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.

Friday, November 30, 2018


Cupid and His Playmates

New Camerata Opera put another feather in their cap with an interesting double bill at the Flea Theater downtown, a comfortable venue just right for the adventuresome program attended by an equally adventuresome audience.

There was an interesting resonance between the two operas--John Blow's 1683 Venus and Adonis and Gustav Holst's 1916 Savitri--that of a woman grieving for the death of her beloved. Strangely enough, the joyful Venus and Adonis ends in tragedy and the somber Savitri has a happy ending.

Blow's opera is considered the earliest English opera and was commissioned for the court of Charles II. The libretto was definitely written by a woman and current thought is that it was the work of Anne Kingsmill Finch.

The joyful aspect was largely created by Director Jennifer Williams' favoring of frolic and fun; Costume Designer Asa Benally's punk/Baroque costumes were filled with whimsy and sparkle. We had a wide smile throughout the entire one-act opera and were hit by a wave of sadness at the tragic ending.

Cupid has accidentally wounded his mother Venus with one of his darts; she promptly falls in love with the handsome youth Adonis. He declines to hunt because he has "already caught the noblest prey". Unlike the myth, in the opera Venus urges him to go on the hunt and he gets gored by a wild boar and dies in her arms.

This simple story has been decked out with very amusing scenes, the best of which involves Cupid giving lessons on love to his students in a classroom setting. We don't always enjoy the current trend for gilding Baroque operas with such fancies but in this case it worked extraordinarily well and we now consider ourself a fan of Ms. Williams and Ms. Benally.

All of this delightful folderol was accompanied by superb musical values.  Conducting from the harpsichord was Music Director Stephan Fillare; the chamber orchestra comprised a string quartet augmented by a pair of flutes who added a great deal to the hunt scene.

Baritone Scott Lindroth made a heroic Adonis with just the right texture to his voice and elegant phrasing; he was particularly effective in his death scene. Lovely soprano Barbara Porto made a perfect Venus, expressing her love through Blow's turns and trills. As Cupid, Julia Cavallaro excelled by means of humor and superb diction. As a Shepherdess, Emily Hughes contributed a sparkly onstage presence and some lovely singing. Biraj Barkakaty  performed the role of the Huntsman.

The superb chorus comprised Brian Alvarado, Angky Budiardjono, Ryan Chavis, Heather Jones, and Mithuna Sivaraman. We loved the way they became a wild boar with a few simple props.

Our quibbles are few. The titles could not be seen due to the lighting and the projections were just distracting and added nothing.  The simple staging utilized three ascending and staggered platforms. School desks were brought on for the lesson scene. All the props were clever and colorful.

Although the audience applauded wildly for Savitri, we found it of less interest.  Holst's instrumental music was evocative and beautifully played by the chamber orchestra with some excellent lines given to the English Horn.

But his awkward libretto amounted to Hindu theological rhetoric (derived from an episode in The Mahabharata) and failed to produce a vocal line of any interest. The awkwardness came from trying to shoehorn the text into the vocal line. This seemed strange since Holst himself wrote the libretto.

Nonetheless, Samina Aslam as the loving wife sang with deep feeling and commitment as she argued with Death (an excellent Angky Budiardjono) for the life of her husband Satyavān (Daniel Ambe).

The vocal lines were declamatory but an evocative atmosphere was created by the orchestra and chorus of death spirits, clad in black (Julia Cavallaro, Emily Hughes, Heather Jones, and Mithuna Sivaraman) creating interesting and lovely harmonies. 

Again, the only quibbles were the illegible titles and the distracting projections.

There are repeat performances Saturday night at 7:30 and Sunday at 2:00. We highly recommend this opportunity to hear two rarely produced works.

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, November 28, 2018


Kathleen Spencer and Megan Gillis of New York Lyric Opera

We celebrated "Giving Tuesday" with the two lovely ladies who founded one of our favorite boutique opera companies--City Lyric Opera.  Executive Directors Megan Gillis and Kathleen Spencer have a highly focused goal and have accomplished a great deal in the two years of their existence.

They began as A.R.E. Opera, making opera Accessible, Relatable, and Enjoyable. Their company is artist-centric; obviously when the artist feels free to express him/herself, the audience will respond in kind.

Let us just say that everything they have initiated in their brief two years has been of the highest quality.  All reviews are archived in case you haven't read them. We particularly enjoyed their Cenerentola and their L'elisir d'amore In all of their performances, there seemed to be no distance between artist and audience member.

Last night was a perfect illustration of their ethos. It was a salon held in a glamorous Upper West Side home attended by an elite group of opera lovers who sipped champagne in between sets of performances by four delightful young singers. The accepting environment was one which invited these artists to experiment with new material, as well as to entertain with confidence. Two of them were known to us and greatly admired and two were new to us.

Soprano Maria Brea has been a subject of our writing for quite some time; we love watching young artists grow and mature. We were thrilled to have a second hearing of "Me llaman la primorosa" from the zarzuela El Barbero de Sevilla, composed at the turn of the 20th c. by Gerónimo Giménez and Manuel Nieto. It had its premiere in Madrid.

This comic zarzuela concerns a young Spanish girl who wants an operatic career and in this aria she is auditioning for the role of Rosina and gets to be adorably over the top. Ms. Brea nailed it with her fine technique and expressivity.

Perhaps it was coincidence and perhaps it was planned but the other lovely young soprano performing at the gala, heretofore unknown to us, performed Adele's "Audition Aria" from Johann Straus II's Die Fledermaus. Cristina Maria Castro has a bright coloratura soprano and she clearly enjoyed portraying all the different characters that Adele was putting on display. We prefer this aria performed in German but must admit that the translation was excellent.

