Nicolai Gedda (July 11, 1925 – January 8, 2017) [

Nicolai Gedda sang well into his late seventies. He could do so fluently and idiomatically in flawless French, Russian, German, Italian, English, Czech, and Swedish.

Gedda made some two hundred recordings, making him one of the most widely recorded opera singers in history.

He was a late bloomer and had to work as a bank teller to pay for his voice lessons, but once he made his professional debut at age 26 (Swedish National Opera) he was unstoppable.

There were tenors who had more powerful voices or could sing higher or do whatever it is that makes some tenors more famous than others. But when it came to finesse, to phrasing, to elegance, to style, to musicianship, to musicality, to perfect diction in any languages in which he sang…well, he was in a class by himself.

He’s now up there in the company of other great Scandinavian singers…Birgit Nilsson…Jusi Bjoerling…Aksel Schiøtz

He will always be remembered by all who love great singing.


Shareese Arnold sings Songs of Love

Rafael's Music Notes

83cd0a_dce49c911ae344778fddc121ae3042dcSoprano Shareese Arnold sings Songs of Love, including Strauss’ Four Last Songs, Wagner’s Wesendonck Songs, and Schoenberg’s Brettl Cabaret Songs.

The Cincinnati 4-Way Quartetaccompanies her in the Strauss, arranged for string quartet by John Greer, and the Wagner, arranged for string quartet by Christophe Looten

Christina Lalog Seal is the accompanist for the Schoenberg songs.

The Cincinnati 4-Way Quartetwill also play Franz Joseph Haydn’s String Quartet in C Major, Op. 76, No. 3, “Emperor.”

The concert is at 2 p.m. at Historic Peterloon Estate, and is co-presented by Music For All Seasons and the Wagner Society of Cincinnati.

Reservations at

Here she sings Fruehling (Spring) from Richard Wagner’s Wesendonck Songs

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Maestro Aik Khai Pung leads the CCM Concert Orchestra in a program that includes George Gershwin’s An American in Paris – Tuesday February 7, at 8 p.m. in Corbett Auditorium. Tickets: $15. Call 513 556 4183.

·         HER NAKED SKIN

London, 1913. Women are demanding the right to vote and suffragettes are being dragged to prison during H.H. Asquith’s term as Prime Minister. Two women find comfort in each other during this period of turmoil. Rebecca Lenkiewicz authored this compelling play, which had a great success at London’s National Theatre in 2008. Nine years later, CCM’s Richard Hess brings it to the stage of the Patricia Corbett Auditorium. Six performances: Feb. 8 through 12. Tickets: $27 and $31. Call 513 556 4183.


Powerhouse French mezzo-soprano Clementine Margaine is the naughty Gypsy, Italian soprano Maria Agresta is the good girl from the Basque country, Argentine tenor Marcelo Alvarez is the undecided Don Jose, and American baritone Kyle Kettelsen is the decisive bullfighter Escamillo in the MET broadcast of George Bizet’s CARMEN, from the MET, on WGUC 90.9 FM at 1 p.m., on Saturday 11.


Soprano Sharese Arnold, pianist Christina Lalog Seal and the 4-Way String Quartet join forces performing Christophe Looten’s arrangement for voice and string quartet of Richard StraussFour Last Songs, John Greer’s arrangement for voice and piano quintet of Richard Wagner’s Wesendonck Songs. Shareese Arnold and Christina Lalog Seal also perform Arnold Schoenberg’s Brettl Cabaret Songs. The 4-Way members play movements from several of Haydn’s string quartets. Co-presented by Music for All Seasons at Historic Peterloon and the Wagner Society of Cincinnati, the concert is slated for Sunday February 12 at 2 p.m. Tickets: $30.





Old wine in new bottles



Listening to the MET broadcast of Rigoletto brought to mind how important it is to see Opera as much as it is to hear it. But for those of us who grew up back in the good ol’ days of MET broadcasts on the radio, with Milton Cross narrating (no HD back then, folks), not having the visual aspect of opera productions in front of our eyes is no big deal. We are used to visualizing our own stagings in our minds’ eyes.

And given a choice between Michael Mayer’s bump and grind take on Verdi’s masterpiece and my imagination’s very own, I’ll take mine any day.  

Back in the day, when we were old and solvent enough to afford buying a ticket to the MET, we grew to accept and willingly suspend our cynical disbelief when we saw the overweight Luciano Pavarotti parading around the MET stage in a costume a bit too tight or him. Nor did we mind many a matronly Gilda pretending to be a virginal 15 year old. When you had a sound like that of Joan Sutherland’s or Mirella Freni’s, all you had to do was to close your eyes and let that sound wrap itself around you.

All was not that much better back then than it is now. No Sherrill Milnes around any more..? No problem: there’s Serbian baritone Željko Lučić already occupying his shoes. Some dyed-in-the-wool opera fans will probably complain that Lučić can’t pop the high G’s and Ab’s and A’s that came so easy to Milnes in his prime. But, look, Verdi did not write any of those notes for his Rigoletto, Felice Varesi, and that did not seem to have any negative effect on either composer or singer.

