MISSION

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.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

CITY LYRIC OPERA KICKS IT UP A NOTCH!

"

A RAPT AUDIENCE THRILLS TO SEASON KICK-OFF

A frisson of anticipation filled the theater of The Mansion at Murray Hill. A sizable group of opera lovers, thirsting for live vocal artistry, filled the theater to capacity and rewarded the four splendid singers with enthusiastic applause after every offering. The accomplished artists deserved this wild applause, made even wilder by Covid-related deprivation. We felt like a starving person encountering a buffet table loaded with goodies.

The artists were known to us and have sung either for Around the World in Song or for Voce di Meche's House of Music (Manhattan's tiniest venue-- our living room to be exact)--both situations for which we thought it unfair to review. Thus, it is our greatest pleasure to finally get to tell you what great choices City Lyric Opera has made for their upcoming season.

Beautifully accompanied by the lovely pianist Dura Jun, the singers took turns showing off their versatility.  We, however, will focus on the singers individually. As is customary, we will start with our soprano Shaina Martinez. Ms. Martinez has been on our radar screen since her days at Manhattan School of Music. We were there reviewing her dazzling performances when she won the Ades Competition 3 years ago and when she astonished the huge audience at Riverside Church with a song cycle by Turina. We have thrilled to her Fiordiligi and her Violetta. We never tire of her richly textured sizable soprano.  We love that she will tackle anything and make it her own.

Last night she sang "Glück, das mir verblieb" otherwise known as "Marietta's Lied" from Korngold's Die Tote Stadt, which we never heard her sing before. As in everything else she sings, the flawless vocalism was matched by depth of feeling and understanding of the character.

As far as the Puccini canon, we have enjoyed her Liu and last night found equal pleasure in "Chi il bel sogno di Doretta" from La Rondine, perhaps Puccini's most frivolous opera. Ms. Martinez showed herself to be a superb storyteller. There was one held note that took our breath away as it progressed through an entire rainbow of feelings.

As a prelude to CLO's first offering of the season--Pauline Viardot's  Cendrillon--Ms. Martinez performed "Si je n'y venais" which we had never heard before. The artist portrayed her as a gentle soul but not a victim. We were entranced and, no matter what variant Covid throws at us in December, nothing will keep us away from this production. We advise you to jump on it as soon as the dates are announced.

 Linda Collazo has delighted New York audiences with her richly toned mezzo-soprano and wide range. Indeed, she was the first artist we went to hear just as soon as we got vaccinated when she performed a program of arias and songs about strong women. This reminds us to tell you, dear reader, that CLO is a company founded by two strong women--the lovely Megan Gillis and the equally lovely Kathleen Spencer-- both participating in announcing the season with their winning enthusiasm. To add to the gynocentric orientation, CLO's new Music Director is Maestro Michele Rofrano (no relation to Octavian).

We have mostly heard Ms. Collazo singing zarzuela arias which we love. Last night we were pleased to hear her take on Bizet's Carmen in the "Seguidilla", thankfully sung without the clichés that leave us rolling our eyes. Her Carmen is more subtle and relies more on her voice than posing and strutting. 

"Smanie implacabili" from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte allowed Ms. Collazo to get emotional--even hysterical--which showed off her strengths throughout the register.

But it was "Una voce poco fa" from Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia that delighted us the most. We loved the way she gave Rosina a unique personality, using her phrasing most effectively. Readers will recall how much we lean toward bel canto. We enjoyed the very delicate vibrato, the notable decoration of the vocal line, and the fiery cabaletta. The descending scale passages were finely wrought.

Our tenor Cesar Andres Parreño is as gifted dramatically as he is vocally. We first heard him just before Covid struck when, as a student at Juilliard, he participated in a NYFOS program entitled "Cubans in Paris". We were so delighted by his talent that we recruited him to sing in our Around the World in Song.  He is not Cuban but rather Ecuadorian and represented his country magnificently with a selection of folk songs. 

What a pleasure it was to hear him again! He opened the program with an aria from Torroba's Maria Fernanda entitled "De este apacible rincón de Madrid" which suited his plangent lyric tenor perfectly. The timbre is just right for zarzuela and we were thrilled to witness his performance as he varied his emotional tone from tender to powerful.

We were over the moon when he performed yet another zarzuela aria, this one the famous "No puede ser" from Sorozábal's La taberna del Puerto. There is no way to fail to grasp the pain of deception and the delusional quality of one who cannot believe that a woman he loves does not share his moral compass.

In "Una furtiva lagrima" from Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore, the hero Nemorino has the great fortune of winning the woman he loves and Mr. Parreño captured the youthful innocence of his character with his sweet tone and effective acting. It takes courage to tackle an aria that has been performed by all the greats and to make it your own!

