The Music of Brazil


Pablo Rossi

Brazilian concert music is sadly underrepresented in the repertoire of symphony orchestras and chamber music ensembles outside South America’s vastest nation.

Vocal and chamber music connoisseurs might be familiar with the Bachianas Brasileiras of Heitor Villalobos, and those familiar with the richly melodic operas of Carlos Gomes will hopefully recall some of the highlights from O Guarany and Lo Schiavo recorded by Plácido Domingo, and Enrico Caruso before him. But the mention of Alberto Nepomuceno or Camargo Guarnieri will draw a blank look from most music lovers.

The Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been developing the series Brasil em Concerto with the intention to promote music by Brazilian classical music composers, some dating back to the 18th century.

Over the next five years NAXOS plans to release a series of CD’s featuring orchestral works, chamber music and vocal music by Brazilian composers. The Minas Gerais Philharmonic Orchestra, the Goiás Philharmonic Orchestra, and the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra are among the participating institutions.

In order to give this immensely important project the sendoff it deserves, the good people of Naxos jointly with the Brazilian Consulate of New York hosted an informal gathering on Thursday April 18th in one of Carnegie Hall’s more intimate spaces.

Words of welcome were spoken by Ambassador Enio Cordeiro, Consul General of Brazil in New York. Raymond Bisha, Senior Vice President of Marketing, Naxos of America & Canada spoke about The Music of Brazil.

A video presentation by Fabio Mechetti, conductor of the Minas Gerais Philharmonic Orchestra offered insightful information on the first CD release of Brasil em Concerto: the music of Alberto Nepomuceno (reviewed on this blog earlier this year).

The highlight of the morning was a piano recital by the superb Pablo Rossi. Winner of the first Nelson Freire National Competition for New Brazilian Talents, the young pianist played an all-Brazilian program that featured excerpts from Heitor Villalobos A prole do bebê, and several short pieces by Camargo Guarnieri, Henrique Oswald, and Alberto Nepomuceno.

We look forward to the next release on this much anticipated series.

Rafael de Acha




Were it not for the fact that a former voice student of my wife’s is starring in one of the leads, we would have given FROZEN a pass and gone in search of warmer theatrical climates outside the Disney world of princesses with frozen hearts and little hint of fire in their loins. But attend we did, and our friend Noah J. Ricketts, in a terrific triple-threat turn in the role of Kristoff made it all worthwhile, even the getting bathed in snow confetti at the end of the show.

There has been so much buzz about the opening of THE SHED, the new performing arts facility at the Hudson Yards that I talked myself and my long suffering Kimberly to shell out a couple of hundred dollars for tickets to something titled NORMA JEAN BAKER OF TROY.

Featuring the androgynous English stage actor Ben Wishaw, and the former Opera star Renee Fleming now starting a new career in Broadway musicals and cabaret, with English director Katie Mitchell staging a text that is neither poetry nor drama, with a score that mixes electronic sounds and digital and acoustic singing and banjo playing, and set on a dimly lit and monochromatic set, the ninety-minute, intermission-less exercise in pretentiousness left both of us along with much of the audience that remained after quite a few walkouts totally exhausted and bored.

After the chills of FROZEN and NORMA JEAN BAKER OF TROY we were owed an evening of good old Broadway heat. KISS ME KATE in the intimate Studio 54, home to the Roundabout Theatre Company delivered class, pizzazz, and enchantment by spades.

With the incomparable Kelly O’Hara in the part of operetta diva Lili Vanessi, and a hard-working supporting cast directed by Scott Ellis and choreographed by Warren Carlyle, this rethinking of Cole Porter’s original avoided the perils of reverentially reviving an old show, creating instead a thoroughly contemporary too darn hot two and one half hours of pleasure.

We had secured tickets for five nights of theater while in NYC, and promised ourselves not to overdo the theatergoing, leaving daytimes for other New York adventures. But at the last minute Kimberly surprised me with tickets for KING LEAR on the same day when we were seeing NANTUCKET SLEIGH RIDE at the Mitzy Newhouse Theatre at Lincoln Center.

