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, December 21, 2022


 Elizabeth Blancke-Biggs, Limmie Pulliam, Michael Recchiuti, Madison Marie McIntosh, Kamal Khan, Lauren Flanigan, John Musto, Amy Burton, and Philip Cokorinos

For a couple of decades or more, star soprano Lauren Flanigan has brought Comfort Ye to opera loving New Yorkers. We are happy to help support Ms. Flanigans's worthy initiative of helping the underserved members of our community with food, clothing, diapers, toys, and other essentials. The recipients of the donated  goods and money may change from year to year but one always knows the donations will go to a good place. In return, audience members get to hear some stunning arias sung by world class singers. One might call this annual event "Lauren and Friends". It is an event we look forward to every December and greatly missed during Covid.

The evening always begins with the selection "Comfort ye...Ev'ry valley" from Händel's Messiah. This year it was sung by the tenoriffic Won Whi Choi whose voice we have been enjoying for several years. It was thrilling to hear his voice open up for "La donna é mobile" from Verdi's Rigoletto. We love versatility and hearing an artist alter the color of his voice to suit the character. Mr. Choi is such a gentle fellow that his creation of the character of the licentious Duke was impressive.

Another favorite singer of ours, rising star mezzo-soprano Madison Marie McIntosh, swept us away with a most romantic performance of "O mio Fernando" from Donizetti's La Favorita. The fioritura was consistently on point and the cabaletta appropriately exciting. We liked the way she made use of the entire playing area and employed generous gestures to create the character of  Leonora.

Ms. Flanigan herself gave a powerhouse performance of "Do not utter a word, Anatol" from Barber's Vanessa. The richness of her voice is matched by the intensity of her characterization; we have never heard her give a performance that was less than riveting.

Chilling is the word that comes to mind when describing soprano Meigui Zhang's creation of the character of Lucia in the Donizetti opera Lucia de Lammermoor. In Act I, the soprano has to reveal the unbalanced nature of Lucia's character in order to account for the bloody act at the end of the opera. Donizetti has given the soprano plenty to work with and Ms. Zhang's facility with fioritura made the most of it. We loved the fact that the vocal line of every verse was differentially embellished. There was no problem understanding that Lucia was hallucinating even if you didn't understand Italian. We were made to see through her eyes!

Speaking of character creation, could one imagine a slimier Don Basilio than the one created by bass Philip Cokorinos? We cannot!  "La calunnia" is a standout character aria in Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia and demands a singer who can act.  Mr. Cokorinos milked every single word of the clever lyrics with varying coloration accompanied by facial expression and gesture.

Another artist  that took our breath away was baritone Sidney Outlaw. His artistic toolbox is complete. It wasn't until he sang "Sweet Little Jesus Boy" a capella that we realized (or maybe imagined) that his singing career began with gospel singing. We heard subtle things that one cannot quite hear with accompaniment. Surely those subtleties affected his performance of "Mein Sehnen, mein Wähnen" from Korngold's Die Tote Stadt. There was a delicately drawn out "n" at the end of "sehnen"  that emphasized the longing of the character. Then, there was that final spun out "züruck" that went right to the heart. These are the subtleties that elevate a great performance into a sensational one that lingers in the memory.

Also deeply touching was soprano Mikayla Sager's delivery of Desdemona's final prayer from Verdi's Otello. Ms. Sager has a sizable soprano but can color the words to show her character's desperation, also making use of dynamic variation. It was touching and gripping at the same time.

Verdi was so adept at limning female characters and soprano Elizabeth Blancke-Biggs, accompanied by Michael Recchiuti, created a chilling Lady McBeth in "La luce langue". She was so convincing in her nastiness, conniving,  and manipulativeness that we couldn't believe her pleasant demeanor when the performance ended. We actually felt afraid of her!  Now that's another fine example of using technique to create character!

"Doppo notte" from Händel's Ariodante offers plenty of opportunity for fioritura and we enjoyed the performance of Sarah Nelson Craft as the jubilant title character celebrates some good news. There was some cross-over as well; she sang "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" as an art song, with liquid tone, variety from one verse to the next, and delightful personality.

That wasn't the only cross-over on the program.  Accompanied by John Musto, soprano Amy Burton delighted the audience with Irving Berlin's "Let's Face the Music and Dance" and "Our Love is Here to Stay" by George Gershwin.

There were two artists on the program who were new to us. The very charming mezzo-soprano Sihpokazi Molteno gave a lovely performance of Charlotte's "Va!...laissez couler mes larmes" from Massenet's Werther. This is a rich and potent voice that she colored with grief. The big surprise, however, was an aria from a Zulu opera called Princess Magogo by M. Khumalo. We didn't know that Africa had an operatic tradition so this was a real eye-opener. The language is, of course, quite foreign to our ears and makes use of an unusual sound that Ms. Molteno told me is called a. "q" and which we have been trying to recreate for the past 24 hours without success! Nonetheless, it was lovely.

The other artist new to us is tenor Limmie Pulliam who had just gone on as Radames at the Metropolitan Opera. This artist has a set of pipes and the unmistakeable sound of a great Verdi tenor. We are not going to make comparisons or tell you whose voice came to mind but once heard, it will be remembered. It is a rich and sweet instrument with a very round sound and admirable phrasing. We'd like to see him without the loathed music stand that stood in the way of communicating with the audience but one could admire the voice with eyes closed.

Ms. Flanigan closed the evening with Ned Rorem's "See How They Love Me" and Ricky Ian Gordon's tango inflected  "I Understand You Coyotes", the text of which was delivered as only Ms. Flanigan can do.

Before ending we would like to give a shot to the admirable accompanist who brought everything together, matching each singer color for color. With the exception of Ms. Blanke-Biggs and Ms. Burton he gave splendid support to all the singers.  And he did something else. He called attention to the fact that so many of Verdi's operas deal with life's injustices and addresses the victims of oppression. We love when someone gives us something to chew on! We have always loved Verdi's music but never gave a thought to the stories he chose to tell. Thank you Kamal Khan!

