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.

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

Tuesday, May 16, 2023


 Eric McKeever as Michele
(photo by Dan Wright Photography)

Giacomo Puccini's Il Trittico comprises three one-act operas. We have seen all three on one long evening and we have seen them separately, often paired with other one-act operas. Recently we have seen Gianni Schicchi , a comedy, and Suor Angelica, a tragedy of victimhood. Last night we saw Il Tabarro, a drama of thwarted love and revenge, presented in riveting fashion by On Site Opera, a company we revere for fitting the opera to the setting,

This has always been the least loved one of the three operas and we confess to not really getting it until last night, staged on the Lightship Ambrose (subbing for a barge), docked at Pier 16 of the South Street Seaport. Singers moved up and down the gangplank carrying heavy loads. Women gathered around the song-seller to acquire the latest sheetmusic. The realism of the setting served to amplify the realismo of the opera. 

As in Leoncavallo's earlier work Pagliacci, a man is rejected by his wife and finds revenge in murder, a story that must have resonated with audiences at the turn of the 20th c.  Come to think of it, one has only to read newspapers to know that the "plot" still exists, although crimes of passion are, in these days, more likely to be accomplished secretly. Fortunately we were not exposed to ridiculous attempts at modernization. Costuming was accurate and served to reinforce the sense of time and place.

Director Laine Rettmer did a superb job of telling the story and Maestro Geoffrey McDonald utilized the smallish orchestra in a manner that supported the singers and yet amplified the emotions of the characters when there was a lull in the singing. Speaking of amplification, we realize it was necessary in a noisy outdoor environment and we credit the sound design for keeping a fine balance. We heard from one of the singers that each singer heard differently and standing in different places often left the singer unaware of the volume. This makes the success doubly impressive. The loss of sound of unamplified voices was more than compensated by the achievement of reality.

Baritone Eric McKeever was outstanding as the captain of the barge, projecting a sense of kindliness both toward the stevedores in his employ and toward his wife, with whom he once shared tender loving moments. He succeeded in arousing our sympathy.  What could be more damaging to a man's sense of masculinity than having his embraces rejected by his wife. 

Soprano Ashley Milanese was fine in this role and also succeeded in arousing our sympathy as she sings of the child that died. Perhaps that was what destroyed the love she once shared with Michele. As she recalls her lovely home in suburban Paris and shares these reminiscences with Luigi, her stevedore lover who came from the same banlieu, we come to appreciate the bond between them and what Luigi represents to her.

The role of Luigi was well handled by tenor Yi Li who struggled with his passion for his boss' wife. Giuseppe Adami's libretto never makes him out to be a villain, just a man led around by his sexual passions who found a partner to return his lust.

With the major roles of this love triangle so effectively portrayed, one could also make note of the success of the subsidiary roles. Jose Heredia injected some humor and fine singing in the role of the bibulous Tinca, one of the stevedores who tries to dance with Georgetta and steps on her toes.

The other stevedore Talpa was sung by Artega Wright who, in contrast with Michele and Georgetta, seems to have a reciprocal relationship with his wife La Frugola, played with marvelous low voice and comic spirit by Sharmay Musacchio. The scene in which she distributes the many treasures of her dumpster diving  served to lighten the atmosphere.

There was a wonderful moment in which the Song Seller distributed sheet music to the gathering milliners and the orchestra played a theme from Puccini's masterwork La Bohême in which we just last week heard Mr. Heredia as Rodolfo! In any event, that Puccini was a clever devil!

Let us now name the members of The Ensemble who contributed so much vocally and dramatically, some of whom we have heard singing at our local conservatories or at competitions. Sopranos Yohji Daquio, Lindsey Kanaga, Theodora Siegel, and Kiena Williams; mezzo sopranos Claire Coven and JoAnna Vladyka; Tenor Daniel Rosenberg; Baritone Paul LaRosa; and bass Brian McQueen.

From the moment the opera began we were totally engaged. There was not a single longueur. It was as if a real event was unrolling before our very eyes and ears. It was an event to remember and cherish.

© meche kroop


 Patrick Kilbride, Hannah De Priest, and Jonathan Woody 
Pergolesi's La servante maïtresse

Opera Lafayette's annual visit from Washington D.C. is always cause for celebration and the thunderous applause at the end of this week's visit manifested the high esteem in which they are held by their New York audience. This year's theme focused on Madame Pompadour, mistress of King Louis XV, radical, and patroness of the arts. Three events explored her influence upon and appreciation of mid-18th c. music. Sadly, prior commitments prevented us from attending the first two evenings but we made up for it in our own appreciation of the final evening.

