|The cast of Naughty Marietta|
Over the past few years we have been made aware of a couple small companies in New York City that present operettas; thankfully Victor Herbert Renaissance Project Live! (VHRP LIVE!) has just crossed our radar screen. We say "thankfully" because we just passed a completely delightful evening with them getting acquainted with a very naughty girl named Marietta who first delighted audiences in 1910.
We are not a member of the group that finds these works outmoded, any more than we would call a Renoir "outdated". We can only express our joy that the ambitious Alyce Mott has seen fit to share the works of Mr. Herbert with present day audiences.
Ms. Mott is the Founder and Artistic Director of VHRP LIVE! and has also written a new pocket libretto for Mr. Herbert's tuneful operetta. The story was narrated by Georga Osborne who appeared in the speaking role of Marie Le Valleau, a voodoo queen of late 18th c. New Orleans. Ms. Mott's libretto has made some nips and tucks that serve to move the story along and eliminate unnecessary distractions.
Musical values were grand all around with conductor Michael Thomas moving things along and pianist Wilson Southerland excellently playing the overture and intermezzo, as well as supporting the superb singers.
Soprano Sarah Caldwell Smith excelled as the eponymous Marietta, a runaway Italian contessa, recently escaped from a French convent. Her sparkly bright instrument was perfect for the role and she effectively portrayed a spunky young woman who was going to create her own future.
Tenor Glenn Seven Allen sang beautifully as Captain Richard Warrington, leader of a group of rangers sent by General George Washington to arrest a pirate plaguing the territory. He was most effective as Marietta's love interest.
His competition was Etienne Grandet, the son of the Lieutenant Governor, actually none other than the pirate himself, sharing his booty with his father. Baritone Justin Ryan sang and acted up a storm.
His quadroon mistress Adah was wonderfully played by soprano Vira Slywotzky whose larger darker soprano lent itself to the role and gave gravitas to her fear of being sold when Etienne tired of her.
Comic relief was provided by David Seatter whose song "Sweet By and By" reminded us of a Gilbert and Sullivan number. Further comic relief was on hand courtesy of Stephen Faulk who portrayed the Captain's aide Simon O'Hara with a brogue as thick as molasses. Nathan Brian was amusing as Rudolfo who owned the marionette theater and gave disguise and employment to Marietta, pretending she was his long-lost son.
If the plot sounds confusing, rest assured that in the performance everything was made clear. Although we were fascinated by the politics of the period, one didn't need to be in order to appreciate the fun and the music. In fact, this is very close to the period in history John Guare illuminated in his play A Free Man of Color, which we saw half a dozen times!
New Orleans changed hands a couple times before the Louisiana Purchase and at this time it was owned by Spain but dominated by the French. It was a free-wheeling time with ample sophistication and wealth. But it was also a time when people of color were bought and sold. A beautiful quadroon like Adah could expect to be set up in a house with beautiful clothes and jewelry. Just this little bit of knowledge served to enhance our appreciation.
Some musical highlights were "Taisez Vous" sung by the Rangers and the "casquette girls", women given dowries by the King of France so they could come to the New World and find husbands--(Natalie Ballenger, Katherine Corle, Mitchell Roe, and Matthew Wages).
Ms. Caldwell Smith led the company in "Italian Street Song" filled with coloratura fireworks. Her duet with Mr. Allen "It Never, Never Can Be Love" was outstanding. Ms. Slywotzky had a delightful duet with Mr. Faulk --"If I Were Anybody Else But Me". Mr. Ryan's solo "You Marry A Marionette" was deliciously witty.
Of course the finale was the peak of the evening--"Ah Sweet Mystery of Life". Captain Dick has helped Marietta finish her unfinished song and the couple who tried hard not to fall in love has been united. Adah has been purchased by Captain Dick and freed. And now the audience can leave the theater feeling really really good.
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|Mitsuko Uchida and Dorothea Röschmann|
Highly celebrated in Europe but too little heard in the United States, soprano Dorothea Röschmann made a welcome appearance at Carnegie Hall last night with equally celebrated Mitsuko Uchida as her collaborative pianist.
The all-German program focused on two song cycles by Robert Schumann, both composed in 1840, during that very productive year when he won the court case permitting him to marry his beloved Clara.