No great Gilda’s today? I beg to disagree. Olga Peretyatko is a fine Gilda, even if those stunning Sutherland trills and high notes are not that easy to come by these days. And Stephen Costello has moved quickly into the big leagues, singing a terrific Duke. And he looks the part.

Andrea Mastroni, the broadcast’s Sparafucile, is just about the only basso profundo that I can think of in today’s business. His cavernal, black sound reminds me of that of the great Italian basso, Giulio Neri. It’s been a while since I’ve heard a voice like his. Good for the MET to bring this fine young artist to America.

So, where’s my beef? Well, it’s no beef but a mere observation. The MET, under Peter Gelb’s erratic leadership continues to trot out conceptual productions that, to my mind, contribute nothing to the cause of popularizing opera or to giving us, old and recalcitrant opera goers any new insights. We end up time and again with old wine in new bottles.

Frankly, I can pick up a nice bottle of a California or French vintage at my local liquor store and enjoy it in the company of like-minded good friends without having to plunk down either $25 for the HD presentation or, worse, an outrageously-priced ticket to the big house.

Rafael de Acha





Benjamin Britten wrote the roles in his operas for specific singers with whom he loved to work, foremost among them the tenor Peter Pears, who was in the original cast of Albert Herring, one of several Britten’s chamber operas that were produced by the English Opera Group in its early days. I bet Mr. Britten would have loved working with the cast of the Opera d’Arte production of his one comic opera.

Its feather-light plot concerns the May Day celebrations about to be held in Loxford, a Sussex backwater. A search for a virgo intacta to be the May Day Queen proves futile when all the village girls are found wanting in the…ahem…virginal department. Enter celibate, Mama’s boy, Albert Herring, and a motion is put forth to make him the May Day King. What ensues over the next couple of acts is a comic coming of age story. No spoiler to tell you that Albert disappears with his twenty-five quid prize only to return after a night of drunken revelry to finally assert his budding manhood and his raging hormones much to the consternation of the uptight townsfolk.

The music of this opera is not a walk in the village park. Lots of tricky passages abound, quotes of   everybody from Bach to Wagner fly by, and the orchestration for a dozen instruments – one to a part – is inventive and requires top-notch musicians to make it work. Jesse Leong proved his mettle as a conductor, leading the excellent opening night cast and the terrific orchestra with a firm hand and a very good instinct for accompanying singers.

Kenneth Shaw staged the work with finesse and a light touch that did not shy away from the underlying theme of this opera: the loneliness of those who are different from the pack, as personified by the painfully shy, secretly randy and tongue-tied Albert, sung here by the very fine tenor, Gregory Miller.

In the cast of over a dozen promising young singers, Maria Miller in the role of battle-ax Lady Billows commanded the stage with her comical timing and substantial soprano, Nancy and Sid were respectively sung and acted to perfection by mezzo-soprano, Brianna Bragg and baritone, Haydn Smith, and Elena Villalon was a charming Miss Wordsworth, with a high soprano voice that rode the top line in the ensembles with great ease.

The flexible set by Olivia Leigh, the costumes loaned to this production by Costume Gallery and the lighting by Marissa Childress, gave this Albert Herring an authentic English, turn-of-the-century look.

With Albert Herring, Kenneth Shaw’s Opera d’Arte again proves itself an indispensable member of the Cincinnati opera scene. There are two more performances, one on Saturday February 4 at 8 pm and one on Sunday 5, at 2 pm. They are sold out, BUT chances are that some folks who reserved the free tickets won’t show up. If you cannot get in, you might be able to catch something else at the same time at CCM, the Music Conservatory that never sleeps.

Rafael de Acha





 Cincinnati is more than rich in musical offerings. Just have a look at the current schedules for CCM, the Linton Music Series, the Catacoustic Consort, the Classical Revolution, concert:nova, the CSO, the CCO, and the infinite number of choral, sacred music and chamber music in the greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area

It is nearly impossible to find one weekend day or even a weekday when there are not two and three and more events – many of them free-admission – competing for our attention and attendance.

Our principal professional theatres in Cincinnati — and, by “professional” I mean those organizations employing members of Actors’ Equity, the union of American stage managers and actors – are two in Cincinnati. Those two theatres produce a season of – ballpark – half a dozen plays in each of their spaces. Those plays have to please a substantial number of people – the subscribers – that makes up, in a perfect theatre world, more than half of their constituency.

Each play is slated to a run for a fixed number of weeks, usually a minimum of three, with six or seven performances a week. If the artistic director chooses a play that is too controversial, too uncomfortable, too risky for a nice, conservative, predominantly Caucasian, largely middle-aged or older, well-heeled audience that can afford to plunk down quite a few dollars for a season subscription…if that happens, the theatre has trouble. Bottoms on seats means a positive balance at month’s end, which is precisely what arts boards like to see. Displease the subscribers – no bottoms on seats.

