Sunday, June 16, 2013
Last night she put together a fund-raiser in honor of Andreas Stadler, Director of the Austrian Cultural Forum New York, where we have heard and reviewed some pretty impressive lieder recitals (one coming up next Tuesday, don't say we didn't alert you). Ms. Greenstein does nothing by halves; the evening had such a variety of entertainment that no one could have left unsatisfied.
The champagne flowed and was heralded by Verdi's "Libiamo" from La Traviata. If that was too serious for you (LOL) there were excerpts from Johann Strauss' Die Fledermaus. Attendees were given the opportunity to bid on arias and duets of their choice; if you figured out that Ms. Greenstein was tapped to sing "O mio babbino caro" from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi you were right on the money. Much of the accompanying was performed by Pacien Mazzagatti.
Should you prefer the terpsichorean arts to opera, you would have enjoyed the world premiere of New Chamber Ballet's choreographer Miro Magloire (who cut quite a rug himself at the after-party); entitled "Metamorphose", the piece was danced by Kristin Draucker accompanied by Emily DiAngelo on oboe. If folk dancing were more your taste, there was some lively Czardas and a performance of "Vilia". Ballroom dancing? You probably loved the five couples waltzing to "The Blue Danube". Tappers? Oh yes, that too. Just look at Sugar Foot Mafia Dance Company. And just look at those Hot Box Girls! Wait, there's Ms. Greenstein again!
New music and classical, it was all there like a bounteous buffet, from Mozart to Berio. And jazz too! Franz Hackl Jazz Quartet made quite an impression. And burlesque! Right down to the pasties. Did we forget anything? Oh yes, dancing at the after party--Jessie Bunting and the Hot Shim Sham Orchestra. Six solid hours of fun at the Czech Center. We wish we had space to mention all the talented folk who contributed to this amazing evening of entertainment. We just want to know who lit the fire under Ms. Greenstein. And if that sounds like the title of a song, she's probably writing it by now.
© meche kroop
Saturday, June 15, 2013
The first act--John Adams in Amsterdam: a Song for Abigail--gave stellar baritone Peter Kendall Clark (barely recognizable without his beard) an opportunity to use his sizable round instrument to express the various emotions experienced by the statesman who would become the second president of the USA. He was not very enchanted with the French but grew increasingly delighted with the Dutch, having been sent there as ambassador and raiser of funds for the struggle for independence. He writes to his wife (my "dearest friend") and describes his ever-growing reputation in Holland as well as his longing for home and family. He warmly describes the Dutch as learned, artistic and hard-working with a penchant for skating and mushrooming. He sorely misses his family and expresses his longing for home and family as well as his fear of isolation from the prospect of being a man of importance on the world's stage. Ha!
The second act--Abigail in the Colonies: a Song for John--permitted soprano Victoria Tralongo to create a character any woman could identify with. She is a courageous woman, a feminist and an abolitionist who wants the same freedom for slaves as the colonists are demanding from Great Britain. But she is still a woman and yearns for "sentimental effusions of the heart" from her husband, enduring a decade of separation with love and fidelity. If there is one song in the work that best stands alone as a concert aria it would be "Loneliness". We wish to quote the moving first line: "If you should lie awake and call my name". There is also a slightly more lighthearted song, lighthearted yet serious in its description of the effect of war on the women left behind--scarcity of food and medicine, inflated prices, the presence of the enemy, illness and death--but above all, a need for PINS! The stalwart Mrs. Adams wants Mr. Adams to send her lots of pins that she can sell in the colony.
Terry Quinn was responsible for developing the libretto from the actual letters in the historical archive and Gary S. Fagin wrote the music. Our regular readers likely know how unimpressed we are by contemporary writing; so our praise for this score is doubly remarkable. The string quartet was an excellent choice for this lyrical and evocative music; string quartets were popular during the latter part of the 18th c. Mr. Fagin's music held our attention throughout; it had a martial flavor when war was discussed and a decidedly romantic flavor during the recitations of longing. It was always singable.
Guest conductor of the Chelsea Opera String Quartet was the renowned conductor Jorge Parodi; musicians were violinists Garry Ianco and Bruno Peña, violist Cait O'Brien and cellist Jameson Platte. Maestro Parodi's affection for the score was evident in his expressive conducting.
