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.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

UNDER MS. HORNE'S WING

Michelle Bradley and Michael Gaertner

As part of Opera America's Emerging Artist Recital Series, Marilyn Horne Song Competition Winners of 2014 presented a recital at the National Opera Center. Ms. Horne and the Music Academy of the West foster young artists with high potential and soprano Michelle Bradley and collaborative pianist Michael Gaertner certainly demonstrated high potential last night. This was the final stop on a tour that these two artists were awarded along with cash prizes.

Ms. Bradley's voice somehow made us think of a sunflower--a sturdy stem with a huge bloom on the top. She is one of those singers employing an economy of gesture with much of her expressiveness showing mainly in her face. The most remarkable thing about her recital was her perfect English diction. We grow weary of complaining about otherwise fine singers whose English leaves us wondering what in the world they were singing about.  Not so here!

Toward the end of the recital, this talented duo performed a cycle previously unknown to us--Five Songs of Laurence Hope.  This is a pseudonym for Adela Florence Nicolson whose text was set by H.T. Burleigh. The poetry was exotic and interesting and Mr. Burleigh's music quite lovely. The voice and piano were equally fine and we particularly noted the exoticism in the piano. Mr. Gaertner is a fine collaborative artist--the kind that breathes with the singer, attentive and supportive. His presence is however suitably authoritative.  He commands the piano.

The sincerity of the spirituals which followed--"Give Me Jesus" and "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands"-- was unmistakable and clearly the audience was touched by Ms. Bradley's communicative skills. Even more astonishing was her comfort while sitting at the piano accompanying herself in a work she wrote entitled "Trust".

Ms.Bradley has an ample voice, perhaps heading into the dramatic soprano fach. How well she negotiated the highs and lows of "Vissi d'Arte" from Puccini's Tosca.  And how we wished for some dynamic variety! 

This was true to a lesser extent in the difficult concert aria with which she began the program--Beethoven's "Ah! Perfido", which we had just heard Sunday. The woman singing the aria has been dumped by her lover and she is alternatively furious, imploring and pitiable. We heard a nice blend of chest and head voice on the low notes and an impressive flight of scales at the end. But we longed for more variety of color and dynamics.  We are sure this will develop in time.

A set of French songs followed and we didn't find them to be the best choice for the singer at this stage of her development. For one thing, the diction was wanting and so was the phrasing and Gallic style. Clearly the songs were learned phonetically.  In Fauré's "Notre amour", she lightened up somewhat to good advantage but variety of color in the description of love by Armand Silvestre begged for some distinction between "chose légère", "chose charmante", "chose sacrée", "chose infinie", and "chose éternelle".  A singer could have a field day coloring each verse!

Mr. Gaertner's piano was particularly fine in the arpeggios of Bachelet's "Chère nuit".

We found similar flaws of diction and phrasing in a set of Strauss songs. As many American singers do, Ms. Bradley cannot pronounce the "ch" sound.  We didn't hear it at all or we heard something like "ish". This could easily be corrected.

We did like the way she became more gentle in "Freundliche Vision" allowing some more expressiveness to come into the voice and we liked the change of color in "Cäcilie" when the middle verse of Heinrich Hart's text describes the dread of lonely nights. So what we are looking for is not out of her reach.

Hers is a large instrument and perhaps it will take considerable training to bring it under dynamic control and to produce more colors. We think it will be worth the work or we would not have coaxed ourselves into identifying the shortcomings.

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

OPERA BURLESQUE

Trixie La Fée
Trixie La Fée



Baroquen Wings



Trixie La Fée
Since a picture is worth a thousand words, dear reader, we will spare you lengthy copy (4000 words?) about the lovely ladies and handsome gentleman who who manage to give operatic arias their full artistic due while shedding their beautiful Angela Huff costumes. If you scroll down to the April archives you can read all the juicy details from April 22nd, including the real names of these entertaining artists. We hope you will be inspired to attend an upcoming performance of the Hot Box Girls at Duane Park on the Bowery.

Last night's program involved some new material which was just as impressive as last month's, with the added inducement of the aerial artistry of Baroquen Wings. Often have we protested opera directors who expect the singers to sing from unusual positions.  In this case, the singers themselves have chosen the unusual positions. It stumps us, trying to figure out how they can produce such marvelous sounds with all the attendant musicality of phrasing while performing as ecdysiasts.

