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, December 31, 2016


W.S. Gilbert (Joshua Miller), Richard D'Oyly Carte (Matthew Wages), and Arthur Sullivan (David Macaluso)
(photo by Carol Rosegg)
For us, art and music of quality are what it's all about; we confess to care not a whit for political correctness and we resent tampering with the classics.  We approached New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players' new production of The Mikado with a great deal of trepidation.

We need not have worried. Whatever offensive material that was extirpated from the original "really won't be missed". This version succeeded on every level and can be recommended without reservation. Director David Auxier's concept is a framing device that brought to mind Mike Leigh's fascinating film from 1999--Topsy Turvy--which showed the trials and tribulations that underpinned the seemingly effortless oeuvre of Gilbert and Sullivan.

Today, in similar fashion, a full year of labor and much consulting and compromising with a mostly Asian advisory board were not visible in the finished product. What the audience gets is a lengthy evening of effervescent entertainment that flew by in double time. Part of the credit goes to the prodigious talents of composer Arthur Sullivan and librettist W.S. Sullivan. The rest goes to Mr. Auxier's concept and a lot of hard, but invisible, work.

In a clever framing device, we get a glimpse of the interaction among Gilbert, Sullivan, and impresario Richard D'Oyly Carte. There are petty squabbles and negotiations plus various complaints from the members of the D'Oyly Carte company. A case of writer's block is solved when Gilbert gets knocked out by a falling sword which D'Oyly Carte has brought back from a London exhibit of Japanalia. As we recall, in the Victorian period, Great Britain was fascinated by the recent opening of trade with Japan.

The blow to Gilbert's head leads him to imagining all of the cultural inconsistencies of his own nation grafted onto a mythic Japan. The Mikado is the result. Gilbert's skill always lay in satirizing the ridiculous bureaucracy, sexual prudery and cultural inconsistencies of his time and place. Moreover he did so by skillfully using his native language in a manner that has never been equalled.

Sullivan brought to the table a banquet of musical gifts. The tunes are infinitely hummable and we dare anyone to attend without humming a few of them all the way home and on into the night and next day. His rhythms are infectious and, to appreciate his consummate compositional skills, we recommend listening to the harmonies and overlapping voices of "Young Man Despair" sung in Act I by Pooh-Bah, Nanki-Poo, and Pish-Tush--or the "merry madrigal" of Act II.

Once the prologue ends, the opera begins and scenic elements and characters from the Prologue are transformed. D'Oyly Carte becomes the ambitious Pooh-Bah (sung by baritone Matthew Wages). Sullivan becomes Lord High Executioner Ko-Ko (sung by baritone David Macaluso), and Gilbert becomes Pish-Tush (sung by baritone Joshua Miller).  The men are dressed in Victorian fashion but with Japanese fabrics and accoutrements. Gilbert carries a notebook and we are never allowed to forget that he is writing his libretto in his head.  This work, like others of Gilbert and Sullivan, examines British mores and institutions and ridicules them. It is not at all unusual in the world of opera for plots to be transposed to other countries or other epochs. It is easier to look at oneself from afar!

Tenor Daniel Greenwood made a splendid Nanki-Poo and impressed with his delivery of "A Wondering Minstrel I";  soprano Sarah Caldwell Smith made a winsome Yum-Yum, his love interest. We enjoyed her aria "The Sun Whose Rays Are All Ablaze".  It was a memorable performance, both vocally and dramatically.

The "Three Little Maids From School" trio is always a delight. Ms. Smith was joined by the lovely soprano Alexandra Haines as Peep-Bo and mezzo-soprano Amy Maude Helfer as Pitti-Sing who contributed greatly to the complicated execution plot, balancing the male voices.

Caitlin Burke brought the house down as the angry and violent Katisha, chiming in with her "daughter-in-law elect", infuriating the Mikado. There was something very touching about her softening when Ko-Ko wins her hand by singing "Willow, Tit-Willow".

Chris White electrified the proceedings with large booming tones as he related ways to "let the punishment fit the crime". He had suitably magisterial presence while keeping the humor going.

All of the singers seem to have experience in opera as well as musical theater and brought both excellent voices and convincing acting skills to the production. Mr. Auxier's direction and choreography could not have been better. The sets by Anshuman Bhatia were simple (a mountainous scene as backdrop and two shoji-screened rooms); the lighting by Benjamin Weill was dramatic.

Thursday, December 29, 2016



Holiday time generally offers two types of music--the religious and the secular.  The religious music is generally serious, like Handel's Messiah. the secular music is particularly frivolous, like "Jingle Bells" (of which we hope to hear no more). But if one is really fortunate, one gets to celebrate the holiday with a big dose of fun--thanks to Amore Opera's effervescent production of Johann Strauss II's  Die Fledermaus, which premiered in 1874 at the Theater an der Wien.

The libretto, by Karl Haffner and Richard Genee, was based on a French vaudeville play by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halevy--a very funny story about one Gabriel Eisenstein who becomes the butt of an elaborate prank instigated by his friend Falke whom he had embarrassed some time earlier with a far simpler prank that would not have satisfied for an evening's entertainment.

In Act I, we are introduced to the characters. Frau Eisenstein, a loving wife, is pestered by pleas from her saucy maid Adele who has received a letter, ostensibly from her sister, inviting her to a fabulous New Year's ball. Two splendid sopranos sang these roles to perfection with effective acting, involving us in their stories from the very beginning. Iris Karlin was totally believable as the much put-upon woman of the house who has heard every excuse in the book from Adele.

Adele was given a perfect portrayal by Haley Marie Vick--a properly over-the-top performance as she cajoled and wheedled and complained of a sick aunt. What persuades Frau Eisenstein to give her the night off?  Well, Alfredo, an Italian tenor from her past, broadly interpreted by Riad Ymeri, comes to pay court. He is in fine voice and tosses off the first few lines of every famous tenor aria. Not only does Mr. Ymeri have a fine ringing tenor, but delightful comedic skills. The loyal wife runs him off.

Herr Eisenstein (mellow baritone Matthew Ciufitelli) receives an invitation to the same ball from his friend Falke; although he is due at the local jail to serve a brief sentence,  he is lured to postpone serving the sentence by the promise of meeting beautiful women at the ball. He is told to assume a faux French identity. 

Alfredo returns and Frau E.'s resistance weakens. When the prison warden Frank (the fine baritone Jay Gould) shows up to cart Herr E. off to jail, he mistakes Alfredo for the prospective prisoner. To spare her reputation he goes along, but not without pressing his advantage and securing several farewell kisses!

Falke lets Frau E. know that her husband will be at the ball and tells her to come and observe, to wear a mask and pretend to be a Hungarian Countess. Company President and Director Nathan Hull made a fine Falke.

Act II is a show-stopper. Prince Orlofsky, a bored Russian aristocrat, has agreed to host the ball to watch the "entertainment" --watching Herr E. posing as a Marquis running into his chambermaid wearing his wife's gown and posing as an actress! Their confrontation gives Ms. Vick an opportunity to deliver the sparkling aria "My dear Marquis".  Even more entertaining is watching Herr E. courting his own wife who is masquerading as a Hungarian Countess.  This gives Ms. Karlin an opportunity to deliver a stunning czardas. She is equally believable in both roles.

