the classical texts all that much.

There was also a trio of Charles Koechlin songs from his Op.56 and Op.84 which did not resonate with us as much as the rest of the program.

With a quartet of songs by Francis Poulenc we were back in more familiar territory; they were all settings of texts by Apollinaire and filled with irony, which Ms. Karg brought out splendidly.

The final song, the aforementioned "Romance de Mignon" sounded far more passionate than any Duparc songs we've ever heard.  The text for this one was written by Victor Wilder and it was quite lovely.

Ms. Karg and Mr. Martineau generously provided three encores which Ms. Karg fortunately announced clearly.  Might we add that her English is superb!

The first was Hahn's "A Chloris" which is the Hahn we know and love. The second was Barber's "Solitary Hotel", the setting of a text by James Joyce. And the final one, "Nana", a lullabye by Manuel de Falla, reminds us to mention the excellent Spanish with which Ms. Karg performed the Guridi songs.

Ms. Karg has some exciting opera appearances coming up. She is someone to watch, for sure!

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, April 13, 2016


Terpsichore: A Baroque Dance Mix....Juilliard415 and baroque dancers

A number of prior experiences contributed to our enjoyment of last night's program at Alice Tully Hall in which Juilliard415 was joined by a quartet of authentic period baroque dancers and some students from Juilliard Dance.

A number of Salon/Sanctuary Concerts introduced us to the many pleasures of 17th and 18th c. music and enabled us to appreciate the lovely soft sounds of period instruments. Moreover, we had learned quite a bit about the origins of dance from fencing moves at one of their more original presentations. So it was with great delight that we observed the fleet footwork of the dancers whose radiant expressions were nearly outshown by their lavish costumes.

When the program opened with Henry Purcell's 1691 Dances from King Arthur we immediately recalled the splendid presentation a couple weeks ago by William Remmer's Utopia Opera. The familiar melodies sounded superb played by Juilliar415, the school's principal period-instrument performance group led by the renowned Robert Mealy as concertmaster.

For this part of the program, the dancing was performed by the musicians themselves who seemed to rock in their chairs in choreographed unison. They were feelin' it and we were feelin' it!  The galloping rhythm of "Merlin's descent" and the "Hornpipe" were particularly memorable.

The second set comprised Jean-Baptiste Lully's Dances from Thesée in which one of the theorbists switched to guitar. We especially enjoyed the  lovely "Saraband" and the featured wind instruments in the graceful "Menuet": a pair of transverse flutes, a pair of hautbois, and a bassoon.

We were glad we attended so carefully to the Purcell and the Lully because once the dancers joined the group our focus shifted. The period costumes (designed by Anna Watkins and provided by the Boston Early Music Festival) added a great deal to the illusion that we were at a French court in the latter part of the 17th c. The graceful hands and delicate footwork of Caroline Copeland and Carlos Fittante captivated us as they performed the stringently documented and recreacted choreography by Guillaume Louis Pécour and Anthony L'Abbe.

Most of the dances were by Lully but in the short piece by André Campra from his 1697 L'Europe galante, Mr. Fittante made good use of castanets!

After the intermission, the two exquisite dancers were joined by another pair--Alexis Silver and Andrew Trego. The music was Handel's 1734 Dances from Terpsichore, and we noticed some interesting evolutions both in the costuming (more luxurious and elaborate with wider paniers) and in the dancing which was more athletic and freer. For this set, Ms. Copeland and Mr. Fittante produced the choreography themselves.

The final set comprised Dances from Pigmalion, Jean-Philippe Rameau's 1748 work. We experienced a radical shift for which we were unprepared. Choreography by Peter Farrow was of the modern dance style and performed by Alysia Johnson, Eoin Robinson, and My'kal Stromile--all four of them members of Juilliard Dance.

Dancers wore street clothes and danced in bare feet. Choreographing modern dance to baroque music is not revolutionary; Paul Taylor has quite a reputation for it. The dancers did a fine job with it and the audience loved it; we ourselves did not relate.

(c) meche kroop

Monday, April 11, 2016


Brian Holman, Ruth Ann Cunningham, Emanuel Mora, and Anita Lyons

An opportunity to hear our two favorite scenes from Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle seemed like just the right thing to do on a Sunday evening. The two scenes are incredibly moving when performed the way Wagner intended, as a gesamtkunstwerk.  So, how would a piano reduction work, we wondered, with the scenes extracted from their respective operas and sung without costumes and sets?

In the hands of Brian Holman the piano part worked very well indeed.  His artistry brought out each leitmotif with clarity and fluency. We could not feel the same enthusiasm for the singing, largely due to the use of music stands; this condition impaired the singers' ability to connect with each other and thereby to draw the audience in.

