We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Saturday, March 31, 2018


Concertmaster Markus Wolf, Adrianne Pieczonka, Angela Brower, Peter Rose, Hanna-Elisabeth Müller, Maestro Kirill Petrenko, Lawrence Brownlee, Helene Schneiderman, and Ulrich Ress

What is your favorite Strauss opera? Our is, hands down, Der Rosenkavalier, just presented in concert form at Carnegie Hall by the Bayerische Staatsoper, under the baton of Maestro Kirill Petrenko. The partnership of Richard Strauss and librettist Hugo von Hoffmansthal was legendary.

We love the characters, above all the noble and worldly wise Marschallin who knows just how to handle a lovesick teenage lover, a boorish entitled cousin, and a miffed member of the parvenu persuasion. Her concerns with aging and the passage of time seem quaint in our epoch, when 60 is the new 40. Perhaps in the 18th c. a woman close to 30, as we believe she is meant to be, was likely considered to be past her "sell by" date. Still, we identify!

We also love the character of Octavian who is highly hormonal and fickle in the way that young men can be.  His cluelessness is tempered by his protective nature toward women and we find him an endearing personage. He loves passionately but capriciously.

Who would not love Sophie, fresh out of convent and given all the burdensome baggage of someone of the bourgeois class recently raised to nobility; she is determined to fit in and to permit no slights from the highly born. No pushover is she, however, but feisty in her intent to avoid a miserable fate and to find a better one for herself.

We do not love Baron Ochs, the proverbial bull in a china shop. But we love laughing at him, with all his pretentiousness and feelings of entitlement. His attitude toward women reminds us of POTUS. We squirmed as he boasted of his success with women and his attitude toward his bride-to-be was nothing short of deplorable.

We love the score and the massive forces of the orchestra for which Strauss has written music of complexity and great variety. The affection felt for the story is obvious in his lavish orchestration. and attention to detail. Each act begins with a stunning prelude and each character has a leitmotiv. Mr. Petrenko conducted with verve and brought out things in the score that we had not heard when we were distracted by the lavish sets and costumes. And we never mind hearing a waltz!

The opera begins with a musical depiction of orgasm with whooping brass; the intent is unmistakable, even in concert.  Strauss saved the best for last--a gorgeous trio for three very different female voices in which each expresses her innermost thoughts and feelings. 

The Marschallin herself was pushed into marriage straight out of convent and, we imagine, compensates for the presence of a probably much older and unloved husband by taking on young lovers. That she relinquishes Octavian to young Sophie is a mark not only of her generosity of spirit but of her acceptance of reality--"der lauf der welt".

Hearing the magnificent forces of the Bayerische Staatsoper and their excellent choir in a concert performance was a new experience for us.  We carry fond memories of the late lamented Nathaniel Merrill/Robert O'Hearn iteration at The Metropolitan Opera, starring Renée Fleming, Susan Graham, and Christine Schäfer; this permitted us to "fill in the blanks" visually. We wondered how audience members new to the opera might have understood the absences of minor characters, with major characters speaking into thin air!

Still, we must admire the way every cast member offered not only superlative vocal performances but effective acting, without the use of music stands.  Suppose we call it semi-staged.

Of all the excellence onstage, we were most impressed with the Octavian of American mezzo-soprano Angela Brower.  Her rich resonant instrument filled Carnegie Hall from stage to balcony and her acting was totally convincing. She needed no costuming but used her body to emulate a 17-year-old boy. When she was called upon to portray Mariandel (a joke on Baron Ochs) she needed no women's weeds to effect the transformation and successfully imitated a rural dialect. She was able to create great chemistry with both Ms. Pieczonka and Ms. Müller.

As the Marschallin, dramatic soprano Adrianne Pieczonka took a while to settle into the role but wound up being a marvelous Marschallin and provided the firm strength to anchor the final trio.

As the virginal Sophie, lyric soprano Hanna-Elisabeth Müller dazzled with her crystalline sound and evoked the right degree of sympathy.

Bass Peter Rose kept us laughing, even when we felt anger at his pawing of Sophie. He is truly a master comedian.

Baritone Markus Eiche made an effective Herr Faninal, Sophie's father. He so desperately wanted her marriage to Baron Ochs that he was ready to throw her back into the convent if she disobeyed.

Tenor Ulrich Ress made a fine Valzacchi with mezzo-soprano Helene Schneiderman performing as his "niece" Annina.  The two gossips and intriguers were instrumental in the plot to orchestrate Baron Ochs humiliation and rejection. (Like POTUS, Ochs doesn't think he has done anything wrong and can't believe he is being rejected.)

Tenor Lawrence Brownlee gave us a nice aria during the levee, a moment of beauty midst the controlled chaos of this musically and dramatically rambunctious scene.

So yes, this is our favorite Strauss opera.  No one dies, no one gets beheaded, no one goes mad. It's all just good clean fun with Hoffmansthal in the early years of the 20th c. looking back with nostalgia at a fantasy of the 18th c.  Even the presentation of a silver rose was an invented fantasy, but we love it just as much as if it were real.

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, March 28, 2018


Nathaniel LaNasa and Helaine Liebman at the National Opera Center\

The inauguration of a new vocal series is music to our ears both literally and figuratively.  Shall we say "fig/lit"? As so many talented singers are doing these days, young artists are not waiting around to be cast but are casting themselves in starring roles. We heartily approve of this trend.

Ms. Liebman's idea is to update the concert experience and to encourage music lovers to attend with an informal approach.  One helps oneself to a glass of wine, one meets and chats with the artists, one listens, learns, and enjoys.  One is even encouraged to ask questions and to submit suggestions for future recitals of which we hope there will be many.

In place of titles and libretti, Ms. Liebman introduced each song in an engaging fashion. We felt as if we were invited to a friend's home for a party with entertainment. And what entertainment it was! In a beautifully balanced program, we heard opera, art song, and cabaret--all serving to demonstrate the versatility of this excellent young soprano. Last year she performed a fine Micaëla for Amore Opera and we also heard her several months ago in ARE Opera's Gianni Schicchi. It was about time for us to see another side of her artistry.

The program opened with Ilia's aria from Mozart's Idomeneo--"Padre, germani, addio". Ms. Liebman conveyed all the ambivalence of the Trojan princess who has lost everything and is now a captive of the Greeks whom she hates, except for Idamante, the son of Idomeneo. With a bright resonant sound and the subtle use of expressive dynamics, we learned everything we needed to know about the character.

Four songs by Franz Liszt allowed the artist to show off her fine French. The texts were all by Victor Hugo and all were about love, but the moods were different.  Ms. Liebman employed a warm vibrato for "S'il est un charmant gazon" and the delicacy of Mr. LaNasa's piano augmented the romantic feeling. 

"Oh! Quand je dors" has an exquisite melody and builds to a thrilling climax.  Here, Mr. LaNasa's piano made much of some lovely arpeggi. "Comment, disent-ils" was delivered with charm and personality. Plus, there was a trill to thrill. "Enfant, si j'etais roi" had a different expansive mood and an insistent accompaniment on the piano.

How does one choose Schubert songs to perform from his oeuvre of over 600 lieder? Actually, it doesn't matter much because one cannot go too far wrong with anything Schubert wrote.  We found the three selections we heard a good "tasting menu". "An die Musik" was sung with earnest simplicity. The sentiment requires no embroidery.

"Gretchen am Spinnrade" in which Mr. LaNasa's piano gave us the obsessive background of the text as well as the relentless spinning wheel, allowed Ms. Liebman some moments of erotic rapture as she imagined Faust's kiss. This had us wishing that Schubert had written an entire opera based on the Faust legend.

