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

Sunday, October 27, 2019


Madison Marie McIntosh, Kofi Hayford, Damian Wayne Faul, Susie Scott Krabacher, Wil Kellerman, Reyna Carguill
Kelly Griffin, Amanda Tarver, Steven LaBrie, Raymon Geis, and Maestro Keith Chambers
The beautiful Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church played host for yesterday's benefit performance, organized by composer Theodore Christman who is writing a music theater piece (a word less "scary" than opera to those who think they are two different forms of entertainment) based on the inspiring career of Susie Scott Krabacher.

Ms. Krabacher has written a book describing her 25 years spent facing the many challenges of helping the children of Haiti. She has taken unwanted children from orphanages, many of whom are handicapped, and provided food, shelter, education, and medical care. She hopes to educate future leaders for this unfortunate island nation, people who will pull Haiti out of its present hopeless-appearing situation. She is one of those people who create hope.

This does not sound, at first hearing, like material for "musical theater". However we got a preview of three songs from the work and were delighted by the clever and punchy lyrics of Donna Gay Anderson which matched perfectly with Mr. Christman's tuneful music. You heard right, dear reader! Mr. Christman's music is melodic, as we have written on several prior occasions. It was just waiting for the right story and the right librettist. We do believe he's got it and are looking forward to Unfolded, as it is called.

In "Babies for Sale", Amanda Tarver played Madam Marcellus, an unscrupulous woman trying to wrest money from a young couple. In "Wash the Dirt", mezzo-soprano Madison Marie McIntosh, portraying Ms. Krabacher, was given a strong melody to sing as she confronts her younger self, portrayed by soprano Michelle Guillot. "The Standoff" portrays a fictionalized version of Ms. Krabacher meeting her husband (baritone Wil Kellerman) for the first time. The acting and singing were similarly on point. Truth to tell, we hope Ms. McIntosh will be chosen to play the role.

The rest of the program comprised opera standards, ones we always love hearing. Ms. McIntosh is a young singer we have been writing about for several years. Possessor of a creamy mezzo with a dazzling upper extension, she is particularly perfect as a Rossini heroine. The flexibility of her instrument makes all kinds of embellishments seem natural and organic with respect to the character's feelings.

She opened the program with a tender performance of Mr. Christman's setting of "Ave Maria". There was a delicate diminuendo requiring exquisite breath control that had us holding our breath. His skill with writing melody made this a valuable entry among the many settings of this prayer. 

Her aforementioned artistry with Rossini could be appreciated in "Una voce poco fa" from Il barbiere di Siviglia. She evinced Rosina's spunky personality with a precision of fioritura and tickled us with a rolled "r" in "trappole"; it's the tiny details that set a singer apart from the others.

She also "plays well with others" as we observed in the famous duet "Mira, o Norma" from the Bellini opera in which her Aldagisa was matched with the Norma of Reyna Carguill who was previously unknown to us. Her sizable soprano was heard later in "Ebben? Ne andrò  lontana" from Catalani's La Wally. She impressed us with her breadth and depth of tone, just right for verismo roles.

Kelly Griffin is another soprano with a sizable instrument, making her perfect for dramatic Verdi heroines. We have heard her sing "Pace, pace" from La forza del destino more than once and might have been disappointed not to find it on yesterday's program; however, she was equally effective in "Tacea la notte placida" from Il trovatore.

Her duet from Verdi's Un ballo in maschera--"Teco io sto" was sung with tenor Raymon Geis as Riccardo. Both singers did justice to Verdi's magnificent melodies.

Mr. Geis had a fine solo in "Dein ist mein ganzes Herz" from Franz Lehár's Das Land des Lächelns. He paid exquisite attention to the meaning of the text and carressed each word in the pianissimo sections, then drew the piece to a thrilling climax.

His duet from Bizet's Les pêcheurs de perles-- "Au fond du temple saint", sung with baritone Steven LaBrie, involves two men both bedazzled by the same presumably unavailable temple priestess. We picked up some teetering on the edge between trust and mistrust. 

Mr. LaBrie's solo was María Grever's popular "Júrame" which, in his golden throat, took on the quality of an art song, sung with sincerity of feeling instead of the customary grandstanding. We have been writing about Mr. LaBrie since we began writing and have always found his performances to be artistically and emotionally genuine.

There were a couple selections on the program that are not exactly opera. Amanda Tarver, previously unknown to us, performed a song by Jake Heggie with very funny divinely irreverent lyrics by Gavin Geoffrey Dillard. "In the Beginning" is a spoof of the first verse of the bible and is part of a cycle we've never heard called Of Gods and Cats. If we ever get to hear the entire cycle it just might change our mind about Mr. Heggie. Ms. Tarver's delivery was delicious.

Bass Kofi Hayford has pleased us with his resonant bass on prior occasions. Yesterday he sang "Old Man River" from Kern and Hammerstein's Showboat, which we consider an American opera, especially when sung unamplified by such a well trained voice . The feeling ran deep as the river itself and the low tessitura presented no challenge for Mr. Hayford.

And finally, we heard Damian Wayne Faul perform "If I Loved You" from Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel, another work we consider an American opera. Mr. Faul also eschewed grandstanding for the sake of character, strangely giving  Billy Bigelow an accent that was more Southern than New England. Oh well, as a carnival barker perhaps he was itinerant!

Accompanist for the concert was the always wonderful Maestro Keith Chambers.

It was a fine afternoon of music, not to mention the lovely reception at which we got to speak with Ms. Anderson and Ms. Krabacher who has written an inspiring book about her life and experience in Haiti--ANGELS OF A LOWER FLIGHT: One Woman's Mission To Save A Country One Child At A Time. We hope that Mr. Christman's opera will serve to call attention to her work as founder and president of the Mercy and Sharing Foundation (www.haitichildren.org).

© meche kroop

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