Sunday, January 19, 2014

Great Singer of the Increasingly Irregular Interval: Dame Felicity Lott

From's series
Opera Off-Stage: the private lives of singers
With Barihunk Duncan Rock (yes, that's his name)
OK, I'll confess it was seeing this photo of Dame Felicity and Barihunk Duncan Rock online that made me think I should do a feature about Dame Felicity Lott. We love her! I can't even estimate how many clips I've posted, how many concert pieces or opera roles I've discussed, when people have told me I should look into Dame Felicity's performance of the particular work, if I can find it. Although her discography is quite extensive, we in the US don't think about her as much as we should.  Here is a rather sorry Wikipedia article about her, but we are thankful that her own web site (see link above) offers more information.

Since posting YouTube links is what I do, and in so many ways the best method of convincing you lot of the greatness of any singer I mention, allow me to commence:

Final trio from Der Rosenkavalier, with Anne Sophie von Otter and Barbara Bonney, cond. Carlos Kleiber:

Depuis le jour from Louise in Nancy, 1979/1980 (conductor unnamed):

Mi tradi from a 1991 concert in Bordeaux:

Ah! que j'aime le militaire from Le Grand Duchesse de Gerolstein of Mr. Offenbach:

We can't resist this:  At the bar on the Piccola Marina (Noël Coward):

Just about the best performance I've ever seen of this piece:

Monday, January 13, 2014

Very Malapropriate!

I had the privilege of seeing Bronx Opera's Sunday, January 12, performance of Kirke Mechem's The Rivals. The opera, based on British playwright Richard Sheridan's 1775 farce about the marriage market for wealthy and/or titled young men and women, was updated in the composer's own libretto to turn of the (20th) century Newport, Rhode Island. It was first performed at Milwaukee's Skylight Opera Theater in 2011 to great acclaim. (Mr. Mechem's first opera, Tartuffe [1980], is one of the most frequently performed operas by an American composer.)

Cabiria Jacobsen
Photo: Lisa Hancock 
The story is clever yet typical farce. The primary ingenue, Lydia, disdains her wealthy suitors, but rather is in love with a man she believes to be penniless. Her lover turns out to be wealthy beyond compare and, in his wealthy persona, the bridegroom her aunt has arranged for her. There are similar stories of deception and revelation for the other lovers, one of whom is Lydia's aunt, Mrs. Malaprop, famous for her Yogi Berra-style mangling of the English language.

This was the opening performance for the Sunday cast. (The Saturday cast was featured in this New York Times review.) The characters, as brought to life by Benjamin Spierman's directing and the talents of this energetic young cast, were vivid, likeable, and richly defined. And, in nearly every case, one could understand exactly what was being sung. This is not always true when hearing opera sung in one's own language!

Patrick McNally
Because of the consistently high level of singing and acting, it is difficult to name standouts, but I can not fail to mention Lindsay Ohse as Lydia and Cabiria Jacobsen (last seen in these pages in Bronx Opera's Poisoned Kiss) as Julia. Both of these beautiful young women inhabited their roles with charm and gusto, and sang beautifully--Lydia the more naive and flighty ingenue and Julia the more sensible. As Lucy, Mrs. Malaprop's Despina-like maid, Allyson Herman also deserves mention for her saucy character and her skillful singing.

The gentlemen of the cast deserve even higher praise, for the opera seemed to give their characters more personality. Patrick McNally gave Jack Absolute, Lydia's dashing love interest, delightful swagger while lending his lush baritone to some of the most interesting vocal writing. Blake Friedman, seen in these pages before in LOTNY's Mitridate, was delightful as the overwrought Nicholas Astor, unsure of Julia's love for him, singing the passionate and soaring vocal lines with great ease.

Mrs. Malaprop was sung quite well by Julie De Vaere. Her many malapropisms would have benefitted from more clear enunciation. Her love interest was Baron von Hakenbok, portrayed with appropriate blust-o by C. David Morrow. Chad Cygan gave Jasper Vanderbilt (of the Kentucky Vanderbilts) great comic charm.

Production values were mostly very high. The Bronx Opera clearly has an admirable budget for costume and scene design. Qualms? A few. Perhaps because of the way the Lovinger Theatre at Lehman College is set up, the orchestra at times overpowered the singers. There were some lighting effects that needed to be much more striking to be effective. I wondered why there were so many servants in some drawing room scenes--and also why the servants used the front door! But those minor points did not interfere with my enjoyment of the show, and I heartily recommend seeing one of the remaining performances.

The full Saturday cast, with Caroline Tye as Mrs. Malaprop
Photo:  A.G. Liebowitz/WrightGroupNY

Saturday, January 11, 2014


Samuel McCoy
Conductor Samuel McCoy has been appointed Chelsea Opera’s Music Director/Principal Conductor effective January 1, 2014. This appointment follows Maestro McCoy’s service as assistant conductor for the world premiere of Matthew Harris’s The Mark of Cain and the New York premiere of Richard Wargo’s Ballymore – Part One: Winners as well as guest conductor for Seymour Barab’s La Pizza con Funghi. “We couldn’t be happier to have such a talented and energetic young conductor fill the position. He has already proven himself to be an excellent fit for the company,” explained cofounder and co-producer Leonarda Priore. For his first outing in the position, Maestro McCoy will be conducting Aaron Copland’s The Tender Land in June 2014. “As the production stage director, I am really looking forward to working with Sam again. We had a great time working on the Barab together,” said co-founder and co-producer Lynne Hayden-Findlay.

