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.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018


(seated) Steven Blier and Jack Gulielmetti
(front on left side) Shereen Pimentel and Christine Taylor Price
(back row) Jacob Scharfman, Joshua Blue, Dimitri Katotakis, Andrew Munn, and Rihab Chaieb

At the end of last night's concert of protest songs, Maestro Steven Blier uttered his first words, "Garbo Speaks". The consequent laughter was related to the absence of his customary narration and anecdotal contributions.  This time, M. Blier wanted the songs to speak for themselves.  They did speak--they more than spoke; they lamented, they howled, they challenged negativity.

This New York Festival of Song show was originally presented at Juilliard and at Henry's Restaurant as part of their Sing for Your Supper series, staged by the terrific director Mary Birnbaum.  It deserved a wider audience and was therefore presented last night at Merkin Hall once again, this time directed by Mo Zhou, who did a great job of moving the artists around the stage and adding gestural meaning to the material.

The theme resonated with the audience, inasmuch as we have so much to protest in today's political climate. Perhaps the most vociferous applause was in response to Woody Guthrie's unpublished "Old Man Trump". As we know, POTUS comes from a real estate family and his father was the racist landlord mentioned in Mr. Guthrie's song; Guthrie was incensed when Trump tried to keep Beach Haven white. The mid 20th c. song was performed by baritone Dimitri Katotakis, beginning a capella, then joined by Jack Gulielmetti's guitar.  At one point he played the harmonica!

Another very powerful song was the ballad "Joe Hill", written by Alfred Hayes and Earl Robinson and performed with great depth of feeling by bass Andrew Munn who "mined" his real life experience in Appalachia to give the song a very present quality that struck us right in the gut.

Accompanied by Mr. Blier's very bluesy piano, tenor Joshua Blue began his very personal performance of Fats Waller's "Black and Blue" (lyrics by Andy Razaf) with a feeling of puzzlement that grew in power before reaching the anguished climax.

Jacob Scharfman impressed with his full low voice, lending gravity to "The Lavender Song" by Mischa Spoliansky and Kurt Schwabach; a high voiced campy delivery would have undermined the intense message of the song but Mr. Scharfman's body movement made it clear that the song was about self-expression of the marginalized homosexual community--a half century before the Stonewall Riots.

We have saved the ladies for last. Soprano Shereen Pimentel brought back personal memories with her performance of Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi" which we actually experienced in Canada sung by Joni Mitchell! She truly did the song justice and we loved the backup group doing the "doo wop"--Mr. Katotakis, Christine Price, and Rihab Chaieb.

Soprano Christine Taylor Price preceded her performance of Bernstein's "A Julia de Burgos" by reciting Burgos' poetry with such apt dramatic intent that we understood the song for the first time. We knew Burgos was a feminist poet from Puerto Rico and we have heard the song a few times without "getting" it.  All it took was a true vocal and dramatic artist to get it across!

The very talented mezzo-soprano Rihab Chaieb sang "A Prayer to the New Year" in Arabic. It was the most contemporary piece on the program; the text by Fadwa Tuqan was set by Mohammed Fairouz and we found it inspirational. We wish it had been the final piece on the program because it left us with hopeful feelings for the future.

Many feelings were expressed over the course of the short program. "El Cambalache" by Enrique Santos Discépolo was translated into English by William Bolcom and Mr. Sharfman brought out every ounce of cynicism, making it the most contemporary of the offerings.

Other songs we heard protested fascism in Mussolini's Italy and in Argentina. The refugee situation and exile were addressed as well as racial and religious discrimination and the despoiling of our environment. There is so much to protest!

Do we need to tell you how superb all the voices were and how heartfelt the performances? The entire cast joined in for the encore, Jane Ritchie's "Now is the Cool of the Day" sung by the entire cast in beautiful harmony and a capella. Like most strophic folk tunes, it lingers in the ear.

(c) meche kroop

Tuesday, February 27, 2018


Aumna Iqbal, Marques Hollie, and Joyce Yin in Caccini's Euridice

Music can lift our spirits, bring us catharsis for sorrow, and produce feelings of oneness with the universe.  But can it bring the dead to life? That is a myth the Ancients would have us believe. The demigod Orpheus played and sang so beautifully that he was able to soften the heart of Pluto, god of the underworld, and thereby guide his beloved Euridice back to Earth.

What a perfect story for a new musical form, devised in 1600. Many opera goers credit Monteverdi as the first composer of opera but the oldest surviving score is that of Giulio Caccini who used a libretto by Ottavio Rinuccini--also used by Jacopo Peri. We understand there was a race to get the opera performed.  These scholarly points matter little to us. What matters to us is that the the fearless and endlessly creative Cantanti Project underwent the project of restoring Caccini's work to vibrant life.

At the turn of the 17th c. there were no theatrical conventions for opera as new ground was being broken. Harking back to antiquity, a Greek Chorus was used to narrate and the characters  sang lovely melodic phrases to each other simply and directly with minimal artifice. 

In this telling of the tale, the chorus of shepherds and nymphs tells us of the joys of the happy couple, Orfeo and Euridice.  Euridice (Artistic Director soprano Joyce Yin) celebrates with her friends, dancing and singing her joy. The celebration of Orfeo (mezzo-soprano Aumna Iqbal) and his friends is somewhat randy with teasing and masculine energy.

The sad news that Euridice has died of a snakebite is brought by Dafne (soprano Elyse Anne Kakacek). Arcetro (soprano Laura Mitchell) tells of the arrival of the goddess Venus (mezzo-soprano Brittany Fowler) who will carry Orfeo to the underworld in her chariot. She encourages him to use his musical talent to sway Pluto, god of the underworld.

At first, Pluto (bass-baritone Tom Corbeil) is intransigent. Returning the dead to Earth is not in his playbook. The intervention of his wife Proserpina (soprano Lydia Dahling) has a powerful effect and Orfeo gets to take Euridice home.

The good news is spread by Aminta (tenor Marquis Hollie) who unites the loving couple and everyone celebrates.

Under the divine direction of Bea (Brittany) Goodwin, the entire cast (including tenor Michael Celentano in the dual roles of Tirsi and Caronte (Charon), the tale was told with integrity and sincerity. We expected the fine singing that we heard from the cast but were astonished by their facility with body movement. We concluded that several of the female cast members had experienced  ballet training at some point. Ms. Yin was particularly affecting in her joyful turns and arabesques. We loved the physicality of the production as much as the singing.

Musical accompaniment was provided by Dorian Baroque with Dylan Sauerwald conducting from the harpsichord. The instrumentation was given to John Mark Rozendaal who bowed his Viola da Gamba with impressive lyricism, to Paul Holmes Morton who dazzled us with his control of the long necked Theorbo, and the plangently plucked Harp of Christa Patton. There were passages in which only one or two instruments were heard.

The singing was lovely all around and the production generated optimistic feelings. We wondered what the audience might have thought and felt four centuries ago. We imagine that this novel form of entertainment must have made a hit because opera continued to grow and evolve.

We would add that Alexandria Hoffman's simple costume designs were effective, as were the simple props.