In "Die junge Nonne", we were given a very clear character study and we knew exactly why this troubled young woman chose a cloistered life.

The Kurt Weill song from Street Scene seemed like a cabaret song.  We understood every word of "What Good Would the Moon Be" and enjoyed the melody.  This was not so for two selections from Daughters of Britannia by Iain Bell.  We could only catch a word here and there. The sounds were interesting and we liked the propulsive piano writing and some interesting figuration but the heroines are part of British history and so unknown to us that we really didn't care about them.

We won't mind if we never hear those songs again but the Rachmaninoff that followed was enchanting. We cannot believe that we used to think that Russian was an ugly language!  The more Russian songs we hear the better we love the sound. "Z'des khorosho" was particularly lovely.

"Siren" had a repetitive figure in the right hand of the piano that resonated particularly strongly with us.  But our personal favorite was (and probably always will be) "Ne poy krasavitsa pri mne" in which the text expresses nostalgia for a love left behind, accompanied by the most haunting melody. There is a vocalise in this song that always gets us right in the heart! We love the way the melody in the voice alternates with the melody in the piano.

"Ditja, kak cvetok ti prekrana" is Rachmaninoff's setting of a translation of the tender Heinrich Heine poem "Du bist wie eine blume" which was set by Robert Schumann and about a hundred other composers.  The program ended with the very timely "Vesenniye vody" or "Spring Waters" as we know it. This song was bursting with excitement as the snow melted and the streams produced white water.

We even got an encore, "Someone to Watch Over Me" by George and Ira Gershwin from their 1926 musical Oh, Kay! We love to hear American musical theater treated with the same care as lieder and chansons. It was the perfect end to a beautiful recital.

Watch our FB page (Voce di Meche) and we will let you know about the next installment of Salon de la Voix which we believe will take place in June in Brooklyn. You won't want to miss it!

(c) meche kroop

Monday, March 26, 2018


Elad Kabilio and Kirsten Scott at Interface

Elad Kabilio's "Music Talks" are designed to break down the barriers between musicians and audience. Guests at the comfortable Interface on 30th St. are invited to get a drink, to sit on comfortable sofas in an informal arrangement, to learn from the lively and knowledgeable Mr. Kabilio, and then to listen in a new way.

Last night's theme, part of Women in the Arts Festival, was a celebration of Women's History Month and paid tribute to the strong heroines of opera. The liberation we take for granted today was not always the case and these operatic heroines were ground breaking exemplars.

A most interesting feature of the evening was the choice of artists. Mezzo-soprano Kirsten Scott and maître de chant Laetitia Ruccolo are two strong women themselves who got together and formed Bare Opera, an alternative female-run opera company that utilizes unusual spaces to present fresh takes on opera--immersive and intimate. Ms. Scott is Artistic Director and Ms. Ruccolo is Music Director. We have been writing about them for about 3 years. We love what they do.

Mr. Kabilio interviewed Ms. Ruccolo about her role at the piano. She doesn't like the phrase "collaborative pianist" and prefers the French title "maître de chant" to express her wide ranging work in coaching singers, preparing the program, and multiple other tasks.  Ms. Scott was given the opportunity to describe each operatic heroine about whom she was singing. The two women selected the arias to be performed.

We are not sure what the compelling Ms. Scott sang at her Carnegie Hall debut last weekend but everything she sang last night was stellar. The program opened with "Cruda sorte" from Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri.  Isabella is a strong woman who goes off to Algiers to rescue her lover. The delivery was superb.

Rossini loved his strong female roles, mostly mezzo-sopranos. We have heard Ms. Scott on a prior occasion singing "Una voce poco fa" from Il Barbiere di Siviglia and we loved the way she handled the various sections of the aria and limned Rosina's character through the fioritura. The performance has only gotten better with even more attention to the details of her personality. As she explained, this is an "entrance aria" meant to establish the character. She added that Rosina "keeps me on my toes".

From Purcell's opera Dido and Aeneas, she sang the sad aria "When I am laid in earth", explaining that Dido's strength was not one of accomplishment but an inner reserve that helped her face death fearlessly.

Strength of character is also exhibited by Charlotte in Massenet's Werther and Ms. Scott gave us a lovely performance of "Va! Laisse couler mes larmes" which illustrates the manner in which a tearful catharsis allows women to be strong. She not only captured Charlotte's character but did so with long melodic lines.

Mezzo-sopranos are often called upon to sing en travesti, and Bellini gave the part of Romeo in I Capuleti e i Montecchi to a mezzo. We enjoyed hearing Romeo's aria "Deh tu, bell'anima" in which Ms. Scott used her vibrato to express the character's grief when he believes Juliet to be dead.

In Les Contes d'Hoffman, the hero's muse assumes the identity of a friend Nicklausse who must be strong where Hoffman is weak; she extricates him from some hairy situations. We heard Ms. Scott perform the "Violin Aria" and it took us back to 2013 when she performed this role with Martina Arroyo's Prelude to Performance.  Again, she has only refined the character.

Similarly, we reviewed her Cherubino in 2013 and remember well how persuasive she was in the role, exhibiting all of the character's anxiety and energy.  It was a pleasure to revisit "Voi che sapete" from Mozart's Nozze di Figaro and we enjoyed hearing her tell the audience some of the excitement and challenges of singing en travesti.

Before bringing out the big guns for Carmen, the stage was turned over to the lovely cellist Laura Metcalf who played Hollman's Carmen Fantasy for Cello and Piano. Mr. Kabilio explained the function of these "fantasies" as a means of bringing the operas into the home in an era before radio, TV, CD's and internet. Ms. Metcalf and Ms. Ruccolo played beautifully together and yes, all the big tunes were heard within ten minutes.

Concluding the program were selections from Bizet's opera. The strength of Carmen is undeniable. She lived and died on her own terms--fiercely and fearlessly. We heard the "Seguidilla", the "Habanera", and "En vain pour eviter" from the card-reading scene. All were vocally splendid and dramatically affecting.

This was the perfect evening to have introduced newbie friends to opera.

(c) meche kroop


James Hall, Luca Pisaroni, Jane Archibald, Harry Bicket, Iestyn Davies, Joélle Harvey, Jakub Józef Orlinski, and Sasha Cooke

What an incomparable Sunday afternoon, spent at Carnegie Hall reveling in the sound of seven glorious voices giving Händel his due--and then some. Only The English Concert, conducted by their Artistic Director, could have managed such a lucid and lively performance, holding our attention continually for over three hours.

The plot of Rinaldo is based loosely on Torquato Tasso's epic poem Gerusalemme Liberata, the source of plots for many other operas.  It is set during the First Crusades and the Christians are portrayed as the good guys and the Saracens as the bad guys. The happy ending involves the Saracens converting to Christianity. There are those who might find the story politically incorrect but we are not of that ilk. 

This was the first opera in Italian Händel wrote for the British stage in 1711, when the composer was only 26 years old.  Much of its music was borrowed from operas Handel wrote in Italy and he revised it periodically to accommodate voices of different fachs. After an initial success, it lay dormant for two centuries. We are so glad it was resurrected, especially since Planet Opera is well populated these days with brilliant countertenors. Thankfully, the era of castrati is long gone!

Goffredo and his brother Eustazio (a role often omitted) count on their greatest warrior Rinaldo to defeat the Saracens.  Rinaldo is betrothed to Goffredo's daughter Almirena. The leader of the Saracens is Argante who is under the power of the sorceress Armida. Remember her from Handel's opera Armida? In this opera, she kidnaps Almirena and falls in love with Rinaldo whilst Argante falls in love with Almirena.  It takes a Christian sorcerer to counteract Armida's sorcery.

