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.

Sunday, September 30, 2018


Onstage at Carnegie Hall:  Ryan McKinny, Aubrey Allicock, Paul Appleby, Amanda Lynn Bottoms, Naomi Louisa O'Connell, and Meghan Kasanders

It's aways gratifying to see a woman on the podium and last night's celebration of the Bernstein centennial put the renowned Marin Alsop up there to conduct an interesting program, which will be followed by a symposium today in Paul Hall at Juilliard from 3:00 to 6:00 PM. Maestro Alsop (a Juilliard alumna) is not only a fine conductor, judging by the sound of the always excellent Juilliard Orchestra, but a guiding light to the singers, as expressed by the singers themselves. Her presence on the podium was the right choice since she was one of Bernstein's best known pupils.

The part of the program we wish to focus on is Bernstein's Songfest, a compilation of a dozen songs, each from a different poet. Our enjoyment of the songs lay more in the performances than in the songs themselves. Our appreciation for "modern" poetry and the kind of music it inspires is somewhat deficient but our appreciation for a good delivery is unmatched. It seems to us that the training at Juilliard helps a singer to make sense of even the nonsensical. For this, we credit Steven Blier who has coached these singers (all students or alumni of Juilliard) for his New York Festival of Song. Last year at NYFOS we hear this Bernstein cycle reduced for piano by John Musto.

Unlike his tuneful and rhythmic music for Candide and West Side Story, many of the texts Bernstein set appear uninteresting on the page and don't seem to want to be set to music.  There were a few exceptions.

The 17th c. American poet Ann Bradstreet wrote an encomium to her spouse "To My Dear and Loving Husband", the rhyme scheme and rhythm of which inspired Bernstein to write our favorite selection of the dozen. Sung by soprano Meghan Kasanders and mezzo-sopranos Naomi Louisa O'Connell and Amanda Lynn Bottoms, the many layers of love and adoration filled our heart with joy, and maybe even a touch of envy for such all-encompassing adoration. This is a song we want to hear again and again.

Another song we enjoyed was the Edna St. Vincent Millay sonnet "What Lips My Lips Have Kissed".  Although Ms. Millay belongs clearly to the 20th c. the sonnet rhymes and scans and was a worthy candidate for setting. To hear it performed by Ms. Bottoms was an emotional experience, reminding one of the pain of loss. The metaphor of a lonely winter tree from which all the birds have flown was powerful.

Gertrude Stein's "Storyette H. M." although written in Stein's customary repetitive manner, made sense through the dramatic performance by Ms. Kasanders as the one who was left and bass Ryann McKinny as the one who was leaving. What an effective couple they made!

Ms. Kasanders had a strong solo in "A Julia de Burgos" which was sung in Spanish and invested with Latin rhythms as well.

The versatile tenor Paul Appleby has a way of interpreting contemporary American songs that sets him apart. We have no idea what Gregory Corso's "Zizi's Lament" meant by "laughing sickness", but no matter; the delivery was filled with humor and Bernstein employed a sinuously exotic melody to suggest  the Middle East. Bernstein's orchestration provided plenty of "laughing figures".

Mr. McKinny performed Walt Whitman's "To What You Said" against a background of plaintive strings. Ms. O'Connell performed Conrad Aiken's lament "Music I Heard with You" accompanied by a gorgeous harp solo. Their splendid voices fell beautifully on the ear.

We couldn't call the duet of baritone Aubrey Allicock and Ms. Bottoms "color blind" but that's a good thing in our opinion.  Mr. Allicock performed Langston Hughes "I, Too, Sing America" interweaved with Ms. Bottoms performance of June Jordan's "Okay 'Negroes'" was affecting. What was going through our head was the progress toward true equality that the poets could not imagine. Of course there is more work to be done in this area but progress is encouraging.

Mr. Allicock's solo "The Pennycandystore Beyond the El" tried to make something musical of the Lawrence Ferlinghetti text and succeeded beyond our expectations.

The ensemble of six sounded especially fine together, even in the odd Frank O'Hara text "To the Poem". Even odder was "if you can't eat you got to" with some wonderful sounds emanating from the tuba. Closing the set was Edgar Allan Poe's lengthy paean to the spirit "Israfel" who produces heavenly music, much like Orpheus.

We think of these six singers as incarnations of Orpheus!

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, September 29, 2018


James Gandre, President of Manhattan School of Music, at Centennial Opening Day Celebration

Last night we shared in the celebration of Manhattan School of Music's Centennial, an all day celebration of which we were able to attend only the evening concert at the spacious and acoustically magnificent Riverside Church. Participating were the MSM Symphony Orchestra which performed brilliantly under the baton of Roderick Cox, and the MSM Centennial Chorus, brought to equivalent brilliancy by Music Director Kent Tritle.