We went to the John Guare play about an old playwright with regrets about life and playwriting after having brunch with a long term friend from our Boston days. The rambling, dense and slow moving comedy, (in spite of Jerry Zacks’ direction) seen sitting on uncomfortable seats made us regret not the brunch with our friend, but our choice of play for that afternoon.

That evening we went to the Cort Theatre to see Glenda Jackson as Lear in King Lear. From the moment the 82 year old actress entered the stage we knew we were in for a performance of a lifetime. I try never to read the reviews and often try not to listen to conflicting opinions before I see a play.

Afterwards, I have read objections to the directorial choices of Sam Gold, and yet maintain that I liked what we saw: a no-nonsense, straightforward take on a great play, not once marred by directorial eccentricities, with one of the great actresses of our time surrounded by a strong multi-ethnic cast and all the while belying the old theatrical saying that when you are old enough to play Lear you are too old to play Lear.

Our week of theatergoing in NYC climaxed on Sunday afternoon with Bryan Cranston turning out what Kimberly said was possibly the greatest performance she had ever seen by an actor. I would not hesitate to agree with her, saying that I cannot recall ever seeing in over sixty years of theatre-going a more riveting depiction of a human being literally imploding before our eyes.

Dutch director Ivo Van Hove has crafted a multi-media production of Lee Hall’s adaptation of Paddy Chayefsky’s film NETWORK that grabs one in the gut within the first five minutes and does not let go for one second of its two no-intermission hours.

Rafael de Acha

KATHLEEN FERRIER: true contralto


If contraltos grew on trees, Kathleen Ferrier would be the golden apple.

I meant contraltos, not mezzo-sopranos, who are often though not always halfway there sopranos. The true contralto, on the other hand, blossoms from the c below the treble staff to the c one octave above that and happily descends below that staff as deep as one octave below. Marian Anderson recorded that note at the end of Schubert’s Death and the Maiden.

But I digress.

While any Kathleen Ferrier previously released or unreleased would indeed be cause for celebration, in the case of the recently released SOMM CD titled Kathleen Ferrier In Celebration of Bach I found myself surfing from track 9, in which the late English contralto sings a glorious Esurientes to track 16 where she delivers a magnificent Ah tarry yet my dearest Saviour from the Ascension Oratorio to tracks 26 and 28 of the Cantata no. 67, in both of which she sings recitatives that lead to arias by the other singers involved.

All told, I could only celebrate two arias by Ferrier. In the Magnificat, recorded live in Germany in 1950 with coughing by audience members included, in the Ascension Oratorio and in the Cantata no. 67, there is generally poor singing from those surrounding Ferrier; even the young Irmgard Seefried delivers an unidiomatically labored Quia respexit in the Magnificat while the usually reliable Otto Edelman sounds more like a Baron Ochs than a Bach basso.

Disappointing to say the least.

Word to record producers: if you are announcing the release of another Kathleen Ferrier album please make sure to include her definitive Erbarme dich from the St. Matthew Passion. How about the Agnus Dei from the B Minor Mass?

Put those two in your playlist to begin with and spare us the filler second-tier German and English singers. And please find a title for your release that does not mislead us.

Rafael de Acha



The Cincinnati Opera has been around since 1920, making it the second oldest opera company in America. The Queen City’s gem looks like it might be around for at least another century thanks to the visionary leadership of Evans Mirageas, its Artistic Director.

The company has held on to the simple formula of presenting a season of opera every June and July, of old in the Cincinnati Zoo and now in the newly-renovated Music Hall and, for chamber opera, the nearby School for the Performing Arts.

The gambit works. With most major opera companies lying low during the dog days of summer, the CO can pull off some terrific casting coups, share productions with other opera companies, and fill out a void in the Queen City when other music producing organizations shut down

Director Mirageas is unpredictably inventive. While there will always be a Puccini or a Verdi up his sleeves, he will also manage to mix it up with some off-the-beaten path offerings, which this summer include Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos, and the world premiere of Blind Injustice by Scott Davenport Richards and David Cote.

He is serving that up from June 13 through July 28 with Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet, and The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess.

