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.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023


 Brian Zeger, Francesco Barfoed, Joseph Parrish, Megan Moore, and Hera Hyesang Park

We understand that the planets of the solar system were all lined up last night and presumably visible in early evening in the Western sky. Rain and city lights likely made it impossible for New Yorkers to observe this interesting astronomical event. However, we participated in something even better--a lineup of vocal stars associated with The Juilliard School's  Ellen and James S. Marcus Institute for Vocal Arts. This stellar event took place at WQXR's The Greene Space and was introduced by the gracious announcer Midge Woolsey. The event was sponsored by the Gerda Lissner Fund-- Michael Fornabaio (President of the Lissner Charitable Fund). Karl Michaelis sponsored the Juilliard event at WQXR, which was the final entry in a 3-part series in partnership with WQXR including Manhattan School of Music, the Academy of Vocal Arts, and The Juilliard School.

The vocal gifts of these artists are so overwhelming that the listener can take for granted the fine points for which we are always listening. It becomes unnecessary to pick out details like dynamics and phrasing when the artistry is so flawless. Let us instead focus on what really counts in a vocal recital. Does the singer channel the intentions of the poet and the composer? Do we feel involved and connected? Do we perhaps get in touch with something private and access memories and feelings? Do we leave the concert feeling somehow enlarged in spirit?

Dear Reader, you have probably already guessed the answer.  Yes, yes, yes, and yes. We were enraptured for over an hour in a varied and interesting program, pulled into different worlds established by the singers.

Soprano Hera Hyesang Park was on loan from The Metropolitan Opera where she is enchanting audiences with her portrayal of Nanetta in Verdi's Falstaff. We will probably not get to see that performance but we think it's fair to say that Ms. Park has subsumed Nanetta's character, which showed in the girlish charm with which she sang "Non si da follia maggiore" from Rossini's Il Turco in Italia as well as Fiordiligi in the trio that ended the evening-- "Soave sia il vento" from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte.

But what a surprise to hear her show a bit of Iberian temperament in Maria Grever's "Te Quiero, Dijiste".  Our only disappointment is that the use of the detestable music stand marred the communication of Agustin Lara's Grenada. This is one of our favorite songs and we missed the thread of contact which should have remained unbroken. Still, the Spanish flavor was there, enhanced by the piano of Brian Zeger who just happens to be Artistic Director of the Vocal Arts Program at Juilliard.

Mezzo-soprano Megan Moore achieved great depth of connection in a selection of lieder by Franz Schubert, who chose his poets wisely and added great emotion to the text with his melodic invention. Perhaps the reason contemporary songs seem so unmelodic is that Schubert used up all the melodies in his 600-plus lieder output.

In "Auf dem Wasser zu singen", the lilting piano of the excellent collaborative artist Francesco Barfoed introduced us to the timelessness of the waves and the transitory nature of our own existence. Ms. Moore captured Schubert's alternation of modes and moods with joyful expansiveness and melancholy introspection. "Im Frühling" reminds us of the bittersweetness of nostalgia, employing again the heart-piercing alternation of major and minor modes.

"Meeres Stille" takes on the concept of the calm before the storm with Ms. Moore showing us the fearful anticipation described by Goethe's text. Lest we expect that mood to last, we received Goethe's  joyous "Versunken" with memories of our own infatuations.  All these emotions were perfectly conveyed by Ms. Moore's many distinct colorations in a carefully calculated performance that came across as totally spontaneous, as it should. The audience applauded after every lied!

Ms. Moore also included songs by two 20th c. composers that were unknown to us but so pleasing to the ear that we want to hear more of them. Yvette Souviron wrote her own texts for "Carnavalito" and the sensual "Al Banco Solitario" and avoided the atonal pitfalls of most 20th c. composers. It was a surprising but welcome inclusion in the program, as was the Danish "Spring Song"  by Rued Langgaard, also unknown to us. The very lovely and tonal music pleased the ear and reminded us of the exultation attendant upon Spring's arrival as much as the Rachmaninoff song "Spring Waters".

The other singer on the program was bass-baritone Joseph Parrish who chose to sing quite a bit of Russian with excellent diction--two by Rachmaninoff--"Morning" and "My Child, You are as Beautiful as a Flower" with its lavish piano introduction. Mr. Parrish has a wondrously textured instrument and conveyed the stillness of daybreak described in Alezander Yanov's poetry.

