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.
|Tamara Mumford as Tancredi|
Maestro Will Crutchfield has decamped from Caramoor after twenty years and set up camp as "Teatro Nuovo" at Purchase College, which has given him a compelling Bel Canto Festival to celebrate the type of opera we love the most. We will follow Will wherever he goes and we hope his loyal fans will do likewise. There is a training program attached to this festival and young artists are surely flocking to Purchase to participate.
There is an adventure seeking motive at work in that there are some interesting explorations into performing traditions involved as well as the use of period instruments in the newly formed orchestra. At last night's Tancredi, this newly formed orchestra could have fooled us into believing that they have been around forever.
Maestro Crutchfield is not only Artistic Director and General Director of the festival but performed at the harpsichord as well, with Jakob Lehmann as Concertmaster, leading the orchestra. We loved the softer sound and craned our neck to get a better look at the unusual woodwinds and brass.
For this year's festival, along with lectures, panel discussions, recitals and master classes, there are two major operatic productions, or should we say two and a half. We will review a recital on Tuesday and Mayr's Medea in Corinto next weekend. Last night we heard Tancredi which Rossini composed within a month when he was but twenty years old! It was commissioned by La Fenice in 1813.
By that time, he had already written nine operas and had achieved success with the genre of opera buffa, but Tancredi launched his career as a composer of originality, creating works that served as a bridge between the Classical period and the Romantic period. He established the forms that would serve the art form for a century. He moved opera seria into new territory, writing extended duets and choruses which commented on the action. He set up the scena, comprising recitativo-cantilena-cabaletta. He extinguished the happy ending.
As a matter of fact, the original Tancredi did have a happy ending but Rossini was persuaded to rewrite it in a manner that more accurately reflected Voltaire's 1760 play Tancrède, on which the libretto (by Gaetano Rossi) was based. The "half opera" we mentioned earlier will be presented at the festival on August 5th as Tancredi Rifatto, and includes a wealth of vocal material that Rossini added for various performances, ostensibly to suit the voices of different singers--and also includes the unhappy ending.
Well, you won't hear any objections to happy endings on our part and forgiveness is best appreciated when the one forgiven goes on living, or so we believe.
After incredible popularity in the 19th c. the opera fell out of the repertory but was brought back when Marilyn Horne chose to champion it. (Thank you Jackie!)
The opera takes place in the 11th c. in Sicily where the Byzantine Empire is threatened by the Saracens. Our hero Tancredi had been exiled as a child and you, dear reader, will recognize the prototype of the "outsider" as one of the great contributions of the Romantic period.
He is loved by Amenaide, the daughter of Argirio, a nobleman who has just achieved a truce with Orbazzano, a nobleman of another faction. He is marrying off his daughter to Orbazzano to cement the truce, but she isn't having any of it.
The plot thickens because a letter she wrote to Tancredi has fallen into the wrong hands and she is suspected of writing to the Saracen leader, an act of treason punishable by death. Although he is feeling betrayed, Tancredi engages in single combat with Orbazzano, her accuser, and saves her.
In the title role we heard mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford, of whom we have been a fan since hearing her in a recital at the Metropolitan Museum, before we even started writing. We enjoyed her performance at The Metropolitan Opera as Smeaton and her performance at Caramoor as well. There is no denying her vocal artistry and distinctive sound. For us, the highlight of the evening was her delivery of "Di tanti palpiti". There are echoes of this melody in Wagner's Die Meistersinger.
As Amenaide, soprano Amanda Woodbury made a strong impression, handling Rossini's lavish fioritura with aplomb and conveying a sense of the character's challenging predicament. She was as splendid in her duets as in her arias.
As her father Argirio, we heard tenor Santiago Ballerini tear into Rossini's challenging vocal fireworks like a hot knife through butter. Small in stature but large in vocal gifts, this is a tenor to watch. His Act II scena beautifully expressed his ambivalence about signing his daughter's death warrant. There is something about his decrescendo that astonished us; he spun the vocal line out to the finest filament.
Bass-baritone Leo Radosavljevic, whom we well remember from Juiliiard and several vocal competition award recitals, did justice to the role of Orbazzano, making his sound burly in times of anger. He's a man who just can't believe that his intended has other intentions.
Mezzo-soprano Hannah Ludwig was excellent as Amenaide's chief support Isaura. We loved the way she stood up for her friend. Similarly, mezzo-soprano Stephanie Sanchez excelled as Roggiero, Tancredi's esquire.