This is only Cantanti Project's fourth season but they have already given us a number of memorable evenings, including a radical interpretation of Handel's Orlando. Although they are not a repertory company, their reputation ensures that they can attract a stellar cast, as evidenced by the outstanding performances we heard in this production of Euridice.

(c) meche kroop

Sunday, February 25, 2018


Tadeusz Domanowski, Edyta Kulczak, and Disellla Lárusdóttir

The Kosciuszko Foundation on East 65th St. has been a fixture on the New York cultural scene since 1925 and was named for the Polish hero who helped the United States of America during the Revolutionary War.  Its mission is to promote closer ties between our two nations by means of educational, scientific, and cultural exchange.  It is the latter mission that has brought us to their beautiful historic brownstone on a number of occasions.

It is a fine idea to promote Polish culture in the USA. Most Americans, when asked about Poland's contributions to our culture, would barely know what to say except for Chopin, whose prodigious piano output must be on everyone's short list of brilliant composers for the piano.

The Foundation awards up to $1 million yearly to students and scholars, scientists and professionals, but above all--artists.

Last night, we joined in celebration of the hundredth anniversary of Poland's achievement of independence. Before that time, Poland had been divided up like a pie with Russia dominating the Eastern portion, and Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire occupying the remainder. The Polish language was outlawed and Chopin, among many other artists, fled to France where he flourished as a composer. The minor mode of his songs (and yes, many of his piano works strike us as songs without words) reflect the sadness one feels when exiled from one's homeland.

Chopin did write songs with words as well and that brings us to the raison d'être for last night's thrilling recital; it was an hommage to Marcella Sembrich, a famous opera singer of bygone days about whom we knew next to nothing. The fascinating story involves her rise from poverty to wealth, fame, and philanthropy. She was friends with Caruso and the great composers of the 19th c. and impressed Puccini with her performance of the role of Mimi. She starred at the Metropolitan Opera for 25 years.

Guest speaker Richard Wargo, the Artistic Director of the Marcella Sembrich Museum in upstate New York recounted interesting facts about her life, as did Ewa Zadworna, Director of Cultural Affairs at the foundation. The anecdote that captured our imagination is that Alexander II of Russia invited her to the Winter Palace to sing her signature song--Chopin's "Życzenie"("The Maiden's Wish")--in Polish!  This was during the period when Polish was outlawed!

And now we come to the entertainment portion of the evening in which two great artists of the voice performed a most satisfying recital which ended with an encore of this very song, Ms. Sembrich's favorite, and now our favorite as well.  This "maiden's wish" is that Chopin's songs appear regularly on recital programs!

It is always a thrill to get up close and personal with international opera stars and the gorgeous room at the Kosciuszko Foundation is the perfect "stage", what with fine wood panelling, heavy velvet curtains, and a portrait of the dashing Kosciuszko. We felt transported to another time and place.

Icelandic Soprano Disella Lárusdóttir and mezzo-soprano Edyta Kulczak were perfect choices for this special evening and entertained a most attentive audience with operatic selections that seemed to have been arranged sequentially from Baroque to Romantic. They wisely scaled their voices to the intimacy of the room. Their accompanist Tadeusz Domanowski served them well with sensitive piano support, never calling attention to himself.

Ms. Kulczak opened the program with two Händel arias,  In "Se bramate" from Serse, Ms. Kulczak's richly burnished instrument carried us on a wave of melody. With astute variations of dynamics and tempi, she demonstrated great expressivity of both voice and gesture. We enjoyed the accuracy of her fioritura.

In contrast, Händel's "Lascia ch'io pianga" from Rinaldo offered opportunities for a lovely long legato line. The repeated verse was given several variations of ornamentation.

Ms. Lárusdóttir followed with Susanna's final aria from Mozart's Nozze di Figaro, sung in lovely Italian, meaning that the double consonants were never shortchanged, as they often are, by American singers. There was a lovely warmth to the performance and she soared to some stunning high notes at the end and employed an affecting change of color when Mozart made the brief switch to the minor mode.

The two women joined voices several times during the evening and dazzled us with their harmony. It was unusual to hear Countess Almaviva sung by a mezzo but we loved the way it provided distinction between her dignity and Susanna's carefree attitude in "Sull'aria" from Nozze di Figaro.

They also offered "Ah guarda sorella" from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte in which they made use of the portraits on the walls. The vocal lines were delicately embroidered. We only wish the two lovelies had ditched the music stand. We felt the same way about "The Flower Duet" from Leo Délibes' Lakme. They sounded great but readers will remember how we feel about music stands! It was so lovely that the audience demanded to hear it again as an encore.

Miss Lárusdóttir gave a lovely account of Adina's aria "Prendi per me sei libero" from Donizetti's L'Elisir d'amore, showing her coloratura stuff with brilliant vocal fireworks.  In "Je suis encore" from Massenet's Manon, she sang in fine French and totally convinced us as an innocent provincial girl on her first trip away from home, unguarded in her emotional expression. This interpretation served to heighten sympathy for the character and would make Manon's unhappy fate all the more tragic.

Ms. Kulczak got her chance with Donizetti as well and dazzled us with "Fia dunque vero" from La Favorita.  What a brilliant aria! The arpeggi in the piano effectively support the melodic vocal line. The fiery cabaletta offered the opportunity for Ms.Kulczak to show her bright upper register where the resonance was outstanding. 

Another aspect of this artist was revealed in the seductive coloration she lent to Saint Saëns' "Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix" from Samson et Dalila. The French was parfait and the downward scales seemed like a swoon.

French works very well for her, as heard in "Les tringles des sistres tintaient" from Bizet's Carmen. Mr. Domanowski's piano captured all the excitement and her "sister in song" joined in for some spirited dancing.  It was a fine way to end the program.

But there were more delights to come--the aforementioned song by Chopin, the repeat of the "Flower Song" and "Belle nuit" from Offenbach's Les contes d'Hoffman. Two lovely voices intertwined is a recipe for magic!

We left with a renewed appreciation for Polish history and culture and a desire to hear more Chopin songs.  Are any singers listening?

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, February 24, 2018


Ying Fang, super-star soprano (photo by Dario Acosta)

A perfect performance of the kind of music one prefers to hear can totally transform one's mood. The rainy day glum gave way to a sunshine-y kind of joy under the influence of Ying Fang's artistry. With the superlative collaborative pianist Ken Noda, we heard the kind of music that formed the basis for the art song recital.  Happily (for us), no new ground was tilled. We don't go to lieder recitals to be intellectually challenged by obscure texts.  We go to be delighted and emotionally moved. 

Ms. Fang has been the object of our adoration for at least six years. What great fortune for the opera world that Mr. Noda discovered her in Shanghai! Her advanced studies at Juilliard brought her to our attention.  Perhaps the first review was for her Zerlina. We also adored her Susanna. Several appearances in recitals just continued to impress us with her artistry.

It was a coup for Carnegie Hall to snag her for this eagerly awaited recital. Weill Recital Hall was a perfect venue for her intimate performing style. Although she has the physical beauty and fashion sense to come across as a diva, she does not. She commands the stage by virtue of confidence and professionality. She draws us into her world with a nod, a smile, or a well-timed glance.