And mezzo-soprano Hayden DeWitt, who specializes in trouser roles, gets a chance to deliver the famous "Chac'un a son gout" with great style.  As if this were not sufficiently entertaining, soprano Michelle Pretto was a guest artist who sang "Meine Lippen Sie kussen so heiss" and sang it wonderfully well. (The aria comes from Franz Lehar's Giuditta which wasn't premiered until 1934, but is so beautiful that we may overlook that anachronism.)

What we could not overlook was an interpolated "ballet" that was so badly choreographed and performed that we will decline to mention the guilty parties. It was supposed to be Russian ballet and was neither Russian nor ballet. They have spoiled "The Blue Danube" for us! 

Adele's sister Sally was performed by Sarah Daniels. It was quite a moment when Sally is shocked to see Adele, who learns that Sally did not invite her to Prince Orlofsky's ball.

Eisenstein's blundering lawyer Dr. Blind was portrayed by Jeffrey Kurnit.
Confusion and mistaken identities are all resolved in Act III and everything ends happily. In a non-singing role we had the beloved David Seatter enacting the bibulous jailer Frosch who rivals Frank in his intoxication. There were jokes aplenty and some of them topical. We will not spoil them for you because we hope you will experience this effervescent production for yourselves. It is playing at the Theatre at St. Jean's through January 1st with a special evening on New Year's Eve in which you may hear the same excellent cast that we heard.

The orchestra was conducted by Maestro Douglas Martin. The gorgeous period costumes were designed by Ghislaine Sabiti. The simple sets by Richard Cerullo served the production well and were lit by Lauren Bremen.  

Most impressive was Mr. Hull's direction. Every bit of stage business was motivated and made dramatic sense. Nothing interfered with the sense of fun.

We personally would have preferred to have heard the work in German. The translation was quite good and there were sufficient rhymes to satisfy the ear.  BUT, it is funnier in German and the German language is easier to comprehend. The quality of the articulation was variable and we missed a lot of the funnier lines which lay in the upper register. The chorus sounded even muddier.

Let it be known that the very busy Amore Opera is also presenting Hansel and Gretel in English for a few more matinee performances. It is worth knowing that the Theatre at St. Jean's has superb sight lines and your children will not be crawling onto your laps.

(c) meche kroop

Tuesday, December 20, 2016


Raul Melo, Markos Simopoulos, Steven Gaertner, Marsha Thompson, Anias Mejias, Christina Parnell, Nicholas Brownlee, Jennifer Feinstein, Caroline Worra, Philip Cokorinos, Kirsten Chambers, Pretty Yendy, MaryAnn Stewart, and Lauren Flanigan

It has been 22 years since superstar soprano Lauren Flanigan began hosting Comfort Ye, a Christmas recital to raise money for The West Side Campaign Against Hunger. There is always a roster of famous artists on the program and, recently, some of the young artists who have participated in her Music and Mentoring House. The recital was held at The Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew. Music Director was the esteemed Kamal Khan.

This year's lineup could not have been more exciting.  For three hours, the audience was held in thrall by an incredibly varied program and all different types of voices, everyone putting out their very best, as one tends to do for friends. And who is better at making and keeping friends than the warm and generous Ms. Flanigan.

To say that her performance of Lady Macbeth's aria "Vieni, t'affretta" was riveting would be an understatement. Ms. Flanigan's prodigious vocal gifts are matched by a deep understanding of Verdi's anti-heroine who uses every skill and emotional nuance to drive her husband to murder. We cannot stop thinking about this deeply felt and realized performance.

In a sea of superb performances, two stood out as being perfect--a word we rarely use. Two sopranos at the absolute top of their game, possessing every necessary attribute, delivered unforgettable performances,. Nadine Sierra sang "Regnava nel silencio" from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. She is a master at bel canto and gave us chills. Our benchmark for a top performance is reached when we feel along with the singer and can see what she sees. Ms. Sierra made us see the ghost!

Just as wonderful was soprano Pretty Yende who performed "Una voce poco fa" from Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia, which we normally prefer when sung by a mezzo. A mark of her success was that it sounded as if Rossini wrote it just for her. The extensive embellishments were created by her with pianist Kamal Khan, who played so magnificently for all the singers. Ms. Yendy lives up to her first name but her good looks are enhanced by her smile which lights up her face and added to her characterization of Rosina.  This Rosina is more playful than spunky and the embellishments she devised with Mr. Khan were wildly playful.

Two promising young artists from Music and Mentoring House made a fine impression. Soprano Christina Parnell sang "Porgi amor" from Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro and baritone Markos Simopoulos sang "Avant de quitter ces lieux" from Gounod's Faust, in fine French. The voices were healthy and suggested a fine potential.  What needs to be layered onto that is the ability to create a character with vocal color and the use of the body.

Several other performances impressed us. Bass Nicholas Brownlee performed "Ves' tabor spit" from Rachmaninoff's one act opera Aleko. His vocal colors were so varied that we understood what he was singing about without understanding the Russian!  Now that's impressive.

Another thing that impresses us is a singer who can be understood in English, which is our least favorite language for the voice.  Tenor Aaron Blake sounded terrific in the program opener "Comfort Ye" from Handel's Messiah. He has a nice ping-y quality to his voice and admirable technique for the fioritura. Soprano Caroline Worra similarly made every word count in "Ain't It a Pretty Night" from Carlisle Floyd's Susannah, which we liked far more than we usually do,

Baritone Larry Woodard accompanied himself on the piano for Maury Yeston's "I Don't Want to Rock and Roll".  We got every word!  Not so the case when he accompanied Carol Skarimbas who sang the very funny Cole Porter song "Operatic Pills".  The text is so clever and we really wanted to hear every word!

We wished we could hear the entire opera when soprano Anias Mejias sang "Merce dilette amiche" from I vespri siciliani by Verdi.  We loved the bouncy bolero rhythm and her facility with the fioritura.

Soprano Marsha Thompson gave a dramatic performance of "Tacea la notte placida" from Verdi's Il Trovatore; she was especially fine in the cabaletta with some arresting embellishments.

Also from Verdi we enjoyed soprano MaryAnn Stewart's performance of "Pace, pace mio dio." We were just thinking how much we love that opera and wondering why no one does it, when Keith Chambers, of New Amsterdam Opera, gave us some advance notice of his concert version of the opera coming up March 24th.  We can scarcely wait!

Soprano Kirsten Chambers, so well remembered from her Fidelio with the same New Amsterdam Opera, treated us to the "Liebestod" from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. 

Verismo was not shortchanged. Stephen Gaertner is a true Verdi baritone and performed "Zaza, piccolo zingara" from Leoncavallo's Zaza. Tenor Raul Melo has never sounded better than he did in his performance of "Vesti la giubba" from Pagliacci by the same composer. Every line was milked for emotional intensity and we loved it.

We are not sure which fach Mascagni intended for Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana but "Voi lo sapete" sounded great from mezzo-soprano Jennifer Feinstein and every phrase seemed dramatically motivated.

As is customary, we heard several selections from the Ebony Ecumenical Ensemble, directed by Bettye Forbes. Beside "This Little Light of Mine" and "Go Tell It On the Mountain", we enjoyed an African piece we'd never heard.

Before closing with "O Holy Night", sung by the entire company, Ms. Flanigan treated us to a Leonard Bernstein song "A Julia de Burgos" about the bipolar poet laureate of Puerto Rico who died homeless--taking us right back to the raison d'etre of the evening.

