MISSION

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 31, 2015

NYFOS LOVE FEST

John Brancy, Annie Rosen, Theo Lebow, Paul Appleby, Julia Bullock, Michael Barrett and Steven Blier

Last night at Weill Recital Hall, New York Festival of Song threw itself a party.  They called it a gala recital; we call it a love fest.

There isn't a shadow of a doubt how much Maestro Blier cares for the young singers he has championed and likewise how much they care for him.  He has nurtured their careers, coached them, taught them, encouraged them to develop in new directions and gotten them up onstage with programs of songs that are always as meaningful as they are entertaining.

They have learned well and we have witnessed their artistic growth over the past few years. Each and every one has broadened his/her reach and increased their versatility. Retreats at Caramoor have contributed to these Emerging Artists and the scope of the program continues to grow, gathering fans everywhere.

There was no printed program last night--it felt more like a celebration than a recital.  What joy to hear good songs without amplification, all treated with the same respect given to the repertory from other centuries.

Readers will forgive us, we hope, if we cannot correctly quote the correct title of each song and its composer.  We will do our best to share our wonderful memories. Mr. Blier narrated in his customary engaging manner and accompanied with an occasional relief from Mr. Barrett who is Associate Artistic Director of NYFOS.

Mezzo-soprano Annie Rosen began the program with a torchy ballad-- Bob Telson's "Calling You", to which Mr. Blier's piano contributed some harmonically interesting ascending figures. She clearly knows how to get a song across, which is true of all of these young artists. Later in the evening she sang "J'attends un navire" from Kurt Weill's Marie Gallant. Ms. Rosen sang it with passion and intensity.  Whew!

Baritone John Brancy sang a soulful version of Cole Porter's "Night and Day" to a wild piano arrangement. Later in the program he sang "I'm a Jonah Man" with as much substance as style. We always enjoy whatever Mr. Brancy gets his hands on.  Later he sang "If Ever I Would Leave You" from Lerner and Loewe's Camelot--a real romantic stunner.

Tenor Theo Lebow sang "The Judgment of Paris" from Offenbach's La Belle Hélène, in fine French; he sang it with such excellent dramatic instincts that it wasn't necessary to understand the French. Later he sang a Swedish song, the title and composer of which we did not catch.  Mr. Lebow has a fine flair for languages.

Tenor Paul Appleby has admirable dramatic instincts married to a fine voice and we have enjoyed hearing him for years.  Last night he sang Paul Simon's "So Far Away From Home". And he sang something from a song cycle by William Bolcom which we did not recognize, with four hands at the piano.  We enjoyed him the most in his duet with Julia Bullock-- "Only Make Believe" from Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern's Showboat.  These two gifted performers gave a sincere and affecting performance that had an interesting twist at the end when Mr. Brancy joined the twosome and made a threesome.

Ms. Bullock, a soprano of incomparable artistry, could sing the phonebook and we'd be enthralled. When she performed "Little David Play on Your Harp" we forgot we didn't like "spirituals".  Now we do!  That's amazing when a performance can turn you around like that!

The program ended with the entire cast performing a song about which we know nothing.  Was it "Zumba"?  It matters little.  Everyone enjoyed themselves, as did the audience.

Long may NYFOS thrive.  Viva NYFOS!  They sing the songs.  We sing their praises.

(c) meche kroop







Monday, March 30, 2015

TEMPEST IN A TEAPOT

Thomas Richards, Jennifer Zetlan, and Abdiel Jacobsen (photo by Richard Termine)

One might think of Gotham Chamber Opera's newest entry in terms of Richard Wagner's concept of gesamtkunstwerk--combining poetry, music, singing, dancing, set design and, of course video projections.  Another way to perceive the work is, as our companion for the evening called it--a haiku of a Shakespeare play.  We thought of it as a meditation on Shakespeare's Tempest with contributions from the 18th and 21st centuries.

