Pelléas and Mélisande


Is Claude Debussy’s one and only opera a neglected masterpiece? It is certainly neglected, I fear, because it is difficult to readily find a cast of singing actors who can act with conviction and sing in flawless French in a middle of the road range that’s not all that enticing to singers who like to display their vocal prowess at any cost.

The central role of Pelléas, for instance is written for what the French call a Baryton Martin, a rare species of singer that requires comfort in both the E-F-G area at the top of the staff, where baritones love to shine, and in the tricky lower middle voice in which most baritones fail to score points, and in which they are often swallowed by even the slightest of orchestrations. Neither a soprano nor a mezzo-soprano part, Mélisande is written for what should be a lyric voice, but one with some heft in the middle range in which most of the role lies. To make matters more difficult, singers for both of these roles should look young and attractive so as to convincingly play a young prince and princess secretly in love with each other. Oh yes, and they should be good actors.

Pelléas and Mélisande rarely turns up these days in America, as much too intimate an opera for the average American plus-size opera house, and one much too dependent on its poetic prose text to make any kind of impact on audiences weaned on a steady diet of Puccini and Verdi. Too bad that this operatic rarity does not get more play on this side of the ocean, for it has much to offer to those willing to open their minds and ears to Debussy’s musical language.

Therefore, grateful thanks are due to Maestro Louis Langrée, who devised a few years ago a three-year programming plan that has included Gabriel Fauré’s Pelléas and Mélisande and Arnold Schoenberg’s tone poem of the same title, and now Debussy’s opera. Langrée’s passion for and full command of Debussy’s score were in evidence as he led the extraordinary ensemble of players that is the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

Stage director James Darrah came on board in the company of projection designer Adam Larsen, scenic designer Adam Rigg, costume designer Mattie Ullrich, and lighting designer Pablo Santiago, all four of whom set out to turn the stage of the newly-renovated Music Hall into an operatic one. Unfortunately the results were less than perfect, with the playing area literally surrounding the musicians and all but making the orchestra a distraction rather than a partner in the story of several human beings in search of a raison d’être.

Opera is first and foremost storytelling through music. Or, rather, opera should not tell us but show us the story. The staging should flesh out the tale in strong images that clarify the time and the place and the emotional state of the characters. It should dress the actors in costumes that let us in on who they are and what they feel and in what country and to which period of history they belong.

If rear projections must be used when stage machinery is deemed clunky and obstructive, let those images behind the actors define where we are. Is this the grotto by the side of the pool where Mélisande loses her wedding ring, or is this the tower from where her hair cascades down to reach and envelop her lover?

And the lighting, at its most basic level, should light the singing actors, especially their faces. At its most heightened stage the stage lights should help define location and time of day, echoing in sunlight and moonlight and shadow what the music is expressing. In this staging of Pelléas and Mélisande all of those production elements left something missing, as a numbing, generic sameness set in after a first half that clocked in at one hour and forty-five minutes.

The cast was led by Irish Mezzo-soprano, Naomi O’Connell and the Canadian baritone Phillip Addis as the ill-fated lovers. Ms. O’Connell, visually lovely and full-voiced delivered a haunting a capella song in the tower scene of Act III. Adddis, on the other hand appeared to be struggling with the high-lying passages in the role, and acted listlessly rather than youthfully as the innocent Pelléas.

Baritone, Brian Mulligan was a vocally and dramatically impressive Golaud, quietly dangerous even in moments of self-control, conflicted and compassionate when calm.

The cast of principals was rounded out by Richard Wiegold as King Arkel, and Mezzo-Soprano Nancy Maultsby as Geneviève.

In his diaries Debussy wrote about how he sought to find a musical language …dont la sensibilité pourrait être étendue dans la musique et dans la toile de l’orchestre… (“a language whose sensibility could encompass both the music itself and the weave of the orchestration…”) In the CSO’s production of Debussy’s score only the musical part of that language was palpable. If only we could have had the entire tapestry…

A few more things and a disclaimer

The acoustics of Music Hall have never sounded better. Both singers and orchestra were heard clearly. Debussy’s gossamer moments in the orchestration as well as several climactic outbursts were distinctive, present, with the lower strings notably more nourished than they sounded two weeks ago.