In programming this recital, she took us to the very roots of lieder, with a few other selections to pepper the tasty stew. Her focused bell-like soprano delights the ear and her lightness of touch seemed perfect for Mozart. She knows exactly what she is singing about and brings out the subtext with subtle artistry. This may be the first time we appreciated the symbolism of a flower that blooms too early, or one that willingly sacrifices itself for love.

Mozart's melodic magic was everywhere evident and his abrupt shifts from major to minor were strongly delineated by Ms. Fang and the very present Mr. Noda. The German text was clearly enunciated and the word coloration conveyed every nuance, amplified by Ms. Fang's expressive face.

This made us think about the artifice of the lieder recital. The preparation is intense but the performance must seem spontaneous and natural. 

The sets alternated between Mozart and Schubert, who came along a generation or two later, but seemed to have composed with Mozart whispering in his ear and guiding his pen. If only one of them could return to earth and guide the pens of today's composers! That they both chose wonderful texts, texts that rhyme and scan, like those of Goethe and Müller, surely affected the flow of melody and phrasing. Ms. Fang and Mr. Noda seemed totally tuned into these aspects and gave each text apposite phrasing.

We loved the sweet and happy songs like Mozart's "Un moto di gioia" and "Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben",  an aria from his unfinished opera Zaide. We had similar pleasures from Schubert's passionate "Ganymed". But there were other emotions to hold dear, like the angry "Als Luise die Briefe" by Mozart, and Schubert's wistful "Im Frühling".  But our most profound feeling came from Mozart's "Abendempfindung" which brings tears to our eyes when it is well performed.  It was and it did!

Mr. Noda's artistry always impresses us.  Last night we loved the hymn-like prelude to Schubert's "Im Abendrot" and the rocking piano which gave "Nacht und Träume" the feel of a lullaby.  There was plenty going on in the piano part of "Viola" and we observed how deeply the two artists listened to one another and reflected upon each other. This lengthy lied comprises multiple moods and varied tempi.

For opera lovers, we had Susanna's final aria from Mozart's Nozze di Figaro, a role in which we have enjoyed Ms. Fang's performance. Without excess, she subtly let us know that Susanna was "performing" for her new husband. The wide upward skips were artistically negotiated.

The final work on the program was Mozart's concert aria "Misera, dove son"; the opening messa di voce grabbed our attention and the lavish embellishments reinforced the character's anguish.

Thankfully, we were gifted with two encores, loudly demanded by the capacity crowd--"In trutina" from Carl Orff's Carmina Burana (sung in Latin), and Rachmaninoff's "The Dream". We could say that the entire evening was like a dream come true!

(c) meche kroop

Thursday, February 22, 2018


Donald Sulzen and Anna Caterina Antonacci (photo by Sarah Shatz)

Zankel Hall made a fine home for an unusual recital by "the singer's singer" Anna Caterina Antonacci and the collaborative pianist who partners her well, measure by measure, phrase by phrase. The recital was presented by New York City Opera and the excitement began at the end when impressario and General Director Michael Capasso got down on his knee (we kid you not) to present flowers to Ms. Antonacci.  Now that is something we have never seen before, but exactly right when one encounters royalty!

There were so many opera lovers wanting to hear Ms. Antonacci that we had to wait for the second night to get tickets. The recital was eagerly awaited; we don't believe Ms. Antonacci has performed in New York City since 2013 when she gave an outstanding performance of baroque music for Lincoln Center's White Light Festival. That was quite a show involving unusual staging, scenery, and costuming (review archived and available through the search bar).  Last night's recital was also unusual, but unusual in a different way.

We begin by saying that our taste in music was best met by the encores. The brief piece by Girolamo Frescobaldi entitled   "Se l'aura spira" thrilled us to the bone and lingers in our ears like the early 17th c. jewel that it is.

The second encore astonished us by making the familiar fresh. Ms. Antonacci sang the "Habanera" from Carmen as an intimate chanson rather than an operatic aria. One must recognize Ms. Antonacci as an idiosyncratic artist who will put her individual stamp on things!

The program itself held surprises for us. Most impressive was Francis Poulenc's major concert aria "La Dame de Monte Carlo" which is almost an entire opera in and of itself, or at the very least, a character study of a depressed widow, addicted to gambling. and down on her luck. No longer young and loved, she plans on drowning herself in the Mediterranean. Ms. Antonacci brought out every nuance of despair and bitterness.

There were further contributions from Poulenc on the program--Le Travail du Peintre is a cycle of songs, settings of text by Paul Éluard who created verbal descriptions of the famous painters of the early 20th c.  Poulenc created the musical portraits and Ms. Antonacci gave us an aural tour which reminded us conceptually, but not musically, of Moussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. Perhaps it is only coincidence that we favored the magic realism of Marc Chagall as we visualized the huge murals at the entrance to The Metropolitan Opera!

Another surprise was the nearly perfect English with which Ms. Antonacci sang Benjamin Britten's On this Island. We are not wild about W.H. Auden's text nor Mr. Britten's music but we definitely enjoyed the artist's ironic delivery of "As it is, plenty". This is a difficult text to make sense of, but she succeeded.

"Nocturne" , from the same cycle, began meditatively, grew in emphasis and power, and ended in a quiet postlude.

The program also comprised Debussy's lovely settings of Paul Verlaine's evocative text, of which our favorite was the sensuous "C'est l'extase langoureuse" in which Ms. Antonacci seemed to savor every word.  This made a nice contrast to the opening "Mandoline", a frisky affair.

We have heard a great deal about Nadia Boulanger as a composition teacher to many 20th c. composers, but had never heard her own vocal compositions. "Versailles" struck us as ethereal but we preferred the melody of "Cantique", with text by Maurice Maeterlinck.  "Elle a vendu mon coeur" , text by Camille Mauclair, is an affecting tale of betrayed love and consequent bitterness.

With so much French on the program, we were happy to hear some Italian. Ottorino Respighi's Deità Silvane gave Mr. Sulzen a chance to shine with some rippling figures in "Crepuscolo". However, we found the marriage of text and music most impressive in "Acqua".

We are happy indeed that New York City Opera is bringing us more than opera! We have feasted on music today and are replete.

(c) meche kroop


Gregory Feldmann, Thomas West, Kathryn Henry, Minjung Jung, Nathaniel LaNasa, Jinhee Park, and Tamara Banješević

We enjoyed another fulfilling Liederabend at Juilliard yesterday.  The lovely soprano Vivian Yau opened the program with some interesting songs written by Rebecca Clarke, a composer heretofore unknown to us, who seemed to be drawn to poetry of a mystical nature. Ms. Yau's beautiful timbre was well suited to the ethereal nature of the songs; her collaborative pianist Ji Yung Lee contributed some delicate arpeggi and the two artists matched each other in dynamics with some gorgeous pianissimi, well suited to the material.

Baritone Thomas West performed the next set with collaborative pianist Mariel Werner. We look forward to hearing Mr. West sing something more sympathetic to our ears. The 20th c. songs sung in English were not to our taste, and the English diction was largely unclear. For us, the problem lay in the text.