We know of no other company that puts such a premium on scholarship, presenting artistic works in a socio-political context. The 120-page program book, fronted by a beautiful portrait of Mme. Pompadour, was thoroughly researched and highly educational. The pre-opera lecture, given by Dr. Julia Doe from Columbia University's Department of Music, was as engaging as it was instructive. The composer of the evening, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, lived only a quarter of a century but his contributions altered the course of musical evolution. A precocious musical genius, he studied in Naples and brought his fresh direct simplicity to Paris. He died of tuberculosis but achieved posthumous fame. Many compositions claimed to be of his authorship but in fact he composed only thirty.

One of these was a one-act comic opera called La Serva Padrona, meant to be a "palate cleanser" in between the acts of an opera seria. However, it achieved fame outside of Europe and was translated into French and known as La servante maîtresse. This is what we saw and heard last night as a stand alone work followed by a tragedy-- about which more later.

In this comedic bonbon, the wealthy bourgeois Pandolfe (bass-baritone Jonathan Woody) is manipulated by his servant Zerbine (Hannah De Priest) into marrying her. The backstory is that he had procured her from her family and raised her to serve him; she was strong-willed and bossy toward his manservant Scapin (Patrick Kilbride) and resistant to serving Pandolfe. She finally succeeds in getting his "proposal" by enlisting the services of Scapin who impersonated a most unsuitable suitor, making Pandolfe feel jealous but also protective of her. It is a silly trifle with echoes of commedia dell'arte but the music is gorgeous. Maestro Ryan Brown, the Artistic Director of Opera Lafayette, conducted with fine attention to detail and the balance of instrumentation among the strings, a pair of French horns, a bassoon, and a harpsichord.

Much credit goes to Director Nick Olcott who kept the action moving and who provided translation of the text with spoken dialect in clever rhyming couplets. This struck us as a genius move which contributed to the fine French singing and on point acting. Marsha LeBoeuf's costume design was perfectly a propos and inventive to the point that when Zerbine gets "promoted" from servant to wife, she removes her serving apron to reveal an elegant dress. There are more photos of the production to be found on our Facebook page Voce di Meche. Lest you think that simplicity eliminated vocal decoration, let us reassure you that we relished every bit of fioritura It was thoroughly enjoyable.

Jacob Ashworth, Sarah Mesko, and Gwendoline Blondeel

Tragedy followed comedy after intermision. Pergolesi's  Stabat Mater comprises a dozen sections dealing with the effects of the crucifixion on Jesus' mother Mary. That Pergolesi managed to give each section a different mood and color is testament to his genius. The work was sensitively sung by soprano Gwendoline Blondeel and mezzo-soprano Sarah Mesko. Ms. Mesko, unlike so many mezzo-sopranos who are barely distinguishable from sopranos, has a richly textured mezzo sound that had us mentally casting her as Carmen and Dalilah. We were not at all surprised, when we got around to reading the program notes, to learn that Carmen is one of her signature roles. The gorgous voices of these two women were blended together in a few duet sections adding even more interest. The work was successfully conducted by Concertmaster Jacob Ashworth, known to us from his work with Heartbeat Opera. 

It was a very special evening in both conceptionn and execution. Were we to have a flute of champagne at hand, we would raise it to toast Opera Lafayette!

© meche kroop

Monday, May 15, 2023



Malena Galán (photo by meche kroop)

Graduation recitals are usually pretty exciting, especially if you have watched the graduating singer develop over a period of time. The singer develops the program and gets the stage with whomever she chooses to share with. It is an opportunity to show off what one has learned over the past four years and to exhibit as much variety as one chooses. 

At this concert given by mezzo-soprano Malena Galán, graduating from Manne School of Music, we heard accompaniment on the piano by Youngmo Na and Aleksandar Hadžieski, Helen Wyrick on the guitar, Elias Ludlam on flute, Carlos Pino on string bass, as well as by a string quartet comprising Salome Lamidze, Zoe Lo, Sofia Machuca, and Beatriz Sardón Martin, 

The recital was a most audience-pleasing survey of her multiple areas of artistry, covering not only art songs in English, German, French, Spanish, and what we think was Ladino-- but also some musical theater and tango. All were enjoyable.

There is one thing that differentiates Ms. Galán's stage presentation and that is a complete comfort with the audience, manifested by a welcoming and engaging manner. We felt as if she were a guest in our home introducing each song.

English may not be our favorite language for singing but Purcell's "Music for a While" was a great opener, showing an artist who isn't afraid of emoting. As a matter of fact, that quality was present in every selection, making each song into a mini-aria. That is the gift of "story-telling". The imagery comes alive in a most engaging fashion.

In the German section, "Wer hat dies Liedlein erdacht" from Mahler's Des Knaben Wunderhorn, we felt like a child listening to a folk tale. In contrast, Schubert's "Ständchen" was filled with ardent mature longing.