The entire affair was directed and choreographed by Luca Veggetti, using four amazing dancers from the Martha Graham Dance company who impressed us with their dramatic intensity.  Peiju Chien-Pott stood out for her flexibility and breathtaking extensions, defying her peculiar costume of jeans and boots.  Abdiel Jacobsen partnered her effectively in some outstanding duets.  The other two dancers, Ying Xin and Lloyd Mayor were, for unknown reasons, swathed entirely in black which was unfortunate because they are very attractive performers.

Singing roles were taken by soprano Jennifer Zetlan, whom we had much admired in Two Boys at The Metropolitan Opera, and bass-baritone Thomas Richards, whom we would like to hear again, singing different material.

We are somewhat familiar with the music of Kaija Saariaho from her Amour de Loin which we saw in Santa Fe a few years ago. It may be very fine music but every time the program switched to songs of Henry Purcell from his 1712 version of The Tempest, we felt our taut nerves relaxing and our ears smiling. We particularly enjoyed Purcell's "Halcyon Days".

Purcell's songs are melodic and pleasing; Saariaho's belong to that category of post-modern composition that does not fall gently on the ear.  Many songs were declamatory and approached sprechstimme.  It is easy to evaluate a singer's quality in the Purcell (both singers were fine) but it was impossible to evaluate with the Saariaho. In one song, "Bosun's Cheer", Richards mentioned "roaring, shrieking, howling, and jingling". We wondered whether he was referring to the sea or to the sounds he was asked to reproduce!

The same issue occurred with the instrumental music.  The combination of period instruments conducted by Maestro Neal Goren sounded delightful in the Purcell songs. The Gotham Chamber Orchestra comprised a string quartet, a bass, a harpsichord and an archlute which we mistook for a theorbo.  (Following the performance we had just enough time to visit the Met's exhibit of Caravaggio's paintings of musicians and their instruments.  There were also real antique instruments under glass. Nice tie-in!)

We did not find the Saariaho delightful--interesting, dramatic, but not delightful.

The simple but effective set by Clifton Taylor, who also did the moody lighting, included a huge globe on which were projected images suggestive of a tempest at sea, and later showed images of the performers themselves.  Video projections were by Jean-Baptiste Barrière.

Costumes by Peter Speliopoulos did not amount to much. Ms. Zetlan was clothed in a shapeless shift that achieved the goal of timelessness without flattering her figure. Others wore street attire.

Gotham Chamber Opera is known for taking risks and this one seemed to please the audience in the Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium at the Metropolitan Museum. We consider it a worthwhile adventure although not altogether pleasing.  Let us say rather that it was dramatic and interesting.

(c) meche kroop






Saturday, March 28, 2015

HEIDI STOBER

Heidi Stober (photo by Simon Pauly)



We have long been a fan of lyric soprano Heidi Stober whom we have enjoyed several times on our summer sojourns to the Santa Fe Opera. We particularly recall her delightful performance as Folly in Platée and as Zdenka in Arabella.

Her New York recital debut at Weill Recital Hall of Carnegie Hall revealed her artistry as a recitalist. She spoke readily of her joy as mother to a two-year-old and, indeed, based much of her recital on that premise.

Her bright and penetrating instrument is particularly suited to Strauss and her set of songs by that composer comprised songs that referred directly to motherhood like that amusing narrative "Muttertänderlei" in which a mother boasts of her very special child, the worshipful "Meinem Kinde", and "Jungenhexenlied", the charming tale of a young witch racing home to her little boy.

More of a stretch in terms of interpretation were "Ich trage meine Minne" and "Mein Auge" which we had always thought referred more to romantic love.  Never mind!  It all worked out well and now we have an interesting new way to hear these lovely songs.

Speaking of a stretch, we could not fathom the connection between the five excellent Schubert songs in the next set.  Ms. Stober told the audience that her collaborative pianist, the affable and sensitive Craig Terry, came up with the idea of providing a backstory and sequel to "Der Zwerg".

