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, December 31, 2018


Act II of La Boheme at Riverside Theater

Our first exposure to Amore Opera was three years ago when we saw their commendable production of Puccini's 1898 opera La Bohème. It is such a charming and intimate production that we wish that President Nathan Hull (who also directed the production with his customary singer-friendly touch) would make it an annual Xmas event, as we hope he will do with his recently reviewed Scrooge.

Mr. Hull changes the casting from one performance to the next but the singers are always fine. At last night's performance, one cast member was remembered from the performance we saw three years ago. The role of the painter Marcello was sung and enacted beautifully by baritone Robert Garner with soprano Cassandra Douglas wowing both the onstage "audience" at Café Momus and the audience at Riverside Theater with her over-the-top performance of an histrionic vain woman who also is the possessor of a generous heart.

As the doomed Mimi, soprano Rachel Hippert superbly conveyed a real young woman, not just a cliché. Amore regular José Heredia used his full-throated tenor to show us a Rodolfo who is love-struck in Act I and II, but in over his head by Act III and in denial in Act IV.

We are quite sure that everyone knows the story and there isn't much new to say. We perceive it as more than a tragic love story; it is also a story of "adulting", part of which is facing reality. 

Four feckless young men share a garret in Paris, eking out a barely sustainable living but still full of high spirits and horseplay. We love the scene in which they "prank" their landlord and the way they attack Schaunard's bountiful Xmas basket with no interest in the amazing story of how he earned the funds to supply it.

Rodolfo is very human and acts like many people do when they face a situation with which they cannot cope; they blame someone else. He cannot face the fact that Mimi is dying and he cannot keep her warm or restore her health so he invents petty jealousies. Marcello, who cannot keep his own love life straight, is the one everyone turns to for advice. Before he knows the entire story, he counsels Mimi to separate. The fact that Mr. Garner is somewhat older than the other "bohemians" lends verisimilitude to his position as advisor.

Mimi has also been in denial about her illness until she overhears Rodolfo being forced by Marcello to reveal the reason for his bad behavior toward her. Now that the facts are on the table, Mimi and Rodolfo decide to stay together until Spring.

Because of the episodic nature of the libretto (by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa) we do not know what happened between Acts III and IV but Mimi is found wandering the streets in extreme physical distress and is brought to the garret by Musetta so she can die surrounded by beloved friends (accompanied by Puccini's most gorgeous music.)  It was difficult to stanch our tears.

We in the audience know that none of the survivors will ever be the same again.

Colline was sung by bass Virdell Williams who sounded fine throughout but failed to move us to tears with "Vecchia zimarra". Colline is not just saying goodbye to his overcoat but to his youth; we wanted more poignancy.

Schaunard was sung by Charles Gray whose tale of the poisoned parsley went by so unnoticed by his greedy flatmates.

Benoît was performed by bass Gennadiy Vysotskiy, whose humor was effective. If we are not mistaken, he performed Colline three years ago.

Rick Agster, whom we just enjoyed in Scrooge, was funny as Musetta's wealthy and much put-upon "patron".

Andrew Watt played the toy vendor Parpignol who captivated all the children like the Pied Piper.

We liked the directorial touch (by Mr. Hull and Iris Karlin, who portrayed Musetta three years ago) of having the customs officials (Thomas Geib and David Owen) behaving rather passive-aggressively at the city gates toward the waiting merchants and street sweepers.

Richard Cerullo's clever sets worked well with the stage of the Riverside Theater and Cynthia's Psoras' costumes were perfect. Gone were the awful wigs of three years ago!

We hear probably 360 performances a year and we have never witnessed a more enthusiastic audience. Even the Café Momus waitress (Nyah Williams) got lavish applause which she surely deserved for putting an individual spin on the role.

Directed by Susan Morton, the chorus was excellent. Maestro Scott Jackson Wiley did his best with a rather deficient orchestra, beginning the evening with intonation problems. As the evening progressed, he pulled them together but this is the only sub-par feature of a wonderful evening.

The final performance is tonight, New Year's Eve, and we plan to see it again with a different cast.  And so should you!

(c) meche kroop

Friday, December 28, 2018


Joyful concluding scene from Nathan Hull's "Scrooge" at Riverside Theater

We think of creativity as the ability to take things that are known and to combine them in a new way to produce something novel. That concept can be applied accurately to the work of art created by Nathan Hull, Artistic Director of Amore Opera.

The multi-talented Mr. Hull has directed his own creation for the second of what will be an annual event, and directed it with his customary skill and inventiveness. We loved last year's production so much that we returned this year, bringing a friend who was new to Amore Opera and not (yet) particularly a fan of Gilbert and Sullivan. Sharing it with a friend who was absolutely enchanted gave us great pleasure. New York Village Light Opera presented it a decade ago and it has been performed around the country many times since then.

Judging by the quality of the work, Mr. Hull must have labored long and diligently, adapting Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" for the stage and curating over 20 songs from 11 operettas by Gilbert and Sullivan. The greatest part of the task would seem to have been writing the lyrics for Sullivan's music, retaining the wittiness, the meter, and the rhyme scheme established by Gilbert. Clearly the selections had to be chosen to fit the characters singing them and to advance the drama of the scene. We consider the work a complete success but Mr. Hull tells us he is still tweaking it.

The work opened with the fine chorus singing "Christmas Season"an adaptation of "Welcome, Gentry" from Ruddigore. This bustling joyful scene set the stage for Scrooge's negativity. The closing number was borrowed from The Gondoliers-- "Now Let the Loyal Lieges" and utilized Gilbert's own lyrics.

In between we enjoyed some excellent voices illuminating the dramatic arc of the enlightenment of a very unpleasant man, the selfish and miserly Scrooge, effectively enacted by Ray Calderon. Who doesn't enjoy seeing the transformation of the wicked into the lovable!