We regret never having seen David Yazbek's 2010 musical Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, adapted from the Almodóvar film of the same name.  Judging by "Model Behavior", sung in the show by Candela, it must have been wildly entertaining. Ms. Castro delivered the frantic monologue in rapid-fire fashion and we are determined to acquire a copy of the score.

We got to see another side of Ms. Brea in Despina's aria from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte--"Una donna a quindici anni". Her worldly wise character gets to instruct her young mistresses on how to deal with men.  Ms. Brea has just the right sound and personality to get the aria across.

Jordan Rutter is a countertenor who seems to be a William Bolcom specialist. His delivery of "George" was wry and heartbreaking. We loved his ironic delivery of "Toothbrush Time" which we'd never heard sung by a man; but it made perfect sense--much more than "Amor" which we think sounds better sung by a female singer.

New to us was baritone Grant Braider who gave an outstanding performance of Hugo Wolf's "Abschied", investing with high drama this tale of dealing justly with a critic. (We hope he won't kick us down the stairs!) From this one short lied, Mr. Braider created an opera scene!

He also sang a song of his own composition called "Who Cooks for You?" which had some finely drawn details of life, and "The Boss Poem" which we might have appreciated more if pianist Kanae Matsumoto had tailored her vigorous playing style to the size of the room.

It was a delightful evening and a lovely opportunity to connect with like-minded folk who appeared to enjoy the performances as much as we did.

We refer you to www.citylyricopera.org to learn more about the company's mission and their exciting season. One event we are sure of is the December 12th evening of opera scenes which we plan to review. We hope we will be hearing some of tonight's artists on that program.

(c) meche kroop

Tuesday, November 27, 2018


Colin Balzer, Kelsey Lauritano, and Shannon Mercer in Caccini's Alcina

It was 1625 in the Grand Duchy of Florence and the Archduchess Maria Maddalena of Austria was Regent, following the death of her husband Cosimo II, one of the last of the Medici dynasty.  How would she entertain her nephew, the visiting Crown Prince Vładysłav of Poland (to whom she hoped to marry off her daughter)?  

Perhaps this powerful woman was a proto-feminist for she commissioned an opera from Francesca Caccini, the daughter of the well-known early Baroque composer Giulio Caccini, composer of "Amarilli mia bella" which was the first Italian art song we heard and with which we instantly fell in love.

The beautiful Francesca was a singer, composer, lutenist, music teacher, and poet; nonetheless, she chose as her librettist one Ferdinando Saracinelli. His libretto was, as so many other libretti were, derived from Ludovico Ariosto's epic poem Orlando Furioso.  In this episode, the Christian knight Ruggiero must be rescued from the evil sorceress Alcina who seduces men and then transforms them into trees and plants.

You may, dear reader, be familiar with Händel's version, in which they are transformed into beasts. Ruggiero's beloved Bradamante, disguised as a man, comes to the island to rescue him, accompanied by Ruggiero's former tutor Melisso. The plot is very complicated.

In Saracinelli's rather simpler version, Bradamante has remained at home and Melisso is transmogrified into Melissa, a good magician whose power will triumph over Alcina's manipulations and evil spells. It is interesting that there was no role in this opera for a castrato and we wondered whether the gender transformation was instituted because there was a marvelous mezzo or contralto in the city-state of Florence.

In this Boston Early Music Festival production at the Morgan Library, there certainly was a marvelous mezzo in the person of Kelsey Lauritano, an impressive Juilliard-trained singer who relished the role and enhanced her expressive singing with gestures which seemed informed by the study of baroque dance. At one point in the story, she appeared in travesti as the wizard Atlante who was once Ruggiero's mentor. We noticed subtle variations in vocal coloration and body movement--a truly impressive performance.

As the eponymous evil sorceress we heard soprano Shannon Mercer who sang beautifully whether she was deceiving the knight with seductive promises, manipulating him with her tears, or snarling at him with rage. She certainly rose to the occasion by means of vocal coloration and facial expression, the over-the-top nature of which delighted us.

The role of Ruggiero, well sung by tenor Colin Balzer, was not nearly as interesting and we keep coming back to the fact that the commissioner of the work and the composer were both women!

 Alcina's three henchwomen were particularly well sung and enacted by Sophie Michaux, Margot Rood, and Teresa Wakim. The men who portrayed the bewitched suitors were similarly excellent, as were their sweethearts who begged for their restoration, readily accomplished at the end of the opera by the lovely Melissa.

The story was bookended by a prologue and epilogue which must have served political purposes. The prologue comprised an homage to the visiting Polish crown prince and the epilogue praised the deceased Duke Ferdinand and the power of the Duchess Maria.

It didn't take too much reflection to realize the similarities with Wagner's Tannhaüser.  A man must be rescued from the wiles of a dangerous and seductive woman! The epilogue also praised loyal loving Florentine wives. 

We speculate further that the Thirty Years War occurring in Europe at that time might have required the glorification of the military and, indeed, Melissa urges Ruggiero to discard the trinkets bestowed upon him by Alcina and to pick up his sword and shield to restore his honor as a warrior.

Enough history and politics!  Let us now praise the enchanting performances by the Boston Early Music Festival Chamber Ensemble, featuring concertmaster Robert Mealy. The parts we liked best were those in which the voice was accompanied solely by the continuo. The sound of the Baroque harp, theorbo, and lute pleased our ear and allowed us to hear more of the singer than when the tutti played.

