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, October 26, 2022



Sarah Fleiss, Lucy Baker, Joseph Tancredi, and Eric Owens

What a magical evening we spent in the company of four artists from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, on tour as part of Curtis on Tour. Led by esteemed bass-baritone Eric Owens, who graduated from the Curtis Institute a quarter century ago and who now serves on their faculty, three emerging artists dazzled us with their artistry. Mr. Owens' legendary gifts have been sufficiently recognized and treasured worldwide, so let us focus on the three young artists who seem to have profited enormously by his tutelage.

Let us begin by praising the program which contained not a single disappointment. There was something for every taste--art songs, folk songs, cabaret songs, musical theater songs, and of course a couple operatic scenes. The theme of the evening seemed to be love in all of its many manifestations--the longing, the satisfaction, the disappointments.

Who beside Brahms has brought so much artistry to the folk song! We never pass up an opportunity to hear his Liebeslieder Waltzer, Op. 52, but are far less familiar with his Neue Liebeslieder Walzer, Op. 65. We imagine that the first collection was so successful that Brahms was urged to set more of Georg Friedrich Daumer's text. (The final song of the group was written to text by Goethe but it was not included.)

Accompanied by 4-handed piano (Ting Ting Wong and Miloš Repicky) The soprano of Sarah Fleiss blended beautifully with Lucy Baker's mezzo-soprano, Joseph Tancredi's tenor, and Mr. Owens' bass-baritone. Each song offered a different combination of voices and therefore different textures. 

The solos were particularly poignant, especially those given to Ms. Fleiss which seemed to emphasize the woes of a maiden unsuccessful at love--"An Jeder Hand die Finger" in which a maiden has bestowed all her rings on worthless men, and in "Rosen steckt mir an die Mutter", in which she sees herself wilting and stripped of leaves like a rose.  This characterization would be repeated at the conclusion of the evening when she sang a most pathetic Gilda in the quartet from Verdi's Rigoletto.

Ms. Baker was very well suited to the role of temptress in "Wahre, wahre deine Sohn" in which she tells a neighbor that she is going to bewitch her son. Later, she would be similarly seductive as Maddalena. Hearing the two women bring Sophie and Octavian to life in "Mir ist die Ehre widefahren" from Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier was all one could wish for and gave the two of them an opportunity to interact, which was not possible in the Brahms. 

When a performance is that exquisite, the mind's eye supplies the costumes and settings and we were transported right into 19th c. Vienna. The two women sounded so harmonious together that we longed to hear them sing "Dôme épais le jasmin" from Delibes' Lakme. We are putting that on our wish list! 

We were also happy to hear all voices together in a few of the songs and cannot think of any work written for four voices that we enjoy more . None of the songs were written for two male voices but we did get to hear Mr. Tancredi and Mr. Owens harmonize in double delight with "Au fond du temple saint" from Bizet's Les Pêcheurs de perles, our favorite duet for male voices. 

We noticed a few things about Mr. Tancredi that augurs well for his future success. One is his vocal artistry; few tenors produce such round Italianate vowels, which we attribute to his consistent embouchure. There is no "spreading" and no forcing--rather, complete security of technique. We have reviewed Mr. Tancredi as an undergraduate at Manhattan School of Music where we noticed his promise. Again we observed his growth as a Santa Fe Apprentice in 2019. Nothing makes us happier than seeing growth in an artist. The other thing we appreciated was his total immersion in the character of Nadir. We saw the temple and the crowd through his eyes-- and that is the excitement of opera!

We have also heard Ms. Fliess  a few years ago, singing a duet from Rossini's Tancredi, singing the title role as a mezzo-soprano. We were surprised to hear her as a soprano but happy to report that the high notes are crystalline and unforced. It will be interesting to see where she goes next. Her duet with Mr. Tancredi from Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel was a joy to hear.

Ms. Baker is new to us and we can hardly wait to hear her again. Aside from a lovely instrument she knows how to get a song across and we delighted in her delivery of "Langsamer Walzer" from Schoenberg's Brettl Lieder which is also known as "Den Spiegel von Arkadien" which we alway call "the Bum bum song". Her interpretation was highly dramatic and filled with humor, making every word count.