© meche kroop

Sunday, December 18, 2022



 Singers and Judges at Premiere Opera Foundation Vocal Competition Finals

We can't decide whether it is worse to be a competitor in a vocal competition or one of the judges. The former have to deal with anxiety and the latter, with making difficult decisions. We do not envy either! But being in the audience is a real treat; one gets to hear the finest young talent taking their shot for the big prize. After all, these 14 supremely gifted young singers are the result of a difficult winnowing process, having been chosen from 150 applicants. The Premiere Opera Foundation is unique in that winners receive not only prize money but also the opportunity to be heard by those who may hire them. It seems to be a win-win situation.

As is our wont, we will not tell you who won which prizes; to our ears they were all winners. As far as vocal technique, all were top notch. Most seemed to have a knack for choosing arias that showed off their versatility. And some of them managed to evoke the entire scene of their chosen aria without benefit of costume and scenery.

We will not pick apart each performance but rather try to come up with what is unique about each singer and we will do that in the order in which they sang. The way the competition was organized, each singer performed an aria and then, after 14 performances, each artist got a second chance to perform a different aria; so we got a fairly decent idea of their versatility. All were accompanied by the able pianist Michael Fennelly who seemed to have a knack for coloring each aria in much the same way as the singer did. This is the great mystery of artistic performance.  How do they do that????

We also wondered how the singers chose their arias. To choose an aria that is commonly sung puts the singer in competition with all the greats who have sung that aria before. What a challenge to make one's performance stand out, to bring something new to the interpretation!  On the other hand, to choose an unknown or rarely heard aria presents its own challenges.

Leading off the program was the sweet voiced tenor Randy Ho who brought exuberance to "Ah!  Mes amis" from Donizetti's  La Fille du Regiment and tenderness to "Dies bildnis ist bezaubernd schön" from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte He made the well-rehearsed gestures seem organic and spontaneous.

British mezzo-soprano Christine Byrne limned the character of Isabella in "Cruda sorte!" from Rossini's L'italiana in Algeri  by means of a richly textured instrument, which she also did as the doomed but peaceful Fenena in the lesser known aria "Oh! dischiuso è il firmamento" from Verdi's Nabucco.

Chinese soprano Yujin Zeng exhibited a lovely coloratura in "Ah! non credea mirarti..."Ah! non giunge" with a pleasing switch from a lovely legato to some fine fioritura in the cabaletta. There was a nice contrast with "Ach, ich fühl's" from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte. We wanted to bring Mr. Ho back onstage to do a Pamina/Tamino duet!

Chinese bass William Guanbo Su, long known to us, astonished us with his vocal growth in a forceful performance of "Quand la flamme de l'amour" from Bizet's La Jolie fille de Perth which was topped by "La calunnia" from Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia, a circumstance in which we preferred hearing something familiar done in a more character driven way than we have heard it before.

Kenyan tenor Lawrence Barasa Kiharangwa exhibited an ample tone in "Se all'impero amici" from Mozart's La clemenza di Tito successfully conveying the emperor's generous nature. Showing another aspect of his fine instrument, he injected all the requisite enthusiasm in Alfredo's Act II aria "De' miei bollenti spiriti...Oh mio rimorso" from Verdi's La traviata.

Chinese soprano Siyi Yan accomplished the miracle of making the clever English text of "Glitter and Be Gay" from Bernstein's Candide completely comprehensible, so unusual in that very high register. She made use of lots of gesture with each and every word. "Caro nome" from Verdi's Rigoletto was given the same highly dramatic treatment.

Mexican mezzo-soprano Rosario Hernandez Armas, well known by us and oft-reviewed, gave a touching performance of Leonora's aria "O mio Fernando" from Donizetti's La favorita. This was matched or even exceeded by the fiery "Smanie implacabili" from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte, revealing how Mozart used the vocal line to limn the character of Dorabella.

South Korean baritone Minki Hong gave a successful portrayal of the angry Ford from Verdi's Falstaff in "E sogno? O realta" which was a nice balance with the lyrical "Vision fugitive" from Massenet's Hérodiade, sung in fine French.

Soprano Avery Boettcher let out all the stops in her portrayal of the angry Donna Elvira (oh how we love those angry characters) in "In quali eccessi o numi...Mi trade quell'alma ingrata" from Mozart's Don Giovanni, letting us see the drama queen nature of the character. This was balanced by the wistful Nedda singing "Stridono lassu" from Leoncavallo's Pagliacci.

South Korean baritone Yeongtaek Yang brought humor to "Largo al factotum" from Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia and serious intent to "Nemico della patria" from Giordano's Andrea Chenier, successfully demonstrating his impressive versatility.

Tenor Anthony Ciaramitaro also showed versatility, choosing a strong Verdi character (Riccardo/Gustavo) from Un ballo in maschera singing "Ma se m'e forza perderti" with sorrowful renunciation and then singing the lighter role of Nemerino in "Una furtive lagrima" from Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore.

Cuban baritone Eleomar Cuello Calles performed "Mein sehnen mein wähnen" from Korngold's Die tote Stadt in the most perfect German we have heard from a non native German. It seemed a miracle that every vowel was given full value and every consonant was crisply enunciated. (Regular readers know how irritated we get when American singers maul the "ich" and the umlauts.) In Riccardo's aria "Ah per sempre" from Bellini's I Puritani, we heard a different style (bel canto) but much the same mood of romantic longing and disappointment.

Soprano Chelsea Lehnea tore up the stage with Violetta's Act I scene from Verdi's La traviata.  "È strano...Sempre libera" is a supreme challenge for any soprano who must show the heroine's ambivalence. The challenge was totally met in a way that far overshadowed her later performance of "I Can Smell the Sea Air" from Previn's A Streetcar Named Desire.

Canadian bass-baritone Vartan Gabrielian took command of the role of Banquo in "Come dal ciel precipita" from Verdi's Macbeth, successfully conveying the ominous mood. Aleko's Cavatina from Rachmaninoff's eponymous opera also deals with betrayal and we think Mr. Gabrielian is very good at conveying that, not from personal experience we hope!

It was such an exciting afternoon that we didn't want it to end. We are anticipating success for all of these gifted young artists and hope to see them all onstage again in the near future.

© meche kroop

Sunday, December 11, 2022


Yeong Taek Yang

Anna Maria Vacca and Huiying Chen

What a delightful night we spent at Manhattan School of Music! We are not sure we perceived it in exactly the same way as Director John de los Santos intended, but without reading his notes in advance (as is our wont) we felt free to enjoy the connection among the three French works in our own fashion.

