Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Winter Trip

Thanks to Christopher Dylan Herbert for taking us on a glorious winter trip last Wednesday, giving us something to be thankful for the next day. And thanks to the Austrian Cultural Forum and La Prima Volta for underwriting this project, giving talented young singers the opportunity to perform solo recitals in New York and Vienna.

Sensitively accompanied by the gifted Elaine Rinaldi, Mr. Herbert communicated every nuance of nine songs selected from Schubert’s “Die Winterreise”. His youthful and plangent baritone brought out every color--irony, sadness, bitterness, anger, despair and confusion. His German diction was so clear that I understood every word. Translations not necessary! I just want to hear Mr. Herbert sing the entire cycle. I am THERE!

I have heard it said that this cycle needs to be performed by someone older and more experienced but I beg to differ. Only a youngster would experience such intense experience from what seems to be the loss of a first love. And Mr. Herbert’s voice has that youthful bloom, especially when he uses his head voice in the beginning pianissimo. As the winter voyage continues, his voice deepens a bit as anger and despair take over. It seemed as if Mr. Herbert were telling his own story; now that’s performing!

The second half of the program comprised American songs which, with my bias against the English language, I do not feel capable of much comment. The audience seemed to enjoy these songs, especially a set commissioned by Mr. H, composed by David Sisco. Vernon Duke’s “Autumn in New York” was given a nice relaxed cabaret delivery which I did enjoy; and Marc Blitzstein’s “Zipperfly” was sung with a delightful sense of humor.

I wonder if this recital will be repeated in Vienna and how the Viennese will react!

-- Meche Kroop for The Opera Insider

Saturday, November 20, 2010

I have been dared to print this!

As a guest critic on this blog, I am taking it upon myself to write about a thrilling recital I just attended which was given by an artist of the first rank, one whose modesty is only exceeded by her generosity and her talent. If you missed it, you have my sympathy. And who sang, may well you ask? Our own TOI co-founder Kala Maxym herself; in honor of her years ago bone marrow donation and as a benefit for Opera for Humanity. Ms. Maxym put together a mostly Spanish program that was well-paced and original.

Zarzuela was heavily represented and what a treat it was to hear more of this seldom-heard art form. My personal favorite was from Jose Serrano’s “Los Claveles”, a lament from a woman who sees her love object with another woman. Another wonderful choice was from his “Los de Aragon”. The Spanish theme continued with selections from Wolf’s “Spanisches Liederbuch” and I am pleased to report that The Divine Ms. M’s German is as good as her Spanish. The variety of moods in these little gems gave her the opportunity to show her emotional range; and the addition of the Seguidilla from Carmen allowed her to show her vocal range. Kala has this year made the transition from mezzo to soprano and her top notes have a clarity and ring but, in my opinion, she retains so much depth of color in the lower range that no repertoire would be closed to her.

The program was rounded out by Mompou’s “Quatre Melodies” which demonstrated a lovely fluency in French as well. Kala’s piano partner, Maria Paulina Garcia, who coaches, accompanies and performs at the Manhattan School of Music (one of my favorite haunts) also had an opportunity to perform a few solo pieces. My personal favorite was the Dedication to Poema en Forma de Canciones by Joaquin Turina.

It was indeed a privilege to be included in the select audience. This is a young singer to watch!

DISCLAIMER: I was in no way encouraged or even asked to write this review and am not sure that it will be published.

--Meche Kroop

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Well-done is rare

What is left to say about La boheme which hasn’t already been said? From the frisky opening scene which introduces us to the four rambunctious young men and the fragile Mimi, Puccini weaves his magical melodies into a tapestry that brings in new colors and textures--the narcissistic but good-hearted Musetta, the gullible landlord Benoit, the equally gullible Alcindoro, and popular Parpignol, not to mention the crowds thronging the Rive Gauche of Paris on Christmas Eve. He unreels this fabric revealing gorgeous arias and ensembles and delighting our ears until the last tragic C minor finale. Who would not admit to teary eyes at that point!

Opera Manhattan took this on, in a small black-box theater without benefit of orchestra, costumes or scenery, and provided an evening of excellent singing and dramatic validity. I admit to being no fan of updating since I believe every work of art belongs to a certain epoch; and this is most definitely a story of the 19th century. That being said, the sincerity of this production overrode my reservations. The direction by Elspeth Davis was creative and manifested a few original elements. The intimacy of the story was conveyed by the able artists: Lloyd Arriola conducted from the piano, assisted by Spencer Blank on keyboard. Edgar Jaramillo and Anna Noggle (outdoing their performances at the gala) portrayed Rodolfo and Mimi with impressive passion, throwing themselves totally into their roles and using their respective voices to great advantage. Vaughn Lindquist lent his beautiful baritone to the painter Marcello, while Kristina Semos was a feisty Musetta. Robert Maril was quite amusing as Schaunard and Bryce Smith winningly fulfilled the foursome in the role of Colline.