Baritone Andres Cascante is less well known to us than the others but we recall that he was one of Opera Index' prize winners about 4 years ago and had pleased us by performing a zarzuela aria.  Maybe he is less known to us but certainly not less appreciated! He made a wonderful Count Almaviva in "Hai già vinta la causa!" from Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro. He used voice, facial expression, and bodily gesture to bring the clueless Count to vivid life. He sang with full tone and total awareness of the text.

In Puccini's Gianni Schicchi, the main character is as arrogant as the Count but a lot smarter.  In "Si corre dal Notaio" he devises a plot to fool the greedy relatives of a dying old man. Mr. Cascante showed himself to be a most effective storyteller.

We must call Mr. Cascante's performance last night "3 shades of arrogance". The Count is arrogant by birth; Schicchi by wiliness; and Escamillo by public adoration. As our artist delivered "Votre toast" from Bizet's Carmen, he created a character enamored of his skill and fame. We just loved the subtleties that limned three very different characters with the same characterological feature.

We recall CLO's initial venture a few years ago when they called the company A.R.E.-- accessible, relatable, and enjoyable.  Although the name was changed, we are happy to report that their aim is the same and their aim is true.

© meche kroop
 

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE


            Maestro Will Crutchfield and The Teatro Nuovo Cast and Orchestra


Last night's production of Gioacchino Rossini's comic masterpiece Il barbiere di Siviglia at Damrosch Park was a joy to behold and a night to remember. The New York City opera community has been starved for live opera for over 16 months (but who's counting?) and Maestro Will Crutchfield served up a tasty dish that was completely satisfying but also left us eager for the next meal.

There was something for every taste.  Those who appreciate scholarship had access to some extensive program notes online which we were glad to have read in advance. Readers who are of the same mind can find them here

 https://www.dropbox.com/s/j8glxrj6qhmcrc5/The%20Barber%20of%20Seville%20-%20Preview%20Program.pdf?dl=0#

It was fun to learn more about the background of the opera, some of which we knew and other facts that were new to us. We never knew, for example, how flexible the composition was in terms of numbers that were created by the singers themselves. We were also unaware of the relative absence of fach in Rossini's operas. 

We'd always been told what a departure it was for a soprano to take on the role of Rosina, written for a mezzo-soprano. Not so; categories had yet to be written in stone. Last night's Figaro, for example, was sung by bass Hans Tashjian--and very well sung we might add. We hadn't heard Mr. Tashjian since his multiple appearances with Dell'Arte Opera about seven or eight years ago and were delighted to witness the growth in his artistry.

Maestro Crutchfield devoted a great deal of time and effort in stripping the opera of years of accretions and, truth to tell, we didn't miss the shtick. Thankfully, in spite of a few judicious cuts (necessitated by consideration for the neighbors living around Lincoln Center), all of the scintillating melodies were there, melodies which are still spinning around in our head. Our feet were dancing their way down Broadway, thanks to Rossini's rhythmic gifts.

We can't help wondering where is today's Rossini. He or she is probably writing for Broadway, not for the opera house. We sometimes fail to remember that in the 19th c., opera was a popular art form, an entertainment; it was not about someone grinding a political axe.

Do we care if opera is "relevant"?   No we don't. Do we criticize the presence of stock characters and stereotypes?  We do not. Do we judge the opera for its sociocultural sensitivity? LOL.  We want to have a good time, and last night we did. Pardon our rant but we just had to go there!

As much as we encourage you to read Mr. Crutchfield's exegesis, one didn't need to know a thing about operatic history or scholarship to delight in the wacky story of Cesare Sterbini's libretto. The familiar 19th c. story of a possessive old goat and his subjugated ward has been turned on its head by Sterbini's creation of the subversively rebellious Rosina who outwits the old goat with the help of the wily Figaro, one of opera's most endearing characters.

The role of Rosina was sung by mezzo-soprano Hannah Ludwig who possesses  plenty of strength in the lower register and a brilliant upper register, well employed in a spate of highly original embellishments which, as we learned, Rossini encouraged his singers to devise, as did Maestro Crutchfield  We hope that Ms. Ludwig's artistic evolution involves knitting the two registers more seamlessly, since the decorations often served to highlight the lack of continuity.

The role of Count Almaviva was portrayed by tenor Nicholas Simpson whom we remember as a superb Charles II in Little Opera Theater of New York's production of Carlisle Floyd's Prince of Players and also as having risen above the world's worst production of Wagner's Tannhaüser in the title role. His bright clear tone was perfect for the role; we wanted, however, more clarity in the scale passages and fioritura.

Scott Purcell made a marvelous Doctor Bartolo with first rate singing and acting. The lecherous Doctor is not a likable character but in Mr. Purcell's hands he became a figure of sympathy.