Here-- a "Gute Nacht" from Winterreise.  There-- an "Am Feierabend" from Die Schöne Müllerin.  Then the lovely waltzy "Auf dem Wasser zu singen" and--as postlude "Im Abendrot" with its profoundly spiritual nature.

Ms. Stober is a born storyteller and each song was compelling and deeply felt.  But they did not add up to a narrative.  We mostly enjoyed "Am Feierabend" as Ms. Stober colored her voice differently for the young poet/apprentice, his miller/boss, and the miller's daughter.

Four selections from Debussy's Ariettes oubliées were sung in fine French with long languorous lines except for the passionate climaxes. We heard "C'est l'extase", "Il pleure dans mon coeur", "Spleen", and (our favorite) the lively "Chevaux de bois" which injected welcome variety.

Selections from Jake Heggie's From the Book of Nightmares belong to that category of contemporary works that make us wonder why a composer would choose such unmusical poetry (by Vermont poet laureate Galway Kinnell).  Heggie's writing for piano and cello was most interesting with David Heiss bringing out the interest in the cello line and Mr. Terry doing the same on the piano. But the vocal line did not "sing" although Ms. Stober brought all her artistry to the table.

The final set had the theme of Ms. Stober's home state--Wisconsin. The most substantial work was Cécile Chaminade's wonderful "Chanson de neige" in which Ms. Stober heightened the emotions almost to the point of irony.

Max Reger's "Die bunten Kühe" brought in some light-hearted humor. Henry Leland Clarke's "Of Cheese" struck us as trivial.  Alec Wilder's "Milwaukee" was fun and in the jazz-pop mode.

It was a generous recital given by a beautiful star who comes across as the girl next door.  This girl next door graced the audience with yet one more song.  As encore, she continued the motherhood theme with "This Child is Born" with music by Thad Jones and lyrics by Alec Wilder.

(c) meche kroop

MILES TO GO

Dan K. Kurland and Miles Mykkanen


Tenor Miles Mykkanen is mature beyond his years and versatile beyond belief. We have had the pleasure of hearing him sing and witnessing his compelling performances for several years now and are always astonished.  Yesterday he presented a recital at Juilliard as partial fulfillment of the requirements for his M.M. degree.  Importantly, it fulfilled all the requirements of audience engagement.

Our favorite parts of the program were the beginning and the end although there were delights aplenty in between. Ever since Lachlan Glen's perusal of all 600+ of Schubert's lieder output we have been more than usually excited when we see the name of this liedermeister on a program.

Mr. Mykkanen's three choices were perfect for his unique voice and style.  The lilting "Ganymed" is filled with rapture and left us with rapturous feelings. The tender "Der Vater mit dem Kind" was no less wonderful.  But it was the well-known "Erlkönig" that knocked our socks off.  The young artists at Juilliard have spoiled us for other performances with the intensity of their dramatic involvement but Mr. Mykkanen's performance was beyond.

He employed his impressive instrument with different colors for the narrator, the frightened child, the reassuring father and the deceitful Erlkönig. But he somehow managed to alter the colors from one verse to the next as the child becomes more terrified, the father in greater denial, and the Erlkönig nastier. This was the work of a true artist of the stage and Mr. Kurland's piano kept up with him every step of the way. We confess to being overwhelmed. We give credit to Goethe's poetry and Schubert's music, of course.

The following set, which Mr. Mykkanen thoughtfully introduced, comprised three selections from Benjamin Britten's Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo. These were written for Michelangelo's young male lover and Britten set them for his male partner, tenor Peter Pears. They were so passionately sung that one would think they were written for Mr. Mykkanen.

Having sung in such perfect German and Italian, Mr. Mykkanen moved on to French, also perfectly sung.  We heard Albert Roussel's "Sarabande", Gabriel Fauré's "Clair de lune" and Claude Debussy's "Le jet d'eau". French songs can sometimes sound a bit effete but not here!  Mr. Kurland's piano added to the magic with pictorializations of fountains and moonlight.

