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

Wednesday, January 30, 2019


Guest review by Ellen Godfrey....

On Sunday evening, January 27, the wonderful French mezzo-soprano Anna Cley gave a masterly masterclass at the American Opera Center.  Ms. Cley began the evening singing "Les Berceaux" by Gabriel Fauré and set an example of exemplary singing for the five students she was about to work with. Ms. Cley has a beautiful, dark mezzo voice. She was born in Normandy and started studying instrumental music and singing as a child.  She sings opera in Europe, the United States and in other countries. She also performs in concerts. In addition to her own performances, she loves working with young singers and has great expertise in teaching singers the correct pronunciation of the French language.

Her first student was Elizabeth Saunders, who sang Charles Ives "Élegie", a sad song of loss of love and the departure of Spring.  She has a lovely dark voice and her diction was quite clear.  After she sang for a while, she was interrupted by Anna Cley, who wanted to clarify some French diction. She told her that her consonants could be improved and her vowels had to be sharper.  She worked with her particularly on letters V, D, and P, explaining how they should be pronounced and making the sound longer. She said the letter P should be elongated and leave space in the back of the mouth.  Elizabeth quickly picked up the correct pronunciations and continued singing the rest of the song.  She quickly understood of all of Ms. Cley’s instructions and, as a result, she sang the art song very well.

The next student was baritone Andrew Parsley. It was obvious he had a big baritone voice, but he needed help in making the sound a bit more round to show the real beauty of his voice.  He sang a few lines when Ms. Cley stopped him to make some corrections on his pronunciation.  First she asked him to speak the words of the first part of the aria; then to sing them. She told him the word “avant” needed more projection.  She also worked with the “p” telling him to use his lips to get the right sound and worked on the “t” and “v” attaching them to the vowels. The more she worked with him, the bigger and more beautiful his voice became. He finished singing the aria and the great strides he made from Ms. Cley’s teaching were quite amazing.

Soprano Zoya Gramagin sang the lovely aria from Massenet’s opera Herodiade,“Il est doux” in praise of the Prophet Jean (the Baptist) for being kind and good. Her voice is big and she uses it well.  She was originally a mezzo but has now moved on to soprano repertoire which makes for a lovely dark sound. She has a good sense of phrasing and understanding of the aria. Ms. Cley listened to her for a while then stopped her to say that her first few words were not clear.  She worked with her on the “p” as in Papagena and said the “pah” should be explosive. For “m” she told her to enjoy the sound. With Ms. Cley’s gentle coaching, and good hints, Zoya’s voice became even bigger than at the beginning and also freer. 

Tenor Nathan Thorp sang Don Jose’s aria “La fleur que tu m’avais jetée” from Bizet’s Carmen, pouring out his feelings of love for her. He has a lovely tenor voice, but at the beginning he was a little stiff and his singing was a bit too slow.  Ms. Cley first got him to stand straight, as he had gotten into some bad habits. She also told him to relax and not to be overly conscious of the effect he was trying to make. Just making those changes opened up his voice and we could hear how beautiful it is.  She also worked on some consonants..the “f” and “d.” When she had him sing the whole aria again, his singing had really improved and he went into a beautiful head voice towards the end of the aria, making a lovely end to the aria.

The final student was Rachel Hall, who sang another aria from Carmen, Micaela’s aria…”Je dis que rien ne m’epouvante.”  She is looking for Don Jose and she is trying to be brave and let nothing scare her. Ms. Hall has a lovely  big soprano voice and uses it well.  She is also very assured on stage.  She had some lovely pianissimos.  Ms. Cley worked with her on some vowels and consonants “eh” for mère, “ah” and some other sounds. She picked up on the help she received from Ms. Cley’s teaching and sang with great feeling.  She was also the only singer who did not need to use her music.

The wonderful accompanist for the evening was Kelly Lin. She followed the singers, was very supportive, and never overpowered any of them.  

Ms. Cley ended the session by have a little concert.  Each of the singers performed their arias without any stops.  Each of them had made great progress from the teaching of Ms. Cley.  At the end, she treated us all to her singing of the "Seguedilla" from Bizet’s Carmen.  Her burnished mezzo voice made for a very sexy rendering of the aria.  Listening to the way she sang the aria I was much more aware of the clarity of the French language than I have ever been. She is really a wonderful teacher and I hope she does some more master classes in New York.  

(c) meche kroop

Sunday, January 27, 2019

SongStudio with RENEE FLEMING

Renée Fleming and Emerging Artists

Those of us who remember Marilyn Horne's "The Song Continues" are glad that the annual week of master classes and recitals have been continued by star soprano Renée Fleming.  The institute is now called "SongStudio" and has a mission to "renew and refresh the presentation and experience of the vocal recital...exploring innovative approaches to both classic and current song repertoire". We hope they will continue to attract new audiences "to engage with the art form".

