Steven Blier

NY Festival of Song Schwabacher 2014

Schwabacher-festival-song-2014* Notes * 
The artistic director of New York Festival of Song, Steven Blier, presided over a Schwabacher Debut Recital entitled In the Memory Palace yesterday evening. The program included diverse selections from song cycles and vocal quartets with an underlying theme of courtship. Blier accompanied four Adler Fellows on piano.

The structure of the evening was divided in fourths, starting with a quartet, then featuring each singer in turn. We began with Heitor Villa-Lobos, first "Canção da folha morta" followed by soprano Maria Valdes singing three songs from Floresta do Amazonas. All four singers have powerful voices, but they were able to blend their sounds nicely. Valdes has an airy lightness but has a tawny warmth as well. She showed her versatility in these cinematic songs. Next we traveled to Northern Europe with the ensemble singing a Danish text set by Swedish composer Wilhelm Stenhammar, Jens Peter's poem "I seraillets have." Then mezzo-soprano Zanda Švēde sang four Grieg songs with German texts. Her voice is incredibly rich and gorgeous, with a brilliant clarity.

After intermission we heard exclusively songs in English, starting with "Come live with me" by William Sterndale Bennett. Tenor AJ Gluekert did a fine job bringing his voice out for particular phrases, and then blending back in with the ensemble. Gluekert went on to sing four rather distinct songs by Frank Bridge, showing a range of emotions and styles. The fourth part of the program commenced with Sondheim's dizzying Two Fairy Tales. The singers were clearly listening to one another and working together. The last series of songs were by Gabriel Kahane, from the cycle The Memory Palace. Baritone Hadleigh Adams seemed at ease with both music and text. The last piece on the program was Smokey Robinson's "You've Really Got a Hold On Me," and it was slightly awkward, as Glueckert and Adams seemed perfectly comfortable singing this, but Valdes and Švēde simply sounded like opera singers. The encore, from Bernstein's Candide, was much more convincing. One would love to hear the Adlers sing the entire opera.

* Tattling * 
Blier was characteristically amusing despite the many electronic interruptions from the audience while he went through the pieces with us.

NY Festival of Song Schwabacher

Blier * Notes * 
The artistic director of New York Festival of Song, Steven Blier, gave a Schwabacher Debut Recital yesterday evening. Entitled Amores Nuevos, the program consisted of Spanish art songs, zarzuela arias and duets, Latin American art songs, and Latin American popular songs. As one would expect, Blier played piano for these selections, with David Hanlon joining in when four hands were required.

Baritone Austin Kness sang "Cómo quieres que adivine" with warmth and good volume. Though funny, "La mujer de los quince a los veint"e from La tabernera del puerto came off less well. In contrast, tenor Daniel Montenegro sounded somewhat cold in "Si con mis deseos." His pleasant, reedy voice was shown to better advantage in "De este apacible rincón de Madrid." The soprano, Sara Gartland, emoted throughout her pieces with conviction. "Me llaman la primorosa" was particularly charming. Her voice is strong and piercing, and though a note or two that strayed off pitch, her presence more than made up for this.

Kness did well with "Despierta, negro," sounding grave and serious. Gartland, Montenegro, and Hanlon made up an able ensemble for the piece. Gartland and Montenegro also sounded lovely in the duet "Caballero del alto plumero" from Luisa Fernanda.

* Tattling * 
Steven Blier told us many amusing stories before he played. I had the good fortune to be a guest of the whistling voice of Woodstock at this recital. I was very sorry to leave at intermission, but I was scheduled to hear the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic an hour and a half after the Schwabacher began.

Day at Merola 2010

Schwabacher2010cast * Notes * 
This year's Day at Merola was Tuesday, beginning with a lunch in Lower Level Café of the War Memorial Opera House. A couple of members of the Opera Standees Association who are also sponsors of tenor Alexander Lewis kindly invited me to join their table. Mr. Lewis conversed with us about how he stayed in Jane Eaglen's house as a kid, his voice changing, The Ring, countertenors, and Mozart. It was especially endearing when he related his realization that as a tenor rather than a baritone there was no role for him in Le Nozze di Figaro. Alex is going to move to New York soon, to participate in the Metropolitan Opera's Lindemann Young Artist Development Program. At lunch I also had the pleasure of meeting Kevin Thompson, the one bass of the Merola Program this summer.

