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 23, 2023



Chrystal E. Williams and Bernard Holcomb

(Photo by Fadi Kheir, courtesy of Brookfield Properties)

Something special happens when an artistic creation hits all the right notes. At its conclusion we feel satisfied; we may be smiling or we may be tearful, but we have been moved as well as entertained. We want to share the experience with our friends. Sometimes we may be stimulated to learn more about a subject or a time period. Sometimes we go back to the source, be it a play, a novel, or an epic poem.

Such is the case with the charming one-act opera we saw Thursday night, Song of the Nightingale presented by the always wonderful On Site Opera in partnership with Brookfield Properties. We hope you will read this review and reserve a place  next weekend downtown at Brookfield Place. Tickets are free and we consider this a generous and priceless gift to the people of New York City.

First we would like to tell you about the performance and, if you stay with us, we will share with you a bit about the consequences of our attendance. The work is a rather loose adaptation of a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale in which a Chinese emperor hears of a nightingale with a remarkable voice which he manages to get installed in his porcelain palace. The nightingale is displeased with the confinement and escapes. The Japanese emperor sends a mechanical bird which eventually wears out. The emperor is dying and the nightingale returns and sings Death away and sings the emperor back to health. She agrees to keep him informed of what is going on as long as she has her freedom.

Having read the "Spark Notes" and also the original story, we conclude that the moral of the tale is that one cannot confine what is beautiful and meaningful; grasping is destructive and freedom is best. There are other themes, of course, and most notable is the healing property of good music. Another is that true inner beauty may hide beneath external drabness.

In this case, the "good music' was provided by composer Lisa Despain who has dispelled my grumblings about contemporary music with a lively score notable for being melodic and accessible.  Melisa Tien's clever libretto has taken Anderson's folk tale and adapted it to suit modern times. (Unlike current "adaptations" of classic works that make no logical sense, her libretto makes perfect sense).  A wealthy collector, sung by Chrystal E. Williams, substitutes for the Chinese emperor, and, as effectively directed by Katherine M. Carter, demonstrates the obsessive qualities of a person who must possess what she craves.

Substituting for the Emperor's minion we have The Curator, sung by Bernard Holcomb, who is responsible for The Collector's acquisitions.

As The Nightingale, we heard the gorgeous coloratura of Hannah Cho whose fabulous fioritura could bring tears to anyone's eyes, just like in the Anderson fairy tale.

As the mechanical nightingale we heard the lovely voice of Nicole Haslett who furthered the subsidiary theme that what is fancy and artificial can never replace what is natural and pure. Ms. Haslett also portrayed the part of the Frog who interacts with Nightingale, along with Cow, portrayed with good humor by Jonathan R. Green.  

All of the performances were exceptional and were well supported by the chamber orchestra, comprising flute, clarinet, violin and cello, conducted by Cris Frisco. Orchestration was accomplished by Scott Ethier.  The inventive costumes were designed by Kara Harmon. Although we are no fan of amplification we admit that Beth Lake's sound design was effective and did not distort the sound of the voices. 

Although everything worked just fine in the public space of Manhattan West, we would love to see it again in a proscenium situation with subtitles. Performances  in the round carry their own drawbacks with performers often facing away from you. And looking at one's phone to read titles takes attention away from the stage. In spite of these minor inconveniences, the performance amounted to a most well spent hour that flew by. We were particularly delighted to witness such enthusiasm from the audience and by the feel-good conclusion of the work in which all the characters unite in celebration of freedom and nature.

We were inspired to come home and read the original story, the language of which is a bit archaic but possesses a wealth of captivating detail about the life of the emperor and also about his near-death experience. None of the summaries achieved the same satisfaction.

Next we recalled an operatic experience at the Santa Fe Opera in 2014 in which Stravinsky's take on the tale, Le Rossignol, was paired with Mozart's one-act opera The Impressario. The concept was a clever one in which the singers from the Mozart opera performed the Stravinsky piece after an intermission. Our review (still available, if you are interested, by typing the name in the search bar) indicates a not totally successful pairing but some dazzling singing by Erin Morley in the title role. Stravinsky's opera hewed rather closely to the Anderson fairly tale.

 Next we started thinking about the word itself and how often it comes up in liederwe now know the word for nightingale in many languages and it is always a beautiful word. It is used to symbolize the beauty and power of music.

Then we began to think about the role of birds in music. We will never forget the voice of Dawn Upshaw as the Forest Bird in Wagner's Siegfried. And how about Rimsky-Korsakov's The Golden Cockerel, which we heard at Santa Fe Opera in 2017. The bird warns the Czar of upcoming dangers.

By now, Dear Reader, you may have realized that we are just as obsessive as The Collector in Song of the Nightingale. We love to collect ideas, not things. We hope that you will snag a seat for this lovely work and that it leads to some searching on your part as well.

© meche kroop

Sunday, August 27, 2023


 Dura Jun and Georgina Wu

What a satisfying recital we heard last night at the Bruno Walter Auditorium of Lincoln Center! What makes a recital so satisfying? It isn't just a beautiful voice; it isn't just fine technique; it isn't just a sensitive collaborative pianist; it isn't just a variety of languages and periods; it isn't just rapport with the audience.  It is all of the above added together in a rich stew of musical delights.

Georgina Wu is a fine mezzo-soprano and Dura Jun is an equally fine collaborative pianist; the pair showed evidence of pre-program planning and true collaboration to capture the essence of each aria. Consummate versatility was demonstrated by the inclusion of German, French, Italian, and English. Musical periods ranged from early 18th c. to 21st c. with the fortunate inclusion of bel canto, our favorite period. The program was well curated to show off Ms. 
Wu's unique gifts.

The opening was a strong one--"Wie du warst" from Richard Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier-- with Ms. Wu capturing all of the juvenile passion of  the love-besotted and lusty young Count Rofrano--sung in excellent German. 

Next we enjoyed hearing a thrilling bel canto aria, the opening aria of Donizetti's Roberto Devereux in which Sara, Duchess of Nottingham, tries to hide her sorrow over her adulterous love for the title character.

Poor Charlotte is also suffering from an adulterous love in Jules Massenet's Werther but in "Va! Laisse couler mes larmes" she is releasing all the sorrow that Sara had to hide from the court in the aforementioned "All'afflitto è dolce il pianto".

What a contrast with Dorabella's fiery "Smanie implacabili" from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte. What Ms. Wu succeeded in getting across is the histrionics of a young woman who is taking herself very seriously. The wild vocal line did not daunt Ms. Wu!