Mr. Mykkanen is one of the few singers whose English diction is likewise perfect. "Ain't it a pretty night" from Carlisle Floyd's Susannah was an unusual choice but made perfect sense as the longing Mr. Mykkanen experienced to move to New York City.

It was the closing set of Sondheim songs that best illustrated Mr. Mykkanen's versatility and the influence of Steven Blier and the New York Festival of Song. When sung without amplification, we accept Mr. Sondheim as composer of 20th c. operas and his songs can stand next to those of the old masters of the 19th c. (Mr. Sondheim may see things differently).

We were treated to a few songs from Sunday in the Park with George--"Putting it Together" was a bit revised to indicate that the art of which Mr. Mykkanen sang was the art of making music, not painting. No harm was done!  "Finishing the Hat" and "Move On" were equally excellent.

We particularly enjoyed songs from Company--"The Little Things You Do Together" and Mr. Mykkanen's encore "Being Alive".

But there were two songs about children that captured our heart--"The Glamorous Life" from A Little Night Music in which Mr. Mykkanen was able to illustrate both the pride a child has in a famous mother and also the loneliness.  And then the cautionary "Children Will Listen" from Into the Woods.

Mr. Mykkanen, as versatile as he is, can look forward to a major career whether he chooses opera, recital or Broadway.  Everything he sings is golden and he knows how to get a song across.  Once you hear him he is unforgettable!

(c) meche kroop

Friday, March 27, 2015

JUILLIARD VOCAL ARTS HONORS RECITAL

William Kelley, Juliana Han, Eric Jurenas, and Theo Hoffman

We confess to greediness where pleasure is concerned. Last night's Vocal Arts Honors Recital at Juilliard could easily have gone on for another hour.  It left us wanting more--not in any way unsatisfied, just wanting more goodies from the four gifted artists who graced the stage at Alice Tully Hall.

The two singers were nominated by their voice teachers for a competitive audition and then selected by distinguished judges.  Each chose his own program and that lent a degree of excitement to the evening--learning a bit about how they experience their own particular talent.  The two pianists were chosen from the Collaborative Piano Department.

The first half of the evening was performed by counter-tenor Eric Jurenas accompanied by the lovely Juliana Han. If you read our review of Anthony Roth Costanzo last week, you may recall how fond we are of this special fach.  If you are a regular reader, you may recall that we do not prefer singing in English. We are now back-pedalling since Mr. Jurenas' superb English diction and Henry Purcell's lavish melodies ensured that this was our favorite part of his offerings.

Mr. Jurenas has a finely focused instrument that is brilliant in the upper register and manages to bring an amazing roundness of tone in the lower register.  Although no one knows what the castrati sounded like, we were imagining that was the sound. We are glad, however, that Mr. Jurenas was never called upon to make the necessary sacrifice.  Hard work is sacrifice enough!

The Purcell songs were the perfect choice for his instrument and he brought the text to life with dramatic expressiveness, dynamic variety and thoughtful word coloring.  "Music for a While" from Oedipus has rarely fallen on our ears with such delight.  In "Sweeter than Roses" from Pausanias, we loved the melismatic singing on the word "victorious"; what Mr. Jurenas did with the word "freeze" made us shiver!

He showed some fine French style in Ravel's Épigrammes de Clément Marot which gave Ms. Han an opportunity to shine.  He evinced equal skill with German in a selection of songs by Alexander Zemlinsky and Gustav Mahler. We have always enjoyed "Lob des hohen Verstandes" from Des Knaben Wunderhorn--a metaphor for ignorant audience members (the donkey) who can't tell good music (the nightingale) from bad (the cuckoo).  Of course that doesn't apply to New York audiences! Mr. Jurenas sang it with great style and humor.

Another text from Des Knaben Wunderhorn--"Das irdische Leben" was given all the tragic interpretation Mahler wrote into it, a real heartbreaker. No one can do tragedy like Mahler!

The second half of the program belonged to baritone Theo Hoffman and collaborative pianist William Kelley. Mr. Hoffman has impressed us since his very beginnings at Juilliard and he just keeps getting better. His many awards and multiple castings indicate that we are not alone in being impressed.

