Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Taminophile: A year in review, 2014

A brief review of Taminophile's 2014.

January 2014:
Not a very active month for Taminophile, although it did include a review of feisty Bronx Opera's production of Kirke Mechem's The Rivals.  It also included a profile of Dame Felicity Lott.

February 2014:
Slightly more active--reviews of the Metropolitan Opera's Werther and Madison Opera's charming Daughter of the Regiment.  There was also a profile of the lovely Jennifer Rowley and a post about Dame Kiri Te Kanawa.

March 2014:
March included three reviews:  Dear Jennifer Rowley's Metropolitan Opera debut as Musetta, Columbia University Bach Society's Dido and Aeneas, and Little Opera Theatre of NY's Opportunity Makes the Thief (L'occasione fa il ladro).  

April 2014:
April brought only one review, but Madison Opera's Dead Man Walking was opera enough for many months! I still can't talk about it without getting misty.

May 2014:
Another slow month, with a feature about the Martha Cardona Theater's Don Carlo selections concert and an opinion piece about yet another controversy about singers and weight.

June 2014:
June's only post was a review of a small, semi-profesional opera company's Norma.

July 2014:
A very busy month indeed, with reviews of Glimmerglass Opera's entire season and interviews conducted while there for a week. Plus Lucrezia Borgia at Caramoor!

August 2014:
My first review for, an international web site, is published.  The first is a reworking of my Glimmerglass Ariadne review, but more came in the following months. I was honored that the kind folks at Bachtrack had approached me, asking me to join their stable of NYC-based writers. August also brought reviews of Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble's season.

September 2014:
September brought La Boheme at the Met and Il Barbiere di Siviglia at Opera Philadelphia, both for

October 2014:
In October I saw Julie Taymor's Magic Flute at the Met for Bachtrack and Die Fledermaus at Syracuse Opera for my own nefarious ends.

November 2014:
Only one review--Tosca in concert presented by Martha Cardona Theater--but several profile pieces.

December 2014:
December opened a review of the CD An AIDS Quilt Songbook: Sing For Hope, and continued with a review of the lively group enCanta Ensemble's Christmas opera performance.  I saw The Tender Land at Brooklyn College for Tonight, New Years Eve, I'll see the opening of the Met's The Merry Widow for, and you'll see my thoughts about it soon!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

My Bachtrack review of The Tender Land at Brooklyn College

Brooklyn College Conservatory of Music has a reputation as a hidden gem among New York music schools, sharing some of the big-name voice instructors the big three (Juilliard, Manhattan School of Music, Mannes) boast. The school attracts a very talented crop of singers. I must report with regret, however, that seeing Saturday's performance of Aaron Copland's The Tender Land (libretto by Horace Everett) in Brooklyn's beautiful Whitman Theater was disappointing.

Read the entire review.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Holly, Jolly, Gallantry!

I've often stated I'm a big fan of opera presented by New York's smaller groups, featuring young professionals. I was happy to see Sundays presentation by enCANTA Collective: Holly, Jolly, Gallantry: The Christmas Rose, at All Saints Church on Manhattan's Upper East Side. The program featured a collection of Christmas-related art songs, Douglas Moore's perennial favorite one-act opera Gallantry, and Frank Bridge's Christmas one-act The Christmas Rose.

Erika Hennings
The opening section, entitled Chansons de Noël, was performed by soprano Devony Smith, mezzo Briana Hunter, baritone Jeffrey Goble, pianist Nobuko Amemiya (Music Director for the entire program and Artistic Director of enCANTA Collective), and on three songs violist Ervin Dede. Based on the translation sheet provided with the program, one or two didn't seem to be Christmas related, but that is a tiny nit to pick when all the songs were sung so well. Mezzo Briana Hunter opened and closed the section with two Brahms songs with viola obbligato, Gestillte Sehnsucht and Geistlisches Wiegenlied. Her voice is beautiful and even throughout her large range. I would love to hear her in some of the roles listed in her bio--Carmen, Cendrillon, Orlofsky. Devony Smith used her beautiful soprano to perform the Hugo Wolf song Ach, des Knaben Augen, and the Joaquin Nin song Villancico Castellano. Baritone Jeffrey Goble gave us Max Reger's Maria am Rosenstrauch and Roger Quilter's The Cradle in Bethlehem. As with all the singers on the evening's program, I look forward to hearing more from these three.