It was a win-win evening. Singers got to show their stuff, the audience got some ravishing entertainment, and the homeless will get coats, blankets, and groceries donated by the audience.  Is everybody happy?  We think so!

(c) meche kroop

Monday, December 19, 2016


A Jazz Nativity presented by Chelsea Opera

We are very close to the Winter Solstice; darkness comes early.  So...what do we need?  We need light!  When do we need it? We need it now!  And last night, at Christ and Saint Stephen's Church, Chelsea Opera gave it to us. This annual event is growing too large for the venue. Extra chairs were squeezed in to allow everyone to share in the light. The title of the program "Bending Toward the Light...a Jazz Nativity" is particularly appropriate.

There was something for everyone, including a tap-dancing Balthazar (or was it Melchior or Caspar?). There was a prologue and an epilogue read by Charles Osgood. There were readings from The Gospels. There was a scene of the nativity with Mary (Amy London) and Joseph (Pete McGuiness). There was a powerful Archangel (Brenda Feliciano) and a couple Guardian Angels (Dylan Pramuk and Anne Phillips herself, who also composed, arranged, and conducted the piece). Producers were Ms. Phillips and Leonarda Priore of Chelsea Opera.

Direction was by Beth Ann Kennedy, who kept thing moving along swiftly. Choreography was by Sasha Spielvogel; lighting was by Alexander Bartenieff, and the colorful costuming was by Susan Falon. The evening honored Ms. Phillips' late husband, tenor saxophonist Bob Kindred who passed on this year.

Kindred Spirits (wonderful name!) was created by Mr. Kindred and Ms. Phillips to provide musical education to children (wonderful goal!).  What a legacy! Among its projects is the Children's Jazz Choirs in which inner-city children learn American songs and give concert performances accompanied by New York's finest jazz musicians.

Speaking of whom, we heard a generous sample in the persons of pianist Adam Asarnow, trumpeteer Charlie Caranicas, trombonist Art Baron, and saxophonists Scott Robinson and Jon Gordon. Percussion was provided by Tim Horner on drums and Candido on conga drums. There was a splendid bass solo by Dean Johnson.

The Three Kings bore artistic gifts; they were portrayed by Paquito D'Rivera who played the clarinet like nobody's business and Ingrid Jensen who did the same on the trumpet, and the tap dancing Maurice Chestnut who was joined at one point by Max Pollak.

A lovely "Silent Night" was arranged by Ms. Phillips and performed by Mr. Robinson. Shepherds David Gordon and Jesse Malgieri sang the original "One Star" by Ms. Phillips, who also arranged "Angels We Have Heard On High" for the company. 

We particularly enjoyed young Emily Gu Siegel who sang  "Bending Towards the Light"; Mr. Kindred wrote the music and Ms. Phillips provided the lyrics, along with Henry Timm.

An original scat chorus by Roy Kral for "What Child Is This?" earned our aural attention with its interesting harmonies and nonsense syllables which somehow came across as a whole new language.  Another highlight was a piano solo by Mr. Asarnow that was composed by Dave and Iola Brubeck for his "Fiesta de la Posada"--it was filled with spirit and rhythm. It is interesting to note that Mr. Brubeck was involved in the birth of this project 30 years ago.  Since that time, the work has been performed around the United States, several venues around New York City including Birdland, and was performed in Spanish at B.B. King's.

What more could one ask than a spiritual celebration cum jazz jam session, giving all the attendees a bit of light in these dark days. Trenta anni piu!"

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, December 17, 2016


Joyce DiDonato with Il Pomo d'Oro   (photo by Chris Lee)

We like concert programs with a theme and we liked the theme chosen by mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato for her recital at Carnegie Hall. The first half of the program was dedicated to War with the second half dedicated to Peace. Ms. DiDonato is not just an artist of consummate musicality, and not just a glamorous superstar, but also a special person with humanitarian values. Her concept for the evening, of which she was Executive Producer, was the achievement of harmony through music. She herself wrote a moving essay for the program book.

The program, directed by Ralf Pleger, (who directed Ms. DiDonato in the documentary film The Florence Foster Jenkins Story) was designed to take us on a journey from darkness to light, from chaos to order, from anger to joy. If our joyful and peaceful mood at the end of the concert was any indication,  she achieved her goal. We hope others felt the same but our companion shared our view that she was "preaching to the converted". We can think of several people who needed this journey and weren't there!   Nevertheless, it made for a compelling evening.

Accompanying Ms. DiDonato was a group of musicians whose artistry matched her own. This was our first time hearing Il Pomo d"Oro and we hope it won't be our last. The group was led by conductor and harpsichordist Maxim Emelyanychev; he is young but confident and effective. Comprising the group were a string section, joined by a trio of flutists, an oboe, a bassoon, an archlute, and a viola da gamba. Anna Fusek, a violinist, played a sopranino recorder with such outstanding skill that she took our breath away.

The occasion for this unforgettable solo happened to be our favorite piece on the program--"Angelletti che cantata" from Handel's Rinaldo--the scene in which Almirena sings of her love for the eponymous hero. The virtuoso playing of the recorder sounded to us like a chorus of nightingales.

Another aria from Rinaldo--"Lascio ch'io pianga"--expressed another aspect of Almirena's character, her sadness in captivity. Ms. DiDonato colored her voice so differently that we wished we might have heard the two arias backo-to-back but they were in different sections.  She sang this melancholy melody to great effect.

One might think that we favor the works with which we are familiar, but we also greatly enjoyed two works we'd never heard; it was Ms. DiDonato's scholarship that unearthed two forgotten 18th c. operas by two Neapolitan composers. Leonardo Leo wrote L"Andromaca in 1742, based on the tragedy by Racine about Hector's widow, slain in the Trojan War by Achilles.  "Prendi quel ferro, o barbaro" had a fast angry section followed by a lyrical sad section and Ms. DiDonato made excellent use of variations in color and dynamics.

Leo's student Niccolo Jommelli wrote Attilio Regolo in 1753, a setting of a text by Metastasio. We heard Ms. DiDonato's expression of pure joy in Attilia's aria in which she welcomes her father--"Par che di giubilo"--and welcomes him with incredibly expressive fioritura, at which this singer is a master.

There were a couple other arias by Handel and Purcell and a piece by Arvo Part that fit right in but, for our taste, nothing equalled the above-mentioned works.  However, one thing surpassed them.  That was the encore--"Morgen" by Richard Strauss, which was taken at a slow tempo and delivered pianissimo with intense feeling.  We are not likely to hear it sung that well again; we heard it differently, as a song of hope and promise.

We suppose we are obliged to say something about the other elements of the evening. Ms. DiDonato's gowns were gorgeous and she wore them well.  Her bare feet were barely visible but we wondered if that was why her singing was so "grounded". The face and neck paint seemed unnecessary.

For our taste, the video projections by Yousef Iskandar were distracting and added nothing to our pleasure. We did not like Henning Blum's lighting at all.  For much of the time, banks of lights aimed at the audience were blindingly bright.

As far as the choreography and dancing by Manuel Palazzo, it seemed superfluous. He has an attractive chest and wore his floor length skirt well but the movements were the same old post-Martha Graham tropes that have been boring us at modern dance recitals for years. He did not have much to do but occasional writhing and twirling and an interaction with Ms. DiDonato's cape.

We will take our singing "neat"!