Soprano Alina Tamborini came to our attention just 2 years ago, not only through Teatro Nuovo but also through Talents of the World Competition. We can never forget her performance of "Adele's Audition Aria" from Johann Strauss' Die Fledermaus. How happy we were to hear her again in the role of Berta to which she lent her crystal clear soprano and lovely phrasing.

Daniel Fridley made a fine Don Basilio; we just loved the scene in which the other characters tried to get rid of him. It occurred to us that this is a theme of this particular opera. In Act I, Almaviva tries to get rid of the noisy musicians. Later, Dr. Bartolo tries to get rid of Almaviva who is disguised as a drunken soldier.

Wil Kellerman made the most of his role as an officer, singing with clarity and acting with purpose and conviction.

Kyle Oliver was successful as Fiorello trying to control his boisterous band of musicians accompanying Almaviva's serenade.

With the shtick removed from the big arias, we were able to focus more on the beauty of the duets and the elaborate construction of the ensembles which Rossini used to bring each act to a climax-- leaving everyone exhausted.

The Teatro Nuovo Orchestra filled the plaza with a gorgeous carpet of sound. Maestro Crutchfield led from the cembalo, following the tradition of the early 19th c. First violinist Jakob Lehmann made significant contributions, as did Peter Ferretti who handled his contrabass as one of the characters in the drama.

We would hope to see Maestro Crutchfield "version" with sets and costumes some day, although we think the cast did a fine job of getting the drama across in what is called a "semi's staged" production. So delighted were we to hear live opera, we were in no frame of mind to attack the amplification; nonetheless, it did not exactly improve upon the singers' natural voices.

Furthermore, we were feeling rather tolerant of the titles projected behind the orchestra.  Lucy T. Yates and Maestro Crutchfield himself were given credit for the titles which rhymed but were not direct translations from the Italian. We dealt with it by ignoring them when we couldn't reconcile them.

Those were our only quibbles with an evening of delights, made even more delightful by sharing the experience in public with fellow opera lovers. We began by describing the opera as having something for everyone. Academics could enjoy the research that went into restoring the opera to something close to its origins. Neophytes could enjoy it for its good humor and tunefulness. Many might not have been aware of the cuts, the eliminations, or the original contributions. But everyone had a good time!


© meche kroop

Friday, May 28, 2021

A NEW LOOK AT VIOLETTA


 We would go to the ends of the earth to hear one of our favorite sopranos interpret the role of our favorite female character. Fortunately we only had to go to 112th St. to hear Shaina Martinez show us more about Violette Valery than we had ever realized. Aside from a stunning voice, it is just this sort of insight that keeps us involved and makes us want to hear the same opera repeatedly. It's all in Verdi's music, of course, but most singers fail to delve deeply enough into the role and surrender to stereotypes. 

Let us begin by thanking The Lighthouse Opera Company for this live performance of Verdi's masterpiece La Traviata. We can think of no other opera that has such a profound effect. It is the clearly drawn and complex characters of Francesco Maria Piave's  libretto (adapted from Alexander Dumas' La dâme aux camellias) and their growth from one act to the next that captivates us.

In Act I, Violetta is a brittle and shallow "party girl", burning the candle at both ends. In Act II, she is a woman who has surrendered to love and softened. She is struck down by some pretty bad news delivered by her lover's father, allowing the provincial papa to see her true feelings but bravely hiding them from her lover.

In Act III, she is a pathetic and desperate dying woman, longing for the support that may never come. Although we were not given an excerpt from Act I (the restrictions of the staging could not have allowed it) Ms. Martinez limned her characters growth in Act II and her fading hopes of Act III.

And here comes the part that was new to us, an aspect that the artist conveyed by the most subtle but effective coloration. Violetta is not just making a sacrifice to help her lover's sister achieve a respectable marriage; she is actually identifying with this pure young woman who has led a respectable life, is accepted by society, and enjoys protection by her devoted father. One could see in the artist's facial expression and hear in her voice how her nobility of character and identification with the other more fortunate woman made this sacrifice possible.

Not only did we thrill to Ms. Martinez' vocal artistry but we were captivated by the depth of her characterization. Who of us has not felt a combination of admiration, identification, and envy of those whose fortunes are far more sanguine than our own.

The vocal artistry was so perfect that it served the character without calling undue attention to itself. This is what we love to see in an opera performance. We think that those who focus on the high notes or other technical aspects are missing the boat.  The thrill of opera is in the drama! Do we believe it? Can we identify? Are we moved? Yes, yes, and yes.

The other performances were excellent. Tenor Michael Celentano did a fine job as Alfredo. His "De' miei bollenti spiriti" was as ardent as one would wish and we were pleased to note Mr. Celentano's growth as an artist since we heard him the last time.