We are grateful to Opera Manhattan not only for entertaining us so well but also for giving performance opportunities to emerging artists. We in the audience can look forward to gloating about having seen these artists before they became famous, and let us hope that many of them will! The only thing I can complain about was the lack of bios in the program; I wanted to know more about the artists. There are a total of 8 performances. Make sure you catch one of them.

-- Meche Kroop for The Opera Insider

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Epicurean Feasts at Manhattan School of Music

How is a vocal recital like a gourmet dinner? Let me count the ways.

When The Singing Chef plans dinner, she contemplates in advance the nature of the guests she will be serving; she gives serious thought to serving a variety of courses which will complement one another; she aims for contrasts of color, texture, and flavor, she researches recipes; she includes something familiar along with things that might be unfamiliar to the guests; she avoids cliches; and above all she want to send her guests home sated and satisfied.

So might an astute artist of the vocal persuasion give thought to the sophistication of his/her audience, the balance of selections, the inclusion of the familiar with the novel. Such was the case at the Manhattan School of Music last Tuesday when bass Colin Ramsey gave his graduation recital. Having heard Mr. Ramsey sing last year I knew this was a recital not to be missed, in spite of a couple very attractive vocal alternatives. (Oh, if only I could clone myself!)

Ramsey opened with two arias by Jean-Baptiste de Lully which showcased his acting skills as well as his vocal chops. There was a marvelous contrast between the humorous and the serious. Two arias from Handel’s Giulio Cesare demonstrated his vocal flexibility. The program closed with some Cole Porter, giving full rein to the artist’s 20th Century sensibility.

As encore, he offered Schubert’s “An Die Musik” which perfectly summed up the evening for this music lover, who left feeling totally satisfied and hoping to hear more from this young (but mature beyond his years) artist.

--Meche Kroop for The Opera Insider

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Boris Goodenough

The Met got it absolutely right. If Russian opera is an acquired taste, this may be your best chance to acquire it. Although some audience members I spoke with found the scenery too sparse for their taste, this mattered not a bit to me. There was nothing to compete with Mussorgsky’s glorious music, which was thrillingly conducted by Valery Gergiev. There is nothing in the United States to compete with the versatile Metropolitan Opera chorus who brought the scenes with peasants and boyars to life in equal measure.

What could compare with Rene Pape’s interpretation of the czar, a man deeply troubled by a guilty conscience! Perhaps his guilt has been disproven by historians but it makes for a great operatic (anti)hero. It took about two and a half minutes of stage time for him to elicit my sympathy for this murderous monster. His tenderness toward his own children added still more depth to his character. His magisterial bass has been adequately lauded elsewhere. I couldn’t stop fantasizing about him as a candidate for the role of Wotan.

The entire cast was superb without a weak link. Ekaterina Semenchuk was admirable as the conniving Marina and Aleksandrs Antonenko dazzled as the psychopathic young monk who passes himself off as Dimitri, rightful heir to the throne.

The entire riveting evening flew by, giving the lie to the clock. Special mention must be made of Stephen Wadsworth who stepped in as director for the original director who flew the coop. Moidele Becker created some truly lavish 16th century costumes for the boyars and some suitable rags for the starving peasants but puzzled more than one of us by dressing the women of the Polish court in white gowns reminiscent of Napoleonic Empire crossed with Erte. Oh well. Just a tiny nit pick in a fulfilling evening--everything opera is meant to be.

--Meche Kroop for The Opera Insider

Friday, November 5, 2010

Wagner, Verdi, and Vodka

Wagner, Verdi, and Vodka: That is what was promised by Opera Manhattan Repertory Theatre and that is what we got. In spades. What a glorious gala evening it was! V.W. Smith, affectionately known as Bryce, and Rebecca Greenstein merit major props for giving Manhattan opera lovers a truly stellar evening.

The evening began with Wagner, an ambitious undertaking to say the least. Most notable among many fine young singers was Grace Valdes who, with her dark, warm and powerful soprano, did justice to Senta’s Ballad from Der Fliegende Hollander and Ortrud’s Curse from Lohengrin.

The second part of the evening highlighted Verdi. Anna Noggle, previously seen at a recital for the Hispanic Opera Company, was a lovely Gilda. Maestro Carmine Aufiero did a most effective job conducting scenes from La Traviata and Rigoletto.

The third part of the evening was the festive gala. The young and lively audience dressed in fine style and did their best to polish off the generous spread of food and drink. But the capstone of the evening was the unexpected performance of a teaser scene from the upcoming La Boheme, performed by Edgar Jaramillo. This tenor, new on the scene, sang with such sincerity and presence, backed by a lovely ringing sound, that the noisy bustling crowd was stunned into silence. You can believe I immediately ordered tickets for November 12th, the night he will be performing. I am sure the other tenors will be equally fine but Mr. J. has such an amazing talent for bonding with the audience that I cannot do otherwise but cancel my plans to get there. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

--Meche Kroop for The Opera Insider