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.

Monday, July 21, 2014

A CENTURY OLD AND STILL FRESH

Omar Bowey, Elena Heimur, Joseph DiSalle, Roberto Borgatti, Veronica Loiacono, Jodi Karem, Patricia Vital, Walter Hartman and D'Ariel Barnard

Having enjoyed last Sunday's concert of opera scenes presented by Opera New York, we decided to see what this ambitious company could do with operetta.  The program was introduced by Director Judith Fredricks ; she described operetta as the bridge between European opera and American Musical Theater, an opinion that agreed totally with one we have often expressed.

She spoke of marching songs, drinking songs, romance, intrigue, silly plots and ravishing high notes--all of which we heard and enjoyed last night.  The names of Sigmund Romberg, Rudolf Friml, Victor Herbert, Franz Lehar and Johann Strauss Junior may or may not be familiar to you but they certainly were to your grandparents and possibly your parents.  These operettas were written about a century ago and merit revival as much as the zarzuelas we wrote about in our last entry.

Many of the singers last night were written about last week and we were delighted to hear them sing these treasures with neither amplification nor a whiff of irony.  Once again, Robert Wilson was the versatile accompanist.

D'Ariel Barnard (last Sunday's Frasquita) initiated the program with Nacio Herb Brown's "Love is Where You Find It" from The Kissing Bandit.  The song has a gypsy flavor and several melismatic passages to which this stunning soprano lent her brilliant coloratura.  Although not strictly speaking an operetta of that epoch, her delivery of Bernstein's "Glitter and Be Gay" from Candide was thrilling.

Soprano Elena Heimur showed a fine voice and significant versatility in selections from Romberg's The New Moon, both in her solo and in a duet with the ardent tenor Joseph DiSalle entitled "Lover Come Back to Me".  It was so heartfelt that we were glad that he came back!

Soprano Veronica Loiacono, seen last week as Micaela in Carmen, impressed us with her performance of "Vilia" from Lehar's The Merry Widow and continued on with the Merry Widow Waltz in a duet with baritone Roberto Borgatti, whose secure baritone served him well in "One Alone" from Romberg's Desert Song.

Mezzo-soprano Jodi Karem (last week's Carmen) was delightful as Prince Orlofsky in "Chacun à son goût" from Strauss' Die Fledermaus, interpolating some clever and topical English lyrics.  It was astonishing to witness her versatility.

From the same operetta, soprano Patricia Vital (last week's Norina) performed "Adele's Laughing Song" with brilliant top notes, fine coloratura technique and a charming persona.  It was truly memorable.


Young tenor Omar Bowey reaffirmed our high opinion of his performance last week as Ernesto in Don Pasquale.  His sweet voice was perfect for "One Flower in Your Garden" from Romberg's The Desert Song.  We expect to hear a lot more from this gifted young man.

Bass-baritone Walter Hartman, last week's excellent Don Pasquale, was a real audience favorite in "Every Day is Ladies Day" from Herbert's The Red Mill.  He has a dark covered bass that lends itself to comedy for which he has quite a flair.

We have already put next Sunday evening's program on our calendar and so should you.  It will comprise readings of Shakespeare's texts and selections from operas based on his plays.  It promises to be a compelling evening.

ⓒ meche kroop









Friday, July 18, 2014

SOARING VOICES, SOARING VAULTS

David Galvez and Amaya Arberas
The Museum of the City of New York has mounted a superlative installation of the works of Rafael Guastavino, the Valencian architect responsible for so many of New York City's tiled arches.  The Consulate General of Spain in New York generously sponsored a musical evening highlighting musical works from the same period--late 19th c.

We could think of no finer artists to convey the parallels between music and architecture than soprano superstar Amaya Arberas (previously reviewed and found in our search bar) and guitar virtuoso David Galvez (also reviewed previously, also found by entering his name in the search bar).

We do not hear enough classical Spanish music here in New York which strikes us as a sad state of affairs. The melodic music bears both restraint and passion in delightful balance and the language itself is highly singable with vowels similar to those of the Italian language.  If we were given a single wish for the opera scene in NYC, it would be to have a company present zarzuelas and Spanish art songs.