The evening began with the one-act opera by Massenet entitled Le Portrait de Manon. How did we not know that this charming piece existed! The curtain rose on a most apt set by Ann Beyersdorfer which you can see from the photo above. Chevalier des Grieux has aged 20 years. (In this production he appears to be much older and we had no clue that he was suffering from syphilis as mentioned in the Director's Notes.)

We did see from Georges Boyer's libretto that he was grumpy and disillusioned with love, to the despair of his young ward Jean who wants to marry the lovely Aurore, ward of his friend Tiberge. Learning that she is a niece of the deceased Manon turns des Grieux around.

This slim story offered gorgeous music referring frequently to the original Manon.  Under the skilled baton of Maestro Pierre Vallet, the Manhattan School of Music Symphony created a richly textured background against which stood out a few soloists, particularly oboe and harp. Massenet's melodic music was just right for the members of the Graduate Opera Theatre.

We were greatly impressed by the performance of Yeong Taek Yang as the unhappy Chevalier. With fine vocalism and acting, he created a character that was believable and sympathetic against all odds. As Aurore, we found the brilliant soprano instrument of Huiying Chen absolutely ravishing. There was a freedom and clarity to the high lying tessitura and a winsomeness to her acting that had us rooting for her. In the breeches role of Jean, Anna Maria Vacca was convincing. The duet sung at the fountain in which the pair discuss means of suicide was magnificently harmonized and the music let us in on the hyperbolic drama of adolescents.

As the Chevalier's impecunious friend Tiberge, Moses Sunghyun Park gave a similarly fine performance. We might like to add that the French diction was excellent all around. Although our French speaking friend found fault we were delighted to have understood every word.

The eponymous portrait served an excellent purpose in joining the Massenet work to the Ibert work to follow. Following the curtain call for the Massenet, we saw a parade of women, dressed in the most gorgeous costumes of successive periods, ending with a character from the 1920's who would appear after the intermission in the Ibert piece. It was a brilliant device although the connection from the fin de siecle to the Roaring 20's seemed a bit jarring.  It was accompanied by Gabriel Fauré's Pavane in F# minor, op. 50, the choral version which gave the large chorus an opportunity to be heard, if not seen.

The Ibert piece Angélique was a real audience pleaser with plenty of imaginative eye candy. It reminded us of Francis Poulenc's Les mamelles de Tirésius which was composed two decades later but with the same absurdity. We don't find it necessary to apologize for the theme of Nino's libretto--trying to sell a disagreeable wife. It is a piece of a certain period and not meant to be taken seriously.

As the nagging aggressive wife, Emelia Petersen gave a stellar performance, performing a seductive vocalism from an open window.  Zhenpeng Zhang as her henpecked husband Boniface was funny.  James C. Harris was excellent as Charlot, Boniface's entrepreneurial friend. The three suitors that he rounded up were French clichés.  As the Italian, Benjamin Ruiz Scott was voluble; as the Englishman, Isaiah Traylor was pompous; as the American, Benjamin R. Sokol toted an outsized rifle and sported animal skins. We thought perhaps Nino was thinking of Davy Crockett.

The unsuitably named Angélique was dispatched to hell where even the devil didn't want her. Hang Su made a very fine devil indeed.The costumes were droll and the choreography clever. If you asked us about the music we couldn't tell you a thing!  With that much distraction onstage, we can't remember the music at all but we do recall that the spoken dialogue was in English and the singing was in 

It is difficult for us to think of the piece as opera or even as operetta. It struck us more as cabaret, which is not a criticism. It was, after all, very entertaining.

© meche kroop

Saturday, December 10, 2022


 Sasha Gutierrez, Rosario Hernández Armas, and Maestro Predrag Vasic

Last night was special. It isn't every night that we get to witness two of our favorite young singers make a major step forward in their careers. We have been enjoying the scintillating soprano Sasha Gutiérrez and the marvelous mezzo-soprano Rosario Armas for the past few years but we have never heard them with full symphony orchestra. There is quite a difference between hearing a singer with a pianist in a small venue and hearing that singer in a large theater with full orchestral backing.

We were more than usually impressed by the manner in which these two lovely voices floated above the orchestra. The selections were wisely chosen both in terms of repertoire that suited their voices and personalities and also for accessibility by the audience, members of which may or may not have been opera fans. We are quite sure, as evidenced by the enthusiastic applause, that more than a few audience members became opera fans on the spot! 

Each artist had a chance to shine alone as well as to exhibit her ability to share a duet with harmony of voice and spirit. "Si. Mi chiamano Mimi"  from Puccini's La Bohême can make or break a soprano so we are happy to report that Ms. Gutiérrez made a lovely Mimi. She made use of an affecting timbre and fine vibrato to limn the character of the shy seamstress introducing herself to her writer neighbor in a beguiling fashion, just short of flirtation. 

Later in the program she showed her versatility by performing  Elena's Act V aria "Mercè dilette amiche" from Verdi's I vespri Siciliani. At this point in his long compositional career, Verdi still made abundant use of bel canto ornamentation and we enjoyed the artist's facility with fioritura, especially the very fine trill. We also noted how she brought variety to each verse.

Rosario Hernández Armas has an ample voice with true mezzo-soprano texture and endows everything she sings with individuality.  Last night she gave a powerful performance of La Principessa Eboli's aria "O don fatale" from Verdi's Don Carlo which we saw last month at The Metropolitan Opera. In this aria, Eboli blames her good looks for leading her into moral difficulties. It is as emotionally demanding as it is vocally challenging and Ms. Armas met the challenge successfully. 

Fortunately we got to hear another aspect of her gifts in the "Habanera" from Bizet's Carmen, sung with self assurance in fine French. She played it straight with out indulging in the cliché of seductive posturing.  It was all in the vocal timbre which we found dusky and seductive.

Hearing the two women in duet was even more exciting. There was a lovely balance between the two in "Ah, guarda sorella" from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte. This was a perfect choice and came across as totally believable. 

The harmonies of the voices came across even more than the silliness of Ms. Gutierrez' Fiordiligi and Ms. Armas' Dorabella. It probably has not been too many years since these two young artists were that age!