In the French section we particularly enjoyed a most convincing "Maman, dîtes-moi" a cute ditty about a girl experiencing the pangs of first love.

Ou favorite in the Italian section was the familiar "Voi che sapete",  sung by the very hormonal Cherubino to the Countess in Mozart' Nozze di Figaro. We could just see the youth with all his diffident gestures and bravado.

The hit of the musical theater section was Jerome Kern's "All the Things You Are", thankfully sung with simplicity and sincerity. (We never cared for the jazzed up version). We liked the sad song of a disappointed lover from Manuel Valls' Canciones Sefarditas.

Unfortunately, we had to leave before the concluding songs from Argentina, Ms. Galán's homeland. It was not such a great loss because we have a persistent memory of our introduction to the artist at a concert at the Argentinian Consulate organized by fellow Argentinian Maestro Jorge Parodi in which we acquired a great appreciation for those songs.

Between then and last night we had the pleasure of seeing this young artist in a Mannes production of Cavalli's La Calisto. It will be interesting to see where she goes next. A mezzo-soprano with a smoky lower register and firmly supported tone could occupy the world of opera, cabaret, or musical theater.  We eagerly await further developments.

We can never end a review without a quibble and here it comes. The German needs work.  Like so many American singers, there is so much fear of mispronouncing the final consonants that they get left off to the point where the word makes no sense.  Let's get friendly, singers, with "ich" and "ig" and other endings!

© meche kroop

Thursday, May 11, 2023


 Honoree Adam Guettel and 2023 Award Rccipients

Career Bridges has been providing assistance to young opera singers for 19 years, far longer than we have been writing about them. Career Bridges provides mentoring, support, and performance opportunities to singers at the early stages of their careers, assistance lasting for three years, bridging the period between education and professional life.  Co-Founders David Schuyler Bender and his lovely wife Barbara Meister Bender are unique in being a beautiful "power couple" who are busy putting good into the world. Their goals are consonant with our own and we are proud and pleased to spread the word.

Tuesday night we were thrilled to be in attendance at this year's gala, held at 
The Metropolitan Club. Guests comprised not only luminaries of the opera world, donors who fund the program, and a number of voice students who no doubt hope to have Career Bridges' help in their future.

Honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award was Joan Dornemann, famed vocal coach and Artistic Director of The International Vocal Arts Institute (of which we are a great fan). Many of us know her from her work at The Metropolitan Opera. We recall first meeting her as she conducted a coaching of Olga Makarina for her role as Mimi. Hearing her speak about getting her start as a prompter was most engaging.

Honored with a Distinguished Achievement Award was composer/lyricist/teacher Adam Guettel whose 2005 musical Light in the Piazza has remained in our memory. His projects are many and eagerly anticipated.

The young singers, accompanied by Musical Director Ted Taylor, were of uniformly high quality. Strangely there was only one male but we will put the ladies first. Let's begin with the sopranos, of which there were eight. They were all excellent in the same way--polished performers whose vocal technique was notable. If some of them sounded too much like each other, they will soon develop their own individual colors. That's what advanced training accomplishes.

Natalia Gonzalez-Santaliz performed "Chacun le sait" from Donizetti's La fille du regiment with a bright perky sound,  making a fine Marie. Seongeun Park made a lovely Nanetta, impressing us with her trill in "Sul fil d'un soffio etesio" from Verdi's Falstaff. Abigail Raiford exhibited the requisite bell-like tones in "Ou va la jeune Hindoue" from Delibes' Lakmé. We enjoyed the precision in  the affecting upper register of the devilishly difficult "O zittre nicht" from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte, performed by Kira Kaplan.

Other sopranos chose arias that showed off voices with a bit more heft. We are not familiar with Rimsky-Korsakov's The Tsar' Bride but Hana Lobel-Torres sang the aria "Ivan Gergeitch" with an interesting vibrato and texture. The same could be said for Kristin Gillis' performance of "Glück, das mir verblieb" from Korngold's Die tote Stadt, which she made her own. 

The huge but flexible soprano of Marieke de Koker was just right for "Tacea la notte placida" from Verdi's Il Trovatore. This stunning performance was a bonus and not in the program. We wouldn't have missed it for the world.

We also liked the mezzo-sopranos and their choice of material. Maggie Renée gave a highly dramatic performance of the witch's aria from Humperdinck's Hansel und Gretel, calling to mind Jamie Barton's Jezibaba in Dvorak's Russalka. (It's so much fun to perform evil characters!)  Junyue Gong's Carmen benefitted from good pacing and a sense of time and place in the "Seguidilla". "O ma lyre immortelle" from Gounod's Sapho was sung with deep feeling by Chelsea Laggan. Tackling some Wagner was Shanley Horvitz, singing "Geliebter! Komm' sieh' dort die Grotte" from Tannhaüser. We liked her German and the seductive quality.