Douglas Moore's (1893-1969) 1958 one-act opera Gallantry (libretto by Arnold Sundgaard) is a send-up of the sponsored television soap operas of the 1950s, complete with commercial announcements by a glamorous hostess. Mezzo Erika Hennings was a very glamorous hostess indeed, in silver lamé gown and heels that accentuate her already very tall stature. Having heard Miss Hennings before*, one must observe that this was among the best singing this reviewer has heard from her--very free and even throughout--and one was also pleased with her saucy presentation of the sponsored items, fictional Lockinvar soap and Billy Boy spray floor wax. Soprano Sonja Krenek was appropriately virtuous as the ingenue Nurse Lola Markham, showing marked alarm and even violent reproach to the advances of oily surgeon Dr. Gregg, quite capably sung by baritone Greg Hoyt. Tenor Marques Hollie, whom we saw but were prevented by poor acoustics from actually hearing in Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble's Macbeth, was quite amusing as Donald Hopewell, patient and boyfriend of Nurse Lola. Stage director Laura Hirschberg handled this opera well, but one wished for even more over-the-top nail biting and scenery chewing, accentuating the comedy of this delightful little opera. Miss Hennings and Miss Krenek were the two vocal standouts.

Adam Margulies
Frank Bridge (1879-1941) is known more for his chamber music than for his vocal works, as well as for tutoring Benjamin Britten in composition. His pre-World War I music is more popular than his music following the war, which adopted some of the post-Romantic and expressionistic mannerisms of the time. The Christmas Rose (libretto by Margaret Kemp-Welch and Constance Cotterell), premiered in 1932, during that post-war period. Having never heard this opera before Sunday, I can not say I'm eager to hear it again. I found the solo vocal writing too harsh and rambling, and the libretto lacking in charm or ingenuity. In a nutshell, two children of one of the shepherds on Christmas Night follow their father and the other shepherds, but despair over having no gift to present to the Christ child, only to have flowers miraculously grow and bloom in front of them--instant gift!

Although I didn't like the opera, I liked the singing. Musically, the most interesting and beautiful part to this reviewer was the women's chorus of angels. Bass-baritone Adam Margulies was the most exciting solo voice in this opera, in a role that didn't fit his voice at all. I am eager to hear more from this young man. (I learned later this role could be called a tenor role. I couldn't imagine why anyone aside from the Marquis de Sade would write something so torturous for a bass, but it could be handled by a tenor with a low voice.) Soprano Marie Marquis was another standout, with a beautiful voice and accomplished technique, but the unnecessarily stratospheric range of parts of the role left one more sympathetic than excited. Again, Laura Hirschberg staged this opera very well, using the chancel at All Saints quite effectively. Having much of the action take place under the suspended Advent wreath was an unintended charm, I'm sure, but effective.

Nobuko Amemiya
Once again, in both operas, Music Director Nobuko Amemiya gave wonderful support while playing the difficult piano scores. One hears through the grapevine that Ms. Amemiya is also a pleasure to work with.

I am charmed to be introduced to the work of enCANTA Collective. Quoting from their web site:
The name enCANTA Collective is a play on words: encanta in Spanish means “it delights,” canta is from the Spanish or Italian verb “to sing.”
Delight this program certainly did. Not one singer displeased this reviewer, and more than one thrilled. I hope to hear them all as they grow in their careers.

I applaud enCANTA's accomplishments, and I hope to hear more good music making from them in the future.

*Full disclosure: Miss Hennings is a personal friend of this reviewer, which gives said reviewer a rich memory of other performances for comparison.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Sad winds where your voice was; Tears, tears where my heart was*

Photo credit:  ALAMY
I've been given quite a few CDs to evaluate and publicize in the past, and I've loved many of them, but none has moved me the way AN AIDS QUILT SONGBOOK: SING FOR HOPE has. I only regret that this post goes in after midnight on Dec. 1, so World AIDS Day has come and gone.