The plot is just an excuse for a compilation and recycling of some of Händel's most glorious music from his Italian period; listeners are sure to recognize much of it.  From our point of view, we were must taken by Almirena's aria of grief and longing--"Lascia ch'io pianga" and its counterpart sung by Rinaldo --"Cara sposa". 

Other moments that grabbed our ear was "Augelletti, che cantate" due to the brilliant work of the recorder;  the sopranino created some very realistic bird song. Tom Foster's harpsichord solo at the end of Act II dazzled us with its virtuosity as Armida planned her battle with the Christians. The three (and later four) trumpet players did a swell job of announcing battles. These trumpets had no keys and we were amazed by their tonality.

As we come to discuss the singers, full disclosure requires that we repeat what we often say; when we have written about a singer for a few years we feel a heavier investment in their success and a greater pleasure in their achievements.  We are not saying, however, that we are biased.  Of course not!

We first heard counter-tenor Jakub Józef Orlinski in a Polish church in Greenpoint when Il Giardino d'Amore presented Carnevale di Venezia as part of their tour. We went to hear our friend, soprano Amaya Arberas who, coincidentally, sang "Lascia ch'io pianga". We heard Mr. Orlinski and went bananas. What a thrill to find out that he was getting his Graduate Diploma from Juilliard, where we would go on to review his work at least a half a dozen times. We heard him in recital and in Baroque opera, and most memorably, singing  "Duetto buffo di due gatti", which may or may not have been written by Rossini. Whoever wrote it, it was a performance we will never forget.

We have heard him sing Polish songs in recital at the Kosciuszko Foundation, as well as Schubert lieder. We watched him break hearts in Jonathan Dove's Flight. He has never turned in a performance less than perfect and deserves every award he has won. In our opinion, he stole the show yesterday with his fine technique and expressiveness. There was strength down to the lowest end of the register. We are so glad that the part of Eustazio (Goffredo's brother) was not eliminated!

We were very happy with all the singing but our focus on Mr. Orlinski has been explained.  As Rinaldo, counter-tenor Iestyn Davis made a fine hero, one who was more lover than warrior. His timbre is appealing and our only quibble was a bit of weakness at the bottom of the register.

Mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke en travesti handled the role of Goffredo with fine style and vocal technique. The glamorous soprano Jane Archibald created a powerful Armida, especially in "Vo' far guerra". We enjoyed her love/hate duet with Argante in Act III.

Argante was sung by bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni who always gives a great performance and managed to convey the ambivalence of his leadership and his importuning of Almirena--both successfully.

Lovely soprano Joélle Harvey made a wonderfully complex Almirena.  Just as Rinaldo's heroism is invaded by his romantic nature, her romantic nature is affected by her lust for winning battles.

In a bit of luxury casting, the excellent counter-tenor James Hall took on several of the smaller roles. We'd like to hear more of him.

Mr. Bicket conducted from the harpsichord with Mr. Foster at a second harpsichord. Outstanding work by the winds was laid over a warm carpet of strings. The presence of the grand theorbo is always exciting. a:What a terrific sound!

Concert versions of operas are rarely this compelling.  We can now consider ourself a fan of The English Concert and eagerly await their next visit.

(c) meche kroop

Sunday, March 25, 2018


Francisco Miranda and Lawson Anderson

Last night's recital at the National Opera Center presented bass-baritone Lawson Anderson and collaborative pianist Francisco Miranda performing, no, living Franz Schubert's 1827 song cycle Die Winterreise, presented by Vocal Productions NYC. The event was so compelling that we were unable to wield pen or camera.  The emotion was so intense that it has stayed with us all night. On our row alone, we observed a couple other audience members dabbing at their teary eyes and softly blowing their noses.  It was unbearably real.

Award winning bass-baritone Lawson Anderson, whom we have been writing about for a couple of years, employed excellent German, gorgeous phrasing, and some very dark colors--but none of this mattered.  What mattered was the intense involvement that conveyed itself to the audience.

Wilhelm Müller's text describes the decompensation of a presumably young man, disappointed in love. He leaves the town where his sweetheart lives in dead of night. Every object and natural element becomes a metaphor for his loneliness, isolation, and feelings of hopelessness. One could say that this is an exaggeration of German Romanticism but we saw it last night as a severe case of melancholia, especially through the interpretation of Mr. Anderson.

In our time, the young man would have been hustled off to the psychiatrist and treated with anti-depressants and group therapy. Two centuries ago, he would have been filled with shame and seen no way out.  As Mr. Anderson sang, we heard the fellow sinking into ever deeper and self-referential gloom, in spite of some feeble attempts to rouse himself. By the latter part of the cycle he seems to be hallucinating. In the final song "Der Leiermann" he is able to project his despair onto another isolated human who grinds out songs to which no one listens.

We don't know if Müller suffered from depression, but his text surely appealed to Schubert who, for many reasons, including poverty, lack of public recognition, syphilis, and possibly homosexuality, was frequently morbidly depressed. Only a person who has suffered from deep depression could have composed such music, illuminating Müller's text so effectively. 

We hope Mr. Anderson has not experienced such sorrow and wondered how he was able to communicate it so effectively.  Such is artistry--something that goes way beyond good technique.

Still, we admire the expansion we have witnessed at the bottom of the register. There's a lot of depth there that makes us think Verdi and Wagner. Mr. Lawson has been coached by Valentin Peytchinov.

Mr. Miranda's piano enhanced the references to natural elements, bringing out the howling of dogs, the rattling of chains, the sound of the hurdy-gurdy, the wind, the graceful linden tree, the pounding of the heart, the sound of the posthorn. The two artists succeeded admirably in creating an aural picture.  As a matter of fact, there were many times during the recital that they disappeared from our eyes and we could visualize the lonely wanderer in the icy landscape. It has been only a few days since we ourself trudged through the snow, making the evening a very timely one.

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, March 24, 2018


José Maldonado, Victoria Crutchfield, Thomas Muraco, Shaina Martinez, WooYoung Yoon, Polixeni Tziouvaras, Dongwei Shen, Sungah Baek, and Juan Lázaro

When Tom Muraco puts on an opera, you tend to show up out of FOMO.  To miss one would leave you feeling cheated out of a predictably delightful experience. The operas are astutely chosen, the talented students are wisely cast, and the bare bones style of production allows one to focus on the music. In this case, we had an intense exposure to Mozart's masterpiece of romantic entanglement--Cosi fan tutte.

Maestro Muraco himself conducted and the score for two pianos and harpsichord continuo (actually an electronic keyboard) was devised by the three keyboard artists themselves--Sungah Baek, Juan Lázaro, and Yixin Tan. The three did a great job and we were able to hear compositional elements that we missed when the work was presented with full orchestra. Actually, we think we heard more music.  Could it be that some music that is generally cut was restored?  Or did our ears deceive us? There is enough music in this opera for two operas!

The students of Manhattan School of Music are as fond of Maestro Muraco as we are. We sat next to the podium as he conducted and can attest to the fact that he knows every word in the libretto and every note of the score. His love for music and for his students was equally obvious.

As Don Alfonso, the older cynic who sets the crazy plot in motion, José Maldonado might have stolen the show, were the other artists not as fine as they were. His huge Falstaffian presence and voice, augmented by seemingly natural dramatic chops, created a real character. Every glance and wry smile, every barb carried weight.