The evening's program began with his Liederkreis, Op.39, a dozen songs of varying moods, one lovelier than the next. Ms. Röschmann's burnished soprano is flawless and focused throughout the registers and her musicianship is undeniable. There is something elegant and tasteful about her manner. One could call it unassuming.
There were times when we wished for more drama in the storytelling, as in "Waldegespräch"; we longed to hear the difference in coloring between the words of the rider and the words of the Loreley.
Ms. Uchida is a highly sensitive accompanist and often we heard more of the mood of the song in her piano. In "Mondnacht" she made moonlight audible, to our delight. "Auf einer Burg" had the right haunting feeling. The searching atmosphere of several songs was unmistakable and emotionally affecting.
The ending of "Im Walde" was given a chill by both artists who lent their skills to the storytelling.
The storytelling of the final work on the program grew in power. Frauenliebe und leben, Op.42 is one of our favorites and we are always happy to see it on a program. The challenge for the singer is to convince us that she is a young girl still playing games with her sisters who then grows into womanhood during the course of the cycle.
The timbre of Ms. Röschmann's instrument is very suited to melancholy and grief. She was incredibly moving in the final tragic "Nun hast du mir den ersten Schmerz getan" but she was less believable as the excited young girl who falls head over heels in love with a man.
She did inject a dose of excitement into "Ich kann's nicht fassen, nicht glauben" but we wanted to hear a different color when the girl gives voice to the man's words "Ich bin auf ewig dein". We enjoyed the serious tenor of "Du Ring an meinem Finger" as the woman realizes the import of her engagement. Similarly we appreciated the quiet joy as she let her husband know of her pregnancy in "Süsser Freund, du blickest".
In between the two Schumann cycles we heard Alban Berg's Sieben frühe Lieder which we have recently come to appreciate, thanks to a recital two weeks ago by Mary-Jane Lee (review archived). Ms. Röschmann furthered our appreciation, thanks to a sensitive delivery that captured the elusive quality of the songs.
We particularly enjoyed "Die Nachtigall" because of its haunting melody; we got goosebumps when Ms. Röschmann sang the phrase "Die Rosen aufgesprungen". "Im Zimmer" we loved for its atmosphere; the piano did a great job of emulating dancing flames from the little red fire.
It was during the encores that we most enjoyed Ms. Röschmann. She removed some of the restraints and let loose with a shattering performance of Schubert's "Nur wer die sehnsucht kennt" and Stern Auditorium was filled with more emotion and a greater amplitude of sound than was heard all evening. As if this were not enough, it was followed by "Kennst du das Land". One can never go wrong with the Mignonlieder from Goethe's Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre!
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|THE HOT BOX GIRLS (photo by Travis Chantar)|
Could sex sell opera? That was the question on our mind before attending last night's performance of L'Opera Burlesque at the intimate and glamorous venue of Duane Park. To put this to the test, we invited a gentleman friend who had never seen or heard an opera.
A further question plagued us. Would we, devoted operaphile, be distracted by the extra ingredient? Would nudity diminish the artistic impact? You won't have to read to the end of the review to learn the answer.
Our friend wants to hear more opera and we enjoyed the show enormously. A woman can be talented as a singer and also skilled as an ecdysiast. We are never surprised by multi-talented people. One of our dearest friends is both ballet dancer and actress.
Had the voices been second rate we would have been rather judgmental but, truth to tell, each performer displayed superb vocal skills and lost nothing by shedding her clothes. And what clothes!
Thanks to splendid costuming by Angela Huff, these lovely ladies began each aria in period costume and ended in pasties and g-string. If one had closed one's eyes, one would have experienced an unamplified recital of favorite arias but one would have missed some visual delights. Not all young opera singers could pull this off but clearly these gals have multiple assets, no pun intended.
The most unforgettable performance was a fan dance performed by Trixie La Fée (Francesca Caviglia) who wielded red ostrich feathers in a gorgeously graceful manner during which mezzo-soprano Zara Zuela (Maria Elena Armijo) sang "Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix" from Samson et Dalila by Camille Saint-Saëns.