The transformation is effected by the ghost of Scrooge's deceased partner Jacob Morley (scarily portrayed by Jay Stephenson). He introduces Scrooge to three spirits who guide him through this transformation.

The Ghost of Christmas Past was portrayed by Alexa Rosenberg, a wraith in a white gown who danced gracefully through her role. The Ghost of Christmas Present was superbly sung by Alexis Cregger whose "Come in and Know Me Better" was a fine iteration of  "Pirate King" from The Pirates of Penzance. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come was performed by Kristina Malinauskaite, unrecognizable in a scary long black gown. (She was perfectly recognizable as one of the "charity ladies").

There was so much delight in the evening that it is difficult to pick out special moments but we will make an effort. There was a lovely duet between the young Ebenezer (tenor Ramon Gabriel Tenefrancia) and Belle Fezziwig (soprano Laura Soto-Bayomi), the woman he lost because of his materialism. There was a sprightly dance by Fezziwig, Tom, Dick, and Harry (Thomas Geib, Patrick Valdes-Dapena, Sean Biopcik, and Brett Murphy) trying to loosen up young Ebenezer--"Soon as We May" adapted from Iolanthe's  "If You Go In".

The Cratchit children sang "We Won't Eat Just Any Old Thing" adapted from  "The Flowers That Bloom in the Spring" from The Mikado; note the scanning similarities!  The young Leo Kogan made a most appealing Tiny Tim and sang "Were I to Walk" adapted from "Were I Thy Bride" from The Yeomen of the Guard.

Do you remember the very funny "A Paradox" from The Pirates of Penzance? Here it was sung by Scrooge's nephew Fred (Michael Celentano), his wife Celeste (Christa Dalmazio) and their dinner guests Julia (Sarah Adams) and Topper (James Stephen Longo). The four had terrific chemistry together.

Do you remember "Things are Seldom What They Seem" from H.M.S. Pinafore? Here it was sung by a cockney-accented pair (Evelyn Thatcher and Richard Agster) trading old Scrooge's belongings after his (future) death. They provided excellent comic relief.

Brendon Gallagher made a sympathetic Bob Cratchit with Perri Sussman doing her usual fine work as his wife and mother of their six children.

This might be a good time to mention how successful Mr. Hull is at getting children onstage in every production and to also mention that he is auditioning children for an all-children production of Iolanthe.

Aside from the fine direction, we enjoyed the effective sets which were provided by The Village Light Opera, and based upon David Jones' original design. Cynthia Psoras designed the excellent period costumes.

One very important addition for this 2018 version was the addition of surtitles so not one of Mr. Hull's clever words were lost.

We do, however, have one quibble. The orchestra, under the baton of Elizabeth Hastings, was occasionally faulty in their tuning. We noticed this predominantly in the overture but as soon as the excellent singing began we were able to overlook the problem.

There are three more performances and it is not to be missed!

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, December 26, 2018


Raul Melo, David Gvinianidze, Tamar Iveri, Arsen Soghomonyan, Ruslana Koval, Natasha Novitskaia, Olga Lisovskaya, Ludmila Fesenko, Alexandra Naumenko (accompanist) Victoria Ulanovskaya (accompanist), Anna Kolkhida, Zachary James, William Meinert, Shaina Martinez, Natasha Novitskaia, Wooyoung Yoon. (photo by Ellen Godfrey)

Guest review by Ellen Godfrey....

Talents of the World concluded their highly successful three day Festival at Carnegie Hall with a Christmas Ball, described as a merry evening of opera, operetta, international songs and Christmas Carols. And a merry evening it was. Right from the beginning, when several couples waltzed onto the stage, it was evident that this would be a joyful evening.  The wonderful baritone David Gvinianidze, who is the President and founder of Talents of the World, welcomed the audience to the concert.

The evening featured the four winners of the Talents of the World’s first vocal competition in New York City and they were all amazing. Tenor Wooyoung Yoon, brought down the house early in the evening with his performance of the difficult tenor bel canto aria…”Ah mes amis” from Donizetti’s La Fille du Regiment.  I have heard him sing this aria several times, and each time he adds a little something different.  After he sang the first part of the aria, the audience erupted in applause…which was echoed even louder after the fast moving cabaletta with the 9 high C’s. He has wonderful resonance and is delightful on stage.  He immediately connects with the audience.

Following Wooyoung Yoon, was the mezzo soprano winner Megan Moore, who performed Cenerentola’s aria “Nacqui All’Affanno…non più mesta.”  Megan has a lightly colored mezzo-soprano, even from top to bottom and with excellent coloratura singing.  She also portrayed the character of Cenerentola well.

Shaina Martinez, the soprano winner, was totally delightful singing and acting the comic romanza, “Carcelaras" from the Spanish zarzuela Las Hijas de Zebedeo. She had great fun singing it. She related with the audience who showed their delight in her performance and her beautiful soprano voice.

For a change of pace, the bass winner, Zachary James sang Javert’s song “Stars,” from the musical Les Miserables. He has a fine bass voice and good presence on stage.

Another young bass was William Meinert who sang Varlaam’s song from Boris Godunov. He had a somewhat darker bass and he sang this song with the vigor it demanded. Mr. Meinert also performed a charming duet from Pergolesi’s rarely heard comic intermezzo La Serva Padrona, with Olga Lisovskaya, director of the U.S. branch of Talents of the World. They both projected their characters well as well as highlighting the comedy inherent in the piece. Olga’s coloratura and lovely singing voice combined well with Mr. Meinert’s deep bass voice. The pianist Alexandra Naumenko received great applause for her extraordinary accompaniment. 

Soprano Ruslana Koval, who enthralled all who heard her big beautiful voice on Friday, gave another great performance of Mozart’s "Queen of the Night" aria.  She fearlessly and precisely sang all of the high notes in this difficult aria. There was great clarity to her diction and she brought out all of the drama and anger in the aria.

Arsen Soghomonya performed a wonderful "Granada" with his great dramatic tenor voice.