The only text we might have enjoyed (Hilaire Belloc's "Tarantella") had short punchy rhymed phrases and was set to rapid fire music by Witold Lutoslawski that was entirely as grim as the final verse. We might have enjoyed it more if Lutoslawski had set us up with something frisky and then punched us in the gut at the end. We only had this thought upon returning home and reading the text which was not clear during the performance. Unfortunately, the hall was very dim and we couldn't follow along.

The late 19th c. songs of Edvard Grieg were far more appealing and the performance of Tamara Banješević was compelling. Jinhee Park made a sympathetic piano partner and the two of them performed four selections from Sechs Lieder in happily comprehensible German. Perhaps it is the crisp consonants of German that make it so much better to sing than English.

We were held spellbound throughout. Grieg wisely chose text by Heinrich Heine for "Gruss",   Johann Wolfgang von Goethe for "Zur Rosenzeit",  and Emanuel von Geibel for the romantic "Ein Traum", which we never tire of hearing. Grieg succeeded in enhancing the words with his music; Ms. Banješević and Ms. Park succeeded in enhancing both text and music with their deeply felt performance.  It is exactly what one hopes to find in a lieder recital.

Pianist Nathaniel LaNasa was a worthy piano partner for baritone Gregory Feldmann. We particularly enjoyed the way he evoked the rolling waves in Alexander Zemlinsky's "Nun schwillt der See so bang".  Mr. Feldmann has a lovely timbre in his instrument and excellent German diction. 

Although contemporaneous with Mahler and Strauss, Alexander Zemlinsky is not as frequently performed. We were glad to be introduced to his oeuvre but did not feel compelled to seek out more of his songs. We found "Tod in Ähren" to be unrelievedly grim, whilst "Der Tag wird kühl" offered the two artists multiple opportunity for variety in the color palette.

What would a lieder recital be without some Richard Strauss! Thanks to soprano Kathryn Henry and pianist Minjung Jung, we heard three songs--all setting of text by Heinrich Heine, whose poetry was wisely taken up by so many composers.

The tessitura of "Mit deinen blauen Augen" seemed low for the soprano fach but Ms. Henry handled it beautifully. In "Schlechtes Wetter", Heine sees a small woman tottering down the street on a dark and stormy night; he speculates that she is shopping for ingredients to bake a cake for her spoiled daughter. What an interesting imagination!  But it gives the soprano ample story telling opportunity. 

In "Frühlingsfeier" Heine describes a disturbing picture of some wild women lamenting the loss of the beautiful youth Adonis in a pagan ritual. This Springtime ritual symbolizes the death and rebirth undergone by la belle nature. This song really requires Strauss' full orchestration but  Ms. Henry and her excellent piano partner Minjung Jung went a long way toward creating the wild passion.

Another great experience presented by the Juilliard Vocal Arts Department, this one curated and coached by Cameron Stowe.  Keep 'em coming!

(c) meche kroop

Monday, February 19, 2018


Megan Nielson and Paolo Buffagni as Floria Tosca and Mario Cavaradossi

Puccini's Tosca may just be the perfect opera. It is tuneful and offers memorable arias for each principal. It reminds us how fragile are the arts and how easily trampled (trumpled) they can be. The story is a riveting one with complex characters, giving the singers many opportunities for dramatic excess, a real treat in this day and age of "whatever". These characters are living and dying for the highest of stakes.

Under the general direction of Zachary James, himself a singer, Opera Ithaca has made quite a name for itself; their bringing their productions to New York City is a treat, even when they are performing a reduced version. Only the very best singers are put onstage for our delight.

As Floria Tosca, we had soprano Megan Nielson, whose Suor Angelica, Nedda, and Tatiana had impressed us on prior occasions. The very live acoustics in the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church elicited ample overtones in her lovely instrument. "Vissi d'arte"was sung with fine details of coloration within a larger dramatic arc. Her voice is well centered and even throughout the register. She inhabited the role completely and we could not take our eyes away from her. 

Although most people prefer to sit at least halfway back in the house, we ourself love to be right down front, the better to experience the intimacy. When Tosca kills the menacing Scarpia our heart was pounding.  He was so hateful that we could have killed him ourself!

As Tosca's love interest we heard tenor Paolo Buffagni whose garlic infused tone originated, as we believe, in Modena, also the birthplace of the dear departed Pavarotti. Is it the Parma ham, the Parmigiano, the balsamico?  Mr. Buffagni sang with ample tone and proper Italianate phrasing that is best learned in the cradle. His voice was highly resonant within the church's acoustics but he was especially moving in his Act III duet with Ms. Nielson--"O dolci mani"-- when he held back the volume in a show of tenderness.

Both of these characters are complex. Tosca is as ready to sacrifice her Catholic morality for Cavaradossi as she is to torment him about the model for his painting of the Virgin Mary. Cavaradossi adores his lady love but shoves her aside to minister to his friend Angelotti who has escaped from prison. He risks his own life to protect his friend.

There is nothing complex about the character of Baron Scarpia. He is evil through and through, as are all politicians who prey upon their own citizens. Particularly resonant to where we are in 2018 is his sense of entitlement to women, not for pleasure but as a show of power. In Act I, the most significant feeling was one of menace.  In Act II, he made an attempt to decorate his lust with seductiveness. Michael Nyby gave his all vocally and dramatically.

Jake Stamatis performed the role of Cesare Angelotti; Benno Ressa injected the role of the Sacristan with enough humor to set us up for the tragedy to come. Andrew Hudson-Sabens made a fine Spoletta and Nathan Murphy served well as Sciarrone and later as a jailer. Rachel Silverstein sang the beautiful aria of the Shepherd Boy, strangely dressed in white, looking more like an angel than a shepherd boy.

Without benefit of titles, the audience relied on the narration of stage director Ellen Jackson, which was quite clear and detailed. What we saw was halfway between a concert version and a full production. Although Ms. Nielson and Mr. Buffagni acted their parts off the book, Mr. Nyby and the others were mostly trying to act holding the score.  We would have preferred otherwise.

Ms. Jackson staged the opera well, making use of the church balcony for Cavaradossi's painting and his interaction with the fugitive Angelotti. A twist in the plot dealt rather successfully with weaponry. There would have been no safe way for Tosca to jump to her death so she killed herself with Scarpia's pistol--the same one she used to kill him in Act II, having swiped it from his jacket pocket. It was a bit strange to see the pistol dangling out of her pocket in Act III but it solved the problem. The firing squad in the final scene was left to the imagination of the audience.

The thirteen singers in the chorus did well with the "Te Deum" in Act I and as the musical entertainment in Act II  where they stood off to the side. There was one member of the chorus who knew his part without the book and we give him props for that!

Gordon Schermer conducted and played the piano score while J. David Williams performed at the impressive church organ for the "Te Deum".

We loved feeling so involved with the action and we loved hearing some very fine voices. The transportation issues of getting to Brooklyn evaporated with the heat of the performances.