When Sieglinde and Siegmund recognize one another as long lost twins, we want to feel that special shiver, just as we do when Siegfried awakens Brünnhilde with a kiss. We confess to being a romantic!
These two duets are quite difficult ones and we admire the artists for tackling them with such gusto, but it doesn't make the grade when we are distracted by singers glancing down and turning pages.

Soprano Anita Lyons did the best at acting the part of the newly aroused warrior maiden and sang as best she could under the circumstances. Everyone did the best they could but it wasn't good enough. Tenor Emanuel Mora's German was marred by his "icky" pronunciation of the final "ich".

The second half of the concert came across better as the three singers took on Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana. There appeared to be less reliance on the scores placed on music stands. Ms. Lyons made a fine impassioned Santuzza, singing "Voi lo sapete, o Mamma", establishing sympathy for her "wronged woman". She evinced fine phrasing.

Everyone seemed more comfortable in the Italian and the catfight between Lola and Santuzza was more convincing. As the seductive Lola, soprano Ruth Ann Cunningham set up a character that we could dislike. As the faithless and duplicitous Turridu, Mr. Mora showed the anguish of being caught in the middle between the pregnant Santuzza and the married Lola. One couldn't help thinking that this snake deserves what he gets at the end of the opera!

This was the inaugural concert of the New York Verismo/Wagner Opera Guild. There are not many performance opportunities for this challenging repertoire. We wish them well, but we hold to our position that if you want to attract an audience you have to put the work in to commit to memory that which you are presenting.  Otherwise the audience feels as if they are at a sight-reading.

The concert was dedicated to the memory of Patricia Sage, the coach and music director of the Wagner Theater Program in which Ms. Cunningham and Mr. Mora participated.

(c) meche kroop

Thursday, April 7, 2016


Curtain Call at the George London Foundation Celebration Concert

The 45-year-old George London Foundation has partnered with The Morgan Library and Museum for the past 20 years and has succeeded in three important areas: they have supported no less than 400 singers at the early stages of their careers; they have built a devoted audience of opera lovers; and they have honored the legacy of bass-baritone George London.  

All of this has been accomplished under the stewardship of Nora London who was honored last night by a gala recital, performed by opera royalty, some of the brightest stars of the operatic firmament. It is a wonderful tribute that recipients of the foundation's awards returned to honor Mrs. London with performances that left us dazzled by their brilliance.

The evening was hosted by the retired Canadian tenor Ben Heppner who also ended the evening by treating the audience to Weatherly and Woods' 1916 song "Roses in Picardy", sung with touching depth of feeling and dynamic variety. It was a great treat to hear him sing again.

We tried to define what made this concert stand out above all the superb concerts we have seen this year.  What did all these luminaries have in common? Other than their artistry, dedication, and commitment, we sensed a joy in singing. Most likely they chose material that they loved to sing; they appeared to be having a wonderful time. 

Christine Brewer has a huge soprano which she scaled to the size of the hall and the tenderness of the songs selected from Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder. We have heard her "huge" and we have heard her "funny", but we have never before heard her "tender". Collaborative pianist Craig Rutenberg, by all accounts an engaging presence, matched her delicacy perfectly in "Der Engel" and "Träume".

Later, she sang the stirring "My Long Life" from Virgil Thomson's The Mother of Us All, paying tribute to Susan B. Anthony by making every word and phrase count in what could be taken as a lesson in English diction for young singers. She closed the program with a tribute to Mrs. London--"If I Could Tell You" by Firestone.

Soprano Sondra Radvanovsky gave a riveting account of "Song to the Moon" from Dvorak's Russalka. Her enormous voice was just bursting with overtones and her intense involvement with the emotional content shook us to the core. 

Later in the program, with mezzo-soprano Susanne Mentzer, she performed "Mira, o Norma" from Bellini's opera of the same name. There was maximum sympathetic impact from these two incredible voices harmonizing in sound and spirit. Actually, we perceived the performance as a trio with Mr. Rutenberg's piano weaving in, around, and under the vocal lines.  It was thrilling.

Ms. Mentzer delighted the audience with "Sein wir wieder gut" from Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos--a real tribute to music as a "heilige kunst".

When soprano Ailyn Pérez took the stage, the electricity in the room was palpable. With consummate Latin fire, she performed a quartet of songs by the 20th c. Spanish composer Fernando Obradors.

"La mi sola, Laureola" began with an a capella passage for the soprano and then the gentle filigree of the piano entered. We became entranced. By the time the pair got to "Del cabello mas sutil" we were melting into the seat. "El vito" is a folk song which Obradors set in wild rhythm and it was performed with incredible vitality.  Even the gifted but unassuming collaborative pianist Ken Noda caught fire!  

This Latin charmer showed another side of her artistry with the verismo aria "Ebben! Ne Andrò Lontana" from Catalani's La Wally.