We have alluded to the closing number, the famous quartet from Rigoletto and it was the perfect way to end this varied program, leaving us with the impression that great voices and great music need not be categorized. Art song or folk song, aria or cabaret, just sing it with style and substance and we are happy.

© meche kroop

Friday, October 21, 2022


 Larisa Martinez and Joshua Bell
(photo by Shervin Lainez)

It is rare to find a concert as well planned and exquisitely performed as last night's "Voice and the Violin" at the Kaufmann Concert Hall of the 92nd St. Y. We were thinking "Divine Duo" for the title of our review but that would have neglected the exceptional collaboration of pianist Peter Dugan, so well remembered from his Juilliard days. Much pandemic labor went into researching works for violin and voice and in adapting works for this combination. This would seem to be a labor of love--love between husband (violinist Joshua Bell) and wife (soprano Larisa Martinez), since this beautiful pair of artists are indeed wed. The pacing of this concert held us spellbound from beginning to end and left us feeling elevated.

The concert opened with a rarely heard work by Mendelssohn entitled Infelice. Musical scholars claim that the work comprises two separate works written in two different periods but both are settings of text by Pietro Metastasio and both were written in the same key. Perhaps this would explain why the audience burst into applause after the recitativo. In any case, it is a lovely concert aria and allowed Mr. Bell and Mr. Dugan to create an entire orchestra to back up Ms. Martinez' astute handling of the two sections, particularly the urgency of the cabaletta. We admired the fineness of the trills and the drawn out diminuendo of the conclusion.

Ernest Bloch's "Nigun" from Baal Shem alternated sorrowful melodies with aspirational ones; forcefulness was met with delicacy in rapid alternation. We know little about violin performance but couldn't help noticing how much like the human voice it is--but also capable of something else that is beyond the reach of the voice, the double stop. Although ignorant of violin technique, we are capable of recognizing and appreciating artistry which Mr. Bell has in spades, as they say.

The eponymous heroine of Massenet's Manon begins her journey as a wide-eyed impressionable convent-bound young woman and Ms. Martinez's acting here was just as exceptional as her vocal artistry. She created a very believable character, so believable that our mind's eye supplied the town square and the coach! There was something else that impressed us. The artist gave a glimmer of the wildness behind the innocence, hinting at what would follow. What a performance!

In Ferdinand Hérold's. "Jours de mon enfance" from Le pré aux clercs, the gorgeous melodies bounced back and forth between violin and soprano, made delicious by the rapport between the two artists. If Mr. Dugan was denied the benefit of eye contact, he never faltered in his support of the other two artists.

Chopin's Nocturne in E-flat Major, Op. 9, No. 2 is one of our favorite works and to hear Mr. Bell play his own arrangement, with Mr. Dugan relegated to a supportive role, was a revelation. It allowed us to hear the piece with fresh ears and to realize the very different colors and capabilities of two different instruments.

Ms. Martínez voice and personality were perfect for the Iberian inflected. "Les filles de Cadix" by Delibes. Her highly spirited performance was countered by dreamy delicacy in her performance of Richard Strauss' "Morgen".

Mr. Bell's performance of Henryk Wieniawski's  Scherzo-Tarantelle, Op. 16 showed off his astonishing technique, driving the audience wild. We might mention here how much we appreciated the unassuming manner in which he addressed the audience, sharing with us that he played this piece as a 12-year-old. The achieved intimacy belied the size of the packed auditorium and we felt as if we were in a salon in our own home.

Our lovely soprano took over with a rapid fire performance of the lively "Zapateado" from Gerónimo Giménez' zarzuela , La Tempranica. Regular readers will recall how enthusiastic we are about zarzuela

We enjoyed Narciso Figueroa's "Mi Rancho" so much that we were inspired to learn something about him. Ms. Martínez is rightfully proud of her Puerto Rican heritage and what a good choice it was to share a work by her homeland's Father of Danzas, as he is called. The work she sang comes from a set of four songs entitled Cuatro Decímas and we want to hear the other three!  Mr. Figueroa was born to a Puerto Rican dynasty of musicians, studied classical composition in Europe and returned home to Puerto Rica to apply what he learned to his country's folkloric musical traditions and to assume a position as professor and director of the piano department of the Conservatory of Music of Puerto Rico, a position which he held for many years.