Let it be said that the quality of the participants was extremely high. Both singers and pianists were well chosen. A few days ago we attended Ms. Fleming's master class and had a closer look at four of the participants, giving us a more well-rounded picture of their gifts. Some of the participants are known to us through their advanced studies at Juilliard, somewhat coloring our view of their performances last night at the Weill Music Room of the Resnick Education Wing of Carnegie Hall.

Also coloring our view is our distinct preference for music of the Romantic period and our distaste for contemporary song sung in English. Please, dear reader, accept this as our taste, not judgment of the artistry of those singers who chose works that we didn't care for.

Tenor James Ley sang two Schubert lied that touched us deeply--exactly what we want from a song recital. In the Fleming master class he performed Schubert's "Die Musensohn" in a manner that we felt required more gesture and which Ms. Fleming felt needed more energy. There were no such problems last night with "Ständchen". Mr. Ley's tender tone expanded magnificently at the top and he ended the song with the image of a disappointed lover whose serenade went unrequited.  In "Nacht und Träume" he wove a spell by caressing each word. Collaborative pianist Seoyon MacDonald reinforced his interpretation.

Another singer who captivated us was bass-baritone Enrico Lagasca. In Ms. Fleming's master class, he put us into an altered state with Gustav Mahler's "Urlicht" which many of you will know from the 4th movement of Mahler's Second Symphony. Although we are not of a spiritual bent, we got "the feels" from the simple spare delivery and Michael Hey's collaborative piano.

Last night Mr. Lagasca sang a song in Tagalog from his native Phillipines--"Sino ang Baliw" by Elizabeth Barcelona and Eudenice Palaruan. It was haunting and grew in power. Because of a projector dysfunction, he sang it twice so we had double the pleasure. We loved it without the titles and photographs, just for the pleasure of the sound.

French soprano Axelle Fanyo was also heard in the Fleming master class, accompanied by Adriano Stampanato who ripples arpeggi with consummate skill. We enjoyed her Brahms but thought last night's performance of Poulenc's "La Dame de Monte-Carlo" gave her more opportunity to act with her entire body, telling the tale like the master story-teller the text requires.

Soprano Coraine Tate is remembered from the master class for incorporating some work on breathing offered by Ms. Fleming. Something extremely useful was the image of "breathing into the armpits" which truly made a difference. We were not crazy about the Jake Heggie song she sang then, nor the one she sang last night--both settings of texts by Emily Dickinson which, in our opinion, never asked to be set to music. We did enjoy the way she engaged the audience with a story of her family, which led to a performance of Richard Strauss' "Einerlei" in fine German. We liked Peyson Moss' light touch on the piano.

Icelandic soprano Álfheidur Erla Gudmundsdóttir teamed up with pianist Kunal Lahiry in an act of "piano abuse" that the audience seemed to love.  It was George Crumb's "The Night in Silence Under Many a Star" from Apparitions. We thought of it as what is presently called "performance art"; we admit that the singer is beautiful and graceful draped around and encircling the piano but the strange sounds made by plucking the strings did not please our ears.

She began the program with Schubert's "Die junge Nonne", a song we love. The novitiate moves from stormy feelings, well evoked in the piano, to feelings of spiritual peace. For Mendelssohn's "Hexenlied", she loosened her hair to convey the wildness of the text. She is definitely on the right dramatic track but we would like to hear it more in the vocal coloration.

The wonderful Schumann song "Die Soldatenbraut" was performed by Ukrainian mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Chayka-Rubinstein and Ana Mazaeva. We liked the singer's fine vibrato and her gestures, which emphasized the light-hearted tone. In Debussy's "Colloque sentimental" from Fêtes Galantes, we longed to hear more contrast between the voices of the two lovers.

Our passion for song in Spanish was gratified many times over by tenor Jose Simerilla Romero and pianist Andrew King who performed Ernesto Lecuona's "Siempre en mi corazón" sung with romantic tone and gorgeous pianissimi. Even better was Obradors' "Del cabello más sutil" in which he caressed every word. Mr. King's rippling arpeggi added to the effect and we were transported.

Mezzo-soprano Kayleigh Decker and pianist Madeline Slettedahl captured the ironic humor of Poulenc's "Il vole". This is a difficult song to understand because of all the wordplay! There was some lovely dynamic variety in Jean Sibelius' "Var det en dröm" and we enjoyed Ms. Slettedahl's feathery touch on the piano.

Bass William Guabo Su, whom we have heard and enjoyed so many times, chose two songs in English which we did not care for; Kurt Weill's "Oh captain, my captain" and Samuel Barber's "I hear an army" just did not move us at all. But that didn't prevent us from enjoying the gorgeous texture of his instrument and the artistry of his phrasing. Richard Yu Fu's piano was superb.