The three male singers were all bass-baritones, as was George London!  It is one thing to hear established stars up close and personal for the first time. One doesn't know what they sounded like when they were young and promising, although we are sure there were at least a few people in the room who heard James Morris and Eric Owens when they were starting out.

 It is quite another thing to hear someone young enough that we have been able to observe the growth of their artistry.  Such is the case with Brandon Cedel who just keeps getting better and better. Even at the very lowest part of his range, his voice is exciting. But there is no sacrifice of flexibility as he demonstrated in Count Rodolfo's aria "Vi ravviso, o luoghi ameni" from Bellini's La sonnambula.

Later, he performed the folksong "Boatmen's Dance", set by Aaron Copland; the performance was marked by lively personality, good variety of dynamics, and such fine English diction that not a single word was lost.  It was fun!  And just looking at Mr. Noda's face told us that he was sharing the fun and showing it through his nimble fingers.

Another bass-baritone to perform was Eric Owens, who always gives a splendid performance. Don Ruy Gomez de Silva's aria "Infelice! E tuo credevi" from Verdi's Ernani was given an expansive reading with Mr. Owens employing all the depth and breadth of his instrument in a show of intimidating aristocratic force.

His second choice was the "Chanson à Boire" from Ravel's song cycle Don Quichotte à Dulcinée. His bibulous performance began while Mr. Rutenberg was still shuffling the pages of the piano score and the audience loved it.  

A medley of songs from M. Leigh's Man of La Mancha was so magnificently performed by the venerable James Morris that we were finally able to "accept" him as someone other that Wotan. We never had the opportunity to hear him in his youth but we heard him as Wotan so many times that we had trouble imagining him portraying any other character.  But his rich voice and compelling stage presence made him totally convincing as Don Quixote. We loved it!

There was one charming bagatelle that we must mention.-- Mr. Rutenberg on the treble side of the piano and Mr. Noda on the bass side performing Tchaikovsky's own arrangement of "The Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy" from The Nutcracker Suite.

What a celebration! A celebration of George London's legacy, a celebration of a mutually beneficial partnership, a celebration of Nora London's dedication, a celebration of vocal and pianistic merit, a celebration of "heilige kunst".

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, April 6, 2016


Chris Reynolds (piano), David Hyde Pierce, Abigail Levis, Hal Cazalet, Lauren Worsham, and Bryce Pinkham

There was, as usual, lots of dry humor in Steven Blier's account of his childhood fascination with Gilbert and Sullivan.  Last night's New York Festival of Song Spring Gala at the Weill Recital Hall of Carnegie Hall offered patrons the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear Broadway stars joyfully tackle duets and ensembles from several comic operas composed by that incredibly gifted writing team.

Writing during the Victorian period, Gilbert's librettos satirized the political and social constructs of that epoch. The stories treat the most absurd situations as if they were normal, turning the world upside-down--hence the title of that marvelous film Topsy-Turvy. Sullivan wrote the most singable melodies, tunes that get inside the ear and brain and never let go.

When one thinks of marvelous writing teams in America one thinks immediately of Rogers and Hammerstein.  In England, one thinks of Gilbert and Sullivan. We have written often about how difficult it is to set the English language. Serious works often appear deadly and boring, without much vocal line. Comic or ironic works seem to lend themselves better to musical involvement.  Think Cole Porter and Steven Sondheim.

As Maestro Blier so aptly pointed out, most of G&S' comic operas deal with the strange laws and customs that keep lovers apart and the clever ways the characters get around the law.  With his marvelous sense of humor he pointed out that Nanki-Poo in The Mikado would never wind up with Katisha because "tenors don't marry contraltos". It does seem that each and every one of their operas has some peculiarly absurd--but logically absurd--solution to the problem that results in a happy ending and a happy audience.

Last night's happy audience enjoyed selections from The Mikado, H.M.S. Pinafore, Iolanthe, Ruddigore, and Princess Ida. There was no printed program so we will rely on our memory to share a few of the very special moments.

Mezzo-soprano Abigail Levis was hilarious as Mad Margaret in Ruddigore, being brought down from her mania by the safe word "Basingstoke". Mr. Blier's hilarious contribution was the joke that "the portraits of the disapproving ancestors could be removed to the Frick--where no one would ever see them".

The three gentlemen of the cast--David Hyde Pierce, Hal Cazalet, and Bryce Pinkham had a great time with the cross-dressing scene in Princess Ida, which they performed solely with acting and without benefit of costume changes.

Soprano Lauren Worsham was delightful in the trio from H.M.S. Pinafore as she turns Sir Joseph Porter's lesson in class distinction around to suit her own romantic ideals. And when Mr. Pierce sang the famous number about his rise to Admiral of the Queen's Navy, the rest of the ensemble indulged in some hilarious hand-jive in unison.

Accompanying the singers were Maestro Blier himself, assisted by Chris Reynolds, whose playing we enjoyed so much at a prior NYFOS event.