The costuming by Anna Watkins added enormously to our pleasure and looked very much like Renaissance paintings, especially in the palette of colors. The men who had been converted into trees were costumed with particular creativity; leaves sprouted from their heads and hands.

Although the playing area was small, sharing the stage with the musicians, Stage Director Gilbert Blin utilized the aisles and the area below the stage for the dancing.

Choreography by Melinda Sullivan looked exactly the way we imagined it to look. It was evening of delights to both eye and ear. Let it be noted that Prince Vładisłav did not wed Maria's daughter. However, he must have loved the opera because he had it produced in Warsaw in 1628, making Francesca the first female composer to have an opera produced abroad!

(c) meche kroop

Monday, November 26, 2018


Michael Fennelly, Alyson Cambridge, Constantine Maroulis, and Jennifer Kahmar Curreri
leading the Port Jervis Children's Choir onstage at Weill Recital Hall of Carnegie Hall

You will, dear reader, pardon us for departing from our customary habit of writing about the pianist last. Sometimes we are familiar with an artist in a certain guise and then see them in a new light (hear them in a new sound?). We have known Michael Fennelly for years as a collaborative pianist and have always admired his sensitive partnership with a variety of young singers.

Last night we heard him perform as a soloist, a performance in which both he and the piano virtually levitated off the stage of Weill Recital Hall. He performed his own arrangement of George Gershwin's 1924 Rhapsody in Blue. At the work's premiere Gershwin himself played the piano accompanied by a jazz band. He didn't write down the piano part until the performance ended! We wonder what Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky thought of the work; they were present at the premiere!

There have been many iterations and orchestrations but we have never heard the work the way we heard it last night. The audience, as one, jumped to their collective feet and whooped!  Although not a "classical" theme and variations format, there were several contrasting themes, each with its own variations. There was an astonishing variety of tempi, rhythm, and dynamics.

This would have made a rousing opener or finale for the concert of the Athena Music Foundation (of which Mr. Fennelly is the founder) which starred the famous soprano Alyson Cambridge, known to opera goers everywhere. We had heard her twice before. Two years ago she dazzled us with "Song to the Moon" from Dvorak's Russalka at a New Amsterdam Opera Gala and last year she created the role of Sally Hemmings--a highly believable and sympathetic creation-- at one of Andrew Ousley's Crypt Sessions.

Last night we got a clearer picture of just how versatile this dazzling artist is. The mixed program comprised an appetizer of art songs, a main course of Barber, and lots of spirituals, American musical theater and Christmas music for dessert, with an opera aria for seasoning.

In every case, Ms. Cambridge showed a compelling stage presence, looking equally glamorous in a pale pink tulle gown and a sexy red one, thus reflecting her vocal versatility. For our taste, the Shumann ("Widmung"), Schubert ("Ave Maria"), and Richard Strauss ("Zueignung") remained our favorites. There was so much vocal and gestural expressivity and passion that translations were unnecessary. Moreover, there is a deeply affecting vibrato in her instrument. We almost failed to mention the opening "Come All Ye Songsters" by Purcell which revealed Ms. Cambridge's facility with coloratura.

The songs of Fernando J. Obradors, whilst written in the 20th c., reveal no lack of melody and Ms. Cambridge made the most of the lively humor in "Al Amor", the sensuality of "Del cabello más sutil" and the charm of "Chiquitita la novia" which begins and ends with a gorgeous vocalise. Mr. Fennelly supplied the irony at the piano. The selection were drawn from Obradors' Canciones Clásicas Españolas.

Samuel Barber's mid-20th c.  Hermit Songs have never been among our favorites but, performed by Ms. Cambridge, we think we "got" them.  We particularly enjoyed the good humor of "The Heavenly Banquet", expressed equally by piano and voice; the short and worldly-wise "Promiscuity"; and the homey "The Monk and His Cat"--a song of mutuality, acceptance, and partnership. We also liked the haunting piano introduction to "The Desire for Hermitage".

Spirituals can be rousing for both singer and audience. "Every Time I Feel the Spirit" was a case in point.  Ms. Cambridge felt it and so did the audience.  It contrasted well with the gentle "There is a Balm in Gilead". 

We remain convinced the American Musical Theater is as valid as opera, especially when sung by someone this gifted. If there were any categorical differences between the three heroines of opera and musical theater, we failed to distinguish them. Carmen's self declaration in the "Habanera" from the Bizet opera of the same name; Nettie from Richard Rogers' Carousel singing "You'll Never Walk Alone"; and Julie from Jerome Kern's Showboat singing "Can't Help Lovin' That Man O' Mine".  These are all complex women singing powerful songs about different kinds of love. 

A special treat was in store when the Port Jervis Children's Choir, conducted by Jennifer Kahmar Curreri, came onstage and performed "Deck the Nutcracker Hall", an arrangement of Tchaikovsky's music for the ballet Nutcracker. Still, we preferred the children's performance of "Sing Alleluia", arranged by Victor C. Johnson.

As if that were not enough entertainment, there was a guest vocalist from Broadway named Constantine Maroulis who toured with Ms. Cambridge in Rocktopia. He joined Ms. Cambridge for a selection of Christmas music, delighting the audience.

We enjoyed the variety of the evening called ""Tis the Sunday: Songs of the Season" and we enjoyed introducing a "newbie" to the world of unamplified vocal and pianistic artistry. It is always rewarding to witness the pleasure good music can give.