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, December 14, 2016


Ta'u Pupu'a and Michelle Trovato as Canio and Nedda in Pagliacci
Last night we heard a pair of old chestnuts roasted into new life by Martha Cardona Opera. We cannot recall being as deeply affected by other productions of this pair of verismo operas--known as Cav and Pag. There is something about being up close and personal that provides dramatic and vocal thrills, as long as the voices are good.  And the voices we heard last night were WAY beyond good.  They were GREAT! Artistic Director Daniel Cardona has a knack for finding artists with big voices and casting them appropriately.

With such superb artistry onstage and an excellent orchestra, we are content to sacrifice elaborate costuming and sets. Let us give credit to Maestro Gregory Buchalter for developing the orchestral skills of his fine musicians and guiding them through an intense performance. We particularly enjoyed the contributions of the uncredited harpist, the flute, and the cellos. The drinking song of Cavalleria Rusticana was accompanied by some fine pizzicato in the string section, setting us up for the tragedy to come.

Let us also give credit to Chorus Master William Hicks for providing crisp clean choral singing. And finally, let us credit David O. Roberts for his Costume Design. We know the budget for costumes was small but Mr. Roberts always makes much out of little and what he provided was effective.

Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana is usually paired with Ruggero Leoncavallo's Pagliacci. The former takes place in a small town in Sicily in the 19th c. and the latter takes place in a small town in Calabria in the 1860's.  Both deal with Old World passions and morality. In our "whatever" generation, it seems strange that people killed each other out of sexual jealousy--but they still do, as one can see in the daily newspapers!

It likewise seems strange that women who violated codes of sexual morality would become societal outcasts; but one must look no further than the Middle-East for daily examples of honor killings, which is far worse. Only in a free society can women enjoy their sexual freedom. Let us not take that for granted.

Since we gave a lengthy review of Cardona's production of Mascagni's masterpiece exactly one month ago (review is archived and available through the search bar), let us just mention the performances of new cast members, before moving on to Pagliacci.

Soprano Cheryl Warfield's emotional intensity and ample tone made for a fine performance as Santuzza, the woman seduced and abandoned by Turridu, sung by Ta'u Pupu'a who was sensational last month and has only grown in the role, which he will be performing with Cedar Rapids Opera next month.

Taking over the role of Mama Lucia was mezzo-soprano Milica Nikcevic whom we first reviewed three years ago at Dell'Arte Opera. It is exciting to witness the development of a substantial voice like hers. She created a character who was sympathetic to Santuzza but, appropriately, far more concerned with her son who misbehaved with a married woman.

Baritone SeungHyeon Baek reprised his role as Alfio, the betrayed husband and he has truly made the role his own. We could not imagine a better performance.

Natalie Rose Havens appeared once more as the seductive Lola who wants to have her cake and eat it too. She deceives her husband but acts holier-than-thou toward Santuzza. 

The libretto by Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti is a powerful one, adapted from a short story by Giovanni Verga. The storytelling is concise and powerful, keeping one on the edge of one's seat. The tragedy is foreshadowed as the opera begins by the mention of blood over Lola's door.

The tragedy of Pagliacci is also foreshadowed, when Canio tells the villagers that he would not tolerate advances of other men toward his wife Nedda, whom he had rescued from near starvation. Leoncavallo wrote both libretto and music. In this opera, life imitates art and commedia del'arte is anything but a comedy.

A visiting troupe of performers include the leader Canio (who portrays Pagliaccio in their performance), his unhappy wife Nedda (who portrays Colombina onstage), the envious and deformed Tonio who lusts after Nedda and seeks revenge when she rejects him (playing the servant Taddeo in the performance), and the clown Beppe, (who portrays Arlecchino in the performance).

Nedda's real life innamorato is Silvio, who wants Nedda to elope with him. When the actions of the commedia performance take an ugly turn, Silvio is drawn into the action and tragedy ensues.

The singers were all splendid. Mr. Pupu'a reappeared as Canio and utilized his powerful tenor in the anguished "Vesti la giubba", generating sympathy for the character--even as we know he will lose it in front of the audience when he forgets he is acting in a play. 

Michelle Trovato used her amply proportioned soprano to portray Nedda. Her yearning for the freedom that birds enjoy in "Stridono lassu" was touching and her ambivalence about leaving Canio for Silvio could break one's heart. We greatly enjoyed her commedia-style acting as Colombina.

SeungHyeon Baek was perfect as the vengeful Tonio--so different from the upstanding character he portrayed in Cavalleria Rusticana. We have been writing about Mr. Baek for a couple of years and have enjoyed witnessing his artistic growth.

Baritone Colin Levin made a fine Silvio but the big surprise of the evening was Mexican tenor Humberto Borboa who stepped into the role of Beppe on short notice and wowed the audience with his portrayal. He has a lovely timbre to his voice and delivered Arlecchino's melodic serenade to generous audience applause.

Martha Cardona Opera has come a long way since we began writing about them and there are great plans for the future in terms of a full production with sets. We are watching out for their Hansel und Gretel in the Spring, which will be performed both in German and in English.  Regular readers won't have to guess which one we will choose to attend!

The company has achieved 501-C3 status as a non-profit and would welcome your contributions of whatever size or type.  www.marthacardonaopera.com. Christmas presents are particularly invited. Spare your sister that ugly sweater and spare your brother that unwearable tie! Make a donation instead to support the art form you love! And get a deduction on your taxes as a bonus.

(c) meche kroop

Tuesday, December 13, 2016


Thomas West, Lauren Worsham, Amanda Lynn Bottoms, Joshua Jeremiah, Alex Mansoori, Mikaela Bennett, Donna Breitzer, Joshua Breitzer

Every year we initiate the holiday season with a trip uptown to Henry's Restaurant for NYFOS After Hours in a very special evening of "Yuletide Songs by Jewish Composers". The eponymous Henry has a warm welcome for the mostly Upper West Side audience who gather for some yuletide bonhomie. He spoke of inclusivity in this cross-cultural celebration of Christmas from the Jewish point of view.

The song that most exemplifies this aspect is "Candle in My Window" by Levitsky/Miller, hilariously performed by Joshua Jeremiah. Like most of the songs, it is tuneful and has highly clever lyrics that keep the audience in stitches with self-recognition.

Another very funny song was "My Simple Christmas Wish" by David Friedman, broadly performed by Alex Mansoori. "Don't Let Gramma Cook Christmas Dinner" by Roy Zimmerman was given an adorable performance by Joshua Breitzer and Lauren Worsham.

"Winter Wonderland" by Felix Bernard/Richard B. Smith is not inherently funny, but when sung by two male lovebirds (Mr. Mansoori and Mr. Jeremiah, accompanied by clarinetist Alan Kay, it became campy and funny. (In ten years, it probably won't be funny as audiences get more accustomed to homosexual marriage.)

A lot of the humor was Yiddish and we got the drift, even if we didn't understand the words. "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" never struck us as hilarious but there is something about the language that made us laugh, especially as sung by Mr. Breitzer, accompanied by Mr. Kay on the clarinet--the minor key Klezmer style riffs counterposed against the funny tale made it even funnier.

"Baby It's Cold Outside" by Frank Loesser was translated into fractured Yiddish by one Binyumen Schachter and performed by Donna and Joshua Breitzer and we really wanted to understand how he was trying to get her to stay and what kind of excuses she was making. Those who understood the lyrics had a distinct advantage, but just looking at the facial expressions and body language was funny. Steven Blier at the piano filled us in on some very funny details about the composer and his wife whom he called "the evil of two Loessers". We do so enjoy a good pun!