We know very little about the 21st c. work on the program--"Penelope" by Cecilia Livingston who is composer-in-residence at the Canadian Opera Company. It was far more appealing than the boring 21st c. art songs set to prosy texts.  In this song, Penelope's text is written (by the composer herself) in short phrases that successfully convey the emotions of the woman waiting for Ulysses from Homer's The Odyssey. We actually enjoyed the music, both piano and vocal line, and found the internal rhymes somewhat reminiscent of Sondheim's texts.

In "Ah! Michele don't you know" from Gian Carlo Menotti's The Saint of Bleeker Street, a "fallen woman" is begging her lover to acknowledge her and take her into a local wedding reception attended by neighbors who have scorned her. We enjoyed being introduced to a work we have never heard and hope that we will hear it soon. We were thinking of Santuzza's rejection back in the "old country".

"Come nube che fugge dal vento" from Händel's Agrippina gave Ms. Wu the opportunity to exhibit some vocal fireworks as Nerone decides to abandon love for politics. Turns and trills and leaps and scale passages were all finely executed.

Equally outstanding was "Près des remparts de Séville" from Bizet's Carmen which Ms. Wu sang with enticing seductiveness, toying with the clueless Don Jose.  We have heard this aria countless times but Ms. Wu made it new again with an unusual flair.

From seduction to spirituality? No challenge for Ms. Wu who shifted gears for the musically spare "The Desire for Hermitage" from Barber's Hermit Songs. What was unusual about her delivery was that she conveyed a kind of sensuality within asceticism.

Capping the program was another aria by Donizetti, this one the famous "O, mio Fernando" from La Favorita in which Leonora expresses her complex feeling toward the man she loves who has been ordered to marry her, unaware that she has been the King's mistress. That's a lot of feeling for the singer to pack into one aria but Ms. Wu succeeded as she did with everything else on the program.

We would have problems trying to curate such a fine program with so much variety. The next time a mezzo-soprano complains to us that there is nothing great written for them, we will show them this program!

© meche kroop

Thursday, August 24, 2023


 Antonina Ermolenko, Chris Fecteau, Boris Derow, Matt Mueller, and Jennifer Gliere

Helmed by Maestro Chris Fecteau and his lovely wife Karen Rich, the dell'Arte Opera Ensemble is well known for their training of young opera singers and crowd-pleasing operatic productions.  Last night, in the Harvard Club's magnificently appointed dining room, new ground was broken by means of a tribute to Ukraine.

Feelings for Ukraine run high in New York City and even our Russian friends want Zelensky to succeed. In the midst of such tragic bloodshed, there is a small glimmer of good; that is the recent fostering of interest in Ukrainian music, as several institutions have been presenting concerts highlighting music that we have never heard before--music that merits our attention and admiration.

Last night's concert paid attention to art songs by Reinhold Gliere, Yakiv Stepovyi, Sergei Bortkiewicz, Platon Mayboroda, Mykola Lysenko, Kyrylo Stetsenko, and Anatoliy Kos-Anatolsky. Please don't feel ignorant if these names are unknown to you; they were to us as well. It will take a greater exposure for us to learn to distinguish one from another, just as it took awhile for us to learn the differences between the Rossini sound and the Bellini sound.

That being said, there is much in common in terms of mode and mood. The sound is filled with what we call "Slavic Soul", an undercurrent of sadness not unlike Portuguese fado, but leavened with snippets of joy and pleasure. At times, one is reminded of Brahms' folk songs. 

Singers for the evening comprised sopranos Antonina Ermolenko and Jennifer Gliere (a descendant of the composer), tenor Boris Derow, and bass-baritone Matt Mueller. Accompanying the singers was Artistic Director of dell'Arte, Maestro Chris Fecteau himself who also gifted the audience with intermittent instrumental selections, our favorites of which were the soulful "Languor and Longing" and the more lighthearted "Impressions of a Joyful Day" from Lysenko's Album from the summer of 1902.

Regular readers know how highly we prize duets and we very much enjoyed the two sopranos joining voices for Gliere's "Summer". We wondered what it must feel like to sing works composed by one's ancestor! Ms. Gliere also impressed with "Sweetly Sang my Nightingale".  The stunning Antonina Ermolenko flew in from Toronto to help celebrate Ukarine Independence Day and impressed with her finely wrought soprano. This set pf songs by Reinhold Gliere was particularly lovely with Mr. Mueller audibly enjoying the low tessitura of "Before me the sea is sleeping".

Mr. Derow gave a moving performance of a pair of songs by Stepovyi--"Not All Sorrows Have Died" and "Thought Follows Thought". Although no translations were available, we were dying to know what Gliere was relating in "The Mad Priest" in which Mr. Mueller seemed to be telling a most interesting tale, accompanied by Maestro Fecteau's march rhythm in the piano. Kos-Anatolsky's "White Roses", by contrast, seemed to have a tango rhythm.

It was a most pleasurable evening with guests enjoying a menu of Ukrainian delicacies along with the music!

© meche kroop

Sunday, August 20, 2023


 Chiara Cremaschi, Alessandro Loro, and Maestro Diego Basso

The weather was perfect, the crowd was enthusiastic, and New York City Opera (The People's Opera)  is to be thanked for giving New Yorkers two generous and excellently curated programs in one glorious weekend. Last night's program comprised mostly Italian opera , Neapolitan songs, and some instrumental works for good measure.  It was indeed "A Grand Night for Singing"! 

From the point of view of a true opera lover, the amplification precluded any assessment of the artistry of the singers. What we could observe is stage presence. For all we know, Alessandro Lora may be the tenor of tomorrow; and given good direction on the opera stage he may also be a convincing actor. However, last night he relied completely on exaggerated stock gestures and "money notes" produced at maximum volume. Perhaps the amplification was at fault because he sounded better during the pianissimi passages.

Sound design is a mystery to us but the balance of the excellent New York City Opera Orchestra was mostly way off and the esteemed musicians sounded nothing like they do in a concert hall. The oboe solo in Morricone's "Gabriel's Oboe" sounded more like a harmonica than an oboe.  Perhaps an acoustic engineer could explain this to us.  Nonetheless, we decided that one doesn't need to apologize for "film music" which sounds much better than contemporary "academic music".  As we said in last night's review, in order to succeed, music must be melodic.  Morricone's music fulfilled that requirement.

