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.

Thursday, March 7, 2019


Kanae Matsumoto, Cristina Maria Castro, and Kathleen Spencer

We have come to count on City Lyric Opera to sate our voracious artistic appetite. Co-founders and Artistic Directors Kathleen Spencer and Megan Gillis have managed to create a viable artist-centered company that not only serves the artists and entertains the audience but also provides some very appealing opportunities for supporters and donors. What a thrill it can be to sponsor a singer or the orchestra, the venue or the artistic staff. Here, one can truly feel a part of the production. Opera is expensive but these two lovely ladies appear to have a great business sense and have attracted a loyal following in just three years. Viva les femmes!

Last night's salon evening was held in a glamorous apartment overlooking Lincoln Center and was generously hosted by a charming couple newly making their home in the Big Apple. A crowd of beautiful people gathered to make new friends, partake of a particularly generous buffet accompanied by fine wines, and--most importantly--to welcome several young singers who gave their all to the music.

Regular readers will recall how disdainful we are of contemporary American song that utilizes boring text and cannot seem to come up with a pleasing melody. We were delighted to have our prejudice exploded, at least for one contemporary American composer by the name of Lori Laitman who was present at the salon and received all the accolades that her work merits.

With scintillating soprano Cristina Maria Castro taking the soprano part and the vivacious Ms. Spencer herself taking the mezzo-soprano part, we thoroughly enjoyed "I am in need of music" with text by Elizabeth Bishop from the poem "Sonnet" written in 1929. The text flowed and so did the music. The two voices intertwined in gorgeous overlapping phrases; we were enthralled.

We wish we could say the same about the two Sheila Silver songs which were settings of text by Edna St. Vincent Millay from "Beauty intolerable". We thought that soprano Rachael Braunstein gave them a lovely performance but that the poems did not seem to need music and the music they were given was rather jazzy and overwhelmed the vocal line.

On the other hand, Heinrich Heine's "Die Lorelei" seemed made to be sung and apparently, several composers agreed with me including the underrated Clara Schumann. Soprano Alaysha Fox, a young lady full of personality and warmth, gave an impressive performance of this story-telling song. Ms. Fox is a Metropolitan Opera National Council finalist and we simply cannot wait to hear her on March 31st.

We also enjoyed her performance of Amy Beach's "Ah, love, but a day" with text by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The piano writing is quite lovely and never overshadowed the vocal line, although we think it would be difficult for anything to overshadow Ms. Fox! She invested this lovely song with varying vocal colors and brought it to a powerful climax.

Ms. Castro was particularly elegant with her French in three songs by Lili Boulanger who died tragically at the age of 24. (Lili was the younger sister of the famous composer and teacher Nadia Boulanger.) Not only did Ms. Castro honor the long Gallic vocal line but exhibited beautiful overtones. The three songs, as she explained, addressed three stages of romance, reminding us a bit of the three different moods of Debussy's Songs of Bilitis with their three different colors.

The superb soprano Maria Brea performed two songs from Ms. Laitman's Five Lovers, settings of autobiographical poems by Jäma Jandroković. The text referred to various lovers the poet enjoyed after her divorce.  Judging by the text, she did enjoy them! "On meeting again" was delicate and wistful, whereas "Lovely in his bones" was lively and enjoyed a feeling akin to Jobim's "The girl from Ipanema".

Ms. Brea's generous soprano brought the evening to a brilliant close with Maria Grever's romantic "Te quiero, dijiste", the words of which will make any woman weak in the knees. The song was delivered with full-throated passion but ended on an exquisitely floated final note.

It was a perfect way to end a female-centric program. Among the female singers, composers, and poets, only Heinrich Heine stood out as the lone male. But his poem was about a woman so we will admit him to the sisterhood!

(c) meche kroop

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