As far as semi-staged operas go, we were happy that the entire cast was "off book" (except for the excellent Teatro Nuovo Chorus) but we really missed sets and costumes. We were hoping for some projections that would suggest time and place and some simple costumes. Instead, we had a bare stage with female singers wearing gowns and male singers in dinner jackets. At the very least, we wished that the two women performing pants roles had abandoned high heels. It's one thing for Isaura to totter around the stage but Tancredi and Roggiero should have been wearing boots. It's difficult to walk like a man wearing high heels!
And that is the only quibble we have with a superb production that gave us insight into the birth of Bel Canto and an enduring ear worm of "Di tanti palpiti" which we have been singing all night.
The Bel Canto Festival will continue until August 5th and Purchase is but an hour away. Consult their website and pick something. Pick anything! You won't be disappointed.
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|Pavel Suliandziga, Andrey Valentii, Alexander Nesterenko, Olga Tolkmit, Maestro Leon Botstein, Efim Zavalny, Nadezhda Babintseva, Ekaterina Egorova, and Yakov Strizhak|
The highest praise we can heap on the Bard SummerScape production of Anton Rubinstein's 1871 opera Demon is that it was worth the four hour bus trip from Manhattan in a driving rain. (It was only two hours returning). What a rare opportunity to see a stunning production of an opera that has achieved its success on native soil but has rarely been seen in the USA.
Maestro Leon Botstein led the American Symphony Orchestra in a fine reading of Rubinstein's highly accessible score, one marked by exotic Eastern modes and tantalizing tunes some of which reminded us of Borodin. The presence of The Pesvebi Georgian Dancers, choreographed by Shorena Barbakadze, added color and action to the somewhat static story. Black clad male dancers exhibited consummate athleticism whilst the women, dressed in white with cherry red veils, delighted the eye with their grace.
Pavel Viskovatov's libretto was based upon a poem by Mikhail Lermontov and we found it repetitive and not terribly interesting. The Demon, a fallen angel, falls for the beautiful Princess Tamara, makes sure that his rival Prince Sinodal gets killed, and pursues Tamara until she relents. She dies.
It took some doing to get this opera past the censors since it was considered sacrilegious. To a modern audience, a rebellious anti-hero who wants freedom and passion more than spiritual peace is not at all strange.
As portrayed by baritone Efim Zavalny, this Demon, a fallen angel, is sexy as all get-out, with a commanding presence adding to his burnished baritone. No wonder that the lovely Princess Tamara, performed by the diminutive soprano Olga Tolkmit, cannot resist his importuning. His supernatural powers seemed unnecessary!
The third and final act comprises the Demon's triumphing over the Angel (rich-voiced mezzo-soprano Nadezhda) for Tamara's love. Gorgeous melodies are exchanged by the two lovers as the Princess, opening up her slender focused soprano, can no longer resist. (Who could???) Subsequently, the Angel gets her moment of triumph as she saves Tamara's soul.
It occurred to us that the theme of spiritually challenged men requiring saving by the pure love of an innocent maiden is a rather common theme in opera, i.e. Der Fliegende Holländer and Faust. Of course, the woman gives up her life in the ultimate sacrifice. Lest we consign this theme to the 19th c., just think of some contemporary films with the same theme! There will always be women who want to save "bad boys". Still, we find nothing so terrible in those who prefer love and freedom to blind obedience and the promise of peaceful paradise.
All of the voices matched the excellence of the leads. There is nothing like a Russian bass, and Andrey Valentii's performance of the role of Prince Gudal (Tamara's father) was powerful and convincing.
Poor Prince Sinodal, sung by tenor Alexander Nesterenko, gets killed off at the end of Act I, but not until he thrilled us with a sad lament. But he was not the only tenor onstage. As they say, there are no small roles, and tenor Pavel Suliandziga, a rising star if ever we heard one, sang with lustrous pure tone and lovely phrasing in the role of the Messenger.
Yakov Strizhak impressed us with his fine bass and convincing portrayal of the Old Servant to Prince Sinodal, coming across more like a loyal friend. The role of Nanny was performed by mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Egorova, appearing more like a Mother Superior in the convent.
With such a bare bones story, it falls to the Director to flesh out the tale with character development and this was well accomplished by Thaddeus Strassberger. Setting Act I in the same convent to which Tamara flees at the end of Act II served to emphasize her innocence.
Act II was lively and colorful as Tamara awaited her groom. Amid the singing and dancing he arrived--on a funeral bier.
The Demon's power over women was signaled by his affecting the dreams of the sleeping postulates of the convent as he wandered from cell to cell in Act III.
Paul Tate dePoo III's set design was magnificent. A series of arched elements were illuminated by JAX Messenger's Lighting Design and Greg Emetaz' Video Design. We loved the projection that looked like stained glass with images of angels and devils. Kaye Voyce's costumes for the wedding scene were opulent with Tamara's wedding dress a source of bridal envy.