To wind down the end of the first part of the concert, we were treated to some wonderful operetta excerpts and songs.

Tamar Iveri has a big beautiful voice and she can do anything she wants with it.  She sang the popular Neapolitan song “ A Vucchella” by Paolo Tosti with great warmth and love. Her phrasing is always beautiful and, when called for, she can diminish her voice expressively.  The wonderful accompanist Victoria Ulanovskaya was there with her all the way.

Tenor Raul Melo gave a wonderful, funny, performance of the Ballad of the grotesque dwarf Kleinzach, from Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann. He has a big dark tenor voice and caught both the comedy and sadness of the character and was very entertaining. 

Three tenors…Raul Melo, Wooyoung Yoon, and Arsen Soghomonyan,whose big dramatic tenor voice blended well with the other tenor voices, sang the Neapolitan song“O Sole Mio" à la Three Tenors, each one taking their turn and revealing the differences in their tenor voices.  Later in the evening they sang another Neapolitan song together, "Torno a Sorento".

Adele’s "Audition aria" from Johann Strauss’ Die Fledermaus was sung by the lovely soprano, Olga Lisovskaya.  She did a wonderful job of overacting, as was called for. Bass Zachary James and mezzo-soprano Megan Moore also added to the humor of the scene.

The second part of the program consisted of more ensembles and also included many beloved Christmas Carols. It started off with beautiful delicate singing by Tamar Iveri of the song "Autumn Flowers" by Kvernadze. She used many different colors in her voice…The pianist Victoria Ulanovskaya followed her beautifully.

Anna Kolkkhida entered the stage to sing "Silent Night". She began singing very softly with her beautiful soprano voice; then Shaina Martinez, followed by mezzo-soprano Megan Moore sang some verses.  The ending was sung in beautiful harmony with an angelic sound.

Adam's "O Holy Night" was sung as a quartet with Megan Moore leading on stage followed by Raul Melo, Wooyoung Yoon and Shaina Martinez all to good effect.

Baritone David Gvinianidze and soprano Ruslana Koval’s voices blended beautifully together as they sang and danced the waltz from The Merry Widow.

There was more solo singing in this half of the program. Mezzo-soprano Natasha Novitskaia, came out with a red dress and red flower…she gave a very sexy performance of Carmen’s aria “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle.”  Her mezzo voice easily dipped down to the lower register and up to the higher notes in her range.  At the end, she threw a red flower into the audience. 

Soprano Ludmila Fesenko sang a wonderful Ukrainian song “Dniprovsky Vals" by I. Shamo. Her lovely lyric voice reached up to the heights above high C.  She has lots of personality and acted as well as she sang.  She brought down the house. She was immediately followed by the mezzo-soprano Jenni Bank, who gave an equally great performance of “I am easily assimilated” from Leonard Bernstein’s  Candide.  She was delightful and funny in the role, singing with a comic made-up foreign accent.  She and the pianist, Alexandra Naumenko had a good time together.  Tamar Iveri sped through Rossini’s tarantella, "La danza,", and sang with great style. Pianist Alexandra Naumenko followed her perfectly.

 All the singers joined in a toast, “Libiamo”,  from the first act of La Traviata. Raul Melo, Ruslana Koval and David Gvinianidze sang and performed well in this scene.  The other singers surrounded them and sang the chorus. All the singers joined in (with Ruslana Koval’s voice soaring above everyone else's) toasting champagne and wishing us a Merry Christmas. Several couples danced as they had at the beginning of this wonderful evening.

Congratulations not only to the singers, but also to both pianists Alexandra Naumenko and Victoria Ulanovskaya. They provided great support and encouragement to all of the singers.  Congratulations also to David Gvinianidze and Olga Lisovskaya for putting together such a delightful evening, and for all the added touches to the production.  I certainly look forward to the return of the Talents of the World at Carnegie Hall next year.

(c) meche kroop

Sunday, December 23, 2018


John Irvin, Raul Melo, WooYoung Yoon, Tianchi Zhang, Omar Najmi, Victoria Ulanovskaya, Alexandra Naumenko, Olga Lisovskaya, and David Gvinianidze

We are about to celebrate a Southern Italian custom on Christmas Eve--the Feast of Seven Fishes--at the home of some dear friends.  We are not sure whether the idea is to have seven different courses of fish or to eat seven different species of fish. In actuality, in prior years we enjoyed un'abbondanza beyond seven of everything.

Such was the case last night with un'abbondanza of artistry from five terrific tenors and two prodigious pianists, augmented by the talents of baritone David Gvinianidze, Founder of Talents of the World, and Director of same, soprano Olga Lisovskaya. The evening celebrated the 135th anniversary of Enrico Caruso.

Whilst enjoying entertainment, we are also learning, always learning, always forming new opinions.  Our take home from last night is that all singers should become aware of their own strengths and play to them. There is nothing wrong with pushing oneself in new directions--in a voice lesson or in a coaching.  But when one steps onstage, it is best to confine oneself to the type of material that suits one's unique gifts.

Two young tenors did just that last night.  WooYoung Joon has been reviewed by us many times; his strength lies in his stage presence.  He is what is called "a stage animal" and it is no wonder that he consistently wins Audience Favorite awards. (He also won the Grand Prix of this festival's competition). He clearly has a character in mind before he comes onstage and his connection with the character results in an instant and profound connection with the audience.

His Tonio from Donizetti's Fille du Regiment begins with "Ah, mes amis" and we instantly felt he was addressing us in the audience as his friends. This ability to communicate supersedes technique! Of course, we also love his healthy young instrument with its ringing tone.

Another impressive artist, new to us and one of the prize winners, is Tianchi Zhang who performed "Salut! Demeure chaste et pure" from Gounod's Faust. He too understood his character and delivered the aria in fine French with ardent intent and some beautifully floated high notes. We particularly admired his pianissimo, and the apparent ease of sound production.