Don't take our word for it!  Go see for yourselves. 

(c) meche kroop


Monday, May 18, 2015

EVE QUELER AND FRIENDS

Eve Queler and Friends

Eve Queler's claim to fame is not just her astute conducting of rarely heard operas at Carnegie Hall but, among other talents, her discovery and nurture of young artists and putting them before the public. It was a very special treat to return last night to the acoustically amazing Church of the Blessed Sacrament to enjoy what felt like a party for performers and their fans.

The Maestra herself performed most of the piano accompaniment and a superb chamber orchestra was on hand to add to the texture of the music. Several familiar faces were there and some new ones as well, singing highlights from past performances.

We were delighted to have the opportunity to hear soprano Jessica Rose Cambio who performed "Non so le tetre immagini" from Verdi's Il Corsaro which she sang with great depth of feeling. Her voice opens up at the top like an umbrella and she trills like a canary. She also sang "Tu del mio Carlo al seno" from Verdi's I Masnadieri, accompanied this time by the fine pianist Douglas Martin. The work has lovely arpeggios and a joyful staccato cabaletta.

Soprano Marsha Thompson  performed "Robert, toi que j'aime" from Meyerbeer's Robert le Diable.  (And just last night we heard Michael Fennelly play "The Nun's Dance" from the same opera!) There are some lovely descending scale passages and the accompaniment was largely in the hands of oboist Melanie Feld. Mr. Martin was her piano accompanist for "Col sorriso d'innocenza" from Bellini's Il Pirata in which Ms. Thompson showed herself to be a fine bel canto artist with some lovely embellishments and a very fiery cabaletta.

Bass Sava Vemić was a revelation  in "Si la rigeur" from Halévy's La Juive. He employed his deep earthy resonance to portray Cardinal Brogni commuting the sentence on Eléazar and his daughter. He exhibited plenty of depth at the bottom of his register and was convincingly forgiving. In "O tu Palermo" from Verdi's I Vespri Siciliani he delivered Procida's powerful paean to his homeland, accompanied by an appealing theme on the cello played by Eugene Moya.

Tenor Jonathan Blalock employed a pleasing tone in "Vainement, ma bien-aimée" from Lalo's Le Roi d'Ys.  This Aubade has the quality of a serenade and was beautifully accompanied by Elizabeth Mann's flute and Steven Hartman's clarinet. We further enjoyed Mr. Blalock's artistry in "Viens gentile dame" from Boieldieu's La Dame Blanche, filled with romantic eagerness.

There was no shortage of terrific tenors.  William Davenport used his sweet voice with its ringing top in "O paradis!" from Meyerbeer's L'Africaine accompanied by Erica Kiesewetter's violin. He invested "E la solita storia" from Cilea's L'Arlesiana with a great deal of pathos, accompanied by flute and violin.

Baritone Joshua Benaim performed "Vision fugitive!" from Massenet's Hérodiade with ample passion and good command of tone. We liked his "Vien, Leonore" from Donizetti's La Favorita even more with its typical bel canto arpeggios.

Benjamin Herman handled the percussion for the evening and Veronica Salas was the violist. What a pleasure to reconnect with operas heard only once and heard long ago! It was a time to meet old friends!

(c) meche kroop

WE ARE MELTIN' FOR MELTON

John Parr and Heidi Melton

Just another big beautiful gal with a big beautiful voice?  Not exactly. Dramatic soprano Heidi Melton has been garnering awards and plum roles for the past nine years or so and was presented yesterday at the Schimmel Center of Pace University as part of their Rising Opera Stars in Recital series.

Such honors and accolades do not come easily and much work evidently went into Ms. Melton's seemingly effortless  performance.  She credited John Parr, her collaborative pianist and coach, with encouraging her to explore the Wagner repertory.  Apparently she picked up that ball and ran with it all the way to the goalpost.

Following Beethoven's concert aria "Ah! Perfido", Ms. Melton gifted us with Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder, a quintet of wondrous songs which Wagner set to poetry by Mathilde Wesendonck. What we love about these songs is the variation of mood, giving the soprano many opportunities to express herself through word coloring.

The gentle quietude of "Der Engel" was followed by the propulsive quality of "Stehe Still!".  Only in the last verse do we feel the sustained rapturous mood in the words "versinken" and "verstummt". Our favorite in this group is always "Im Treibhaus" in which the rising sequence of four notes in a scale passage bring to mind the composer's Tristan und Isolde. How can just four notes do this???  Amazing! The room was so still we were sure the audience was collectively holding their breath.