His Tchaikovky selections presented a fine contrast. Our favorite was "Amid the Din of the Ball" and we couldn't keep from thinking of Onegin glimpsing Tatyana in the final act of the Tchaikovky opera. However, Tolstoy's  singer is hopeful and only dreams about the mysterious woman whereas Pushkin's ball-goer will push his case to Tatyana. In any case, Mr. Parrish brought out the wonder of the would be lover. Lermontov's narrator in "The Love of a Dead Man" is tormented by jealousy and is not sleeping peacefully and our singer captured that as well.

However, what we enjoyed most of his selections was his accompanying himself on the piano in Donny Hathaway's "A Song for You", setting of a text by Leon Russell. This bluesy song is, in our opinion, a true American art song, a heartfelt confession with interesting interplay between voice and piano. It was all the more meaningful because it was unexpected, unknown, and yet marvelously accessible and relatable.

The evening ended with the afore-mentioned trio from Cosi fan tutte with the three voices in splendid harmony; it sent us out into the rainy night feeling fulfilled by a superb concert and caring little about missing the planets.

© meche kroop

Friday, March 24, 2023


 "Daphne" by Alexandra Dikeakos (from the collection of meche kroop)

Richard Strauss composed an epilogue to his opera Daphne in 1943, over 6 years after he composed the opera. Last night at Carnegie Hall, the choral work was performed before the opera. Under the effective direction of James Bagwell, The Bard Festival Chorus delivered the a cappella work entitled An den Baum Daphne in the best possible fashion; lush melodies were woven together into a dense texture with luminous harmonies that delighted the ear as Joseph Gregor's text paid tribute to the transfigured Daphne, now a tree. 

We wish we had enjoyed the opera as much. It was a poor decision to present the opera in Carnegie Hall with the singers onstage in front of the orchestra. With some exceptions which we will get to, the singers struggled to be heard above the massive forces of Strauss' orchestra. Most of them failed to be heard. Maestro Leon Botstein, a formidable scholar and lecturer, did not manage to achieve balance between orchestra and singers.

The most important exception was soprano Jana McIntyre in the title role; her highly focused instrument sailed right over the orchestra  and managed to impress us with its clarion tone and meaningful colors. We have been a fan of Ms. McIntyre since we first heard her as a student at Manhattan School of Music in 2015, dazzling us with her Queen of the Night in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte. We heard her twice as a George London finalist, showing off her long lines in Bellini's  I Puritani and then as Amina in his La Sonnambula. We heard her as an apprentice of the Santa Fe Opera as Lucia. The first time we heard her sing Strauss was as Zdenka in Arabella. Most recently we heard her as Ännchen in Heartbeat Opera's Der Freischutz.

Our greatest joy is in watching young opera singers grow and achieve their promise. Tenor Aaron Blake has a similarly lengthy history with us.  The George London Foundation honored him a few years after his competition win with a recital of his own. We heard him sing Edgardo's final lament with New Amsterdam Opera. We heard him at Metropolitan Opera concerts as Lensky, Don Ottavio, and Nemorino. We were there when he introduced us to Gregory 
Spears' Fellow Traveler, and Donizetti's Parisini d'Este. But what we remember best was the most impactful delivery of Schubert's "Erlkönig" that we ever heard. Last night he was mostly audible as the shepherd Leukippos and we were sorry when Apollo killed him off.

Mezzo-soprano Ronnita Miller sang the role of Gaea, Daphne's mother, and impressed us with her low notes. We thought of her as a contralto and imagined her singing Erda in Wagner's Ring Cycle.

Beyond that, we didn't hear much vocally, certainly not enough to assess the gifts of the other singers. The usually fine heldentenor Kyle van Schoonhoven pushed to be heard over the orchestra and sounded "woofy". The shepherds could not be heard at all. The two maidens, performed by Marlen Nahhas and Ashley Dixon harmonized beautifully when they could be heard. Mostly we just felt sorry for the singers to have been put in such a position.

What we did enjoy was Strauss' colorful and dense orchestration. There was actually an alphorn played by the Assistant Chair of the Horn Division. As a matter of fact, the winds were so compelling that we wound up looking for information on the difference between a bass clarinet and a basset horn, two members of the clarinet family with deep mellow sounds. 