Similarly, the choices of Magdalena Kuźma did not thrill us. She sang three selections from Tom Cipullo's How to Get Heat Without Fire. Sitting so far on the side, we did not understand the words and had to Google the text when we returned home. The final song "The Pocketbook" was humorous  but the other two were just obscure. Again, we didn't think the text was meant to be set to music.  Oh, well.  We were hoping to have another opportunity to hear Ms. Kuźma and pianist William Woodard, and we sort of did.

We enjoyed the encore which was performed by Ms. Kuźma, Ms. Decker, and Ms. Fanyo.  English sounds a lot better in popular and musical theater pieces.
"Sing for your Supper" was written as a trio for the 1938 musical The Boys from Syracuse  by Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers. We know it well from several hearings at Steven Blier's New York Festival of Song, often done as a solo by the inimitable Miles Mykkanen. It was great to hear it as written, by three lovely ladies in gorgeous harmony.

(c) meche kroop

Monday, January 21, 2019


Michael Fennelly, Jessica Faselt, Megan Esther Grey, James Ley, Rebecca Pedersen, Jane Shaulis, Dashuai Chen, Brent Michael Smith, and Jeff Byrnes at Opera Index Award Dinner

It was the coldest night of the year and also the night of a total lunar eclipse. Yet nothing could eclipse the talent onstage at the Opera Index Award Dinner honoring the lovely and beloved soprano/voice teacher Diana Soviero who was so lovingly introduced by her student Jennifer Johnson Cano and by the famous WQXR radio announcer and personality Nimet Habachy.  If you are seeing all the "love" words you will know how we personally feel about the tribe gathered to celebrate at the Essex House. 

Ms. Habachy's anecdotes about the honoree tickled everyone's funny bones and Ms. Cano had warm and devoted words about her teacher. We have been extolling Ms. Cano's vocal virtuosity since we began writing our blog but we never knew that she was a student of Ms. Soviero. It is always heartwarming to hear credit given where it is due.

The entertainment portion of the evening was provided by seven of the sixteen prize winners of the Opera Index annual competition for young singers, accompanied by piano wizard Michael Fennelly. The nine others, some of whom graced the stage of the annual Opera Index Members Party, were presumably occupied singing around the country and abroad, along with so many winners from prior years who have achieved fame on opera stages.

We were particularly impressed, or should we say "blown away" by soprano Jessica Faselt's performance of "Dich, teure Halle" from Richard Wagner's Tannhaüser. Adjectives that came to mind were "electrifying" and "convincing". The overtones bounced around the room and delighted our ears. Wagnerian voices are rare indeed and we predict a grand future for this captivating young woman.

Baritone Jeff Byrnes utilized his richly toned instrument to create the character of Count Almaviva, clueless in the face of his wily servant Figaro. "Hai gia vinta la causa" from Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro gives the baritone an opportunity to color his voice with bafflement, resentment, and an entire range of emotions; Mr. Byrnes seized this opportunity and ran with it from start to finish in a dramatically valid performance. 

Mezzo-soprano Megan Esther Grey performed "All'afflitto è dolce il pianto", the first act lament of Sarah, Duchess of Nottingham from Donizetti's Roberto Devereux.  Poor Sarah is pining for the titular Roberto, her husband's best friend. Ms. Grey sang with an appealing vibrato and plenty of strength in the lower register. There was a well controlled pianissimo, indicating excellent breath control.

"Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" from Franz Lehar's Das Land des Lächelns was a great choice for the full-throated tenor James Ley who sang in impeccable German and without any vocal strain. We enjoyed his commitment to the ardent romanticism of the aria.

What would a program be without a little verismo! Soprano Rebecca Pedersen gave a fine performance of "Stridono lassù" from Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci. Reinforced by Mr. Fennelly's piano artistry, she created the character of the repressed Nedda envying the freedom of the birds. Mr. Fennelly provided the birdsong...music to our ears, so to speak.

The only English aria on the program was, happily, one by Purcell--"Arise, Ye Subterranean Winds" from The Tempest. It is always a joy to hear such flexibility in a bass and the very lowest part of the register did not daunt Brent Michael Smith, who managed to invest each verse with different coloration.

Closing the program on a high note, so to speak, was tenor Dashuai Chen who gave a polished and winning performance of the Duke's famous aria "La donna è mobile" from Verdi's Rigoletto. Everything was in place and his legato was notable. The audience went wild for his s-u-s-t-a-i-n-e-d "money note" at the end.

Speaking of the audience, it was gratifying to see that the frigid weather did not keep away the ardent supporters of Opera Index who turned out in glamorous finery suited to the occasion. It is the generous membership of this fine organization which supports these young singers and nurtures their careers.