Our sole male voice belonged to baritone Kevin Godinez who gave Ford's aria "È sogno? O realtà" from Falstaff an excellent reading. The evening ended with Mr. Godinez leading the ensemble in a rousing performance of  "The Impossible Dream" from Leigh's Man of La Mancha. This choice was rather ironic since it seems to us that the night' young artists have possible dreams, made possible by Career Bridges.

Let us not forget to share one final performance--that of Meghan Picerno who sang one of our favorite arias--"Glitter and Be Gay" from Bernstein's Candide, a marvelous work that has been fought over by both Broadway camp and opera camp. We call it an opera.

© meche kroop

Sunday, May 7, 2023


 Rachel Hippert, Maestro Richard Cordova, Jose Heredia, Dilara Unsal, Muir Ingliss, Gennady Vysotsky, Director Sabrina Palladino, and Daniel Chiu

Last night was the closing night of Amore Opera's production of Puccini's heartbreaker La Bohême. Our last exposure to Amore Opera was just before Covid, shortly after which our beloved Nathan Hull was prematurely taken from us, leaving a vacuum in leadership. The last we heard was that Amore Opera's gorgeous sets and costumes had to be sacrificed due to lack of funds to pay for storage. We never considered that the company we had enjoyed for so many years would survive those two major blows. Not only did they survive but, like the proverbial  phoenix rising from the ashes, they are thriving.

Perhaps it was some extraordinary leadership and whole-hearted determination plus moving south from the Riverside Theater to the Center at West Park that led to the packed house. It was definitely the quality of the production that led to the vociferous applause. Amore Opera is back on its feet, producing the classics in relatable fashion and with modestly priced tickets. We call "Bravi Tutti"!

La Bohême is arguably Puccini's most relatable opera. Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa fashioned an engaging libretto from stories by Henri Murger; Giacomo Puccini set the libretto to highly dramatic and melodic music that emphasizes the emotions of the characters and also describes the setting. We always listen for the dying of the fire and the water sprinkled in Mimi's face in Act I. The bustle of Paris on Christmas Eve is equally limned and the snowfall in Act III as well. 

We are happy to report that Maestro Richard Cordova did not miss a beat🤦 in telling the tale with the fine orchestra he conducted. Gone were the worst intonation failures of the string section which bothered us so in former days. Favorite themes were elicited to our delight; it is largely the orchestra that creates the mood.

We are also delighted that Stage Director Sabrina Palladino presented the opera with accuracy to time and place, respecting its creators. It is very much a story of the mid 19th c. and we never thrilled to the production by NYCO that chose to set it at the start of The Great War. Just as we like it, the work spoke for itself and required no lengthy Director's Notes to tell us how to interpret it. Moreover, all the stage business was valid and served to illuminate the characters and to tell the story. Our only quibble was in Act IV, Mimi is dressed in a night dress and barefoot and she was, according to the libretto, found stumbling around in the street. Other costumes (Sara Pearson, Costume Designer) were perfectly appropriate and Musetta's costume was particularly outstanding, revealing a character who is independent and does exactly what she wants. We refer you to our Facebook page (Voce di Meche) for photos of same.

While we are discussing Musetta, let us begin with the performance of soprano Dilara Unsal who picked up the role and ran with it, scoring a victorious goal. Her voice is more than sufficient to cut through Puccini's orchestration and her technique is so secure that one is allowed to appreciate the convincing acting. We meet her in Act II when we see her bad girl side, abusing poor Alcindoro, her "admirer" and doing everything she can to get the attention of poor Marcello, her erstwhile (and future) lover. Of course, she succeeds. Casting this role requires a woman beautiful enough to be convincing and vocally strong enough to dominate the quartet.

In Act III, we see even worse behavior as she and Marcello (Muir Ingliss) bring out the worst in each other. The irony is that Marcello has just been lecturing her about not making love difficult. It is in Act IV that we get to witness the soft heart underneath the bristly exterior as she pawns her earrings to pay for a muff to satisfy Mimi's dying wish.

Mimi was portrayed by soprano Rachel Hippert who hit all the right notes both musically and dramatically. She was charmingly and shyly seductive in Act I, succeeding in getting Rodolfo to take her out for dinner whilst hinting about what might happen after dinner. In Act II, we see her in vivid contrast with the attention getting Musetta. In Act III, we see her overhearing the true reason for Rodolfo's rejection and realizing that death was not far away; the pair will make the best of a bad situation, staying together until Spring. In Act IV, we feel our heart break as she is brought to her friends' garret to die. We see the depth of her attachments and the pain of letting go. Puccini's music tells us and Ms. Hippert showed us.