Even as he takes up his new responsibilities, Maestro McCoy is a conductor in demand, particularly in the contemporary opera world. He is currently serving as assistant conductor for the world premiere of Kamala Sankaram’s opera Thumbprint and last year served as the assistant conductor for the world stage premiere of Mohammed Fairouz’s Sumeida’s Song, both with the Prototype Festival in New York City. During the 2012-2013 season, he led the world premiere of The Juniper Tree by Joshua Ollswang, as well as workshop performances of the new opera Something to Live For by Ronnie Reshef. Equally at home with the classics, Maestro McCoy has led productions of Die Zauberflöte and Gianni Schicchi with dell’Arte Opera Ensemble and Le Donne Curiose with Opera Moderne in New York City. Regionally, he has led productions of La Traviata and Le nozze di Figaro with Rogue Opera and served as the assistant conductor for Maestro Timothy Myers on North Carolina Opera’s production of Verdi’s Aida. As Principal Conductor for Puget Sound Concert Opera in Seattle, he led performances of Suor Angelica, Simon Boccanegra, Cosí fan Tutte, Cendrillon, Dido and Aeneas, and scenes from The Fairy Queen.

In addition to his work in opera, Maestro McCoy has worked with several orchestras and choral organizations, including the Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic, the Oklahoma City Philharmonic, the Ithaca College Chamber Orchestra, the UCLA Philharmonia, the Cornell Chamber Orchestra, and the Oklahoma City University Orchestra. In New York City, he served as the co-conductor for C4: Choral Composer/Conductor Collective and the assistant conductor for the New Amsterdam Singers Chamber Chorus. He also served as the assistant conductor for the Seattle Bach Choir in Seattle. Maestro McCoy’s primary teachers have been Matthew Mailman, Mark Belcik, Jan McDaniel  and Geoffrey Boers. He has participated in master classes with Larry Rachleff, Donald Schleicher, Johannes Schlaefli, David Effron, David Loebel, Neal Stulberg, Kenneth Kiesler, and Douglas Kinney Frost. He holds a Bachelor of Music (magna cum laude) in vocal performance and a Master of Music (with honors) in Orchestral Conducting, both from Oklahoma City University. 

Maestro McCoy explains, “I am honored to be joining Chelsea Opera as Music Director/Principal conductor. Over the past ten years, Chelsea Opera has built a strong reputation for presenting compelling opera works with passion, beauty, and a dedication to the art form. I look forward to working with all the wonderful musicians and dedicated staff of Chelsea Opera in continuing this tradition and to bring great opera to the people of New York."

Chelsea Opera is a professional company presenting fully staged operas with chamber orchestra. The company provides a nationally recognized venue for professional singers to advance their careers while making opera affordable and accessible to a broad spectrum of the community. The fine acoustics of the space provides excellent hearing, and the intimacy allows the audience to feel involved in the opera’s story. Of Chelsea Opera’s sustainability, Anthony Tommasini of The New York Times noted in June 2009: “With American opera companies large and small struggling financially and a few going under, [Chelsea Opera is] a patch of encouraging news…” Formed in 2004 by two singers, Lynne Hayden-Findlay and Leonarda Priore, Chelsea Opera was launched with an all-volunteer production of Suor Angelica. Artist and audience response was so compelling that they agreed to produce more than the initial single performance, incorporating the company and obtaining their IRS nonprofit designation in a record eight days. 

Chelsea Opera has since produced an extensive range of operas including Cavalleria Rusticana, Amahl and the Night Visitors (three times), Pagliacci, Don Giovanni, Gianni Schicchi, The Ballad of Baby Doe, The Scarf, The Bear, the company’s Fifth Anniversary production of Suor Angelica, Le Nozze di Figaro, This is the rill speaking/Bermudas, The Medium, Madama Butterfly, of which Opera News said, “it was a committed and ultimately moving performance. Modest in scale, the production gave us Butterfly in full.” Their November 2010 production of Tom Cipullo’s Glory Denied garnered rave reviews from both The New York Times and Opera News. Last fall, they presented their first world premiere, The Mark of Cain by Matthew Harris and Terry Quinn, followed by a Manhattan premiere this past June of A Distant Love: Songs of John and Abigail Adams by Gary S. Fagin and Terry Quinn. The 10th season opened with the New York premiere of Richard Wargo’s one-act Ballymore – Part One: Winners, paired with Seymour Barab’s parody on Italian opera, La Pizza con Funghi. Of Winners, Opera News wrote: “[the] performance made one eager to hear the entire work” and of Pizza, that it “had great appeal both to old opera hands and to first-time operagoers”.

Chelsea Opera, was a 2011 WQXR Media sponsor recipient and a WNYC-FM *STAR* Incentive recipient. Support has been awarded by The Banfi Vintners Foundation, The Bettina Baruch Foundation, The Barbara Bell Cumming Foundation, The Tow Foundation, The Joyce Dutka Foundation for the Arts, The Amphion Foundation, the NYU Community Fund, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, and the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA). In-kind support has been provided by JetBlue Airways, the official airline of Chelsea Opera.