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, November 21, 2018


Contestants and Judges of 2nd Annual International Voice Competition of
Talents of the World, Inc.

This was only the second annual competition run by Talents of the World, Inc. but the competition already has a reputation for fairness. Indeed, there were no voice teachers as judges, favoring their students.  Judges included President of Talents of the World David Gvinianidze, Adam Cavagnaro of IMG Artists, Metropolitan Opera star tenor Francisco Casanova,  Alexandra Naumenko of The Bolshoi Theatre, Artists Manager Matthew Laifer, and the lovely singer Olga Lisovskya of Talents of the World.

We enjoyed the informality of the competition, held at the National Opera Center. Member of the audience could hear the judges discussing which selections they wanted to hear and why they chose them. Apparently, competitors were asked to prepare a couple of arias and also a piece from the music theater or art song genre. Although we did not always agree with the judges' requests, we were mostly in agreement with their decisions about the awards.

If you want to know who won how much money, you won't find it here; perhaps Talents of the World will post it on their website or FB page. We choose to use our limited space to give our impressions of the singers who made us sit up and take notice. The overall quality was extremely high. Semi-finals had been held in both New York and Boston so we got to hear singers we had heard before and enjoyed, as well as hearing some new singers that we'd like to hear again.

We felt very involved with tenor WooYoung Yoon in the role of Tonio from Donizetti's La Fille du Regiment. We totally believed his character, equally exuberant over winning the love of Marie and over his acceptance into the regiment. There were no problems with the succession of high C's in his "Ah, mes amis!" although we hope with time they will become "easier"; we noted an improvement in his pronunciation of the French nasals. His second selection was Richard Strauss' "Heimliche Auforderung", which he imbued with clarion tone and passionate delivery.

Soprano Shaina Martinez made a superb Fiordiligi in her delivery of "Come scoglio" from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte, as firm vocally as the intention of the character she was portraying. There was dramatic clarity and a lovely centeredness throughout the register. Her tonal quality has the same kind of excitement as Mr. Young's. Furthermore, she showed considerable versatility by singing "Tu che di gel sei cinta" from Puccini's Turandot. She was persuasive and affecting enough to melt anyone's heart.  As if that were not enough, we heard a beautiful rendering of Rachmaninoff's "Zdes Khorosho" which we recognized as being "How fair this place".

Megan Moore has a lovely mezzo-soprano which she employed judiciously as Cenerentola from the Rossini opera; she delighted us with "Nacqui all'affanno...non più mesta"; she took plenty of time for the embellishments in the slow section but then in the fast section, she dazzled us with her rapidfire coloratura.  She made a splendid Komponist from Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos. She also sang Rachmaninoff's "Ya zhdu tebya" with deep feeling and dynamic variety. Although we do not speak Russian, we got the feeling of nostalgia for something lost.

Sarah Saturnino also showed impressive versatility going from the wild seductiveness of Carmen's "Seguidilla" to the wily charms of Rosina in "Una voce poco fa" from Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia. Her mezzo-soprano instrument delighted us with its texture.   Her appearance changed dramatically as she assumed each character, and so did her vocal coloration. We would have preferred to hear her Tchaikovsky song but the judges requested "So in Love" from Cole Porter's Kiss Me Kate, which she delivered with gorgeous vibrato.

Soprano Carolina López Moreno sang Juliette's "Dieu! Quel frisson...Amour ranime mon courage" in lovely French and followed it with Violetta's Act I aria "E strano...Sempre libera". She was persuasive both in her awe over the possibility of love and her determination to continue her life of wild abandon and pleasure.

Soprano Sarah Joyce Cooper performed the same scene with conviction and with equal attention to the two different moods. We enjoyed that as well as "Depuis le Jour" from Charpentier's Louise. 

Mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Kinder brough brightness and energy to "Nobles seigneurs, salut!" from Meyerbeer's Les Huguenots, an opera of which we cannot claim familiarity. But we very much enjoyed her stylish and waltzy performance. Equally fine was "Wie du warst", Octavian's gorgeous post-coital aria from Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier.

Soprano Laura McHugh introduced us to Adelaide's Aria "It's my Wedding" from Jonathan Dove's The Enchanted Pig, derived from Roumanian and Norwegian fairytales. We don't know how this "bridezilla" song fits into the opera but we loved Ms. McHugh's hilarious interpretation and want very much to hear it again!

Soprano Meredith Hansen exhibited a large instrument and made a good choice in "Tu puniscimi o Signore" from Verdi'sLuisa Miller.

Tenor Tianchi Zhang showed a nice ringing top and lovely pianissimo, especially in "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" from Franz Lehár's Das Land des Lächelns.

Basso Zachary James has a powerful instrument that shows promise for Wagner. He did a great job with Claggart's nasty aria from Britten's Billy Budd. What was remarkable was his superlative English diction. Every word was clear.

Baritone Michael McAvoy did best with "Lucky to Be Me" from Bernstein's On the Town. He seemed less comfortable in French and Italian, actually a bit stiff.

We have heard tenor David Rivera Bozón before and wished that he had chosen to sing something in Spanish. His selections in English did not do justice to his talents. Singing Tony's aria "Maria" from Bernstein's West Side Story was a particularly unfortunate choice in that Tony's not being Spanish was the main problem in his love affair with the Latina Maria; hearing the song sung with a Spanish accent was just peculiar.

Baritone Chonghwa Kim's interpretation of Rodrigo's "O Carlo ascolta...Io morro" from Verdi's Don Carlo seemed a better fit for his voice than "Avant de quitter ses lieux" from Gounod's Faust.

