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, 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 HĂ©rodiade 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 (đŸ€Šsorry 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 HollĂ€nder 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 "kĂŒsse", 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 BohĂȘme 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 cafĂ© 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 cafĂ© 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