Sunday, December 8, 2013
Enter Donna Elvira, a role which requires a large sound; soprano Zhanna Alkhazova fulfilled the requirements of the role to perfection. She has been seduced and abandoned by the Don and pursues him throughout the opera. Her "Mi tradito" was superb as she did a fine job of limning the ambivalence Donna Elvira has toward her love object. A high point of the opera is Leporello's delivery of the so-called Catalogue Aria in which he disabuses Donna E. of her romantic notions. The Don has seduced thousands of women! Interestingly, during the course of this opera he never succeeds; but oh, how he tries!
His next attempted conquest is that of the naive peasant girl Zerlina on the day of her marriage to Masetto. Soprano Madison Marie McIntosh has the adorable appearance and bright young sound needed for this role and bass-baritone Kian Freitas was excellent as the ironic and suspicious Masetto. Zerlina has two charming arias in which she succeeds in manipulating Masetto out of his moods--"Batti, batti" and "Vedrai carino". The famous duet with the Don "La ci darem la mano" was well handled. Bass Elias Notus had a commanding presence as Il Commendatore.
The diction was exemplary; at certain points the sur-titles went missing but not a word was lost.
There will be one more opportunity to experience this superb cast who will be performing the opera at Symphony Space on Thursday, December 12th. Consider this event to be highly recommended.
© meche kroop
Saturday, December 7, 2013
|Leonarda Priore, Benjamin Perry Wenzelberg, Lynne Hayden-Findlay|
Most affecting and most in tune with the memorial was Ms. Priore's performance of Ottorino Respighi's "Il Tramonto". The text by Percy Bysshe Shelley involves a man dying too young and seemed heartbreakingly relevant. Accompanying Ms. Priore was the Chelsea Opera String Quartet, comprising Marc Uys and Bruno Peña on violin, Jen Herman on viola and Troy Chang on cello. It isn't often that one hears a work for string quartet and mezzo so this was a special treat. The quartet was well-balanced throughout and also did a lovely job with Ennio Morriccone's love theme from Cinema Paradiso.
The remainder of the evening transpired in varying styles--a lovely folk song adapted by Carl Stommen that was moving in its simplicity; the "Pie Jesu" from Andrew Lloyd Webber's Requiem in which Mr. Wenzelberg's treble blended beautifully with Ms. Priore's mezzo; Mr. Wenzelberg's exuberant solo of "Rejoice Greatly" from Handel's Messiah, in which he dazzled the audience with his pinpoint fioritura; a jazz-inflected "Bending Towards the Light" from A Jazz Nativity by Bob Kindred with lyrics by Anne Phillips and Henry Timm; and several selections from the world of Broadway and cabaret.
Ms. Priore has a broad background and handled the diverse styles without compromising any of the material. Jule Styne's "Winter Was Warm" suited her voice particularly well. The two singers blended beautifully in the duet "See the Light" by Alan Menken. There were some fine selections by Stephen Schwartz, David Friedman and Irving Berlin. When we saw Wicked on Broadway it was so heavily amplified that we couldn't understand the lyrics. Last night we were able to hear and understand and appreciate them.
The evening closed with a surprise guest; Lynn Hayden-Findlay, co-founder of Chelsea Opera, emerged from her "retirement" to sing Jerry Herman's "Bosom Buddies" from Mame. It was absolutely delicious! Bill Doherty did a magnificent job accompanying throughout the evening.
The Chelsea Opera has been encouraging and supporting Mr. Wenzelberg for about four years now and is currently, through the Nicholas S. Priore New Possibilities Fund, helping to launch Mr. W.'s opera The Sleeping Beauty. We were there for the piano/vocal reading and will be there on January 17th for the young composer's orchestral reading. And you should be there as well!
© meche kroop
Friday, December 6, 2013
|Ricardo Herrera, Corinne Winters, Jeffrey Picon, Leonardo Granados, Steven Blier, Michael Barrett|
When Artistic Director Steven Blier puts a program together you can count on an entertaining evening that is also instructive. If you only listened to the music you could leave happy, but if you paid attention to Mr. Blier's charming narration you would have learned more about the culture and history that produced the music than you ever dreamed of, and you would have learned it painlessly. And if you read the program notes you will know more than most people.
We had only been aware of the 1959 revolution that overthrew the corrupt dictator Fulgencio Batista and installed Fidel Castro; but before Batista, Cuba was in the hands of the repressive Gerardo Machado and many of Cuba's musicians, composers and performers alike, fled the violent Machadistas and a Cuba impoverished by the hemispheric economic collapse. Paris welcomed them with open arms.
Last night's program began with a popular song of 1853 by José White entitled "La Bella Cubana", the theme of which reminded us of "The Girl from Ipanema". Tenor Jeffrey Picón and baritone Ricardo Herrera sang this duet to soprano Corinne Winters, praising her beauty. The gorgeous melody was definitely inspired by the bel canto period, which may explain its being our favorite song of the evening. This may be the only song that Mr. White wrote; he was a child prodigy and a violinist who studied at the Paris Conservatoire.