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, January 19, 2019


Aza Sydykov, Vera Danchenko-Stern, Clara Lisle, Alvard Mayilyan, Kathleen Norchi, Caleb Eick, and Matthew Tartza

We first became acquainted with pianist/accompanist/coach Aza Sydykov through his work with the Kyrgyz American Foundation which presented a concert of Kyrgyz music nearly two years ago--a concert we will never forget (the review of which is archived and available through the search bar). We didn't get to hear nearly enough of his pianistic artistry at that time but we made up for it last night when his brilliance at the keyboard dazzled our ears.

Alternating with the extraordinarily gifted pianist/accompanist/coach Vera Danchenko-Stern, the accompaniment to the singers impressed us with its brilliance. The two pianists knew just when to hold back to support each singer, and when to let out all the stops during the interludes.

We were attending a recital at the National Opera Center designed to showcase the achievements of the five young artists who had attended the week-long institute focusing on Russian singing. We wished that we had been available to monitor their progress through the coachings, from start to finish; however there was one instance in which we are able to report on artistic development.

Not long ago we attended a rather disappointing production of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin in which we were impressed by the Tatiana of soprano Carla Lisle. Last night she performed the heroine's "Letter Scene" in full and we were happily able to see a great leap forward in phrasing, diction, and interpretation. When we hear an aria extracted from an opera and performed in concert, we measure success partly by the singer's ability to take us into the opera in our mind's eye.

Last night we were not transported to the unfortunate Mannes production but rather to a more traditional one at the Metropolitan Opera that moved us deeply.  This is a good thing! Ms. Lisle's diction and phrasing were enhanced by the astute employment of dynamic variety and dramatic coloration. Poor Tatiana is in the throes of adolescent turmoil and every nuance was well portrayed.

Listening to the other four singers on the program did not offer the same opportunity for comparison between "before" and "after", but we enjoyed hearing songs both familiar and unfamiliar. The Russian canon of songs is vast and our exposure has been somewhat limited. Perhaps it is understandable that we get more enjoyment from songs we have heard before.

For example, Rachmaninoff's "Spring Waters" always fills us with joy and we liked the performance by soprano Kathleen Norchi who also introduced us to "Uzh ty, niva moya, nivushka" with its captivating analogy, comparing scattered thoughts with grains of wheat.

Mezzo-soprano Alvard Mayilyan evinced very different personalities in Polina's romance from Tchaikovsky's Pique Dame and Olga's aria from his Eugene Onegin. The former was haunting and the latter was light-hearted and teasing.

We liked baritone Caleb Eick best in Aleko's Cavatina from the Rachmaninoff opera, in which he portrayed the pain of romantic betrayal by varying vocal colors and dynamics to suit the character's complex feelings.

Tenor Matthew Tartza introduced us to a charming songs by Rimsky-Korsakov, the gentle Levko's aria from May Night and  Tchaikovsky's "Vesna: Travka Zeleneyer" from Songs for Children.  Perhaps it was ill advised to put Mario's pre-death aria "E lucevan le stelle" from Puccini's Tosca on the program. We have heard it so often sung by famous tenors that the risk of comparison worked against the singer.

Again, we wish to emphasize how superlative was the pianism. Russian vocal music captivated us a bit later than Italian and German and isn't always performed with such subtlety. We appreciate being introduced to the musical heritage of Russia and are glad that the Kyrgyz American Foundation has sponsored the Eurasia Festival, thereby promoting Eurasian culture.

There will be one more concert in the Festival, Sunday evening at 7:30, also at the National Opera Center.

(c) meche kroop

Friday, January 18, 2019


Shakèd Bar, Jack Kay, Jaylyn Simmons, William Socolof, Anneliese Klenetsky, Chance Jonas-O'Toole, and Gregory Feldmann in Kurt Weill's Berlin

Beloved pianist, raconteur, teacher, and song-miner Steven Blier has a special relationship with students of the Juilliard Vocal Arts Department. Every year his New York Festival of Song presents a special evening at Juilliard starring a group of gifted students, both graduate students and undergraduates. We love to hear students of opera stretch their artistry in new directions; under Maestro Blier's tutelage we hear them shine in new ways. The study of cabaret involves the use of gesture and body movement that can only enhance their operatic performance.

We love Mary Birnbaum's stage direction in everything she does and are thrilled to learn that she will be directing La Bohême in Santa Fe this summer and cannot wait to see what she will bring to one of our favorite operas. For last night's exploration of German cabaret music, she made sure that every movement and gesture was on point.

Still, the success of such an undertaking rests upon the performances themselves and these seven young artists gave their all.  There was never a moment in which we did not experience total commitment to the material and total connection with the audience. The enthusiastic applause was well deserved.

There are so many parallels between our time and Germany in the 20's and 30's that it is frightening. The lyrics written during the Weimar Republic dealt with social and political instability, great gaps between social classes, sexual shifts, and anti-war sentiment. Of course, most artists lean toward the left and we heard a great deal of satire of the ruling class.