Chorus Master James Bagwell pulled an excellent performance from the Bard Festival Chorale.
There will be four more performances and we encourage your attendance if tickets are available.
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|Shmuel Katz, Ilya Finkelshteyn, Philipp Marguerre, Friedrich Heinrich Kern, Max Blair, and Jasmine Choi|
Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival had us in their grasp for five hours last night, with a compelling evening of music. We do not customarily indulge our ears to such an extent with non-vocal music, but we had a very good reason. We wanted to hear as much as possible of the glass harmonica, and what an opportunity this was!
Most of you have probably had the experience of rubbing a damp finger on the rim of a wine glass and hearing an unusual tone. Probably this is what inspired the polymath Benjamin Franklin to invent the glass harmonica. Until last summer, we had really only heard this instrument playing a chilling duet with the eponymous Lucia in the Donizetti opera Lucia di Lammermoor. Whenever a company substituted a different instrument we recall being greatly disappointed.
Last summer in Santa Fe, we heard glass harmonicist Friedrich Heinrich Kern play in a recital and were thrilled to learn of the versatility of this exotic and unique instrument. It is almost as exotic and unique as the theramin, another instrument which has captivated us.
Mr. Kern gave us an up close and personal look at his instrument and a demonstration of how the sound is produced and we were hooked. When we heard he was performing with the Mostly Mozart Festival we were overjoyed at the opportunity to learn more. One of the things we gleaned is that this is an instrument that "plays well with others". Another is that it has a two and a half octave range.
Our evening began with a brief recital involving Mr. Kern and his colleague Philipp Marguerre. We sat on the front row the better to observe the techniques involved in producing the ethereal sound, one which makes us think of fantasies and outer space exploration, especially when detached from Lucia's chilling fioritura in the mad scene where it suggests a state of unreality.
We observed how color and dynamics can be varied as well as the length of the notes. Even staccati can be produced, although, for the most part, the plentiful overtones hang in the air for prolonged periods of time. The two artists performed an Adagio Mozart wrote and we found the harmonies to be particularly eerie. We do not think Mozart wrote the piece for two players; we read that he wrote it for a blind artist.
We also heard a Sonata by Johann Gottlieb Nauman, a contemporary of Mozart. Apparently, the instrument was popular in the Classical period. Mr. Marguerre performed a solo by Théodore Lack from a later period that was adapted for the glass harmonica and Mr. Kern played a 20th c. solo by Fred Schnaubelt.
The second event of the evening featured Maestro Louis Langrée in summer casual attire leading the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra. The concert began with a rather brisk rendition of the Overture to Bernstein's Candide, a concise and tuneful work, energetic and almost raucous.
The centerpiece of the evening was Emanuel Ax's splendid performance of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 17 in G major, a work beloved by Bernstein. The applause was so insistent that Mr. Ax rewarded his fans with a Nocturne by Chopin, a piece of unsurpassed loveliness.
And then came the work we had been anticipating--Mozart's Adagio and Rondo in C minor for glass harmonica(s), flute (Jasmine Choi), oboe (Max Blair), viola (Shmuel Katz) and cello (Ilya Finkelshteyn). Even without the glass harmonicas, this combination of instruments would be interesting and unusual! Our ears were in an extraordinary state of shock, a pleasant shock.
The final work on the program was Gershwin's 1928 work An American in Paris, performed in a new critical edition by Mark Clague. We would have had to hear both versions side by side to detect the differences. Suffice it to say we enjoyed it immensely and allowed each of the many varied episodes to evoke memories of our own time spent in Paris. There is all the chaos of a large city alternating with quiet moments which, for us, represented The Tuileries and the quietness of l'Orangerie and Monet's water lilies (prior to the museum's renovation).
Then it was Maestro Langrées turn to reward the enthusiastic audience for their fervor. He sat at the piano and played Gershwin's final composition from 1937--music for the film Shall We Dance. He was accompanied by a string quartet, a bass, and a wild clarinet solo. Wild, but not as wild as the audience! A happier exit crowd we have never seen!
But our night was not yet over. We moved on to the Kaplan Penthouse for a post-concert recital. To any reader who has not attended an event there, please accept our encouragement. One gets to sit at tables with some very interesting music lovers, sip wine, and experience live music up close and personal, just the way we like it.
We enjoyed Mr. Ax even more in this venue. His sensitive performance of Debussy's "Pagodes" was luminous. The Piano Sonata in F major by Mozart held our attention throughout from its Bach-influenced Allegro movement to the final Rondo.