The orchestra got most of our attention when Ms. McIntrye wasn't floating her gorgeous tones over the dense sounds. Strauss' writing leans toward the programmatic and, although we couldn't hear the words and did not want to read along with the libretto, we found that the orchestration did a fine job of telling the story of a pure nature-loving young woman who rejects the call of romantic love and gets transformed into a tree by a guilty Apollo who has slain her friend and would-be lover Leukippos. Indeed, we heard a brass chorale as the father Peneios (Stefan Egerstrom) spoke of the gods on Olympus. The color of the orchestra exceeded those of the rainbow creating images of nature and moods of reverence. 

We suppose we should be grateful for the opportunity to hear a rarely performed work, even in concert version. However, we might just as well have stayed at home and listened to a CD.

© meche kroop

Sunday, March 19, 2023


 Michael Brofman, William Socolof, Elisabeth Marshall, and Brandon Bell

We have long been a fan of the Brooklyn Art Song Society and a great admirer of the  illuminating programs designed by Artistic Director Michael Brofman. Our regular attendance having been disrupted by Covid and geographical distance, we looked forward to our pilgrimage to Brooklyn for a very special concert, part of The Dichter Project. This year's entry focused on the poetry of Joseph von Eichendorff, a major star in the firmament of Germany's 19th c. Romanticism.

Indeed, his poetry is the most often set of all of Germany's poets, and it is easy to see why. Reading it aloud in German feels like a musical experience. His lines rhyme and scan and beg to be set to music. Apparently, we are not alone in this opinion. Among the many composers who have set his poetry are Schumann,  Wolf, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Pfitzner, Strauss, and Zemlinsky. For last night's concert, Schumann and Wolf were the chosen two.

In our opinion, Schumann made the more likeable of the two. There is something about Schumann's melodic invention that stays in the ear long after the hearing. His writing is entirely sincere and direct; it goes straight to the heart but is also "pictorial" in that it inspires the imagination to create a scene.

Brandon Bell, the baritone to whom was given the first half of the program, comprising Liederkreis, Op.39 , took his cue from the writing and delivered each of the dozen songs in the same sincere direct fashion. Yes, we have heard more dramatic performances of, say, "Waldesgespräch" but we found no fault in Mr. Bell's interpretation which evinced his fine baritonal texture.

We beg your indulgence Dear Reader, for a couple personal stories. Once, riding through Bhutan with a non-English speaking driver, we listened to a tape playing a folk song in Bhutanese. Of course, we did not understand the words but we immediately felt the same emotions we feel when listening to "In der Fremde". Later, we requested the guide to ask the driver what that song was about. You have probably guessed it--a man far from his homeland feeling nostalgia and missing his parents!

The second story is a bit more embarrassing. With all of the arrogance of a first year composition student, we chose Eichendorff's "Wehmut" to set to music. We own that the melody wasn't bad but we knew nothing about writing for piano and the piece lies hidden at the bottom of some drawer. It was like trying to rewrite Shakespeare and we are sure that our composition teacher worked very hard to hide his amusement.

Returning now to last night's excellent concert, the second half comprised settings of different works by Hugo Wolf. We had hoped to hear at least one of the same songs for comparison with Schumann's settings but that was not to be the case. The set was shared between soprano Elisabeth Marshall and bass-baritone William Socolof who seems to be making a big splash in the music scene lately, winning lots of prizes.

We find Wolf's music to be far less accessible to the ear than Schumann's and probably far more difficult to sing. The piano part seems to be denser and the tender moments fewer and farther between. Regular readers will recall that we have great antipathy for the music stand and our heart sank to see both singers glancing down and looking up again, such that the communicative spell was broken.

Mr. Socolof was not the singer listed in the season's brochure so we are going to cut him some slack, imagining that he was not given sufficient time to memorize the nine songs. We have a high opinion of his artistry but we found our attention focusing more on Mr. Brofman's intense piano performance. The stentorian nature of "Der Freund" gave way to the charming story of the feckless "Der Musikant", told with some frisky staccato. 

At this point, soprano Elisabeth Marshall took over for "Verschwiegene Liebe" and continued to use that loathed music stand. We cannot think of an excuse for this since the singer was listed on the original season's program and had plenty of time to learn three songs. We would welcome another opportunity to hear her sing under different circumstances.