It was difficult to decide between the L'Elisir d'Amore rehearsal, Sheri Greenawald's master class, and Mark Morash's master class, as all of these occurred in the first time slot, starting at 1:30pm. I ended up in the Chorus Room for Greenawald's master class, accompanied by Jenna Douglas. Colleen Brooks sang "Wie Du Warst" from Der Rosenkavalier, Eleazar Rodríguez sang "Here I Stand" from The Rake's Progress, and Kevin Thompson sang "O, wie will ich triumphieren" from Die Entführung aus dem Serail. Everyone sang well, but with Rodríguez, one could only feel regret for not making it to his performances as Tom Rakewell for the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Greenawald had Rodríguez concentrate on where the rests were in the music, and illuminating the text.

Kathy Cathcart gave a master class accompanied by David Hanlon that started with Ryan Kuster singing the "Abendlied" from Das Rheingold. Kuster's voice is very bright. Janai Brugger-Orman sang Menotti's "Steal Me, Sweet Thief," from the one act radio opera The Old Maid and the Thief. Cathcart got Brugger-Orman to sing with a good deal more energy, and difference was very clear. Dan Kempson sang "Lieben, Hassen, Hoffen, Zagen," Harlequin's aria from Ariadne auf Naxos with beauty.

For the second half of the day, I went up a flight of stairs to the Ballet Studio for master classes with Martin Katz and Steven Blier. Katz focused on Bel Canto. Natalia Katyukova accompanied Robin Flynn, who sang "Deh! tu, bell'anima" from I Capuleti e i Montecchi and Ryan Kuster, who sang "Vi ravviso, o luoghi ameni" from La sonnambula. For both of these, a lot of time was spent on the recitative before the arias, and Katz got a good laugh out of the audience by translating "E vicin la fattoria," then having Kuster sing the line. Renée Rapier sang "Cruda Sorte" as she did for the Auditions for the General Director, but with Michael Spassov as her accompanist instead of David Hanlon. Rapier's dark sound was very sassy, and Katz got her to sound lighter and more bubbly.

Blier's master class involved art song, as one would imagine, and he joked that the day's event should have been called "Death by Aria." We heard Colleen Brooks sing Schoenberg's "Galathea," which she wrote her thesis on, with Jenna Douglas playing piano. At one point Blier had Michael Spassov lie on the ground so that Brooks could sing to him, and this worked well, though might have been somewhat embarrassing. Spassov certainly was a good sport. Accompanied by David Hanlon, Daniel Montenegro sang "Canción al arbol del olvido." Abigail Santos Villalobos sang "La tarántula é un bicho mu malo" from Giménez's La tempranica and Reynaldo Hahn's "La lune blanche." Her voice is pretty, and Michael Spassov's playing was pleasantly dry. The final song of the evening was "Pierrots Tanzlied," which Dan Kempson sang with great beauty. Natalia Katyukova's playing was also impressive.

* Tattling * 
As soon as I walked into the lunch room I was asked if I was from Korea, and can only imagine I was mistaken for Hye Jung Lee. Even though I answered in the negative, it was still assumed I was a Merolina, and I was directed to the person with the name tags. Evidently only Merolini and Amici di Merola get them, as I was bluntly informed.

The attendees of this event are, for the most part, the die-hard, obsessive fans of opera. There was aggressive jockeying for the front row seats of each master class, such that we were made to leave the room before Blier's class, for safety purposes.

Master Class with Steven Blier 2009

* Program *
Thomson's "A Prayer to Saint Catherine"
Alex Mansoori, tenor and Tamara Sanikidze, piano

"Voici des roses" from La Damnation de Faust
Evan Boyer, bass and Suzy Smith, piano

Duparc's "Phidylé"
Paul Scholten, baritone and Miaomiao Wang, piano

"Piangete voi...Al dolce guidami" from Anna Bolena
Lara Ciekiewicz, soprano and Keun-a Lee, piano

Weill's "J'attends un navire"
Caitlin Mathes, mezzo-soprano and Stephanie Rhodes, piano