As Rodolfo we heard tenor Jose Heredia in fine voice, granting us a tender but slightly boastful "Che gelida manina". He was particularly moving in Act III, at first blaming Mimi for the breakup but finally accepting responsibility for his fear of death. His acting revealed to us the major theme of the opera. It's a coming of age story in which a callow youth faces death and the loss of youthful invulnerability. The story was told so successfully that we have been pondering the fate of the other characters and what will happen to them as they outgrow their youthful self-obsession. Mimi's death will surely hasten their adulting.

The tragedy is lightened by some comic moments that were well realized. For example in Act I when baritone Daniel Chin recounts his very funny story of playing music for a parrot, his three flat-mates ignore him whilst devouring the food he has brought. (We, however, paid attention to his entertaining delivery.) The way in which the four young men manipulate their landlord is another amusing moment.  In Act II, there is humor in Musetta's control over her "patron" Alcindoro. Both the landlord Benoit and Alcindoro were performed by the marvelously funny Garry Giardino. In Act III there is humor in the over-the-top name calling of the battling Marcello and Musetta.

In Act IV, there is no humor but there is poignancy in Colline's farewell to the overcoat he is about to pawn to get medicine for the dying Mimi. The role was performed by Gennady Vysotsky.

So, Dear Reader, we got exactly what we wish for--a traditional production of one of our favorite operas, sensitively directed, uniformly well-sung with excellent musical values. We wish Manhattan had a nice mid-sized theater with an orchestra pit. The Center at West Park has the orchestra seated at ground level but the action takes place on an elevated stage. This must be a challenge for the singers and the conductor but the challenge was met. The set was minimal but with such fine singing and direction, our mind's eye filled it in.

© meche kroop

Friday, May 5, 2023



Annija Dziesma Teteris, Eva Rae Martinez, Elizabeth Pope, and Angelina Yi

(Photo by Rezi Aliaj)

Henry Griffin and Feihong Yu

(photo by meche kroop)

David Freides and William Wake Foster

(photo by meche kroop)

If you wanted to introduce someone to opera, you could not have done better than to take them to see and hear a completely captivating production of Monteverdi's masterpiece L'incoronazione di Poppea, a work created for mid-17th c. Venice during Carnevale. We could go on for pages about scholarly disputes but we prefer to discuss our rapturous joy at the entertainment value and our astonishment by the astounding talents of the cast, drawn from Manhattan School of Music's Undergraduate Opera Theater.  Yes, you read that right!

Musical values were first-rate on all accounts with Maestro Jackson McKinnon leading his chamber orchestra, half-hidden behind the simple set (designed by James Rotondo). Judicious cuts were made but there was no loss of continuity. The vocalism left nothing to be desired and the fact that these undergraduates handled the challenges of baroque singing with such aplomb is a source of astonishment.

Librettist Giovanni Busenello created characters from Roman history and bent their characteristics and fates to his own devices, telling a story of the triumph of love in the person of Cupid winningly portrayed by Angelina Yi; she interrupts a competitive quarrel between Virtue (Sara Nichole Stevens) and Fortune (Sophia Strang) and recounts the story  proving that Love supersedes everything else.

Drusilla (winsomely portrayed by Feihong Yu) is enamored of Ottone (the dramatically hilarious Henry Griffin); he is crazy about the beautiful Poppea (portrayed by the beautiful Eva Rae Martinez) who is passionately in love with the Emperor Nerone (Elizabeth Pope) who returns her lust to the detriment of his rejected wife Ottavia (performed in drag by David Freides to the great amusement of the audience).

Without any prompting from the director we had our own associations to a certain political figure who also might have said  "I care nothing for the senate and the people". Given the freedom to let our thoughts wonder we couldn't help thinking of the lamenting Countess in Mozart's Nozze di Figaro. Unlike the Countess, Ottavia is vengeful and blackmails Ottone into killing her rival Poppea,for whom he has the hots. Poor Drusilla is dragged into the plot and the cross-dressing that ensues is cause for more amusement.

We have no idea how the audience of the time took this work but perhaps, with knowledge of the unhappy ends suffered by all the characters, they saw the work as ironic.  Although the ending is relatively happy, with Poppea being crowned Empress and Ottavia, Drusilla, and Ottone being exiled, it lacks historical verisimilitude, but reaffirms the triumph of love.

Now, looking at how a 21st c. audience sees the work, that is in the hands of the director; in this case we have the imaginative Chloe Treat, whose last name describes our reception of the production. Although we have protested vociferously against trashing the classics of the canon by means of "concept", we have no such compunction about long forgotten works  that have no prior emotional investment for us. Indeed, we have enjoyed a number of productions of this opera in the past ten years (available by entering the name of the opera in the search bar) and this one is the most original.

Lacking a television, we did not realize the style was meant to be that of reality television, a fact we only learned after the opera by reading the program notes. Lacking that knowledge did not impair our appreciation of the humor in any way and we look forward to seeing more of Ms. Treat.