We are sure that there were audience members who did not mind but we attend lieder recitals to feel the contact with the poet and the composer, as channeled by the performer. We want to feel that connection and when it is missing, we have the thought that we may as well have stayed home and listened to a CD (of which we have a huge collection, although we understand no one listens to CD's anymore).

And so, we shifted our attention to the piano which Mr. Brofman plays so well. Each song was given its due. We particularly enjoyed the tender moments of "Nachtzauber". In "Soldat I" Mr. Brofman captured both the martial rhythms and also the humor of a man who will escape if his sweetheart speaks of marriage. 

To return to the topic of Eichendorff, he was not only a poet but also a novelist, a critic, and a playwright. It is interesting to note that much of his poems were integral parts of his novellas. One might find it amusing to read the poetry and to try to imagine the character that speaks it and what the situation was. Perhaps this knowledge might yield a fascinating evening!

© meche kroop

Thursday, March 16, 2023


Mary Beth Nelson and Francesco Barfoed

It isn't every day that we get to hear two talented mezzo-sopranos on the same program and to observe how very different two artists from the same fach can be--as different as yin and yang or as fire and ice Both were dazzling in different ways. Both shared a highly engaging manner and the ability to make the audience feel welcome and involved.

Each chose her own program comprising material that was meaningful to herself. We found our own self wishing that they had not announced their respective themes, inasmuch as it was the way each chose to interpret the material and perhaps not the way we in the audience might understand it. It reminded us of the "Director's Notes" in a playbill announcing what the director was trying to say. Readers have heard me before opining that a work of art should speak for itself.

Several singers were nominated by their respective voice teachers at Juilliard to audition and then these two were selected by a panel of judges to participate in last night's Vocal Arts Honors Recital at Merkin Hall. This annual recital has always been a highlight of the vocal scene.

The first half of the program was performed by Mary Beth Nelson and Collaborative Pianist Francesco Barfoed. The first set was a setting of Three Poems of Christina Rossetti, a Victorian poet who came from an artistic family, including a famous Pre-Raphaelite painter.

We found the contemporary settings by David Conte to be more interesting in the piano part than the vocal part. Ms. Nelson's approach was elegant, sophisticated, and spare of gesture, as appropriate to the content of the text, which was largely about death. In our opinion, the text didn't ask for music and stands alone as poetry, enjoyable if you love poetry. It felt to us as if Ms. Nelson's gorgeous instrument (which we have very much enjoyed on prior occasions, when she sang Rossini and Strauss) was searching for a melody that wasn't there. Nonetheless, we enjoyed some personal touches such as the ritardando on the closing "think it long" of "Rest" and the emphasis on the recurrence of the phrase "calling me" in "A Hope Carol". The expressive lower register fell lightly on the ear--quite a change from the coloratura that we have admired on prior occasions.

We also enjoyed Mr. Barfoed's playing of the sometimes dense score, especially the extended postlude of "Echo".

The second set comprised three lieder by Schubert that were completely unfamiliar to us. We must have heard them ten years ago when Lachlan Glen produced a year long and exhaustive survey of Schubert's 600 plus lieder. We would love to tell you that we were thrilled to discover "new" Schubert lieder but in all honesty, we cannot. We did not hear the melodic invention nor feel the rhythmic thrust that enthralls.

"Verklärung" is a setting of Alexander Pope's "Transfiguration" translated into German by Johann Gottfried Herder--still more on the theme of death. The piano part was powerful with alternating lyrical parts. The variety of pacing and dynamics held one's interest and it was a story that Ms. Nelson relished telling.

Similarly, the setting of Franz von Bruchmann's "Schwestergrüss" gave Ms. Nelson a story to tell, a ghost story! Schubert wrote it with phrases occurring in ever ascending registers and Ms. Nelson gave this device full measure to build the drama. We also liked the insistent piano in the lower register.

Christoph Kuffner's "Glaube, Hoffnung, und Liebe" seemed to occupy more familiar territory, offering an interesting alternation of major and minor mode. We loved the way Schubert ended the lied with a firm resolution in the piano. 