The rest of the evening's program focused on the first half of the 20th c. Racial tensions ran high in Cuba and music was one way to bridge the gap between the Caucasians and the Afro-Cubanos who were descended from slaves. Accompanied by the percussion of Leonardo Granados, Ms. Winters sang Eliso Grenet's "Lamento esclavo", a rather gentle protest song of a slave of the Lucumi tribe; Mr. Picón sang a lament of a Karabali man "Canto Karabali" by the well-known Ernesto Lecuona, accompanied by both Mr. Blier and Associate Artistic Director Michael Barrett. Both performances were moving.
The two men sang a funny duet by Alejandro Garcia Caturla which dealt with the pain of a man trying to meet American girls and striking out because he'd never learned to speak English.
Zarzuela has always been a major delight to us and we fondly recall an evening spent with Opera Hispanica, listening to a panel of experts discussing its origins. It's been a very long time since we had the pleasure of hearing and seeing a complete zarzuela; hearing excerpts of a few last night gave us great pleasure. Cuban zarzuelas were a means of dealing with the social and racial tensions of the 30's. We loved Mr. Herrera's heartfelt performance of "Mi vida es cantar" from La Virgen Morena and Ms. Winters and Mr. Picón's charming duet "Yo vivi soñando en un cuartico" from Lecuona's Rosa la China.
But our favorites were excerpts from Toi C'est Moi by Moisés Simons. The gentlemen's duet had a lively music hall feel and Ms. Winters' "C'est ça la vie" was an arresting take on the Carmen story in which Carmen kills a cheating Escamillo.
Most surprising were the final songs on the program: "Guarina" written by Sindo Garay, an illiterate Cuban-Indian, to his daughter, and "Son de la Loma" by another untrained musician. In every case, Cuban music is rhythmically vital, making it difficult to stay seated.
Like the drink, it all went down easily. Happily, we are not left with a hangover but we are left with a desire for more.
© meche kroop
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
|Pierre Ferreyra-Mansilla, Nathan Haller, Angela Vallone, Brian Zeger, Jessine Johnson, Samantha Hankey, Eric Jurenas|
The opening piece on the program turned out to be our personal favorite, the 1952 Canticle II: Abraham and Isaac, Op. 51. We first heard this work a year ago at Chelsea Opera in a fully staged and costumed version with young Benjamin Perry Wenzelberg doing more than justice to the role of the young Isaac about to be sacrificed by his father. Tonight in this role we heard counter-tenor Eric Jurenas with tenor Miles Mykkanen as Abraham in a semi-staged performance that worked beautifully, both vocally and dramatically. The most arresting singing was the voice of God produced by the two men singing in the most amazing unison.
The other major work on the program comprised Songs and Proverbs of William Blake, written in 1965 for Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
1965. Last night this vocally demanding material was finely handled by two exemplary baritones--Theo Hoffman whose fine work is familiar to us and Kurt Kanazawa whom we had never heard before but look forward to hearing again.
The remainder of the program consisted of a grouping of sorrowful folk songs and a grouping of joyful ones. We particularly liked tenor William Goforth's connection with the text in "At the mid hour of night" and Mr. Kanazawa's humorous complaint "Lord! I married me a wife". Tenor Nathan Haller gave a moving performance of "The Children". Tenor Michael St. Peter demonstrated a lovely vocal quality in the strophic "O Waly, Waly", standing out against the chordal accompaniment.
In the set of joyful songs, we particularly enjoyed Mr. Haller's performance of "Bonny at Morn". Mr. Jurenas' performance of "The Miller of Dee" was set against piano work by Mr. Zeger that left no doubt that mill wheels were turning. Mr. St. Peter's strophic "Plough Boy" was pure delight.
Several songs were accompanied by the guitar of Pierre Ferreyra-Mansilla who seemed to have a very personal relationship with his instrument. Our favorite was the jaunty "Sailor Boy" sung by Mr. Haller. The program was not entirely male; sopranos Jessine Johnson and Angela Vallone and mezzo Samantha Hankey made valuable contributions to both groups of folk songs. Ms. Vallone sang "The Big Chariot" and "How sweet the answer". The closing number of the evening was a duet "Underneath the Abject Willow" performed by Ms. Johnson and Ms. Hankey. Their voices blended splendidly and y'all know how much we love duets!
If you didn't get your fill of Britten last night, don't despair. It's his centennial and you will have many more opportunities.
© meche kroop
Monday, December 2, 2013
|Dominic Armstrong, Michael Brofman, Ty Jones, John Brancy, Peter Dugan|
There are 15 lovely songs in all; the narration was translated into English and recited by Mr. Jones while the songs themselves served to express the feelings of longing, love, sorrow and joy. George London Foundation winners tenor Dominic Armstrong and baritone John Brancy performed the songs with beautiful tone and phrasing as well as total commitment to the material. We noticed just one tiny flaw in Mr. Armstrong's performance which a non-speaker of German would not have observed. "Ich" appears in so many German words and was often rendered as "ick"; this should be remedied. Otherwise, both singers had a fine command of the language.