The seating on the first balcony where we ended up after years of sitting in the rear of the orchestra for many CSO concerts, is as shy on leg room as I have ever encountered in many years of concert-going. After a first half that ran close to one hour and forty-five minutes, we left, unable to sit there any longer.

Will Call is no longer in the lobby of Music Hall but in an adjacent area that requires negotiating steps challenging for those of us with motion disabilities. The Music Hall management may want to check up some of the guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Cup holders have been affixed to the backs of orchestra seats, though not to those in the upper balconies, but a sign in the counter of lobby bar warns the concertgoers that “Iced Drinks May Not Be Taken Inside the Auditorium” So, what are the cup holders for? Lukewarm cocktails and soft drinks..?

Parking underground across from Music Hall will set you back $15. Someone is gauging the public that the CSO is trying to bring to its concerts.

Rafael de Acha                   October 21, 2017


Cincinnati Memorial Hall 005_1Nobody is in a hurry to get to November. But since the time when all the leaves fall from the trees and the music season kicks into high gear is fast approaching, here’s our list of top choices to help one and all plan ahead:

JS BACH – MASS IN B MINOR – Saturday November 4th at 4 PM in Christ Church Cathedral. Earl Rivers conducts the CCM Philharmonia, the CCM Chamber Choir and CCM student soloists in Bach’s masterpiece. Tickets: $15. Information:

CINCINNATI SONG INITIATIVE – Saturday November 11th at 7:30 PM in the recital hall of Willis Music. Samuel Martin’s group gives its second all-French art song recital of the season. Tickets: $22. Information:

VOCAL ARTS ENSEMBLE ( – Sunday November 12th at 5 PM The VAE celebrates its return to Memorial Hall joining forces with the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra in choral music by JS Bach, Mozart and Diorio. Tickets from $25.

ARIEL QUARTET – Tuesday November 14th at 8 PM – The Ariel Quartet is joined by violist, Donald Weilerstein and pianist Vivian Hornik Weilerstein in music by Janáček, Shostakovich and Mozart. Tickets: $25. Information:

CONCERT:NOVA – Friday November 17th at 7 PM in the Great Hall of the Cincinnati Art Museum – Cellist Hiro Matsuo helms performances sections of J.S. Bach’s Art of the Fugue, the String Quartet No.4 of Michael Ippolito, and the Grosse Fugue by Beethoven in tandem with MamLuft&Co. Dance. Tickets: $25 to $35 Information:

LEONARD BERNSTEIN’S CANDIDE – November 16, 17, 18 at 8 PM and 19th at 2 PM – Just a few weeks shy of the 100th anniversary of the birth of the composer of the Broadway hits West Side Story, On the Town, and Wonderful Town, CCM’s Opera Department brings Bernstein’s mix of Opera and Musical Comedy, Candide to Cincinnati. Tickets $31-$35. Information:

LINTONMUSIC ( and the CSO ( Friday November 24th and 25th at 8 PM, cellist Truls Mørk joins the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra playing the Cello Concerto no. 1 by Dimitri Shostakovich. Then, on the following two days, Sunday November 26th and Monday November 27th, the Norwegian cellist plays with the CSO’s concertmaster Timothy Lees and pianist Michael Chertok in a program that includes music by Beethoven, Prokofiev and Dvořák as part of Linton Music.

The Sunday concert is at 4 PM, in Avondale’s First Unitarian Church, at 536 Linton Street; the Monday concert is at 7:30 PM in Congregation Beth Adam’s sanctuary at 10001 Loveland-Madeira Road. Tickets (for Linton) $35; Tickets (for CSO) – from $14.

Happy seeing and listening!

Rafael de Acha                    All about the Arts                    October 18, 2017

Bartok, Mozart and Beethoven next at Linton Music Concert

ehnes quartet

Violinists James Ehnes and Amy Schwartz Moretti, Violist Richard O’Neill and cellist Edward Arron are the four mainstays of the Ehnes Quartet.