The evening began with a warm welcome by President Gandre who spoke briefly but engagingly about the history of the school. It became clear just how valuable the school is to the music community by the packed house and the applause after nearly every sentence.

The program was well chosen.  John Corigliano, alumnus and former faculty member, composed the "curtain raiser"--"To Music" in 1994 for the centennial of the Cincinnati Symphony, an orchestral adaptation of his "Fanfares to Music", written for double brass quintet.  After a quiet opening, the piece exploded with energy. The orchestra was augmented by brass fanfares emanating from either side of the audience, producing a "surround sound" effect. 

At first we could barely recognize the melody of Schubert's 1818 lied "An die Musik" but then--there it was! Everything sounds different without the voice but we are sure we heard fragments of the same melody in the main event of the evening's program-- Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.  This is not so far fetched since at that point in time Beethoven was still working on what would be his final symphony.

The massive choral forces of the MSM Centennial Chorus were not heard until the final movement, a setting of Friedrich Schiller's "An die Freude" which Beethoven rearranged to suit his own purpose. The passion and complexity of this movement never fail to dazzle us; the intense involvement of the students "kicked it up a notch". This is a very international group with so many Asian and Latin American students joining young singers from all over the USA. And we spotted one from our neighbor to the north and one from Down Under!

Not to short change the initial three movements, but it was the finale that left us breathless. The finest moment for us was when renowned bass and faculty member James Morris (whose Wotan has never been equalled) introduced the vocal part of this movement. He intoned the words and we got goosebumps, ready to receive Schiller and Beethoven's message of joy.

A stellar lineup was on hand to sing the other parts; all are alumni of MSM and reminded us once more of MSM's value to the music community. The soprano parts were sung with bright ringing tone by Elaine Alvarez.  Ronnita Miller's burnished mezzo-soprano and Bryan Register's tenor rounded out the foursome.

What a celebration! There are so many fine events on the MSM calendar too numerous to mention but there will be another celebration for the long awaited re-opening of the Neidorff-Karpati Hall in November.

(c) meche kroop

Friday, September 28, 2018


Stars of New Camerata Opera at the Affordable Art Fair

This opera fan took great pleasure in the fact that our favorite art form upstaged the visual art last night at The Affordable Art Fair, held at the Metropolitan Pavilion. It's not that the paintings were deficient in any way; it's just that the operatic performances were so compelling.

For the better part of three hours, these outstanding singers, bewigged and gloriously costumed by Angela Huff, strolled around the two floors of the exhibit, dazzling the audiences with arias, duets, and ensembles.  Verdi and Mozart, Bizet and Offenbach, not to mention Neapolitan songs, kept the audience following them from room to room. We would not be a bit surprised to learn that a good percentage of the attendees would be showing up for the unusual double feature that New Camerata Opera will be performing at the end of November--Gustav Holst's Savitri and John Blow's Venus and Adonis.

The singers' makeup and wigs made them particularly unrecognizable; included were sopranos Barbara Porto and Lily Arbisser, mezzo-sopranos Eva Parr and Amy Maude Helfer, baritones Jay Lucas Chacon and Stan Lacy, and tenors Victor Khodadad and Erik Bagger. Mr. Bagger, Artistic Director of the company, astonished us by being the least recognizable of all, and by accompanying himself on the guitar! We love discovering people's hidden talents! 

Aside from Mr. Bagger's guitar, all the singing wascappella! It has been an exciting year watching small opera companies experimenting with new formats and new venues. This adventure provided lots of fun for the cast and the art lovers who offered enthusiastic applause after every song. Down with folks who think opera is stuffy!  Not so!

(c) meche kroop

Monday, September 24, 2018


Cast of Opera Theater of Montclair's  Hansel and Gretel

In 1890, Adelheid Wette, the sister of composer Engelbert Humperdinck, asked him to compose 4 songs for a puppet show for her nieces based on the Grimm Brothers fairytale, Hansel and Gretel. Later she wrote the libretto for an opera based on the fairytale. Over the next three years Humperdinck completed composition of the opera using his sister’s libretto. It premiered on December 23, 1893 and was an immediate success. It remains one of the most popular operas throughout the world and is often performed during the Christmas season. The opera is not just for children; its endless melody makes it enjoyable for adults as well.