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, February 17, 2018


Bryan Wagorn and Nadine Sierra

We rushed uptown to the Park Avenue Armory from our afternoon at the Morgan Library where we heard seventeen young singers competing for the generous awards given by the George London Foundation.  Only a glutton for vocal music could retain energy and enthusiasm. But the artistry of Nadine Sierra and her piano partner Bryan Wagorn ensured that our attention never flagged. 

It occurred to us that Ms. Sierra, not yet 30, would have fit right in with the demographics of the London competitors.  But Ms. Sierra won that competition eight years ago!  And performed a recital for them three years ago as well.  One might say that her star ascended very early. Indeed she was the youngest person to have won the Met National Council Award. And the awards just kept rolling in!

Ms. Sierra is now world renowned but she maintains the warmth, naturalness, and generosity of spirit that can bring an audience to its knees--and to its feet also, for a standing ovation. We have reviewed her performances more than any other singer.  Five years ago we called her "The Diva Next Door".  Earlier reviews have been lost but we have been impressed with her artistry from the very first time we heard her.

Last night she performed as part of a series held in the superbly restored Board of Officers Room at the Park Avenue Armory. The intimate space allowed us to feel up close and personal and its historic nature seemed perfect for a vocal recital.  And what a recital it was!

There was quite a bit of overlapping with a recital she and Mr. Wagorn presented three years ago at Pace University as part of a vocal series that sadly is no more. Our favorite part of both recitals was the Strauss. It seemed as if Richard Strauss wrote the songs with her in mind. The richness of tone, the musicality of phrasing, the artistry of the word coloring, and the intensity of involvement with the text all joined to give the feeling of newness to songs we have heard countless times.

Each song seemed like a mini opera and the listening gave rise to visual imagery, making each one a satisfying experience. "Zueignung" could not have been more passionate and "Allerseelen" could not have been more soulful, as Ms. Sierra caressed each word. The high notes floated up to the very high ceiling.

"Ständchen" was sung playfully and "Cäcilie" with passionate enthusiasm. Ms. Sierra invested "Morgen" with an ethereal quality and Mr. Wagorn's playing of the prelude set the stage perfectly.

Schubert's "Du bist die Ruh" was performed with delicacy and the kind of legato quality one expects in Italian, yet without any cheating of the consonants. The two artists matched each other's style in a most affecting manner.

Schumann's "Widmung" is a bit lower lying but presented no obstacle to Ms. Sierra. We could hear the composer's deep affection for Clara in every phrase.

We have heard Samuel Barber's Hermit Songs many times and have never warmed to them. In spite of the detested music stand, which Ms. Sierra did not seem to need, she was able to give them a full measure of artistry. As usual, the two we do appreciate--"Promiscuity" and "The Monk and His Cat" are not of a religious nature.

Our love for zarzuela was requited by the performance of "Me llaman la primorosa" from Gerónimo Giménez' 1901 El barbero de Sevilla, which is, yes, about some young singers performing the Rossini opera. This gave Ms. Sierra an opportunity to do the Musetta thing and the audience loved it. If there were one thing on the program that we'd want her to do without the music stand, this was it.  What a wonderful encore piece it would be.

Joaquin Rodrigo's mid 20th c. Cuatro madrigales amatorios was written in estilo antico and we always love hearing them for their solid Iberian flavor in the piano and the pungent text. "De dónde venís, amore?" was imbued with flirtatiousness.  In the final song "De los álamos vengo, madre" the final note was spun out like a silk filament and we held our breath.

We were not very familiar with the Turina songs which followed--settings of romantic text by Lope de Vega--but they were quite lovely.

Ms. Sierra is generous in sharing anecdotes with the audience and related how her Portuguese grandmother shared a musical language with her but not a spoken one. She sees her career as a fulfillment of the grandmother's journey. And so we were gifted with some songs in Portuguese.

Ernani Braga's "Engenho novo" is a rapid fire tongue twister that tickled our ears.  On the other hand, Heitor Villa-Lobos' "Melodia sentimental" is lyrical and romantic.  Both were composed in the mid 20th c.

Back came the music stand for Bernstein's "A Julia de Burgos" which we heard recently at New York Festival of Song.

Ms. Sierra expressed her gratitude to Marilyn Horne for jump starting her career and giving her worthwhile advice; she paid her tribute with an encore--Stephen Foster's "Beautiful Dreamer"--beautifully rendered in a very different timbre than the rest of the recital.

It was clear that the audience would not let Ms. Sierra off the stage without some opera and we heard a most enchanting performance of "O mio babbino caro" from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi. What father could resist such a plea?

A word to the wise-- Ms. Sierra has just recorded her first album.  It should be a major success.

(c) meche kroop


Front Row--Raehann Bryce-Davis, Nora London, Lauren Margison, and Ben Taylor
Back Row--Lawson Anderson, Rihab Chaieb, and Emily D'Angelo (photo by Mark Von Holden)

We are so glad not to have been in the position of judging the George London Foundation Competition! The seventeen singers we heard yesterday, culled from 150 applicants, were all beyond excellent. It was a stellar opportunity to hear young artists we had heard and reviewed before, as well as to hear a couple that were new to us. To our ears, they all seemed destined for excellent careers. Several of them were winners of Encouragement Awards in past years.

We were particularly delighted to hear bass-baritone Lawson Anderson growing into the Wagnerian repertory; he made a fine impression with Wotan's "Abendlich strahlt der Sonne Auge" from Das Rheingold.  We hope by the time The Metropolitan Opera dumps the current disfavored production of The Ring Cycle,  Mr. Anderson will be on their short list of Wotans!

Mezzo-soprano Raehann Bryce-Davis demonstrated true star quality in "O ma lyre immortelle" from Gounod's Sapho.  She has a true rich mezzo sound, fine French diction, and was very much "in the moment". Her performance was emotionally riveting and she brought the aria to a stunning climax.

Soprano Lauren Margison was completely convincing as the bejeweled and bedazzled Marguerite in Gounod's Faust. The performance was polished, the French was superb, and we loved the thrilling trilling of her high-lying instrument.

Mezzo-soprano Emily D'Angelo, one of the youngest contestants at 23, can look forward to a fine career as a Rossini heroine. Her "Una voce poco fa" showed a great deal of ease and a fine facility for fioritura. The top of her register is brilliant and penetrating.

Mezzo-soprano Rihab Chaieb showed intense emotional involvement in "Oui, Dieu le veut" from Tchaikovsky's Jeanne d'Arc.  It was perfectly suited to the character she was portraying. Her French was completely comprehensible and we admired her skill with dynamic variation.

Baritone Ben Taylor performed "Ya vas lyublyu" (Yeletsky's Aria) from Tchaikovsky's Pique Dame with a rich and pleasing tone. There was plenty of power there which he successfully harnessed for a lovely messa di voce. To our ears, his Russian sounded excellent.

Counter-tenor Daniel Moody gave us goosebumps in the very disturbing aria "Dawn still darkness" from Jonathan Dove's Flight, in the role of the refugee, which was performed by Jakub Jozef Orlinski the last time we heard it. Mr. Moody has a gorgeous tone and filled out the aria with appropriate anguish. Even at the top of his register his English diction made every word count.