The 2020 Summer Festival of the Cincinnati Opera boasts the world premiere of Gregory Spears and Tracy K. Smith’s Castor and Patience. Also on tap: Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, starring the superb Isabel Leonard, with tenor Aaron Blake and baritone Rodion Pogossov in the cast.

There will be also be an Aida, Antonín Dvořák’s Rusalka with British-Swiss soprano Kim-Lillian Strebel Fierce in the title role.

A yearlong program of Anniversary events begins in September 2019 with tenor Stephen Costello in concert, and a series of concerts by the In Harmony Community Chorus.

In April 2020, Cincinnati Opera will present the regional premiere of Bryce Dessner’s Triptych (Eyes of One on Another), a new work inspired by Dessner’s experience of growing up in Cincinnati during protests against an exhibit of the work of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe at the Contemporary Arts Center in 1990.

In conjunction with the meeting of the 2020 national Opera America board in Cincinnati, Cincinnati Opera will present Fierce Grace: Jeannette Rankin, a song cycle about the first woman elected to Congress, by composers Kitty Brazelton, Laura Kaminsky, Laura Karpman, and Ellen Reid, with text by Kimberly Reed.

In addition, Cincinnati Opera will present its usual lineup of community and education programming, including Opera Raps, the 30th annual Community Open Dress Rehearsal, The Opera Express mobile opera theater, the Inside Opera podcast series, performances through the UC Medical Center and Cincinnati Opera Voice Health Partnership, and the 15th annual Opera Goes to Church/Opera Goes to Temple concert series. Whew!

Rafael de Acha

What Made Me Love Music: James Meade, guitarist

JAMES(7)What Made Me Love Music: James Meade, guitarist

My love for my instrument and my sharing of a time spent in love with it was nurtured by that feeling of waiting for something. It arrived but quite late.

Some of my earliest memories are filled with the sound of my great grandmother’s radio always dialed to bluegrass gospel. In my teenage years my consumption of music consisted of paying a couple of bucks and loading into an overcrowded car full of crass teens en route to a local show. For quite a long time music was all about communion with friends and family. But I remained an observer.

Throughout my childhood, the procuring of either an instrument or lessons was not an option despite my wishes. In the economic situation I was born into, a pencil and paper was the option for me. For that reason, my earliest artistic memories are of recreating and reinterpreting on paper images that were aesthetically pleasing to me.

I cannot remember a time when thinking about concepts such as proportion, shade, and texture was not a part of everyday life, even though, at that time such terms were not in my lexicon.

One day, at age 17 my mother greeted me with a guitar in the early evening. The instrument had a light sun burst finish, with strings high off the neck and a bowed top that sank towards the sound hole making it incredibly difficult to play. For me this was an experience of infatuation with the puzzle of sound. Despite its difficulty, my focus abruptly shifted from the visual to the aural. The majority of my time was spent huddled around this thing that warmed me.

As I got older I slowly came to identify the characteristics of addiction that are so ingrained in me. I’m thankful for the avenues gifted me for expressing this addiction, a much better option than a chemical one.

A quote by Thomas Merton recently made its way to me. Paraphrased it is: “Ourselves we clothe, we wrap in the bandages of other people’s perceptions of us or in our appetites and pleasures and we say: ‘Oh, those bandages, that is ourselves!’, without ever looking at what’s underneath the bandage, which is a hole in our heart the size of God.”

For me personally, that hole has always been filled with art and with communion around the expression of what it means to be human. It was this infatuation, obsession, and dependency on music that filled a hole created in me by a society that furtively stated that, since I had no money, my family and I were to blame for so much and that we were worth so little.

Of course, as an adult I can now articulate all of this, but then it was only an empty feeling. Art saved me from what society in its unwillingness to take responsibility for its own creations, told me about myself. It was through art that a child addicted to escaping inside himself was able to shape up into a better form of that self allowing him a self-perception like an honest mirror on which he could look.

This stream of forgetting and envisioning is where I began to dedicate hours after school until I felt confident enough to bring my instrument with me. But that was something that some teachers were not too enthusiastic about. I’m incredibly thankful to Ricky Wells and Jeanne Blankenship for their support. Eventually I was accepted into the guitar program at Eastern Kentucky University. There, Professor Davis had enough patience for a kid with no life skills but one obsessed with music. He guided me along and gave a new beginning, and for that I cannot thank him enough.