Mia-Riker-Norrie, General Director of the Opera Theatre of Montclair, made a wise choice in selecting this delightful opera as its fifth full main stage production. Two performances took place this Saturday and Sunday and two more performances will take place next weekend. All performances begin at 4:00 to so that children can enjoy this opera along with their family. Many young children were in the audience Saturday with their parents, grand parents, or other friends and family.

Engelbert Humperdinck, a great admirer of the composer Richard Wagner, was invited by Wagner to work with him for two years. Humperdinck’s elaborate scores reflect Wagner’s influence, but Humperdinck found his own unique style. He was known for his tuneful music and brilliant orchestrations. There are at least a dozen familiar tunes in the opera. 

The overture, conducted by Maestro Elizabeth Hastings, begins softly with the horns playing the “evening prayer” heard later in the opera. She quietly built up the crescendos as called for and brought out exciting and beautiful playing from the orchestra.  

The opera opens with Hansel, (mezzo-soprano Madison Marie Mcintosh), and Gretel, (soprano Laura Kosar), singing a folk song, “Susie little Susie.” They are poor and hungry. Hansel is supposed to be making brooms and Gretel is knitting but they would much rather play. Madison and Laura were entirely convincing as young children; Madison with her shorts and Bavarian suspenders, and Laura with her dirndl.  Madison’s Hansel is a typical young boy… playful, who avoids work and teases his sister by sticking out his tongue. Laura was also very playful although a bit more serious. Madison has a beautiful mezzo voice which, every time I hear her, seems to grow bigger and more beautiful. Laura’s lyric soprano is lovely and blooms on the high notes. Their voices were perfectly matched as they sang and danced  the well known duet “Brother won’t you dance with me.”

Their mother returns home and is furious with them for shirking their chores.  Soprano Luisa Fernanda Munster sang the role of the mother, Gertrude.  She has a big attractive dramatic voice and uses it well.

Gertrude sends the children off to the woods to pick strawberries.  The father Peter is heard offstage singing a happy song.  He is delighted that he was able to sell many brooms at the fair.  Peter was sung by bass-baritone Nathan Bahny.  His big booming voice has a beautiful gentle quality and he was entirely convincing as the concerned father.

The Second act starts with another orchestral prelude which is known as “The witches ride.” Again, Maestro Hastings’ conducting was just right…bringing out the drama and excitement of the music.

Hansel and Gretel are lost in the woods which they find very scary.  The Sandman, sung very sensitively by soprano Christine Rauschenbach-Nevill, sprinkles sand over the children to make them sleepy. Before falling asleep, Hansel and Gretel sing their evening prayer, again in complete harmony with each other, and then they fall asleep.

Fourteen angels gather to protect the sleeping children. The costume designer, Julia Sharp, created beautiful flowing white capes for the angels…4 of them were on either side of the choir loft and the other 14 were divided between the two aisles of the church  With choreography by Conny Andres, they danced as they came down the aisles and onto the stage. This was a very lovely scene, staged by the director of the production, Stacey Canterbury. Maestro Hastings' sensitive conducting of this delicate music supported the dancing. The dancers were all young and lovely.

Act Three opens this time with a happy sounding prelude, although there are hints of the evil witch with the “Nibble nibble mousekin” theme. The Dew fairy, who comes to awaken the children, was gently sung by the lyric soprano Barbara Monk. Upon waking up, Hansel and Gretel come across the gingerbread house.  Madison and Laura again displayed their ability to portray the children. Their astonishment upon finding the gingerbread house was well acted. Stacey Canterbury Climie, who directed this production of Hansel and Gretel, sings the role of the witch.  She has a big warm voice and uses it well.  I did feel that she was a bit nicer than I imagine a witch to be but it was an interesting interpretation.

Hansel and Gretel free the children who are no longer gingerbread people and  the opera ends with a joyful children’s chorus.

When the opera ended it was met with great applause by both children and adults.  Congratulations to Mia, the General Director of the Opera Theatre of Montclair, for bringing together such a great team of people to put on this beautiful production. And congratulations to David Gilliam the set and production designer.  He designed three folding backdrops; the first a painted kitchen scene with pots, pans, and a stove; the second a forest scene, and the third the gingerbread house and gingerbread characters. 

For those of you who were not at the performances this weekend, do come to see this delightful well performed opera next weekend and bring your friends, children and grandchildren. You’ll be in for a treat.

© Ellen Godfrey, Guest Reviewer

Sunday, September 23, 2018


Pablo Zinger, Linda Collazo, Maria Brea, and Shaina Martinez

At a time when our country has become divided over so many issues, it is especially valuable spending time on Planet Opera where the population unites to celebrate beauty, talent, and artistry.