Baritone Joseph Gansert was an effective Giorgio Germont, demonstrating all the smugness of a provincial ready to read the riot act to the unacceptable paramour of his wayward son. How effectively he rose to a position of empathy as he realized Violetta's quality! This set the stage for Act III when he comes to her deathbed with respect and affection.

The duet with Violetta "Pura siccome un Angelo" was finely rendered and his pleading with his son "Di Provenza mar e suol" revealed him to be well meaning but manipulative.

Violetta's companion Annina was performed by Ema Mitrovic and the role of Dr. Grenvil was taken by Charles Carter. Matteo Adams portrayed the messenger Giuseppe. These are small roles but were well done.

Conductor and pianist Stephen Francis Vasta stood in for the orchestra and managed to convey the textures of the music as well as a solo piano could. Director John Tedeschi did the best he could within the confines of a tiny stage in a lovely church. All he had to deal with was a couple of chairs and a lectern that stood in the way. Singers were obliged to keep their six feet of distance with exchange of letters merely suggested.

These are indeed strange times for opera and The Lighthouse Opera Company did their best. Exceptional voices and acting can make up for a lot of "lacks". The imagination of the viewer must compensate and what our mind's eye produced was definitely not the "Dr. Death and Big Clock" symbolism of the latest Metropolitan Opera iteration but rather scenes pulled from our memory of more traditional and effective productions. 

© meche kroop

Monday, May 24, 2021

WE ARE BACK IN ACTION


Our voce has been silent for these past 15 months due to- you know-Covid. We actually had forgotten how to access our blog and required assistance from Google! To celebrate the return of live music we have chosen a new typeface which we hope will be as easy on the eyes as Saturday night's concert was easy on the ears.

Eurasia Foundation's Aza Sydykov found a lovely and comfortable venue with adequate spacing between chairs and was wise enough to start the new "live season" with the magnificent mezzo-soprano Linda Collazo who, incidentally, has been singing for us at our musicales, garnering wild applause and many new fans from among the guests.

Saturday's recital focused on arias and songs by strong women and about powerful women in all their glory, among whom we count Ms. Collazo who is advancing her career with great care and dedication. A friend of ours, not easily impressed, who always compares young talent to the greats of ages long gone, was similarly dazzled by this gifted young artist. There is an admirable evenness of tone throughout her range, which is a wide one. All of our chakras were vibrating in turn.

Her Carmen brought new roundness to the character that had us visualizing each scene in our mind's eye. Collaborative pianist (and expert on Spanish music) Pablo Zinger let loose with his own jazzy accompaniment to the second verse of the Habanera, a work that we would have enjoyed more as a solo, the better to focus on its inventiveness. Ms. Collazo's seductive Seguidilla was no less exciting. No Don Jose could have resisted!

Bizet is surely not the only composer limning the characters of powerful women. Rossini loved not only mezzo-sopranos but also strong female characters like Isabella in L'Italiana in Algeri.  "Cruda sorte" bemoans the character's unhappy fate as she has been shipwrecked, separated from her lover, and threatened with being in a harem. Just listening to the artist's interpretation, you would realize that Isabella is not going to accept her fate and that she would triumph in the end. The contrast between the aria and the cabaletta was stunning and such a show of vocal fireworks!

The same could be said for "Una voce poco fa" from the master's Il barbiere di Siviglia. Ms. Collazo's skills with fioritura were matched by the vivacity of her acting. This was one spunky Rosina who would be sure to get her way. Those of you who love zarzuela as much as we do would have been as enchanted as we were by the lively presto of "Carceleras" from Las hijas de Zebedeo. Oh how we would love to see onstage the entire work, of which this is the hit song.

Is there anyone out there unfamiliar with the songs of the early 20th c. composer Maria Greve? Of course you have heard "Jurame" and "Te quiero dijiste" before but probably not as stirringly sung as by Ms. Collazo, who is just as adept at romantic ballads as she is with vocal fireworks.

"Bésame mucho" is another familiar Mexican song, this one by a young 20th c. composer named Consuelo Velásquez. There is so much wonderful music coming out of Mexico that we wondered what they put in their tortillas.

Not to shortchange North American composers, the program was rounded out by "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man of Mine"  from  Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein's Showboat, the United States' first serious musical. What brought that under the umbrella of powerful women is that it was adapted from a novel by Edna Ferber.

The evening was narrated by Mr. Zinger who is a fount of information about Spanish music, providing anecdotes about the works and the composers. This added a great deal to the evening, especially if you love learning new things as much as we do.

The recital ended far too soon. We had been starved for live music and this was like an exquisite "amuse bouche" whetting our appetite for more.  Shall we call it an "amuse oreille"?


© meche kroop