Stephen Williamson

They are being joined by Chicago Symphony Principal Clarinetist Stephen Williamson for a pair of Linton Music concerts on October 29 and 30, the first at Cincinnati’s First Unitarian Church (556 Linton Street) and the second at Congregation Beth Adam (Loveland-Madeira Road) Single tickets are $35 and available by calling Linton Music at 513 381 6868.

On tap: Bartok String Quartet No.2; Mozart Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in A Major, and Beethoven’s Rasumovsky Quartet.

Rafael de Acha  Music Notes


South of the Border, music of Spain and Latin America 


Still feeling both proud and sorry that I could not write my own review of the wonderful performances; instead I share this with our readers.

DAN 3Daniel Weeks did truly sterling singing in Turina’s Poema en Forma de Canciones, with Jesse Leong, the perfect accompanist at the piano.

KAYLEIGH (1)Kayleigh Decker was impeccable in style and voice, singing a group of Tonadillas by Enrique Granados, accompanied by the excellent James Meade at the guitar

CHLOE 5Chloe LeGrand‘s lusciously sang  the Bachianas Brasileiras no. 5 of Heitor Villa-Lobos, brilliantly accompanied by an ensemble of eight violoncellos faultlessly led by CSO cellist Alan Rafferty, who also played the first cello in the Bachianas Brasileiras no. 1.

CELLISTS (10)The gifted young cellists, Isobel Alsup, Peter Chan, Ryan Donohue, Phillip Goist, Hannah Hoffman, Carter Langmack, Maggie Murphy, Luke Orth, Matt Shinn and Myles Yeazell played in either and or both pieces, and were eloquently singled out by Rafferty as pupils now and colleagues some day in the future.

EBEN 3South African pianist Eben Wagenstrooom played as if to the Cuban manner born a dozen Danzas Cubanas – miniatures for the piano by Ignacio Cervantes, a fellow countryman of mine. Eben will be back in April for our spring concert.

JAMES (8)James Meade, whose CD, Cancion I reviewed here some months ago, played with sensitivity and a true feel for the Iberian in music by Francisco Tarrega,  and later came back to feelingly dig into Astor Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, as if he had been born in Buenos Aires.


Thank you to our good friends Johannes and Suzanne Bjorner for all the work that went into setting up and sharing Johannes beautiful paintings with our audience.


Thanks are due to my own Kimberly Daniel de Acha, who did a terrific job as hostess and Mistress of the Revels!

Thanks to the staff and management of Peterloon and to Matthew Feldman in particular, to our friends and friendly house managers Kathy Doane and Nancy Stetler, and to Marion and Sandy for preparing and hosting the after-concert reception.





On first hearing in its new home, the CSO sounded quite splendid, giving off a bright and immediate sound enhanced by a new seating arrangement and new seats, acoustic clouds overhead, the elimination of a center aisle, and a reduced capacity that will vary but never go above 2,500 attendees.

The hall itself looks brighter than ever before, the lobby feels less crowded and more welcoming, even with a capacity audience. There are now elevators in addition to the escalators that lead to the second and third levels, and we encountered fewer steps inside the building.

The audience is now much closer than ever to the stage. There are fewer partial view seats, and from the newly created terrace – an elevated section at the rear of the main floor, the sightlines are just perfect.

And mercifully there are more restrooms with more stalls and better plumbing. There is a nice bar   in the lobby and cup holders attached to the seats in the auditorium so that drinks can be brought inside. The new Music Hall is an audience friendly old lady who has just had a rejuvenating make over. It is still an imposing presence but not an intimidating one.

We loved it and can’t wait to go back.

My review  of the concert will post on in the next few days.

Photography: AJ Waltz/Courtesy of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra

Rafael de Acha



Tonight we attended the opening performance of SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM, an 8-person revue of songs with lyrics and music by Stephen Sondheim.

The eight triple-threats in the cast are formidable talents, and all I need to do is list their names alphabetically: Bryce Baxter, Aria Braxwell, Emily Fink, Clara Harris, Phillip Johnson-Richardson, Alex Stone, Karen Whittaker and Gabe Wrobel.