Last night we celebrated Latin American vocal music with Voces Unidas: Por un mundo en armonía, a worthy organization founded by Maria Brea, Linda Collazo, and Cynthia López Pérez, that provides the community with charitable events and includes artists from several different Latin American countries. Voces Unidas donated 75% of the proceeds to Raíces, a non-profit organization that provides legal services for families that are separated.

The superb vocal artistry we heard included songs both serious and "popular" (whatever that means); the program was punctuated by brief examples from the singers outlining how their families came to the United States, often impoverished, and how they thrived here, producing children who have achieved success and recognition in many fields, not just the field of music.

Long before this concert we had felt nothing but anger towards those political forces that would keep refugee families from entering and would separate children from their parents. Singers speculated about what a loss there would have been if those draconian measures had been applied to their own families. Our nation was different then and we hope that we will return to the former welcoming condition as soon as we can effect a political change.

As far as the singers and the songs, we have nothing but a glowing report  to offer.  Every song was so affecting that we are unable to choose our favorites. The one quality that we observed in every singer was an intense dedication to the music, without extraneous or artificial effects. There was a way of honoring the composer and the lyricist that had us feeling the same intensity that the singer appeared to be feeling.

María Brea, who comes  from the slums of Venezuela, used her charming personality to bring to life the lyrics of "Me llaman la primorosa" from the zarzuela El barbero de Sevilla by Gerónimo Jiménez. There was a subtle change of mood in the central section announced by the piano, which was in the good hands (so to speak) of Pablo Zinger. We heard some lovely descending scale passages and a lengthy vocalise when words were insufficient to portray the feelings.

The popular "Bésame mucho" by Consuelo Velázquez required the blending of a bit of chest voice without any loss of classical technique and was given a jazzy piano accompaniment.

Ms. Brea also sang a duet with Ms. Collazo, "Niñas que a vender flores"  that delighted us with its delicious harmonies. The composer, Francisco Asenjo Barbieri, wrote this zarzuela, Los Diamantes de la corona in the 19th c., our favorite period.

We also got to hear Ms. Collazo sing "Nana", the beautiful lullaby written by Manuel de Falla as part of Siete Canciones Populares Españolas, and what a lovely tender reading she gave it!  We experienced a completely different side of her artistry as she performed "Tango de la Menegilda" from Federico Chueca and Joaquín Valverde Senior's La gran via, in which she portrayed a female thief with a winning personality.

We were somewhat less than enthusiastic about the performance of the "Habanera" from Bizet's Carmen. The problem was not with the singing but rather with the piano arrangement provided by Mr. Zinger, "in the style of Astor Piazzola". This would have been very entertaining on its own, as would have been Ms. Collazo's singing; the problem was the disjunction between the piano and the voice; there was no support for the vocal line.  We might call this an interesting experiment that failed.

Shaina Martinez is another singer of great gifts. From a Peruvian background, she offered a song in Quechua, a language spoken by her abuela. Peruvian composer Theodoro Valcárcel wrote "Allqamari kanki" in the early 20th c. and the words and music fell lightly on the ear.

On the more familiar end of the spectrum, she sang Augustín Lara's  "Granada" with arresting expressiveness and a beautifully expanding upper register. She must adore this song because it seemed to come right from the heart.  The same intensity was applied to  "Hija del amor" from the zarzuela Cecilia Valdés, by the 20th c. Cuban composer Gonzalo Roig.

Two excellent singers from the Boston Conservatory did not make the curtain call because they had to get back to Boston. But the two made a fine impression with their performances.   

Cynthia López Pérez performed "Somewhere" from Bernstein's West Side Story.  Informed by the rest of the program, this song acquired a new significance as we  thought about finding a place for refugees.  Significantly, this artist's family comes from  the  Texas/Mexican border.  Down with walls!

Her performance of  "De mi amor" from Felipe Villanueva's  Keofar  revealed  a beautifully free and full upper register.

We were astonished to learn that the terrific tenor on  the  program,  Daniel Lugo, is only 20 years old!    Short of years but tall of talent , he dazzled our ears  with the oft performed "No puede ser"  from Pablo  Sorozábal's La taberna del puerto.  He further delighted us with the popular Mexican song  "Estrellita" by Manuel Ponce.  It is so exciting to hear a singer of such promise at a very early stage of his career.  

All of the singers we heard are under 30!   Very impressive indeed!  The program ended with María  Grever's "Júrame", sung by Ms. Brea, Ms. Collazo, and Ms. Martinez in perfect harmony. And that's what it's all about!