The most unusual piece at this late-night recital was Piazzolla's "Tanti Anni Prima"; this was not a tango but a delicate and sensitive duet played by Mr. Ax and Mr. Marguerre. Mr. Kern also got to play a duet with Mr. Ax--Gershwin's glorious "Summertime" from Porgy and Bess. Y'all know how we favor anything related to the opera!
Mr. Kern and Mr. Marguerre also played an Adagio by Haydn and Mozart's "Ave verum corpus".
But the encore rang the most bells for us--the deeply moving lied by Mozart--"Abendempfindung". This always makes us weep when we hear it sung. Last night we heard the words in our head whilst the artists gave it a different flavor.
We hope more composers will write for this rare instrument. Mr. Kern and Mr. Marguerre are part of a group called Sinfonia di Vetro, a glass music ensemble.
(c) meche kroop
|The Sexy Sopranos of The Operatic Tease at Duane Park|
We cop to being a serial attendee at the monthly show called Operatic Tease at Duane Park. Our ears are tickled by the superb performances of our favorite arias. Our eyes are widened by the spectacular display of twirling tassels and daring gymnastics. Our taste buds are awakened by the delicious flavors of hand-crafted cocktails and the kind of food one doesn't expect in a nightclub. Duane Park on the Bowery, dear readers, is an amazing place--reeking in elegance with nary a whiff of tawdriness. Who'd a thunk it? Opera and burlesque.
That the singers happen to be talented ecdysiasts as well is just icing on the operatic cake. If one closed one's eyes, one would be experiencing a splendid sampling of arias at a recital; but if one did so one would be depriving oneself of some entrancing eye candy as these ladies are experts in both areas. Moreover, one of them, Marcy Richardson, aka Operagaga, is an amazing aerialist who performed some wild contortions within a large steel ring, of which we failed to get a good photo.
We love to see unusual productions in interesting venues because they serve a somewhat younger audience and also introduce people who are not regular opera goers to an art form to which we are addicted. Let us hope that some of them get bitten by the bug.
To "set the stage" let us describe the venue and the menu, which are all part of the experience. Duane Park is situated on The Bowery, just north of Houston Street; the hidden entrance gives one the feeling of entering a speakeasy during Prohibition. Once inside, one is greeted by Jonathan, who is an excellent host, making every attempt to get parties comfortably seated. One looks around at the opulent decor and is reassured that there is nothing "cheap" about this venue. All preconceived notions of "strip-joints" evaporate in this refined air.
The menu offers choices for everyone and we were astonished at how fine the food was. We enjoyed some unusual handcrafted cocktails and some delicious shrimp and grits that made us feel as if we were in Charleston or N'awlins. Our companions raved about the merguez. Kudos to Executive Chef Richard Overholt. Our server Braz was attentive and didn't miss a beat.
And neither did accompanist Seth Weinstein who showed off les girls to good advantage. We would like to show off les girls as well and if you did not arrive at this website through a link on Facebook, we refer you to our FB page "Voce di Meche" because a picture is worth a thousand words. A word of warning-- it's not for the kiddies because we photographed a lot of tits and ass!
But we write about singing and isn't that what y'all want to hear about? Our Mistress of Ceremonies for the evening was the lovely actress Laura Murphy who assumed the character of Harlow Wigglesworth and introduced each artist with a wiggle and a wink and a chorus girl accent--a fine piece of acting. That her parents were in the audience reassured us that this would be "family entertainment". Well, maybe not exactly!
The program opened with Kasey Cardin, aka Dixie De Light, who gave a special sparkle to "Je veux vivre", Juliet's waltz from the Gounod opera. The French was fine as was the phrasing and, yes, the undressing was fine too. Later on, Ms. Cardin gave a special not-so-innocent interpretation of "O, mio babbino caro" from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi with Italian as fine as the French.
Gounod made a further appearance in "Que fait-tu, blanche tourterelle", Stefano's aria in which he teases the Capulets, performed by mezzo-soprano Rachel O'Malley, aka Ladybird Finch, who did plenty of teasing herself. She showed her humorous side in "What a Movie" from Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti, in honor of the Bernstein centennial.
Soprano Francesca Caviglia, aka Trixie La Feé, appeared in a Cleopatra costume, which she shed whilst performing "V'adoro pupille" from Händel's Giulio Cesare. Her baroque style was impeccable. She also did a fine job with "I'm a stranger here myself" from One Touch of Venus by Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash, shedding her white tie and tails in fine sophisticated style.