His partner in crime, the wily Despina was performed by soprano Yesul Yeon whose slender voice was well focused and whose comic chops matched those of Mr. Maldonado. Her featured aria "Una donna a quindici anni" was very well done. We loved the way she exaggerated the rolling of her "r"s.

Since the theme of Lorenzo da Ponte's libretto was fiancé swapping, the opera requires four engaging singers that we can care about, even while laughing at their puerility. As Fiordiligi we had the shining soprano Shaina Martinez who successfully negotiated the wild skips of "Come scoglio". Legend has it that Mozart wrote it thus to make the soprano he disliked bob her head like a chicken, due to the way she sang high and low notes!

As her sister, we heard marvelous mezzo-soprano Polixeni Tziouvaras, who did herself credit in her aria "Smanie implacabili".  Mozart made sure that each singer had an aria. Her voice harmonized beautifully with that of Ms. Martinez, especially in "Prenderó quel brunettino". Mozart made sure that there were also plenty of duets, trios, quartets, etc.

Tenor WooYoung Yoon has a pleasant ringing tenor and created a fine Ferrando; we enjoyed his voice most in "Tradito, schernito"; he had some splendid duets with baritone Dongwei Shen who excelled as Guglielmo. His aria "Donne mie, la fate a tanti" was beautifully rendered in all of its angst. The voices of the two men blended as successfully as those of the women.

One of our favorite ensemble pieces, "Soave sia il vento" was gorgeously sung by Mr. Maldonado, Ms. Martinez and Ms. Tziouvaras. We could not have been more pleased with the musical elements.

But what about the production elements.  As we indicated, this is a bare bones production and Director Victoria Crutchfield did well for the most part in the interactions among the singers. We loved the way the chorus (all excellent, by the way) moved the "furniture" (just a bench, a table, and some chairs) with Despina in charge, pounding the floor to summon the furniture movers for a scene change, which always seemed to involve lifting things over her head.

Our only quibble was with a few anachronisms. Probably to avoid the cost of costuming, the action seems to have been moved to the present, what with the cell phones and contemporary clothing. So why did the women carry 18th c. parasols?  The "Albanians" became "hipsters from Williamsburg and Tribeca".  Anyone from New York would know that Tribeca is populated by very wealthy Wall Streeters. You'd be hard pressed to find a hipster there.  Better to have used Bed-Stuy or Bushwick.

For those of us who understand Italian, hearing one thing and seeing titles saying something else creates a momentary lapse of concentration and involvement. A "brunettino" is a man with dark hair, NOT a man in spectacles! These disjunctions are occurring more and more as operas are squeezed into time periods that do not fit.

Minor criticisms aside, it was a fun evening and made us realize that we have more in common with the 18th c. Viennese than with the 19th c. audience which found this opera vulgar and scandalous.

There will be a repeat performance on Sunday matinée with a different but presumably equally talented cast.

(c) meche kroop


Nate Raskin, Zalman Kelber, Adrian Timpau, Gabriella Reyes de Ramírez

We have written extensively about the mission and accomplishments of the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, so let's just plunge right into yesterday's exciting recital. We confess that we are most receptive to a singer's artistry when we love the work he/she has chosen. Although we have sometimes been brought to appreciate a previously unloved work by a singer who can show us its worth, still we prefer to hear works that speak (sing) to us.

Schumann's Liederkreis, Op.39 is just such a work. Repeated hearings allow us to discover new ideas and feelings we may have overlooked. It is in Italian opera and German lieder that we can best appreciate the multiple features of a singer's artistry.

From the very first phrase sung by baritone Adrian Timpau we could assess that magical undefinable appeal that connects the singer with the audience, heart to heart. Mr. Timpau must love these songs and they fit his voice like a bespoke suit. The timbre is at times soothing and at other times forceful but there is always a connection with the material.

His German provided no opportunity for criticism. Vowels were round and resonant whilst consonants were crisp. We could understand every word without glancing at the program. Phrasing was lovely and there was ample dynamic variety.

This cycle tells no story--it is just a collection of splendid songs in different moods. Our favorite song is "Waldegespräch".  Mr . Timpau changed the warm color of his voice heard in "Intermezzo" to one of harshness as he sang the words of the rider in the forest who perhaps means no good toward the beautiful woman he comes upon, who just so happens to be the witch Lorelei. We could discern Mr. Timpau's intention to color their two voices differently but we sense that he could do just a little bit more to establish the man's character, whether he interprets him as seductive, well meaning, or evil. We would wish for a lighter color for the woman's voice.

In "Auf einer Burg" Mr. Timpau ensured that we saw through his eyes--the stone statuary and the abandoned hermitage.  Collaborative pianist Nate Raskin made sure that we heard, through his fingers, the rain, the woodland birds, and the musicians.  The performance was a revelation.

Mr. Raskin's piano was at all times in the moment. We loved the peaceful introduction to "Mondnacht" and the piano part of "Schöne Fremde". The searching melody in the piano created a spooky mood for Mr. Timpau's anxious verse in "Zwielicht". "Im Walde" was notable for the aural picture created by the artists--birds, hunting horns, and all.

We have one observation and perhaps a suggestion for Mr. Timpau. We noticed that he clasped his hands in a ministerial pose for the entire cycle. We would suggest that he loosen his grip and allow his hands to express what comes across so successfully in his voice.

Soprano Gabriella Reyes de Ramírez needs no such encouragement. Her body and face are as expressive as her large voice. The fine vibrato lent some serious overtones that we felt in the bones of our middle ear. The molecules in the room were dancing.

Her collaborative pianist Zalman Kelber was with her every step of the way. It's a fine voice for Strauss and we have no criticism of her German in the four selections we heard, but we enjoyed the Spanish more, probably because we don't get to hear it as often as we'd like.

Joaquín Turina's Poema en Forma de Canciones is a fine composition, filled with Andalusian flavor, so well captured by Ms. Ramírez and Mr. Kelber.  The Spanish rhythms of the lengthy piano introduction to "Nunca olvida" made us want to get up and dance.  

All the songs in this cycle are about love--disappointed love, ambivalent love, and love for the goddess Venus. Our favorite in this group was "Las locas por amor" when Venus turns down long term sensible love for brief mad passion! Yes indeed!

As much as we enjoyed these Spanish songs about love, we were over the moon for Ms. Ramírez' performance of "Carceleras" from the 1889 zarzuela Las Hijas del Zebedeo by Ruperto Chapí. In this song, the singer tells of her love for her sweetheart in extravagant metaphor. To say that Ms. Ramírez threw her all into this song is saying a lot; there is a lot of her and it is all wonderful!

(c) meche kroop

Friday, March 23, 2018


Chris Reynolds and Natalia Kutateladze

Chris Reynolds and Felicia Moore

Last night we attended the Juilliard Vocal Arts Honors Recital at Alice Tully Hall. Voice teachers nominate singers to audition for this honor and the competition is keen. One of the judges happened to be Jennifer Zetlan, a Juilliard alumna whom we just reviewed last night in On Site Opera's Morning Star.  

Each singer chose her own program and both were accompanied by the talented collaborative pianist Chris Reynolds.

The ravishing mezzo-soprano Natalia Kutateladze opened her half of the program with a chanson by Jules Massenet; The text by Louis Pierre Gabriel Bernard Morel-Retz, entitled "Amoureuses" was highly romantic and Ms. Kutateladze performed it in perfect French with spot-on phrasing.

A set of songs by Tchaikovsky showed how they sound at their very best, sung by someone so comfortable in the language that the songs are more inhabited than performed. Although we do not speak or understand Russian, we were able to appreciate the marvelous marriage of music and text.