Ms. Arberas has a brilliant soprano with a finely grained vibrato and a sparkling resonance.  One rarely gets to hear these art songs performed by a native Castilian and there were many moments that produced goosebumps and the teary eyes that come from witnessing beauty, be it musical, painterly or sculptural.

The two songs on the program that were familiar to us were Manuel de Falla's "El Paño Moruno" in which Ms. Arberas slyly conveyed the song's symbolic subtext and Fernando Obradors' "Del Cabello Mas Sutil" in which the tenderness brought tears to our eyes.  A very dramatic piece from Ruperto Chapi's zarzuela , Las Hijas del Zebedeo, absolutely blew us away.

Songs by Fernando Sor and Eduardo Toldrá rounded out the vocal part of the program and the beautiful "Cantares" by Joaquin Turina gave Ms. Arberas an opportunity to show another aspect of her artistry in the melismatic passages.

The vocal selections were stunningly accompanied by Mr. Galvez, a special treat to our ears, especially Miguel Llobet's "El Testament d'Amelia", a barcarolle like song in 3/4 time.  Mr. Galvez had several opportunities to play solos as well.  We have mainly been exposed to the guitar in works of the Baroque period and we realize how greatly we prefer works of the Late Romantic period. 

In Isaac Albeniz' "Asturias" we admired the deft rasqueados of the right hand.  In Sor's "Variaciones de Mozart" we appreciated the subtle dynamic and rhythmic variety and the insistent phrase which we cannot get out of our ears, nor would we wish to do so.  The moving "Recuerdos de la Alhambra" was yet another favorite.

As encores, Ms. Arberas switched to the Italian language, performing two lovely songs by Vicente Martin y Soler--"La Costanza" and "Volubile".  They were as lovely as the Spanish songs and brought the audience to their collective feet.

Sadly, the recital is over but the Guastavino exhibit can be seen until September 7.  There is a video installation on display in "Palaces for the People".  Or you could visit all the places in NYC to which the famous architect contributed his arched tile ceilings.  Or you could do both!

© meche kroop


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

SMILES ON A SUMMER NIGHT


Edgar Jaramillo and Jodi Karem
 D'ariel Barnard, Jackie M. Hayes, Roberto Borgatti, and Jodi Karem

Daniel Quintana, Patricia Vital, Walter Hartman and Omar Bowey
Summer is indeed a time for informality and so it was that we found ourselves at a café table, relaxed and smiling, enjoying excerpts of three operas and hearing some fine voices. Only a few were previously known to us (and much admired) and we were happy to be introduced to some new ones. Cleverly staged by Director Judith Fredricks with the versatile Robert Wilson as accompanist, the entire experience was pleasurable.

First on the program was Carmen, at least all of the essential scenes from Bizet's most popular work.  In the role of Don José, we heard the creamy-voiced tenor Edgar Jaramillo who seemed to reach into the depths of his soul to reveal the weak-willed country boy who is seduced away from his military and marital plans by that bad girl we all adore, the eponymous heroine.

Jodi Karem  has a fine mezzo and certainly conveyed Carmen's sexuality in the way the audience expects to experience it; nonetheless we sense that she has a deeply personal sexuality that she could bring to her interpretation.  She seemed more authentic in the tavern scene where she gets angry at Don José and mocks him.  That was riveting!

We had the same feeling about Veronica Loiacono in her interpretation of Micaëla.  She has a lovely soprano and gave us what we expected of a girl from the country; but in "Je dis que rien ne m'épouvante" she could probably benefit by digging a little deeper into some frightening experience of her own that she had to overcome, in order to make her portrayal feel more authentic.  That girl is pretending not to be scared!

As Escamillo, baritone Roberto Borgatti sang at the same fine level that he achieved several months ago as Giorgio Germont.  His interpretation of the arrogant toreador was right on the mark and he sure twirled that cape!

D'ariel Barnard and Jackie M. Hayes produced some beautiful harmonies as Frasquita and Mercedes. Singing in French is quite challenging, not only the vowels but the maintenance of an even barely accented vocal line.  Everyone's French was comprehensible but all could benefit by working on line.  Much of the phrasing was rather "four-square".