Tenor Omar Najmi gave us one of our favorite songs, the not very seasonal "Spring Waters" by Rachmaninoff.

The judges took over an hour to deliberate and we can surely understand why.  We would absolutely hate that job!

Winners received cash prizes and opportunities to perform as well as being exposed to agents and managers.

(c) meche kroop


Monday, November 19, 2018


Martin Fett, Juan Pablo Horcasitas, and Carla López-Speziale

Perhaps all of the events of the Latin American Cultural Week were wonderful but, lured by the promise of hearing songs of Spain and Latin America, the only program we attended was the one last night held at the lovely performance space of The Diller-Quaile School of Music in Carnegie Hill.

The program was devised for piano, cello, and voice. The pianist was Juan Pablo Horcasitas; the cellist was Martin Fett, and the voice belonged to the lovely mezzo-soprano Carla López-Speziale.  Interestingly, they all came out of Manhattan School of Music, whose students we are constantly reviewing.

Mr. Horcasitas "plays well with others" and teaches at the Diller-Quaile School of Music as well as performing worldwide as a soloist and collaborative pianist and as a conductor. He also released his first solo CD called "Among Songs and Dances". In this case he was the backbone of an interesting and varied program.

Since art song in Spanish is high on our list of favorite musical delights, let us focus on this part of the program. The Mexican born Ms. López-Speziale has an understandable affinity for this music and it shows in her vivid interpretations. There was no shortage of brilliance in the upper register and a great depth and security in the lower register. Moreover, she has a delightful stage presence, engaging the audience with her descriptions of the songs before she sang them.

As many times as we have heard Manuel de Falla's Siete Canciones Populares Españolas, we never tire of them due to their variety of moods and rhythms. Perhaps our favorite is the mournful "Asturianas" but we also love the gentle lullaby "Nana" and the bitter "Polo" in which Mr. Horcasita's forceful playing drove the sentiment right to the gut.

The Argentinean Carlos Guastavino belonged to the 20th c. but never ignored the value of melody. "Milonga de dos hermanos" is a tragic tale of fraternal rivalry pushed to extremes.  Our favorite song of the group was "La rosa y el sauce", a lament for love lost. The text of "Se equivocó la paloma" lost us in its symbolism, but we enjoyed the lively "Mi viña de Chapanay" in which Mr. Horcasita's piano emphasized the lively story related by the singer in both voice and gesture.

Like De Falla, Xavier Montsalvatge came from Spain but belonged to a later generation. His Cinco canciones negras are about Cuba and paint a most interesting picture, not all of it happy.  The angry "Cuba dentro de un piano" was given a strong introduction by Mr. Horcasitas who sustained the vigorous rhythm throughout.  The music reflected the nostalgia found in the text.

"Punto de habanera" was filled with charm but "Chévere" was brutal. "Canción de cuna para dormir a un negrito" is almost always our favorite of the cycle but "Canto negro" was filled with high spirits.

Mr. Horcasitas and Mr. Fett performed the "Intermezzo" from Enrique Granados' Goyescas and De Falla's rhythmic "Danza ritual del fuego" from El amor brujo. We've never heard these pieces arranged for piano and cello but we did say that Mr. Horcasita "plays well with others"!

As far as Astor Piazzolla's "Le grand tango", we know that the work has been adapted for several combinations of instruments but we found this particular adaptation more "interesting" than enjoyable.

As far as the contemporary song cycle by S. Zyman, who was in attendance, entitled Solamente sola, we found little for our ears to embrace. The text was as obscure in English as it was in Spanish and dealt with various forms of solitude.

As encore the three artists gave a stirring performance of "Besame mucho", the popular song composed in 1940 by the Mexican composer Consuelo Velázquez.  Having endured for nearly 80 years, it can be considered a classic!

We have a quibble that has nothing to do with the excellent performances. There was no note in the program advising the audience to hold their applause between songs and no announcement made either.  This led to constant applause interrupting each song cycle--an interruption we would have been happy to eliminate.

(c) meche kroop


The Verona Quartet: Jonathan Ong, Abigail Rojansky, Jonathan Dormand, and Dorothy Ro

Imagine being in a glamorous penthouse in Tribeca.  Imagine being surrounded by a bunch of the "beautiful people" of New York City. Imagine being entertained in this private salon by a world class string quartet. Imagine a charming sommelier introducing you to some interesting beverages including champagne, hard cider, and stout. Imagine nibbling on interesting cheeses.  (No pepper jack or generic Swiss here!)

If you were a member of Mise-en-Scène Studios, affectionately called MESS, you might have shared this stellar experience with us. This was just one of three exciting experiences this week created by MESS founders Lachlan Glen and Ben Bliss.  Just in case you don't know them, Mr. Bliss is the Metropolitan Opera's new star tenor and Mr. Glen travels the world as solo pianist, conductor, and collaborative pianist.

MESS programs allow for lots of socializing between sets of music and sommelier Andrew Stenson (who also happens to be a terrific tenor) curated the wines to match the musical program.

Guests were treated to several movements of Beethoven's final String Quartet Op. 135, of which we preferred the slow movement.  As a matter of fact, we would have preferred to hear the work in toto and in its proper order but no one else seemed to mind its balkanization.

The Beethoven was interspersed with movements of Jánaček's "Intimate Letters" Quartet which was informed by the composer's unfulfilled longing for a young married woman. We heard some of this work this week at other MESS events but, in this venue, it was easier to concentrate on just how engaging is the artistry of the Verona Quartet.