"None but the Lonely Heart" is a setting of a Russian translation of Goethe's text "Nur wer die sehnsucht kennt" from Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, a text so potent that it appealed to a list of composers longer than the text. We mostly know it as one of the Mignon songs.

"Was I Not a Blade of Grass in the Field?" struck us with the sadness of a young woman married off to a man she does not love. She compares herself to a blade of grass that was mowed down.

Tolstoy's text "Amidst the Din of the Ball" motivated Tchaikovsky to write a most marvelous and memorable melody. A man sees a woman at a ball and thinks he has fallen in love with her.

With all that gorgeous melody, we still think the Pushkin text "Don't Sing to Me, My Beauty" is our favorite Russian song. Rachmaninoff gave it a haunting melody that could make anyone homesick. Each and every one of these Russian songs was sung with artistry and deep emotional commitment.

The final set on the program comprised Manuel de Falla's Siete canciones populares españolas.  The advantage for us was that we understand Spanish and thus were able to appreciate Ms. Kutateladze's skill for word coloration and the creation of a mood. We adore this cycle, the first song of which gives us an ironic metaphor for men's negative attitude towards women's sexual expression. "El Paño Moruno" describes a cloth that has lost its value because of a stain.

The same judgmental attitude appears in "Seguidilla murciana", only this time the metaphor is a coin that has passed from hand to hand so much that it has become blurry and no one will accept it!

"Asturiana" is a song of deep sorrow and the search for consolation in nature, whereas "Nana" is a tender lullaby. "Canción" tells of lost love in a mournful way, whilst "Polo" tells of lost love in an angry bitter way.

It was a revelation to hear Ms. Kutateladze create the right mood for each song and to color each important word in a way that extracted every ounce of significance. With her gorgeous instrument, vital stage presence, intense involvement, and consummate musicianship, this is an artist to watch, one destined for stardom. Watch for her in the upcoming Juilliard Opera next month.

Soprano Felicia Moore walks onstage with such presence that one knows in advance that one is in for a treat.  Of course, having heard her many times before, we have advance knowledge. We can tell when a singer loves to sing!

One doesn't get enough Sibelius at song recitals so we were happy that Ms. Moore decided to invest so much energy into learning to sing in Swedish. From Five Songs, Op. 37, she sang one we'd never heard "Soluppgång", and two we know and love.

"Flickan kom ifrån sin älsklings mote" tells of a girl who hides the signs of a lovers' meeting from her mother until she suffers from her lover's abandonment.  "Var det en dröm" is a song of nostalgia in which the poet recalls his lost love as a dream. Ms. Moore invested each song with depth and meaning.

Her gleaming instrument was put to good use in songs from Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder. We particularly loved the way collaborative pianist Chris Reynolds created a meditative mood for "Im Treibhaus" in which Wesendonck uses the metaphor of plants in a hothouse to represent the feelings of someone who is far from their homeland. We speculated that she herself was away from home but we were wrong.  She was German through and through.

In "Stehe still!",  Mr. Reynolds hands created the pianistic equivalent of a perpetual motion machine, indicating the rushing of time. Ms. Moore responded in beautiful partnership. By the fourth verse, things have calmed down and both artists responded with lyricism to the concept of souls sinking into each other.

"Traume" recreates the evanescent world of dreams in a highly poetic way and gave Ms. Moore another opportunity to create a sound world of delicacy.

Her program ended with selections from Aaron Copland's Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson. We confess to no great love for poet or composer, which didn't stop us from appreciating Ms. Moore's superb performance. There were little touches that lent a high degree of artistry such as the enhanced vibrato on the final word of "Nature, the Gentlest Mother" and the way she left the final note of "The Chariot" hanging in the air.

The cutest song was the most timely--"Dear March, Come In!" a cute sentiment that made us want to like Dickinson more than we do.  It is just a fact that each of us has his/her taste and ours leans toward any language but English and any period prior to (but including) Richard Strauss!

That being said, Copland wrote some very interesting figures for the piano part of "Nature, the Gentlest Mother", and Mr. Reynolds' smashing piano technique and interpretive artistry brought them out.

Like nearly all the singers coming out of Juilliard Vocal Arts Department, Ms. Moore evinces those Juilliard qualities--presence, dramatic skills, expressive vocal technique, fine phrasing, and linguistic skills.  There must be something in the water!

(c) meche kroop

Thursday, March 22, 2018


Joshua Jeremiah, Emily Pulley, and Jennifer Zetlan in Morning Star (photo by Pavel Antonov)

The hardy New Yorkers who braved the "fourth'easter" of the season were rewarded with a resonant evening, some insights into New York history, some fine music, and some very stiff necks. The latter point has to do with one of the hazards of staging works on site, which On Site Opera does very well; the space may be evocative but not comfortable.

Ricky Ian Gordon's Morning Star, originally commissioned by Cincinnati Opera, was staged in the sanctuary of the 1887 Eldridge Street Synagogue, now the Museum at Eldridge Street. General and Artistic Director Eric Einhorn has staged the work using all parts of the sanctuary, including the balcony. This worked dramatically but made viewing uncomfortable since much of the action took place at the rear.

The evocative story concerns a family of immigrants in 1911 and 1932. They came from Riga in Latvia where, we gather, some unspeakable things were done to Jewish folk. But this compelling story could be paralleled in present time with any new immigrant group trying to adjust to a difficult life in a new place. The destructive effects of family secrets and the effects of tragedy on successive generations are both common themes in the theater.

The story concerns the widowed Becky Felderman (performed by the powerful soprano Emily Pulley) who has immigrated to the USA with her three daughters. The eldest, Sadie (affectingly sung by mezzo-soprano Blythe Gaissert) is the smart one who has never felt loved. The second is Fanny (sweet voiced Jennifer Zetlan) who will marry Irving (terrific tenor Blake Friedman) who will not let her sing.

The youngest girl Esther (performed by soprano Cree Carrico who plays "adorable" very well) captures the love of Sadie's main squeeze, the teacher Harry (fine baritone Andrew Lovato). Poor Esther dies in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire (about which we have more to say further along) on her wedding day.

Important to the family is Aaron Greenspan who never gives up on his romantic pursuit of Becky. . Joshua Jeremiah used his keen dramatic instincts to create a believable character.  His powerful baritone matched well with Ms. Pulley's soprano. We particularly liked a song he sang in Yiddish which was mostly understood by this German-speaking reviewer. He was reminiscing about what he missed about Riga. Becky joined in with some not-so-happy memories.

We enjoyed Martin Bakari's sweet tenor in the role of Prince, a street peddler.  Smaller roles were taken by mezzos Chrystal E. Williams and Allison Gish. Only David Langan's bass-baritone was stentorian and unattractive as the rabbi.

Music Director Geoffrey McDonald did his customary superlative job conducting the American Modern Ensemble, a dozen fine musicians who made the most of Bruce Coughlin's orchestration for chamber orchestra. The wind section was particularly notable. The chamber orchestra was situated at the rear of the sanctuary and the sound floated forward with ease.

We have nothing but good things to say about the orchestral writing but we have a hard time finding something to praise about Ricky Ian Gordon's writing for the voice. The puzzling part of this is that Mr. Gordon wrote the most beautiful vocal line for Irving--"Oh Morning Star", a love song sung to woo Fanny.  Would that all the writing had been this melodic!

We did like the way that arias became duets and duets became ensembles.  The voices blended beautifully.  We just wanted to hear some melody! We liked Becky's song "Men come, men go, family abides". "Three loving sisters" was an interesting trio evincing a complex collection of emotions. 