An excerpt from Puccini's Manon Lescaut followed with two big beautiful voices filling the room from stem to stern.  Julia Rolwing sang the eponymous heroine and Ta'u Pupu'a sang the role of Le Chevalier des Grieux.  The singing was outstanding but a bit more connection between these two artists would have been welcomed.

The final work on the program comprised excerpts from Donizetti's Don Pasquale.  Bass Walter Hartmann made an effective titular character and had the audience giggling.  He was especially fine in his patter song and had a fine duet with Norina, his intended bride.  That role was well sung and portrayed by soprano Patricia Vital.

We understand the justification for presenting the work in English, with the marvelous baritone Daniel Quintana employing his comic flair to narrate the action.  However, English is most difficult to understand in the upper register and we missed much of what Ms. Vital was singing; in the lower register, everything came across.  Some of the translation worked rather well but in other cases the accents of the text did not quite fit the accents of the music, as is often the case.

Mr. Quintana is truly a stage animal and did exceptionally well as Dr. Malatesta, both in his patter song and in his duet with Norina.  Last but by no means least, we were quite taken with Omar Bowey who brought his fresh sweet tenor to the role of Ernesto.  We were astonished to learn that he is only 21 years old and still an undergraduate.  We want to hear more of this promising young tenor as he matures.

Opera New York has several more tempting recitals to offer for the month of July.  Take a look at www.operany.com!

 © meche kroop








Sunday, July 13, 2014

FROM TEARS TO CHEERS

The cast of Prelude to Performance's Barber of Seville (photo by Jen Joyce Davis)
The tears from the prior night's performance of La Traviata had barely dried when we submitted to gales of glee at Il Barbiere di Siviglia.  No comic shtick was too broad for the mostly young audience at the Kaye Playhouse of Hunter College where Prelude to Performance is concluding its tenth season.  Through this program, the much honored and beloved soprano Martina Arroyo has ushered countless young singers into satisfying careers.  Indeed, we just saw/heard one of the earliest graduates, tenor Michele Angelini, turn in a superb performance at Caramoor as Gennaro opposite Angela Meade as the eponymous Lucrezia Borgia in Donizetti's rarely performed masterpiece.

Il Barbiere opens with a tender serenade by Count Almaviva, "Ecco, ridente in cielo" accompanied by bibulous musicians he has hired, led by one Fiorello, charmingly portrayed and well sung by the excellent baritone Paull-Anthony Keightley.  The serenade was directed toward Rosina, the beautiful ward of one Dr. Bartolo who plans to marry her himself that very day.

Kirsten Scott, whom we have enjoyed in Mozart, Puccini and Offenbach, had a wonderful time as Rosina, fearlessly tackling Rossini's daunting coloratura in "Una voce poco fa".  She succeeded in winning over the audience; we all wanted her to outwit the controlling Dr. Bartolo, sung by the excellent bass Jacopo Buora who created a thoroughly unlikable character. His "A un dottor della mia sorte" was properly pompous.

Figaro is the mastermind who, for a large fee, helps the Count to get the girl.  Samuel Thompson had the voice and the personality to fill the stage and turned in a most winning performance.  His Act I duet with Rosina "Dunque io son" was one of many highlights of the evening.  Of course, his "Largo al factotum della città" brought down the house.

As the Count, tenor Alasdair Kent seemed to be somewhat indisposed, cracking on some of the elaborate ornamentations.  In Act II, he sounded better and we were able to appreciate the lovely tone of which he is capable.

Jennifer Lazarz made a strong Berta and tickled us with her performance as the much put-upon housekeeper.  Paul Grosvenor as Don Basilio the music teacher was obliged to overcome a rather grotesque wig and makeup.  We always enjoy his aria "La calunnia è un venticello" about rumors and slander, in which Rossini builds to a wonderful climax. 

We were thrilled by Maestro Willie Anthony Waters' conducting which had perfect impetus and a much better balance than was achieved the night before.