We were a little worried that Trixie would not perform with her feathered fans, an act we have seen before; we needn't have been concerned because she appeared later in the program with a dazzling display that took our breath away. Whilst Ms. O'Malley sang "L'invitation au voyage" by Henri Duparc, Ms. Caviglia gave a perfect illustration of the text "Luxe, calme, et volupté" that exceeded the Matisse painting and Baudelaire's poetry.
There is a male member of the troupe and his name is Brad Lassiter, aka Lance-a-lot. He gave a fine musically valid performance of "C'est moi" from Lerner and Loewe's Camelot, stripping down to some gilded skivvies, with some female assistance. His Belcore was even better, as he sang, "Come Paride vezzoso" from Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore.
Marcy Richardson, aka Operagaga, gave a fine performance of the Jewel Song "Ah, je ris" from Gounod's Faust with a sparkling soprano and equally sparkling pasties. We found no fault in her fine French.
We know from witnessing countless master classes and our own voice lessons just how difficult it is to master an aria--the language, the breaths, the phrasing, the skips, the legato, the fioritura, etc. Now, just imagine accomplishing all that while shedding your clothes in an artistic manner! Now imagine doing that while performing difficult gymnastic maneuvers and you will get some idea of what we witnessed as Ms. Richardson sang "Lascia ch'io pianga" from Händel's Rinaldo! What a feat!
We hope you all know the rousing "Champagne Aria" sung by Prince Orlofsky in Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss II. Now imagine it sung by the entire cast in their closing number, toasting the audience and vice versa. Now you know just how much fun we had last night at Duane Park.
We understand there is another show on August 21st and are feeling very sorry that we will not be able to attend due to a prior commitment. But, dear reader, we urge YOU to attend and to tell us all about it. We fear that if we make an open call for a guest reviewer we will be swamped with offers!
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|Melanie Spector, Gabe Reitemeier, Yeseul Choi, Laura Alley, Maestro Steven Crawford, Joshua DeVane, YoungKwan Yoo, Nam Won Huh, and Matthew Greenberg|
Seeing and hearing young artists onstage and forgetting that they are "young artists" is a special treat we experience when attending one of Prelude to Performance's productions. Given a professional production and the right coaching the young artists who have completed this program are uniformly excellent in both musical and dramatic values. Happily, the productions are generally traditional, just the way we like them.
In the case of Donizetti's Don Pasquale, director Laura Alley created a comic drama with a successful overall arc; each individual scene was as coherent as a well written phrase of music. There was undeniable rhythm to the performance, and loads of laughs. Replete with duets and a stunning quartet, the score invites such effective direction.
We noticed a theme to this season's productions. Both of the eponymous heroes are older men who lust after younger women. Both stories involve their humiliation and reformation. Both stories make them likeable by the time the curtain falls. This isn't just in the libretto but in the music and the dramatic skills of the singer portraying them. In the Falstaff we just reviewed, José Maldonado made the Fat Knight seem loveable at the end, and last night, Joshua DeVane's remarkable performance made us care about poor Don Pasquale.
This theme dates back to commedia dell'arte in which the foolish old man was a stock character. We can't help thinking that we never lose our desire for love and "dirty old men" need love too.
Another stock character is the wily doctor and YoungKwan Yoo was a fine choice for the role of Dr. Malatesta as he plans some trickery to get Don Pasquale to give up on wanting a wife and to let Ernesto marry his beloved Norina.
Of course, the audience is rooting for the success of the young lovers and ready to forgive the three conspirators for their misdeeds. Yeseul Choi made a splendid Norina. We loved the scene in which Dr. Malatesta coaches her on how to act modest and shy like the cloistered sister whom he is passing her off as.
Another favorite moment is the one in which Norina slaps Pasquale and realizes she has gone too far. One could readily read the shame on Ms. Choi's face and understand so much of her character. Sometimes we do shameful things in pursuit of our goals-- so we get it.
Ms. Choi's musicality was in evidence throughout but really dazzled us in the final scene in which Donizetti provided the soprano with plenty of vocal fireworks, all excellently sung.
NamWon Huh made a very convincing Ernesto, basically a good fellow and loyal to his beloved, but rather entitled. He created a believable character and sang well in the lower and middle register, evincing a lovely messa di voce. To bring his performance up to a "10", he will have to learn to float his top notes. Nothing mars an otherwise fine performance than a tenor who thinks he must push out the top notes at top volume. Float 'em baby, float 'em!
Gabe Reitemeier created a very funny bit as the notary. Pasquale's servants were performed by Melanie Spector and Matthew Greenberg.
Maestro Steven Crawford led a spirited reading of the tuneful score. From the melodic cello solo in the overture, we knew we were in good hands. There was a brief moment in the prelude to Act II when the strings had some intonation problems but we are sure it had to do with the heat and humidity since we ourselves felt a bit unstrung.