Ms. Caviglia showed her vocal chops most gloriously in "V'adoro pupille" from Händel's Giulio Cesare, leaving her slinky gown behind to wind up in nothing more than body jewelry.
Our favorite number by Dixie DeLight (Kacey Cardin) was "Ah! Non credea mirarti" from Vincenzo Bellini's bel canto masterpiece La Sonnambula in which our diva entered in a trancelike state, strewing rosepetals.
Sean D'Leer (Melanie Long) opened the program with the popular "Una voce poco fa" from Gioacchino Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia. The elaborate wig came off along with the period costume.
The male roles were assumed by one Sir Lance-a-lot (Bradley Lassiter) who did justice to "O vin, dissipe la tristesse" from Ambroise Thomas' Hamlet, while stripping down to his skivvies.
For the grand finale, we heard the Champagne Chorus from Johann Straus II's Die Fledermaus in which the cast members circulated around the room toasting with audience members. What fun!
Accompanying on the piano was Seth Weinstein, whose nom de scène was Count Von Bang-it-out. His versatility was impressive as he readily switched from classical mode to Broadway mode. Hostess for the evening was Cookie Cavendish (Charlotte Thun-Hoherstein).
If this description tempts you, you can learn more at www.lOperaBurlesque.com and www.HotBoxGirls.com. We understand there are frequent performances at Duane Park and in Europe, often with a rotating cast of "hot girls" and a different selection of arias.
The concept is that of Rebecca Greenstein of Opera Moderne and we are so glad she has taken us out of our comfort zone. The audience was young and we applaud any and all means of bringing young people to opera. Bravissime tutte.
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|Lachlan Glen and Ben Bliss|
Our writing skills are insufficient to do justice to the artistry we witnessed onstage yesterday at the recital of the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program. We felt enthralled for 80 short minutes and wanted more. How do we find the words to convey what it's like to have one's heart and soul swept away in torrents of music? We may fail but we must make the effort.
Tenor Ben Bliss has a remarkable instrument, the timbre of which has a near magical effect on the very cells of the body. The phrase "liquid balm" comes to mind. One hears the tone and it's as if one is in touch with the music of the spheres.
Add to this the musicianship--the phrasing, the diction, the pacing--and every song became a mini-opera. Mr. Bliss seems to be so involved with the emotional tone of each song and conveys it so successfully that it becomes a shared experience. We sat with moist eyes, partly from the sheer beauty we heard and partly from identifying with the emotions in many of the songs.
To add to the intensity of the experience we had the piano partnering of Lachlan Glen who touches the keys and thereby touches the heart. He seemed to become one with the instrument and brings forth joy and sorrow, delicacy and passion, each in its own turn.
The first half of the program included songs of Vincenzo Bellini and Ottorini Respighi. The three canzone by Bellini are well known to us and much loved. "Malinconia, Ninfa gentile", "Vanne, o rosa fortuna", and "Ma rendi pur contento", which was rendered with great delicacy. We are sure that Bellini would have loved the interpretations which were imbued with a great variety of color.
As far as the Respighi songs, they belong to the category of songs that we've heard that never made much of an impression on us. All that was changed by Mr. Bliss and Mr. Glen who took them to an entirely new level.
In "Pioggia", the poet (Vittoria Aganoor Pompilj) speaks of "il tumulto dei colori" and Mr. Bliss sang in such a tumult of colors! In "Nebbie" the lonely unloved feelings of the poet (Ada Negri) came through with such clarity that we wept. The gradual crescendo led to feelings of near horror at the conclusion. We have written before about how a deeply felt performance can change the way we feel about a song and such was the case.
Franz Liszt's "Pace non trovo" from Tre Sonetti di Petrarca was filled with passion and clearly illustrated the poet's bafflement over his contradictory feelings towards the mysterious Laura. Each feeling came through by means of adept and artistic word coloring. There was a suspenseful pause just before the final pair of lines ("In questo stato son") in which we realized we were holding our breath!
The second half of the program included the participation of The Kleio Quartet: violinists Christina Bouey and Clare Semes, violist Isabel Hagen, and cellist Madeline Fayette. Ralph Vaughan Williams composed the evocative On Wenlock Edge in 1908, scored for tenor, piano and string quartet. The influence of Maurice Ravel is marked. The text is from A.E. Housman's A Shropshire Lad.