* Notes * 
Steven Blier gave a master class for the Merola Opera Program last night at Herbst Theatre. The evening included art songs, one proper aria, and "Voici des roses," which Blier claimed was at least sort of an aria because the Met had done La Damnation last season. Alex Mansoori started off with the Virgil Thomson song about Saint Catherine of Siena, set to a poem by Kenneth Koch. The tenor seemed very comfortable with Blier, and in fact they have known each other for some time. Blier suggested that Mansoori's shy nervousness at the beginning of the song was a bit too real and the paranoid edge needed was missing. Blier also had the singer rein in his movements. Evan Boyer sang the Berlioz next, Blier got him to take his voice from "nice to rattly" to "cool to nice." One could hear Boyer get his vibrato under control. Baritone Paul Scholten elegantly sang Duparc's "Phidylé" a half step lower than Miaomiao Wang's music, and she transposed the work by sight quite impressively.

Lara Ciekiewicz sang the mad scene from Anna Bolena after 5 hours of rehearsal for Così fan tutte. She sounded strained at times, and her accompanist, Keun-a Lee, was flashy in her playing. Ciekiewicz's vibrato compromised her intonation, but when Blier got her to put less pressure on her voice, she sounded quite lovely. Equally, when Lee supported Ciekiewicz, rather than making a huge sound, things were much improved. The performance ended with Caitlin Mathes, singing a Weill song in French. The piece sat very well in her voice up until the end, though her vowels were sloppy. When she sang the song again with Blier playing, taking his advice to be less angry and more confident, the effect was immediate and gorgeous.

* Tattling *
Steven Blier was perfectly funny as usual. Particularly amusing was when he told Boyer to think he was "a fabulous jazz French horn player" as he sang.

After the class was a reception in the Green Room. I had an engaging conversation with Merola's apprentice stage director, Fernando Parra Bortí, in which I admitted my utter ignorance of high fashion. His infectious enthusiasm about the program, the other artists, opera, and languages was heartening.

Master Class with Steven Blier 2008

* Program *
"Pierrot's Tanzlied" from Die Tote Stadt
Eugene Chan, baritone and Alan Hamilton, piano

Debussy's "Apparition"
Ellen Wieser, soprano and Eileen Downey, piano

Schubert's "Erstarrung" from Winterreise
Darren Perry, baritone and Carl Pantle, piano

Quilter's "Now sleeps the crimson petal"
Tyler Nelson, tenor and Allen Perriello, piano

Weill's "Youkali"
James Rodgers, tenor and Dennis Doubin, piano

* Notes * 
Yesterday evening New York Festival of Song's artistic director Steven Blier gave a master class for the Merola Opera Program. He offered to paint the houses of people who joined Merola, adding that some restrictions applied. The evening included only one aria, but several art songs, and this was, unsurprisingly, by Blier's design. The one aria began the evening, Fritz's Act II aria in Die Tote Stadt, which will be sung by Merola alumnus Lucas Meachem next season at San Francisco Opera. Eugene Chan sang well, though with much effort, but by the end he had improved. The only soprano in the evening, Ellen Weiser, also gave a labored performance. She has a shrill edge, but sounded better in this than in Albert Herring. She was able to sing more smoothly under the direction of Blier, and she does have an appealing ethereal quality.

Darren Perry sang "Erstarrung" from Winterreise, and was told he sounded a bit too reasonable and that he had a distance to go to possessed psychosis. Perry's voice is light and not overly loud. Next came tenor Tyler Nelson singing "Now sleeps the crimson petal," whose text is from Tennyson's poem. He sang the piece in F Major, which Blier compared to peanut butter. Blier thought F Sharp Major would be better, and Nelson sang the piece again in that key, very beautifully, I might add. Blier picked on Nelson's voiced labial-velar approximants. The performance ended with another tenor, James Benjamin Rodgers. He sang "Youkali" with great passion, even anger. When Blier got him to loosen up a bit and sing with sadness before his rage, Rodgers gave a more nuanced and effective performance.

* Tattling *
Steven Blier was hilarious, telling us about a dream he had of Ethel Merman and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. It also turned out that the restrictions on his house painting offer were that one had to ask before 8:30pm, which long past by the time he told us.