Co-starring with Mr. Lora was the lovely soprano Chiara Cremaschi who seemed to have the chops to tackle roles as diverse as Queen of the Night from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte and Lauretta in Puccini's Gianni Schicchi. Like her tenor stage companion, she did not know what to do with her arms. Whereas Mr. Lora opened wide and reached for the sky, Ms. Cremaschi kept hers folded over her midsection. We deleted dozens of photos which made her look insecure-- until we found one in which she used her arms. Neither singer looked natural. Overly expansive stock gestures look trite and cocky whereas folded arms not only look insecure but create a hunched over posture. None of the gorgeous gowns worn by Ms. Cremaschi could compensate. We wanted so badly to get her to stand up elegantly and use gesture to create character!

Possibly had we been able to appreciate the voices we might not have noticed this failure of stage presence. We might add that most people were there to have a good time, to sit outdoors in the grass and be entertained. They seemed happy to clap along in the "Libiamo" from Verdi's La Traviata. Perhaps they couldn't see the stage as we could way down front. Perhaps television has "taught" people what to expect from opera singers.  Perhaps subtlety is not possible in an amplified outdoor environment.

As far as the conducting both Maestri seemed in control of the orchestra and, for all we know, standing up there on the podium had no idea of what their musicians sounded like to the audience. Maestro Diego Basso conducted one of his own compositions entitled "Vigneti come Pentagrammi" which we hope we get an opportunity to hear under more sanguine circumstances. He also conducted an arrangement of "Core 'ngrato" sung by Mr. Lora.

Part of the program was conducted by Maestro Maurizio Barbacini and he kept the orchestra full of energy in the "Prelude" from Bizet's Carmen. That and the Mozart were the only two numbers on the generous program which were not Italian.

We are looking forward to Gounod's Romeo et Juliette on September 8th which, we expect, will be performed with sets and costumes. Perhaps the sound will be more acceptable.

© meche kroop

Saturday, August 19, 2023



Sondheim's "A Weekend in the Country" outdoors in Bryant Park presented by New York City Opera

(Matthew Ciufitelli, Kristin Sampson, Drew Seigla, Sami Sallaway, Michael Nansel, and Devony Smith)

It is one thing to have a strong opinion; it is quite another to have your opinion brought to life and validated. We have long held the opinion that the line of inheritance goes from opera to operetta to Broadway, and not to the contemporary works that are called "opera". The public-pleasing works of the 19th c, the charming operettas of Vienna and later Broadway (think Victor Herbert), all morphed into the works of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, Bernstein, and Sondheim.

In a most unfortunate technological advance, sound amplification removed the need for operatically trained voices and much of Broadway became ear crushing. Meanwhile, operatic voices have assumed the role of keeping the classics of the opera canon alive for an unfortunately ever-diminishing audience, whilst managers of opera companies have moved toward presenting contemporary works of dubious merit with "relevant" stories better told at the theater, prosy libretti, and mostly tuneless music.

The critics may rave over the new works, the opera houses fill up, audiences come once but not twice.  Ticket sales are declining with the public unwilling to spend their hard earned dollars on entertainment that isn't entertaining. Meanwhile, tourists come from all over the world to see Broadway shows in which the stories are direct and the music tuneful.  Moreover, many shows in the Broadway canon have become classics and interest is renewed with successive generations wanting to see the shows, or at least films of the shows (think West Side Story). Of course, not every show is a good one. But not every bel canto opera was a hit either.  For every Il barbiere di Siviglia there were dozens of operas that failed or lasted but a season.

We have long wished for a company here in New York City that would present the Broadway canon unamplified with operatic voices. We will never forget New York City Opera's production of Candide.  And last night it was the same institution that gave us a taste of what we wish for--operatic voices singing the best of Viennese operetta and Broadway. 

It was indeed a gift from New York City Opera to New Yorkers who packed  Bryant Park from one end to the other for a picnic performance. In an outdoor environment, voices must be amplified which we fully understand. Often the vibrato of the singers seemed exaggerated and we would be hard put to comment on the individual voices.

That being said, we enjoyed the concept which supported our opinion.  Of course we did! And we enjoyed the performances, many of which were dramatically valid.  The material was well chosen and the audience was enthralled.

The most unforgettable performances were given by Michael Nansel, heretofore unknown to us. He impressed us in the well known aria from Leigh/Darion's Man of La Mancha--"The Impossible Dream", and as Tony in Loesser's The Most Happy Fella  singing a soliloquy addressed to his dead mother. Similarly, Bock/Harnick's Fiddler on the Roof  gave Drew Seigla an opportunity to charm us with Motel's aria "Miracle of Miracles". Matthew Ciuffitelli brought Billy Bigelow to vibrant life in the soliloquy from Rodgers/Hammerstein's Carousel. All of these shows (operas? operettas?) were before our time and we were absolutely thrilled to hear them, having only heard recordings.

Lehár's The Merry Widow  has fortunately stayed in the repertory for well over a century and we were delighted to hear Kristin Sampson singing the beautiful aria "Vilja". We must say, however, that we far prefer to hear it sung in German. Victor Herbert is well known to us from the regular performances by the rapidly growing Victor Herbert Renaissance Project Live (known as VHRPL!) which has no trouble attracting an enthusiastic audience. It was a pleasure to hear Sami Salloway sing "Art is Calling for Me" from his The Enchantress.

The music of Borodin is well loved by us and hearing one of his famous tunes (adapted for the show Kismet and entitled "And This is My Beloved") gave us pleasure. We hope Ms. Sampson enjoyed singing it as much as we enjoyed hearing it. Sondheim's Follies gave Devony Smith a great aria to sing as well--"Losing My Mind".

It must have been quite a challenge to select all those goodies from the grand buffet of operettas and Broadway. The evening was nearly two hours long and we could have listened all night. We kept thinking of so many wonderful shows that could have been included.  Let's hope that there will be more evenings like this!

The evening ended on a high note, so to speak, with the cast assembled for the Act I finale of Sondheim's A Little Night Music--"A Weekend in the Country", reminding us of all those wonderful Rossini ensembles from two centuries ago. It's good to know that we are still creating classics!

© meche kroop

Friday, July 21, 2023


 Mattia Venni and Teresa Castillo
(Photo by Steve Pisano)

Last night we reviewed Teatro Nuovo's presentation of Donizetti's tragedy Poliuto; this was well matched with a sparkling comedy by I Fratelli Ricci (Federico and Luigi) entitled Crispino e la Comare with a libretto written by fellow Venetian Francesco Maria Piave. Who would have suspected that the librettist of such serious works as Ernani, Attila, Rigoletto, La traviata, and Simon Boccanegra would show himself to be a master of crowd pleasing comedy.