Not all the songs were funny. We enjoyed a very special moment when Mikaela Bennett sang "O Holy Night" by Adolphe Adam--in English and in French. It is not a song that generally brings tears to our eyes but there was something about the timbre of her voice and the phrasing that affected us deeply.

This versatile artist can do a fine torch song, as evidenced by her delivery of Frank Loesser's "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve".

Amanda Lynn Bottoms was superb in "The Christmas Song" by Mel Tormé--also known as "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire" and we also enjoyed her fine delivery of "Let it Snow" by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn.

Thomas West excelled in "Silver Bells" from Jay Livingston/Ray Evans' The Lemon Drop Kid. Mr. Blier related that it is the song of an outsider, perhaps a Jew hearing the Salvation Army bells and thinking about all the poor people who couldn't afford to celebrate Christmas.

Composer Andrew Lippa, a neighbor of Mr. Blier's took the stage to sing his own composition "A Little Love" from You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

Finally, three cheers for Lauren Worsham's reincarnation of Eartha Kitt singing the delightful "Santa Baby" with the men popping up from behind the low wall at the bar to provide a back-up quartet. We wondered whose idea that was. It was memorable! 
The entire cast joined forces for Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" with a lovely humming chorus--and an encore of Johnny Marks' "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree".

We walked out into the chilly midnight air feeling warmed by the fellowship and the splendid entertainment. We will have to wait another year to hear these songs again but we won't have to wait more than a month for more NYFOS. There will be two concerts in January to warm our heart.

(c) meche kroop


Jin-Xiang Yu
Celeste Frazier
Melissa Kornacki

Viktoriya Vita Koreneva
Raymon Geis

Last night we heard the performances of the finalists in the Lyra New York International Vocal Competition, adjudicated by Conductor Daniel Beckwith, Artists Manager Peter Randsman, and voice teacher Judith Fredricks, Artistic Director of Opera New York.

Fifteen artists were heard and First Prize in the Art Song Division was awarded to soprano Ji-Xiang Yu whose melismatic singing in Messiaen's challenging "Acteon de Graces" showed off a beautiful line and fine French diction.

First Prize in the Oratorio Division was won by mezzo-soprano Melissa Kornacki who wisely selected the "Agnus Dei" from Rossini's Messe Solennelle, to show off her highly operatic sound and gorgeous vocal line. Her deep resonant voice made the most of it and we would love to hear her as one of Rossini's mezzo heroines.

In the much larger Opera Division, first prize was awarded to soprano Celeste Fraser for her lovely delivery of "Song to the Moon" from Dvorak's Russalka. "Ah! Fuggi il traditor", Dona Elvira's aria from Mozart's Don Giovanni received an intense performance.

Second prize was given to mezzo-soprano Viktoria Vita Koreneva, who gave a very committed performance of "Adieu forets" from Tchaikovsky's Joan of Arc, in Russian of course. She also sang "Je suis gris" from Massenet's Cherubin.

Tenor Raymon Geis took third prize for a most expressive and affecting performance of "Gott, welch dunkel hier" from Beethoven's Fidelio. He has a pleasing timbre and a lot of power to offer.

We wish that more prizes had been offered.  We particularly enjoyed tenor Kyuyoung Lee's easy and joyful performance of "Di miei bolenti spiriti" from Verdi's La Traviata.

Soprano Chan Yang Lim's bright soprano added to her believable performance of "Stridono Lassu" from Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci.

Michael Fennelly did his customary fine job of accompanying.

This was the first of what we hope will be an annual competition, one of a very few that imposes no age limits.

© meche kroop

Monday, December 12, 2016


Nicholas Tamagna, Jessica Gould, Christopher Morrongiello, Gabriel Sloyer, Kate Grimes, Ayo Haynes, Ezra Knight, and David Arrow

It has been four centuries since the death of William Shakespeare and his work is still providing ample fuel for classes in English literature and playwriting as well as fodder for theaters worldwide.

Leave it to Salon/Sanctuary Concerts to come up with a highly unusual evening that was both entertaining and illuminating. The Floor of Heaven--Scenes from a Merchant and Songs of his Venice was a unique entertainment interspersing scenes from The Bard's controversial play The Merchant of Venice with music from that period.

Erica Gould adapted the script and directed the piece along with Deborah Houston who also devised the period appropriate costuming.  Soprano Jessica Gould lent her lovely voice to the music and also did the musical research, along with lutenist Christopher Morrongiello. There is a big difference between art produced by a "committee" and art produced by synergy. This work belonged to the latter category.

Although knowing the play in advance would have given one an edge, the synopsis in the program was sufficient to appreciate the work. Five actors doubled in about twice as many roles. Every word uttered came directly from Shakespeare.

In the role of Bassanio, Gabriel Sloyer stood out by virtue of his somewhat contemporary acting style which did not in any way interfere with the Elizabethan dialogue but made the action clear.

Kate Grimes made a wonderfully believable Portia, especially when she appeared in the courtroom as the wise doctor who solves an insoluble problem. We love the fact that Shakespeare wrote a female character with both strength and softness.

Ezra Knight was magnificently compelling as the moneylender Shylock. We are not color blind and the fact that Shylock and his daughter Jessica were both cast with Afro-American actors added greatly to our insight into Shakespeare's treatment of "the outsider". We left deep in thought about the way our society treats "the other", making this work particularly relevant at this time.

As his guilt ridden daughter Jessica who can no longer get joy from music, Ayo Haynes turned in a fine performance. Her love for the Christian Lorenzo gave us plenty to think about what it means to live in a society less liberal than our own.

David Arrow portrayed the wealthy merchant Antonio, so kind and loving to his friends but so scornful toward "the Jew". We gave thought to how otherwise fine people can be corrupted by societal values.

Our only criticism of the evening was that the actors were "on the book", somewhat impairing the dramatic impact.

The music we heard did not come from the play but was written in that epoch. Selections were chosen to amplify the spoken word.  Christopher Morrongiello has a soft touch on the lute that was unusually pleasing to our ear (if not to Shylock's guilty daughter)!

We do so love duets! Although most people who enjoy "Pur ti miro, pur ti godo" believe it was written by Monteverdi, Ms. Gould's scholarship tells us this is not the case. Monteverdi's death left his final opera L'Incoronazione di Poppea unfinished and this gorgeous duet from that opera was written by one Benedetto Ferrari, who probably lifted it from one of his own operas, Il pastor regio.  Whoever wrote it, we loved it and were saddened to learn that none of Ferrari's operas have survived.

Another delightful duet was Thomas Campion's "Come cheerful day". Ms. Gould's soprano harmonized beautifully with the countertenor of Nicholas Tamagna.

Our favorite aria was "Ohime, se tanto amate" written by Salomone Rossi, a Jewish composer of that period whose excellent music delighted both Christian and Jew in 17th c. Venice. We have heard his music before at Salon/Sanctuary Concerts and have always enjoyed it.

We have been slowly learning about Early Music and tonight we focused on the use of the dissonant interval of a second. It took a while to take that in but now we love it.

There was one curiosity on the program--there was an Ashkenazi Hebrew chant from 16th c. Venice entitled "Ma'oz Tsur" which Ms. Gould performed with an Italian accent.  Hmmm.  We hope it was an authentic Venetian accent and, if we know Ms. Gould, it probably was!