Offerings spanned musical theater, operetta, satirical songs, and racy kabarett. The original German was often sung for the opening verse with English translation brought in for subsequent verses. We far preferred listening to the crisp sound of German, so well coached by Marianne Barrett. There was nothing terrible about the English translations but the rhymes were less pungent, less striking to the ear. 

The program notes were extensive and well worth reading. The program also included the lyrics but some of the sense was lost in the translation and one never wants to be reading along instead of paying attention to the performer. We would have preferred to hear the program in German with titles projected above. 

We do acknowledge that even a fluent German speaker might have missed a number of references that an audience contemporaneous with the original performances would have grasped. Perhaps there is no perfect solution to the presentation of material from another century and in another language.

Consequently, it was up to the singers to convey the meaning of the songs and at this, they excelled.  Tenor Chance Jonas-O'Toole with his sweet sound and William Socolof with his rich bass-baritone got the evening off to a fine start with Kurt Weill's "Berlin im Licht", accompanied by Mr. Blier's piano and Jack Gulielmetti's banjo.

Frederick Hollander's "Wenn der alte Motor wieder tackt" was brought to life by Ms. Birnbaum's clever staging and the performances of mezzo-soprano Shakèd Bar and Gregory Feldmann's resonant baritone.

Although written somewhat later (1956), we could really identify with Olaf Bienert's ballad of disconnection "Augen in der Großstadt", given a heartfelt delivery by baritone Jack Kay. We suppose that even prior to cell phones, big city folk suffered from missed connection by virtue of other distractions.

Soprano Anneliese Klenetsky created a humorous portrait of a woman fighting off unwelcome suitors in Hollander's "Tritt mir bloß nicht auf die Schuh". She was joined by all four men in the ensemble who imitated her gestures to hilarious effect.

Songs of sexual politics were particularly resonant and Ms. Bar's performance of Kurt Tucholsky's "Sleepless Lady" stuck in our mind. What woman has not resented a man falling asleep while she lies in bed with insomnia! The message was "Don't sleep in company".  Well, it sounded better in German!

Ms. Bar, Ms. Klenetsky, and soprano Jaylyn Simmons formed a terrific trio for Bienert's "That", a very cute illustration of the timelessness of male focus on sex. We loved the line "It's just that we're fond of some kind of bond, along with That".

Anyone who has regretted discarding a lover could identify with Rudolf Nelson's "Peter, Peter", a ballad beautifully rendered by Mr. Socolof.

Much fun was had at the expense of the greedy financial world in "The Lottery Agent's Tango", performed with accurate irony by Mr. Jonas-O'Toole from Kurt Weill's last work in German--Der Silbersee, written before he fled Germany and banned by the Nazis. Whilst hearing Mr. Feldmann's excellent performance of "Caesar's Death", we could understand why it was banned! Of all the works we heard it seemed most typical of the collaboration between Weill and Bertold Brecht.

Their prior Happy End included a song of gentrification which also resonated with contemporary times--"Bilbao Song". We liked Mr. Blier's honky-tonk piano accompaniment and Mr. Gulielmetti's guitar.

Ms. Simmons was superb in Bienert's "Song of Indifference" which reminded us of our present tendency to "fiddle while Rome burns". "And my purse is slowly swinging" made a good equivalent.

Although Mr. Blier's customary fascinating narration was hampered by some rather poor amplification, we were able to understand a very important point he made about the song "Wie lange noch", sung by Ms. Bar.  This was commissioned during World War II by the Voice of America to be broadcast behind enemy lines. We always thought it was about a romantic betrayal but Mr. Blier pointed out that it was about Hitler betraying the German folk.

One of the best anti-war songs we've ever heard was Eisler's "Der Graben" which really sticks it to the military-industrial complex. Will times never change! Mr. Feldmann gave it a moving interpretation.

The bitter "Denn wie man sich bettet, so liegt man" (from Weill's The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny) closed the program with the entire ensemble joining in. We were glad there was an encore--Eisler's "Peace Song".

There is not room to describe all the performances but we hope we have given you the flavor of the evening--a bit sour, a bit bitter, a bit salty. We were missing something sweet so we came home and had a cookie.

(c) meche kroop

Sunday, January 13, 2019


Cast and Production Team for Gian Carlo Menotti's The Consul presented by Bronx Opera

Bronx Opera has been delighting New York audiences for over 50 years. Distance has prevented us from reviewing their productions with any great regularity.  Add to that the fact that they perform everything in English, a language which we do not enjoy hearing sung. We loathe translations and cannot name many operas composed in English for which we can drum up any enthusiasm.

However, we have enjoyed Gian Carlo Menotti's The Medium (with Caroline Nye in the starring role) and decided to take a chance on The Consul, and we are happy we did so. This is a very sad opera, and the saddest part of all is that the totalitarian governments and the consequent refugee situations still exist seven decades after Menotti selected this topic and wrote his own libretto. If only art could promote political change!