We were left admiring Ms. Nelson's vocal gifts and the will to take the audience to unfamiliar places. Yet, the selections were not our taste and we were left wanting an encore of "Non piu mesto" or "Una voce poco fa".

Sunday, March 12, 2023


 An Evening with Mannes Opera

Mannes Sounds Festival, helmed by Artistic Director Pavlina Dokovska, has been keeping New Yoirk City entertained since February with a number of exciting events. Last night we were delighted to attend the vocal entry "Bel Canto, an Evening with Mannes Opera"  held at the gorgeous Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel, on the good counsel of one of our favorite singers. We are very happy for this good counsel, having spent the evening hearing some of our favorite Mannes singers and discovering some new ones.

Director William Gustafson staged each scene in a manner that made the action clear and augmented the staging with a brief but engaging description, for those in the audience unfamiliar with the operas. If the scene involved more than the person performing the aria, the other scene partners were onstage, giving the singer dramatic input. This added imeasureably to the engaging nature of the evening.

Music director Eun Kyung Lee accompanied on the piano and adhered perfectly to the varying styles of singing. There were also a couple of instrumental pieces that we enjoyed. Debussy's Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp struck us as haunting and mysterious, stirring our imagination into a woodland scene with the harp creating a rippling stream and the flute bringing bird calls to mind. It was quite lovely. "Dance of the Blessed Spirits" from Gluck's Orphée et Eurydice was otherwordly with Ms. Lee's piano joined by a pair of flutes, performing from a balcony in the rear.

Although that device was most effective for that piece, the use of the balconies for operatic numbers was somewhat less so--perhaps dramatically appropriate but making the singer difficult to see. Our readers know how much we prefer "up close and personal"--strictly a matter of personal preference.

The performances were all excellent but let us recall a few in which the singer and the material seemed perfect for one another. Soprano Theodora Siegel showed fine involvement with the character in her performance of "O luce di quest'anima" from Donizetti's Linda diChamounix, utilizing lavish embellishment of the vocal line to convey Linda's delight.

Similarly, soprano Jihye Seo gave a moving portrayal of the doomed heroine of  Donizetti's Maria Stuarda. In the first part of the scene "O nubei che lieve" she reflects on her homeland in lyrical fashion; in the cabaletta "Nelle pace del mesto riposo" she let loose her rage at Queen Elizabeth with passionate fioritura. We loved the resonance of her voice, with overtones bouncing around the nave. In keeping with Mr. Gustafson's intentions, it would have been meaningful to have Maria's companion Anna nearby.

Whilst we are discussing Donizetti, baritone Julian Bailey made a persuasive Dottore Malatesta, trying to convince the titular Don Pasquale of the virtues of his "sister" in "Bella siccome un angelo".  Mr. Bailey's mid-range has a most compelling texture.

We may not consider Mozart and Bizet as "bel canto" composers. but then Lincoln Center always included some outliers in their Mostly Mozart Festival. So we were thrilled to hear mezzo-soprano Shengnan Yang perform the "Seguidilla" from Bizet's Carmen with luscious tone and seductive manner.

MIcaela's aria "Je dis que rien ne m'épouvante" was performed by soprano Sunwei Li in a most heartfelt manner with soaring tones that rose to the celing.

Mozart was given quite a bit of stage time and we enjoyed baritone Haojie Jiang's interpretation of Figaro's aria "Non più andrai" from Nozze di Figaro, sung with full tone and charming personality. Estelina Syla as Susanna harmonized beautifully with Lindsey Kanaga in "Sull'aria" but they were way up high in the balcony and contemporized the duet by means of cell phone usage which distracted by its anachronicity.

Way outside the "bel canto" designation but just as filled with vocal fireworks is Adele's "Laughing Song" from Johann Strauss' Die Fledermaus and Haojin Mo not only nailed those fireworks but created a very funny and loveable character.

There were many more treasures on this long program but we are out of space.  However we don't want to end without mentioning an aria in (gasp) English which we actually enjoyed and the words of which were totally comprehensible.  Tenor Knox Van Horn gave a well phrased account of "New York Lights" from William Bolcom's A View from the Bridge. The finest compliment we could give is that we would actually consider going to a performance of said opera, should it be produced locally!