The instrumental effects are poignant and add greatly to the tenor's storytelling. We heard "From far, from eve and morning", followed by the very sorrowful " 'Is my team ploughing" in which the texture of cello and piano alternated with the voices of the violins and viola. Mr. Bliss brought out the chilling end, as a storyteller must.
Mr. Glen employed his piano artistry well in "Bredon Hill"; there was no missing the pealing of the church bells. This sad tale had the violins weeping. And we wept along.
Mr. Glen had his chance to shine in his performance of Ravel's "Jeux d'eau" for solo piano. He addressed the audience and shared that the piece represents the river goddess laughing as the waters of the Fountain of Versaille tickle her. Needless to say, our ears were equally tickled as Mr. Glen's fingers tickled the ivories. What a performance!
The program closed with a few unusual choices. Mr. Bliss began "As I went down to the river to pray" a capella and with great simplicity. Then the piano entered and each verse grew in fervor. It became a work of wonder.
Ann Ronnel's "Willow weep for me" was followed by "Orange colored sky" by Milton De Lugg and Willie Stein, a jazzy number that Mr. Bliss sang with flair and more than enough facility with "scat".
As encore we heard in impeccable German the luscious arietta "Magische Töne" from Karl Goldmark's 1875 opera Die Königen von Saba. The music and the words are equally seductive and Mr. Bliss floated the notes of his upper register in a lingering pianissimo. We could feel the "milde abendluft". Pure Bliss!
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|Babette Hierholzer, Robert Osborne, Lydia Ciaputa, and Conor Chinitz|
We were trying to figure out why we were lately hearing so much music related to the character of Don Quixote and learned that this is the 400th anniversary of the publication of Part II of Miguel Cervantes' masterpiece. This figure has inspired choreographers and composers since the work was published. Obviously the word "quixotic" came from the eponymous character.
Last night in the grand hall of The Hispanic Society, against a backdrop of centuries of Spanish art, bass-baritone Robert Osborne brought this character to musical life in an involving and ultimately moving program which he conceived and created--a program entitled Don Quixote in Music.
The first part of the program was devoted to the 1712 cantata by Jean-Baptiste Morin entitled Dom Quixotte which Mr. Osborne sang in French, so clearly enunciated that we understood every word. Accompanied by violinist Judson Griffin playing an instrument as old as the Cervantes' work (!), cellist David Bakamjian, and harpsichordist Alexandra Snyder Dunbar, his rich voice was well employed in the descriptive recitativi,
The arias, on the other hand, seemed to be the very words spoken by Don Q. Following a lovely theme in the violin, the section "Mort de Dom Quixotte" seemed to be in march tempo. The sad effects were achieved by color without a trace of sentimentality.
The second half of the program was more dramatic as Mr. Osborne was assisted into some very authentic appearing armor and cape by Sancho Panza, portrayed by Conor Chinitz. When he donned the helmet and picked up the halberd, he looked astonishingly like Don Q. himself. With his sharply chiseled features he cut a fine figure.
Alternating works by several composers, both vocal and instrumental, followed a line from the hero's departure through to his death. Interestingly none of the works were written in Spanish although some Spanish composers have composed such works.
We greatly enjoyed the early 20th c. songs by Jacques Ibert, particularly the "Chanson du départ" which had a distinctly Spanish flavor, as did his lovely "Chanson à Dulcinée".
Maurice Ravel's "Chanson à boire" lent a note of comic relief. It's a rowdy song we never tire of hearing and it was fun seeing our hero passing out on the floor. In contrast, Mr. Osborne delivered the moving and spiritual "Chanson épique" on his knees in prayerful pose.
Selections from Jules Massenet's late opera, the 1910 Don Quichotte, a comédie-héroïque, included the "Sérénade de Don Quichotte" in which accompanying pianist Babette Hierholzer effectively brought out the octave tremoli. The final scene of his death was most effectively rendered in "Écoute, mon ami, je me sens bien malade". Although she appeared only briefly as Dulcinée, singing from the balcony above, soprano Lydia Ciaputa sounded ethereal while Conor Chinitz sounded earthy as Sancho Panza.