At 52 (as of next Monday), I'm a very fortunate gay man of my generation--first, that I'm alive, and second, in that most of the dead men in my address book were taken in another, less agonizing way. But I remember when the AIDS Quilt was new. Heck--I remember when AIDS was new. I remember when AIDS was by default a terminal illness, not a manageable one. I remember the phenomenon of the "double whammy"--first telling one's family you're gay, then telling them you have AIDS. I remember the feeing of fear and despair, even though I wasn't touched nearly as closely as many I knew.

This Langston Hughes poem, which is included as one of the songs (composed by John Musto, sung by Sasha Cooke) tells the story of far too many from the 80s and 90s, and even our current day:
Litany by Langston Hughes 
Gather up
In the arms of your pity
The sick, the depraved,
the desperate, the tired,
All the scum of our weary city
Gather up
In the arms of your pity.
Gather up
In the arms of your love –
Those who expect
No love from above.

Nowadays there is a popular perception that AIDS is no longer a deadly disease. Well, that is wrong. And people with AIDS/HIV still need services they can't afford to provide for themselves. I'm happy projects like this take a step toward educating people, and take many steps toward supporting AIDS/HIV services and research organizations through sales proceeds.

As usual, I can't describe all the tracks on this wonderful CD.  I can only speak of a few.  The disc features many of my favorite singers--people at the heights of their careers, like Joyce Didonato and Matthew Polenzani, and great singers on the rise, like Jamie Barton and Daniel Okulitch and Melody Moore. Every song is sung beautifully, with great artistry and attention to the lyrics. I can not fault any singer for anything. I love it when I can say that.

My very favorite track is called "ATRIPLA!" (music & lyrics by Eric Reda), sung by Jamie Barton with Kenneth Merrill at piano. The text is taken from a drug insert, listing uses, side effects, contra-indications with great joy and humor. The song cleverly shows the ludicrous nature of much this language, and Miss Barton shows great humor in her performance.

The next  track, "Her Final Show" (music Drew Hemenger, lyrics Rafael Campo), sung by tenor Anthony Dean Griffey with pianist Thomas Bagwell, shows both the vulnerability of a dying drag queen accustomed to grandiosity, and the compassion of a medical professional. Remember that HIV/AIDS has always hit sexual minorities much harder than it hit the "mainstream" gay white male community. 

"Retro" (Daniel Okulitch, baritone, Glen Roven, piano) is my favorite of any Glen Roven song I've heard--which says a lot. The poem by Gavin Geoffrey Dillard talks about the anachronism of enduring HIV treatment during the 90s and 2000s.
...a cocktail, a cocktail
it sounds so Bohème
until the bar closes
and so does the dream 

There are many more songs, both lyrical and rhythmic.  Twenty-three tracks in total, including four readings of poems.  And in the final track, we have some assurance that we will all be met with love when our time is over (remember the old saying to ask poets, saints and fools about these things):
From At Last by Wendell Bery (music by Scott Gendel, sung by Camille Zamora)
...We come
to the space between ourselves,
the narrow doorway, and pass through
into the land of the wholly loved.

My wish for all of your holiday seasons, whether you're Christmas people or not:  Don't get your family members more stuff, your mothers more knick-knacks to dust, your nieces and nephews more toys to exchange. If you're reading this blog, you're probably not destitute, and your family isn't either. Support your family when necessary, of course, but support them spiritually and mentally by supporting charities in their names:  The Heifer Project, AMFAR, local AIDS/HIV service organizations like GMHC or God's Love We Deliver, or something close to your heart, like Education Through Music is for me.  Even if, as I do every year, you endure looks on your family's faces that say "Where's our stuff?", remember all of you will be better off if you share what you have with others who are less fortunate.

*From "Autumn" by Walter de la Mare (1873-1956);
  song setting by Robert Chesley, no. 2 on the CD.