It doesn't matter which decade was chosen. Here, Director Rod Gomez chose to set the work in the 1980's.  It could have been today. The direction was excellent and the piece worked well as theater. Meganne George dressed the cast in drab attire and created a bare set out of scaffolding towers which held a door, a window, and....an oven.  If you see a gun in Act I, you are waiting for someone to get shot. When you see an oven...well, we are not going to tell you about baking bread!

The scenes alternate between the poor apartment of the Sorel's in a nameless totalitarian country, and a consulate which will remind audience members of any government agency they have visited in which there are endless forms to be filled out and passive-aggressive people in charge.

Mrs. Sorel's husband is involved in some kind of anti-government resistance and is on the run from the secret police who hound poor Mrs. Sorel into a state of misery. In this role we have the splendid soprano Mary-Hollis Hundley whose fine work we have reviewed on many occasions. We mostly recall her dignified and elegant creation of the Countess Almaviva at the Santa Fe Opera, and some lovely Russian singing at the George London Competition.

Last night will, we hope, be a breakout performance for her. She created a highly sympathetic character with whom it was easy to identify and the enthusiastic applause she received at the end let us know that others shared our opinion. Menotti, like most 20th c. composers, does not give the singers much to work with in terms of melody, and English can never show off the voice the way Italian does; still we were happy with what we heard.

As her mother-in-law, mezzo-soprano Caroline Tye was similarly affecting, especially when singing to the baby in the cradle. Ms. Tye is another artist we have reviewed and enjoyed upon many occasions. We lost count of how many performances she graced at Utopia Opera but our associations ran to another Menotti opera produced by New Camerata Opera in which she took the starring role in the aforementioned The Medium--a performance which encouraged us to attend last night.

Cara Search, who is new to us, had the role of the consul's secretary, the one demanding increasing numbers of forms to be filled out. Chuckles in the audience told us how many of us have had similar experiences with government bureaucracies. It was another fine performance.

Jeremy Moore did well as Mr. Sorel, appearing in the first act and again at the end. We recall his fine performance as Eugene Onegin for Utopia Opera. Joseph Gansert made a scary secret police agent.

Every tragedy needs some comic relief which was provided by Daniel Foltz-Morrison in the role of the magician/hypnotist Nika Magadoff who entertained the group of supplicants in the consul's office.  His appearance in the final scene was of a different nature but dramatically valid.

Baritone Conrad Schmechel portrayed John Sorel's friend Assan. We have only seen him previously in roles that allowed him to express his personality--we believe it was Papageno one time and El Dancairo another time.

The group waiting for visas comprised Ben Hoyer as Mr. Kofner, Leslie Swanson as a "foreign woman", Francesca Federico as Anna Gomez, and Amy Maude Helfer as Vera Boronel.

The same cast will perform next Saturday night and we recommend them highly. We took a look at the cast for the Sunday matinee performances and recognize some major talents there as well.  In either case you won't be disappointed.

Under the baton of Eric Kramer, the Bronx Opera Orchestra performed Menotti's music as finely as one would wish. We particularly enjoyed the wind section and paid particular attention to the oboe line, so beautifully played by Jacob Slattery. In Act II, he played the English Horn, the sound of which was (LOL) music to our ears. We sat close to the percussionist, Barbara Allen, who was on an elevated platform, and enjoyed that equally.

It seemed to us that Menotti's music was most lyrical during the interludes when no one was singing. We found that strange. We also found it peculiar that the tragic finale was accompanied by grandly heroic music. Was that meant to be ironic? If you, dear reader, can contribute something to our understanding of 20th c. music, please comment below.

(c) meche kroop

Saturday, January 12, 2019


Anna Viemeister, Manya Steinkoler, Francisco Miranda, Julianna Milin, Katrin Bulke, Lindell Carter, and Hyung Joo Eom

It isn't every day that we get to hear Verdi arias. Thanks to Vocal Productions NYC and Father Graeme Napier, who warmly welcomed us opera lovers to the gorgeous space of St. John's in the Village, we are replete.  As a matter of fact we have been humming Verdi's memorable tunes all night.

Il Trovatore is a most difficult opera with a near-inscrutable plot and some treacherous pitfalls in the vocal lines. How brave of VPNYC's group of singers to tackle it! If their success was not total we can certainly understand. 

Soprano Julianna Milin did well in lending expressiveness to Leonora's aria of anticipation "Tacea la notte...Di tale amor". We liked the overtones of her voice resounding through the church and the pace of the cabaletta. A little work on the trill should put the finishing touch on her performance.

Mezzo-soprano Anna Viemeister sang "Stride la vampa" and her stylish appearance worked against her.  We were trying to picture her in an ugly wig and makeup but failed. Our biggest complaint was that the notes in the lower register were not in line with the rest of the voice but sounded as if they came from someone else. 