Each member seemed totally involved with the music. Moreover they have engaging personalities and each one shared a bit about themselves as well as information about their respective instruments--some new and some centuries old.

They also played a work they commissioned from contemporary composer Julia Adolphe. I appreciated their description of the composer's intent but regular readers will recall how strongly I believe a work should speak for itself. Whatever the message of "Star Crossed Signals" was, we unfortunately failed to get it. Not a criticism.  Just our taste.

Speaking of taste, we loved Mr. Stenson's taste in beverages and admire the way he tried to pair them with the music.

We absolutely cannot wait for the next MESS event on December 11th in Williamsburg. We never miss the annual "Goyishe Christmas", devised by the beloved Steven Blier of New York Festival of Song, and comprising Christmas music written by Jewish composers.  Don't miss it!

(c) meche kroop

Sunday, November 18, 2018


Cast of Poppea presented by BARE Opera

Bare Opera surely has their finger on the operatic pulse of 21st c. New York City, especially the pulse of young opera goers. Instead of waiting four long hours to hear "Pur ti Miro", the ravishing duet between Nerone and Poppea that concludes Monteverdi's last and greatest work, L'incoronazione di Poppea, the audience got the main points of the opera with as much glorious music as one would wish for, in the space of two hours.

Instead of sitting and yawning, staring through binoculars, the audience members were seated on three sides of the playing area, giving everyone an "up close and personal" involvement with the morally challenged characters whose lust and ambition resonate so well with our present time.

Instead of lengthy and abstruse program notes trying to justify the director's "concept", director David Paul wisely allowed the work to speak for itself. His focus was on the main characters of the drama. The Prologue and extraneous characters were eliminated and certain scenes were played out to highlight the eroticism. For example, Nerone and Poppea play out their drama in bed, for the most part.  And Nerone's homoerotic "song competition" with Lucano became a boxing exercise with a "happy ending". It was clear which man was the "top"! 

Let it be noted, before anyone protests the cuts, that there is really no definitive score remaining from the 1643 Venetian premiere. The opera was reworked several times (like Puccini's Madama Butterfly) before it was lost to oblivion for two centuries.  Since its "rediscovery" it has been performed frequently.

Musical values were excellent and, although the program was strictly "bare bones", we suspect that Maestro David Moody was responsible for the arrangement and the judicious cuts. His boutique baroque ensemble gave us everything we wanted. The string quartet was augmented by a bass, theorbo, and baroque guitar. A piano with a soft sound replaced the harpsichord.  If there were Baroque period purists in the audience, they did not complain. Nor did we. We loved every moment.

For those who do not know the story, it bears no resemblance to the history of 60 AD. The libretto was written by a wealthy poet by the name of Giovanni Francesco Busenello, a leading musical dramatist of the 17th c. One might call his writing that of a cynical realist. It has been suggested that the work, which premiered in Venice during the 1643 Carnevale season, was meant to draw a contrast between Venice and the morally inferior Rome, thus the glorification of lust and ambition depicted in Ancient Rome.

Nerone (Ariadne Greif) has tired of his wife Ottavia (Briana Hunter) and would like to put his mistress Poppea (Maria Lacey) on the throne. Ottone (Vivien Shotwell) is in love with Poppea and suffers intense jealousy, intense enough to try to kill her. Drusilla (Alexandra Smither) is in love with Ottone, enough to help him with his plot and enough to join him in exile when he is pardoned at the end of the opera.  All of the major characters had splendid voices and used them well, particularly in the melismatic passages and in the concitato genere, demonstrating ease with the Baroque style of singing.

Bass Christian Isaiah Simmons made a marvelously dignified Seneca who endured a death far more violent than he did in history. David Charles Tay in female travesti, created the character of a housemaid/confidant to Poppea, wise and nurturing, and with a marvelously resonant voice that made us think "That's what a castrato must have sounded like". We hope, of course, that Mr. Tay did not pay the price!

Timothy Stoddard played the parts of Lucano, most arresting in the boxing/sex scene with Nerone, and of Liberto. Anne Marie Stanley and Max Potter portrayed Nerone's henchmen. The casting was absolutely perfect.

Briana Hunter's Ottavia was sympathetic, in spite of her murderous impulses.  She was tied to the bed by her ankle and sang movingly about the plight of women who give birth to the very people who enslave them. We were happy that she got a second chance to live in exile.

There was no set to speak of in the cold brick-walled playing space at the Blue Building. Plenty of heat was provided by the acting which took place predominantly in two beds--the huge one for the romantic couple and a narrow one for poor Ottavia.

Costume design by Sara Jean Tosetti was contemporary. Poppea wore a mini-length shift which was covered by a diaphanous floor length vest for her coronation. Nerone wore a flashy red jacket. Ottavia wore a leopard print dress.  If we'd read about it beforehand we might have expected to disparage the look-- but actually, everything worked well with the story, even the punk looks adopted by Ottone and Nero's henchmen.

Titles were effectively projected onto beams in the ceiling. Lighting by Anthony Tornambene effectively highlighted the part of the playing area where the action was taking place.

We were completely absorbed for two hours with not a single longueur. We rarely get to see an adaptation that works this well.  More credit to the innovative Bare Opera and their visceral take on this work, bringing a four centuries old opera into the modern age.