The evening ended with West Side Story Suite, an arrangement of Leonard Bernstein's opera by Brohn and Czarnecki. The violin introduction sounded uncomfortably dissonant to our ears but once Ms. Martínez started to sing (both female parts) we grew to love it. We were ready to leave on a "high" but our vivacious soprano took us even higher with a work well suited to her beauty--"Quando m'en vo" from Puccini's La Bohême, bringing the audience to its collective feet once more.

We understand that this divine program will be touring the United States, so if you are living outside New York, watch out for it.

© meche kroop

Friday, October 14, 2022


Maestro Jorge Parodi, Mezzo-soprano Morena Galán, and Bandeónista Rodolfo Zanetti

If New Yorkers are ignorant of Argentinian music, we are sure that will not last long since Maestro Jorge Parodi has assumed the helm of Opera Hispánica; he will see to it that these treasures will be mined. The most interesting feature of Latin American music, in our opinion, is that their composers were not seduced by the destructive tendencies of the world of music academia which gave the old heave-ho to melody and key signatures.; Latin American music remained melodic and relatable all through the 20th c. and on into our own epoch.

Last night, hosted by The Consulate General of Argentina in New York, a full house was gifted with a program of Argentinian music, including art song, folkloric song, piano compositions, and, of course, tango. There was no shortage of melody and rhythm, joined in celebration of a wide range of human emotion.

Included among the artists were Maestro Parodi himself, appearing as collaborative pianist, solo pianist Pablo Lavandera, Metropolitan Opera star baritone Fabián Veloz, baritone Gustavo Ahualli, two lovely young mezzo-sopranos Morena Galán and Malena Dayén, guitarist Andrés Guerra, and bandoneónista Rodolfo Zanetti.

The above photo captures an intense moment in which Ms. Galán offered a passionate rendition of a tango from the 1920's entitled "Romance de Barrio" by Anibal Troilo. Aside from possessing an appealing and well-supported instrument, this young artist has a formidable ability to connect with the audience, an ability than can only come from a deep connection with the music. We enjoyed equally Carlos Gardel's "Por una cabeza" which allowed her the opportunity to show off a smoky lower register. The more modern "El clavel del aire blanco" by Carlos Guastavino was also given the same heartfelt treatment.

From the same song cycle, the familiar. "La rosa y el sauce" was beautifully performed by Ms. Dayén whose rich mezzo was put to good use in her phrasing of the gorgeous melody and in the fine use of dynamic variation.  In the livelier dance-like "Pampamapa", also by Guastavino, we had trouble staying still. Splendidly accompanied by Mr. Guerra, she introduced us to Daniel Toro's "Samba para olvidarte". Unfortunately, the audience broke into applause before we could hear the conclusion of Mr. Guerra's tender postlude.

Mr. Veloz' generous textured baritone filled the room with resonance in a stunning rendition of Guastavino's "Cita", making ample use of phrasing and dynamics. The dancy rhythm of Jorge Cafrune's "Cuando llegue el alba" was delightful. He wisely matched his large voice to the size of the room.

Mr. Ahaulli's powerful baritone fit well with Guastavino's "Abismo de sed" which was preceded by a complex introduction in the piano part which was stunningly performed by Maestro Parodi. We also enjoyed Carlos Gardel's familiar "El dia que me quieres" which just oozed romance.

Mr. Lavandera performed Tres Danzas Argentinas Op. 2  by Ginastera, composed early in his life. The rapid fire "Danza del viejo boyero" was followed by the lilting adagio "Danza de la moza donosa" (our favorite), and finally  "Danza del gaucho matrero"  the complex rhythm of which the artist was thoughtful enough to explain to the audience.

He also performed a gentle work by the recently deceased Claudia Montero entitled "Junio", given its New York premiere. He shared with the audience the fact that what sounded like improvisation was written down note by note. The work was marked by. thrilling runs and lilting arpeggi.

There were many more delights in the generous program, including tangos by the famous Astor Piazzolla. One could not fail to appreciate the wide variety found in this program which was entitled An Argentinian Affair. For us it was a golden opportunity to get a taste of many different styles of composition and to hear some new voices.  A big bravissimo to all concerned!

© meche kroop