She performed the duet "Non son tuo figlio...Mal reggendo all'aspro" with tenor Lindell Carter. Mr. Carter has improved dramatically since the last time we heard him sing, with much less distracting mugging. But we didn't feel him connecting with the character of Manrico nor was there any mother-son chemistry between the two of them. We would like to see Mr. Carter loosen up onstage since his gestures seem stilted.

Baritone Hyung Joo Eom has a pleasing instrument that is most pleasing at the lower end of the register. He performed "Il balen del suo sorriso" with a nice reduction of volume as the aria itself began. We would like to have heard even more dynamic variety; this was true for every performance in the Il Trovatore part of the program, which mostly suffered from sameness.

Watching a singer trying to emote while turning pages on a music stand gives us no pleasure whatsoever so we decided to withhold judgment of soprano Manya Steinkoler's abilities for later in the evening. Yes, we know "D'amor sull'ali rosee...Miserere...Tu vendrai" is a helluva challenge and, as we understand, this was Ms. Steinkoler's performing debut.

We were glad we waited because we truly enjoyed Lady Macbeth's aria "Una macchia e qui tuttora" which Ms. Steinkoler performed off the book and without glasses, permitting a far better connection with the audience. We liked her Italian, the legato, and the dynamic variety which we so missed in the first half of the program.

We also got another opportunity to hear Ms. Viemeister who put impressive dramatic intensity into Lady Macbeth's "Vieni t'affretta", following Verdi's interesting chord progression played by accompanist Francisco Miranda. We also liked the dramatic commitment in "O don fatale...O mia Regina" from Don Carlo. But we still felt uncomfortable with the disconnection of the low notes from the rest of the vocal register.

Her performance of "Dido's Lament" from the Purcell opera was filled with feeling and performed with crisp English diction, a skill we never take for granted.  We understood every word.

We also enjoyed Mr. Carter's delivery of "Dio, mi potevi" from Verdi's Otello, in which the tenor seemed to connect more with the character in a convincing manner.  He seemed to know what he was singing about, exactly what was lacking in the duet from Il Trovatore. Perhaps he likes being a powerful general more than being a bandit!

He was even better in Mac Duff's aria from Macbeth . "Ah la paterna mano" in which his vibrato served to underscore the character's grief.

He also performed a duet with Mr. Eom "Dio che nell'alma infondere" from Verdi's Don Carlo, which our narrator (substituting for titles) called a "bromance". The presence of the detestable music stand prevented their connecting but the voices did harmonize nicely.

Soprano Katrin Bulke did not tackle any Verdi and we were glad of it. She seems to know what her voice is suited for and gave a lovely performance of "Regnava nel silenzio" from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, a performance invested with lovely legato, flexibility in the fioritura, and dynamic variety. We would like to see a bit more fragility in the character, to foreshadow her decompensation later in this tragic tale.

We loved the bit of "fluff" she brought in, both singing and dancing in the delightful "Heia Heia in den Bergen" from Imre Kalman's Die Csárdásfürstin. We are always ready for some Hungarian fun!

Watch Vocal Productions NYC's Facebook page for some upcoming concerts which you are sure to enjoy.

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, January 2, 2019


Ziwen Xiang, Gloria Kim (accompanist), Hong Kyung Kim, Olga Makarina,  Dina El, Quan Chen,  Daphne Mamoulides, Ephigenia Kastanas, Bin Shang

We love opera singers!  One of the qualities we love the most is their tendency to "pay it forward".  So many of our favorite singers are incredibly generous with their time and effort. By no means is this list complete, but Martina Arroyo comes to mind, and Joyce DiDonato, and Lauren Flanigan.  

Now the beloved soprano Olga Makarina has established Grand Stage International with a mission of establishing a community of young singers. Coachings, performance opportunities, mentoring and guidance will all play a part as young singers get a a chance to try out new material in front of an audience. YOU are invited to become part of this audience and we guarantee a fine listening experience.

Sunday was the initial offering and it just so happened to be Ms. Makarina's birthday, as well as that of one of the cast members. We enjoyed ourself so much it might as well have been a birthday gift for us!

We remembered soprano EphiGenia Kastanas from International Vocal Arts Institute and were very happy to hear her sing once more. We liked the pleading "Signore ascolta" from Puccini's Turandot and we loved "Telephone" by Menotti, due to Ms. Kastanas expressive face and voice which clearly demonstrated reactions to what she was hearing on the telephone.

Soprano Quan Chen charmed us with "Chi il bel sogno di Doretta" from Puccini's La Rondine. She also performed the passionate "Zueignung" by Richard Strauss.

Mezzo-soprano Dina El performed an aria unknown to us--"Magdalena's Aria" from Wilhelm Kienzl's Der Evangelimann. We thought she could do a lot more with the "Habanera" from Bizet's Carmen but there was a good basis from which to expand, incorporating more of Carmen's personality and intention.