Charles Caine designed some wonderful period costumes and Joshua rose repurposed the set from La Traviata in a very creative manner.  Stage director Anthony Laciura leaned heavily on slapstick humor that may not be our cup of tea but seemed to please the audience.  We ourselves find sufficient humor in the ridiculous behavior of the characters, the preposterous situations and Rossini's frisky music.

Although there was only one native Italian speaker in the cast (Mr. Buora) we found the Italian diction completely comprehensible (coaching by Sergio Stefani) and Cori Ellison's titles right on the mark.

This weekend of opera has been like an oasis in the summer dessert.  Thanks Martina!

© meche kroop


Friday, July 11, 2014

THE ASTONISHING ASCENT OF THE FALLEN WOMAN

Paul Han and Cecilia Violetta Lopez (photo by Jen Joyce Davis)
It's been over a decade since we heard a thrilling La Traviata.  It was at The Metropolitan Opera and Rolando Villazon made his debut as Alfredo with Renée Fleming as Violetta.  Since then we have gritted our teeth and held our nose through productions that violated the spirit of the work.  Last night at The Kaye Playhouse of Hunter College, Martina Arroyo's Prelude to Performance presented Verdi's masterpiece in a manner that restored our deep love for this work.

Credit can be given to the three principals and to Laura Alley, the astute director.  To begin with the singing, Cecilia Lopez dazzled as the "fallen woman".  Her warm ample soprano has a superb squillo in the upper register and an overall evenness throughout.  Interesting overtones caused the very molecules in the auditorium to dance.  In "Ah, fors'è luiSempre libera", she employed different vocal colors to limn her conflicted feelings.

Tenor Paul Han made an excellent Alfredo and sang with maximum musicianship and fine phrasing.  His "De' miei bollenti spiriti " was extraordinary. We suspect he was suffering from a respiratory disorder, having heard him singing in French not too long ago at the Gerda Lissner Awards Recital when his sound was not as covered.

In terms of dramatic impact, the two leads had excellent chemistry and were completely convincing--she as a woman facing death and trying to stare it down by wild living, he as a young man from Provence besotted by this glamorous creature of the night.  His emotional range included rapt devotion, childish rage when he believed himself to be betrayed and later, abject remorse.  Ms. Lopez also created a dramatic arc--the Act I "party girl", the tender lover in Act II, the stoic but suffering woman of Act III and the desperate dying woman in Act IV.

The third main character is Germont Père who has come to rescue his son from this threatening alliance.  The magic in Verdi's music and Francesco Maria Piave's libretto is that each of these characters is multidimensional.  Violetta may be a member of the demi-monde but she has a nobility of character and a readiness to give up everything for love.  Alfredo is loving and devoted but capable of having a childish tantrum.

Papa Germont comes on as a narrow-minded bigot but he is also a concerned father who wants the best for his son and daughter.  Each character undergoes growth.  Robert Kerr, the baritone singing the role of Germont evinced a full rich voice and did justice to his character and his emotional shifts.  His Act II arias bore intense charges.  His shame for his son in Act III was palpable.  When he embraced Violetta as his daughter in Act IV, we could literally feel his remorse.

To speak of Laura Alley's direction also requires a host of superlatives.  She wisely kept the action exactly where and when it belongs; it is a story very much of its time.  Instead of imposing a ridiculous "concept" on the work, she used her creativity to bring in small bits of stage business that deepened our understanding of the characters.

For example, at the end of Act I when Alfredo leaves with the idea of returning the next day, he actually returns at that moment and Violetta rushes into his embrace, which tells us exactly how passionate they are for one another and how impulsive.  This sets us up for Act II.

When Alfredo crumples and discards Flora's invitation, his father picks it up so we don't have to wonder how he can find his son in Act III.  Alfredo comes to Flora's party with a new woman on his arm.  This shows just how hurt and betrayed he feels.  And in Act IV, Violetta kneels on a prayer bench when she questions her god about her fate.  These are just a few of the refined directorial touches that we appreciated.

Baritone Samuel McDonald created a very believable Baron Douphol who is annoyed with the young whippersnapper who is poaching his mistress.  As the threat level increases, so does his rage, building up to the point that he challenges Alfredo to a duel.  And Mr. McDonald accomplished all this while using his generous baritone in some fine singing.