In another informative pre-opera lecture by Will Crutchfield, General and Artistic Director of Teatro Nuovo, we learned why multitudes of charming Italian comedies, so popular in their time, have become nearly lost. In the second half of the 19th c. Giuseppi Verdi's operas filled the major opera houses.  Meanwhile, a legion of presently unknown composers delighted their public in the smaller houses with frothy works featuring silly plots and gorgeous Bel Canto music.  In our imagination we see throngs of locals, seeking an entertaining evening, flocking to these venues for a hearty laugh and a head full of tunes on their way home. During the performance we allowed ourself the same pleasures.

The story concerns an impoverished cobbler who, through the good graces of a fairy godmother, becomes an important physician who enrages the local physicians who have failed to achieve such miraculous cures. Piave must have had a grand time skewering that profession in much the same way as Saturday Night Live and South Park satirize some of our present day institutions, and as Gilbert and Sullivan did across the pond in their own time.

The music, replete with waltzes, sparkles with wit and good nature. As was the custom of the time, the superb Teatro Nuovo Orchestra was led from the harpsichord by Jonathan Brandani, listed on the program as Maestro al cembalo e direttore. As we observed last night, there was no formal conductor standing on a podium and instrumentalists were arranged as they were in the 19th c.  Musical values were admirable all around; since this is opera let us spill some ink on the subject of the singers.

One could not have asked for a better Crispino than bass-baritone Mattia Venni whose comedic chops were matched by some superb singing. Whether legato or staccato, whether solo or in duet or trio, his sturdy but flexible vocal production was a standout. Rapid patter presented no problems. We would welcome the opportunity to hear him again.

As Annetta, his wife, we heard the splendid soprano Teresa Castillo about whom we have been writing for ten years. We first heard her as Drusilla at the Manhattan Summer Voice Festival's production of Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea. And then we watched her star on the rise as she appeared thrice with Career Bridges, at galas given by Opera Index and The George London Foundation for their competition winners, with Opera Lafayette, and singing "Carceleras" from Chapi's zarzuela Las Hijas de Zebedeo.  What we most admire about Ms. Castillo is her versatility. Many singers enter competitions and always sing the same aria but this artist always presents us with a new aspect of her vocal gifts.

Mezzo-soprano Liz Culpepper made a most affecting "comare" and is just the kind of fairy godmother one would want. She colored her magnificent mezzo with benevolence. When Crispino got too full of himself (as did Annetta), she found just the right way of teaching him a lesson.

Scott Hetz Clark was too young and handsome to play the unpleasant and miserly Don Asdrubale but was convincing in his heart attack scene, conveniently liberating his ward, the wealthy orphan Lisetta (Abigail Lysinger) who was wasting away for want of love for her suitor Contino del Fiore (Toby Bradford).  Dear Reader, we are sure that you noticed the commedia del'arte roots of 19th c. Italian comedy!

The avaricious doctors were played by Dorian McCall and Vincent Graña who participated in one of the most delightful trios ever heard. The stonemason "cured" by Dr. Crispino who treated him with salame and vino was played by Jeremy Luis Lopez.

The revelations of the past two evenings spent with Teatro Nuovo have left us hungry for more. We hope they will uncover more gems of that epoch and give them the audience they deserve. If you were present at The Rose Theater you would have seen it filled to capacity and you would have heard thunderous applause.

© meche kroop

Thursday, July 20, 2023


     Ricardo José Rivera and Chelsea Lehnea
(photo by Steve Pisano)

We cannot name a better educator in the field of opera than Will Crutchfield, General and Artistic Director of Teatro Nuovo. For many years we traveled up to Caramoor to enjoy his yearly entries into their summer music festival and lately we have come to enjoy his productions right here in New York City at The Rose Theater. His passion for Bel Canto opera fuels our own and his pre-opera lectures always contribute to our appreciation of the work to come. His expertise on Donizetti's advancements in the field of opera opened our ears to new listening discoveries.

We will report on tomorrow's production as well but we are too excited about last night's performance of Donizetti's Poliuto to hold our opinions inside. Performed without benefit of costumes and sets, the production went way beyond "concert style". We were not overwhelmed with meaningless and distracting projections; rather we saw each act accompanied by an upstage drawing of the respective settings , surmounted by translation of the libretto. The artists acted with conviction and the story was well told.

In an avalanche of casting glories we thrilled to the unique vocal timbre of soprano Chelsea Lehnea whose voice impressed us greatly at the Premiere Opera Competition earlier this year. She not only captured the emotional conflict of Paolina, a woman loyal to Poliuto (the man she wed after the reported demise of Severo, the man she truly loved), but also the pain of rejecting the latter after he finally reappears, alive and well. Her stunning technique was put into service to make dramatic points. Who could fail to notice the upward leaps followed by descending portamenti! Also well captured was the spiritual uplift of her decision to join Poliuto in Christian martyrdom.

As the eponymous hero, we heard tenorrific Argentinian Santiago Ballerini whose beautiful and unforced tenor added at least a foot to his physical stature. There is a special thrill to the tenor fach which can be destroyed in an instant by a tight throat in the upper register.  Mr. Ballerini suffers no such impediment and allows the listener to bask in his warm tone, even when singing at the top of the register at maximum volume. (We are congratulating ourself for predicting his success when we reviewed him 6 years ago.)

The role of the long lost lover Severo was effectively performed by Puerto Rican baritone Ricardo José Rivera with the artistry to match that of Ms.Lehnea and Mr. Ballerini. He was so persuasive in his Act II courting of Paulina we could only think of how difficult it must have been for her to hold him off. As in many operas of the 19th c., romance is often foregone out of a sense of duty.

In this case, the story came from a 17th c. play by Pierre Corneille based on the martyrdom of St. Polyeuktos in the early Christian Era, adapted into a libretto by Salvatore Cammarano with input from the intended star. Sadly he never got to sing the role since problems with censorship delayed the premiere until 1848, by which time Donizetti had tragically died and the famous tenor had equally tragically jumped to his death.  Now there's a plot for an opera!!!!

The censorship was caused by the Neapolitan censor's unwillingness to depict a Christian martyr as a jealous husband. Actually, the Christian conversion theme is the framework on which this romantic triangle plays out. Poliuto converts and,in solidarity, so does Paulina and both get thrown to the lions, a scene which the audience is fortunately spared. However it does give Poliuto and Paulina an opportunity to color their voices differentially.