The characters in the Venice act of Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffman are meant to be somewhat more mature but our two lovely ladies were just as convincing as the courtesan Giulietta and Nicklausse, Hoffman's muse. The story halts here giving time and space for this gently lulling barcarolle "Belle nuit, o nuit d'amour". Such exquisite harmonies!  Such Gallic phrasing!

The UN Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Maestro Predrag Vasić and the program contained many lively pieces suited to the holiday period, particularly waltzes from Johan Strauss Jr. 

We found pleasure also in "A Little Fanfare for a Dream", a contemporary piece by Alex Craven which was surprisingly melodic and well orchestrated. It concluded with a bright and brief brass chorale.

This was a night well spent!

© meche kroop

Friday, December 9, 2022


 2022 Class Lyric Arts Gala

An hour wasn't nearly long enough to spend with the participants of Classic Lyric Arts, an ever-growing academy of opera that makes use of total immersion summer courses in Italy, France, and lately The Berkshires to hone the skills of young emerging artists of opera and piano. Over the past few years we have delighted in the growth of the young artists as well as the growth of the foundation, helmed by Artistic Director Glenn Morton, well known as a beloved teacher and coach at all three New York City conservatories.

 We will not go on and on about the merits of the training program but rather prefer to address the results which we enjoyed in one too-short hour. The evening began with a four-handed piano introduction. What could be more spirited than the overture to Mozart's Cosi fan tutte performed by the four hands of Billie Miller and Hannah Comia!

This led right into the charming Act I scene of this opera in which Ferrando and Guglielmo are interacting with the older wiser Don Alfonso. Tenor Bradyn Debysingh used his bright flexible tenor to create the character of Ferrando whilst Kevin Jasaitis' generous baritone joined in as Guglielmo.  And who should appear as Don Alfonso?  None other than the promising Christopher Lau whom we just heard as Giove in the Mannes production of La Calisto. Low voices like his take a bit longer to mature but we can already foresee a fine future for him. 

Mascagni's L'amico Fritz is not performed as often as it should be and the charming scene between Fritz and Suzel --"Suzel, buon di" was brought to life by the equally charming soprano Maia Sumanaweera and her courtly Fritz, sung by Samuel Ng. They evinced a lovely shy interaction with plenty of romantic undertones.

After all that excellent Italian diction, we were ready to hear the fine French of Charlotte Bagwell as Ophelia, and Wesley Diener as Hamlet in "Doute la lumière" from Ambroise Thomas' eponymous opera.  Ms. Bagwell successfully conveyed Ophelia's innocence whilst Mr. Diener created a nuanced portrait of the conflicted Hamlet. 

Doohyun Yoon's full tenor was employed with subtle dynamics in "Non piangere Liu" from Puccini's Turandot. It is courageous for a young singer to tackle an aria that is so famous, so beloved, and so often heard sung by great voices.  Mr. Yoon never shrank from the challenge and delivered a fine performance.

We love Bellini for his long lines and consider them a challenge for young singers. What a pleasure to hear soprano Jihye Seo as the eponymous Norma and mezzo soprano Monique Galvâo do justice to "Mira o Norma". The harmonies were exquisite and the astute dynamic variety made the most of this glorious duet.

Composer Jake Landau shared his composition "Mary's Song", setting a text by Marion Angus which was sung by Johanna Will. The piano writing struck us as dynamic and colorful.

The forbidden love of Nadir and the Hindu priestess Leila in "Ton coeur n'a pas compris le mien" from Bizet's Les pêcheurs de perles was expressed by soprano Julianne Casey and Mr. Debysingh;  in this tender duet  the two begin tentatively distanced and gradually move closer as emotions are given their due. The French was excellent and gave evidence of some fine coaching, for which CLA is known.

Der Rosenkavalier is one of our favorite operas and the trio of The Marschallin, Octavian, and Sophie is one of the grandest numbers in the operatic canon. What a treat to hear three young women perform it so splendidly-- soprano Hannah Cho as the gracious Marschallin, Ms. Sumanaweera as the innocent Sophie, and mezzo-soprano Arianna Paz as the bewildered and ambivalent Octavian. Xu Cheng made a special contribution at the piano, replacing Strauss' demanding but lavish orchestration.

In the scene from Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann ("Chère Enfant), we almost missed the marvelous vocalism, captivated as we were by Henry Griffin's mesmerizing.  maliciousness as Dr. Miracle. Soprano Sara Mortensen made an affecting Antonia, the sickly singer who would lose her life when driven to sing by Dr. Miracle's conjuring of her dead mother, played by Emily Gehman. What a splendid trio!

The entertainment was brought to a close by an ensemble singing "C'est la fiesta bohémienne" from an operetta by Lopez called La belle de Cadix. We have never even heard of this mid-20th c. operetta and may never get to see the entire work but we certainly did enjoy this rousing finale to such a delightful hour spent with these up-and-coming young artists. 

Piano accompaniment was provided by Mr. Cheng, Ms. Miller, Ms. Comia, and She-Yuan Ma.

We heard so much potential, so much evidence of hard work and dedication. Not all of these young artists will become stars, since talent and hard work are not enough; luck, grim determination, and good management also play a part. However, we are pleased to note the impressive success already achieved on the world stage by graduates of the CLA program.

Every year, one of the graduates gets to give a brief talk about how these summer programs have affected their artistic development. This year it was Ms. Galvão who shared her experience of cultural immersion in France, giving a joyful picture of exposure to culture as well as language.

May CLA continue to thrive and grow! May financial support increase! May a new crop of young artists get to participate in this valuable experience!

© meche kroop

Tuesday, December 6, 2022


 Emmanuelle de Negri

Every time Opera Lafayette makes their way north from our nation's capitol to The Big Apple, they have something unique to offer; it is always educational as well as entertaining. On this occasion, they brought Emmanuel de Negri to coach some young singers in the art of singing Baroque arias. The coaching was meticulous, worthwhile, and offered with humor and warm support. If anyone knows more about this art form than Ms. de Negri, we would be astonished to hear it. 

At the end of the masterclass we felt in a position to appreciate music that has seemed to us heretofore as pleasant but uninvolving.  Au contraire, dear reader! When properly performed it is as exciting as bel canto. It seems as if the more techniques singers have in their toolbox, the greater variety and interest they will be able to bring to their selections. We learned that in the Baroque period, singers improvised their own decorations of the vocal line, which was, in the Bel Canto period, written down by the composer. We believe that the cadenze of arias are, to this day, devised by the singers, an interesting holdover.