Mezzo Marisan Corsino sang the role of Violetta's friend Flora and soprano Elizabeth Kelsay sang Annina, Violetta's faithful servant.  Bass Eric Delagrange made a fine concerned but helpless Dr. Grenvil who had the air of having seen many young people die of tuberculosis.  Baritone John Callison portrayed the Marchese d'Obigny, Flora's "patron".  The interaction between him and Flora in the palm-reading sequence succeeded as comic relief.  Tenor Tyrone Chambers II sang the role of Gastone.

Conductor Daniel Lipton did his best with the reduced orchestration but we noticed a lack of balance with the brass overwhelming the strings in places, especially in the overture.

Costumes by Charles Caine were gorgeous and totally appropriate.  Violetta had completely different looks in each act.  There was no stinting in that department!

Set and Lighting Designer Joshua Rose designed sets that were appropriate without being overly fussy. 

All said, it was a thrilling theatrical experience and an opportunity to hear some promising voices that we are sure to hear more of in the future.  As you probably already know, Ms. Arroyo's program bridges the gap between academic training and a major professional career.  The fortunate singers who get accepted receive, without fee, six weeks of intense training by the best talents in the field.  Support for Prelude to Performance is always welcome.  It is extremely gratifying to witness the successful results of one's philanthropy.

There will be one more performance of La Traviata Saturday night with the same glorious cast.  And tonight sees the opening of Il Barbiere di Siviglia.  Tragedy last night; comedy tonight!  Need we say more?

© meche kroop




Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A COOL TREAT ON A SCORCHING EVENING

Dan Saunders, Ginger Costa-Jackson, Mary-Jane Lee and Yunpeng Wang (photo by Ellen Godfrey)

It seemed as if the theme of last night's recital (one of several in The Metropolitan Opera's Summer Series) was seduction.  We the audience were seduced into sitting attentively in the nearly unbearable heat under a threatening sky.  And many of the well-chosen arias, duets and trios were about someone seducing or being seduced.  The fact that the three singers were bursting with sex appeal made each scene totally believable.

Take the gorgeous sultry-voiced mezzo-soprano Ginger Costa-Jackson singing the Habanera from Bizet's Carmen--both onstage and mingling with the audience.  If she doesn't own that role in her generation we will be very surprised.  In "Dunque io son" from Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia, she is planning on seducing Lindoro (actually the Count) but must first seduce Figaro into being her go-between.

The wonderful baritone Yunpeng Wang as Figaro was the perfect foil for her foibles.  The two worked very well together, as seen/heard in the duet "Là ci darem la mano" from Mozart's Don Giovanni.  He was seductive and just a bit menacing while she demonstrated her ambivalence and eventual yielding.  It is such a pleasure watching singers who can act so well that the scene comes to life without scenery or costumes.

Mr. Wang was also a perfect match for the beautiful soprano Mary-Jane Lee in the duet from Leoncavallo's Pagliacci.  In this case, he portrayed Silvio importuning the unhappily married Nedda to leave her husband and run off with him.  We would be surprised if there weren't a few women in the capacity crowd who fantasized running away with him.

Ms. Lee was riveting in "Meine Lippen, sie küssen so heiss" from Lehar's Giuditta, showing as great a facility with German as she demonstrated in Italian.  Not only that but she also sang in Czech--"Song to the Moon" from Dvořák's Russalka, one of our favorite arias.

Mr. Wang also has a facility with languages and did a fine job with "O vin, dissipe la tristesse" from Thomas' Hamlet, showing interesting variety of color in the central section.  We enjoyed his "Di Provenza" from Verdi's La Traviata, yet another seduction, convincing Violetta to break off with his son.

The two lovely ladies harmonized beautifully in "Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour" from Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann and, joined by Mr. Wang, "Soave sia il vento" from Mozart's Così fan tutte.  It was so convincing that we almost felt a breeze in the sultry summer air!

We loved the way each artist introduced him/herself and presented the story of each work before singing it.  This added a great deal for people who may not have been familiar with the operas. As if this excellent program were not enough, the lily was gilded with three encores, all solos.