The role of Nearco, the one who leads Poliuto to his conversion, was well sung by Robert Kleinertz, and we heard Krishna Roman in the role of Felice, Paulina's father. Jupiter's High Priest Callistene was portrayed by the imposing bass Hans Tashjian who successfully portrayed the vengeful rage of one whose religion has been scorned in favor of another one. With the full orchestra, his tone was often lost and when the orchestra was silent he sounded somewhat gravelly.

Speaking of the orchestra, we appreciated the many changes instituted by Teatro Nuova to respect the performing traditions of the period. Musicians were seated at audience level and instrumentalists were rearranged according to early 19th c. performing tradition. Most noticeably was the Concert Master--Jakob Lehmann-- leading the orchestra in place of a conductor on a podium. We thought he did a splendid job and we enjoyed the separation of the double basses for a delightful. effect in which they often served as percussion might have. The softer sound of gut strings and wooden wind instruments pleased the ear. We particularly enjoyed the woodwinds.

Special kudos to the members of the chorus who at various times portrayed Roman warriors and Armenian citizens willing to be cajoled into bloodthirsty cries for sacrifice.

We invite (urge) you Dear Reader, to enter "Poliuto" in the search bar if you would care to read about a production by Amore Opera from seven years ago which we reviewed.  We never thought we'd have a chance to hear those gorgeous melodies again and we are grateful to Teatro Nuovo for giving us the opportunity.
Their mission is a unique one--continual ongoing discovery and implementation of historically valid elements of Italian opera of the Bel Canto period.

Look for another review tomorrow!

© meche kroop

Saturday, June 17, 2023


 Nobuko Amimiya and Cassie Chang

Only on rare occasion do we get to witness the Lincoln Center debut of one of our favorite young singers. The excitement of the occasion was matched by the artistry we witnessed in a recital of operatic arias that we wish had been longer in duration. Ms. Chang's promise has been noted by the Bradley Family Foundation whose support underwrote the concert and by legendary voice teacher, Bulgarian bass-baritone Valentin Peytchinov of Vocal Production NYC.

Mr. Peytchinov himself was on hand for a post-concert discussion of the makings of an opera singer. He pointed out the uniqueness of the profession. In any other profession, you get a degree and then you earn a living by practicing that particular profession. In the world of opera singing, very few graduates actually succeed. It seems to us that success comes partly from artistry, partly from persistence and determination, and partly from a lucky break.

Ms. Chang is a hard worker, having learned last night's repertory in a relatively brief period of time, in contrast with the arias we have heard her sing before, which have fit like a second skin. Although there were one or two that she will grow into, several of them were not only close to perfection but also astonishingly beautiful and moving.

Take for example Cio Cio San's hopeful but delusional aria from Puccini's Madama Butterfly--"Un bel di", which most opera lovers are so familiar with that they might have been surprised, as we were, to find tears springing to our eyes as if hearing it for the first time. This is not the time or place for a discussion of identity politics and casting choices, but in all honesty, an Asian face contributed something to our belief that we were witnessing a Japanese girl barely out of adolescence experiencing her first love. All the technical accuracy disappeared behind the illusion created by Ms. Chang and we were deeply moved.

There were no such accidents of physiognomy to help Ms. Chang in the similarly moving "Salce salce...Ave Maria" sung by the doomed Desdemona in the final act of Verdi's Othello. Our heroine is facing an unjust death at the hands of her woefully deceived and jealous husband. The colors of Ms. Chang's voice varied according to the complex emotions Desdemona was feeling as she said her prayers in this emotionally draining and technically challenging scene. The terror peeped out from the plaintive blanket of sound. Verdi gave Desdemona some repeated words, giving the artist an opportunity to build intensity and vary color. We must say we found it spellbinding.

Opening the program was  "Crudele? Ah no mio bene...Non mi dir ", a beautiful aria Mozart gave to Donna Anna in his masterpiece Don Giovanni, a fine example of legato writing with some stunning upper register challenges and some fioritura worthy of a bel canto composer which surely must have inspired their more consistently florid vocal line.

This aria was followed by an aria from a bel canto master. In Anna Bolena, Donizetti gave his doomed heroine (another doomed heroine!) a gorgeous scene as she faces death in "Piangete voi...Al dolce guidami". The queen, a victim of the King's fickleness, is distracted almost to the point of madness as she remembers happier moments. Here, Ms. Chang created a sympathetic character going through a succession of moods, something which is particularly suited to the bel canto treatment. We loved her facility with the scale passages and arpeggi.

Doomed women of the 20th c. do not get such gorgeous music lavished upon them. We cannot say we were swept away my "Marie's Lullaby" from Alban Berg's Wozzeck but that has more to do with our failure to appreciate such despairing "modern" music than the artistry of the singer. About all we were able to appreciate was her adequate German which we appreciated more in the light hearted "Mein Elemer" from Richard Strauss' comedy of manners Arabella. Although written in the 20th c. we find Strauss' music more pleasing than Berg's and the story more gratifying.  Arabella has many suitors which she will eventually overthrow for Mandryka, and Elemer is one of them. Ms. Chang successfully captured Arabella's flirtatious nature.

To completely round out the demonstration of Ms. Chang's linguistic facility we had the obligatory French aria,  "Il est doux, il est bon" from Massenet's Hérodiade in which Salome's innocence shone forth. We enjoyed the magnificently expansive top note. As a matter of fact, throughout the recital we were impressed with Ms. Chang' instrument which filled the Bruno Walter theater with overtones, having just the right amount of vibrato.

The token English aria was Ellen Orford's "Embroidery Aria" from Britten's Peter Grimes, and it is here that we felt let down because the English was not sufficiently crisp to be understood. (Frankly, we find the English language to be nearly unsingable unless the text is by W.S. Gilbert or Stephen Sondheim.) Indeed our companion didn't even realize it was English!

However, the encore was a very personal aria in which Ms. Chang's youthful excitement about coming to New York to study voice was set by Iranian composer Pouria Khadem. Perhaps because the register was lower, every word was clear and the performance left us with joyful feelings.

Upon reflection, we had a great time mentally curating a program comprising doomed heroines. We believe that Ms. Chang could handle them all! 