The work was given an effective staging and costuming by co-producer Lynne Hayden-Findlay; she wisely kept the singer (and letter writer) in the foreground with just enough movement to illustrate the text and the recipient of the letters in the background going about their daily routine. The two singers, clearly chosen for their splendid voices, were bewigged by Andrea Calabrese and appeared totally convincing. We especially loved watching Abigail performing her chores, embroidering and baking bread. The set by Leonarda Priore was simple but worked well--a writing desk, a table and chair, a coat rack, a quill pen and other similar accoutrements of 18th c. life.
The nine-year old Chelsea Opera, founded by Ms. Priore and Ms. Hayden-Findlay, has a lot of wonderful productions in store for next year but don't wait. Enjoy this splendid event TODAY!
© meche kroop
Thursday, June 13, 2013
|Eric Owens and Martina Arroyo|
The two operas to be presented in July are Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore and Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann. Baritone Carlos Saenz began with Belcore's aria; he nailed the arrogance of the character and had some fine low notes but seemed to us to be putting too much effort into his performance. We loved the way Mr. Owens got him to ease up and sing more naturally and were thrilled by the result. Mr. Saenz was a most receptive student and was able to retain the characterization while being less aggressive in his approach.
Tenor James Edgar Knight made a fine Nemorino and profited by the suggestion to maintain the accented syllable even when it falls on the low note right before a jump upward on the scale. He was also instructed not to "telegraph" about Adina and Belcore's interaction but to make his part of the trio be about HIS character. In this trio, Maggie Sczekan made a winning Adina and Jorell Williams needed only to maintain the legato feeling over the rests so that each phrase maintained the same color.
In "Una parola o Adina" Javier Bernardo was convincing and moving in his portrayal with Yunnie Park as his fine Adina. The coaching centered on keeping the intention right through the rests, in order to bridge the divide between phrases, and on lining up the vowels.
Switching to French for the second half was a whole 'nother thing but much of the instruction was similar, except that French is sung very forward in the mouth. Bass-baritone Eui Jin Kim made a fine villainous Lindorf but even villains must sing through and establish vibrato on each and every note. Mr. Owens helped Mr. Kim to ground himself on the high notes. A brief exercise of singing only the vowels helps to line them up.
A very funny rendering of "Kleinzach" was offered by tenor Joseph Michael Brent who was instructed to balance his stunning squillo with some earthiness and support. The singer needs to let go, to guide the voice but not over-control it. Similar instruction was given to tenor Blaise Pascal and bass-baritone Yuriy Yurchuk in their duet.
The session closed with luscious-voiced Lenora Green singing Antonia to Won Whi Choi's Hoffmann who sounded even better after he was coached to take his time and maintain more consistency in his legato. Mr. Owens emphasized the importance of consistency and commitment at the close of the class. It was remarkable to hear how much each singer profited by the instruction.
We were not able to get the casting list for July's performances but, after hearing everyone sing, we decided we will be happy no matter whom we hear since all singers were topnotch. We urge you to set aside time to attend as many performances as possible the weekend of July 11th. You won't be disappointed! We further urge anyone who sings or loves singing to attend the two subsequent masterclasses at Hunter College, Wednesdays at 6PM.
© meche kroop
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
The sets and costumes by Nicholas Georgiadis recreate the world of Renaissance Verona in a most believable fashion, in spite of the absence of the Arena of our memory. Everything evokes a Renaissance painting with burnt sienna, burnt umber and ochre being the main colors. As regular readers will have noticed, we adore verisimilitude. We felt transported to another time and place, much as we did at the Metropolitan Opera's magnificent production of Wagner's Die Meistersinger.
Prokofiev's score comprises set pieces for each scene, moving from lyrical adagios for the romantic duets to lively allegro music for the street scenes with an ominous foreboding theme to illuminate the strands of the tragedy. Charles Barker did an exemplary job of conducting. The woodwinds were particularly remarkable.
The ABT dancers did a superlative job of assuming the attitudes of the citizens of Verona. There were aristocrats with their arrogance and their finery, members of a wedding party, some pretty randy "painted ladies", a crippled beggar, and some regular townfolk reacting to the events in the plaza. In spite of the categories, each member of the corp seemed to have his/her own distinguishable personality. This Verona is not a happy place. Gangs of young men are too quick to draw their swords and the death rate soars. Likewise the women of the town scorn the "painted ladies" who retaliate with their own provocation. It is well to remember that such realismo was new in 1965. Sir Kenneth is said to have been inspired by John Cranko's choreography of R&J but he was no copycat.