In "Schmerzen", Ms. Melton allowed her voice to expand to its fullest which is full indeed. But she brought it back for "Träume" and built slowly to a climax.

We have only good things to say about Claude Debussy's Chansons de Bilitis to text by Pierre Louÿs. The impressionistic music serves the poetry and Ms. Melton served the music. The work takes us out of our world and to a magical place.

Recently brought under the umbrella of works we enjoy are Alban Berg's Sieben Frühe Lieder. It takes a good interpreter to make sense of the vocal lines which are not nearly as accessible as those of Schubert, Schumann and Brahms. But Ms. Melton is a fine musician as well as a fine singer and we enjoyed them, especially "Die Nachtigall" in which she allowed her voice to expand at the top of her register.

The final set comprised songs by Kurt Weill. In "Je ne t'aime pas", we enjoyed Ms. Melton's French, especially in the pianissimo passages which drew us in.  Only a few words at the top of her register got lost.

Interestingly, her English diction was so superb  in "September Song" from Knickerbocker Holiday, "Stay Well" from Lost in the Stars, and "My Ship" from Lady in the Dark that we didn't miss a single word! Regular readers will recall how often I complain about needing titles for songs in English.  No problem with that here.

As encore, the old Irving Berlin song "Always" delighted the audience. It was a privilege to hear a wonderful dramatic soprano whose instrument is outstanding and who is also a fine musician. We would like to add that Mr. Parr was with her every step of the way, always supportive and never overwhelming.

(c) meche kroop

Sunday, May 17, 2015

SINGERS WITH SOUL

Percy Martinez, Veronica Loiacono, Therese Panicali, Judith Fredricks, Michael Fennelly, Jodi Karem, Edgar Jaramillo, Roberto Borgatti, Chaz'men Williams-Ali

Summer has arrived and it is a good time to enjoy our favorite pastimes in less formal settings. Opera New York, founded by diva/director/teacher/coach/impressario Judith Fredricks has a program called "Opera Goes to the Cabaret" in which emerging artists, coached by Ms. Fredricks and accompanied by the amazingly versatile pianist Michael Fennelly, have a chance to show their stuff in an intimate studio environment. The audience has a chance to relax at table seating and sip wine while enjoying the delicious fruits of the hard work of these artists.

Ms. Fredricks has a knack for finding promising talent and bringing out the best in them. What they all have in common is that they sing from the heart--something which Ms. Fredricks emphasizes in her coaching. It's quite a challenge to convey the sense of an aria extracted from an opera and isolated from all staging and costuming. The fact that we felt immersed in the opera when only a small piece was performed is evidence of the success of the approach. It's kind of an artistic hologram.

Take, for example, the terrific tenor Edgar Jaramillo who embodied all the joy of "Recondita armonia" and the painful final words of Mario Cavaradossi facing death in "E lucevan le stelle" from Puccini's Tosca. In the former we could see him comparing Tosca's eyes with those in the portrait he was painting and in the latter we could see the stars and inhale the fragrance of the night.  Now THAT"S acting. Add to that his warm rich voice and stress-free technique and there is a performance to remember. 

Furthermore, he "plays well with others" as witnessed by the stellar duet "O soave fanciulla" from Puccini's La Boheme that he sang with soprano Veronica Loiacono. This stunning soprano made a fine Mimi and also excelled in her solo "Song to the Moon" from Dvorak's Russalka. She was riveting in "Regnava nel silencio" from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, showing evidence of Lucia's instability. Her wild vocal flights in the cabaletta had us on the edge of our chair. This is a voice just made for bel canto.

Ms. Loiacono also performed the "Barcarolle" from Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffman with mezzo-soprano Jodi Karem and the two voices balanced perfectly. Ms. Karem appeared later as Delilah in the Saint-Saëns opera Samson et Delilah. Her rich voice was filled with the requisite seductiveness in "Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix". In "O don fatale" from Verdi's Don Carlo she successfully conveyed Princess Eboli's remorse.

We had the delightful opportunity to hear a very large voice that sounds great right now but also has room to expand further. Soprano Therese Panicali filled the room with sound in Turandot's aria "In questa reggia" from Puccini's Turandot, and again in "Dich teure Halle" from Wagner's Tannhaüser.