He sang three Tchaikovsky songs that were wildly romantic. We do not speak Russian but they sounded very authentic to our ears.  More importantly,  the words came across as if they tasted delicious in his mouth. His dynamic range is huge; he began at barely a whisper and opened up to an astonishing crescendo of passion.

The concluding song of the set, "Whether day dawns", gave Mr. Kelley a chance to tear into the passionate postlude.  The set of songs were so powerful and so dramatically sung that the next set of songs by Carlos Guastavino allowed the temperature in the hall to cool slightly while still upholding artistic intensity.

Guastavino composed in the early 20th c. when poetry still scanned and rhymed.  The vocal lines are lovely and Mr. Hoffman's Spanish was perfect, according to our native Spanish speaking companion. In "Ya me voy a retirar" the pain of the poet's loss is converted into beauty.

Our favorite of the set was "La rosa y el sauce", a plaintive song that ended in a dazzling vocalise.

Mr. Hoffman's program ended with the New York premiere of Three Tennyson Songs by Jonathan Dove, a contemporary composer who manages to write melodically. Perhaps choosing a "good" poet like Alfred Lord Tennyson brings out the best in a composer. Mr. Kelley had a great time with the prelude to "O Swallow, Swallow" and played some interesting octaves in "Dark House" while Mr. Hoffman employed vivid word coloring.

We longed for some encores but there were none.  We comfort ourselves knowing that there will be many more opportunities to hear these artists in the future. They have been winning prizes hand over fist and are already much in demand.

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

NEVER ENOUGH PUCCINI

Jon Thomas Olsen, Jessica Sandidge, Sonja Krenek and Steven Wallace


We can never get enough Puccini!  Hours after Chelsea Opera presented an evening of scenes from Puccini's opera, we are still singing the wonderful melodies.  We think it's likely that many people in the audience are doing the same.  The concert was underwritten by Project 142; Christ and St. Stephen's Church on the Upper West Side was filled to overflowing, with bridge chairs hastily being commandeered in an attempt to accommodate the capacity crowd.

The evening opened with scenes from Turandot, the opera Puccini never finished. Ping, Pang and Pong (sorry but we can never remember which is which) have a wonderful trio and tenors David Kellett and Jon Thomas Olson with baritone Scott Lindroth brought it to vivid life.

Liù's suicide scene was movingly performed by soprano Rosa Betancourt who created a sympathetic character and enlived her with some persuasive acting.  She has a lovely vibrato and we enjoyed her later performance of "O mio babbino caro" from Gianni Schicchi.

From the very early Edgar, composed when the master was only 26 years old, we heard bass-baritone Bryan Glenn Davis sing "Questo amor, vergogna mia". We liked him even better as the evil Scarpia from Tosca when he sang "Tre sbirri...Una Carrozza...Presto!" which suited him well.

From Le Villi we heard soprano Sonja Krenek sing "Se come voi piccina".  She made a fine Mimi in the "breakup" scene from La Bohème with tenor Steven Wallace as Rodolfo.  The heartbreaking scene was given comic relief by the embattled lovers Musetta (soprano Rosa Betancourt) and Marcello (baritone Scott Lindroth) whose music is in counterpoint with Mimi and Rodolfo's.

Our Tosca for the evening was the versatile Megan Nielsen who wowed the audience with her "Vissi d'arte". What a change from the character she portrayed just before--Suor Angelica from the eponymous opera.  Talk about heartbreak!  The poor woman was put away in a convent by her aristocratic family, after bearing an illegitimate child. Her aunt, La Zia Principessa, cold-heartedly tells Angelica that the child has died. Mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Moulton, a lovely jovial person in real life, demonstrated fine acting chops as she assumed her imperious manner. Poor Angelica sings out her grief in "Senza mamma".