As usual, Charles R. Caine's costumes were perfect, especially the red velvet gown worn by Ms. Choi as she was leaving for the theater. Steven Horak's excellent wig and costume design allowed us to see the handsome young Mr. DeVane transformed into an elderly man,. Of course, Mr. DeVane's acting sealed the deal. It was very humorous to watch him trying to pick up a barbell with arthritic knees and spine, but to witness how he perked up when Dr. Malatesta told him a wife had been found.
We ourself perked up from our heat-driven lethargy and found ourself dancing and humming on the way home.
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|Molly Burke, Emily Skilling, Gerardo de la Torre, Nina Mutalifu, Maestro Richard Cordova, José Luis Maldonado, Maria Brea, Te Yu Huang, and John Kim|
"It is with no small degree of embarrassment that we confess to not appreciating the charms of Verdi's final opera--not until tonight, that is. Under the stewardship of Artistic Director Martina Arroyo, the program Prelude to Performance once again provided a matchless evening of entertainment, fun, and artistic merit to a delighted audience as well as performance opportunities to young singers at the cusp of major careers. Now how does she do all this????
By doing what the Metropolitan Opera, with all its vast resources, cannot. She hires the best talent in the business to coach and direct the young performers in a concentrated program; the ensemble feeling is evident from one moment to the next. "
The above is a quote from our review of Prelude to Performance's Falstaff ... from 2012, when we had just begun Voce di Meche. Our opinion of last night's performance is no less enthusiastic. As a matter of fact, one aspect was even better! In the intervening six years we have come to appreciate the opera more and more, having enjoyed productions at Juilliard and at Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble.
What distinguished last night's performance was the conducting of Maestro Richard Cordova. We were so impressed by his insightful and detailed reading of the score that we went backstage to speak with him. We learned that he studied the score long ago with Maestro Carlo Maria Giulini and it has remained one of his favorite scores. We heard features of the orchestration that we had never heard before, for example, the way the sound of the oboe and the English horn (Slava Znatchenii) knitted and purled around the quartet of female voices in the "laughing" ensemble. Verdi's late life masterpiece revealed similar features in generous measure from one moment to the next.
We have heard moments in Puccini's operas in which the orchestration imitated or underscored the onstage action, but this is the first time we heard it in Falstaff. Our ears were opened to new insights! The superb musicians were provided by orchestra contractor Marc Szammer.
We began by mentioning our own learning experience but do not mean to shortchange the singers who were uniformly excellent. Falstaff can't work without a larger-than-life artist to portray the titular character and José Luis Maldonado more than filled the bill (and the costume). We think the last time we reviewed him we called him a beast onstage. Great artists need more than a great voice; they need a stage presence that pulls the audience right in and this he did. He was, in turn, arrogant, deceitful, pompous, entrapped, humiliated, and abashed.
The four women who plotted his humiliation were each superb, but together they were outstanding. Nina Mutalifu's Alice Ford was well paired with Molly Burke's Meg Page. As Mistress Quickly, Emily Skilling got to perform one of our favorite scenes, approaching the Fat Knight with ersatz politesse-- "Reverenza!" This has been running through our head all night long.
In the role of Nanetta, Maria Brea made a fine showing. Her Fenton, Te Yu Huang, stepped into the role at the last minute and truly rose to the occasion. If it were difficult for Ms. Brea to accommodate to a new Fenton, she did not show it. The pair provided "romantic relief".
And for comic relief we had John Kim as Bardolfo and Christopher Nazarian as Pistola, who created wonderfully funny characters without sacrificing fine singing.
Gerardo de la Torre made a fine Ford and delivered his aria with fine voice and style, earning a big hand. Kyuyoung Lee created a different kind of character, the ridiculous figure of Dr. Caius to whom Ford plans to marry off his daughter.
Ian Campbell's direction was first rate and happily kept the action in the time period and place in which it belongs. We really liked the way he handled the final scene in a somewhat understated manner; it is usually overdone.
Charles R. Caine designed the opulent and period accurate costumes which we believe we remember from the production of 2012. Steven Horak's wigs and makeup were well suited to the cast.
Sets were simple and augmented by projections on the rear wall, for which no one was credited in the program, but Dante Olivia Smith's lighting worked well.
The excellent chorus was conducted by Assistant Conductor Noby Ishida.
In sum, we can't remember having a better time at this opera than we did last night. We don't need "concept". All we need is a coherent production with great voices and orchestral clarity. We left Kaye Playhouse sort of dancing down 68th St.