The only music that didn't seem to advance the plot much was that composed by the 11-year-old Erich Wolfgang Korngold. There was nothing about these instrumental pieces that seemed related to the story but they did give evidence of the success that lay down the road and, more importantly, let us enjoy the fine playing of Ms. Hierholzer.
This was the second time this week that we have enjoyed a work created to tell a story, using a pastiche of music.(See review entitled Discovering Mrs. Rossini.). It is a marvelous genre, one which we thoroughly enjoyed and hope to hear more of.
As we exited the gorgeous Hispanic Society building we smiled at the statue of our hero casting a shadow on the wall
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|WHAT A GROUP OF ARTISTS!!!|
Yesterday's recital of winners of The Gerda Lissner Foundation International Vocal Competition offered immeasurable delights. Somehow it felt more like a celebration than a recital. We celebrate the largess of the foundation that awarded a most generous $238,000 this year to 17 young artists who were chosen from among the 330 who auditioned.
We celebrate the rapid ascent of these dedicated young singers who put in so much time and effort to share their love of opera with the grateful audience. And we also celebrate the fact that we are a community, a family of opera lovers who can gather together and share our joy.
The host for the evening was Brian Kellow, Features Editor of Opera News. The well-loved Diana Soviero presented a lifetime achievement award to Lenore Rosenberg who, among many other gifts, is a fine judge of competitions worldwide. She spoke briefly but every word she said was valuable and we wish to quote her.
What she said was "It's not the kind of voice a person has but the kind of person who has the voice." She spoke about the balance among vocal quality, technique, and expressiveness. She spoke about the single mindedness that makes for success in this difficult field. The ones who make it are those who never consider an alternative career. They sing because they must. That's what they do! She gave us a lot to think about and we are grateful for it.
We heard sixteen singers in a space of two hours and, although everyone was at least good and most were excellent, a few stood out for various reasons. Sometimes it's someone we've never heard. Sometimes it's someone we have been writing about for several years and have always loved. And sometimes it's someone who has made great strides since we heard them last.
The first singer who comes to mind is Mingjie Lei. And why? Because his delivery of "Una furtiva lagrima" produced una furtiva lagrima in our eye! We have heard Donizetti's star-making aria from L'Elisir d'Amore countless times but never felt such an identification with Nemorino. Mr. Lei's Nemorino didn't come across as a doofus but as a very real person who is about to realize his deepest dream. We saw the situation through his very eyes.
Soprano Kiri Deonarine dazzled our ears with "The Bell Song" from Delibes' Lakme. It was the sheer force of her technique coupled with a singular coloratura instrument that blew us away. Such pinpoint accuracy in her wild flights into the stratosphere! Such perfectly executed trills and scales and fioritura !
Marina Costa-Jackson impressed us with her versatility. We have reviewed her often and love the generous amplitude of her voice, her assurance onstage and the way she slips into her character as she did into that of Amelia in Verdi's Un Ballo in Maschera. The sad aria "Morró, ma prima in grazia" affected us deeply.
Bass Patrick Guetti tackled the severity of "Il lacerato spirito" from Verdi's Simone Boccanegra with aplomb and fearlessness. The note he ended on, at the very bottom of his register, was unforgettable. He is still very young for a bass and has enormous potential.
We admired baritone Jared Bybee's Rodrigo in "Io morro" from Verdi's Don Carlo. The sense of dying for a higher purpose came through clearly in his stunning performance.
Baritone John Viscardi threw himself into Figaro's "Largo al factotum" from Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia and used the entire stage and his ample dramatic skills to create a complex character overwhelmed by his own busyness. (Oh, how we could relate!)
Lovely mezzo-soprano J'nai Bridges brought out all the delicacy of "O ma lyre immortelle" from Gounod's Sapho. She has a wonderful instrument that she employs judiciously, carefully modulating both volume and color.
We loved the gracious phrasing baritone Jarrett Lee Ott brought to "Mein Sehnen, mein Wähnen" from Korngold's Die Tote Stadt. We understood every single word of his flawless German diction.
Soprano Nicole Hazlett made the perfect fairy godmother in Massenet's Cendrillon. Her "Ah! douce enfant" was shimmery and ethereal.