We hope there will be more recitals to come!

© meche kroop

Saturday, September 22, 2018


A very gala Black and White Gala presented by New Camerata Opera

Song, food, and drink in abundance made for a delightful evening in which we celebrated the many fine activities of New Camerata Opera. Survival of small opera companies is a challenge and throwing a party is an effective means of raising funds to support an upcoming season.

Attendees were wined and dined and royally entertained in a well chosen program. What a perfect opening number was sung by mezzo-soprano Julia Tang--"Ah! quel diner!", a spirited song sung by the eponymous La Périchole from Jacques Offenbach's opera bouffe. The closing number was "Intanto Amici, Qua...Viva Il Vino Spumeggiante" from the scene in Mamma Lucia's wine shop--a lively celebration preceding the tragic ending. The entire cast joined voices in song.

In between the beginning and ending, we had ample exposure to the talents of this adventuresome company, just beginning their third season. The program was interrupted by two intermissions so that audience members could feast and socialize--a very agreeable way to spend an evening.

Soprano Barbara Porto was joined by tenor Erik Bagger for "Parigi, o cara" from the final act of Verdi's La Traviata in which Violetta and Alfredo give way to false hopes before her tragic demise. Lily Arbisser then did justice to the role of Mimi in Puccini's La Bohême with tenor Victor Khodadad as her Rodolfo in "Dunque: è proprio finite!", another sad scene in which the two Bohemians plan their breakup.  Meanwhile Musetta (the versatile Ms. Porto) is having a knock down drag out fight with Marcello (Scott Lindroth).

We were more than ready for something lighthearted at that point and enjoyed two baritones singing "Largo al factotum" from Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Stan Lacy and Mr. Lindroth performed this tag team delight, mingling with the audience and even setting up one of the guests for a shave! We are sure that Rossini would have loved it too!

Mr. Khodadad performed "Ella mi fu rapita!...Parmi veder le lagrime" from Verdi's Rigoletto, the aria in which the degenerate Duke laments the kidnapping of his latest conquest, the innocent Gilda, not knowing that he will shortly have access to her.

Again, the intensity was relieved by some humor.  Mr. Khodadad availed himself of music from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte and created an opera for children based on the fairy tale Rumpelstiltskin. He was bound together with Mr. Lacy in another dual performance, with Nicole Leone taking the role of the Princess. It is notable that New Camerata Opera distinguishes itself from the many small opera companies in New York by bringing opera for children into schools and libraries, thus fostering the development of new audiences of the future.

Another interesting project of NCO is commissioning short works for showing on You Tube, one of which we had the pleasure of seeing last night--"Memories" by Charles Ives, featuring Mr. Lacy.

Mezzo-soprano Eva Parr made a fine Carmen with Mr. Bagger as her Don Jose in the final scene from the Bizet opera. Are my readers noticing a theme  here? So many tragic heroines in one night!

All of the scenes were accompanied by the fine pianist Erik Sedgwick. Everyone sang well and we couldn't help noticing how attentive the audience was, in spite of the free-flowing wine and cocktails. The evening didn't end until the results of the silent auction were announced and everyone left with all their senses satisfied.

The upcoming season will include a double bill of Gustav Holst's Sävitri and Blow's Venus and Adonis, offering opera lovers a rare opportunities to expand their taste. Britten's Rape of Lucretia will be directed by Brittany Goodwin whose work we always admire. And readers with children are urged to look for Rumpelstiltskin, since, as we know, listening to Mozart will make your children more intelligent!  Furthermore, you will find some compelling entries on You Tube, produced by NCO's in-house film studio; watch out for The Prince von Pappenschmear!

© meche kroop

Monday, September 17, 2018


Matteo Fiorani as Narcissus (photo by Lora Robertson for Satellite Collective)

Satellite Collective’s deconstruction of the myth of Echo and Narcissus, seen Friday night at the Brooklyn Academy of Music Fisher Center, lasted barely over an hour. The reconstruction performed by us and our companion lasted at least twice as long. If not totally comprehensible, the performance was engaging and held our attention by means of some lovely dancing. To watch Matteo Fiorani in the role of Narcissus was unadulterated pleasure and the lithe and lovely Michaela Rae Mann made a fine counterpart in the danced role of the nymph Echo. The dancing might accurately be called modern ballet but was informed by hints of modern dance. Kudos to choreographer Norbert De La Cruz III. 