© meche kroop

Sunday, March 5, 2023


 Cast and Production Team

 We had almost given up on theater (which we don't generally review) finding most contemporary plays to be either trivial or polemic. Last night was a completely different experience and we decided to write about it since the subject was opera singers. The title of the play The Smallest Sound in the Smallest Space seems to have layers of meaning--anatomical, psychological, and philosophical. As far as the material and its impact, it made a great big sound, although occurring in a small space which we believe is called Nancy Manocherian's the cell theatre.

Personally, we are very fond of intimacy and sharing this profound experience with probably around 50 other people served to increase the impact. Good theater, in our opinion, must be very specific, and allow us in the audience to personalize it in a manner that touches our own memories and experiences.  

The play, written by Bryce McClendon, tells the tale of a university voice teacher (Shah Motia) under investigation by a compliance officer (Shelly Lynn Walsh). The audience gets to see his interaction with a colleague (Ai Chaim Ra) and several students (Alexander Rodriguez, Rachel Policar, Heather Jones,and Morgan Mastrangelo) as well as coach/pianists (Nathaniel LaNasa and Savannah Bergli).

We also get to hear the students' reports to the compliance officer and to notice the effects of self-repression, largely due to fear of consequences and also to the assumption of guilt by victims who blame themselves.

Having had several voice teachers and having sat in on coachings by others, we found fault with the teacher's methods. He blathered on about himself, he multi-tasked on his cell phone, he made weird assumptions and asked intrusive questions, he supported at times indiscriminately, and attacked with humiliation.  We have no doubt such teachers exist but we have thankfully never been exposed  to such egregious "tutelage", at least not in the field of opera.     

The worst misconduct, however, was getting a male student intoxicated and bringing him home for some drunken and regrettable sex. Please do not think that we are jumping on the bandwagon of tarring and feathering every teacher and singer who touches another singer. Teachers putting hands on ribs to facilitate deeper breathing or touching parts of the face seems fine to us. And hugging fellow cast members after a performance?  Doesn't seem like a problem to us. Equals can always set boundaries for their colleagues.

The problem with student/teacher interaction is the power dynamic. Even in the "me too" epoch, students may hang back out of fear of retaliation or out of self-blame. And here's where the generalization and personalization enters the picture. The same thing happens in medical training, law training, and probably every other kind of training. I would be surprised if there were any members of the audience thinking that this didn't apply to them.

Stage Director Katy Early made the inter-connected scenes quite clear. The only confusing part was the opening in which Kent (the teacher) was very noisily warming up his voice, disturbing the compliance officer who was making calls from a nearby desk trying to hear over the din. It took a few minutes to figure out that they did not share a space.

Speaking of space, the Chelsea venue appears to be a repurposed townhouse and the setting made good use of an exposed stairccase and overhead loft. One surmises that the simple but effective set (piano, bookshelves, and desk) was designed as a group project, since it became clear that The Why Collective (the Founder and Artistic Director of which is Sydney Anderson) comprises people of many talents.

For example,the actors portraying student singers are also opera singers and we enjoyed hearing Mr. Rodriguez singing "Dies bildnis" from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte, Rachel Policar giving. "Volate amori" from Händel's Ariodante a performance colored by her character's inhibition, and Heather Jones' interpretation of "En sourdine" from Debussy's Fêtes Galantes. The challenge for each of the three singers was to sing it in the voice of the character they were portraying--no small feat.

During the last scene with Mx. Jones, she converts the "small sound" insisted upon by her teacher to a swelling large sound, thereby illustrating her liberation from authoritarian intimidation. We in the sudience feel free thereby to make our own large sounds. And isn't this enlightenment and spiritual enhancement what theater is all about?

It is our dearest wishes that the run of this work be extended so that more people can receive the message.

© meche kroop

Friday, March 3, 2023


 Danielle Orlando, Latonia Moore, Alice Chung, Titus Muzi, and Ethel Trujillo

One could not have asked for a more satisfying experience than that provided last night at The Greene Space by The Gerda Lissner Foundation, starring singers of the Academy of Vocal Arts, eleven alumni of which are performing this season at the Metropolitan Opera, including some of our very own favorites such as James Morris, Ailyn Perez, and Latonia Moore. There was a warm welcome from Scott Guzielek, Vice President and General Manager of AVA and the ever-delightful Midge Woolsey of WQXR.