We wish we could say the same about soprano Amy Owen's performance of "I am the wife of Mao Tse Tung" from John Adams' Nixon in China. The brilliance of her voice and the intensity of her dramatic presentation excelled but we couldn't understand a word. We wondered how such a tiny frame could produce such a large sound!

Mezzo-soprano Samantha Gossard showed a real feeling for her character Octavian in "Wie du warst!" from Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier. The timbre of her voice and her phrasing were perfect for the hormonal youth in his post-coital state of enthusiasm.

The lovely long lines of Bellini were well served by soprano Jana McIntyre in "Qui la voce" from I Puritani. There is an exciting quality to her instrument and the phrasing was quite wonderful. We loved the expressiveness and the dynamics. In the cabaletta we admired the coloratura and there was a gentle descending scale that was exquisitely rendered.

It was a pleasure to renew our acquaintance with soprano Deanna Breiwick who has been gracing the stages of Europe for the past few years. She still has the exciting timbre that we remember from Juilliard days and the penetrating high notes necessary for the exciting "Je veux vivre" from Gounod's Roméo et Juliette; there is evidence of artistic growth as well.

Mezzo-soprano Corrie Stallings sang one of the few English language arias that we enjoy--Erika's lament "Must the winter come so soon" from Samuel Barber's Vanessa. She held my attention throughout by making the text perfectly clear and bringing out its poetry. We loved the melisma on the word "soon".

Soprano Madison Leonard used her brilliant coloratura well in "Glitter and be gay" from Bernstein's Candide. She created a Cunegonde who can enjoy the melancholic aspect as well as the pecuniary pleasures of her plight. It was a winning performance that set the molecules in the theater to vibrating.

Mezzo-soprano Sarah Coit showed fine flexibility in the fioritura of "Agitato da fiere tempeste" from Handel's Riccardo Primo.

Soprano Anna Dugan made us sit up and take notice in her convincing performance of the "Jewel Song" from Faust. There were overtones aplenty!  We are not sure why the judges scheduled two performances of the same aria on one program. The two performances were both excellent.

Tenor Martin Bakari gave an expressive performance of "Un'aura amorosa", Ferrando's aria from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte. His tone is sweet and his pacing was perfect.

Tenor Aaron Short delighted with "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" from Franz Lehar's Das Land des Lähelns. His German was excellent and we heard every word.

Accompanist for the afternoon was the excellent and versatile Craig Rutenberg who supported each singer with excellent tact.

All told, it was a sensational afternoon, one we look forward to every year. Nora London made the introductory remarks and we always have the same thought--how wonderful it is to have established a foundation to honor a spouse who is no longer with us and how wonderful to support the careers of these emerging artists.  May they all go on to successful careers.  We are watching and listening.

(c) meche kroop

Thursday, February 15, 2018


Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor at The Juilliard School (photo by Richard Termine)
The overwhelmingly talented students of the Ellen and James S. Marcus Institute for Vocal Arts at The Juilliard School deserved the thunderous applause given at the end of their production of  Otto Nicolai's opera, based, as so many fine operas are, on a work by Shakespeare.  The Merry Wives of Windsor has produced many iterations, including Salieri's earlier Falstaff (produced recently by Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble) and the subsequent Falstaff by Verdi, a staple in the canon.

Nicolai's version is quite different and filled with interesting characterizations and some of the jauntiest music we have heard in some time. The German composer, co-founder of the Vienna Philharmonic, received his musical education in Italy, and died way too young. His music shows both Italian and German influences.

We wish the term "comic opera" had not been wasted on what we would call "dramas with happy endings". Because this work is truly comic in the best sense of the word. The students, most of them at the graduate level, mined the work for its humor and delivered the lovely vocal lines with equal measure of vocal beauty. The mid-19th c. tradition of bel canto is prominent.

Nicolai himself called the work a "komisch/fantastiche Oper"; it was written in the form of a singspiel, with spoken dialogue. In this case, the spoken dialogue was delivered in English and arranged by Director John Giampietro to include lines from Henry IV (both parts) and from A Midsummer Night's Dream. The young romantic couple Anna (soprano Jessica Niles) and Fenton (tenor John Chongyoon Noh) recite to one another lines spoken by Oberon and Titania.

The production was a clever one; the action remained in Windsor but the time was updated to the 1940's and the action took place in a munitions factory which was owned by the wealthy Spärlich (tenor Matthew Pearce). Working on the bombs at opposing tables were two friends--Frau Fluth (Christine Taylor Price) and Frau Reich (mezzo-soprano Kady Evanyshyn).

The two married women are being simultaneously "courted" by Sir John Falstaff (bass Alex Rosen in a fat suit). The major plot shows how the women get their revenge by humiliating him and how he is forgiven, once he shows remorse, in a burst of community spirit. This theme is particularly relevant today as misbehaving men are being publicly shamed and humiliated by women they have wronged.

In a plot point reminiscent of the Countess Almaviva's revenge on her jealous husband (in Mozart's Nozze di Figaro), Herr Fluth (baritone Hubert Zapiór) gets his comeuppance as well.  There is even a scene where he locks the door before looking for his wife's imagined lover.

Librettist Salomon Hermann von Mosenthal transferred parenthood of young Anna to the Reich's thereby giving them more stage time. Frau Reich has selected a suitor for Anna--Dr. Cajus (bass Andrew Munn with an hilarious French accent); Herr Reich (bass William Guanbo Su) has chosen the aforementioned wealthy owner of the factory.

Anna has a mind of her own and manages to marry Fenton, giving them some gorgeous duets. They seem to have escaped the war between the sexes.

Fleshing out the funny bones of this opera is the most delightfully melodic music. Conductor Teddy Poll kept things moving along at a brisk pace and the four-handed piano reduction was brightly performed by Chris Reynolds and Adam Rothenberg, two of our favorite pianists at Juilliard. They played behind a wall, out of sight.

It would be remiss not to mention the two lovely instrumentalists who accompanied Mr. Cho onstage--violinist Cherry Choi Tung Yeung and Lisa Choi who deftly handled the piccolo part, especially when she imitated the lark.

If we mentioned every musical and dramatic moment that tickled us, we would have to go on for hours, but let us mention just a few.  The Act I duet between Ms. Price (whom we are thinking of as Ms. Pipes) and Ms. Evanyshyn was a perfect representation of what a soprano and mezzo can do with gorgeous intertwining lines.

Mr. Rosen's "serenade" was hilariously pompous. It was quite a thrill to hear three basses in one opera. They were all different and all superb.

Dazzling our ears was Mr. Zapiór's rich and mellow baritone. He was also hilarious stomping around with his cane in a jealous rage and climbing into the laundry basket to look for Falstaff.

Ms. Price nearly stole the show practicing her seductive moves on a factory worker whose facial expressions in response were classic. Her contentious duet with Mr. Zapiór was another highlight.

Ms. Niles' interaction with Mr. Cho was as tender as their singing. Their voices were perfect for the ingenue roles they performed.

Mr. Pearce got some laughs when he agreed to marry Anna whom he thought he might "grow to love in time".  His tenor fell beautifully on the ear.