But this collaborative work also incorporated music by Aaron Severini which was always interesting in its orchestration (violin, double bass, flute, clarinet, bassoon, trombone, and percussion) and well played by Shouthouse, under the baton of Alex Burtzos. At times raucous and dissonant, there were also lovely quiet passages and we particularly admired the percussion of Brandon Ilaw. 

Wasted were the vocal gifts of soprano Christine Taylor Price and baritone Philip Stoddard (who also directed) who were given vocal lines lacking in melodic structure and “lyrics” which were not always intelligible, in spite of, or because of, the amplification.  These two artists have magnificent voices which we have reviewed multiple times; their natural voices can sail over a full symphony orchestra. We urge anyone who thinks that's what opera singers sound like to attend a recital or a traditional opera.

Writer Kevin Draper seems to have interpreted the myth in his own idiosyncratic manner but we were reminded of how common in both literature and opera is the theme of a woman torn apart when her beloved is responsible for the death of a member of her family. Think of Romeo and Juliet and Forza del Destino.

It was not clear how Echo’s brother died or in what manner Narcissus was responsible. Projection designer Simon Harding showed us some cars in the street.  Did Echo’s brother die in a car crash? Was Narcissus driving? We could not answer.

There were projections of mechanical objects and robots. Did this refer to Narcissus being an unfeeling person? We cannot answer that either. What left no doubt in our mind was that two robots with a red spot in the chest area symbolized love, and that streams of light flowing from head to head and pelvis to pelvis symbolized mental and physical attraction.

In Ovid’s Metamorphosis, the goddess Juno curses Echo for her loquaciousness by dooming her to only repeat the words of others. Indeed, Ms. Price in her sparse dialogue did repeat Mr. Stoddard’s words. At the end, however, when Narcissus wants Echo to tell the police he is innocent, she refuses to echo his words. We felt free to interpret that our own way.

There were three other excellent dancers—Timothy Stickney, Joslin Vezeau, and Tara Youngman. In the first scene, they wore capes and seemed to be animals that Narcissus was hunting. Later on, lavender colored long skirts were worn but we could not figure out the meaning. We would have to ask Keiko Voltaire the Costume Designer. We definitely liked the many layered loincloth worn by Mr. Fiorani which highlighted his very fine figure; for this we require no explanation!

Artistic Director Kevin Draper wrote the piece and designed the production.  His Satellite Collective “works at the intersection of dance, visual art, and music” and has been doing so for eight years and garnering awards and citations from the Borough of Brooklyn.

Readers who attended the production are invited to comment below and to attempt to explain the meaning that has eluded us.

© meche kroop

Sunday, September 16, 2018


Vira Slywotzky, Melanie Dubil, Joshua Sanders, David Sytkowski

Yesterday we got a new look at a familiar singer--something we always enjoy. We have heard soprano Vira Slywotzky many times with Victor Herbert Renaissance Project Live! and with Mirror Visions Ensemble, always admiring her rich voice and lively dramatic presence. Hearing her singing Ukrainian songs at the National Opera Center added an entirely new dimension, one which we particularly cherished.

We had never realized how beautiful this language is and never knew how many Ukrainian composers produced such splendid songs in our favorite period, the 19th c. and on into the early 20th c. Ms. Slywotzky curated and organized the recital in excellent fashion, graciously sharing the stage with mezzo-soprano Melanie Dubil and tenor Joshua Sanders who had us believing that he was fluent in Ukrainian, which he is not. Collaborative pianist David Sytkowski matched the variety of moods present in the songs and contributed a cycle he composed to text by Frank O'Hara, songs written for Mr. Sanders' graduation recital.

Ms. Slywotzky knows how to engage an audience from the very first moment she steps onstage. There were no titles but each singer wrote a summary for the program so the audience was not left in the dark as to the meaning of each song. Her presentation is definitely informed by her work on the operetta stage, lending dramatic import to every song, pulling us into the story. In her hands every song becomes a tale. We thought of how a song on the page is like a dress on a hanger. Well, this artist fills out the song as beautifully as she filled out the gown she wore!

Mykola Lysenko's "Boat" used a storm at sea as a metaphor for love. The boat is reduced to splinters but the sailor survives.  Oh yes! This was sung with beautifully supported tone and enough expression and gesture to convince us that we could now understand Ukrainian.

Britten's setting of the folk song "O Waly, Waly" was given an unusual treatment with mezzo-soprano Melanie Dubil and tenor Joshua Sanders singing alternate verses with Ms. Slywotzky.

The two songs by Copland, settings of text by Emily Dickinson, were of less vocal interest but might have been more effective if Ms. Dubil had invested them with more variety of coloration. We did love the birdsong heard in Mr. Sytkowski's piano.