I’ve been allowed to bring my guitar to school ever since.

From that beginning music has given me the purpose I share with an incredible network of colleagues, friends, and enthusiasts who fill the void with so much that is wholesome, so that now there is never a moment when that hole that used to be there is not filled.

I’ve been a musician almost as long as the time I spent with those beautiful pencils and those forgiving erasers.

For all of this I’m thankful.

James Meade

TOSCA from Salzburg


It’s not easy to give a melodramatic potboiler of an opera a credible and relevant contemporary retelling. Goodness knows that quite a few recent attempts at updating 19th century operas have had less than felicitous results.

Choosing to leave unmentioned the culprits I have in mind I will zero in on the new TOSCA production recorded in Salzburg last Easter Festival and now made available by UNITEL and Cmajor.

The news is not good as regards the staging by Michael Sturminger. The German director’s choices for this Tosca are generally illogical and capricious. The contemporary feel of the staging is largely limited to the surface trappings and does not extend as it should to the behavior of the actors embodying Puccini’s characters.

From the shootout that opens the opera even before the famously ominous Scarpia chords are sounded Sturminger fails to underpin the why and wherefore of the back story of Giacosa and Illica’s adaptation of Sardou’s play.

All told this Tosca sadly falls short of perfection by the miscasting of a key role and by an inexplicably weird ending: Scarpia stabs Tosca who lies on the floor seemingly lifeless…Tosca leaves… Just as she exits Scarpia crawls towards his desk in search of something…  Curtain down…Curtain up… New set…Scarpia’s henchmen are training teen age boys in the arts of violence… The boys and their teachers exit momentarily…Cavaradossi is brought in…He sings E lucevan le stelle…Tosca enters dressed in a Casablanca outfit… She and Cavaradossi sing their big duet…The young thugs-in-training reenter, armed with pistols… They shoot Cavaradossi… Scarpia enters, bloodied from Tosca’s knifing but still alive…Tosca draws out a handgun… She shoots Scarpia… Scarpia pulls out a handgun…He shoots Tosca dead… Curtain.

For once not coming off as a cipher, the role of Angelotti, as beautifully sung and acted by basso Andrea Mastroni stands out as an important character in the telling of the story. Matteo Peirone’s Sacristan is a real person, not a comic with a collection of shticks. Scarpia’s henchmen: Mikeldi Atxalandbasso and Rupert Grossinger are real thugs, not cardboard bad guys.

Then there are the principals, and right there is where a directorial concept can meet its Waterloo. First to enter is Cavaradossi. Latvian tenor Aleksandrs Antoņenko, a fine dramatic tenor in other roles is vocally and visually the wrong choice for the romantic tenor role par excellence. His handling of the lyrical, sweeping melodies Puccini allotted the role is blunt and rough-edged, with a ham-fisted approach to the abundant top notes in the score. And he is saddled with an awful costume obviously designed to disguise the tenor’s massive girth.

Too bad, for Anja Harteros deserves much better partnership. Her Tosca is beautiful to look at, elegant and statuesque, ostensibly a woman at the top of her game as female and actress. Her sound can occasionally turn slightly acidulous at the forte level yet she can spin out some beautiful pianissimi, notably in a beautifully sung Vissi d’arte. She is at her most effective in her scenes with Ludovic Tezier’s marvelous Scarpia in which she matches the French baritone punch by punch.

As the Roman Chief of Police, Tezier cuts an elegant figure, impeccably dressed, his white hair groomed to perfection, his manner suavely sinister in his first encounter with Tosca, neither evidencing the paunch under his tailored jacket nor the beast that lurks beneath the skin of his character. His sound is full, Italianate, and easy up and down the range. And, most important for this role, he is a subtle actor who mercifully spares us all the mannerisms and “bits” that have become part and parcel of this role’s baggage.

It will be interesting to see Harteros and Tezier paired off again in another opera with another tenor and another director. Here they are the principal saving graces in yet another ill-conceived directorial ego trip.