Yet another prize winner, Omar Najmi, performed "Questa o quello" from Verdi's Rigoletto and and an aria unfamiliar to us--"La Speranza piú soave" from Rossini's Semiramide. In neither case did we feel that the aria suited his voice. There was something going on with the texture of his instrument that we couldn't quite put our finger on and occasional problems with intonation. In any case, his is not a voice suited to bel canto at this point in time; we found the fioritura muddy. We need to hear Mr. Najmi again, singing something different.

John Irvin sounded marvelous as Lensky in "Kuda, kuda vy udalilis" from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, beautifully limning the character of the anguished young poet searching his soul on the brink of an unnecessary death.  The pianissimo moments particularly drew us in. We liked him much more than in Romeo's aria "Ah! Lève-toi soleil" from Gounod's Roméo et Juliette. The pianissimo passages were fine but he tends to push during the fortissimo passages.  High does not need to be loud!

Even famous tenors have better affinities for different types of music. Metropolitan Opera star Raul Melo can sing Neapolitan songs with all the requisite garlic and he did just that last night; "Core 'ngrato" was sung with affecting heartbreak. The same intensity worked magnificently in "Vesti la giubba" from Leoncavallo's Pagliacci in which he successfully convinced us of Canio's anguish. 

Mr. Melo's strong middle register lent gravity to "Ma se m'èforza perderti...Si, riverderti, Amelia" from Verdi's Un ballo in maschera; the aria fit his voice perfectly.  Not so "Una furtiva lagrima" from Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore. Mr. Melo is not suited to Nemorino, not vocally and not dramatically.

Although the program was dedicated to Enrico Caruso, there seemed to be a heavy emphasis on the memory of The Three Tenors concerts which were a huge success and brought many new audience members to opera.  For our taste, there was too much group singing and we are going to tell you why.

Friday night, all the sopranos were equally gifted and equivalently versatile. But last night, the tenors were differentially gifted and not equivalently versatile, so having several of them singing various verses of the same aria served to highlight the tenor whose voice and demeanor best suited the aria, at the expense of the others. A case in point was "La donna è mobile", shared by Mr. Yoon who was flexible in the fioritura, Mr. Zhang who sounded fine, and Mr. Najmi who fell off pitch.

In "Nessun dorma" from Puccini's Turandot, Mr. Melo sounded fine, Mr. Yoon just about made the challenges of the low notes, and Mr. Irvin only succeeded in the midrange.

Still, we were happy to hear so many Neapolitan favorites at the end of the program, although it was disconcerting to see Mr. Irvin alone "on the book".  The evening ended with everyone sharing Denza's "Funiculi, funiculà", an audience favorite.

The evening would not have been complete without Mr. Gvinianidze's splendid baritone filling out Vincenzo DiChiara's "La Spagnola".  What a treat!

Pianistic artistry was shared by the lovely Alexandra Naumenko and Olga Ulanovskaya, who treated us to a piano medley of Italian melodies.

Tomorrow's Christmas Ball will bring in many voices and many types of music; it will be held in Zankel Hall at 7:00 PM.  Do not miss!

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, December 22, 2018


The title of "Festival" may sometimes be overused, implying an experience that is out of the ordinary. Last night at Weill Recital Hall, what we experienced was truly extraordinary. In observance of what would have been the 95th birthday of the legendary soprano Maria Callas, we were introduced to several world-class sopranos, any one of which could be the next Callas. As icing on the cake, we got to hear the two top prize winners of the Talents of the World 2018 competition. Who could ask for anything more!

The evening of arias began with a riveting performance of Lucia's Act I aria from Donizetti's masterpiece Lucia di Lammermoor by the astonishingly versatile Ukrainian coloratura soprano Ruslana Koval. "Regnava il silencio" depicts the fragile heroine relating what amounts to a ghost story to her companion. The artistry exhibited by Ms. Koval was in allowing us to see Lucia's unbalanced nature, thus establishing the groundwork for her later decompensation.

We sat in our seat, eyes wide, seeing the ghost through her eyes. Ms. Koval must have had dance training because her use of bodily gesture perfectly mirrored the text, as did her vocal coloration. The fioritura was perfectly rendered as well. Need we mention that her instrument is a gorgeous one which reflects her beauty.  One does not have to be gorgeous to be a good singer but it certainly doesn't hurt.

We appreciated her versatility when she enacted the innocent Gilda singing "Caro nome" from Verdi's Rigoletto; her portrayal of the Queen of the Night from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte had an entirely different coloration--fiery, imperious, but well modulated dynamically; the fioritura evinced pinpoint accuracy.

Her Violetta embodied all of the ambivalence of the character weighing her frenetic party life against the possibility of romance in Act I of Verdi's La Traviata. For visual interest, there were several costume changes to underscore the effect. This is a soprano to watch!

Georgian soprano Tamar Iveri has a very different instrument with a completely different set of gifts. Her voice is a spinto one with a lot of weight that stood up well to the demands made on a Verdi soprano. Her Desdemona was warm and loving toward Otello in the romantic duet "Gia nella notte densa" with Armenian tenor Arsen Soghomonya struggling with a head and chest cold.

What a change she exhibited as she portrayed the terrified Amelia in "Ma dall'arido stelo divulsa" from Ballo in Maschera. Her vocalism and acting were so intense that we could feel her terror. "Udiste? Come Albeggi" from Il Trovatore required even more of her--maintaining a beautiful tone whilst expressing a series of emotions toward the Conte di Luna. Leonora is in a rage but also must beg for pity from this vengeful rejected lover, here performed by the mellow toned baritone David Gvinianidze, President and Founder of Talents of the World.

With great versatility she conveyed the gentle character of Adriana in "Io son l'humile ancella" from Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur and also the pathos and desperation of Manon in "Sola, Perduta, Abbandonata" from Puccini's Manon Lescaut. This is another soprano to relish, one with both power and subtlety.  She too changed costumes a couple times and if we weren't writing about the music, we would be describing the gorgeous gowns!