It was an altogether charming evening! Our only reservation was the sporadic use of scores.  One might have hoped that the cast would have memorized the material.

(c) meche kroop

Sunday, April 3, 2016


The cast of Léo Delibes' Le roi l'a dit at Manhattan School of Music

We never get to see the Sun King Louis XIV onstage but he is the engine driving the deliriously silly plot of Léo Delibes' 1873 operetta presented for the past four nights at Manhattan School of Music. A golden medallion of his royal visage adorns the reception room in the home of Le Marquis de Moncontour, who has earned an audience with the King by capturing a stray parrot.

The work itself is like a meringue. Beaten just right, you get a delectable confection. Beaten too little and there is no shape; beaten excessively and things get nasty. The team of Director Dona D. Vaughn and Music Director of the Senior Opera Theater/Conductor Jorge Parodi are so incredibly effective that we wonder why the revered Metropolitan Opera cannot do such honor to the operas they choose to present.

This piece of fluff is a period piece and the entire production team gave us exactly what was intended--a gentle satire using stock characters to poke fun at the aristocracy, arranged marriages, duels, clever servants outwitting their masters, class distinctions, yearning for power, and awe of those in "superior positions".

The work itself is less than two hours in length; reading the plot summary takes almost as long! But the ending brings joy to the Moncontour household; the two marriageable daughters get the husbands they want, the two disdained suitors chosen by the parents get frightened off after a mock duel, the clever servant girl Javotte gets to spend her life with Benoit, the sweetheart from her village, and the Marquis and Marquise can stop quarreling. They are happy. We are happy.

The big joke is the sudden Pygmalion-like transformation of Benoit; he wants to better himself and falls into a situation where the Marquis needs to produce a son to win favor from the King. Miton, the household etiquette tutor, achieves the transformation in ten lessons. Benoit, dressed to the nines, adopts the mien of arrogance and becomes thereby convincingly aristocratic.

He presses his advantage to dispatch the unwelcome suitors, to rescue the daughters from a convent, and ensure that they get the husbands they have chosen for themselves.

The libretto for this silly but pointed plot was written by Edmond Gondinet and first offered to Jacques Offenbach who was and is known for his fine hand at this sort of thing. That Delibes was equally assured at frivolity came to us as a delightful surprise. The work was a modest success in the 19th c. and was revived a few times in the 20th c. but was never before presented in the United States. 

The music is as light and tickly as champagne. Maestro Jorge Parodi took command of his fine orchestra right from the overture, comprising an opening march, followed by a lyrical theme, and then a frisky one.

But oh, those melodies! They tumbled out one after another with the entire cast doing a splendid job with their fresh young well-trained voices. Particularly lovely was the duet between Benoit, the upwardly mobile peasant (terrific tenor Philippe L'Esperance) and his sweetheart Javotte who left her village to come work for the Marquis. This role was sung by soprano Alexandra Linde, an adorable Swedish songbird, possessor of astounding coloratura skills.

Speaking of adorable, if the four daughters had not been chosen for their fine voices, we would have believed they were chosen for their looks. In ensemble, they harmonized happily. Only petite soprano Christa Dalmazio had an aria to show off her fine coloratura. The other three were sopranos Nicole Rowe and Grace Kidd, and mezzo-soprano Alanna Fraize.

The sycophantic Marquis was well portrayed by baritone Michael Gracco and the Marquise by the fine mezzo-soprano Monica Talavera.

The two desirable suitors were britches roles and soprano Eleanor Coleman and mezzo-soprano Agness Nyama made them vocally and dramatically appealing. In the second act trio with Benoit, we were astonished by the musical modernity of Delibes' writing. It sounded almost like jazz singers doing scat!

The two cast-off suitors were portrayed by baritones Nicholas Krsnich and Seok Jong Baek.

Matthew Hernandez made a fine servant to the household. As Miton, the pompous etiquette tutor, Marshall Morrow overplayed his part by half but it just added to the fun. After all, we are watching stock characters meant to utilize a very broad acting style.

The costumes by Summer Lee Jack were appropriately over the top, poking fun at the High Baroque. The set by Kate Ashton was simple but effective; there were sheer white drapes, a few pieces of period furniture, some flowers, and a screen for suitors to hide behind (of course). We spied a couple porcelain rabbits hiding under tables.

Ms. Vaughn kept the action moving at a fast pace and wisely chose to have the dialogue in English and the singing in French. French diction was fine all around, thanks to the efforts of Bénédicte Jourdois. 

We walked out smiling and humming the tunes, wondering why no one ever thought to revive this gem before. Perhaps it was chosen for its large cast, giving so many talented young singers a chance to perform. Whatever the reason, we are grateful that the always enterprising folks at Manhattan School of Music put it on stage. 

(c) meche kroop