As familiar as we are with students at New York City's three conservatories, we have only been introduced to the students of AVA on occasions when they have appeared in competitions. We were happy to have made up somewhat for the lack and quite interested to learn that students at AVA pay no tuition! They must be doing something very special down there in Philadelphia, judging by what we heard tonight.

Soprano Latonia Moore headlined the evening with "Il est doux, il est bon" from Massenet's Herodiade, adding gentle coloring to her sizable voice. What we liked best, aside from the magnificent instrument she possesses, was her total immersion in the character. The vibrato was one of innocent rapture and her gestures limned the character of a young Salome.

We heard her later in the program as Cio-Cio San in Puccini's Madama Butterfly--first (accompanied  by mezzo-soprano Alice Chung as Suzuki, about whom more later) in "Scuoti quella fronda di cilegio" in which her voice was colored with joyful anticipation, and later in "Tu, tu piccolo iddio" in which she bids farewell to her beloved son, with sorrow and despair. Having both scenes on the same program gave us a picture of the evolution of character, so necessary to the believability of the story. When singing is so perfect, it is this characterization that makes the difference between talent and artistry.

This quality seems to be a feature of AVA singers. Take, for example, the scenes from Don Pasquale, Donizetti's comic masterpiece. The widow Norina is ambitious and wily and makes a fine team with the shrewd and calculating Dr. Malatesta as they forge a plan to deceive the stingy Don Pasquale. The singers must work hard to get us to like these characters or the opera falls flat. And all this must reflect the commedia del'arte underpinnings of the story.

Soprano Ethel Trujillo and baritone Titus Muzi succeeded admirably at this. In "Quel guardo il cavaliere", Ms. Trujillo reveals Norina's romantic side, using her facility with fioritura and a warm coloration of the voice to put us squarely in her corner. There was an exceptionally clean descending scale and a notably fine trill none of which distracted us from the character she created.

But just watch how she reacted to the plot hatched by Mr. Muzi's Malatesta. His warm baritone was perfect for the role and he created a likeable character whom we could accept as one helping Norina to achieve her dreams, rather than as a wicked manipulator taking advantage of Don Pasquale.  The two artists worked very well together as he instructed her in how to play her part in the deception. They are marvelous comic actors as well as singers.

Mr. Muzi created a quite different character, playing Valentin in Gounod's Faust as a sincerely devoted and responsible brother. In the mid-section he revealed the stalwart soldier. It was great to see this other serious side of his artistry.

Ms. Trujillo also had another opportunity to dazzle us. Regular readers know about our passion for zarzuela and the soprano's choice of "Me llaman la primorosa" from Giménez and Nieto's El barbero de Sevilla suited her perfectly. We haven't heard it since New Camerata Opera presented it way back in B.C. (before Covid). The aria gave her a chance to show all kinds of vocal flair and personality. Again we noted the very fine trill and facility with even scale passages. At one point she exchanged phrases with the piano in a most charming fashion.

Mezzo-soprano Alice Chung, whose voice blended so beautifully with Ms. Moore's in the Butterfly duet, had some riveting solos which we found incredibly moving.  Perhaps "Voce di donna" is the only aria from Ponchielli's La Gioconda that we remember but Ms. Chung's performance brought the entire opera back to mind and we could just see La Cieca blessing Laura.

Even more remarkable was a Korean art song "Longing for GeunGang Mountain" by Choi Young-Sup, apparently written after the Japanese occupation ended, an historical turn of events which permitted Korea to develop its own art song tradition. In spite of being written in the 20th c. the song is melodic and the confluence of the melody in the music and the melody in the words brought tears to our eyes. It was obvious how deeply the artist related to the song.

Toward the end of this drama-filled evening, Ms. Chung performed a work of brevity and utter simplicity--William Bolcom's "Waitin'",  another triumph for this gorgeous voice.

Piano accompaniment was provided by the very gifted Danielle Orlando, whose playing captured our attention during some American folk songs arranged by Clifford Shaw, a most different experience than a piano attempting to replace an entire orchestra. We could really appreciate the writing and the performance.

If you didn't make it into the small Greene Space, perhaps you heard the live stream.  In which case, you are welcome to provide your comments below. Please note that the Gerda Lissner Foundation will have a competition at Zankel Hall on May 1st. We advise you to get your tickets now.

© meche kroop