Talents of the World's Director Olga Lisovskaya herself has a lovely voice and delighted us with some dazzling coloratura in Juliette's waltz "Ah, je veux vivre" from the opera by Gounod. This is a pleasing sound with lovely phrasing and some impressive expansion at the top of the register. She also served as hostess for the evening, introducing the singers.

We just wrote about Anna Cley's effective master class a few days ago and were delighted to have an opportunity to hear her perform. The fair and slender Ms. Cley looks nothing like the gypsy Carmen so her performance of the "Habanera" succeeded brilliantly on the basis of vocalism alone and evoked huge applause. This is a dusky voice with the texture of a true mezzo, not just the voice of someone with low notes. 

She was similarly outstanding in the duet "Belle nuit" from Offenbach's  Les Contes d'Hoffmann with Shaina Martinez taking the soprano part. Their voices harmonized beautifully. Ms. Martinez won the First Prize in the Talents of the World 2018 International Competition. We have written several times about Ms. Martinez since her student days at Manhattan School of Music.

She gave a highly persuasive delivery of "Tu che di gel sei cinta" from Puccini's Turandot; she certainly could have melted anyone's cold heart!  She has beautiful tone and phrasing. We enjoyed her duet with Second Prize Winner Sarah Joyce Cooper in "Sull'aria" from Mozart's Nozze di Figaro.

Ms. Cooper also had a solo--"Depuis le jour" from Charpentier's Louise which showed off her sweet tone and fine French.

The program closed with three unusual ensembles.  Ms. Koval, Ms. Lisovskaya and Ms. Martinez sang the charming chanson "Les filles de Cadix" by Leo Delibes, a song loved by Ms. Callas.

Lauretta's aria "Oh mio babbino caro" from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi was performed by Ms. Koval, Ms. Iveri, and Ms. Martinez.

"Quando m'en vo" from Puccini's La Bohème was given a funny turn when Ms. Koval, Ms. Iveri, and Ms. Lisovskaya took turns upstaging one another. It was a great way to close this exciting evening, one which seemed to just fly by.

Pianist for the evening was the incredibly talented Alexandra Naumenko whom we remember well from her days with the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program. How satisfying it is to witness the artistic success of people we admire.

There is more to come from Talents of the World. Tonight there will be a testosterone fueled evening of tenors. And Sunday night will be a grand celebration with opera, operetta, and Christmas music.  This certainly does qualify as a festival!

(c) meche kroop

Monday, December 17, 2018


Kelly Lin, Eric Lindsey, Jenny Lindsey, Anna Cley, Elizabeth Tapia, Natasha Noviskaya, and Thomas Gruenthal at National Opera Center

We have often wondered what brings singers to attend master classes. After all, they have teachers and they have coaches. Is it the opportunity to work with someone renowned like Marilyn Horne or Joyce Di Donato? Is it the wish to take their singing to another level? Is there some gap in their teacher's knowledge or skills? Is there some block they have been unable to remove?

Someday we would like to interview students before they take a master class and then conduct an "exit interview" to see if they achieved the results for which they hoped. Last night we sat in on a master class conducted by the very French Anna Cley, focusing on French opera and art song. There was no doubt about what she had to offer and what her students gained.

Of course there was the usual work on the line, with a terrific visual image offered of a string of beads. Of course there was the customary and valuable instruction to speak the text first, to vocalize the melody, to speak and sing the text with only the vowels, and only then to drop in the consonants.

Yet, Ms. Cley's special tutelary offering concerned those very same vowels and consonants which so greatly confound American singers, who all seem to make the same mistakes. The vowels in French are very particular and do not employ diphthongs as English does. The consonants make much more use of the lips and teeth with less movement of the jaw.

To listen to and learn from Ms. Cley was a highly rewarding experience both for us and for the five excellent singers we heard. To set the tone for the class, Ms. Cley herself performed Dubussy's "Nuit d'étoiles" far lovelier than we have ever heard it sung before.

Soprano Jenny Lindsey followed, working on "The Jewel Song" from Gounod's Faust. She formed an impressive connection with the character, showing the bedazzlement of an innocent. In our mind's eye we could see the mirror in which she was admiring her unexpected treasures. She sang in a bright clear voice with a fine trill; her work with making the consonants more explosive and a little trick about the "k" sound took the performance to a new level. Learning the correct pronunciation of the nasal in "charmant" was helpful.

Thomas Gruenthal performed "Intimes IV" from Poulenc's cycle Tel Jour Tel Nuit. The chanson is otherwise known as "Figure de force brûlante at farouche" with text by Paul Éluard. The text made no sense to us but it did to Ms. Cley who explained it to Mr. Gruenthal and urged him to show the despair and darkness of it. They worked on the final "e" and we learned a new tip about singing two adjacent consonants like "pl".

Mezzo-soprano Natasha Noviskaya exhibited a lot of strength in the lower register in the card scene from Bizet's Carmen. We learned the correct pronunciation of "sais" without a diphthong and did some work on "la mort".

Bass Eric Lindsey performed "Épouse quelque brave fille" from Massenet's Manon, in which Le Comte des Grieux tries to convince his son to abandon the religious pathway, to get married to a suitable girl, and to continue the family name. (Manon succeeds on the first account where Papa has failed, as you all know.) It was an excellent authoritative performance and needed only a few hints.

Soprano Elizabeth Tapia gave a bright and lyrical performance of "Elle a fui la tourterelle" from Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffman. By the end of the class, we noticed that the final students had already profited by listening to the pointers given to the first few students. We were hearing more differentiation between "d" and "t", longer vowels, and consonants formed more in the front of the mouth.

Frankly, we have always praised singers in French for singing so that we could understand the text.  Now we know a bit more about what to listen for and are afraid of being overly critical. But it is these fine points that differentiate a good enough performance from an accurate one.