© meche kroop

Saturday, June 10, 2023



William Remmers

Might there be a lover of the works of Gilbert and Sullivan here in New York City who is unaware of the multi-talented William Remmers and  Utopia Opera? If so, it pains us to inform you that last night's survey of songs from all of the G&S canon will not likely be repeated. That being said, we hope it will be. Indeed, if it were being presented tonight we would joyfully attend once more.

What a banquet of goodies, with one marvelous song seamlessly following another in a sequence that worked magnificently as a live "playlist"; the order of numbers seemed randomly determined but included something from every one of  W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan's enormous output.

Why do we so love those Savoyards? For the same reason that most of the United States adores South Park. We relish seeing the skewering of politicians and political bodies. We love hearing witty words composed around silly plots satirizing contemporary culture. And, although the average audience member may not be consciously aware of the perfect marriage of music and text, we feel it in a way that we do not feel when sitting through a contemporary opera with its prosy libretto. The rhymes are nearly always brilliantly devised.

It is most interesting that Remmers can sail through the many patter songs faster than one can read the projected titles, for which we would like to credit Alyson Sheehan. The titles were cleverly arranged on the page and were projected in perfect time with the singing. The witty words go by so fast that one misses a lot, not to mention the multiple references to British institutions and historical figures of whom we are ignorant. Significantly, our companion, for whom English is but a second language, had a wonderful time enjoying the rhythm and sound of Gilbert's text and Sullivan's music without knowing any of the references.

Whilst giving credit, Erica Rome did a yeoman's job (🤦sorry about that) of accompanying on the piano . The chorus, comprising Heather Bobeck, Karina Vartanian, Cate Webber-Curry, Colin Safley, Marc Shepherd, and Zachary Tirgan provided the tuneful and coherent backup.

However, the evening belonged to Remmers. We know the artist primarily as the Founder and Artistic Director of the singular Utopia Opera--and also as conductor of their orchestra. We have heard of the artist's forays into the world of cabaret, film making, and also musical composition.. Tonight we appreciated Remmers as a performer, singing and acting a succession of characters of a diverse nature. What artistry at creating scenes , performing all the parts. Indeed, in the second part of the evening, we enjoyed an entire scene from Ruddigore in which Robin confronts his ancestors about the family necessity of creating evil deeds on a daily basis.. Remmers has a long limbed and limber body as well as an expressively mobile face that make this theatrical legerdemain succeed.

In "Oh, foolish fay" from Iolanthe, Remmers created a Queen of the Fairies without benefit of costume, using only vocal coloration and physical posture. Although dozens (yes, dozens) of numbers seemed more difficult, like the patter songs for which G&S were renowned, it was this aria that touched us most deeply. We couldn't help thinking of grand opera in which a dazzling display of coloratura fireworks may be followed by a limpid legato.

There was one talent that Remmers displayed that took us by surprise--that of a rather good guitarist, self-accompanying for several numbers.

One of our favorite numbers is always "I've Got a Little List" ("As Someday It May Happen") from The Mikado in which tradition permits wanton invention, rewriting the text to suit the political moment. As an amusing diversion, Dear Reader, we invite you to make your own list of people who "never will be missed". Clearly Remmers is someone who would be missed and we are so happy not to have missed this delightful show.

© meche kroop

Tuesday, June 6, 2023


Lech Napierala and Tomasz Konieczny

Last night found us at the beautiful home of the Kosciuszko Foundation for a recital by the legendary bass-baritone Tomasz Konieczny and his collaborative pianist Lech Napierala. Mr. Konieczny is in town starring in Die Fliegende Holländer at The Metropolitan Opera, a role for which he has garnered outstanding reviews.  What better place could there be for the artist to show his artistry in an intimate environment--under the benevolent eye of (a portrait of) Kosciuszko himself, a Polish friend to the American Revolution.

We don't want to take it for granted that our readers know about the Kosciuszko Foundation and the good works they do for Polish-American relations and we are just learning ourself. Originally we just perceived it a as the place to go for great music. Years ago Marilyn Horne had a series of concerts there and introduced us to many fine young singers who went on to fame and fortune.

We know little about Polish music but are always happy to learn more, especially since Poland is on our mind as being such a good friend to Ukrainian refugees. Of course, Chopin has always been our favorite composer of piano music but recently we have become more aware of Polish opera and art song. We have heard excerpts from Stanislaw Moniuszko's Halka and hope to hear the entire opera some day.

Hearing that Mr. Konieczny would be singing songs by Moniuszko made us determined to attend. We are so glad we did. The artist has a gorgeous instrument which he employs with perfect technique, making excellent use of word coloration and dynamic variation. We made note of several instances when he leaned on a particular consonant (the "k" in "küsse", for example) to great effect as well as coloring vowels, without altering them. This awareness was new to our ears and delighted us.

Moreover, he is a sublime actor and captures the mood of each and every phrase, making him a superlative storyteller He began the program with some songs by the 20th c. Ukrainian composer Mykola Lysenko. Our favorite was "One Sad Spring" which was delivered mostly pianissimo, with tender sorrow. In "The Cove", Mr. Napierala's piano set the stage with figures that represented the flow in a water-chute.

The centerpiece of the recital was a dozen songs by Richard Strauss, many of which were new to us. The ones that we were familiar with sounded entirely different in the bass-baritone range; we usually have heard them sung by a soprano. 

We particularly enjoyed the familiar "Morgen" in which the piano prelude and postlude established a dreamy mood. In contrast was the song that followed which was upbeat and lively. Utilizing the artist's dramatic skills was one entitled "Ah, woe is me, unhappy man" which we had never heard before and can't even tell you the German title. Delightfully familiar was "Allerseelen" which always reminds us of the Mexican holiday El Dia de los Muertos when the dead are believed to come back for one day. "Zueignung" filled our heart and it is here that we noticed how the singer colored the vowels.

And then we moved on to a trio of songs by Moniuszko, our favorite of which was "Old Corporal" with its military sounding accompaniment. An old soldier rambles on and on about various phases of his military career. Maybe we even liked the next one better because of the singer's storytelling.  An old man and his wife, long and happily married, are nearing the end and they each want to die first, rather than witness the loss of their beloved. We felt very moved by this. 

Fortunately the program ending with some comedy, two nonsense songs by the 20th c. Polish composer Henryk Czyz, a bit of surrealism reminding us of some of Poulenc's songs.

Dear Reader, the most wonderful things happened during the encore, which was "Cossack" by Moniuszko. Mr. Konieczny abandoned the music stand and gave his full self to the audience! Before then, his acting had been hampered, like a spirited dog on a leash.  And then he was liberated and we were bowled over.

