Conlon Leads Powerful Concert Otello *


United States Verdi, Otello: (concert performance): Soloists, Cincinnati May Festival, James Conlon (conductor), Music Hall, Cincinnati, Ohio, 22.5.2016 (RDA)



Otello is arguably the most demanding tenor role in the Italian canon: it calls for a clarion upper voice coupled to plenty of heft at the low end of the tenor range. In constructing the opera, Verdi and Boito wasted no time in setting the wheels of the story in motion, and by the end of Act II, both the character of Otello and the audience have been through an emotional roller coaster. The tenor who undertakes this assignment faces many daunting moments, none more so than the scene ending Act II, with Ora e per sempre addio closely followed by the Sì, pel ciel duet with Iago.

Some say that when a singer is old enough to sing Otello he’s too old to sing Otello. Gregory Kunde is in his 60’s and still singing spectacularly after a long time spent performing much lighter repertory. He brings to this assignment a powerful and beautiful sound that never turns strident, coupled to a solid technique and immense intelligence. Not surprisingly the Cincinnati audience rewarded Kunde with two well-deserved standing ovations during the evening.

But Otello is not all about the title character. There are two other plum roles, as long as the singers assigned to the task are up to it. The good news is that the young soprano Tamara Wilson is a lovely Desdemona, with a creamy Italianate sound just right for this part, and Latvian bass-baritone Egils Silins is a fine Iago and an unparalleled match to his partner in the Act II duet.

In the key supporting roles of Cassio and Emilia, tenor Ben Bliss and mezzo-soprano Sara Murphy distinguished themselves, and veteran John Cheek—in a triple assignment as Lodovico, Montano, and the Herald—was a sonorous case of luxury casting.

James Conlon conducted the concert performance with the assurance and sensitivity that a career-long love affair with opera allows him to bring to the podium. His passion in leading the orchestra and May Festival choruses (both adult and children’s groups) elicited a full operatic sound from all.

Rodrick Dixon sang a 30-minute pre-concert recital with the superb accompanist Michael Chertok. Including spirituals, Schumann and Schubert lieder, French art songs by Duparc and Fauré, a song by Lee Hoiby, and the show-stopper Amor ti vieta from Giordano’s Fedora, Dixon’s singing was glorious with flawless diction, with precise and tasteful artistic instincts. I predict that in another ten years or so, this fine singer may just become the next and best Otello of his generation.

Rafael de Acha

* This review first appeared on

Sins of my Old Age

About our October 2 concert for Music for All Seasons in Cincinnati at Historic Peterloon and about our artists
Rossini was known to have said: “Give me the laundry bill and I will set it to music.”
At the age of 37, after composing forty major works for the stage, he retired, an immensely wealthy man. For the next four decades and until shortly before his death at the age of 76, Rossini wrote mostly small instrumental and vocal pieces, which he titled Peches de ma vieillese (Sins of my Old Age) and Soirees Musicales (Musical Gatherings).
Rossini meant to share his late life work only with his circle of friends in his home at Passy, a suburb of Paris. After his death they were published and became well known thanks to the efforts of Rossini’s widow and his French publisher. They are mostly light in character, sometimes sentimental and very often humorous. They can also be enormously challenging from a technical standpoint.
Flautist Suzanne Bona is the Executive Producer, Creator and Host of Sunday Baroque, the popular nationally-syndicated radio program that can be heard locally on Sunday mornings on WGUC. A Classical music broadcaster since 1987, Suzanne is a classically trained flutist, and avid reader, jogger, culinary explorer, and cat lover.
Philippine-American tenor, Allan Palacios Chan ( holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music with a Minor in Theater (magna cum laude) from George Mason University, a Master’s degree in Vocal Performance at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, and is currently pursuing his Doctorate of Musical Arts in Vocal Performance. Allan has been z Corbett Foundation Young Artist with Cincinnati Opera for four consecutive seasons, and a recent voice fellow at the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, California.
Mezzo-soprano Kayleigh Decker ( is a recent graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. She began her Master’s degree at CCM this fall. During her time in Cincinnati, she has sung the role of Peggy in Opera Fusion’s workshop of Shalimar the Clown and the Fox in Cincinnati Chamber Opera’s production of The Little Prince, and was also an Encouragement award winner in the Cincinnati District Metropolitan Opera Auditions. This past summer she made her debut with Opera Theatre of Saint Louis as a Gerdine Young Artist.
Soprano Ashley Fabian ( is currently working towards her M.M. at The University of Cincinnati College­Conservatory of Music. She is a recent winner in the national Grand Concours Franco­American competition, Orpheus Vocal Competition, Music Teacher’s National Association Young Artist Competition, and the Mid­Atlantic NATS Artist Awards Competition. She has also been a semi­finalist in the Lois Alba Aria Competition, and a Young Artist Award at Central City Opera.
Cellist Sarah Kim has enjoyed a versatile career. A native of Minneapolis, Minn., she attended the Eastman School of Music and Northwestern University for graduate work in Cello Performance and Pedagogy, with additional training in the Suzuki Method at the Chicago Suzuki Institute. Kim has worked to develop Suzuki Cello programs in area public schools and has been an active performer in the Cincinnati area, appearing with Concert Nova, Cincinnati Bach Ensemble, Taft Chamber Music, the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, Louisville Orchestra, and Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra.
Pianist and conductor Jesse Leong ( ) is working on a MM degree in Conducting at CCM, while looking forward to his post as Assistant Conductor at the Glimmerglass Opera this summer. 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 for the Wagner Society of Cincinnati, and is currently a Graduate Assistant at CCM’s Orchestral Studies and Opera Departments.
Violinist Jennifer Roig-Francolí has appeared as featured soloist with the Pittsburgh Symphony, the Berlin Symphony, the New York String Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, and the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland, and as a member of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, Concertmaster of the Illinois Chamber Symphony and the New Philharmonic Orchestra. She also performs with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and is a dedicated Alexander Technique proponent ( )