As Juliet, Diana Vishneva created a headstrong adolescent still playing with dolls in Act I but maturing considerably by the end of the ballet. Not only was she at the peak of her form-- dazzling with her footwork, elegant with her port de bras-- but also most persuasive with her acting. Her supple spine lent great pathos to her death pose and equally great vulnerability to the lifts.
Marcelo Gomes overcame his manly handsomeness with enough acting skill to convince us that he was a teenager in the throes of first love, as he switched his attention from Rosaline to Juliet. His dancing has always been remarkable in terms of technique, partnering skills and musicality; his acting skills have grown enormously. His chemistry with Ms. Vishneva was unmistakeable.
As Mercutio, Craig Salstein danced his heart out; the sword fight with Tybalt (a suitably nasty Sascha Radetsky) was frighteningly convincing and brought to mind last week's Salon/Sanctuary program illustrating the common background of ballet and sword-fighting. (See review). Romeo's other friend Benvolio was danced by the fleet-footed Daniil Simkin. Susan Jones provided comic relief as Juliet's nurse. The three "painted ladies" were danced y Luciana Paris, Simone Messmer and Kristi Boone.
We could easily say that the saddest scene we have seen all year was Romeo trying to dance with a deathly limp Juliet. The only thing that would be more heart-breaking would be if ABT decided to "modernize" this perfectly perfect production.
© meche kroop
Thursday, June 6, 2013
Salon/Sanctuary concerts never disappoint; they offer their entertainment with a generous serving of illumination. Monday night's event entitled "On Point" was a case in point. Several interesting points were made about the common origins of sword fighting and ballet dancing, the latter one of our favorite art forms, the former a revelation. You take some of the stances and lunges of sword fighting and meld them with 17th c. court dance and--voila!--the birth of ballet.
Stage Director and Fight Choreographer Erica Gould, sister of Founder and Artistic Director Jessica Gould, made sure that the audience left with a clear picture of how this evolved. In an exemplary show of scholarship, engravings from the 17th c. were studied to replicate the stances of sword fighting, illustrated by sword fighters Jacqueline Ann Holloway and Robert Westley. Analogous ballet moves were illustrated by two ballet dancers from New York City Ballet--the lovely long-limbed Megan LeCrone, partnered to perfection by Jared Angle. The two pairs danced side by side and comparisons were easily made.
The music chosen was likewise from the 17th c. and was played with grace and gusto by members of The Sebastians Chamber Orchestra. The first half of the program comprised works by Johann Heinrich Schmelzer, G. F. Händel and Antonio Vivaldi. In Schmelzer's Balletto for Strings and Continuo in G, the string quartet (Daniel S. Lee and Beth Wenstrom on violins, Katie Hyun on viola, and Hannah Collins on cello) played with clarity, augmented by Charlie Weaver on the baroque guitar playing the continuo part. The name of this piece is "Die Fechtschule" (the fencing school); the alternation of spirited and frisky allegro sections and stately lyrical adagio sections provided a great deal of variety.
The most interesting part of the Händel Sonata in B-flat was Mr. Weaver's playing of the theorbo, as long in neck as a giraffe. Vivaldi's Trio Sonata in D minor "La Follia" opened in waltz time with a mournful melody that gave way to no small degree of frenzy with lots of syncopation and challenging embellishments.
But it was the second part of the program described above which captured our imagination. The dancing and sword-fighting were performed to Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber's Battalia a 10 in D major, a radical piece of writing with harmonies way ahead of their time. At one point, different meters and keys were played simultaneously, a challenging task for the musicians who rose to the occasion. It was here that we observed the intense eye contact between both members of each couple and the compelling mirroring between the two couples.
The effectiveness of the illumination was our subsequent ability to watch ballet and see many of the moves in a new light. May we propose a good look at Maria Kowroski dancing "Red Angels" on Youtube? Much gratitude was felt to Salon/Sanctuary for this new insight.
© meche kroop
Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Does anyone not know the story of the romantically inclined young woman living in provincial France in the late 19th c.? To a 21st c. woman, it is difficult to imagine her counterpart in that epoch without options. There was no life for a woman without marriage and our heroine marries a country doctor who comes to tend to her father. She rapidly succumbs to the tedium of being a wife without ever learning what it means to be a woman or even a person. She descends into orgies of "shopping therapy" and a couple tawdry affairs and finally, deeply in debt, she kills herself with arsenic. Sad story.