Many performers of Baroque music hew to a dry style of singing which sounds boring to our ears. Who's to say what it sounded like several centuries ago? We prefer to agree with those who achieve a dramatic and involving style of singing, as we heard the other night.

The first singer to be coached Grégorio Tanaguchi chose an aria from a cantata by Monteverdi in which Amor and Bacchus have an argument. (Somehow, this made us think of the singing competition in Mahler's lied "Lob des hohen Verstands".) There is plenty of back and forth and opportunities for dramatic voicing. It sounded quite good at first, but with some of the finer points shared by Ms. de Negri, it became dramatically valid and vocally more interesting.

Soprano Rachel di Blasio was coached in "Di misera regina" from Monteverdi's Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria and we observed how some finer points could express Penelope's complex emotions more effectively.

Mezzo-soprano Naomi Steele received coaching for "Iris, hence away!" from Händel's Semele. We appreciated her crisp diction and enjoyed hearing how variations in the decorations could be used playfully to make the performance more interesting.

All three singers were superb in their initial run through; and yet we were impressed with Ms. de Negri's coaching that took these excellent performances to an entirely new level. What a feel this artist has for Baroque.  We don't think we will ever hear this music the same way as we did before!

© meche kroop

Monday, December 5, 2022



Baritone Suchan Kim

Collaborative Pianist Eric Sedgwick

We hold 19th c. art songs in high esteem and have nothing but bitter scorn for any singer that fails to do them justice. On the other hand, when we hear a singer who shows us something new or something deeper, we want to fall to our knees in gratitude.

Last night at Opera America, we were gifted an evening of song cycles by Naama Zahavi-Ely that left us not only fulfilled but also transported.

Until last night, we had considered Schumann's Dichterliebe in somewhat second place to Schubert's Winterreise and Die Schöne Mullerin.

The performance of the Schumann by baritone Suchan Kim bumped it up to first place. It was so affecting that we needed to go out for a little tearful moment at the conclusion. Heinrich Heine's poetry seemed channeled through Schumann's music and then through Mr. Kim's performance so that we literally felt the many emotions expressed in a soul-to-soul fashion that is rarely achieved in a concert space.

A song cycle is actually a duet for voice and piano in which the piano part sometimes supports the text, sometimes alternates with the text, and sometimes tells us what the text is trying to hide. Collaborative pianist Eric Sedgwick added immeasurably to the effect. The "Dichter" of the title is not telling a story consecutively as is the storyteller in Die Schöne Mullerin. He is rather presenting the many aspects of a love affair gone wrong as in the kaleidoscope of memory;  fragments of emotions return to haunt the disappointed lover. He remembers the joys, the excitement, the betrayals, the resentments, the jealousy, the feigned indifference, the rage, the unwanted dreams of happier times, the attempts to forget, and all other aspects of dealing with grief.

In a performance like this, the listener can get wrapped up in what appears to be spontaneous but is actually the product of hours upon hours of work on the vocal aspects, the phrasing, the breathing, the language, the dynamics, etc. In a great performance the listener can forget all that and feel the emotions. However, due to the unavailability of titles, we couldn't help but notice how perfekt was the German diction. We understood every word. Final consonants were given their due and the terminal "ich" was never slighted.Our companion does not speak German but the storytelling took place in the voice and it was easy to grasp each emotion in its turn.

The power of this performance and its affect on us left us ill-equipped to change gears and focus on the second half of the evening as intently as it deserved. It was a tough act to follow, as they say. Soprano Kinneret Ely (pictured abovehas a bright tone and a most charming manner that lends itself well to the French repertoire. Berlioz' Les nuits d'ete seems more a collection of songs than a unified cycle and indeed we have heard these chansons sung separately more often than together.

The cheerful "Villanelle" and the fragrant "Le spectre de la rose" (the poetry of which inspired Michel Fokine to choreograph a ballet for Diaghilev) made small inroads on our dark mood. The subsequent "Sur les lagunes", "Absence", and "Au cimitière" were sorrowful but the ending "L'île inconnue" lifted our spirits with its playful tone. The cycle is marked by wide leaps and a wide range, a challenge for the singer to keep the voice centered throughout the entire register. In the upper register it is difficult to understand the words, a problem not unique to this artist but rather universal.

Mr. Kim returned to perform another cycle we love--Mahler's Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen. It shares with the Schumann the Romantic period focus on intense love and the despair of a spurned lover. Much has been written about the wandering keys of the four songs in the cycle and the autobiographical nature of the lyrics written by Mahler himself.

We would like to hear Mr. Kim perform this cycle in the future. It seemed as if he had not worked on it sufficiently. There was nothing wrong with the vocalism but the rare glances at the score of the Schumann were replaced here by frequent glances which broke the emotional connection.

Mr. Sedgwick's playing was consistently magnificent throughout the evening and always supported the singers. We left contented.

© meche kroop


 Students of Undergraduate Opera Theatre at Manhattan School of Music

"Brush up Your Shakespeare" from Cole Porter's Kiss Me Kate ws indeed the encore number of Scena Shakespearean: Scenes by the Bard and a clever choice indeed to end a delightful evening of scenes conceived and directed by A. Scott Parry who seemed to know exactly what to do with these talented youngsters, giving so many of them time onstage. It was difficult to decide who had more fun, the students or the audience.

Scenes were chosen from among works created in the 17th c. right up to the present time and languages included not only English (of course) but also German, French, and Italian. Coaches who accompanied the scenes were Travis Bloom, Djordje Nesic, and Chun-Wei Kang. There was no costuming and no sets; just a couple of benches and a stepladder. It was the fine direction, singing, and acting that provided such delight.

There were way too many admirable performances in the twelve scenes for us to single out any individuals so we will just share with you which scenes we enjoyed the most. Tops on the list was the final fugue from Verdi's Falstaff. Young singers rarely get to tackle anything by Verdi so it came as a delightful surprise. We have never taught or coached singers but we can't help wondering why, in a small hall and no orchestra over which to project, young singers cannot be given the Verdian experience. We would have loved to have heard the three witches from Macbeth, for example, or something from Otello.