Rafael de Acha  



Ouf the First, King of the Thirty-Six Realms is looking for an unsuspecting subject to execute, and just when he thinks he’s found his candidate, Siroco, the royal astrologer warns him that the stars have revealed that, once the sacrifice takes place, the monarch himself will die within 24 hours.

It’s all very complicated in Emmanuel Chabrier’s L’étoile, a chaotic comedy of confusions tempered by one of those impossible love affairs between the high-born and the humble, as Princess Laoula falls in love crowned-head-over-heels with poor Lazuli, an itinerant peddler of beauty products.

Instead of getting impaled or put to death in some horrid fashion, Lazuli gets wined and dined into a stupor until, satiated with the high life, he begs to be returned to the real world.

The King, eager to father an heir to the throne tries to woo Princess Laoula to no avail. A last-moment development occurs when Ouf, coming to his senses cries “ouf!” and all young lovers, wherever they are in his silly kingdom, are united in marriage.

Other than an occasional production of this opéra bouffe—a hybrid of spoken theatre and French comic opera—L’étoile has lingered on for more than a century in neglectful near-oblivion after its 1877 premiere in Offenbach’s intimate and still-operating Théâtre des Bouffes-Parisiens.

Thankfully NAXOS has issued a DVD of a live performance recorded at the Dutch National Theater in Amsterdam in 2014.

The cast boats a fine group of singing comic actors utterly comfortable in the style of this piece of fluff. Buffo Christopher Mortagne is a riot as King Ouf, and Stéphanie d’Oustrac shines in the dugazon role of Lazuli, along with soprano Helene Guilmétte a visual and vocal delight as Princess Laoula

Patrick Fournillier conducts with gallic élan and Laurent Pelly is the master or the scenic revels in this lovingly designed production with sets by Chantal Thomas and costumes by Pelly himself.

Rafael de Acha



Gabriel Fauré’s music, its vocal line so perfectly bonded to Paul Verlaine’s poetry and its piano accompaniments so exquisitely expressive of the underlying emotions that lie just below the surface of the words, make each of the nine songs in La Bonne Chanson nothing short of perfect, the poet and his composer perfectly marrying their intentions.

Thomas Meglioranza’s voice is ideally suited to French music. With Bernac and Souzay long gone I would challenge those who love French mélodie to find a baritone with a voice as supple, as clear, as beautiful singing this repertoire.

Beyond the mere technical requirements necessary to sing this music, Meglioranza brings to his work an uncanny ability to change the color of his voice while maintaining at all times a well-phonated vocal emission.

Reiko Uchida not merely accompanies but perfectly partners Meglioranza providing superb support with enormous sensitivity. Playing on an 1890 Pleyel that Fauré himself would have contentedly played on, Uchida proves one more time to be an ideal accompanist: attentive, independent when needed, in total technical command at all times.

These two artists convey a huge range of emotions as they wend their way through Fauré’s songs, later still giving life to Verlaine’s poetry in Debussy’ second set of Fétes Galantes, infusing those three songs with a darker pianistic and vocal coloration.

All of this seemingly happens spontaneously, never evidencing any manipulation, any changing of gears, nor any superimposing of interpretive superficiality on the music.

Poulenc’s Chansons gaillardes can tax a baritone not equipped with pristine diction and up and down the range comfort. Meglioranza has both, and he makes the most of Poulenc’s naughty musical humor and the often randy texts of the songs.

Maurice Ravel’s densely chromatic Déux epigrammes calls for unflagging legato and accuracy, again two assets our singer brings to the music.

Meglioranza opts for a whimsical ending rather than a big finish by programming Francis Poulenc’s Le Bestiaire to close his CD of French song. Guillaume Apollinaire’s six minimalistic gems make their point by inference and irony, rather than emphasis on the brittle vignettes about fauna. Thomas Meglioranza sings his Poulenc and his Ravel and his Fauré and his Debussy with plenty of panache, beaucoup style and sheer vocal beauty.

Unlike the great German song cycles, Fauré’s La Bonne Chanson and much of Ravel and Poulenc’s mélodies are all about the redemptive joys of love and its beatific accompaniments: sunlight, moonlight, spring, nighttime, trust, and safety. What a gift it is to have so much of that in THE GOOD SONG.