The contributions of Costume Designer Fan Zhang added greatly to the style of the show. Poppea lounged around in Schiaparelli pink fuzzy slippers and skimpy shift. For the coronation she rocked a slinky red gown. Drusilla and Ottone wore the same Little Bo-Peep dress in their plot to kill Poppea. The philosopher Seneca (sung in wonderful bass tones by William Wake Foster) sported a sequined jacket with little red hearts which was appropriated by Cupid. Other characters wore black tee shirts and trousers which set off the more colorful costumes.

Among them were two "cosmeticians" serving Poppea and Ottavia--Arnalta (Caspian Noble Fernholz) and Damigella (Angelina Bush). Mercury (Brian Kim) came to announce Seneca's death in a suit and tie- reminiscent of the "Todesverkündigung"  in Wagner's Die Walküre. Charlotte Jakobs and Isaac Hall added even more merriment as fumbling security guards.

There was a lot of risqué humor but nothing the kiddies haven't seen on TV. There was an abundance of glorious melody, culminating in the final duet between Poppea and Nero-"Pur ti miro, pur ti godo". Where else have we had this much fun at the opera?

© meche kroop

Thursday, May 4, 2023


 Cast of City Lyric Opera's La Traviata

Opening nights at the opera are usually exciting and last night's opening of Verdi's tragedy La Traviata was particularly so for several reasons. An important one for us is that we have watched City Lyric Opera grow from its inception, back when it was called A.R.E. Opera. We love the idea that it is gynocentric, giving opportunities to female conductors and directors. What is important for the company is that they have outgrown church basements and black box theaters, presently performing in the charming theater at The Sheen Center which has a real proscenium arch with curtains, comfortable raked seating, a reception area, and room for a chamber orchestra.

This chamber orchestra, led by rising star Maestro Michelle Rofrano (no relation to the young Count Rofrano in Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier), comprised a dozen strings, augmented by flute, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, and timpani. They responded with agility to Mo. Rofrano's expressive hands in which no baton was needed.

Verdi's highly evocative music was given a fine reading with no radical departures but with subtle shadings and excellent balance. The dynamics were successful with the volume kept down during the arias but heightened for emotional moments. It is easy to see why Mo. Rofrano's star is on the ascendance.

We can say the same thing about the singers. How satisfying it felt for us to see and hear singers known to us from varied other performances with other companies--all together on the same stage, creating an effective ensemble feel. We credit Director R. Lee Kratzer for eliciting dramatically meaningful performances from the singers.

As the conflicted tragic heroine, we heard soprano Laura Soto-Bayomi who ably demonstrated Violetta's emotional growth from party girl to a woman in love and finally to a woman facing her death with fortitude. Her instrument is a powerful one with a brilliant upper register, as we noted recently when she performed in the zarzuela Luisa Fernanda for Opera Hispanica. It's a pleasure to witness a major talent with the versatility to perform such divergent roles.

As her ardent and impetuous young lover, we heard tenor Colin Aikins who was convincing in his portrayal. In Act I, he was shy and awkward, finally, with a big push from his copain Gastone, getting to meet the woman he has worshipped from afar for an entire year. In Act II, having gotten Violetta out of Paris and into the countryside, he has gained a measure of self confidence, delivering "Dei miei bollenti spiriti" with panache. Watching his spirits collapse when he reads Violetta's "dear John" letter was heartbreaking. The peak of his performance came in Act III when his anger exploded and his voice expanded to fit the emotion. Casting a young man in this role made the entire situation far more believable. We heard Mr. Aikins recently portraying a father in Puccini's Gianni Schicchi at Juilliard where he is a master's degree student. 

As Père Germont, we heard baritone Sejin Park who impressed us with his portrayal of a bourgeois paterfamilias, anxious to protect the good name of his family. He entered sternly but softened as he realized that his son's mistress was honorable and dignified. His rich round baritone was employed with admirable phrasing and dynamics. It was a memorable performance. We first heard Mr. Park at Santa Fe Opera where he portrayed the desperate Enrico in Donizetti's Lucia de Lammermoor. Again, we were impressed by the artist's versatility.

A character that usually fades into the background is Flora, Violetta' friend and party-giver.  Not this time! Mezzo-soprano Rosario Armas has a huge instrument that, along with some clever stage business and eye-catching costuming, filled the theater whilst tickling the ear. We loved the part in Act III in which she attacks her lover for his philandering.  We have heard Ms. Armas more times than we can count and she has always given 110%.

Another artist we have heard before is baritone Lucas Bouk who made a grand entrance in Act III as Baron Douphol, Violetta's wealthy "protector", striding in with an air of possessiveness and a massive fur coat.