Baritone Roberto Borgatti performed the role of Rodrigo in "Per me giunto" from Verdi's Don Carlo and then dug into the role of Iago in Verdi's Otello; he expressed all of Iago's bitterness in "Credo" and then used his wonderful instrument to insinuate suspicions against Desdemona with Othello portrayed by tenor Percy Martinez in "Si, pel ciel".

Mr. Martinez had some excellent solos as well; he was very intense in "Vesti la giubba" from Leoncavallo's Pagliacci showing enough depth of feeling that we could almost forgive Canio for murdering Nedda. He also brought the program to a close with a larger-than-life "Nessun Dorma" from Puccini's Turandot.

There was yet another fine singer on the program--Chaz'men Williams-Ali whose finely textured tenor was just right for "Che gelida manina" from Puccini's La Boheme. We heard a lovely diminuendo and no strain on the high notes, nor did we hear any as he went from sweetness to arrogance in his excellent "La Donna è mobile" from Verdi's Rigoletto.

It is rare to hear a mixed program such as this one in which every singer was excellent. We are sure to be hearing much more of each of them. As if this bounty were insufficient we also heard the astonishing Michael Fennelly perform the virtuoso work "The Nun's Dance" from Meyerbeer's Robert le Diable. It was a frenzy of showmanship.

Ms. Fredricks closed the evening by sharing with the audience her interest in getting cabaret style opera into the schools and communities of the Boroughs of NYC. She has started a crowdfunding event at www.GoFundMe.com/OperaNewYork and we are passing the information along to YOU dear reader who may wish to make a small (or large) donation to make a difference in the cultural life of our town and to help educate young audiences to guarantee the future of opera.  Let's do it!

(c) meche kroop


Friday, May 15, 2015

GELSEY KIRKLAND BALLET

Anastasia Barsukova and Johnny Almeida  Photo credit: Camilo Gomez 


Our taste in classical story ballet favors the profound and the tragic--Swan Lake, Giselle, and Romeo and Juliet for example. But we can also enjoy the lighthearted ballets of which Don Quixote is a prime example.  We so greatly enjoyed Gelsey Kirkland Ballet's Nutcracker some months ago (review archived) that we wouldn't have missed this production for the world.

Along with co-Artistic Director Michael Chernov, the renowned ballerina who dazzled us at American Ballet Theater many years ago has given us a new gift. The pair have a terrific sense of stagecraft and the ability to balance storytelling with the artistry of the dance. Adding greatly to the pleasure is the size and shape of the Schimmel Center at Pace University. The stage is wide and every seat has perfect sightlines allowing all members of the audience to experience an intimacy unknown at the Metropolitan Opera House or the New York State Theater.

Don Quixote was originally choreographed by Marius Petipa and Alexander Gorsky with colorful music by Ludwig Minkus. The small price one must pay for all these goodies is the lack of a live orchestra. The set by Court Watson is simple but effective with a painted backdrop featuring red-tiled roofs.  The costume design by Mr. Chernov (who also directed) is sumptuous and colorful.

But it is the dancing for which one goes to the ballet and we were highly impressed by Anastasia Barsukova who danced the role of Kitri. She is petite but has gorgeous extensions and lovely phrasing. Her effective partner was Johnny Almeida whose slight stature gives no clue as to his prodigious partnering skills.

The dancing grew in intensity over the course of the evening and by the time we got to Act III (Kitri's Wedding) we just knew we would be treated to a splendid pas de deux with its goose bump inducing swan dives. The variations finally revealed Mr. Almeida's superb technique to its fullest extent. One could feel the electricity running through the audience during the dazzling coda. We always thrill to the tour jetés.

Sabina Alvarez made a fine street dancer with Guilherme Junio as Espada, arriving with his team of Toreros. In Act II we admired the gypsy solo of Katrina Crawford.
There was a very clever puppet show with tiny people enacting the puppets.

In the Enchanted Forest Scene, a ballerina even tinier than Ms. Barsukova, Kyono-Chantal Morin was winning as Amour. The entire company performed well with evidence of strength in the corps de ballet. Also in evidence was some rather intensive rehearsal since ensembles were consistently together. One happy observation was that all of the male dancers landed softly. 