To single out any one of these eight young artists would be unfair, for, I assure you, they sing, dance and act with elegant flair and pizzazz through a swiftly moving two-hour long show that includes dozens of songs from just about every Sondheim show one ever heard of plus a few others previously unknown to this listener.

Stephen Goers is the gifted pianist and music director, and he keeps the music underpinning the eight on stage. Katie Johannigman provides the imaginative choreography. Aubrey Berg helms the production with his usual firm hand and fertile inventiveness. No set to speak of, but fine mood-setting lighting by Nicholas Smith.

But then there is The Video. At first it malfunctioned on opening night and then it became an obstructive element that competed visually and aurally with what was happening on stage. Unrelentingly up front and center, Stephen Sondheim mixing trivial comments with pretentious posturing, threatened to ruin the show for many  of us.

My suggestion would be to can the video and let the marvelous music and lyrics of the unpleasant Sondheim be sung by the very attractive and personable young cast.

More performances follow this weekend in the Cohen Family Studio Theater at CCM.

Rafael de Acha       10/6/17

South of the Border opens Music for All Seasons at Peterloon on Sunday October 8th


 Now starting its fifth season, Music for All Seasons presents four concerts every year. Concerts are given on Sundays at 2 p.m. in Peterloon Estate, at 8605 Hopewell Road in the village of Indian Hill.

Peterloon’s expansive living room provides a perfect intimate venue for the concerts of Music for All Seasons. Originally sited on 1,200 wooded acres in Indian Hill, the house was built in 1928 to rival the grandest houses of America and Europe.

Tickets ($30) may be reserved by email at


The Cello Ensemble from the Studio of Allan Rafferty  is made up of winners of the Junior Division Gold Medal of the Fischoff Chamber Music Competition and other national music competitions, and also soloists with the Cincinnati Symphony and other orchestras. Besides his position at CCM, Alan is a member of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. He and his wife, cellist Sarah Kim, are founders and directors of the nationally recognized Cincinnati Young Artists ( In 2016, they were named the 2016 Ohio String Teachers Association Studio Teachers of the Year.

Kayleigh Decker, Mezzo Soprano continues her work on an Artist Diploma at CCM, having sung in Cincinnati the roles of Peggy in Shalimar the Clown, the Fox in The Little Prince, the Fox (another one!) in The Cunning Little Vixen, and Idamante in Idomeneo. She was an Encouragement award winner in the Cincinnati District Metropolitan Opera Auditions and recently made her debut with the Glimmerglass Opera Festival. (         Here she sings Hugo Wolf’s Kennst du das Land:

Jesse Leong, Piano just worked as Assistant Conductor at the Glimmerglass Opera, Jesse has been Associate Music Director of the Queen City Chamber Opera, Conducting Fellow at Opera Saratoga, Resident Pianist at Opera Pittsburgh, Studio Pianist and Conductor with the Wagner Society of Cincinnati, and is currently a Graduate Assistant at CCM’s Orchestral Studies and Opera Departments.( )

Chloe LeGrand, Soprano is a recent member of the Cincinnati May Festival choir. While a student at the University of Louisville, she was the featured soloist in Mozart’s Vesperae solennes de confessore. An accomplished professional bluegrass musician, she was a founding member of the Blue Belles bluegrass band.  She is now working on a Master’s degree at CCM.

James Meade, Guitar began his concert career in 2013 and has since given concerts in America and Europe. His CD, Canción will be available for purchase in the lobby after the concert. It was praised in our blog for its impeccable musicianship, profound musicality and a complete technical command of his instrument. ( he plays Francisco Tárrega’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra:

Daniel Weeks, Tenor is a member of the Voice Faculty at the College-Conservatory of Music, Daniel Weeks continues a career encompassing opera, concert, solo recitals, and recordings, having appeared with the Houston, Dallas, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Memphis and Louisville Symphony Orchestras and the Cincinnati Opera. He is represented by DISPEKER ARTISTS MGT, NYC.( Here he sings Franz Liszt’s O, quand je dors:

Eben Wagenstroom, Piano graduated from the National Conservatory of Music in Johannesburg, South Africa, his native country, with a Bachelor’s degree in Piano. He is now a student of Professor Dror Biran, working on a Master’s degree in Piano Performance at the University of Cincinnati, College Conservatory of Music, where he plans to continue to pursue a DMA degree. Here he plays the Etude – Tableau in E-Flat Major, by Sergei Rachmaninoff:


Francisco Tárrega (1852-1909) Danza Mora (Moorish Dance) Recuerdos de la Alhambra (Memories of the Alhambra) Marieta Estudio Brillante (Brilliant Etude)

                        James Meade, Guitar

Enrique Granados Amor y Odio (Love and Hatred) El Majo Tímido (The Timid Beau) El Tra-la-la y el Punteado (La, la, la and so on…) El Mirar de la Maja (The way she looks) El Majo Discreto (The Discreet Beau)

                        Kayleigh Decker, Mezzo-soprano              James Meade, guitar

Joaquín Turina  Poema en forma de canciones (Poem in the form of songs) Dedicatoria (Dedicatory) – Piano solo Nunca olvidaré (I will never forget) Cantares (Songs) Los dos miedos (Two Fears) Las locas por amor (Mad for love)

                        Daniel Weeks, Tenor        Jesse Leong, Piano

Ignacio Cervantes (Improvised) Ilusiones Perdidas (Lost Illusions) Homenaje (Tribute) Los tres golpes (Three Knocks at the Door) Adiós a Cuba (Goodbye, Cuba) Amistad (Friendship) Cri Cri (Rustling Petticoats) Duchas frías (Cold Showers) Picotazos (Pecking) ¿Por qué?¿eh? (Why? Huh?)

                       Eben Wagenstrom, Piano

Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992) The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires

                       James Meade, guitar

Heitor Villalobos  Bachiana Brasileira no. 1 Bachiana Brasileira no. 5

                       Chloe LeGrand , Soprano The Cello Ensemble of Allan Rafferty

Rafael de Acha     All About the Arts     10/2/17



Sondheim on Sondheim, a musical revue of Sondheim’s most beloved works, on Thursday, Oct. 5 through Saturday, Oct. 7 in the Cohen Family Studio Theater. The performance paints an intimate portrait of the songwriter, told through his music and through video clips of Sondheim himself.

Eight singers will perform some of Sondheim’s most popular tunes from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, West Side Story, A Little Night Music, Passion, Assassins, and Bounce, as well as a brand-new song written just for Sondheim on Sondheim.

Music and Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Aubrey Berg, director; Stephen Goers, music director; Katie Johannigman, choreographer, With Bryce Baxter, Aria Braswell, Emily Fink, Ciara Harris, Phillip Johnson, Alex Stone, Keaton Whittaker and Gabe Wrobel.

At 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 5 and Friday, Oct. 6; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 7 In the Cohen Family Studio Theater, CCM Village, University of Cincinnati. Admission is free, but reservations are required; tickets become available at noon on Monday, October 2.

Rafael de Acha




With more and more interest in Cuba, more tourism, hopefully more diplomacy between the United States and Cuba we thought it would be interesting to post from time to time some things about Cuban culture and arts on our blog. To help those readers eager to know a bit more about my place of birth, here is the first post of many more to come in the future: a list of website and Facebook pages that deal with things Cuban.



Created by Rey, a talented Cuban photographer in Cuba, this site proves again and again that a picture is worth a thousand words


“Lugares Cubanos” is another treasure trove of beautiful photographs of Cuban places inside and outside of the island.




Arquitectura Cubana has a stunning visual record of Cuban architecture of all periods.



Cuban pop music of today.




 14ymedio means fourteen and a half in Spanish and its English language edition is mostly about Cuba inside today, as viewed by a courageous dissident media and press.


Send award-winning dissident writer Yoani Sánchez an email and subscribe to her English-language newsletter to find out the latest news from inside Cuba.

Rafael de Acha    http://www.Rafael’    All About the Arts     9/28/2017


The spirits of four French composers visited Cincinnati tonight

The spirits of four French composers visited Cincinnati last night. The event was arranged by Samuel Martin, a young musical entrepreneur, just now beginning the second season of his musical brainchild: Cincinnati Song Initiative. The Willis Music Store in Montgomery functioned as an informally assembled recital hall.