Soprano Kirsten Mackinnon filled the air with chills and thrills as she performed the "Jewel Song" from Gounod's Faust. Her French diction was excellent, even at the top. We do so love good coloratura!
Bass Wei Wu gave a solid rendition of the stately "O Isis und Osiris" from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte. His sizable voice filled the hall and sounded far more impressive than it did yesterday in the small recital hall of the American Opera Center.
Baritone Michael Adams is a stage animal--totally assured with both the Russian language and with his character Tomsky from Tchaikovsky's Pique Dame. We look forward to hearing him at the Santa Fe Opera this summer.
Baritone Reginald Smith Jr. stood out for his convincing performance as The Emperor Jones in the eponymous opera by Gruenberg.
We have not distinguished between the various levels of prizes awarded. That information is available elsewhere and matters little to us. What matters to us is the opportunity to share a glorious experience with our fellow opera lovers.
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|Thor Abjornsson, Katie Andrews, Ashley Galvani Bell, Augusta Caso, Luigi Rizzo, and Lucy Yates|
The life of Isabella Colbran would make a wonderful opera, if only we had a Rossini-equivalent composer to do her justice! Born in Madrid in 1785 she achieved fame as a singer by the age of 20 and became the prima donna of Il Teatro di San Carlo in Naples where she inspired Gioacchino Rossini to create several operas that are still being performed today. They were married for several years.
Sergio Ragni's book, Isabella Colbran, Isabella Rossini (which we have not read) was used as the basis for an enthralling musical performance presented by Divaria Productions at the perfectly sized auditorium of the Sheen Center.
The speaking part of the impressario of Il Teatro di San Carlo, one Domenico Barbaia, was played by Luigi Rizzo, who narrated the events. The arias were finely sung by soprano Ashley Galvani Bell and mezzo-soprano Augusta Caso. It was said that Ms. Colbran's voice could not be replaced by just one singer; she was said to be a soprano sfogato, a mezzo soprano with a very high extension. Tenor Thor Abjornsson sang the male roles and we enjoyed everything about his voice with one exception. He tended to push his voice when going for volume at the upper register.
Not only did we get to hear arias and duets from operas by Rossini, but arias from operas by Carafa and songs composed by Ms. Colbran herself which were quite lovely. Accompanying on the piano was the multi-talented Lucy Yates and the extraordinary harpist Katie Andrews. We found ourselves in bel canto heaven.
Ms. Caso evinced great skill in this genre in her performance of "Quanto è grato all'alma mia...questo core" from Elisabetta Regina D'Inghilterra, with its fireworks of fioritura. We half expected the company of firefighters to return! (The start of the evening was delayed due to an evacuation of the building relating to a gas leak. We consider the artists to be real troopers, one and all. The show must go on and it did!) We are sure no one in the audience failed to notice the similarity of the cabaletta to that of Rosina in Il Barbiere di Siviglia--"Una voce poco fa".
From the same opera, Ms. Caso sang a lovely duet with Mr. Abjornsson--"Perché mai destin crudel". Ms. Bell joined her later for an exciting duet from La Donna del Lago with Ms. Caso performing the pants role of Malcolm. Ms. Bell and Mr. Abjornsson sang a lovely duet from Armida.
From Carafa's opera Gabriella di Vergy, Ms. Bell sang the sad "Perché non chiusu al di". From Carafa's Medea, Mr. Abjornsson sang "I dolci contenti".
Ms. Colbran's compositions delighted the ear and Ms. Andrews harp brought out all the pathos she wrote into them. One hears a great deal of romantic suffering in the text and in the music. Ms. Caso shone in "T'intendo si mio core". Ms. Bell delighted in "Quel cor che mi prometti" accompanied by the piano and in "Povero cor tu palpiti" accompanied by the harp.
The musical values were high all around and the storytelling was effective. The set was simple--a velvet settee, two bentwood chairs and a table, with harp and piano in full view. Costuming was simple. The work was directed by Ignacio Garcia-Bustelo.
It was a most enjoyable evening that left us wanting more. Should a reader know a good old-fashioned composer, do propose this interesting woman as a subject for an opera. She deserves one!
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