Of all the sisters, Sadie was the most disagreeable and yet Ms. Gaissert's performance left us with sympathetic feelings. Her jealousy and bitterness clearly came out of feeling unloved.  She sang "Smart never won a man's heart". The early 20th c. was not kind to smart ambitious women. Her defensiveness was revealed in "Is it my fault?".

There was a 21 year gap between Act I and Act II; Summer Lee Jack's costumes were appropriate for both periods. Emilia Martin's wigs were as unflattering as wigs usually are. Shawn K. Kaufman's lighting design was splendid, especially for the fire which was so convincing that we nearly forgot it was "theater".

The libretto by the late William M. Hoffman seemed just fine, although a substantial amount could not be understood. Anyone who can rhyme "latkes" with "hot kiss" is OK in my book!

And now we come to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire story, the worst workplace disaster in NYC history until the World Trade Center attack of 2001.  The death toll was 146 people; greed and carelessness were to blame. If you seek more information, we refer you to http://rememberthetrianglefire.org/

The pre-opera lecture we attended added a great deal to our appreciation of the work itself. Two member of the Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition spoke to the audience of their personal experience as relatives of women who lost their lives in the fire. These two generous speakers were Mary Anne Trasciatti and Suzanne Pred Bass whose memories brought the story alive for us. 

We were happy to learn that the tragedy had a silver lining in that the cause of labor was advanced; workplace safety has been addressed (and is still being addressed!) as was working conditions. The flagrantly indifferent owners of the factory were acquitted due to the efforts of a high-powered attorney who intimidated the young women witnesses.  So sad!

To bring the story to the present, Governor Andrew Cuomo has donated a significant amount of money to establishing a memorial so that this tragedy will be remembered.

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, March 21, 2018


Jonathan Heaney, Jessica Harika, Patrick McNally, Megan Gillis, Kathleen Spencer, and Eamon Pereyra

This month is International Women's Month and we just celebrated the success of an opera company founded by two wonderful women--soprano Megan Gillis and mezzo-soprano Kathleen Spencer. This perfectly affirms our belief that if you don't see what you want-- then create it.

Their creation is ARE opera.  The letters stand for Accessible, Relatable, and Enjoyable. In just one year, ARE has created major successes about which you can read by entering their names in the search bar.  Our personal favorite was Cenerentola. These two lovely ladies have a knack for finding wonderful talent and creating onstage magic.

Last night's recital at the Steinway showroom introduced us to a new singer and a few we've reviewed before, all of whom brought new life to old material, and gave us the opportunity to hear Ms. Gillis and Ms. Spencer as well. Ms. Spencer opened the program as a lively Carmen and Ms. Gillis gave us a Susannah from the eponymous Carlisle Floyd opera singing "Ain't It a Pretty Night" with such good English diction that we caught every word.

Tenor Eamon Pereyra, who did so well as Rinuccio in ARE's Gianni Schicchi, knows just how to build a song; he began "Maria", from Bernstein's West Side Story, very quietly and built to a dramatically effective climax. His personality shone and he made good use of vocal coloration to create a believable Tony who has just fallen in mad adolescent love. When he sang "The most beautiful sound" we were thinking "that's just what we are listening to...the most beautiful sound".

We got to hear another solo from Mr. Pereyra--"No puede ser" from Pablo Sorozábal's La taberna del puerto.  One very lovely aspect of this recital was that each singer addressed the audience, telling something about their song.  Mr. Pereyra mentioned that this was his favorite song and that comes as no surprise. He was totally immersed and so were we.

Baritone Patrick McNally performed the soliloquy from Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel and did so with such fine voice and dramatic intent that we felt that we understood for the first time what a prospective father goes through. This performance reaffirmed our belief that American musical theater is really the opera of 20th c. America and needs to be performed by trained operatic voices without amplification.  Only then can we see the connection with its operatic origins.

We got more Carousel when Ms. Gillis an Mr. McNally sang the fine duet "If I Loved You". Mr. McNally paired with mezzo-soprano Jessica Harika for the charming duet "Dunque io son" from Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia. We always get a laugh seeing how Rosina's cleverness exceeds that of Figaro. We particularly enjoyed the cabaletta with the two voices playing against one another. Again, the acting was as fine as the singing.

Ms. Harika impressed with her performance of "What a Movie!" from Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti, an opera that never had much interest for us. We believe Ms. Harika changed our mind with her riveting and expressive performance. She created quite a character!

Readers know how much we love duets and we heard two more worth mentioning. Ms. Gillis and Ms. Spencer performed "Prendero quel brunettino" from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte. We have never seen two singers looking more believable as sisters!  It swept us right into the plot. Their voices blended beautifully.

And finally, there was the highly romantic duet from Act I of Puccini's La Bohême--"O soave fanciulla" with Mr. Pereyra as Rodolfo and Ms. Gillis as Mimi. They walked offstage arm in arm, lost in the throes of love at first sight.  

We left in the throes of artistic delight. What a satisfying recital, drawing no distinction between vocal genres, treating every song with respect, making everything accessible, relatable and enjoyable for the audience.

At the piano, doing a superb job accompanying all those varied styles, was Music Director Jonathan Heaney, who is also an excellent conductor.

You too can enjoy this yearling company's next production.  Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore is an opera that lives up to ARE's mission and is a real crowd pleaser.  May 18. 19, and 20 are the dates to save.

(c) meche kroop

Monday, March 19, 2018


Huayin Shadow Puppet Band from Shaanxi Province China

China's ancient musical traditions are in danger of being lost--but not if pipa virtuoso Wu Man has anything to say about it!

In our country there are musicians whose names are familiar to just about everyone and we'd like to think that this lovely and talented woman is similarly famous in China. Her participation in Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble and  the documentary film The Music of Strangers have made her famous. We were so happy to be exposed to her gifts Saturday night at the Society for Ethical Culture, as well as the unusual performance of the Huayin Shadow Puppet Band, presented by the World Music Institute (www.worldmusicinstitute.org).

The pipa is a lute like instrument which was customarily plucked with fingers when the strings were made of silk; but presently, in concert halls, the steel strings are plucked with plastic finger picks, one on each finger of the right hand whilst the fingers of the left hand depress the strings onto the sounding board.  Ms. Man's right hand moved so rapidly that we were reminded of nothing more than the wings of a hummingbird. At times we thought of the player of flamenco guitar creating rasgueados.

It is worthwhile to see her artistry up close on You Tube...https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rg_iZhUlyRE

If the amplification of Ms. Man's voice had been better we would have loved to tell you the details she shared about the instrument, but only those in the center section of the hall seemed to hear and laugh along with her good humor. We only picked up a few words, so we can only tell you that the music, which there was no trouble hearing, was exciting at times and subtle at other times.

There was no subtlety in the performance of the  Huayin Shadow Puppet Band, which comprises farmers from Huayin County, a rural village in Shaanxi Province in northwest China. The musicians evinced a wild gusto that communicated with the audience. Onstage were four er-hu, an instrument with two strings that comes in various sizes to cover various portions of the register; a "bench" (looking like a sawhorse) which was brought over from China and played by striking with a blunt object; an hexagonal bowed instrument with three strings, a shawm, a heraldic looking trumpet several feet long that sounded like an angry duck, and all manner of percussion--clappers, gongs, and cymbals.

The sounds were raucous and probably told of ancient battles, mythical heroes, and gods of the oral folk culture of the region.  The shadow puppetry was created upon a backlit white screen and was not so different from that found in Indonesia. The tradition first appeared in this village during the Qing Dynasty in the mid-18th c. It once belonged exclusively to the Zhang family but has recently been passed down to outsiders.

