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, March 4, 2017


Spencer Myer, Kristin Gornstein, Justine Aronson, Richard Valitutto, Samantha Malk, and Michael Brofman

Last night at the beautiful Brooklyn Historical Society, the Brooklyn Art Song Society presented their fifth and final entry in a season devoted to Vienna in the first half of the 20th c.  It was a time of decadence, intrigue, and radicalism....and marvelous music. Cabaret was the subject of last night's sold out performance and we enjoyed witnessing three singers we love pushing their boundaries.

Cabaret is a broad term but, in our opinion, it should be naughty and counter-culture. To our ears, it sounds best in German because of the sound and taste of the words as well as the facility with rhyming. Toward this end, soprano Justine Aronson's performance of Arnold Schoenberg's Brettl Lieder more than fulfilled our expectations.  We have heard his "Galathea" performed onstage but we have never heard it the way Ms. Aronson sang it, with devilish glee.

Although she used the loathed music stand, somehow she managed to incorporate ample gesture to accompany her ironic coloration and the song became completely new. We believe she plumbed the depths of meaning and came up with pearls. "Gigerlette" and "Der genugsame Liebhaber" were replete with doppelbedeutung. Richard Valitutto made a fine collaborative pianist.

Her performance of a set of French cabaret songs was a far different affair--not satirical but soulful. We particularly enjoyed Edith Piaf's "La Vie en Rose", Poulenc's "Les chemins de l'amour",  and Erik Satie's "Je te veux" -- but it is Piaf's "Padam padam" that keeps going around in our head.  It's a song that we first heard sung by Kim David Smith who performs a totally different type of cabaret. The piano accompaniment of Artistic Director and Founder Michael Brofman sounded just right.

Mezzo-soprano Kristin Gornstein is well known to us from Heartbeat Opera, so we have never seen her without extravagant makeup design. Last night was the first time we heard her in recital format, although that word fails to describe the intense performance she gave of Kurt Weill's music, for which Berthold Brecht wrote the lyrics. Mr. Valitutto's piano was forceful but never overwhelmed the voice.

We far prefer "Mack the Knife" in German but Marc Blitzstein's translation is quite good and Ms. Gornstein made every word count.  In "The Ballad of Sexual Obsession" there was plenty of ad libbing, about a man with an orange face and stringy yellow hair, that had the audience laughing out loud. This topicality meets a major requirement of cabaret!

Accompanied by Spencer Myer,  mezzo-soprano Samantha Malik performed a set of songs by William Bolcom, making each song into a little opera. The songs are mainly about contemporary society. Ms. Malik's interpretations were all right on point--romantic disappointment, a party turned sour, an overnight date that lasted too long. The most familiar of the set was "Amor" which we have often heard and enjoyed as an encore number. But the hymn-like "Waitin'", short, sweet, perfectly written and sung, seemed out of place with the other songs.

Ms. Malik also performed some songs by Benjamin Britten, settings of texts by W.H. Auden. They were fine songs but did not strike us as cabaret.  Perhaps we need to broaden our definition but we found them lacking in satire and naughtiness.

Although this was the conclusion of the series on Viennese music, B.A.S.S. is not finished with their season. On March 31st there will be a fine program of Debussy, Hahn, Poulenc and Heggie at National Sawdust.

(c) meche kroop

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