Hong Kyung Kim's innocent appearance worked to her advantage in "Depuis le jour" from Charpentier's Louise. She was lovely in the Act I duet from Puccini's La Bohême (which we have reviewed twice since this recital) with tenor Ziwen Xiang as her Rodolfo.

Mr. Xiang also sang "Ideale" by Tosti; well done and needing only a touch more "garlic".

Baritone Bin Shang gave a muscular performance of "Come dal ciel precipita" from Verdi's Macbeth. Banco is warning his son about the evil doings surrounding Duncan's death and Mr. Shang captured the doom.

Soprano Daphne Mamoulides performed Juliet's aria "Je veux vivre" from the Gounod opera and "Ach ich fuhl's" from Mozart's Zauberflöte.

It was a wonderful recital with everyone singing well with plenty of commitment. We are looking forward to the next recital and hope you will allow these young singers to entertain you.

(c) meche kroop


Thomas Massey as Rodolfo and Michelle Pretto as Mimi in Amore Opera's La Bohème

We enjoyed Amore Opera's La Bohème so much that we returned for the New Year's Eve Gala, eager to see how the work held up with a different cast. Although vocal artistry is the most important aspect, it certainly doesn't hurt to have a Rodolfo who looks like a young poet. 

Tenor Thomas Massey convincingly portrayed youthful high spirits in Act I, a lovesick poet in Act II, a troubled young man in Act III (breaking up is hard to do) and an anguished sufferer in Act IV. With superlative vocalism and Italianate phrasing, his performance added a great deal to the evening. The one downside to such perfect casting is that his three fellow bohemians seemed to come from a different generation.

As his Mimi, Michelle Pretto's generous soprano and winsome presence made her a fine romantic partner. Elisabeth Slaten did well as the flirtatious Musetta.

Marcello was sung by Gustavo Morales and Brian J. Alvarado made a fine Schaunard. As was the case the prior night, the "Vecchia zimarra" of Colline (Brinson Keeley) did not register the symbolic pathos that we wanted to hear.

Rick Agster made a very funny Benoît and Parpignol was portrayed by Federico Campisano in Santa Claus attire. David Owen made a fine Alcindoro. The passive-agressive customs officials were played by Thomas Geib and Peter Nasonov.

Maestro Scott Jackson Wiley continued his efforts to pull together a somewhat ragged orchestra which suffered from intonation problems and also problems of balance. There was one part which we particularly enjoyed--the beginning of Act III when the lovely sound of the harp (Sonia Bize) played off the delicate percussion. We have never before focused so intently on Act III and again found it truly the turning point for these young bohemians.

It was a most enjoyable evening with dinner served between acts. The audience was having a marvelous time and most audience member elected to remain after the midnight champagne toast for a very special concert.

Cast members and choristers had the opportunity to perform solos and ensembles. Of course we had "Libiamo" from Verdi's La Traviata. After all, it was New Year's Eve and we all needed a good drinking song. The "Champagne Song" from Johan Strauss III's Die Fledermaus added more fuel to the alcoholic fire. The "Czardas" from the same operetta was similarly well performed by Kristina Malinauskaite.

A major highlight was hearing Nathan Hull (President and Stage Director) sing the "Mikado's Aria" from the eponymous Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. Mr. Hull, as we know from his writing for Scrooge, has a real feel for G&S, as do we. His delivery was a source of not-so-innocent merriment.

We enjoyed Elisabeth Slaten's delivery of "Vilja" from Franz Lehár's Die Lustige Witwe and Lindsey Marie Wells' sang the "Italian Street Song" from Victor Herbert's Naughty Marietta, reminding us to check in with Victor Herbert Renaisssance Project Live for their next offering.

Allegra Durante sang "Prendi" from Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore. We also had some vocal fireworks from Elizabeth Treat who treated us to some of the Queen of the Night's rage, with some excellent work in the coloratura passages. 

We heard a duet from Verdi's Forza del Destino performed by Michael Celentano and Gustavo Morales, who also sang Agustín Lara's "Granada". Mr. Morales' son Mario sang "Lonely Town" from Bernstein's On the Town. Mr. Celentano's solo piece was "Dein ist mein ganzes herz" from Lehár's Das Land des Lächelns.

Jay Stephenson tackled "Ja vas liubliu" from Tchaikovsky's Pique Dame and also a song from Les Miserables by Claude-Michel Schonberg.  "Warm as the Autumn Light" from Douglas Moore's Ballad of Baby Doe was sung by Alan Smullen. From Rodgers & Hammerstein's  The King and I  "My Lord and Master" was sung by Kazue Kazami Kiyono.

The singing went on and on until your intrepid reviewer was "the last one standing"--well actually sitting! Of the Seven Deadly Sins, we own up to Gluttony but the opera/operetta/musical theater banquet was lavish and we wanted to taste it all.

(c) meche kroop