(c) meche kroop

Sunday, December 11, 2016


Manhattan School of Music Junior Opera Theater

So much youth!  So much talent!  Last night at Manhattan School of Music we got a taste of Mozart Magic, presented by Catherine Malfitano who coordinated and directed an evening of ensembles extracted from several of Mozart's operas.

We are always impressed when esteemed singers pass along their vocal and stage wisdom to the next generation and we applaud the Divine Ms. M. for being among this elite group, along with Martina Arroyo and Marilyn Horne.

She assembled 26 promising Juniors and created an ensemble that worked amazingly well together. Dressed all in black, they were still able to create believable characterizations by means of posture and gesture. Although a particular singer may be asked to sing a different role in a subsequent aria, and the same role may be given to two different singers, there was never any doubt about who was whom.

In place of sets, the artists themselves created the sets with their bodies.  The most outstanding example of this was when Count Almaviva uncovers Cherubino--not under a tablecloth, but under the bodies of the members of the ensemble. This is imaginative directing at its finest.

We saw scenes from Le Nozze di Figaro, Idomeneo, Don Giovanni, Cosi fan tutte, La finta giardiniera, and Il re pastore.  We enjoyed them all and look forward to witnessing the future artistic development of these promising young artists.

Music director and accompanist was the always excellent Eric Sedgwick.

In our very own operatic gluttony, we could not bear missing the other cast of La Clemenza di Tito and wrapped up our evening with another dose of Mozart.  Mozart is like champagne--you can have too much (we did) but you can never get enough (we didn't).  If you want to read about the terrific Tito, vivid Vitellia, and splendid Sesto, please return to the original review below for an addendum. Just scroll down.  You know how!

(c) meche kroop


Kidon Choi, Maria Lacey, Sunyeop Hwang, Maestro Joseph Colaneri, Laura Alley, Heather Jones, Pavel Suliandziga, and Danielle Beckvermit

The second entry in our weekend of Mozart was a winning production of Mozart's 1790 masterpiece Cosi fan tutte, presented by The Mannes Opera at the Gerald Lynch Theater--of perfect size, grand acoustics and excellent sightlines. Our guest for the matinée was an opera newbie who enjoyed the entire affair just as much as we did--which was a very great deal.

We have no idea why it was set in the mid 1960's--an epoch as remote from us as the late 18th century. But, no matter, the direction was delightful, the singing superb, and the acting accomplished.  Director Laura Alley made sure that every action was motivated and the interactions between the characters made clear.

Maestro Colaneri's conducting elicited the fine musicianship of The Mannes Orchestra. Like all other Mozart operas, this one is filled with sparkling tunes that one can't resist humming as they linger in the brain.

The story of Lorenzo da Ponte's libretto is that of two young men challenged by an older wiser one over their belief in the fidelity of the two sisters with whom they are in love.  There is a wager and a plan to follow.  The plan is to tell the young women that they have gone off on a military excursion and then to reappear in disguise to court the women. 

Don Alfonso's plan is aided and abetted by Despina, the servant of the two sisters. The silliness seems a lot more acceptable in 18th c. style than in the 1960's. Instead of appearing as exotic "Albanians", they appear as rock 'n rollers with leather motorcycle jackets and t-shirts proclaiming Rolling Stones and The Who.  Why not? It's the swinging sixties, after all!

As Don Alfonso, baritone Kidon Choi nearly stole the show from a very talented cast. His acting was larger than life and his sturdy voice impressive.  It is no wonder that he is garnering prizes for his prodigious talent.

Spunky Despina was portrayed by Canadian soprano Maria Lacey who negotiated Mozart's music with aplomb and demonstrated comedic chops as the crazy doctor with his Mesmer machine and later as the faux notary. "In uomini, in soldati", showed her at her wiliest.

The sisters and their lovers were all excellent. Soprano Danielle Beckvermit was a knockout as Fiordiligi. Mozart's challenging aria "Come scoglio" was perfectly sung and indeed reflected upon her steadfast character--at least more steadfast than her sister!

Mezzo-soprano Heather Jones made a delightful Dorabella, at first histrionically devastated by Ferrando's departure in "Smanie implacabile" and later, coy as she succumbs to the advances of Guglielmo.

The two men were terrific. Tenor Pavel Suliandziga (whom we previously enjoyed so much as Nemorino in L'Elisir d'amore) was an ardent Ferrando, singing with beautiful unforced tone in "Un aura amorosa", ending it with a delicate decrescendo. When he learns that his beloved Dorabella has betrayed him with his buddy, his face revealed many shades of dismay.

As Guglielmo, originally more successful at seduction, baritone Sunyeop Hwang was equally fine with his smooth caressing baritone and fine phrasing. We especially enjoyed his humorous aria  "Non siate ritrosi" in which he describes his manly attributes.
There were countless marvelous moments--the sisters' duet "Ah, guarda sorella", and particularly the trio "Soave sia il vento".

We have seen productions in which the girls return to their original lovers and versions in which they stay with the new lovers. But we have never seen one in which they walk away from the wedding at the end.  That was original and surprising!

Costuming by Helen E. Rodgers was certainly authentic to the period and colorful. Set designer Roger Hanna created a trompe l'oeil golf course for the first scene in which Don Alfonso is playing golf with Ferrando and Guglielmo. Later, it doubled as a suburban back yard. One might call this production a "hole in one". Mannes really sank the putt!

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, December 10, 2016


Yeon Jung Lee and Marie-Gabrielle Arco (photo by Carol Rosegg)

La Clemenza di Tito is a rather static offering, hastily written by Mozart in 1791, as a commission to celebrate Leopold II's coronation as King of Bohemia.  This would explain why the eponymous Tito is portrayed as a marvelous ruler, beloved by his people, and possessed of all kinds of admirable qualities.  

Such a hero is not terribly interesting so we are fortunate that he is surrounded by all kinds of interesting characters. Librettist Caterino Mazzola adapted the story from a libretto by Metastasio. It must have been appealing because about 40 composers set the story before Mozart got his hands on it.

In a stunning production at the Manhattan School of Music, a brilliant cast of women brought these characters to vivid life. The direction by Dona D. Vaughn kept the action moving along and brought a great deal of intensity to the interaction of the characters, such that we "got" this opera for the first time.

Tito, as fine a character as he is, is not a lucky man. Beatrice Queen of Judea, his first love, is not Roman and he was obliged to give her up. He decides to marry the lovely Servilia, sister to his friend Sesto, but she confesses that her heart has been given to Annio, Sesto's friend.  With great magnanimity, Tito releases her as well. That leaves Vitellia who ain't too happy about being passed over so many times.

The backstory is that Tito's father dethroned Vitellia's father, so she feels entitled to the throne. She wants vengeance on Tito and persuades the lovesick Sesto to assassinate Tito. The plot is uncovered, Sesto is charged and convicted, Vitellia feels remorse and confesses her role as instigator, and the morally superior Tito forgives everyone and takes Vitellia as his consort.  Whew!

Women in pants roles can be difficult to accept when they are roundly shaped and have feminine gestures.  What a surprise to hear two sensational singers who are totally convincing in their roles. Statuesque mezzo-soprano Marie-Gabrielle Arco carried off the part of the lovesick Sesto and we doubt that we will ever hear that role so well acted and sung. 