Sam’s mission is, in a few words, to resuscitate the all-but-lost art of art song singing. With that in mind he assembled a gifted trio of CCM vocalists: Simon Barrad, baritone, Erin Keesey, soprano, and Lauren McAllister, mezzo soprano, and collaborative pianists Kseniia Polstiankina Barrad and Ahyoung Jung. They shared as equal partners music-making in which the ones up front were Messieurs Honegger, Poulenc, Auric and Milhaud. Kenneth Griffiths provided insights into the songs and their composers in the narration that preceded each set.

The composers and their poets were present in spirit, and the spirit of their music was feted with Gallic panache by the five artists in the program, each and every one giving their very best to the songs of four members of the loosely knit group that was given the sobriquet of Les Six by Henri Collet, a French music critic.

Monsieur Collet decided to lump Darius Milhaud, Francis Poulenc, Georges Auric, Arthur Honegger, Louis Durey and the single female member of the six-some, Germaine Tailleferre into a convenient musical catch all. True, all six members of Les Six were, each in his or her own way, turning their backs on the late Romanticism of Debussy and the exoticism of Maurice Ravel, all  the while searching for a new sound that elicited clarity, adopted straightforward harmonies, and mined worthy texts.

That new marriage of words and music necessitated new poetic sources: Jean Valmy-Baisse provided the mock-medieval texts to Darius Milhaud’s Three Troubadour Songs, and the Uruguayan poet Jules Supervielle gave the composer the gritty words to Trois chansons de négresse.

Arthur Honegger wedded the music of his Three Poems to Paul Claudel’s poetry, while Francis Poulenc, with one foot in the church and the other in the cabarets of 1920’s Paris opted for the sometimes naughty, sometimes bucolic, sometimes dead serious 17th century anonymous texts he put to use in his Chansons Villageoises. Poulenc then moved on to the Surrealism of Apollinaire in Bleuet and beyond that to the powerful Deux poèmes de Louis Aragon, that include C, one of the great French songs of the 20th century, and a mocking setting of Fêtes galantes. Georges Auric set to haunting music the words of Grindel, Supervielle and Aragon for Quatre chants de la France malheureuse (Four Songs of the Unlucky France.)

The three singers, displayed excellent French diction, style and rigorous musicality throughout. Simon Barrad, a lyric baritone with the perfect timbre and suppleness needed for the French canon gave an excellent reading of the Chansons villageoises and an impassioned interpretation of Auric’s Quatre chants de la France malheureuse

Lyric Soprano Erin Keesey floated her voice with ease in Milhaud’s Troubadour Songs and then again used her plangent sound to advantage in both Aragon’s heartrending C and Poulenc’s  Bluet. She then sang the tongue-twisting Fêtes galantes with impeccable diction and wicked humor.

Mezzo-soprano, Lauren McAllister’s fully inhabited both the raw realism of Milhaud’s Trois chansons de négresse and the variety of poetic ideas of Honneger’s Three Poems of Paul Claudel.

Pianists Kseniia Polstiankina Barrad and Ahyoung Jung shared the pianistic duties demanded by the expansive program, playing with both assertiveness and attentiveness to the needs of both singers and songs.

All in all this was an excellently crafted evening that surprised and delighted with some welcome discoveries.  Les Six will be the first concert this season. Visit the Cincinnati Song Initiative’s website ( for more on what’s up ahead.

Cincinnati Song Initiative: Survey of Les Six. Cincinnati, Ohio. Willis Music. September 23, 2017.

Darius Milhaud: Trois chansons de Troubadour and Trois chansons de négresse; Arthur Honegger: Trois poèmes de Claudel; Francis Poulenc: Deux poèmes de Louis Aragon; Bleuet and Chansons villageoises; Georges Auric: Quatre chants de la France malheureuse.

Simon Barrad, baritone; Erin Keesey, soprano; Lauren McAllister, mezzo soprano. Collaborative pianists,  Ahyoung Jung, and Kseniia Polstiankina Barrad.

Kenneth Griffiths, narrator

Rafael de Acha      www.Rafael’     All About the Arts.   9/23/17