© meche kroop

Friday, June 2, 2023



Carl DuPont, Gustavo Feulien, Inna Dukach, Gregory Turay, Elizaveta Ulakhovich, and Alexander Boyd

It is only three weeks since we last saw Puccini's heartbreaking masterpiece but La Bohême always offers fresh insights. Last night, at an outdoor performance in a very crowded Bryant Park, we took a macroscopic view of the story as an indictment of a society that doesn't care very well for its young and the ill. We didn't need modern dress or veiled references to any modern "plagues" to achieve such a realization. It happened because the direction was led by the music and the text without any directorial arrogance or program notes about the "concept". Costumes were of the period and the minimal set pieces let us know we were in the 19th c.

This by no means intends to shortchange the microscopic view--that of feckless youth  forming instant relationships without consideration of common values, future plans, or compatibility.  There are little moments that stand out. Consider the self-styled "artist" whose works don't sell, a writer who ekes out a modest living writing articles for a magazine, a philosopher who can barely afford to buy used books, and a musician who plays for a parrot. Who cannot help but think of contemporary times when young hopefuls share apartments in slums, living on ramen packages! To make matters worse, they are rarely covered by health insurance. La plus ça change, la plus c'est la meme chose!

 Yet it is perceived by the public as a "love story";  but it is also about the loss of innocence. At the end of the opera, this group of youths will be forever changed. Perhaps Musetta and Rodolfo will be inspired to love better. Perhaps some of them will look for jobs. The libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa does not tell us, nor did the episodic novel written by Henri Murger. So we are free to form our own speculations. What a rich work that can be appreciated on so many level!

In this abridged production by New York City Opera (The Peoples's Opera!) several scenes were cut, but Director Michael Capasso took the stage as narrator and described what had happened that wasn't shown. We completely understand the challenges of cutting the opera to fit into a time frame and to suit the interests of a crowd in which many members were not hard core opera fans. We can only hope that some of them were sufficiently enchanted to seek out a complete performance. Although the Metropolitan Opera has replaced so many of its magnificent productions with disappointing ones, it would be a grave mistake to ditch the impressive Zeffirelli production with its lavish second act Xmas Eve scene or the snow falling quietly and merchants passing through the city gates when Mimi leaves the city to find Marcello in the third act.

My companion for the evening is a theater and film director and an opera "newbie"; we wanted his opinion on the dramatic aspects. Since there were no titles and no summary, we wondered whether the story was told as clearly as we thought. He definitely got the gist of things, thanks to the effective stage direction; however he made an interesting suggestion that narration could have been better accomplished by having one of the minor characters narrate the story. Also it would have been better to hear the plot before the scene, not afterward.

All things considered, the singers did a fine job of storytelling. Soprano Inna Dukach made a most sympathetic Mimi and tenor Gregory Turay was a most ardent Rodolfo. We are personally uncomfortable with amplification and are never sure we are hearing the voices as they are meant to be heard. We were rather delighted with Mr. Turay's pianissimi but not so delighted with his forcing the volume in the upper register. Perhaps it is just not possible to float the high notes under such circumstances but we do not know enough about sound design to say so.

Soprano Elizaveta Ulakhovich gave a splendid performance as Musetta but, due to the elimination of the populous café scene, she was obliged to sing her show-stopping "Quando m'en vo" to a man recruited from the audience instead of flirting with the café customers and soldiers. So, we had a bit of audience involvement.

Her love-hate relationship with Marcello was well realized and baritone Gustavo Feulien filled out his role as well as one could have hoped. To complete the group of bohemians we had Carl DuPont as the philosopher Colline and Alexander Boyd as the only member of the group who seems to find employment. To those who know the opera, the story of his being hired to play for a parrot brings a moment of comic relief; even funnier is the fact that his three flatmates are so famished that they can only focus on the victuals he has provided and completely ignore the story. There wasn't room for much comic relief in this production and we missed the way the four youths put one over on their landlord Benoit when he comes to collect the rent.

Fortunately Colline's Act IV aria "Vecchia zimarra" was not cut so we enjoyed the low voice of Mr. DuPont and appreciated the symbolism of his sacrifice. As most of you already know, Dear Reader, he pawns his old overcoat to buy medicine for the dying Mimi. He too is "adulting".

Of course, the scene that sets the drama in motion is the first act meeting between Rodolfo and Mimi in which Rodolfo gets Mimi to stay by hiding her key and she gets Rodolfo to take her out for dinner with the hint of more to come later. So much subtext in one scene! So reminiscent of 21st c. dating! Still, the music tells us only of their rapturous feelings.

Speaking of the music, we found the aural balance to be wanting and there were a couple occasions of feedback. Maestro Joseph Rescigno did his best with a chamber orchestra which played at ground level (of course) in front of the slightly elevated stage. These are the hazards of outdoor opera and we will not make harsh judgments of the orchestral balance.

As a matter of fact, we recall the long ago productions of The Metropolitan Opera in Central Park every summer which were abandoned in favor of concerts of arias. We recall laying blankets out at sunrise in order to sit in the first "row"; we remember asking the police officers in attendance how they enjoyed the opera (very much so), and how grateful and uncritical we were. So, in that spirit, we thank the artists who brought this production to the public free of charge and hope that a few converts to opera were made.

© meche kroop

Thursday, May 25, 2023



John Viscardi, Brooke Jones, Yeong Taek Yang, Reed Gnepper, Jason Hwang, Monique Galvāo, Temple Hammen, Laura Soto-Bayami, Xu Cheng, and Maestro Michelle Rofrano

There was that splendid view of the Hudson River but no one was looking. Every pair of eyes and ears were drinking in the magic of young singers sharing their artistry with supporters of Classic Lyric Arts. A few years from now, these audience members are going to be boasting about having heard this artistry before these promising artists will have achieved fame.

Classic Lyric Arts is renowned for guiding young singers by means of intensive immersion programs in France, Italy, and the Berkshires, programs that serve to polish these gems. Artistic Director Glenn Morton is famed for his work coaching aspiring opera singers at all three Manhattan music conservatories; Executive Director John Viscardi, a gifted tenor himself, is a graduate of the programs. The cast of last night's gala comprised both graduates of the programs and some who have been selected to attend this summer. The feeling in the room was one of being with family.