Tenor Morgan Mastrangelo gave a fine portrayal of Gastone who sets the plot in motion by bringing his friend Alfredo to the party and literally pushing him toward Violetta, then spying on the two of them-- stage business that set him apart from the crowd of partygoers.

The role of the modest Annina was performed by soprano Alexandra Martinez-Turano who was not given any stage business to make her stand out, which was appropriate to the role.

Flora's unfaithful "protector" , the Marchese was played by bass-baritone Jonathan Harris whose reaction to Flora's accusation injected a note of humor. The chorus did a fine job in Act III singing the matador song and the staging was well done.

There were many other imaginative touches like the bird sounds heard before Act II and the howling wind before Act IV. However, we found other directorial decisions less than enchanting. We attended with two friends and none of us could understand the "concept".  We once saw a film version starring Teresa Stratas in which the overture was accompanied by a scene of the dying Violetta witnessing "removal men" carting off her belongings with the opera itself performed as flashbacks. It was cinematic and it worked.

In Ms. Kratzer's version, there appeared to be a coffin covered with camellias, in a room filled with people. Was this meant to be a funeral?  Violetta rises from what might be a bier and it seems as if her spirit reminisces about her life. In the final scene, which was awkwardly staged with Violetta getting in and out of bed several times, her "spirit" rises up and walks offstage. It just didn't work for us and interfered with the tragic ending.

In Act II, the silvery ribbons which were so effective in Act I fought with the countryside setting which was weakly established by a few green carpets on the ground, looking like putting greens, and a line of laundry which Alfredo proceeded to dump into a basket. There is something in the libretto about "washing away the shame" and we wondered whether this was meant to be symbolic. There were puffy white things scattered constantly in almost every scene; were they meant to be camellias or bloody tissues?  Or both? And the valise filled with the white things? None of this worked.

We don't mind if a director has something new to say about a masterpiece but all this nonsense struck us as attempts to call attention to the director's "originality". It certainly didn't serve to make the work any more relevant. There was no sense of time or place. Colorful costumes (by Camilla Dely) suggested modernity but we all know that the story is very much of the past. We no longer have "courtesans" and a young woman's marriage would not be affected by her brother having an affair. The woman would have been invited to her sister-in-law's wedding! And when the libretto speaks of Violetta leaving in a coach, we think horses.

Ms. Kratzer is certainly not alone in falling victim to this Eurotrash sensibility. The Metropolitan Opera has set a very poor example. Their La Traviata with the huge clock and Dr. Death was even worse. We feel very strongly that opera does NOT NEED TO BE MADE RELEVANT. It only has to be made musical and beautiful. We in the audience should feel free to draw analogies on our own and to appreciate differences in contemporary mores.  We don't see anyone running around the Metropolitan Museum of Art, painting over the Rembrandts trying to make them relevant.

We shall now step off our soapbox and praise City Lyric Opera for their fine casting and to congratulate them on their new home. We invite your comments below, especially if you disagree.

© meche kroop

Tuesday, May 2, 2023


 Sophia Hunt, Arlene Shrut, Vladyslav Buialskyi, Jazmine Saunders, Korin Thomas-Smith, 
Alice Chung, Joseph Parrish, Erik Grendahl, and Shaina Martinez

It was a sensational recital of gifted young singers; it was a gathering of the citizens of Planet Opera, generously open to one and all; it was a celebration of the enduring legacy of Gerda Lissner; it was a memorial to the late Scott Barnes. Everyone left Zankel Hall grinning broadly. No one need worry about the future of opera.

If you care who won which prize, we direct you to www.gerdalissner.org where you can also read all about the good work of the foundation. We prefer to use our space to write about the winners who were winnowed from a huge group of applicants. We are always happy to see WQXR's renowned Midge Woolsey hosting such events and equally happy to enjoy the versatile accompaniment of pianist Arlene Shrut. We acknowledge the cooperation of the Liederkranz Foundation.

And now...on with the show! What a brilliant idea to open the program with the winner of the Zarzuela Division, the scintillating soprano Shaina Martinez, known to us since her days at Manhattan School of Music. We were overjoyed to learn that the foundation established a platform for honoring this very special art form; and who better to fulfill the mission than Ms. Martinez whose perfect Spanish flowed effortlessly and permitted her to inhabit the role of Cecilia Valdés from Gonzalo Roig's zarzuela of the same name. 

The spirited entrance aria, illuminated by meaningful gestures, served to introduce the character, a mulatto woman who is unaware that her suitor is her half-brother, both fathered by a slave trader; he is legitimate, she is not. Two centuries ago, such stories were common in the New World, particularly in Cuba with its complicated racial hierarchy. We tell you such details, dear Reader, because we want you to share our appreciation of what was going on in our own hemisphere whilst Verdi was writing his operas in Italy.