The excellent accompanist for the evening was Kelly Lin.

We hope to attend more of Ms. Cley's upcoming master classes and urge all singer who sing in French to seek a place in her classes.

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, December 15, 2018


Laetitia Ruccolo, Kirsten Scott, Eugenia Forteza, and Matthan Black

This was not your typical Christmas concert. It was more like an intimate gathering of friends. The salon setting in Williamsburg was comfortable and spacious. The material that was chosen seemed to be of a personal interest to the artists--songs remembered from childhood, songs popular in their country of birth, songs they loved.

Mezzo-soprano Kirsten Scott (Co-Founder of Bare Opera, along with Maître de Chant Laetitia Ruccolo) led off the evening's program with Martin and Blane's "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas". This is a song we've heard so often that it has bored us silly.  But-- big but-- Ms. Scott made it new and fresh. We don't think we've ever enjoyed it as much, Ms. Scott having revealed more feeling than we've ever observed--and without a whiff off "cross-over" condescension.

The versatile Ms. Scott gave a stirring rendition of "Chacun à son goût" from Johann Strauss II's. Die Fledermaus. We believe the first time we heard her perform this was a few years ago with Martina Arroyo's Prelude to Performance. We enjoyed it so much we hope that she keeps it as an encore piece.  We loved the way she wandered among the guests and engaged them, truly immersing herself in the part of Prince Orlovsky.

Soprano Claire de Monteil, who is new to us, thrilled us with a truly Gallic "La Vie en Rose". She is the recipient of an award from Opera Index and we hope to hear her gorgeous voice at  the gala in January.

She also performed along with baritone Sungwook Kim in Adolphe Adam's "O Holy Night" creating a spiritual mood in direct contrast with Prince Orlovsky's party song.  We heard verses sung in the original French (our favorite), in Korean, and in well enunciated English. When we heard the phrase "the weary world" it truly resonated with us.

Mr. Kim also gave us an excellent "Every Valley" from Händel's Messiah with a very spirited accompaniment from Ms. Ruccolo on the keyboard. Every word was clear, a situation we never take for granted. He showed off a flexible instrument and a truly excellent trill.

Mezzo-soprano Inbar Goldmann delighted us with a Hebrew song about miracles and struggles called "Shivchi Maoz" in celebration of Hannukah, showing a lot of strength in her lower register.

 Although the Sephardic tradition is not her own, you never would have guessed it from her charming performance of "Ocho Kandelikas" in Ladino, the language of Spanish Jews. We could actually understand the words! Her performance of "Avraham Avinu" got the audience clapping and stamping their feet. What we liked the best was the Andalus mode in the accompaniment.

She also sang "A Piece of Sky" from Michel Legrand's Yentl.

Soprano Eugenia Forteza contributed songs from her homeland of Argentina, where, we learned, the dialect of Spanish is Castellano, pronounced in the typical Argentinian fashion with  "j" sound for the "ll", instead of the "y" sound.

We enjoyed Guastavino's "Hermano", a song about community, and a delightful childhood song "Caballito Criollo", both delivered with beautiful tone, sazon, and a fine vibrato.

Matthan Black accompanied himself on guitar for "I'll Be Home for Christmas". Mr. Black comes from Arkansas where people gather together and make music. We like the little riff of "Jingle Bells" he inserted toward the end.

Irving Berlin's "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" was performed in three part harmony by Ms. Scott, Ms. Forteza, and Mr. Black, sounding as fine as we've ever heard it sung.

The entertainment part of the evening concluded with a rousing "Libiamo" from Verdi's La Traviata which definitely put us in a celebratory mood.

Lately we have been realizing the unique pleasures of song salons given in casual environments.  We listened, we drank wine, we ate cookies.  We walked out onto the rainy streets of Williamsburg completely satisfied.  Thanks Bare Opera!

(c) meche kroop

Thursday, December 13, 2018


Cristina Maria Castro, Isabelle Freeman, Andy Dwan, David M. Sanchez, Carolyn Ramseur, Maria Brea, and Grant Braider

In an impressively short period of time, City Lyric Opera (née A.R.E. Opera) has made a large splash in the pool of boutique opera companies. Led by lovely ladies (Kathleen Spencer and Megan Gillis as Co-Founders and Co-Artistic Directors, with Grace Lazos as Artistic Coordinator), one of the most important part of their mission statement is to put the artist first. When we inquired about how they acquired such an excellent roster of artists, the answer was short--"We pay our singers". Great idea! They deserve it.

Ms. Spencer and Ms. Gillis will be giving a joint recital next month which we will announce on our Facebook Page (Voce di Meche), but tonight they served as narrators for the program. It was a lovely touch but rather unnecessary since the program spoke for itself. The participants, most of whom we have heard before, are as gifted dramatically as they are vocally. The scenes were directed with a sure hand by Mikhaela Mahony, Alexandra Clint, and Helen Heuttner--a gynocentric team for sure!

One aspect of the program which we particularly enjoyed (we do love having our opinions confirmed!) was that opera and musical theater pieces were presented with the same respect. Stephen Sondheim may deny this all he likes, but he has written operas far worthier than some of the pretentious and tuneless trash that some critics fawn over, but which opera lovers may see once but never twice.

"Tonight" from Bernstein's West Side Story opened the program with a bang. We were very taken with Cristina Maria Castro's bright clear soprano when we heard her recently at the City Lyric Opera gala. Tenor David Sanchez is new to us and made a fine impression as Tony falling in love with her Maria. The two artists convincingly portrayed the dawning of love in clearly sung English; they touched our heart.

The lucky Mr. Sanchez got to make love to two women in one evening.  His scene partner in "O soave fanciulla" from Puccini's La Bohême was the marvelous Maria Brea, a soprano we have long admired ever since Martina Arroyo's Prelude to Performance. We would not want to be asked to prefer one love scene over the other. There was not a "false note" in either portrayal of new love. We wished they had been performed consecutively because the first scene put us in a "new love" mood.