The chorus of townspeople commenting on the action was well integrated-- Khady Gueye, Brittany Hewitt, Ryan Hurley, Connor Ouly, Shereen Pimental, James Rootring and Maggie Renée Valdman. Mr. Hurley had a brief appearance as Prince Hal and Brittany Hewitt performed Mistress Quickly.

Scenic Designer Alexis Distler created a very believable munitions factory as seen in the photo above, and Kate Ashton lit it cleverly. Audrey Nauman's costumes were appropriate to the time and place, including the head scarves one sees in photos of female factory workers of the time.

As is our wont, we don't read program notes until after the performance, hoping that the production will speak for itself. This one did. We got every nuance that Mr. Giampietro was going for.

Since the performing space was flanked by audience seated on both sides of the room, we had an opportunity to observe the wide smiles on the faces across from us, whenever we could tear our eyes away from the action. It is rare to have that much fun at the opera! It was difficult to tell whether the cast or the audience was enjoying more.

If we have one beef it is only that too few people will get to see this worthy show. It surely deserves a wider audience!

As fine as the piano reduction was written and played, we would love to see this opera again with a full orchestra. Listening to the overture online, we concluded that Nicolai had a wonderful feel for orchestration.

This opera deserves to be right up there with Rossini's comedies!

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, February 14, 2018


Malcolm Martineau and Dorothea Röschmann

Dear Readers!  Picture your tireless reviewer sitting in Zankel Hall, or at least corporeally, but emotionally in a very private world with Ms. Röschmann and Mr. Martineau, virtually oblivious to the rest of the audience.  Did every audience member feel that way?  We have only the word of our companion who felt similarly transported.

It is rare for lieder to bring those pearly dewdrops to our eyes, especially lieder we have heard many times before with no equivalent effect; yet when we heard this artistic partnership perform Schubert's Mignon songs we gained an expanded emotional connection to Goethe's text, taken from his bildungsroman, Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre.

Since Goethe never acknowledged receipt of these settings, we cannot tell if he was similarly moved or even appreciated what Schubert's genius added.  We do know that "Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt" evoked floods of memories and a mirrored emotional response.  For our companion, it was a different song that grabbed the heart.

Schubert wrote and rewrote these songs, achieving a perfection that was matched by the performance of soprano Dorothea Röschmann and pianist Malcolm Martineau. These two artists so perfectly matched each other in phrasing, dynamics, and style that they seemed like two aspects of the same artist.

Ms. Röschmann's presence is unfussy. She seemed to be a conduit or channel into the mind of Goethe and the heart of Schumann. The exceptional quality of her instrument is, well, selbstverständlich, and always used in the service of the material. We saw several young singers in the audience and hope they took the evening as a lesson in how to give a lieder recital.

Mr. Martineau is a collaborative pianist of the highest order. He manages to bring the singer front and center without fading into the background. His gifted fingers brought out every reference to nature and every emotion.

We also love Mahler's Rückert Lieder and enjoyed the way Ms. Röschmann filled "Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder" with her own personality, by means of physical gesture. What she does in terms of word coloration is remarkable. She seemed to be enjoying the taste of the language, something we also feel when we speak in German. Es ist eine leckere Sprache.

We were particularly drawn to the romantic sentiment of "Ich atmet' einen linden Duft" and the passionate "Liebst du um Schönheit", on which Mahler lavished his most tuneful melodies.

Richard Wagner set poetry written by his lady love Mathilde Wesendonck at the height of their love affair whilst he was composing his opera Tristan und Isolde. We are not in a position to evaluate the worth of her poetry but we can say that we personally love the imagery, the symbolism, and the way it rhymes and scans. It is just the kind of text that gives a composer the opportunity to write beautiful music and Wagner certainly did so.

We were not nearly so taken with Schumann's last song cycle Gedichte der Königen Maria Stuart. This was purported to have been written by Mary Queen of Scots in French and translated into German by Gisbert von Vincke. And therein lies the problem, as we see it. The text seemed clumsy and the rhymes often forced. Missing is Schumann's lavish piano score. Perhaps we might enjoy it after several more hearings but last night it paled in comparison with the rest of the program.

The three encores seemed like generous gifts that arrive after the party ends. They were three in number.  First was Liszt's "Es muss ein wunderbares sein" a paean to love that was well suited to the night before Valentine's Day.  The second was Schumann's "Die Lotosblume ängstigt" in which Heinrich Heine's text describes the lotus flower's love for the moon. Now this is the romantic Schumann we know and love!

The audience clamored for more and we were gifted with a third encore--Hugo Wolf's "In der Fruhe" which is not about love but about nocturnal anxiety giving way to the optimism of the rising of the sun. Möricke's text was well matched by Wolf's music and we left Zankel Hall feeling uplifted and more satisfied than we are usually. A great recital will do that for you!

(c) meche kroop

Sunday, February 11, 2018


Brianna Han and Ganson Salmon

Getting a Masters in Music degree from The New School Mannes is a big deal, big enough to draw a highly enthusiastic crowd of fellow students and big enough to bring to New York Mr. Salmon's beautiful Nana--all the way from Indiana! Of course, master teacher Arthur Levy was also in attendance, with everyone bursting with pride. We personally take great pleasure in witnessing the culmination of years of vocal study and the threshold of a professional career.

Mr. Salmon chose an ambitious program, one that showed off his storytelling skills. We long ago lost track of the number of times we have heard Robert Schumann's intense song cycle Dichterliebe, but we always hope to find something new in the songs, rich as they are.

The cycle traces the arc of a love affair gone sour and requires the singer to evoke a wide spectrum of moods and emotions. It is such a general human phenomenon that it is easy to relate to, given a singer who is not afraid of his emotions.  Just such a singer is Mr. Salmon. Accompanied by the superb collaborative pianist Brianna Han, every emotion was explored. Mr. Salmon did not appear to be acting but rather seemed to inhabit the songs from within.

The opening lied "Im wunderschönen Monat Mai" was sung with tender expressivity, achieved by dynamic variety.  In "Aus meinen Tränen spriessen" Mr. Salmon appeared to enjoy the taste of the text, poetry by Heinrich Heine. We loved the coloration on the word "nachtigall". The enthusiastic "Die Rose, die Lilie, die Taube, die Sonne" was filled with energy and excitement, and the singer seemed particularly involved in "Wenn ich in deine Augen seh".

Ms. Han had her chance to shine in the rippling accompaniment Schumann wrote for "Ich will meine Seele tauchen" and the ponderous chords of "Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome".  We always love "Ich grolle nicht" for its bitter irony, well captured by the two artists, the mood recaptured in "Das ist ein Flöten und Geigen" with it's energetic hurdy-gurdy music in the piano.

"Allnächtlich im Traume" was sung with astute recreation of the wonderment of the dream state in which the dreamer fulfills his wishes. In the end he wants to bury his sorrow and his lost love in a coffin and give them a burial at sea.  What a heartbreaker!

The second most impressive part of the recital was the final entry in which Mr. Salmon performed "The Stage", a poem he wrote in college about the particular thrills and chills of expression on the stage, set to music by his lady love Tatev Yeghiazaryan who commanded the piano. We do not know if this was a premiere of the work but we were touched by the sincerity.