A new release of a double CD from Parma Records’s new Ansonica Records Works for big band, small jazz combo, choir, and chamber ensembles by composers Bunny Beck, Roger Bourland, Donald Bowyer, Margaret Brandman, John Carollo, Timothy Miller, Mel Mobley, and Michael Murray performed by members of the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba, the Buena Vista Social Club, Irakere, Vocal Luna  and Schola Cantorum Coralina. Executive Producer: Bob Lord; recording session producers: Dayron Ortega, Juan Manuel Ceruto, Wilma Verrier Quiñones. Recorded November 9 -13, 2015 in Havana, Cuba at the Abdala 1 Studio, Dbega Studio and Bellas Artes Concert Hall.

My review in a few words: A one-of-a-kind sampler of a happy musical marriage between eight American composers and some of Cuba’s finest musicians of today. The all-Cuban ensembles assembled for this recording have a tightly-knit sound ideally suited to the big band arrangements of the first three compositions of CD one. When the twenty or so players break up into smaller groups they make music as intimate, detailed and delicate as any classsical chamber music ensemble in the business. And the vocal groups Schola Cantorum Coralina and Luna are nothing short of spectacular. The recording sound is bright, immediate and cool as the breezes in Havana’s Malecón .

More in detail:

Timothy Lee Miller’s Hot Miami Nights are instrumentally expansive, bold compositions in which American jazz brass gestures meet more than half-way Emilio Morales’ Cuban piano language and the percussion section’s lively rhythmic underpinning with Enrique Plá and Bernardo Bolaños at the helm. Bugs and Gas by Dan Bowyer has the same personnel and attains equally satisfying results.

Bunny Beck’s Jazz Instrumental Suite and Jazz Vocal Suite scale down the players to three brass and a rhythm section in a lean pair of arrangements by Juan Manuel Ceruto, the second featuring fine vocals by Will Daley.

CD2 opens with a set of five gorgeous unaccompanied madrigals that set to the music of Roger Bourland the poetry of the recently-deceased Chicano poet, Francisco Xavier Alarcón. The all-female group that sings them is called Vocal Luna, exemplary in its intonation and floating ethereal above the staff pianissimi.

John A. Carollo’s Burlesque is a tour de force duet for the unlikely pairing of Fadev Sanjudo Rodríguez’ trumpet and Merlyn de la Caridad Corona Pérez’ guitar. The five movement piece begins with a humorous Honolulu Stomp, then sails into the dance-like Baile, baile, mi Hermosa Rosa, then on to the playful Luca has a Cadenza, followed by the thematically-connected Life is a Strange Instrument and Rosa Discovers a Strange Instrument. The composition is immensely original and quite intriguing, all the more so in the context of an album that at first appears to be focusing exclusively on jazz.

Margaret Brandman’s colorful four-part Warm Winds in Havana puts Javier Zalba’s saxophone quartet to create wonders with the composer’s jazz-inflected contrapuntal filigree work, with Andres Coayo on percussion supporting all the intricate cross-rhythmic activity with toe-tapping work on the congas.

Mel Mobley’s Coloring with Water is an inventive jazzy piece of chamber music for a superb brass trio: Maricel González Valdés, trombone, Susana Venereo Martín, French horn, and Fadev Sanjudo Rodriguez, trumpet.