We wish we had understood the narration because it was difficult to figure out what was happening. One scene was perfectly clear.  Two warriors mounted on very small horses threw spears at each other in a long pitched battle. The other scene was confusing but it seemed as if a group of people were scolding a person.

At the end we heard a piece in which the melody was passed around from one instrument to another which we found quite lovely. What a fascinating discovery!

(c) meche kroop


Tami Petty and Michael Sheetz

We know well that the talented Tami Petty won the Joy in Singing award in 2014; we were there and wrote enthusiastically about her gifts communicating the essence of song to the audience. Since that auspicious debut, we have seen, heard, and enjoyed Ms. Petty's gifts a number of times at the Brooklyn Art Song Society and once with The Bohemians. Yesterday we enjoyed her gifts even more at a salon graciously hosted by one of Joy in Singing's devoted members.

Perhaps it was the intimacy of the surroundings or perhaps Ms. Petty has been working on her English diction because we got every word of her English--the only quibble we had four years ago.

The theme for the afternoon put women composers front and center. We had just heard Clara Schumann's "Liebst du um Schonheit" Friday night and wrote how it shouldn't take second place to Mahler's setting. Ms. Petty's performance reinforced our belief. The luster of her instrument and attention to detail in the phrasing were amplified by gesture and facial expression. We want to hear this song again and again!

Ms. Petty's German ist perfekt and served her well in Alma Mahler's "Ich wandle unter Blumen", another lovely entry in the female composer sweepstakes.

We heard some lovely French as well and always admire a singer who can switch gears for each language. Regine Wieniawski (Poldowski) set Paul Verlaine's  "L'heure exquise" in 1917, a quarter century after Reynaldo Hahn did so --another tempting pair for Mirror Visions Ensemble. The two settings are different but equally lovely. The start is delicate but Ms. Petty opened up her sizable voice whilst collaborative pianist, known mainly through his work with Classic Lyric Arts, put forth some lovely arpeggi.

Cecile Chaminade's songs were popular in her time--all 125 of them!  There were clubs celebrating her oeuvre right here in the USA. Yesterday we heard the delightful "Ecrin" which was performed in a most flirtatious manner. The French was crystal clear but one got the message even if one didn't understand the language.

Pauline Viardot's "Madrid" was written for the mezzo fach but that didn't stop Ms. Petty who conveyed the high spirited vocal line whilst Mr. Sheetz conveyed all the flamenco inflected accompaniment. We loved it!

The remainder of the songs were in English but that didn't stop us from enjoying them! Amy Beach's "The Year's at the Spring" was familiar to us but "Take, O Take Those Lips Away" was new to us.  Clara Edwards' "Into the Night" was filled with longing and quite lovely.

Liza Lehmann's  "Evensong" was seriously sentimental but her "There are fairies at the bottom of our garden" is filled with sly humor and Ms. Petty used just the right amount of camp, to the delight of the audience.

We even got to hear Mr. Sheetz perform Fanny Mendelssohn's "Pastorella" which reminded us of "Lieder ohne Worte" inasmuch as we were writing words in our head!  Indeed, Fanny probably wrote a lot of music that got passed off as her brother's because of restrictions enacted upon women by society and their families.

A fun aspect of yesterday's salon was that different guests were selected to read a brief bio about each composer. So many women composers were prevented from performing; others composed out of financial necessity.

As encore, we got "SHE'S got the whole world in HER hands". We couldn't keep from thinking that Ms. Petty has the world of art song in HER hands! That spiritual never made so much sense! And who can get a song across better than Ms. Petty!

Did you know that Joy in Singing is the oldest art song organization in the USA! Did you now that you too may be eligible to attend one of these intimate salons? We highly recommend the experience.

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, March 17, 2018


Nathaniel LaNasa

It is the time of year when students at Juilliard are fulfilling the requirements for their degrees and collaborative pianist Nathaniel LaNasa surely deserves the Graduate Diploma Degree for which he has evidently worked so hard. So how did he make it look so easy????  That's artistry!

Mr. LaNasa graciously thanked all the faculty who had contributed to the various facets of his education and explained to the audience what a collaborative pianist is and does, which is a great deal more than just accompanying. One could observe the truth of this by watching and listening. Mr. LaNasa chose his partners carefully--four singers and a violinist.  The material was also varied, some to our taste and some, not so much.

The part of the program we enjoyed the most was his partnership with soprano Kathryn Henry, on the basis of their performance of five selections from Richard Strauss' Op.10--his first published songs, filled with youthful enthusiasm and compositional promise, much like the artists!

Ms. Henry offers a generous sound, a pleasing vibrato, and clear German.  More importantly, she colored each song differently, giving "Zueignung" a full measure of passion, matched by Mr. LaNasa's piano. "Nichts" was given a lot of personality and a touch of humor, while the gorgeous "Die Nacht" established a mood of vague anxiety and just the right emphasis on the shift to the minor key.  "Allerseelen" was filled with painful longing, achieving some peaceful resolution with the piano postlude.

Baritone Gregory Feldmann was given similar support by Mr. LaNasa in three songs by Gabriel Fauré. His fine round tone was well matched by arpeggi in the piano in "Dans le forêt de Septembre". The ripples in the piano matched the vocal color of "La fleur qui va sur l'eau".

We have never enjoyed Olivier Messiaen's music but the bitter pill went down easily with the lovely soprano Nicolette Mavroleon tackling the nonsense syllables. We could only make out a few words like "green dove", "love", "water", "sky", and "time". We preferred "L'amour de Piroutcha" which had a lyrical line and a gentle piano part.

Messiaen often kept Mr. LaNasa's hands at the farthest reaches of the keyboard and he really got a workout. He explained that we were hearing extracts from a doomed love story based on a Peruvian legend.  Well, there's that.  In any case, Ms. Mavroleon seemed very involved in the work and can be forgiven for being "on the book" in the case of such a bizarre vocal line and text.

Even more bizarre was a contemporary piece by Tonia Ko called "Smoke and Distance".  This short piece did not appeal on an emotional level and seemed to us to be written from an intellectual perspective.  The singer, Lucy Dhegrae, merits major props for memorizing the vocal part, which involved strange sounds and humming.

It was the piano part that amazed us. Mr. LaNasa was called upon to pluck and strum the strings of the piano. We know this is not the first time a composer has called upon a performer to attack the piano in such a fashion but we prefer our piano played in the customary fashion!

We were back on more familiar territory when Mr. LaNasa was joined by Hahnsol Kim for Beethoven's Violin Sonata No. 3 in E-flat, Op.12 No. 3, an early work very rooted in the classical style. We heard a traditional Allegro, an expressive Adagio, and a lively Rondo with an appealing theme.

We were impressed by how the two artists related to one another, with the piano picking up and reflecting on the violin.  Good job Nathaniel!

(c) meche kroop


Petr Nekoranec, Valeria Polunina, and Hyesang in Lindemann Recital

Let's face it.  The Lindemann Young Artist Development Program gives matchless recitals.  Since 1980 they have discovered and developed the cream of the crop of young opera singers and collaborative pianists. Those fortunate enough to be chosen receive a bounty of instruction, coaching, and performance opportunities. The stages of opera houses worldwide clamor for their talent.

Yesterday's recital at the Bruno Walter Auditorium exceeded greatness. It lasted but 75 minutes but the after effects are still with us. A recital like this can leave you totally satisfied, yet wishing it had gone on and on.  Like champagne, even when you've had enough, you still want more!

What impressed us most about these young artists was how distinctive their voices are.  So many tenors and sopranos of today sound alike; it's a special pleasure to hear voices that have unique qualities.