According to the composer, she was inspired by Mr. Salmon's words to create a melody and then the harmonies. To our ears, the melodies evoked Armenian folk music in their flexible alternation of modes; the harmonies were original and quite lovely.

Also on the program was the cycle Tre Sonnetti di Petrarca performed with Ms. Han at the piano. She has very soft hands and produced some gorgeous arpeggi in "Pace non trovo" and a marvelous piano interlude in "I vidi in terra".  Mr. Salmon's voice has the loveliest overtones in the middle of the register.

We haven't much to say about Samuel Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915, except that 19th c. Germany and Italy felt much more relevant than James Agee's text about 20th c. Kentucky! The text is descriptive and seemed not to inspire a very interesting vocal line. Mr. Salmon brought out the loathed music stand which he seemed not to need!

There are some interesting operatic roles in Mr. Salmon's future and one just passed that we hated to miss--The Fall of the House of Usher. We are sure there will be much to look forward to from this fine young artist.

(c) meche kroop

Monday, February 5, 2018


Marisa Michelson

This past week has been one of stretching our boundaries and exposing ourself to different types of theatrical music.  It has gotten us thinking about the intention of the composer in opera.  If one focuses on the history of operatic performance, their composition seems designed to entertain an audience, whether that be an audience of aristocrats or an audience of the bourgeoisie.

Contemporary performance art, on the other hand, seems designed to express something deeply personal in the life of the artist--fears, desires, obsessions, and preoccupations. It is up to the audience to find something with which to relate, and the pleasure of being an audience member depends largely upon his/her willingness to find common ground.

Concerning The Desire/Divinity Project, seen Saturday night at Judson Memorial Church, what we related to the most was Marisa Michelson's original music and the performance of same by her Constellation Chor. Voices floated upward into the cavernous playing space, with overtones bouncing around the hall. There were some gorgeous harmonies and mystical dissonances that put us in a meditative state.

Coincidentally, our interest in theater was born in this space when the late Al Carmines regularly produced unusual pieces of music theater. We warmly recall Ira Siff's performance in The Journey of Snow White. (Memories upon request!)

With our dear Ethan Heard directing and Emma Jaster handling the movement and costuming, we knew the evening would be a worthwhile one. Moreover, the evocative lighting by Elizabeth Mak used hand held spotlights to create eerie shadows on the wall.

As far as the text is concerned, Part I made use of fragments of poetry written two and a half millennia ago by Ancient Greek poet Sappho. Scholars still do not agree about her profession as school mistress or leader of a choral society, nor can they agree about her sexual orientation.  

None of this matters because translating the fragments into English didn't provide much in the way of drama, character development, or storytelling. One might just as well have been listening to nonsense syllables. It all sounded just fine with Ms. Michelson's lovely voice and self-accompaniment on the lyre.  

Dressed in black and sitting on a stool, her  simplicity and commitment were striking. Members of her Constellation Chor spread around the playing area, weaving in and out among the sections of the seating area giving one the feeling of participating in an ancient ritual.

Part II utilized as text a section of the bible known as Song of Songs. This part of the bible is known for its eroticism but, once again, the text was less interesting than the music. (Perhaps it sounds better in Aramaic.) 

For this part of the program, Ms. Michelson exchanged her black garment for a white shift and wrote accompaniment for an interesting combination of instruments--percussion, cello, and various wind instruments including a Bansuri flute.

Ms. Michelson was able to exhibit another of her multiple talents, playing the piano. Her musical language goes beyond words and includes all manner of vocalizing with words and wails receiving equally weight.

We loved Mr. Heard's direction which held our attention throughout, and Ms. Jaster's astute control over the movement which had an archaic feel. 

We understand that there will be a Part III in the future. We wonder what the text will be.

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, February 3, 2018


Cast and Production Team for Opera Lafayette's Double Feature

We tend to eschew program notes, believing that a work of art should speak for itself.  Last night we were dazzled by thrilling baroque singing and playing as well as spectacular costuming; but we could not figure out what was going on. We knew that Alessandro Scarlatti's Erminia was derived from Torquato Tasso's epic poem La Gerusalemme Liberata (as were so many other operas....think Händel, Lully, Gluck, and Rossini) and could not understand the costuming. We didn't see any knights or Saracens!

The best strategy, we decided, was to just sit back and enjoy the music and singing and not try to figure out the story. Upon arriving home we consulted the program notes and learned that the conflict between the Christians and the Saracens had been transmogrified into a conflict between the Mughals who invaded India and the indigenous Hindi.

This put Scarlatti's work on the same costuming plane as Francesco Geminiani's La forêt enchantée, a dance pantomime which was also inspired by Tasso's poem; the music was commissioned by Servandoni and consists of five short musical movements resembling a Concerto Grosso. This juxtaposition produced an evening comprising both opera and ballet with unity of time and place.

Of Erminia, only the first act survived, which is probably the reason we have not seen it before. It involves four characters--the lovely Erminia, a princess, is fleeing some conflict and seeks help from a shepherd. She exchanges her armor and aristocratic clothing for a simple shepherdess gown while the shepherd weaves a basket.

The role of Erminia was sung by the lovely young soprano Julia Dawson who effortlessly produced the requisite baroque ornamentation. Bass-baritone André Courville, another rising star, did a splendid job creating a sympathetic character with his rich full paternal tone quality.

Coming on the scene a bit later we met Tancredi, beautifully sung by yet another fine young artist, mezzo-soprano Allegra De Vita in travesti, complete with moustache, and Polidoro, finely sung by tenor Asitha Tennekoon. Mistaken identity and jealousy ensue.

Our favorite parts of this work were the kindly interaction between Erminia and the shepherd, and at the end of the act, when Erminia sang a most beautifully moving aria.

This act was directed by Richard Gammon. The rustic woodland set was created by Richard Ouelette and worked well for both opera and ballet. It is better seen (in the photo above) than described. The gorgeous costumes were designed by Meriem Bahri. Effective lighting was by Rob Siler.

The ballet which followed was not confusing due to the wondrous choreography of Anuradha Nehru, founder and artistic director of Kalanidhi Dance. The basis lay in a style known as kuchipudi but we saw many steps we have observed in baroque dance, steps which were originally based upon fencing moves, as we learned from Erica Gould at a Salon Sanctuary evening.

Layered upon the familiar steps was some elaborate and descriptive mime which left no doubt as to which warriors were thirsty and when that thirst was slaked. Every movement and motion was made clear, as were the quality of the interactions.

Our favorite scene in the ballet was that of the woodland spirits, clad in white and using their bodies to create unforgettable imagery.

For this ballet, Maestro Ryan Brown, founder and artistic director of Opera Lafayette, conducted while playing the violin!  We have witnessed conducting from the harpsichord but this was something new for us.

The orchestra sounded superb. The strings were modern but the wind instruments belonged to the baroque period. We spotted a horn with no keys and a pair of recorders in different registers.

Every time Opera Lafayette makes it up here from Washington, D.C., they bring us something novel and valuable.