The CD closes with another a capella composition:  Michael Murray’s After the Fall, a three-part setting of a poem by Jodi Kanter. It is an unpredictably somber and profoundly moving lamentation about 9-11 and its aftermath, its idiom highly chromatic, edging into atonality at times. The singers, a group named Schola Cantorum Coralina,  Alina Orraca its conductor are simply stunning in their deeply-felt, utterly musical delivery.

And a bit of background: In December of 2015 I returned for a visit to my place of birth after an absence of 54 years, accompanied by my American wife. Over the period of five days we visited some scenes from my childhood and some completely new sights. What we both found eye-opening and especially moving during that journey of a lifetime was the abundance of music everywhere we went: chamber music at 8 AM in the hotel dining room…sones and guarachas at lunchtime…Lecuona songs while we dined…guaguancós and rumbas in a cabaret floorshow…visits to the Abdala 1 studios in Miramar shortly after this double album was recorded there…a happenchance encounter with a free-lance woodwind trio and another with a Cuban cellist and his German wife and accompanist just arrived in Cuba to record an album of Bach partitas…a conversation with the mother of a young lutenist who had just gotten a brand new instrument from a Canadian source… a half-hour concert given in our honor by a chamber choral ensemble… They were all Cuban musicians whose music-making would not be stopped, even if they had to invest a month’s earnings to get a few reeds for their clarinets, oboes and bassoons or a lifetime savings to buy an instrument.

This recording is more than just a terrific opportunity for Parma Records’s new Ansonica Records to tap into unexplored corners of the Cuban-inspired music that lies waiting to be played by musicians living just 90 miles from our shores. From where I sit and listen, this is a delicious undertaking, one to be savored slowly the way one does when drinking a nice glass of Cuban rum, with which by the way, I’d like to toast Bob Lord and his Parma Records’s new initiative Ansonica Records.


In just a few years, Nadine Sierra’s warp-speed career has established her as one of the most in-demand lyric-coloratura sopranos in the opera business, with debuts at La Scala and the Metropolitan Opera already on her resume.

In the intimacy of Cincinnati’s Westwood Presbyterian Church, Ms. Sierra sang a wide-ranging program with the superb pianist Bryan Wagorn, opening with a pairing of Schubert’s “Lied der Florio” and “Lied der Delphine.” After these came Mozart’s “Ruhe Zanft mein holdes Leben,” from the singspiel Zaide, all three of which gave singer and pianist the opportunity to spin a seamless legato line.

Composed in Strauss’ mid-twenties and set to poetry by Felix Dahn, Mädchenblumen is an early career work by a composer still then in search of his own distinctive voice. Four songs make up the cycle—“Kornblumen,” “Mohnblumen,” “Ephe,” and “Wasserose,” and Ms. Sierrra sang them well, though not fully committed to memory. Mr. Wagorn was again the ideal musical partner.

Debussy’s Quatre chansons de jeunesse—“Pantomime,” “Clair de lune,” “Pierrot,” and “Apparition,” set to poetry by Paul Verlaine—range from the rapturous to the playful. The two artists brought assured vocalism, inspired music-making, and interpretive insights.

Lope de Vega wrote hundreds of sonnets, several of which he inserted into his plays, La Discreta Enamorada, La Estrella de Seviila, and Fuente Ovejuna. From these come the texts of “Cuando tan hermosa os miro,” “Si con mis deseos,” and “Al val de Fuente Ovejuna.” All three contain unabashedly sensual poetry that provided Joaquin Turina the inspiration to compose luscious music, which offers both singer and pianist a terrific opportunity to communicate poetry through song.

With radiant tone, Ms. Sierra and Mr. Wagorn turned Turina’s three-song cycle into the centerpiece of the afternoon, while extracting the meaning of every line of the poetry and every nuance of the music.

From Schubert, Mozart, Strauss, Debussy and Turina, Ms. Sierra moved on to a handful of mostly well-known songs and arias, and proved utterly comfortable in Messager’s Paris, Lehar’s Vienna, Gimenez’s Madrid, and the cosmopolitan 21st-century world of Ricky Ian Gordon, and Forrest and Wright’s Broadway.

A capacity audience was on hand for Matinee Musicale’s closing event of its 103rd season. (Next time, program notes and translations would be appreciated—there were none to be had.) The song recital is becoming more and more of a rarity these days, but this fulfilling afternoon gave hope that with artists such as Ms. Sierra and Mr. Wagorn, the future bodes well for lovers of vocal music.

Rafael de Acha