On the other hand, the finale from Thomas Adès The Tempest has a stratospheric tessitura that was a bit much to tackle. What we most enjoyed was the terpsichorean Ariel. We heard a potential Queen of the Night.

We suppose these young singers will have to deal with contemporary music (more's the pity) but Anthony Davis' score for Lear on the 2nd Floor seemed to have nothing to do with Shakespeare and everything to do with a jagged unmusical vocal line.

Far better was the Act II trio from Berlioz' Béatrice et Bénedict in which the three young women filled the performing space with resonant overtones, so pleasing to the ear. Similarly the duet finale from Händel's Giulio Cesare had some gorgeous harmonies, as did the selections from Nicolai's Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor.

As far as more recent works, the prize goes to Bernstein's West Side Story in which Stephen Sondheim's lyrics and Bernstein's music joined to create what we consider a 20th c. American opera. Argue with us if you must!

© meche kroop

Thursday, December 1, 2022


 Natalie Lewis, Shavon Lloyd, Brian Zeger, Shelén Hughes, and Colin Aikins

Masks off!!!!  Time to give Juilliard the attention they deserve.  After such a lengthy covid-induced hibernation, how happy we were to watch four gifted students showing off what this incomparable institution has to offer. Last week we reviewed some superb singers doing justice to Händel's glorious music in Atalanta and this week we had a grand time at the annual Juilliard Songfest.  

Brian Zeger, Artistic Director of the Marcus Institute for Vocal Arts, has lent his formidable collaborative piano artistry to some of the world's greatest voices; he offered no less to these post-graduate students. We loved his idea for the first half of the program--that of letting  the four singers choose their own programs.  Long ago, when Isabel Leonard was being coached by Maestro James Levine in a master class, he dropped some words of wisdom.  "Sing what you love!" Hearing these singers performing songs of their own choosing gave us a glimpse into their inner lives.

Leading off was soprano Shelén Hughes who impressed us as a student at Manhattan School of Music when she performed the lead in Snegurochka, Rimsky-Korsakov's opera of the same name (known in English as The Snow Maiden). This review is available by using the search bar. At the above-mentioned performance of Atalanta, she shone in the eponymous lead role. At this Songfest, her personal choice was Joseph Canteloube's Chants d'Auvergne.

Ms. Hughes' connection with the material was a deeply felt one. The dialect is strange and difficult to understand without looking at the program; but the several stories came across by virtue of the artist's winning personality and artistic choices. Regular readers know how much we love folk songs for their memorable melodies and simple direct meaning. In "Baïlero" we particularly responded to the nonsense syllables which reminded us of "scat" in the jazz realm. What an opportunity to show off exemplary bel canto technique expressively used to convey emotion. 

The emotion of "La delaïssádo" was a mournful one, painting a portrait of an abandoned maiden.  In "Lo fiolairé" Ms. Hughes flirtatiously portrayed a frivolous girl who gives two kisses to the boy who asks for one. We had a smile from ear to ear. The cycle ended with a paean to the joys of female singlehood.

Next on the program was Shavon Lloyd whose richly textured baritone lent gravitas to text by Langston Hughes set by Leslie Adams. A composer himself, Mr. Lloyd clearly responded to this music and sang with conviction. Text by Georgia Douglas Johnson, "The Heart of a Woman", had a satisfying rhyme scheme, as did "Creole Girl" with text by Leslie Morgan Collins.  What we observed about Mr. Lloyd's fine technique was the strong connection between his rich round sound and his precise embouchure. This is something we never noticed before and we love learning new aspects of technique. We might add that every single word was intelligible, a rare quality on which we place a high value.

Tenor Colin Aikins's performance also taught us something new--that a supernal performance can change our opinions. When we saw the program our first impression was one of despair. We have complained bitterly about composers setting prose because it's never musical and the vocal lines are not interesting. We gritted our teeth when we saw a cycle called Dear Theo, settings of Vincent van Gogh's letters to his brother, adapted and set by Ben Moore. We were sure to be bored.

Not only were we not bored, we were riveted. We experienced Mr. Moore's composition as music to support an intense monologue that was delivered so dramatically by Mr. Aikens that it seemed he was channeling the painter, expressing the intense joys and despairs of a seriously troubled artist; and he did so with impeccable diction. This was one of those performances for which our impoverished words are no match. It was unforgettable!

Finally we heard mezzo-soprano Natalie Lewis perform four songs from Gustav Mahler's Rückert-Lieder, omitting only the transcendent "Um Mitternacht". Mahler's music always has a profound effect on us with his memorable melodic lines and pungent harmonies. We tried to figure out what disappointed us about the vocal performance. Did we mind that the songs were not sung in the compositional order, nor the publication order? We don't think so.

Was the German muddled? No. As a matter of fact we did understand every word. Our German companion noticed that the ending consonants were crisply and accurately enunciated, although we both noticed the inconsistent enunciation of the terminal "ich" which seems to create problems for many American singers.

We found ourselves listening more to Mr. Zeger's piano--the earnestness of "Liebst du um Schönheit", the gentle airy lyricism of "Ich atmet' einen linden Duft", the hidden humor in "Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder", and the quiet resignation of "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen".

It is just a speculation on our part but perhaps, although Ms. Lewis enjoys singing these songs, the singer needs more age and experience to do them justice. We have never felt this when hearing a young tenor tackling Schubert's two song cycles --Die Schöne Mullerin and Winterreise.

We had no such problem enjoying Ms. Lewis' charming performances of several selections from Hugo Wolf's Italienisches Liederbuch in the second half of the program. We have always been tickled by these miniature portraits of young lovers with all of their longings and adolescent angst. We are not familiar with the original Italian folk songs but the translation into German by Paul Heyse both rhymes and scans and surely inspired Wolf to write these accessible songs.

Mr. Zeger's idea to stage them with all four singers onstage interacting with one another was a clever one and added a new dimension. Ms.Lloyd seemed far more comfortable here and we were able to enjoy her ample sound and on point acting. There was courtship aplenty, jealousy, rejection, and every other shade of emotion found in early experimental relationships. We have never enjoyed this cycle more than we did with these four artists bringing the songs to life. They brought the evening to a satisfying close with "Nun lass uns Frieden schliessen".

