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.

Monday, May 16, 2016


Christopher Cano, Dimitri Pittas, and Jennifer Johnson Cano

The final piece on the program of yesterday's George London recital was the duet from Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story with mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano singing the role of Maria and tenor Dimitri Pittas singing the role of Tony in "Tonight". Stephen Sondheim's words perfectly expressed the rapture of new love and Bernstein's luscious melody felt just right played by the versatile pianist Christopher Cano.

There was no encore but this was the perfect number to send the audience out happily humming. Shall we sulk because this was the end of a season of glorious recitals presented at the Morgan Library by the George London Foundation? No! We prefer to exult over our memories of this terrific season and the exciting program already set for next season, which we will reveal at the end of our review.  Hang in there!

We have been writing about Ms. Cano for at least three years now. Her fame onstage is richly deserved and well-earned. She seems to have a splendid partnership with her husband Christopher; the two share an emotional connection with each other and with the music they choose. It is always a welcome event to hear them together in recital.

The roundness of tone and fine technique have been recognized and celebrated by the Metropolitan Opera National Council, the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, and the Richard Tucker Foundation, as well as the George London Foundation. But what makes us want to stand up and sing (her praises) is her gift for storytelling. The drama is operatic in scope and makes each song a deep emotional experience for the listener.

One of our favorite Hugo Wolf songs is "Der Feuerreiter" and this is the first time there was no doubt about the malicious intention of the subject of the song and his horrific end. Mr. Cano's piano joined Ms. Cano's voice in horrifying reciprocity. We liked the change of color in the final verse.

Another of our favorite Wolf songs is the sorrowful "Das Verlassene Mägdlein" which we just heard two days ago. The artistic couple took it at a very slow tempo, suitable to the depressed state of the abandoned girl. The lighthearted "Begegnung" allowed Mr. Cano to create quite a storm in the piano.

His magic fingers were able to bring the nightingale right into the theater in "La maja y el ruiseñor", a very fine song by Enrique Granados. Ms. Cano's Spanish was just as excellent as her German.

Jonathan Dove did well in his choice of text for Three Tennyson Songs, the settings of which were far more musical than most contemporary compositions. Ms. Cano's English diction and fine phrasing made excellent sense of the text.  Our personal favorite was "The Sailor-Boy" with its A-B-A-B rhyme scheme--an exuberant tale of a young man's thirst for adventure on the high seas.

In an interesting and probably coincidental bit of programming, tenor Dimiti Pittas had as his collaborative pianist his very own wife. If the name Leah Edwards sounds familiar to you, you may have been acquainted with her through the world of gymnastics, dance, Broadway, or opera. Yesterday she wore her pianist hat and we were most pleased with her stylish performance.

We have enjoyed Mr. Pittas onstage at The Metropolitan Opera and The Santa Fe Opera. We still remember his moving performance as Macduff in an otherwise distasteful production of Verdi's Macbeth. We wish we could say that we enjoyed him as much as a lieder singer.

Not every opera singer has the requisite skills for the art song. Mr. Pittas' approach failed to take into account the size and dry acoustics of the theater at The Morgan Library. He seemed to be pushing his voice to reach a non-existent family circle! Furthermore, there was a lack of subtlety in the coloration.

The Quatre chansons of Henri Duparc are mainly fragile things requiring a lighter touch.  Perhaps the best of the four was "Le manoir de Rosamonde" in which Ms. Edwards set the frantic mood in the piano and maintained the feeling of suspense throughout.

We were unable to understand Mr. Pittas' French; our Francophone companion was able to pinpoint the deficiencies in his French pronunciation--both of which could easily be corrected.  Like many Americans he overemphasized the "r" and failed to distinguish between "a" and "o". This would not matter much on the opera stage but does matter in lieder singing where the text is crucial.

His German was better than his French but the simple songs by Brahms also demanded a lighter touch. The gossamer delicacy of "Die Mainacht" was completely overwhelmed.

We promised to give you advance notice of next year's recitals so save the dates! On October 9th, Isabel Leonard will be joined by Jared Bybee and that recital should be a major treat. The George London Competition Finals will be held February 17th of 2017 and that is an event no opera lover should miss.

Fans of Paul Appleby (of which we count ourselves one) must wait until March 5th when he will share his program with relative newcomer Sarah Mesko. April 9th will bring us Amber Wagner and Reginald Smith, Jr.

We can barely contain our excitement over getting up close and personal with these superb artists.
The dates are already on our calendar. The singers that give us so much pleasure have all been recipients of awards from The George London Foundation for Singers. The funds have been well spent!

(c) meche kroop

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