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|Leonard Bernstein's Peter Pan at Bard College Summerscape|
We have been traveling up to Bard College every summer to enjoy their Summerscape offerings, generally comprising forgotten or neglected works. Bernstein's Peter Pan certainly falls into that category since we had never heard of it.
We adore Candide and never tire of it; we consider it to be on the operatic end of the musical spectrum. We also adore West Side Story which leans more toward the Broadway Musical side of the spectrum, although we have heard unamplified operatic voices singing thrilling versions of arias and duets extracted from the work.
We have no knowledge of A Quiet Place and only a single exposure to a number from Trouble in Tahiti which didn't thrill us. But we never knew that Bernstein wrote a musical based upon the 1904 Barrie play Peter Pan, which ran for over 300 performances in 1950, a couple of years before the Disney film and the Broadway show, neither of which we are familiar with.
That being said, the opinions of our several companions, who were familiar with the film and the show, matched our own; we experienced a lack of involvement in the production which did however receive a large ovation. It was neither opera nor Broadway show. It was a "post-modern entertainment" which left us puzzled and disappointed. We hold the director Christopher Alden responsible. It seemed, like so many contemporary productions, to be an attempt to dazzle the audience with effects and to garner attention for Alden's reputation rather than an attempt to tell a story.
Nonetheless, Bernstein's music was delightful, played by a chamber group of six musicians whose outsized talent left us feeling no loss for the reduced orchestration, credited to Garth Edwin Sunderland. Music Director Michael A. Ferrara played the piano and led the combination of Flute (Ryu Cipris), Cello (Melody Giron), Percussion (Charles Kiger), Clarinet (Patrick Sikes) and Violin (Una Tone). The music could not have been better, and what would one expect with a "melody" and a "tone" on board!
We liked the acting of Peter Smith as Peter Pan, who did not get a song to sing. We don't give a rat's whisker whether a performer is LGBT or Q as long as they can sing or act; we don't know why the program mentioned that "they" (preferred pronoun) are "non-binary". They is (are) an appealing performer who engaged us as a character, in a way that Erin Markey as Wendy, also identified as "non-binary" did not.
We liked the songs but did not care for the way they were sung. "They" lacked the youthful innocence needed for the part and belted out "their" songs standing in front of a microphone (!) in a way that lacked integration with the story and taxed the limitations of "their" upper register. (Could someone please suggest a new pronoun to avoid this clumsy circumlocution?)
In the double role of Mr. Darling and Captain Hook, William Michals sang robustly and convincingly. The director managed the conversion of roles by having Nana the dog bite his hand off, leaving just a hook. That was just plain sick-making.
The petite Rona Figueroa played the roles of Mrs. Darling, Tiger Lily, and the Crocodile, walking around with a huge clock that appeared borrowed from the Met's current iteration of La Traviata, another embarrassing attempt by a director to steal the show.
The role of Tinker Bell was portrayed by Jack Ferver, whose tiny stature and silver jumpsuit did nothing to convince us that he was a fairy. He created a character that was nothing more than a possessive jealous bitch who crawled all over Peter Pan and did what he could to destroy Wendy.
What a concept! The proposed playfulness of this iteration was melded with conscious or unconscious darkness. Was Wendy's father so awful that he had to be seen as a murderous pirate? Was Mrs. Darling so awful that she had to become a crocodile (with some truly awkward costume changes onstage). Was Wendy meant to be a very forward sexpot trying to get sex out of the asexual Peter Pan? How very post-modern! How very incomprehensible!
The set design by Marsha Ginsberg was peculiar. Everything onstage was bright yellow. Half the stage was consumed by a real carnival ride with cars painted like mid-20th c. imaginings of spaceships for Peter and the Lost Boys to fly in. JAX Messenger's lighting was effective.
Costumer Terese Wadden dressed the ensemble in yellow jumpsuits. The five young performers (Catherine Bloom, Milo Cramer, Jewel Evans, Alec Glass, and Charles Mai) were excellent but were sometimes made to speak with voices strangely altered electronically. Sporting balaclavas, they doubled as pirates, looking very much like terrorists.
When the production opened all five were racing frantically around the stage, incomprehensibly lining up potatoes on the apron of the stage. Later, as pirates, they speared the potatoes and roasted them over a fire in a strange scene in which they jumped through a trapdoor in the floor. There was talk of walking the plank but no plank appeared.
The bottom line is that this was a chance to hear Bernstein's lovely and accessible music, well-played and badly sung. It distorted the Barrie story rather than adding a new dimension. If mindless entertainment with lots of eye candy is your brew, go and enjoy. Most of the audience last night did.