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, November 17, 2018


The highly gifted cast of MESS:IES event

Two back-to-back events at Brooklyn's Paper Box, featuring the same cast, revealed to us just how talented and versatile is every member of the Mise-en-Scène Ensemble. Having seen each singer in a variety of roles and different languages in such temporal proximity gave us a new appreciation, quite different from hearing them weeks or months apart. 

Furthermore, being exposed to brief scenes from operas we never enjoyed (like Berg's Wozzeck)--up close and personal--allowed us to experience more dramatic impact than we ever experienced from a distance.

Last night's opener involved tenor Andrew Stenson as the arrogant, callous, and narrow minded Herr Hauptmann getting a very close shave from military barber Wozzeck, portrayed intensely and convincingly by baritone Will Liverman. Berg's difficult atonal music only served to highlight the painful position Wozzeck occupied in his world.

Another riveting scene from Wozzeck involved soprano Jacquelyn Stucker as Marie, putting up with the taunts of mezzo-soprano Renée Rapier as her neighbor Margret.

The famous and famously wonderful Verona Quartet gave a luminous account of the Adagio from Janáček's String Quartet #2.  Although this is nothing like the composer's more accessible music for Vixen Sharp-ears, our ears picked up snippets of folk tunes that were most agreeable.

A particularly powerful scene from Massenet's Werther was enacted by Ms. Rapier as the conflicted Charlotte and tenor Ian Castro as the eponymous Werther. Charlotte gives in to her feelings for Werther and then, filled with shame, rejects him. Charlotte, in her flustered state is discovered by her husband Albert (baritone Theo Hoffman) who then orders pistols to be delivered to Werther. Never on the stage of a major opera house have we felt so involved with Charlotte's ambivalence, Werther's despair, or Albert's jealous rage. For us, these three major singers provided the highlight of the evening.

Accompanied by Mr. Nielsen, soprano Felicia Moore portrayed the grieving Elettra with great depth of feeling in the aria "O Smania" from Mozart's Idomeneo.

That was not the end of the Mozart. We loved the scene from Cosi fan tutte in which the lovers are separated under false pretenses, with Don Alfonso (Erik van Heyningen) laughing up his sleeve at the prank of his own devising. Ms. Stucker sang Fiordiligi, Ms. Rapier sang Dorabella, Mr. Castro sang Ferrando, and Mr. Hoffman sang Gugllielmo. It's a funny scene and Paul Curran's direction added a few additional humorous touches. Mozart's exquisite harmonies in "Soave sia il vento" were well handled and Mr. Reynold's piano added to the enjoyment.

We heard several excerpts from Bernstein's Candide, the seldom heard "Nothing More Than This", poignantly sung by Mr. Stenson, and the ironic "Glitter and Be Gay" delivered with brilliant fioritura by coloratura soprano Brandie Sutton, both accompanied in very different colors by pianist Chris Reynolds.

And the closing number "Make Our Garden Grow" was performed by the entire cast with several singers doubling up on roles; doubling up on the piano were Mr. Reynolds and the excellent Adam Nielsen. Those four hands made a lot of music. Maestro Glen's conducting was astute throughout.

It was a sell out crowd with many new faces, which bodes well for the future of the company. Word has certainly gotten out! We can scarcely wait for the next MESS event.

(c) meche kroop

Friday, November 16, 2018


Maestro Lachlan Glenn at Paper Box-- M.E.S.S. Event

The streets were messy as all get-out last night but "Messies" (members of Mise-en-Scène Studios) and their friends somehow got themselves to the depths of Brooklyn for the first of two events at Paper Box. Co-founders star tenor Ben Bliss and Maestro Lachlan Glenn welcomed the huge crowd and introduced a magnificently varied program of opera, dance, and instrumental music. The program had something for everyone and everyone seemed wildly enthusiastic.

It is a wise idea to introduce young people to opera, not as a lengthy ordeal to endure, but rather a small taste to relish, with the expectations that those exposed to world class singers in small increments will want to hear more. It seems to be a great approach and even a seasoned opera-goer such as ourself found the program both entertaining and stimulating.

The initial entry was the opening scene from Britten's The Rape of Lucretia in which tenor Andrew Stenson narrated and three Roman soldiers discussed the fidelity of the women left behind. Tenor Will Liverman as Prince Tarquinius and baritone Theo Hoffman as Junius are soured on wives and lovers who betrayed them. They are envious of Collatinus (bass Erik van Heyningen) whose wife is faithful. Fueled by alcohol and testosterone, the two soreheads plot to get Collatinus' wife to betray him as well. The singing was powerful on all accounts and the direction by Paul Curran made the scene all too believable.

Following an interlude of "Danse Russe" from Stravinsky's ballet Petroushka, played "one piano four hands" by four of the best hands we know (two belonging to Adam Nielsen and two belonging to Chris Reynolds), we witnessed a scene from Berlioz' Béatrice et Bénédicte that had as much estrogen as the prior scene had testosterone.

Felicia Moore wielded her clarion soprano instrument deftly in fine French as she expressed her love for Claudio. The role of Ursule, her lady-in-waiting, was sung by the marvelous mezzo-soprano Renée Rapier.

A less familiar aria from John Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles-- "Long Live the Worm"-- was sung with intense gesture and vocal expressiveness by Mr. Stenson, accompanied by Mr. Reynolds. This must be Mr. Stenson's "signature area" because we don't recall being quite that riveted by Bégearss' nasty aria on prior hearings.

The format of MESS events allows for a break between sets so that guests can enjoy socializing, drinking, and eating--in this case bespoke crepes. Food for the tummy as well as the ears!