© meche kroop

Sunday, November 27, 2022



Manli Deng, Yohji Daquio, Hyunju Ha, Allison Deady, Madison Marie McIntosh, Elizveta Ulakhovich, Jingjing Qi, Caroline Corrales, Rose Kearin, and Samuel White

It's always an exciting event when the finals of a competition are open. We were delighted to have been invited to The Century Opera Voice Competition to hear ten fine young singers. The singers each led off with an aria of their own choosing; then the judges requested another aria from their lists of prepared arias, presumably to learn something new about the singer, perhaps facility in a different style or different language. We enjoyed this rounding out of the picture. 

We do not envy the judges since each young singer offered something valuable. And so, we will not tell you, dear Reader, who won the prizes because they were, in our eyes (and ears) all winners! We will tell about the young artists in the order in which they appeared. 

First on the program was soprano Rose Kearin who did justice to "Ach, ich liebte" from Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail, sung in good crisp German.  We regretted missing Adelaide's Aria from Jonathan Dove's The Enchanted Pig, since we had never heard it before and might never have another opportunity.

Also superb in German was mezzo-soprano Allison Deady who gave a passionate delivery of Octavian's post-coital aria "Wie du warst!" from Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier. Equally fine in Italian, she sang "All'afflitto è dolce il pianto" from Donizetti's Roberto Devereux, meeting the fioritura challenge with grace.

We hadn't heard enough of soprano Caroline Corrales at the Santa Fe Opera when she sang Donna Elvira (in a nun's habit) so we were especially delighted to get a better "listen". Her sizable sound was perfect for Verdi and "Ernani, Ernani involami" was thrilling. Ms. Corrales is an emotional singer and Jenufa's prayer from the Janáček opera of the same name was stirring. We cannot comment on the language because we are completely ignorant of Czech.

"Stridono lassù" from Leoncavallo's  Pagliacci is one of our favorite verismo arias and soprano Manli Deng created a lovely sound world including a delicate trilll. Massenet's Le Cid, however, is not well known by us, but Ms. Deng evinced some fine sounding French in "Pleurez, mes yeux". Her use of dynamics were effective in eliciting emotion.

"Chi il bel sogno di Doretta" from Puccini's La Rondine was a much better choice for soprano Jingjing Qi than "Sleeping Beauty" from Menotti's The Hero. It is difficult enough for native English speakers to sing musically in English! However, there was a heart-stopping decrescendo that tickled the ear.

Soprano Hyunju Ha invested "Ah, non credea mirarti" from Bellini's La Sonnambula with dynamic variety, fine fioritura, and an affecting vibrato. In the exposed passage without piano accompaniment we could appreciate the musicality of her phrasing. Although her second selection was not listed on the program, the choice of Sophie's "Rose Aria" from Der Rosenkavalier came as a delightful surprise, sung with wide-eyed innocence in fine German. They were good choices because they demonstrated her versatility.

Tenor Samuel White was the lone male on the program and he showed his stuff in the "Flower Aria" from Bizet's Carmen and an intense delivery of "Una parola sola..Or son sei mesi",  Ramerrez' aria from Act II of Puccini's Fanciulla del West. Mr. White has a powerful voice and we longed to hear some tenderness in places.

We would like to hear soprano Elizveta Ulakhovich on another occasion. There is a lot o beauty of tone there but her choices did not seem suitable to us. Micaela's "Je dis que rien ne m'épouvant" from Bizet's Carmen requires a singer who can sound like an innocent country girl pushed to the limits of her fearfulness, a sense of "whistling in the dark". It wasn't there. Ms. Ulakhovich projects an air of confident glamor and we could think of far better material for her to sing.

Mezzo-soprano Madison Marie McIntosh, on the other hand, knows exactly where her strengths lay and how to play to them. She has a voice of unusual and exciting timbre with great flexibility in fioritura. "O mio Fernando" from Donizetti's La favorita is the perfect vehicle to show off her finely honed bel canto technique. The judges requested "Un'altra volta ancor" from Händel's Partenope which was just as splendidly performed; however, we would have much preferred to hear Waltraute's aria "Höre mir Sinn was ich dir sage" from Wagner's Götterdammerung. We hope we will have another opportunity.

Finally, soprano Yohji Daquio did get the opportunity to show off her versatility by performing two very different characters, the sprightly Marie from Donizetti's La fille du regiment showing her patriotism in "Salut a la France" with all its fabulous fioritura--and then meeting head on "I am the Wife of Mao Tse-Tung" from Adams' Nixon in China. This aria involves a lot of rage and repetition and it takes a gifted singer to make it interesting. She succeeded. We were floored.

© meche kroop

Sunday, November 20, 2022


 Curtain Call from La Calisto presented by Mannes Opera

Last night we attended a performance of Francesco Cavalli's l651 opera La Calisto, presented by Mannes Opera and directed most imaginatively by Emma Griffin. We don't know why all three opera conservatories in New York City chose to present a Baroque opera during the same time period; we thought we had had our fill and had no intention of writing another review. We only went to see the performance of a couple singers we admire. However, we were so taken with the production and the artistry of the singers and musicians that we feel compelled to share it with you, dear reader. If you read this too late to see it in person, we urge you to watch the livestream on December 2.

 We were amazed by the endurance of so many aspects of love that have remained unchanged for  four centuries. The stage was filled with nymphs and satyrs, gods and goddesses--strange figures to be sure; and yet their concerns are our concerns today.  The social media generation did not invent unfulfilled romantic longing, sexual dalliances overcoming chaste intentions, rejection, cross-dressing, lesbian love, romantic deception, cheating husbands, nor vengeful wives. There was something particularly thrilling about seeing ourselves onstage in a work dating back four centuries.  Not just thrilling but moving as well. Love and sex will always be with us until the robots take over!

It is difficult to believe that this marvelous work lay dormant until 1970.  How fortunate we are that it was discovered and revived.  It lets us in on what the mid 17th c. Venetians expected from a rather new and popular art form. Cavalli was there at the birth of opera!

Impresario/librettist Giovanni Faustini had created many operas with Cavalli; this one was their penultimate production. The story was derived from Ovid's Metamorphosis and recounts the myth of Giove pretending to be the goddess Diana in order to seduce the beautiful chaste Calisto. The tale is padded out with the love story between the real Diana and the shepherd Endimione. In every case, chastity falls under the weight of sexual desire. 

