Thursday, June 6, 2019

Guest Blogger Kofi Hayford Reviews "Pavarotti"

I’ll start this out by giving a bit of background about me and what Pavarotti means to me. I can confidently say that if it wasn’t for Pavarotti, there would be a good chance that I may never have picked up opera singing. I sang before I heard Pavarotti, but I didn’t ever think of myself as an opera singer or have a desire for it before hearing him. He inspired me to want to create as grand and magnificent as he could. Seeing this movie brought me full-circle and truly moved me. It was an emotional experience hearing the stories and the various carefully selected excerpts from the film. I’m extremely thankful to Ron Howard for making this much needed movie about one of my heroes. My only complaint is that I wish it was made sooner.

Takeaways from the Pavarotti movie:

Pavarotti's mission was bigger than himself, bigger than singing opera. It was to serve the people, bring opera to the world. He dreamed big. His career took off because he was prepared, had the talent, and and enjoyed the benefit of managers who pushed him in the right directions.

I’ve always felt that technique is the most important component to master before you attempt to get your career going. Pavarotti took a similar approach in that he really studied the voice from technical perspective and grew a proficiency early in his career. To me, his sound  was pure, consistent, clear and powerful always.

One funny thing was that even with all the preparation, all the success and all the mastery, he was still quite nervous on stage and used the white handkerchief to diffuse his nervous tension and energy. He kept a bent nail in this pocket as a good luck charm even though he was devout Catholic. Such superstitions and rituals (like his well known fondness for large bowls of pasta before a performance) helped keep him grounded in the midst of a whirlwind career in an extremely turbulent field.

This is all to say that he was larger than life in many ways and beloved by millions of people. He sold over 100 million albums and sang live for over 10 million people across the world. He deeply cared about suffering in the world and started a foundation that still helps disadvantaged children around the globe. He was playful and fun and LOVED being around women. Although a vocal Superman, Pavarotti was just human as all of us are.

Despite all that he did to popularize opera and bring it to the masses, the world of opera began to judge him for branching out and crossing over to collaborate with artists in other genres. I applaud him for that. Opera needs to be part of popular culture if we are going to keep pumping out singers from conservatories with music degrees in the numbers we are currently putting up. I thank him for being brave and bold and compassionate and true to his convictions. You’ll see in the movie that even back then in the city of Modena when he grew up, the business of singing was saturated and crowded but he was able to stand out and rise to the top. Many singers today can relate. Very inspiring.

They say that when a person dies, you get an understanding of who they were and what type of impact they had on the world. The one thing I can say for certain is that Pavarotti was an immeasurable force for good and did in one lifetime, what many could only dream to do in several.




Kofi Hayford, Ghanaian-American bass, described as possessing an “impressive” (Brooklyn Discovery) “sonorous,” (Meet Me at the Opera) and “stentorian bass voice” (National Herald) also produces a distinct sound - easily identified for its unique timbre. He is swiftly building his reputation as an accomplished  bass by bringing an ‘exciting’ and ‘stunning’ sound to the stage. Kofi’s major opera roles have included: Mephistopheles in Faust, Ramphis and The King in Aida,  La Roche in Strauss’ Capriccio, Raimondo in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, Sarastro in The Magic Flute, Rodolfo in La Sonnambula, Bartolo in Le Nozze di Figaro, Commendatore in Don Giovanni, Sparafucile and Monterone in Rigoletto,  and Baldassare in La  Favorita. Kofi is the 2018 1st Place Winner of the Tchaikovsky Music Competition(Albany, NY), 2017 NJ State Opera Guild Competition Finalist, and a 2007 Songfest Young Artist.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Opera Wilmington's beautiful Amahl and the Night Visitors

I have a long history with Amahl and the Night Visitors. I have sung Kasper several times--I've had the boys playing Amahl prompt me on the next stone in my magic box!--and I believe one of the first reviews I ever wrote was of dear Chelsea Opera's 2009 production. On Sunday I was pleased to see Opera Wilmington's production of Amahl. I'm relatively new to Wilmington, although my family has been here for many generations, so I was delighted to find such a fine production.

Jose Chirinos as Amahl and
Maria Beery as the Mother
Photo:  Opera Wilmington
I must rave first about the two most important singers, Amahl and his mother. Jose Chirinos deserves great praise for singing and acting the crippled boy Amahl so beautifully. There was never a moment of doubt in my mind, and he played against the more experienced singers and actors very well. Maria Beery was a very fine Mother. Although the Mother is often sung by heavier voices, Ms Beery was fully equal to the role. Always vocally beautiful, but also quite expressive and musical. I don't believe I've seen a more desperate and passionate performance of "All that gold". Her vocal moments with Amahl were quite lovely, Ms Beery showing the complete vocal control to refrain from overpowering young Amahl. (I think it was a wise choice to very subtly mic young Mr. Chirinos.)

The three kings are designed to be half comic relief and half Greek chorus. Rusty Kling as Kasper, Quentin Lovette as Melchior and Carl Samet as Balthazar were a fine trio, although not always balanced. I was especially pleased vocally with the lower two voices.

This is my first experience with Opera Wilmington, and I'm quite impressed. This group knows how to raise funds! The programs were very professional, they had received a grant to use an orchestra, and most of the production values were great. They've had impressive looking seasons in recent years, and in June will be assaying La Boheme.

I do wish they had done more to overcome the limitations of staging an opera in a chancel. Even if the orchestra had not been directly in front of the chancel--and why not off on the sides?--the way the place is built limits sight lines. Something as simple as a table for props or an elevated platform to perform upon would have done wonders. I have no complaints with the orchestra or conductor, and I must say the chorus, comprised of members of the UNCW Chamber Choir and Forest Hills Global Elementary School students, was quite fine, even though it needed more men.

I am very sorry there was only one performance, for I'd gladly recommending seeing a subsequent performance. I can only recommend seeing future concerts and performances of other works.

A triumphant curtain call
Photo:  Opera Wilmington