The lovely Ms. Lee sang "Lovely" from Sondheim's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and she sang it with great style.  Ms. Jackson sang "I Could Have Danced All Night" from Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady.  And oh, how she danced! Readers may feel free to disagree with us but we put these songs, sung by classically trained singers, in the same category as operatic arias.  They truly earned their place on the program.

Mr. Wang's encore was a heartfelt rendition of a song in which the singer yearns for his homeland.  It was composed by a Chinese composer living in Europe in the 1950's and had a moving folk-like simplicity that touched the heart.

Dan Saunders did a yeoman's job as accompanist, switching effortlessly from one style to the next.  The wildly enthusiastic crowd gave the quartet of artists a standing ovation which they richly deserved.

The necessary amplification for an outdoor concert was not excessive but, of course, somewhat impaired the ability to appreciate the colors of the voices and the accuracy of the fioritura.  For the "full Monty" you will have to buy a ticket!

ⓒ meche kroop




Monday, June 30, 2014

THE FOX AND THE FORESTER

The Fox Family and the Forester

It is difficult to believe that Leoš Janáček wrote his own libretto for The Cunning Little Vixen based on a child's comic strip.  As if a child could comprehend those deep philosophical ideas!  The 1926 work deals with man's relationship to the natural world and shows a deeply compassionate but unsentimental view of the cycles of birth and death.

The feisty vixen is captured by the Forester who brings her home as a pet.  When she attacks the rooster and hens, she is tied up.  But she escapes in search of freedom and finds a mate. After a shotgun wedding, they start a family but she meets her sad end (as people also sometimes do) due to an overweening sense of invulnerability.

Staging this opera with its anthropomorphisation is always a challenge but it has been done successfully thrice this year--once by Juilliard, once by the New York Philharmonic and this past weekend by Manhattan School of Music Summer Voice Festival.  We are happy to report that Pat Diamond did a splendid job. directing with much flair. 

The young singers managed their roles well and sang beautifully.  Sadly, diction was poor with the exception of the fine baritone Isaac Assor (The Forester) who made every word count.  We regret never having heard the work in Czech but acknowledge that Czech is a most difficult language to master. 

But we also notice that the English adaptation by J. David Jackson did not quite fit the stresses of the English words to the musical stresses.  This probably contributed to the difficulty we had in comprehending the words.  There were no titles to help.  If you want a word-for-word translation you can find it at http://www.supraphon.com/en/catalogue/librettos/.  We  warrant you will enjoy the risqué dialogue and the Vixen's protofeminism as much as we did.

Fortunately, the effective acting made the action clear.  Sopranos Kelsey Fredriksen and Mikayla Sager were adorable as the feisty Vixen and her mate Golden Mane.  We enjoyed Chorong Kim as the Forester's dog.  Bass Richard Burgess Block played the Badger and the Parson.  Baritone Sean Currlin sang the role of the Poacher who takes the Vixen's life.

Abigail Shapiro as the Rooster and Erica Reynolds as the Hen captured perfectly the body language of the fowl.  Furthermore, their costumes (David O. Roberts) were outstanding.  In a triumph of imagination the hens were dressed as housewives with white doilies and red ribbons as headdresses.  The rooster, naturally, sported a coxcomb.

All the animals and insects were cleverly costumed, especially the Hedgehog (tenor Michael Papincak) who also sang the Innkeeper.  Wigs and Make-up Design by Derek Robertson were particularly effective for the foxy couple.

Set design by Ann Bartek was minimal--a brick wall with flowers painted on and another white wall behind a table and chairs.  Lighting by Scott Bolman was effective in suggesting various times of day.

Musical values were superb.  Conductor J. David Jackson brought out all the folk motives and harmonies we love so much in Janáček's music.  The orchestra responded with a warm enveloping sound.  The vocal music leans toward the conversational and only The Forester has an aria.

To us, the point being made was how much alike are humans and animals.  We humans are animals; we are not them but we are OF them.  Respect for their well-being is called for.  They live, they hunger, they mate, they thrive, they suffer, they die, just as we do. An unintended consequence of the opera may be some second thoughts about hunting!

© meche kroop