The wily Mercurio (fine and funny tenor Daniel Rosenberg) convinces Giove (authoritative baritone Christopher Lau) that persuasion is no match for deception when trying to seduce a woman. Their duet was musically gorgeous and also quite humorous. 

In the title role, lovely soprano Anna Aistova sang about wanting to lead a chaste life, devoted to the goddess Diana.  Giove transforms himself into Diana (beautifully sung by soprano Lindsey Kanaga) and successfully seduces her. The two women had a tender duet before entering a cave to exchange chaste kisses (which led to much more).

When the real Diana appears (Jihye Seo) her voice and gestures are very different and there is no doubt that she is the real thing. When Calisto refers to their makeout session, Diana is outraged by the inference and tosses Calisto out of the virginal sisterhood. 

Diana, on her part, is secretly in love with the shepherd Endimione (Elisse Albian) who expresses his longing for her in the most exquisite aria.

In a scene offering comic relief, Maia Sumanaweera portrayed Linfea, one of Diana's followers, who longs for romance. In spite of her desperation, there is no way Linfea is going to settle for the importuning of Satirino (Emmet Solomon), even though he tells her that while young, his tail is still growing!  He is a member of a clutch of satyrs, of which the leader is the god Pane, portrayed by Joohyun Kim. As Silvano, one of the satyrs, we enjoyed hearing Yuan Lai.

We were met with new delights as Giunone, the jealous wife of Giove, appeared to expose her husband's infidelity.  The stunning soprano Marieke de Koker just about stole the show as she gave her all to the revenge aria, in which she instructs women not to put up with philandering husbands but rather to take revenge.  Her particular revenge is to transform Calisto into a bear. Giove cannot undo this curse but finds his beloved Calisto a place in the firmament as the constellation Ursa Major, a condition foretold in the Prologue.

The Prologue was outstanding with soprano Yixuan Li taking the role of L'Eternita, soprano Jillian Agona appearing as Il Destino, and mezzo-soprano Morena Galan taking the role of La Natura. In a stunning opening scene the three women decide that Calisto deserves her place in the heavens. 

Taking the roles of The Furies were Olivia Gray and Anna Ruhland.

Emma Griffin, Managing Artistic Director of Mannes Opera, pulled exemplary performances from these gifted young singers and told the tale in a way that resonated with contemporary listeners, without robbing the work of its authenticity. Cavalli's music is very singable and  a small chamber orchestra, such as was heard in its own time, did full justice to Cavalli's writing, led by the rising star conductor Kamna Gupta.

We do not know who was responsible for the costuming and makeup but both contributed enormously to the effectiveness of the storytelling. What impressed us the most was how these wonderful singers are also terrific actors, especially in the comic roles.  We could see both the mythic characters and ourselves simultaneously!

© meche kroop

Saturday, November 19, 2022


 Curtain call for brilliant cast members of Graduate Opera Theater

The title was longer than the opera!  Rarely do we wish an opera was longer but in this case it was over too soon. La liberation di Ruggiero dall'isola d'Alcina was composed in 1625 by Francesca Caccini, daughter of the famous Giulio Caccini who sired and taught two talented daughters and composed our favorite Baroque art song "Amarilli, mia Bella". 

When we first arrived in Manhattan we were exposed to an all-day outdoor production of Ariosto's epic Orlando furioso, and since then have seen operas based on the work from time to time. In this case, librettist Ferdinando Saracinelli extracted an episode dealing with the knight Ruggiero who abandoned his intended Bradamante and his military duties by virtue of--no by vice of--the seductive sorceress Alcina who seduces men and then turns them into beasts--in this case plants.

The "good" sorceress Melissa disguises herself as Ruggiero's father, breaks the spell, and frees Ruggiero to take up the sword once more and reunite with Bradamante. Then Melissa frees the enchanted plants and banishes the furious Alcina.

We read the director's notes after the performance as is our wont. James Blaszko had some interesting intentions of a political and sociological nature which seemed, in our opinion, a bit too heavy for this slight work to bear. We were happy to hear the gorgeous music and feast our eyes on a most imaginative production with stunning costumes. Mr. Blaszko deserves maximum credit for avoiding the trend of excessive stage business distracting from the singers, a defect in the recent Juilliard production of Atalanta.

As Alcina, Madison Marie Fitzpatrick gave a stunning performance, utilizing similar techniques as heard in bel canto singing to limn a deceitful character who is capable of lulling seductivenes in the early scenes and ravishing rage at the end when she loses everything. As Melissa, Margaret Macaira Shannon gave a performance of towering force with notable depth in the lower register. 

Justin E. Bell's performance was just right for the hapless Ruggiero, tender in the love scenes and ending up as a stalwart warrior.

Alcina's three handmaidens, in some gender blind casting, were portrayed by Zihan Xiu, Haolun Zhang, and Chenxin Wang. To hear the close harmonies of three high voices was unusual and stunning.

We are not sure what a "Scenic Coordinator" does that is different from a Set Designer but Rodrigo Hernandez Martinez might have been responsible for the several steel tables on which lay the "plants", injured and bandaged and tenderly watered and cared for by the three sirens. It was an arresting image and brought to mind how people give up power to be taken care of.

First and foremost in a work like this is the instrumentation and its execution. In this case Maestro Jorge Parodi used his magic hands to elicit some gorgeous playing by a small ensemble comprising a trio of violins, cello, double bass, and a pair of flutes plus a guitar. Continuo for the lengthy recitativi was performed by Jeanne-Minette Cilliers.

The imaginative costumes were designed by Christopher Metzger. They were colorful, interesting, and of no particular time or place.

We left thinking about some things that the director never intended. There is a parallel between this work and Wagner's Tannhäuser in which a man is torn between love/sex (bad) and knightly duties (good). This is pretty strange in today's world but, as they say, autre temps, autre moeurs. In our lifetime it has been more like "make love, not war".

When Signora Caccini wrote this piece, as a casual piece d'occasion for a visiting Polish prince, could she have possibly imagined that an audience of opera lovers would be sitting enchanted for a single hour? Can our music world today produce anything that will survive four centuries? This thought gave us chills.

© meche kroop