Ms. Martinez' second selection was a tragic lullabye "Hija del Amor" in which the character's mood has changed to sorrow and tenderness, illustrated by the minor mode in which it is written and the artist's facility with heart-rending legato. We felt totally involved in the singer's facility for storytelling. She truly inhabited the character without compromising her exquisite voice.

Next we heard winners from the Lieder Division. Baritone Erik Grendahl's two selections were  quite different. Georgy Viridov's "The Virgin in the City" was given a quiet reading with minimal gesture and a sweet lyrical sound. The artist came to vibrant life in Debussy's "Ballade des femmes de Paris",  in which the text has something to say about women from several different countries. Mr. Grendahl, remembered from his performances at the Santa Fe Opera, made the French very clear and told the tale with panache.

Mezzo-soprano Alice Chung is an equally fine storyteller and who doesn't love William Bolcom's "George", the tale of a colorful character who comes to a tragic and ironic end. When a singer's technique is as admirable as Ms. Chung's one tends to ignore it in favor of the stagecraft and presentation. We hung on her every word. Happily, she followed this with Choi Young-Sup's "Longing for GeumGang Mountain" which we heard her sing at WQXR's Green Room. In our review of that recital, we discussed the newness of the Korean art song tradition and the reasons for it. We would say Korea got off to a great start in this setting of Han Sang-eok's text.

Bass-baritone Joseph Parrish has been on our radar for quite some time, also having made a fine showing at the Santa Fe Opera. What a departure from the expected to have a singer accompany himself at the piano in a contemporary piece! Bob Telson wrote "Calling You" for the film Bagdad Cafe which we have never seen; Mr. Parrish's performance made us want to see the film. 

On more familiar territory, we heard the frisky "Fussreise" from Wolf's Mörike Lieder. We find this to be one of Wolf's more accessible lieder and enjoyed Mr. Parrish's fine command of German and his immersion in the spirit of the song. We also enjoyed Ms. Schrut's varied coloration of the strophic composition. He closed the set with Tchaikovsky's "Sred shumnogo bala", sung with fine Russian and intense reflection.

The second part of the concert took us into operatic territory. Korin Thomas-
Smith employed his fine baritone to sing Tarquinius' aria "Within this frail crucible of light". His technique was impressive but we wanted him to show more of Tarquinius' character. He had no problem showing us the Count's character in "Hai già vinta la causa" from Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro. His aptitude for demonstrating the complexity of the Count's emotions was impressive. He is angry, vengeful, competitive, and bewildered, all at the same time. This is so much more interesting than the one-note interpretations we often hear.

Soprano Jazmine Saunders has a sizable instrument which she put to great use in arias by Mozart and Verdi. Her vibrato is distinctive and emotionally affecting.  Poor Pamina must arouse our sympathy in "Ach, ich fühl's" from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte as she frets about her love interest who is actually true. By comparison, Gilda is confident and enamored in Verdi's Rigoletto, not knowing that she has been woefully deceived. Both characters were given their due with the voice sustained throughout the register. Mozart gives Pamina long legato lines and Verdi gives Gilda wild leaps and breathless staccato passages. Both perfomances were memorable.

Bass-baritone Vladyslav Buialskyi chose well, illuminating the character of Figaro who mourns what he thinks is Susana's infidelity in "Aprite un po' quegli occhi". He is shocked; he is angry; rather than despairing he decides to give warning to other men. We in the audience know better; Susana adores him and is conniving to make their marriage work out.  It's a great moment in Nozze di Figaro! We particularly enjoyed the rapid patter.

The second selection was "Si, morir ella de!" from Ponchielli's La Gioconda, sung by the vengeful Inquisitor Alvise. Although we believe the role was written for a bass, the extensive passages in the lower register were no challenge for Mr. Buialskyi's powerful instrument and the aria provided an opportunity to color his voice differently.

The final singer was soprano Sophia Hunt who also wisely selected two arias that showed her versatility. The eponymous Arabella from the Strauss opera has reached a point of forgiveness and acceptance in "Das war sehr gut, Mandryka". The Countess in Nozze di Figaro, on the other hand, is aware of having lost the love of the Count who had pursued her so relentlessly and sings of her despair in "Dove sono". Two very different characters were brought to life such that the entire scenes appeared before our mind's eye. We loved the rich texture of Ms. Hunt's voice and the varied colors. The Countess was particularly well realized and we heard a hint of optimism in the second verse.

As Ms. Woolsey pointed out, we almost had the entire Nozze di Figaro onstage. Yes, it was a great treat to hear so many selections from one of our favorite operas. The evening ended with the entire group joining forces for "You'll Never Walk Alone" from Rogers and Hammerstein's Carousel.

What popped into our mind just now is "This Was a Real Nice Clambake" Concert.

© meche kroop