Four songs by Kyrylo Stetsenko made a fine impression. Ms. Slywotzky did justice to the fanciful nature of "Morgana", the story of a love affair between an elf and a fairy princess. Every nuance was captured! "Don't Ask if I Love You" was as passionate as any Italian drama queen could be, with a woman telling her lover that she would throw herself into the grave if he left.

Ms. Dubil created a lovely decrescendo in "I Gaze at the Bright Stars", and Ms. Slywotzky returned for "The Skies Embraced the Seas", a song about romantic longing for a disengaged partner.

The songs by Yakiv Stepovyi were similarly lovely. Ms. Slywotzky filled "Scatter in the Wind" with mournful regret. The romantic "Serenade" was imbued with a barcarolle rhythm.  We loved the way the two women's voices harmonized in "Chamomile Blooms on the Hill". 

Mr. Sanders has an easy tenor sound with a very pleasing vibrato. Significantly, he never pushes the sound and gave himself totally to the extended song of grief "Moon, Prince" by Vasyl Barvinsky, and was unfazed by the somewhat lower tessitura. Mr, Sytkowski's piano added to the mournful mood and the two joined together for a passionate climax.

Three tangos followed, our favorite of which was Bohdan Vedolovsky's song of homesickness "Fly, Melancholy Song".

As far as Mr. Sytkowski's compositions, the excellence of his piano writing took our attention away from the singing. Regular readers will recall that we blame 20th c. poetry for our lack of interest in contemporary song writing. Mr. O'Hara's poetry may work on the page but it's mundane nature does not inspire a compelling vocal line. The cycle was written for Mr. Sanders and we found no fault with his performance but we far prefer texts with more passion such as those of the poets who inspired the Ukrainian songs on the program, namely Yevhen Hrebinka, Mykola Voronyi, Oleksander Oles, Lesia Ukrainka, Ivan Franko, Stefan Krzywoszewski, and Taras Shevchenko. 

© meche kroop

Friday, September 14, 2018


Melanie Leinbach and Charles Sy

The autumn season is beginning and we are already quite excited about the expansion of one of our favorite small opera companies.  City Lyric Opera is the new name chosen for the adventuresome young company whose work we have greatly admired under its former name ARE Opera. The features of the acronym, standing for "accessible, relatable, and enjoyable", will be preserved in the practice, but the new name better reflects the enhanced mission of the company--namely, to serve the artists and the community.

Last night marked the company launch of the new mission and the new season. Denizens of Planet Opera gathered at the lovely home of a very kind patron who generously supplied a warm and inviting space with a fine old piano whose keys produced some marvelous music under the flying fingers of Music Director Jonathan Heaney. A warm welcome was given by Co-Founders and Co-Executive Directors Megan Gillis and Kathleen Spencer, as well as by Artistic Director Jessica Harika. These three women know their stuff, as evidenced by the quality of the entertainment for the evening.

As usual, we were equally delighted by reconnecting with singers we know and love, and by hearing new discoveries from whom we want to hear more. The program was well balanced between opera and American musical theater. Although the singing was of the highest quality, what impressed us the most was how "relatable" they were. The connection with the audience, seated comfortably in a spacious living room, was intense; the applause was thunderous.  It isn't every day that we get that up close and personal.

Tenor Charles Sy impressed with a generous delivery of  "Dein its mean ganzes Herz" from Franz Lehár's Das Land des Lächelns. This is one of those songs one never tires of hearing and Mr. Sy sang it with warmth and gorgeous German. Still, it was his performance of "Una furtive lagrima" from Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore that touched us deeply. His interpretation of Nemorino was unusual and far removed from the cliché of the poor slob who is overjoyed to get the girl. Mr. Sy's Nemorino expressed a sense of awe that reminded us of all the times in our life when our longings were finally satisfied. There was definitely a lagrima in our occhio!

He also demonstrated his versatility singing "Tonight" from Bernstein's West Side Story in a touching duet with soprano Melanie Leinbach.  We've been hearing a great deal of Bernstein in this celebratory year; soprano Christine Lyons closed the program with a moving rendition of "Somewhere".

To truly appreciate Ms. Lyons' gifts, one needs to hear her Italian. We well remember her performance as Adina (to Mr. Sy's Nemorino) last year with ARE Opera. But last night we heard an enhancement of vibrato in her glorious performance of "Io son l'umile ancella" from Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur. The Italianate vowels and phrasing were perfect.