Space will not permit mentioning all the dancers but we would like to acknowledge the marvelous mime skills of Alexander Mays as the titular character--foolish but lovable. His sidekick Sancho Panza was Satoki Habuchi. Samuel Humphreys made a fine Lorenzo (Kitri's controlling father) with Erez Ben-Zion Milatin portraying the silly fop Gamache whom he has chosen as Kitri's husband.

We can barely wait to see what Gelsey Kirkland Ballet comes up with next. It is sure to be dramatically compelling and artistically performed. But, you don't have to wait to enjoy this excellent company because Don Quixote is playing through Saturday night.  Don't miss it!

(c) meche kroop

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A Little Night Music at Manhattan School of Music (photo by Brian Hatton)

There was much to enjoy last night in Manhattan School of Music's American Musical Theater Ensemble's production of Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music. Although it premiered in 1973 it has aged well with a plethora of melodic arias underscored by beautiful music, orchestrated by Jonathon Tunick. Music director Shane Schag was at the piano and there were some lovely contributions by Caroline Cox on violin, Duane Fields on cello, Connor Schultze on bass and particularly by Melanie Genin on harp and Brian Krock whose lovely clarinet intro to "Send in the Clowns" was a highlight of the evening.

The story (book by Hugh Wheeler) was suggested by the Ingmar Bergman film and takes place in the early 20th c. in Sweden at the time of year when the sun doesn't set. Six mismatched people get their love lives sorted out under the observing eye of grande dame Madame Armfeldt who has a lifetime of experience, and her precocious granddaughter Fredrika. 

The former was portrayed by veteran star of opera and theater Catherine Malfitano who was made up to look elderly. Her voice is undeniably better than Hermione Gingold and she put her own take on the role. Her song "Liaisons" was a show-stopper.

She had a lovely bond with granddaughter Fredrika, portrayed by petite Julia Suriano who was able to express all the ambivalence of the child of a too-busy mother of whom she is quite proud but by whom she feels somewhat neglected.

The middle generation of the Armfeldt family is the actress Desirée who would like to renew her old relationship with Fredrik Egerman, a lawyer now married to his childlike virgin bride Anne. Desirée was portrayed by mezzo-soprano Agness Nyama, whose song "Send in the Clowns" was far better sung than it was by Glynis Johns. She has a fine mezzo instrument and sang with great feeling.  Unfortunately, her acting was not up to par with her singing.  There was no chemistry with anyone else in the cast and it was difficult to believe that she belonged in that family or circle of frenemies.

As Fredrik, baritone Clayton Brown was quite believable and sang well. His Act II duet with Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm was splendid. Nickolas Miller was quite good as the arrogant Count, especially as he terrorized his poor wife Charlotte, excellently sung and believably acted by Addie Hamilton. Ms. Hamilton's conspiring with young Anne was quite fine and Samantha Williams made a fine shallow Anne with her bright clear soprano and ditzy body language.

Fredrik's son Henrik was performed by Luke Sikora who did an excellent job portraying a young man in love with his step-mother and burying his feelings in theology. As immoral as the story is, we couldn't help cheering when the two of them ran away together leaving Fredrik free to get back together with Desirée.

We loved the other show-stopping song performed by Viktoria Falcone as the servant Petra--"The Miller's Son".  Her pizazz is something to see and to watch develop.

Further, we loved the chorus.  All were fine: Evan Henke, Stephanie Christian, Sara Ptachik and Hannah Dishman with Christopher S. Lilley a standout for his impressive tenor. All were choreographed by Colleen Durham in a colorful waltz.

The gorgeous period-appropriate costuming was credited to Summer Lee Jack. The simple but effective set and its lighting were credited to Shawn Kaufman.

The Direction by Carolyn Marlow fell short of her customary good work. The main flaws in the production had to do with the overall tone of the piece. Accents were all over the map and some performers had lazy diction, causing us to miss the wonderful sung dialogue. Characters occasionally seemed to belong to  different productions, different countries and different epochs. We longed for more unity of tone.

We were also troubled by the obvious amplification which lent an unnatural sound.  In a rather small auditorium with trained voices, perhaps that could have been eliminated. 

Nonetheless, it was a gift to be able to see and hear this show again, in spite of some minor shortcomings. This is the first time we have seen and heard shortcomings of any kind at an MSM production. We realize it is a student production but we generally don't have to make such allowances.

(c) meche kroop