(c) meche kroop
|David Pershall, Maestro Alvise M. Casellati, Larisa Martinez, and Cody Austin|
We will have much to say about last night's Opera Italiana in Central Park but let us begin by lauding the singers who performed with 100% commitment in sweltering 100 degree weather. No one less compelling than soprano Larisa Martinez could have pulled us out of our air-conditioned home; her prodigious talent was matched by that of tenor Cody Austin and baritone David Pershall, whose award-winning performances (Giulio Gari and George London) we wrote about in 2016. Last night he made a fine Figaro in the "Largo al Factotum".
We consider ourself to be rather good at predicting future stardom and Ms. Martinez' gifts impressed us from the first time we heard her five years ago, when we found her Barbarina overwhelmingly "winsome". A superb Musetta followed and we have been a great fan ever since. She has fame written all over her and witnessing her rising star has been a privilege.
Although we loved re-hearing Musetta's waltz last night what impressed us the most was her investment in the role of Violetta in Verdi's La Traviata. This role makes incredible demands on the soprano, not just vocally but dramatically. What makes her one of our very favorite female characters is her emotional growth.
In her duet with an appropriately lovestruck Mr. Austin ("Un di, felice") Ms. Martinez successfully portrayed the outwardly indifferent woman who secretly wants true love in her life. In her confrontation with Germont père (Mr. Pershall), "Pure siccome un angelo", she colored her voice with dignity and restraint with flashes of anger and terror peeking through. Reunited with Alfredo at the end of the opera, (the duet "Parigi, o cara") she colored her voice with a very touching vulnerability and hopefulness.
The duets Ms. Martinez performed from Puccini's Madama Butterfly were excellent as well but were all from the romantic part of the opera and we were left wondering how she might have shown the emotional growth of Cio-Cio San. Mr. Austin's warm tenor made him the perfect romantic partner. We heard just about the entire end of Act I! This was preceded by a duet between the upstanding consul Sharpless (Mr. Pershall) and the callow Lt. Pinkerton (Mr. Austin) who shows the audience his true colors.
There were other delights on the program. Soprano Jennifer Zetlan was joined by "vocalist" Helga Davis for an arrangement of Paola Prestini's Oceanic Verses. The shimmering texture of Ms. Prestini's orchestral writing were balm to the ear but we couldn't understand a word of Ms. Zetlan's Italian. Although the tonal quality of her voice was superb, we couldn't even tell it was Italian until we looked at the libretto. We cannot fault the sound design (uncredited) because the other singers were perfectly clear. We wonder whether the tessitura remained too long in the upper register. By contrast, Ms. Davis' smoky low tones were kind to the text, even though it was in English.
There were orchestral treasures to delight us as well. Maestro Alvise M. Casellati conducted a spirited reading of a couple of Rossini overtures that reminded us of the composer's gift for both memorable melody and rhythmic thrust. The overture from La Gazza Ladra came early in the program and had us tapping our toes. The overture from William Tell was performed in its entirety with a profusion of themes that could only be described as "l'abbondanza". There was happily no haste to get to "The Lone Ranger" theme and we enjoyed the slower lyrical section equally, if not more.
It must be noted that the orchestra comprised seasoned players from The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra as well as gifted young musicians from our three local conservatories. From this diverse group, Maestro Casellati melded a fine unit.
The evening was produced and hosted by Dani Bedoni, sporting bejewelled butterfly sunglasses. Her warmth and enthusiasm exceeded her familiarity with the Italian language and opera. She graciously brought to the stage Ms. Prestini and the teenaged Pauline Castro, a member of the New York Philharmonic young composers program, whose symphonic work opened the program.
The event was listed as a free event at the Naumberg Bandshell in Central Park; like so many other cultural events in the city, the benefits were heavily weighted towards the well-to-do. Only supporters got to sit in the chairs set up behind velvet ropes; we were rather impressed by their Italian style. Everyone looked as if they had just come from the salon or the spa. Men wore suits and ties. Women were groomed to a fare-thee-well. Meanwhile the paesani of NYC sat on the cement off to the side or on chairs they lugged from home. It may have been a smart move to watch the livestream from home!
The singers sang in the bandshell with the orchestra situated in front at audience level. Maestro Casellati occupied a large platform and we wished the singers had also been on the platform. If you have seen the fuzzy photos on our FB page (Voce di Meche) you will realize how far the audience was from the bandshell. Actually we were on the second row. For the finale "Libiamo", the singers moved toward us, making for a better experience. We were invited to sing along but no one did.
We just remembered that we were among those who vigorously protested the tearing down of the Naumberg Bandshell some years ago. We are so glad our efforts succeeded. What a great use it was put to last night!
(c) meche kroop