We have been waiting patiently for someone to get us to appreciate Carlyle Floyd's Susanna and Ms. Lyons crisp English diction and psychological insight helped us to turn the corner.  In "Ain't it a Pretty Night", she expressed all the longing and excitement of leaving home, and all the nostalgia for what might be left behind. We wondered if Ms. Lyons had experienced those feelings when she left Atlanta because her performance oozed conviction.

We have more to say about the versatile Ms.Leinbach who was very skilled at bringing out the comedy in "The Girl in 14G", the Jeanine Tesori and Dick Scanlan song popularized by Kristin Chenoweth. In this song, the performer gets to mimic her loud musical neighbors and Ms. Leinbach excelled, especially for the Queen of the Night which served to show off her coloratura skills.

The poignant duet "If I Loved You" from Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel was beautifully realized by Ms. Leinbach and bass-baritone Andrew O'Shanick, both vocally and dramatically. Mr. O'Shanick is another versatile performer who  delighted us with a very simple quiet rendering of "Edelweiss", another Rodgers and Hammerstein song, from The Sound of Music. We would say that Mr. O'Shanick has a real facility for R&H. 

He also has a facility for Mozart as evidenced by his performance of "Deh vieni alla finestra" from Don Giovani, in which Mr. Heaney's piano in staccato mode successfully imitated a lute. Mr. O'Shanick and Mr. Heaney can serenade us anytime! He also has a flair for comedy observed in the satirical "Agony" from Sondheim's Into the Woods--satire as only Sondheim can write. He and baritone James Wright were competing in their despair over unattainable women and it was difficult to suppress giggles.

Mr. Wright had his solo as well, and what a solo it was! Again, we observed how a gifted artist can perform a work we've heard hundreds of times and bring a freshness to it. From Rossini's charming comedy Il barbiere di Siviglia, we heard the "Largo al factotum" and also saw Figaro weaving through the audience combing people's hair, without missing a beat. The patter part was perfectly performed. (Pardon the alliteration).

Mr. Wright's baritone paired well with Mr. Sy's tenor in "Lily's Eyes", a dramatic excerpt from the 1989 musical The Secret Garden by Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon. This is a show we never saw but the song is haunting.

After a dazzling launch like this, we expect great things from City Lyric Opera as they support young singers and bring artistry and entertainment to their audience. They deserve your support, both financial and practical. Do visit their website and see all the exciting plans for this season.

© meche kroop

Saturday, September 1, 2018


Haeran Hong, Won Whi Choi, and Director Fabrizio Melano

Probably most opera goers realize how much work it takes to develop an operatically trained voice; but few of us give much thought to what it takes to put an opera onstage for us to enjoy. Fortunately, we had the privilege of being invited to attend a rehearsal of Verdi's tragic masterpiece La Traviata which will be performed by Opera in Williamsburg (Virginia), opening on September 12th.

We have always wished that this company were in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, but it is not. Sadly we have not been able to leave New York to attend a performance but Founder Naama Zahavi-Ely kindly gave us an opportunity to witness the creative process.

Director Fabrizio Melano's process is one we could readily understand. Every line was first spoken and then sung.  Psychological motivations were explored and justifications were offered for each stage movement.  The process was meticulous and fascinating.  Here is just one example from the final scene--Violetta, sensitively portrayed by the splendid soprano Haeran Hong, does not read the entire letter from Germont.  She reads the first few lines because she knows it by heart.  She crumples it.  She presses out the wrinkles. These small touches tell us so much about the character.

Alfredo's greeting of his father (baritone Marco Nistico) tells us how much he has grown up over the prior few months. Terrific tenor Won Whi Choi received some very detailed direction which we will not share in case you are moved to attend the performance. We can only tell you that you won't be disappointed.

The role of Dr. Grenvil was performed by Eric Lindsey, whom we just reviewed as Don Giovanni with Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble. He too received some interesting direction; when everyone else is expressing joy at Violetta's apparent recovery, he alone accepts the reality of her impending death.

Megan Pachecano in the role of Annina was given lots of direction for the way she relates to Violetta--when to rush in and when to stand back and give her room.

The rest of the cast comprises some rising stars we know and love--Suchan Kim, Pavel Suliandziga, Kirsten Scott, and William Desbiens.

The conductor is the gifted Jorge Parodi and we mustn't overlook how involved the conductor is from the very beginning of the rehearsal process. We hope you didn't think the conductor just shows up when the orchestra does!

We did not get to experience the final part of the rehearsal process with the orchestra but we did enjoy  Abdiel Vasquez' piano accompaniment.

© meche kroop