To show desperate love for a rejecting woman without sounding wimpy is quite an achievement. The colors of the voice were perfectly employed, along with fine phrasing and clear Italian diction.  "Parto, parto", the most frequently sung aria extracted from this opera, was particularly well performed. Not every young singer who calls herself a mezzo has an instrument this richly textured.

The other mezzo-soprano was equally convincing. Alanna Fraize fulfilled all the demands of the role of Annio. She used her lovely voice well and portrayed a likeable character who is quite the optimist. He is reluctantly willing to give up his beloved Servilia when he believes she will be changed from his lover to his Empress.  His duet with her is a heartbreaking one--"Ah, perdona al primo affetto". The fact that we just wrote "he" would seem to highlight just how convincing SHE was! Her solo "Torna di Tito a lato" was absolutely thrilling.

Both sopranos in the cast were similarly outstanding.  In the role of the seductive and manipulative Vitellia, Yeon Jung Lee emphasized the strong core of her instrument to convey strength of will. At the end of the opera, Vitellia undergoes a change of character and Ms. Lee's strength of will is colored with remorse in her show-stopping aria "Non più di fiori".

As Servilia, Jianing Zhang sang with a pleasing tone. We particularly enjoyed her aria "S'altro che lagrime" as she tries to persuade Vitellia to take action to save Sesto, who has demonstrated his love for Vitellia by not betraying her role in the plot against Tito.

Although working against time, Mozart's magic managed to fill the opera with so many marvelous arias, duets, and ensembles that one could not keep track of them all.

The role of Publio was well sung by Liang Zhao and Wooyoung Yoon performed the role of the magnanimous Tito.

The chorus, directed by Miriam Charney was outstanding in their diction, as usual.
Under the baton of George Manahan, the Manhattan School of Music Opera Orchestra did a swell job. The overture did not anticipate the themes of the opera but sounded like the first movement of a symphony.  Special props to clarinetist Narek Arutyunyan for the solos.

The production itself was an eye-catching one. The costuming by Tracy Dorman was simply gorgeous and resembled our fantasies of Ancient Rome. The women of the chorus wore long floaty garments while Servilia was appropriately gowned in white with Vitellia in royal purple. The men were elaborately garbed with exactly what one might see in an epic film. Shins were guarded and spears were carried. But nary a chariot in sight!

Authentic looking wigs were designed by Dave Bova and J. Jared Janas.

Erhard Rom's set design was simple but effective--stone walls, Corinthian columns, a marble throne.  All was well lit by Tyler Micoleau who managed to suggest the flames of Rome burning.

It's a wonderful experience to acquire affection for an opera one had previously dismissed.  For this we credit Ms. Vaughn's direction and the superlative singing and playing. If only every opera going experience were this mind-changing!

(c) meche kroop

Addendum:  After three Mozart events in two days, we still wanted more! Like champagne, perhaps you can have too much Mozart but you can never get enough. We returned to hear the other cast in La Clemenza di Tito at Manhattan School of Music. Mezzo-soprano Hongni Wu, while not as physically imposing as Ms. Arco, sang the role of Sesto with gorgeous tone and impressive musicality, as well as dramatic intensity. Soprano Abigail Shapiro was outstanding as the fickle Vitellia and showed all the colors of the vocal rainbow in her final aria "Non più di fiori".  Tenor Philippe d'Esperance made a superb Tito--confident and affecting in his onstage presence and exhibiting a gorgeous tone. We are so glad we returned.  Whichever cast you heard, we are sure you had a thrilling experience.

Friday, December 9, 2016


Brian Zeger, Julia Wolcott, Alex Rosen, Christine Taylor Price, Kathryn Henry, and Samantha Hankey

When we learned who was singing at the Juilliard Songfest at Alice Tully Hall last night, we knew we were in for a special treat. When we saw the program, our eyes opened wide--all those songs by Richard Strauss that we had never heard before! As is the case with Schubert (whose output was considerably larger than that of Strauss, and larger than anyone else's for that matter), certain songs become popular and appear frequently on recital programs while others languish unfortunately unsung.

Brian Zeger, Artistic Director of Juilliard's Marcus Institute for Vocal Arts, was on hand as collaborative pianist and, in this case, perhaps more importantly, as curator for this thrilling evening. There were only a few familiar songs on the program and the others were delightful discoveries.

That Strauss loved sopranos is not news; indeed he had a fruitful marriage with one!  But just hear the three sopranos and singular mezzo-soprano who brought these songs to vivid and meaningful life!  Each one has remarkable technique which she applied to bring out the best of her glorious instrument. We will get to the bass later.

Kathryn Henry is a sensational soprano whom we previously had only heard briefly, and in French. We enjoyed her pure and lovely sound even more in German and in the songs selected for her to sing. She opened the program with a set of four of his songs--"Nichts", "Nachtgang", "Leises Lied" and "Die Georgine", all beautifully performed.

Later in the program she sang "Ich liebe dich" and the more familiar but very sad "Befreit". Her delivery was deeply felt and marked by perfect phrasing. Mr. Zeger introduced this wonderful song with some gorgeous arpeggios.

Soprano Christine Taylor Price has a pure crystalline sound that soars into the stratosphere.  We have enjoyed reviewing her work on prior occasions (reviews are archived) but don't recall hearing her sing Strauss; her instrument is just perfectly Taylor-ed (pardon the pun) for it. 

She opened the second half of the program with a set of four songs, each one a precious jewel--"Ich schwebe", the familiar and worshipful "Du meines Herzens Kronelein", the tender "Meinem Kinde", and the expansive "Fruhlingsgedrange".  To hear her spin out a pianissimo line is to experience pure auditory joy.

We loved "Die sieben Siegel", a setting of a text by Friedrich Ruckert, and the gentle "Traum durch die Dammerung" in which her vocal colors matched the text "weiches samteness Band"--soft velvet ribbon indeed!

Soprano Julia Wolcott performed "O susser Mai" and another Ruckert song "Morgenrot" to our delight. We make no apologies for enjoying text that scans and rhymes and Ruckert always fills the bill on that count! Our appreciation for this lovely artist grew as we witnessed her talent for drama and comedy. "Muttertandelei" is the outpouring of maternal pride. No one on earth has such a child!  Ms. Wolcott showed a real flair here and, moreover, got to show up a facility for melismatic passages that were beautifully handled.

Strauss included plenty of roles for mezzo-sopranos in his operas and we hope we will be hearing Samantha Hankey performing them in the near future. The timbre is just right.  Just thinking that the artists we heard tonight would comprise a perfect cast for Der Rosenkavalier (one of our favorite operas).

"Waldseligkeit"is a wonderful paean to nature and Ms. Hankey's voice expanded in a rapturous climax at the end. In "Lob des Leidens" she evinced the beauties to be found in sorrow. Our favorite, however, was "Einerlei" which speaks to the irony of diversity coming from sameness.

The evening truly belonged to the female voice but bass Alex Rosen was on hand to perform a few songs which were perhaps written for that fach, but we have been unable to verify. "Aus den Lieder der Trauer" was sung with intensity. Mr. Rosen certainly does have the strength in the lower register as heard in his mastery of the low tessitura of "Das Tal".

We liked him better in the light-hearted "Ach weh mir ungluckhaftem Mann' in which a poor man fantasizes about going courting in high style.  And our favorite was the gentle "Traum durch die Dammerung".

The encore was perfectly chosen for the four female voices, a setting of Heinrich Heine's "Fruhlingsfeier"; we are not sure if it has ever been arranged for four voices before but it was a stirring way to end a splendid evening.