Judith Sherman engineered this CD, assisted by Jeanne Velonis, with excellent results.
The album is available from CD Baby as a physical CD as well as a download. It’s also on iTunes and in most of the streaming services.

Rafael de Acha http://www.Rafael’

The Poetry of Places


The Poetry of Places, Nadia Shpachenko’s CD recorded in 2017 and just now released by Reference Recordings is a celebration of new music featuring a formidable pianist in the company of top practitioners in the field.

Andrew Norman’s Frank’s House opens the CD with an ironic musical commentary on the use of contemporary construction materials overlaid upon a 1920’s bungalow  transformed by architect Frank Gehry in 1977 into a residence for his family.

The composer expresses the spirit of Gehry’s work through the juxtaposing of sentimental tunes played by pianists Nadia Shpachenko and Joanne Pearce Martin against the skills of two agile percussionists, Nick Terry and Cory Hills, interrupting the proceedings with the metallic scraping and banging of a building in progress. Poetically, Norman conveys in musical terms the improbable yet possible marriage of the traditional and the unconventional.

Throughout The Poetry of Places, Nadia Shpachenko valiantly navigates the now tranquil, now tumultuous waters of eight new works, six of them commissioned by and dedicated to her.

Set aside for a moment the technique and musicianship it takes to learn and then master Harold Meltzer’s In Full Sail, an intriguing study in musical pointillism. Meltzer’s work tackles a pianistic description of Frank Gehry’s IAC building in New York’s Chelsea. Then simply focus on the poetic sensibility and musicality required to play Meltzer’s music, and you will begin to get an idea of the accomplishments of Nadia Shpachenko.

Jack Van Zandt’s intense depiction of the massive Neolithic monument Sí an Bhrú and Shpachenko’s now muscular now delicate response to each of its six sections is transfixing, with composer and interpreter joining forces with splendid results.

Hannah Lash wrote Give Me Your Songs inspired by a visit to Aaron Copland’s former home, now a National Historic Landmark and a creative center for American musicians in Cortland Manor, NY. Her composition is a loving tribute to the tranquil environment of Copland’s bucolic refuge, here given a lyrical performance by Shpachenko.

Amy Beth Kirsten composed h.o.p.e, inspired by the transformative power of the 2015 art exhibit The Big Hope Show in The American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. Her work is childlike in its unpretentiousness, and both humorous and moving: a composition for toy piano and one female vocalist, which Shpachenko plays with the necessary light touch.

Alone, in waters shimmering and dark is composer James Matheson’s musical response to a sighting of a house on an island in the middle of a lake in Pine Plains, NY. Reminiscent in its first movement of Debussy’s La Cathédral engloutie with its massive cluster chords in the bass allowed by the pianist to linger on by the use of the sustaining pedal, the intriguing three-part tocattina moves on to a syncopated scherzo in Capillary Waves, and on to a brief final movement embodying the peace of static quietude.

Lewis Spratlan embraces a mix of mysticism and modernity in Bangladesh appositely evoking the strides made by the Asian nation’s proud people before and after the building of Louis Kahn’s National Assembly in Dhaka.

The five movement, fifteen-minute long composition never overstays its welcome by repeating itself, taking instead an eclectic compositional path that incorporates raga-like riffs and motifs, ostinato figures, and the use of pitches that become symbols of the various phases of construction of the project. Spratlan’s work is as sizeable and ambitious as the building it portrays, and is given a formidable performance by Shpachenko.

The CD comes to a close with Nina C. Young’s Kolokol, for which Joanne Pearce Martin is again called upon as second pianist. The two pianists bring to life the sounds of Russian Orthodox church bells, which the composer skillfully replicates and then manipulates all the while retaining the actual ringing of the replicas of the seventeen 13th century Danilov Bells that hang in a tower in the campus of Harvard University.

Mixing and remixing the bell sounds with multiple virtual pianos, the resulting collage defies traditional concepts of harmony, melody and counterpoint, and creates in their place a sonic tapestry that brings Nadia Shpachenko’s The Poetry of Places to a jubilant ending.

This is the trailer for The Poetry of Places:

The CD is available from

Rafael de Acha