Tenor Taras Chmil sang the favorite tenor aria of audiences everywhere--"E lucevan le stelle" from Tosca.   We realized that Puccini wrote his best music for characters who were about to die! Mr. Chmil also sang "Ch'ella mi creda", Dick Johnson's aria from La fanciulla del West.  Fortunately, Dick Johnson does NOT die!

Stacey Canterbury has a sizable soprano and used it well in "Un bel di" from Madama Butterfly, another heartbreaker.

Soprano Julia Rolwing sang Manon's final aria from Manon Lescaut--"Sola, perduta, abbandonata"--another death aria!  David Kellett sang Des Grieux's "Donna non vidi mai".

The delightful closing scene was from La Rondine featuring the quartet from the photo above.  For this scene, Magda was sung by Sonja Krenek with soprano Jessica Sandidge impressing us with her sweet voice and sparkling personality as Lisette. Steven Wallace sang Ruggero and Jon Thomas Olsen sang Prunier.  Happily, the rest of the cast became the onstage partygoers and, as directed by Lynne Hayden-Finley, were completely convincing.

In place of an orchestra, we had Christopher Cooley, who accompanied beautifully.

The delightful evening served to whet our appetite for the upcoming Tosca which will be performed in St. Peter's Church in Chelsea on 6/4 and 6/6.  It seems pretty far down the road but Chelsea Opera will also present Suor Angelica in a year's time.  We would be happy to hear Megan Nielsen once more in that role.

(c) meche kroop

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

NATHAN HALLER, MM

Nathan Haller and Leann Osterkamp

Graduation recitals are always cause for bittersweet feelings.  We are joyful to mark the occasion of an artist's achievement and excited about their future; at the same time we feel sad that we will miss seeing and hearing them perform.  For the most part we have been watching their artistic growth from the sidelines and have developed feelings of involvement.

Yesterday superstar tenor Nathan Haller performed his final recital at Juilliard and impressed us with his suave stage presence, his linguistic skills, and his versatility. He opened his program with scenes from Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail.  

This was not just a performance of arias; Mr. Haller as Belmonte enlisted the help of two superb colleagues--tenor James Edgar Knight in the role of the goofy Pedrillo and bass Önay Köse as the growly grouchy Osmin. Not only was the singing glorious but the acting was as fine as one would wish for, had the opera been fully staged. Mr. Haller is a natural for Mozart and made excellent use of his refined messa di voce.

Vincenzo Bellini set a text by Metastasio to a gorgeous simple melody; Pavarotti recorded it with James Levine in 1988.  We could listen to it over and over again; Mr. Haller's performance required no comparisons.  He sounded terrific in his own right, singing with highly expressive sincerity and a lovely legato.

Fauré's "Adieu" was sung with a long lean Gallic line and excellent French diction. Benjamin Britten's "Before life and after" was impassioned.

A set of Schubert songs closed the all-too-brief program.  It was in this set that we got to appreciate collaborative pianist Leann Osterkamp, especially as she matched the variety of Mr. Haller's colors in our personal favorite, "Erlkönig". The matter-of-fact narrator yielded to the frightened piping child, the steadfast reassuring father, and the slimy seductive titular Erlkönig.  It was such a stunning performance that we wished it had been the closing lied.

It had such a strong emotional impact that we had to struggle to "let it go" and focus on the rest of the Schubert--all of which were excellent.  "Liebesbotschaft" permitted Mr. Haller to show sweeter coloring while "Kriegers Ahnung" took him into his lower register where he assumed darker coloring.

The romantic "Ständchen" always melts our heart and Mr. Haller's delivery reached perfection.  He accurately portrayed the pain and futility in "Der Atlas".  "Der Doppelgänger" was appropriately spooky, anguished and intense. The final lied "Taubenpost" is a cheerful one which left us smiling.

Unfortunately, there was no encore; we would have happily enjoyed another hour of music by Mr. Haller and Ms. Osterkamp.  Mr. Haller has an excellent position next season in Switzerland and we are consoling ourself over our loss by thinking how much the Swiss will embrace his prodigious talent.

(c) meche kroop