The well known final quartet from Verdi's Rigoletto is a "can't fail" number as long as you have great singers in all four fachs. In this case, Gilda was sung by soprano Jacquelyn Stucker with the eponymous jester portrayed by Mr. Liverman. The pair cowered below stage, eavesdropping on the onstage pair--the lascivious Duke (Ian Castro) working his charms on the innkeeper's sister Maddalena (Ms. Rapier). It was absolutely thrilling.

We got an advance taste of the entertainment scheduled for next Spring, a program involving Indian dancer Preeti Vasudevan and singer Roopa Mahadevan, wearing traditional garments and bringing a lot of color to the evening.  See photos on our FB page Voce di Meche.

The final scene from Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier is another scene we love and here we had soprano Brandie Sutton as Sophie and the versatile Ms. Rapier as Octavian. Ms. Moore appeared again lending vocal and gestural dignity to the role of the Marschallin. The three voices harmonized so beautifully and Mr. Reynolds created an entire orchestra in the piano. The "silver rose" theme came through gently but clearly.

An interlude of the third movement of Mozart's String Quartet #23 in F Major, performed by the superb Verona Quartet, was followed by the Finale of Act II of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor.  In this scene, poor Lucia (Ms. Stucker) is being reluctantly married off to the unwitting suitor Arturo (Mr. Stenson) by her desperate brother Enrico (Mr. Liverman). Lucia's true love Edgardo (Mr. Castro) arrives at a crucial moment and bloodshed is threatened with Raimondo (Mr. Van Heyningen) trying to keep the peace. The other singers for the evening composed the chorus. Again, the direction was astute and the scene was not only finely sung but believably acted.

Maestro Glen has been known to us for years as an outstanding pianist but just wait until you witness his conducting acumen! 

There were excellent titles for the operas in foreign languages but there were also useful brief summaries of the scenes in the program.

Tomorrow's event promises to be just as compelling with the same superb singers on hand. Tonight proved just how versatile these artists are and we have no doubt about their ability to handle all the goodies on tomorrow's program.  We don't want to give everything away but let's just say there will be something wonderful from Bernstein's Candide and something by Mozart that everyone will love.

(c) meche kroop

Thursday, November 15, 2018


Joan Hofmeyr, Britt Hewitt, Charles Sy, and Rebecca Pedersen 
(photo by Rosalie O'Connor)

 Chance Jonas-O’Toole, Anneliese Klenetsky, Charles Sy
(photo by Rosalie O'Connor)
Some riveting performances by students of Juilliard Vocal Arts Department (both graduates and undergraduates) brought to life a strange production of Benjamin Britten's The Turn of the Screw.  Henry James' gothic horror novella of the turn of the 20th c. was adapted by Myfanwy Piper for Britten.

The lack of vowels in her name seems to match the dearth of melody in Britten's music. What happened to melody after Richard Strauss?  What we are left with are plays with music. As such, this one worked out as well as could be expected.  The drama held our attention and kept us guessing. The music had a great deal of color and reminded us of the atmospheric music written for film. As a matter of fact, the entire production had a filmic quality.

We have learned that the longer the Director's Notes, the more obscure the production will be. As is our wont, we don't read them until after seeing the production because we believe a work of art should speak for itself. We were not always sure what was going on in John Giampietro's confusing production and reading his notes afterward succeeded in baffling us still further. There was a great deal of symbolism which we failed to grasp.  Frankly, we prefer realistic storytelling.  We are familiar with Jungian psychology but our familiarity did not help.

Chance Jonas O'Toole colored his tenor suitably for the role of the narrator, not only introducing the action but moving furniture in and out of the unit set, a large empty period room with peeling wallpaper, a broken ceiling, and several secret panels for entrances and exits.

As the innocent (or maybe not so) Governess, soprano Anneliese Klenetsky could not have been better. One could not tell if her ghostly visions were "real" or not but it was obvious that she cared for her juvenile charges. She had the closest thing to an aria in the well sung "How beautiful it is".

As the juveniles, soprano Britt Hewitt in travesti was believable as Miles who was "bad" or else "possessed". As his sister Flora,
soprano Joan Hofmeyr was similarly effective. Their playing together was always a bit unsettling.

The two "ghosts" were remarkably portrayed. Tenor Charles Sy was chilling as Peter Quint, using voice coloration and gesture to portray pure evil.  As the prior governess Miss Jessel, soprano Rebecca Pedersen, made a strong impression. She was strangely swathed in butterflies.

As the housekeeper Mrs. Grose, soprano Katerina Burton was warm and real, the only non-puzzling onstage presence.

If we have said nothing about their voices, it is because this type of work doesn't have the long lyric lines of Italian opera that enable us to appreciate phrasing, timbre, and all that other good stuff.  Suffice it to say that their diction was uniformly superb making the titles rather unnecessary.

Alexis Distler's scenic design matched the spookiness of the story and Kate Ashton's lighting design helped immeasurably to create the mood. Audrey Nauman's costumes were suited to the period.

Maestro Steven Osgood led the chamber orchestra in a finely wrought performance. The musicians were all members of the Juilliard Orchestra. A string quartet was augmented by a double bass, a flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, French horn, percussion, harp, and piano.  The winds were particularly effective, as was the harp.  Was that a celesta we heard or chimes in the Churchyard scene? It was very effective, whichever.

Given the choice of seeing this work again or reading the novella, we would probably opt for reading. There were others in the sold out house whose enthusiasm exceeded ours. The great thing about opera is that there is something for every taste. Mid 20th c. opera in English just isn't ours.

(c) meche kroop