Mr. Dick has hewn fairly close to the book and has retained the original time period but has modernized much of the dialogue, making it familiar to contemporary ears but paying the price of loss of authenticity. His music is tuneful and accessible; it was excellently played by Music Director Rebecca Greenstein and an orchestra was never missed. The lyrics scanned and rhymed and were often clever, as in "I Insist!" or just plan lovely, as in "Rain on the River" in which the listener could hear the rain falling.
Direction and choreography were by Marlene Thorn Taber who kept the story moving along. The minimal set design--a bed, a table, some chairs and an authentic appearing pharmacist's corner--were by Aaron Sheckler. Period appropriate costuming was by Roejendra Adams.
The performances were of variable quality. The weight of the show was carried well by petite soprano Hayley Hoffmeister as Emma Bovary; her acting was as good as her singing. To her credit, she was able to arouse empathy for this unfortunate heroine. Her boring but devoted husband was played by Roger Rathburn whose speaking voice was beautifully resonant but whose singing voice seemed frayed; we wondered whether he was meant to appear the age of her grandfather and felt that this casting choice added another dimension to Emma's unhappiness, one which was not in the novel.
As Rodolphe, Eyal Sherf was appropriately slimy as he plotted in advance how to seduce and abandon Emma; the audience's laughter seemed a bit inappropriate but, then again, that was written into the libretto and was never emphasized in the book. More laughter, also deliberate, was provided by Christopher G. Teft who made the most of his role as Homais who manipulates Emma into buying things and then throws her into bankruptcy.
Leon was played by Patrick Thomas Spencer who did not convince. In the ensemble were John Raymond Barker, Alison Novelli, Mia Rose Spackman and Carl G. Zurhorst.
It was a fine way to end the holiday weekend and we will be looking for more musicals by Mr. Dick who seems to have already written quite a number of them.
© meche kroop
Friday, May 24, 2013
|Eric Brenner and Elise Jablow (photo by George |
The story concerns a libertine named Riccardo (sung by male soprano Eric S. Brenner) who escapes the law in Lucca and comes to Pisa with his sidekick Capitano Rodimarte Bombarda (a big-voiced and very funny baritone Stephen Lavonier). Two lovely ladies are pursuing Riccardo--both have been seduced and abandoned. Leonora (sung by mezzo Maria Todaro) and Doralice (sung by soprano Elise Jablow) have voices that blended together impressively in their first act duet.
Riccardo is trying to get money from his uncle Flaminio (sung by Christopher Preston Thompson) who is betrothed to the local lady Cornelia (the excellent and very funny soprano Briana Sakamoto) but who is lusting after Cornelia's servant Rosina (sung by adorable and spunky mezzo Catherine Leech). Also arriving in Act II is Erminio (sung by the impressive mezzo Stephanie McGuire who successfully negotiated all the changes of register), brother to Leonora and betrothed to Doralice. This poor fellow must defend his family's honor and reconcile himself to his faithless fiancée.
Comparisons to Mozart's Don Giovanni can't be helped, but in this case the libertine repents in a splendid aria and everyone gets happily paired off in the end; the final octet is a gorgeous earfull.
The direction by Artistic Director Gina Crusco was superb; the action never let up and every gesture felt organic. There was no straining for laughs. Michael Minahan's set was simple but effective--a little table with two chairs on the left and the facade of a house with windows on the right. Nothing more was needed.
The costuming by Edgar Cortes was original. During the overture, the eight performers lined up in identical white tunics, printed pants, white pumps and powdered wigs. A woman in contemporary casual attire billed as a "casting agent" (Kelli Butler) but appearing more as a costumer or props person distributed accessories to suit each character. The captain received epaulets, the servant an apron, Riccardo a codpiece, Cornelia a "dowager's hump", Erminio a breastplate and the ladies roses for their hair.
Musical values were superb on all counts. Conducted from the harpsichord by Music Director Dorian Komanoff Bandy, Sinfonia New York comprised a string quartet plus oboe and recorder. Evidently a lot of research was done by Mr. Bandy whose concept involved fidelity to the early 18th c. practice of taking liberties with the continuo and with original ornamentation suited to each voice. He claimed to expect audiences to be shocked or unsettled by these liberties; not so! We were only delighted.
© meche kroop