A duet of a totally different nature overwhelmed us with its clever dialogue which fit the music perfectly.  "Have a Little Priest" from Sondheim's  Sweeney Todd employs satisfying rhymes, witty beyond measure. The song was done justice by soprano Isabelle Freeman, who struck us as a strong spinto, and baritone Andy Dwan who has a mobile face and body, just right for comedy. It would be an understatement to say we enjoyed the duet immensely.

And what about a duet for two men? From Sondheim's Into the Woods we heard "Agony" in which two "princes charming" lament the unavailability of their love object. The very funny Mr. Dwan was joined by another baritone Grant Braider in this stellar performance. We love the way Sondheim marries short punchy phrases to music--the best way to deal with the rhythms of the English language.

Ms. Freeman as Vitellia was joined by mezzo-soprano Carolyn Ramseur as Sesto in the duet "Come ti piace" from Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito. Until Titus pardons them, they get to raise all kinds of hell-- but with voices this melodious, who could dislike them?

Let us move on to some dazzling solo offerings. We have never been a fan of Tom Cipullo, nor had we ever heard of his opera Mayo.  Some online research revealed that Mayo premiered last month at SUNY Potsdam. We don't know how Ms. Castro got her hands on the score but we loved "Valeria's Aria" which was (gasp!) actually melodic. Come to think of it, it was Ms. Castro who introduced us to some wonderful music at the gala last month. We now consider her our "go-to" for something new and special.

Ms. Brea gave a winning performance of "Depuis le jour" from Charpentier's Louise. Her French was finely rendered and the work was beautifully shaped and dynamically varied. The upward skips were smooth and the line was lovely.

Ms. Ramseur made a fine showing in the "Composer's Aria" from Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos. The phrase "Musik ist eine heilige Kunst" could have been the theme for the entire evening. The German was clearly enunciated and the aria was delivered with just the right degree of passion.

Ms. Freeman got to show her stuff in "Tacea la notte placida" from Verdi's Il Trovatore. This is a large voice with interesting overtones and a lot of what financial analysts would call "upside potential". We liked the vibrato, the dynamic variety, and the Italianate legato. We loved the contrasting cabaletta.

Mr. Braider's solo was "Hai gia vinta la causa", Count Almaviva's aria from Mozart's Nozze di Figaro. The vocal qualities were excellent and what we'd like to see, to take the performance to the next level, would be to witness the inner workings of the Count's mind on his face. He's a rather dense character and he's trying to put 2 and 2 together but only comes up with 3 1/2. We in the audience need to be able to laugh at his benightedness.

Mr. Sanchez' solo was "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" from Franz Lehar's Das Land des Lächelns. He began in good German and switched to English for the final verse, a nice move we thought.

What evening is complete without a little cabaret? Mr. Dwan performed a pair of songs by William Bolcom, putting a very fey and very ironic spin on "Amor", and then told the tale of poor "George".

The famous Act III quartet from La Bohême is often heard on programs whenever you have a tenor, a baritone, and two sopranos.  We almost always enjoy it but last night was one of the best we've heard. The contrast between the reconciling Mimi and Rodolfo and the embattled Musetta and Marcello was not only well-delineated vocally but also dramatically, due to some fine direction.

We also liked the direction for the closing number--the "Habanera" from Bizet's Carmen. Ms. Ramseur changed out of her male "drag" and appeared in a sexy gown, seducing with her voice and body. The rest of the cast was onstage, acting as chorus. It was a swell way to bring the evening to a close.

Music Director Jeremy Chan's contributions to the evening were significant. We particularly noticed his artistry in the Verdi and the Puccini. He found an entire orchestra within the piano!

City Lyric Opera is a company to watch with many interesting activities both educational and entertaining. Do visit their web site for more information--www.citylyricopera.org.

(c) meche kroop

Tuesday, December 11, 2018


Ryan Hurley, Marina Iwao, Santiago Pizarro, Bronwyn Schuman, Maxwell Levy, Kathleen O'Mara, and Brandon Linhard at Juilliard Liederabend

We accidentally spelled Juilliard with three "l"s, possibly because of the presence onstage of love, longing, and laughter. In another delightful liederabend, coached and curated by Cameron Stowe, an adventuresome program was offered without anything to injure our tender ears. As a matter of fact, our tender ears felt absolutely caressed.

So then, what was the adventuresome aspect? It was the creation of a faux song cycle by Schubert. Well, it wasn't exactly faux. Schubert composed the music for these four songs as a group.  However, Goethe wrote the texts separately and they were published separately, but a case could be made that Schubert had some resonance in mind as he composed the music, a resonance picked up by Mr. Stowe.

In any event, we enjoyed the juxtaposition as well as the expressive singing of tenor Ryan Hurley. "Der Musensohn" is well known and one of our favorites; we enjoyed the lively rhythms although we would have preferred a lighter touch in Marina Iwao's piano.

The following three songs are lesser known and we were happy that Ms. Iwao's enthusiasm abated so we could better hear the text. The plaintive text of "An die Entfernte" received the appropriate coloring from both voice and piano who matched better with each other. The sad feelings continued in "Am Flusse" whilst "Wilkommen und Abschied" ended on a more optimistic note.

We found ourselves wishing that we had poets like Goethe today. We also found ourselves wishing that the ignorant members of the audience would withhold applause after every song. Perhaps this advice could be stated right on the program!

There was more Schubert to come from Kathleen O'Mara with her lovely sweet soprano instrument. "Die junge Nonne" is such a wonderful song, filled with opportunity for variation in coloration which we hope Ms. O'Mara will develop. There could be more contrast between the storm and the inner peace felt by the young nun. We did hear that contrast in Cameron Richardson-Eames' piano.