Mr. Brancy was accompanied by Peter Dugan whose expressive pianism worked very well with Mr. Brancy's heartfelt delivery. When Sir Peter gallops away from home, Brahms has provided a galloping rhythm in the piano. In "Sind es Schmerzen, sind es Freuden" the two artists matched each other in sweetness. In "Ruhe, Sussliebchen im Schatten" the lilt of this tender lullaby with its descending line reminded us of a barcarolle. For "Wie schnell verschwindet" Mr. Brancy surprised us by singing the voice of the princess with its stratospheric tessitura in falsetto.
Mr. Armstrong's piano partner was Michael Brofman himself, Artistic Director of the Brooklyn Art Song Society. They distinguished themselves in the strophic "Liebe kam aus fernen Landen" and in the two sanguine penultimate songs "Geliebter, wo zaudert" and "Wie froh und frisch mein Sinn sich hebt".
If you were unfortunate enough to have missed this stellar afternoon, there are a number of recordings and we recommend those by Peter Schrier and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. There will be several more recitals this season by the ambitious Brooklyn Art Song Society and if you are a lover of lieder, you are sure to be satisfied.
© meche kroop
Saturday, November 30, 2013
|Julia Bullock (photo by Christian Steiner)|
Her two songs were performed in her own personal style--sincere and authentic without a trace of calculation or pandering to the audience. Nor did we get a whiff of "crossover" affectation that makes opera singers sound pompous when they assay the popular repertory. In fact she treated both songs with the same respect that she has treated operatic arias. In Frederick Loewe's "I Could Have Danced All Night" from the 1956 My Fair Lady (lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner) her enthusiasm was so catching she made us want to get up and dance. From Leonard Bernstein's 1957 opus West Side Story (lyrics by Stephen Sondheim) she sang "Somewhere" with the deepest feeling of idealistic longing. The beauty of her sound and musicality left no doubt that this artist can sing anything.
One further element that contributed to our pleasure was her careful use of the microphone. We are seriously prejudiced against amplification and have no doubt that Ms. Bullock's superlative voice would have easily carried to the balcony without amplification; fortunately she knew how not to overwhelm or distort her beautiful natural sound. Not so the other singers. They did what Broadway singers are expected to do. Cheyenne Jackson, Phillip Boykin and Carolee Carmello gave rather more calculated performances with lots of amplification and lots of emoting; it was just what the audience wanted. Songs from West Side Story, Finian's Rainbow, Guys and Dolls, Fiddler on the Roof, The Sound of Music, Candide, Porgy and Bess, Show Boat, Man of La Mancha, Kiss Me Kate, Les Misérables and Funny Girl were performed and the audience loved every one of the 90 minutes.
Craig Arnold conducted the New York City Chamber Orchestra, which was larger than a Broadway pit orchestra and yet never sounded quite "in tune" with the material they were playing. The Manhattan Chorale sang the "Sabbath Prayer" from Fiddler on the Roof and the "Morning Hymn" from The Sound of Music as well as the Epilogue from Titanic. A half-dozen dancers, choreographed by Sean McKnight, spun and twirled to the Overture to Candide.
It was a fine opportunity for folks who enjoyed mid-20th c. American Musical Theater to reconnect with their favorite songs; there was no shortage of audience appreciation.
© meche kroop
Monday, November 25, 2013
|Christa Hylton, Georgios Papadimitriou, John Schenkel-photo by Steve Faust|
The Regina Opera's sets (by Director Linda Lehr) were simple but workable and the same could be said for the costumes. The casting was astute and there were some fine performances to enjoy. As the eponymous hero, bass-baritone Georgios Papadimitriou was outstanding, both vocally and dramatically; he created a Figaro who was charming and wily, completely focused on outwitting Count Almaviva (baritone Julian Whitley) who was intent on obstructing Figaro's marriage. Clever Susanna was sung by the adorable Jenny Ribeiro whose "Deh vieni non tardar" was incredibly beautiful and taken at a slow tempo; the audience burst into applause prematurely and nearly missed her magnificent cadenza. The sad and neglected Countess Almaviva was well sung by Christina Rohm who deserved the large round of applause she got for "Dove sono".
Another splendid performance was turned in by mezzo Danielle Horta as Cherubino, pleasing the audience with her "Non so più" and "Voi che sapete". As Marcellina, mezzo Christa Hylton had us giggling every time she came onstage with her ridiculous hat with yellow feathers and her expressive face. She handled the transition from the vengeful creditor who wanted her "pound of flesh" from Figaro to his generous loving mother without missing a beat. Another hilarious performance was given by tenor Alejandro Salvia as the foppish Don Basilio, sporting a bright pink wig and turquoise satin breeches--a vision to be sure.
Bass-baritone John Schenkel was a most convincing Dr. Bartolo but had some problems projecting his voice. This might be due to the split-level pit, an unfortunate situation due to a lack of space (strings at conductor-level and winds buried behind and below) . Another consequence of this situation was a degree of imbalance in the orchestra which was conducted by Maestro Scott Jackson Wiley. There was, however, no imbalance among the voices in the gorgeous duets and ensembles.
Antonio was played by Gene Howard and his daughter Barbarina by Nicole Leone. Don Curzio was performed by Brian Ribeiro. Special mention must be made of the fine chorus.
© meche kroop