The generous program began with soprano Laura Soto-Bayomi (recently reviewed as star of the zarzuela Luisa Fernanda) and Mr. Viscardi performing "Libiamo" from Verdi's La Traviata,  getting the evening off to a rousing and celebratory start. Later in the program we got a deeper exposure to Violetta in "Sempre libera" as she contemplates a romantic relationship with the importunate Alfredo. All the right emotional highs were hit-- from loneliness, the promise of a loving future, and the rejection of same in favor of a life of pleasure. The necessary vocal technique was all there, including the vocal fireworks of the cabaletta.

No stranger to passionate Italianate singing, Mr. Viscardi would go on to sing De Curtis' "Non ti scordar di me" with admirable dynamic variation. We could have listened to lots more but there were other delights to be heard.

Gastaldon's "Musica proibita" is new to us and we loved the deep emotionality conveyed by baritone Yeong Taek Yang, emotion supported by the same splendid technique we noted in his performances at Manhattan School of Music. He was equally impressive in the prologue to Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci, as he invites the audience to the upcoming show in a manner so persuasive that no one could have refused. His voice is especially enchanting in the pianissimi.

The romantic cabaret style of Francis Poulenc's "Les chemins de l'amour" was beautifully captured by Brooke Jones who showed another side of her artistry in a trio from Giancarlo Menotti's Amelia al ballo. The lighthearted trio "Chi può saper?" included tenor Reed Gnepper and baritone Jason Hwang as lover and husband. There was a perfect balance between the three voices joined in happy harmony.

Soprano Temple Hammen tackled the challenging "Song to the Moon" from Dvorak's Russalka and did so with gorgeous phrasing. Her "O mio babbino caro" from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi was equally pleasing with a sensitively rendered crescendo that served to build the emotional impact.

Mezzo-soprano Monique Galvāo has one of those distinctively textured voices, unlike so many mezzo-sopranos who leave one wondering whether they are really sopranos. This is augmented by some fearless acting that left no doubt that Dalila would seduce Samson in "Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix" for which Camille Saint-Saëns wrote the most seductive melody. She evinced the same stunning vocalism in Eric Satie's "La diva de l'empire", but created a very different character. It is always a pleasure to witness a singer with a feel for the character.

An evening would not be complete without the crowd-pleasing duet "Au fond du temple saint" from Bizet's Les pêcheurs de perles. Mr. Gnepper and Mr. Hwang harmonized beautifully and had a fine rapport. We loved the way that they conveyed through their eyes and bodily gestures that they were both staring at their love object.

Accompanist for the evening was the wonderful pianist Xu Cheng whose playing we particularly enjoyed in the Dvorak and the Saint-Saëns. Ensembles were finely conducted by Maestro Michelle Rofrano who has recently become a welcome member of the CLA family.

It was music to our ears to learn that the Musician's Emergency Fund joined Amy Hausknecht and Karen Kelley in their support of this delightful Spring Soirée. We didn't want the evening to end!

© meche kroop

Sunday, May 21, 2023



(at left)  Toni Marie Palmertree

(Photo by meche kroop)

(at right)  Eric Botto and Madison Marie McIntosh

(photo by meche kroop)

Gaetano Donizetti's 1833 opera Lucrezia Borgia was given an impressive concert performance last night at The Center at West Park. With musical values this strong, it should have been staged at The Metropolitan Opera. Why is this bel canto masterpiece so rarely staged? Was Victor Hugo's play (on which Felice Romani based his libretto) too shocking by its incestuous hints? Are the lead roles too difficult to cast?

We do believe we saw it at Caramoor about 10 years ago with Angela Meade in the challenging title role. We don't recall sets so perhaps it was also in concert version. The opera has everything one would wish for in a bel canto opera--a melodramatic plot (very loosely based on history), engaging melodic aspects, interesting orchestration, and opportunities for superstar singers. Last night's performance met all those requirements from the opening percussive rumbles and horn declarations to the final tragic finale.

Maestro Keith Chambers elicited a superlative performance from his orchestra and the roles were sung as grandly as one would wish for. As the titular anti-heroine, Toni Marie Palmertree dazzled with fioritura fireworks and sensitively colored her voice to suit the various circumstances--from tenderness toward her son to firmness toward her husband. The vocal lines flowed like warm honey. The vibrato filled the sanctuary with overtones.One could not have wished for a better performance in this treacherous role.

As Gennaro, her illegitimate son who had been raised apart from his ill-reputed mother, we heard tenor Eric Botto who filled out his role nicely. Unaware of  Lucrezia's identity and having been warned of her dangerous nature, his approach to her was wary.  But when singing with his friend Maffio Orsini. his voice wa colored with warmth. When there are no sets and costumes to help the story along, and when audience members do not wish to distract themselves from the singing to look at titles on their cell phones, these vocal colorations assume an outsize importance. We particularly enjoyed his duets with Orsini.

Which brings us to the remarkable performance of mezzo-soprano Madison Marie McIntosh as Maffio Orsini. She excelled at creating a character, an important character by virtue of his closeness to Gennaro. The vocal colors that we so appreciated were augmented by meaningful facial expressions and gestures that defied the limiting aspects of the concert style production and the presence of the music stand. We couldn't help wanting to know more about Orsini's friendship with Gennaro. But that could be another opera! This artist has an enormous range and can dazzle with her upper extension and then wow us with husky low notes. We loved the accuracy of the embellishments and skips.

As the jealous husband, Don Alfonso, Duca di Ferrara, bass Eric Lindsey made a fine showing with growling low notes and an effective pianissimo As his confidant Rustighella, tenor James Danner made the most of a small but vital role.

The group of hotheaded young nobles who set the story in motion (by deleting the letter "B" in the Borgia family crest) was played by  four fine singers who held their own individually as well as in the ensembles. Tenors Scott Rubén La Marca and Pedro Barrera took the roles of Jeppo Liverotto and Oloferno Vitellozzo, respectively. Baritone Wilbert Kellerman sang the role of Ascanio Petrucci and bass-baritone Nate Mattingly took the role of Don Apostolo Gazella. Although it may not have been appropriate in this concert version, we longed for some differentiation of character. Nonetheless, the harmonies were deftly handled.

We enjoyed the lively chorus as well as they contributed to the musical texture. The score and orchestral parts were supplied by Maestro Eve Queler who must have conducted the work with her Opera Orchestra of New York at Carnegie Hall but that was probably before our time. It is indeed a pity that this opera has been so overlooked. The music is melodic and memorable.  And yet, the only piece that we heard before was the Brindisi "Il segreto per esser felice" and it is this piece that is running through our head!

© meche kroop