© meche kroop

Thursday, December 8, 2016


Musical Director Shane Schag, Marie Stumpf, Shengquan Jin, Montana York, Raquel Nobile, Juliana Levinson, Victoria Policht, Sam Krivda, Allison Porter, and Luke Sikora

What an entertaining evening we enjoyed at Manhattan School of Music!  Directed by Carolyn Marlow, students of the Musical Theater Lab performed an array of Broadway tunes, many of them addressing issues of our present culture and many of them absolutely hilarious.

Some of them were songs we could not appreciate when seen on Broadway because of the egregious custom of deafening amplification.  Here they were sung unamplified by talented young artists with fine young voices and a good feel for the style. What a treat to understand every clever word!

Perhaps the funniest was "Baptize Me" from The Book of Mormon by Parker, Lopez, and Stone. Luke Sikora was hilarious as Elder Cunningham trying to perform his first baptism on the equally hilarious Allison Porter.  The double entendres flew thick and fast but not over the heads of the audience.

For political resonance, the cast performed  "Everybody's Got the Right" from Stephen Sondheim's Assassins, a wonderful choice.  One can never go wrong with Sondheim, whose text is always meaningful and whose music is always interesting and original.

The issue of "the road not taken" was tackled with excellent humor by Victoria Policht and Montana York in "The Grass is Always Greener" from Kander and Ebb's Woman of the Year. Ms. Policht portrayed an overburdened housewife in muumuu and fuzzy slippers, comparing her life to that of her stylish famous friend, enacted by Ms. York.

A different kind of rivalry was portrayed by Luke Sikora as an author and Sam Krivda as his more 
exciting creation in "You're Nothing Without Me" from Cy Coleman's City of Angels.

Not every duet was competitive.  The warm friendship between Glinda (Ms. Nobile) and Elphaba (Juliana Levinson) was harmonically lovely as they made their farewells in "For Good" from Stephen Schwartz' Wicked.

Marie Stumpf showed fine dramatic chops in two roles: she portrayed a very crazy girl in "Screw Loose" from Javerbaum & Schlesinger's Cry Baby. In "Come Up to My Place" from Leonard Bernstein's On the Town, she was hilarious as Hildy, driving a taxi in which passenger Chip (Sam Krivda), a sailor on leave, has a very outdated list of sights he wanted to see, all of which were long gone. Their interaction kept the audience in stitches.

The dilemma of living in an apartment in New York with very loud neighbors was illustrated by Han Hsiao in "14G" from Jeanine Tesori's Thoroughly Modern Millie. What made it even more fun was that the neighbors were singers, allowing Ms. Hsiao to exercise her vocal cords.

On a more serious note, she performed the duet "One Hand, One Heart" from Bernstein's West Side Story with Mr. Jin in the role of Tony.d

Fortunately we heard even more Bernstein when the full company ended the evening with "To Make Us Proud" from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and "Make Our Garden Grow" from Candide.

Shane Schag was Musical Director and Pianist. He did a bang-up job!

It was a fun evening from an entertainment standpoint but also rewarding in the knowledge that there are up and coming young performers whom we hope will keep Broadway lit up for many years to come.

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, December 7, 2016


Grant Wenaus, Mischa Bouvier, Scott Murphree, and Vira Slywotzky

We credit Steven Blier and the New York Festival of Song for expanding our appreciation of art song beyond those of the 19th c. sung in German.  We credit Mirror Visions Ensemble for further opening our ears to new experiences. MVE has been around for a quarter century, exploring the connections between music and text with their original thematic programs, designed to appeal to a wide audience.  One gets to hear songs both old and new, familiar and novel. Often one gets to hear the same text as set by different composers--always a fascinating excursion.

The weather outside was frightful, as they say, but inside the cozy theater of the Sheen Center, we were gifted with glorious music, interpreted by soprano Vira Slywotzky, tenor Scott Murphree, and baritone Mischa Bouvier, accompanied by collaborative pianist Grant Wenaus. Since Christmas involves the exchange of gifts, one could say that the devoted audience showered the artists with eqivalent applause and cheers.  It was a win-win evening.

The theme of the evening came from the Bard himself--specifically from Love's Labours Lost-- "When Icicles Hang by the Wall". Roger Quilter gave the verses a straightforward and lively setting (sung by Mr. Murphree and Mr. Bouvier), whereas Richard Lalli's setting, for which Ms. Slywotzky joined in, was made interesting by overlapping voices which produced some interesting effects.

Later in the program, we heard two more settings, one by E.J. Moeran sung by Ms. Slywotzky and another one by Christopher Berg (who was present in the audience for the premiere of this work) with complex a capella singing by all three artists generating a lot of complexity. By this time we thought we'd heard enough about "greasy Joan"!

The rest of the program offered a great variety of languages from German to French to Norwegian to Swedish to Ukrainian to Spanish and to Latin. Various moods were struck from playful to sacred. But of all of these, there were a few that stick in our ear and our memory.

In 1915, Claude Debussy wrote his own text and set it--an anti-war message if ever we heard one.  Entitled "Noel des enfants qui n'ont plus de maisons"--the outcry of French children against the Germans; they beg Father Christmas not to visit German homes. This song reminds us of how children all over the world are deprived of their homes and their parents and their feeling of safety by political aggression and misguided "religious" crusades. The French children of the song express compassion for the children of Poland and Belgium and Serbia as well.  The song is a masterpiece and was beautifully performed by Mr. Murphree.

At the other end of the emotional spectrum was "Twelve Days to Christmas" from She Loves Me by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, performed in true ensemble fashion by all three singers. Just as the Debussy brought tears to our eyes, this delightful ditty brought laughter to our lips by contrasting the well organized early shopper with the frazzled last minute shopper.  Now how much fun was that!

The third song that caught our ear was Mykola Leontovych's "Shchedryk" with its insistent motif, sung in perfect Ukrainian (so said our Ukrainian companion) by Ms.Slywotzky and the two gentlemen.  Ms. Slywotzky's dramatic skills layered onto her powerful voice added to the pleasures of Joaquin Rodrigo's "Coplillas de Belen".

A true curiosity and a highly interesting one is "The Huron Carol", written by St. Jean de Brebeuf, a Jesuit priest who spent a large part of his life in Quebec trying to convert the Huron to Catholicism. He learned the language and added to mankind's knowledge of this tribe but failed to win many converts.  This song was written in 1642 and became Canada's first Christmas song. It fascinated us because the composer attempted to make the text relevant to the Huron. Baby Jesus is wrapped in a rabbit skin and is visited by chiefs instead of the Three Wise Men; the gifts are pelts of fox and beaver, instead of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

We enjoyed Mr. Bouvier's performance of "Nun wandre, Maria" in which Hugo Wolf's gorgeous writing for piano was given an excellent performance by Mr. Wenaus.  The piano part of Benjamin Britten's "Hodie Christus natus est" was most compelling.

Heinrich Heine's text was translated into Norwegian and set by Edvard Grieg with haunting intervals of fifths-- beautifully sung by Mr. Bouvier-- and also set by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov  as "The Fir and the Palm" and sung in English by Ms. Slywotzky who stunningly captured the operatic vocal line

One final curiosity captured our attention--"Six White Boomers", a song about Santa's Australian run written by Rolf Harris and John D. Brown.

With such a varied program, there was something for everyone; no one left this recital disappointed!

(c) meche kroop