We were so happy to be introduced to "Dass sie hier gewesen" with Friedrich Rückert's poignant sentiment. Come to think of it, we could also use a Rückert today!  The lengthy paean to the joys and pains of love found in "Lied der Delphine" was another newfound treasure.

Tenor Santiago Pizarro was on hand to offer songs by Franz Liszt. We never knew that "Im Rhein, im schönen Strome" existed and utilized the same Heinrich Heine text that Schumann set in his cycle Dichterliebe, with just a single word change. Liszt's iteration has a totally different feeling and we enjoyed Mr. Pizarro's delivery.

Collaborative pianist Bronwyn Schuman produced some fine rippling figures as backdrop to the voice. Other moods were created as well--the gloom of "Ein Fichtenbaum steht einsam", the bitterness of "Vergiftet sind meine Lieder" and the confused feelings of "Freudvoll und Leidvoll". We think Mr. Pizarro will likewise develop more variety in his coloration.

The liederabend concluded with some cabaret songs by William Bolcom, sung with high drama and good humor by baritone Maxwell Levy, accompanied by Brandon Linhard. The only one of this group with which we were familiar was "Murray the Furrier". "Thius, King of Orf" was over after just one phrase. Perhaps our favorite was "Satisfaction". Mr. Levy has a real flair for cabaret and our conjecture is that he has spent some time with Steven Blier--or will do so.

Our major quibble with young singers is inconsistency in the pronunciation of the final "ch". Sometimes it is omitted; sometimes it is over-enunciated. Perhaps coaches don't work on it because they think very few people speak German. But we have to pick on something, don't we?

Nonetheless, we had a fine time at Juilliard and count on several more liederabende in 2019!

(c) meche kroop

Monday, December 10, 2018


Michael Fennelly, Emma Dogliani, Andrew Egbuchiem, Jenny Schuler, Dilara Unsal, Megan Cullen, Michael McAvoy, Michelle Pretto, Emma Lavandier, Lars Fosser

Lyra New York's International Vocal Competition was held yesterday at the National Opera Center and we were present to hear the finalists, as well as a bonus--the finalists in the Mozart Vocal Competition. There was a distinguished panel of judges and the wonderful accompanist Michael Fennelly who manages to be just about everywhere.

The competition ran smoothly and everyone performed well; the judges must have had a difficult time choosing the winners when the differences in talent were so slim. As one might expect, we didn't always agree with the judges but that is to be expected.  What experienced adjudicators look for is not always the same as what an audience member reacts to.

What we will relate is from the viewpoint of an audience member and, as is customary for us, will not reveal which singer achieved what placement. 

In the Mozart competition, all three singers (Megan Cullen, Jenny Schuler, and Carla Vargas) sang the same aria from Mozart's Idomeneo. This will never be our favorite Mozart opera but it was interesting to hear how each singer handled the "laughing" part. We also liked the differentiation between the lyrical section and the cabaletta, with its fiery fioritura.

The finals which followed offered three categories--art song, oratorio, and operatic arie. (Guess which your reviewer enjoyed most!)  

In the art song category, we especially enjoyed bass-baritone Wooju Kim's expressive tonal quality which he employed well in an expansive song by Tchaikovsky which we cannot name and the lovely "Einsamkeit" by Brahms. We thought his performance might be elevated to a higher level if he relaxed his physical gestures to a more natural manner that would match the expressivity of his voice.

Emma Dogliani sang Richard Strauss' "Zueignung" and Bachelet's "Chère nuit"

In the oratorio section we heard counter-tenor Andrew Egbuchiem and baritone Michael McAvoy, both of whom sounded just fine although, to be honest, oratorio "ain't our thang". We will say that Mr. McAvoy delivered "Revenge" from Händel's Alexander's Feast as if it were an operatic aria, singing with drama, spirit and flexibility.

In the operatic division we were pleased to hear a promising Wagnerian singer--Jenny Schuler, who sang "Du bist der Lenz" from Wagner's Die Walküre. This suited her large soprano far better than the earlier Mozart.

Another highlight was soprano Dilara Unsal's performance of "O patria mia" from Verdi's Aida.  This is another large voice with a great deal of promise. There was plenty of strength at the lower register that made us speculate that she might have once been a mezzo-soprano. Yet, her top notes rang with soprano resonance. There were a couple vowels in her Italian that needed to be corrected but that's a minor quibble.

She also sang an aria from Tchaikovsky's Pique Dame with passion and conviction. Since we don't speak Russian, we cannot comment on her pronunciation but it sounded just fine.

Bass-baritone Lars Fosser, who neglected to introduce himself, gave a chilling interpretation of Iago's  "Credo" from Verdi's Otello. There was plenty of menace in the coloration which seemed to carry over into Don Giovanni's invitation to the party in which he hopes to seduce Zerlina. We would have preferred a bit more variety. Don Giovanni needs to be more seductive and charming!

We enjoyed Michelle Pretto's generous soprano which she put to good use in an aria from Verdi's Ernani. We were happy to hear another aria, one from Korngold's Die tote Stadt which she sang in fine German. 

There was only one mezzo present.  Emma Lavandier performed "Una voce poco fa" from Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia and "Gardez bien", Stefano's aria from Gounod's Romeo et Juliette.

We refer you to the website www.lyranewyork.com for information on the singers and the competition. The main distinguishing feature of this competition is, however, something we would like to share. There are no age limits! We can think of so many issues that might have delayed or interrupted a singer's career and it is a wonderful benefit to give everyone an equal opportunity.

In closing, we would like to paraphrase the advice we heard from the legendary centenarian Maestro Antonio Coppola in a master class he gave for Martina Arroyo's Prelude to Performance.  Come out onstage with confidence, say your name loudly and clearly.  Announce your selection loudly and clearly.  Although most of yesterday's singers gave their names, they mumbled the names of their selections. Please, singers, learn to project your spoken voice as well as your singing voice!

(c) meche kroop