The appropriately named soprano Hyesang Park opened the program with a pair of songs by Purcell--"Music for a While" from Oedipus and "Sweeter than Roses" from Pausanias. This 17th c. British titan knew how to pair text and music; Ms. Park's bright tone produces a visceral effect; we could feel the bones of our middle ear vibrating and tingling.  What an incredible sensation! It is particularly pronounced in the penetrating upper register.

Her English is so perfect that we missed nary a word. Perhaps some credit must go to Patricia Brandt's coaching in English. Not only was the enunciation clear but the meaning behind the words was emphasized by astute vocal coloration. The word "cool" indeed had a chilly sound and "trembling" literally trembled. Ms. Park's expressive face matched her expressive voice such that we really understood the songs. 

Purcell wrote some gorgeous melismas that took on the character of vocalises. The vocal fireworks of the fast section were exciting as could be.  It was great to hear this artist go from legato lyricism to rapid-fire embellishments.

Five songs by Clara Schumann followed, which involved some warm colors of regret and nostalgia. Rückert's romantic text "Liebst du um Schönheit" was set by her long before Mahler set it. We have always loved Mahler's setting but there is no reason to overlook Clara Schumann's version. Clara's style is not so different from her husband's and we hear the same attention to a singable vocal line and wonderful piano writing.

Collaborative pianist Valeria Polunina created quite a storm in "Er ist gekommen" and some delightful echoing effects in "Das ist ein Tag".

The program also included a charming pair of songs by Reynaldo Hahn who managed to keep melody alive into the 20th c.! "A Chloris" and "L'Enamourée" are graceful songs and Ms. Park sang them simply, creating a dreamlike mood. The effect was that of letting the songs speak for themselves.

Tenor Petr Nekoranec has an equally distinctive sound; we don't know how to describe it except "texture". It sounds rich and multidimensional. The last time we heard Mr. Nekoranec we loved his voice but not the material. Yesterday we were over the moon about his choice of material. Antonín Dvorák wrote his Gypsy Songs in German and that is how we have always heard them.

However, the composer reset them in Czech and we were amazed at the beautiful sound of the language and how well it integrated with the text. Singing in his native tongue permitted Mr. Nekoranec to immerse himself totally in the many moods of Roma life from wild abandon to deep sorrow. The work fits him like a suit of bespoke clothing. His colorful personality emerged as he gave his all.

We also enjoyed Six Romances, Op. 38 by Rachmaninoff. The partnership between him and Ms. Polunina was particularly striking.  "The Daisies" gives the piano score some lacy filigree whereas "The Pied Piper" has a frisky quality that Mr. Nekoranec augmented with his lively personality. The haunting piano line of "A-u!" brought this superb recital to a memorable close.

We longed for an encore but there was none. We kept wondering what these two unique voices would sound like in a duet. Well, now we have something to anticipate for the future.

(c) meche kroop

Thursday, March 15, 2018


Renate Rohlfing and Samuel Hasselhorn at The Morgan Library

Every generation produces its own standout artists! It is clear to us, after hearing baritone Samuel Hasselhorn on two occasions, that he is the standout baritone of his generation. He won first prize in the Young Concert Artists Competition in 2015 (among a legion of other awards and prizes) and gave a groundbreaking recital at Merkin Hall last year which we reviewed. (http://www.vocedimeche.reviews/search?q=samuel+hasselhorn)

If anything, our excitement about his career has only grown, along with the growth of his artistry. Once again, we were impressed by the ease of his stage presence, the mature timbre of his voice, his crisp diction (even in English), his storytelling prowess, and his ability to color his voice with all the tones of the vocal palette.

The major work on this afternoon's program was Schumann's Dichterliebe. With collaborative pianist Renate Rohlfing matching his mood every step of the way, Mr. Hasselhorn led us through the many stages of recovery from a disappointing romance. Anyone with a minimal knowledge of German could easily follow the text with its multiple metaphors.

The feelings were so intense that it was difficult to believe that the dramatics were just dramatics. It seemed as if Mr. Hasselhorn were living through the many shades of grief in real time. We only hope he has never had such despair, nor ever will.

Heinrich Heine's text may seem excessive by today's standards but anyone who has lived through the loss of a love will understand that the loss of a fantasy of future happiness is excruciatingly painful.  Better to write or sing about it than to turn to alcohol and drugs!

The way Mr. Hasselhorn interpreted the song cycle is that the poet is reflecting upon the past--his initial joy and subsequent despair as he works through his loss-- until the final song of the cycle. He employed a sweet color for "Im wunderschönen Monat Mai"; the song doesn't exactly end but trails off in a whiff of nostalgia.

"Wenn ich in deine Augen seh'" shows the poet at his  most confused. Mr. Hasselhorn's coloration gave voice to the ambivalence.

"Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome" begins with some seriously ponderous chords in the piano echoed by the voice, depicting the great cathedral of Köln. The poet sees the face of his lost love everywhere, even in a painting of the Virgin Mary.

In "Ich grolle nicht" Mr. Hasselhorn began with a stalwart surface and a position of denial but his interpretation allowed the anger over the woman's betrayal to burst forth in an explosion of rage.

Ms. Rolfhing had her chance to shine in the hurdy-gurdy piano part of "Das ist ein Flöten und Geigen" but changed to a pensive mood in "Hör ich das Liedchen klingen" as Mr. Hasselhorn indulged in some 19th c. German Romantic grief. Today we would call it a "pity party".

"Ein Jüngling liebt ein Mädchen" begins with irony and ends, like the earlier "Ich grolle nicht" with an eruption of anger. The next song "Am leuchtenden Sommermorgen" is one of consolation and required an entirely different coloration. 

"Ich hab' im Traum geweinet" asks the singer to begin a capella; he is joined by rhythmic chords in the piano which punctuate his sad dreams like the beating of an aching heart. In this lied and the subsequent "Allnächtlich im Traume" he is working through the loss. Haven't we all had dreams in which a dream element that seemed important has vanished evanescently? Imagine the skill required for the singer to convey this puzzled quality!

He finds no escape into fantasy as shown in the longing "Aus alten Märchen winkt es" so the final resolution must be to bury the love and the angry songs in a hyperbolic coffin with a dozen giant pallbearers as described in "Die alten, bösen Lieder". The piano postlude achieves a kind of resolution with a nearly funereal peace.

The program also included some lighter material.  In a move worthy of Mirror Visions Ensemble, the same text, set by Schubert and Gerald Finzi, was performed.  Schubert's "An Silvia" was paired with Finzi's "Who is Sylvia" and we were surprised to learn that Shakespeare's words were as well set in English in the 20th c. as the German version was by Schubert in the 19th c. 

We generally don't care much for songs in English from the 20th c. but we were drawn to enjoy this music by Mr. Hasselhorn's and Ms. Rohlfing's fine performance of "O Mistress Mine". Possibly the elegant cadence of Shakespeare's text elicits good composition!

We were tickled by the singer's bird sounds in Hugo Wolf's "Lied des transferieten Zettel".  This is a setting of "Bottom's Song" from Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, translated into German.

There was yet more Shakespeare to come. Erich Wolfgang Korngold set "Desdemona's Song" from Othello,  as well as "Under the Greenwood Tree",  "Blow, blow, Thou Winter Wind", and "When Birds Do Sing"-- all from As You Like It.

So, now we know. We like songs in English as long as Shakespeare contributed the text!

Still, returning to German for the encore left us smiling; it was the very sweet Schumann lied "Du bist wie eine Blume". Schumann must have been thinking of Clara when he wrote that gorgeous melody!

(c) meche kroop