Nevertheless what I am looking for here when it comes to theatre is risk-taking.

In college theatre, the world on and off and backstage is different. The actors and stage managers and the student designers don’t get paid. Their parents pay. And the audience pays a pittance to see young talents who will most likely land a Broadway or Chicago or Hollywood gig next year. And I speak from experience here. College Conservatory of Music experience, sitting on a comfortable seat in Corbett Auditorium or Patricia Corbett Auditorium or Cohen Studio Theatre, where I have sat through some pretty amazing performances given by “kids” one third my age from the theatre and musical theatre and opera departments.

The point I attempted to make in my overly long rambling on about professional theatre in Cincinnati was not to disparage the very good work I have often seen on the stages of our two professional theatres of record in Cincinnati, but to extol the risks that the creative people at CCM take in programming plays that our two professional theatres would steer well away from, fearing the fallback they would bring.

Just around the corner CCM is putting on three shows you would likely not ever see in these parts were it not for CCM.

Next week (February 9 -12) at CCM, the Department of Theatre is valiantly staging HER NAKED SKIN, a play by Rebecca Lenkiewicz that deals frankly with several themes: social injustice, women’s rights, Feminism… It’s not Grandfather’s feel-good stage show but it will make you think and it will provoke you. Tickets: $27 and $31.  Call 556 4183 to reserve. Bravo, Richard Hess!

The Opera Department leaps way outside the operatic box tackling Conrad Susa’s Transformations, an…opera (ugh, that word again) that opera-haters and theatre-lovers will adore, what with its wacky and dense book (libretto in opera) by Anne Sexton and its grim deconstruction of the Brothers Grimm’s notion of what happened to all those fairy tale characters after the fairy tale ended. Performances on February 17, 18, 19. Tickets are free but they go fast. Call 556 4183 to reserve. Brava, Emma Grifin!

The improbable love affair between movie director Mack Sennet and silent screen diva Mabel Normand is the Musical Theatre Department’s next foray. The music is by Jerry (Mame, Hello, Dolly) Herman, Aubrey Berg directs, the CCM students (remember they are practically professional) sing, act and dance, and the show is MACK AND MABEL. It is a randy, off-the-beaten-Broadway path, in your face show. It runs at CCM, March 2 through 5. Tickets: $31 and $35 (on Broadway that would set you back three times that much…) Call 556 4183 to reserve Bravo, Aubrey Berg!

Bravo CCM!




533eb8_712e602bcd384066aada74cfabb54f62Music criticism or, for that matter, any writing about music is at its best when it happens spontaneously. For me there’s nothing mysterious in writing about music: I simply try to put into words what I hear and what my immediate response is to it. And so is the case with my written response to guitarist James Meade enchanting debut album, Canción, the Spanish word for song.

In the  first five tracks of this  sampler of Romantic Spanish music for the guitar, James Meade lets his guitar literally sing the melancholy melodies of Francisco Tárrega, the Catalan guitar virtuoso who coaxed his instrument out of Madrid’s 19th century cafes and bars and into the forefront of concert instruments.

Tárrega’s music is not all about Spanish fire and passion. His titles indicate a different Spain from that depicted in travel brochures – this is a Spain with deep roots in the Moorish culture that permeated that country’s history for hundreds of years, echoing the Spanish saying, “Africa begins in the Pyrenees.”

Recuerdos de la Alhambra (Memories of the Alhambra), Marieta, Danza Mora, Mazurka and Estudio Brillante (Brilliant Study) are given exquisite readings by James Meade, so intensely concentrated on the emotional content of the music that one is apt to overlook the technical hurdles that this musician is surmounting with unflappable ease.

Manuel de Falla – Andalusian by birth and temperament – distilled all that is quintessentially Spanish into his music, integrating into his compositions a sensibility refined by seven years in Paris during which he assimilated much of what Debussy and Ravel were all about. Thus one can hear in tracks 6 through 9 of Canción, the sound of the mature de Falla in the agile hands of guitarist James Meade: the Song of the Will O’ the Wisp (from the ballet El Amor Brujo – Love, the Magician), the Fisherman’s Story (from the ballet, Pantomima) and a third dance, Dance of the Miller (from the ballet The Three-Cornered Hat).

It was very pleasantly surprising to be introduced via this CD to the music of Agustín Barrios Mangoré. Born in 1885, the Paraguayan composer pioneered the bilingual culture of his native country by infusing much of his music with the sounds of the Guarani folk songs with which he grew up. In the last track in this album, James Meade plays Barrios’ A Dream in the Forest magically, bringing this debut CD to a hypnotic ending.

Throughout the album, the young Cincinnati guitarist James Meade amply demonstrates impeccable musicianship, profound musicality and a complete technical command of his instrument. Those qualities, married to the straightforward engineering and lovely packaging of Canción, augur well for the future of the career of this artist.

The album may be purchased directly from the artist at

James Meade plays Francisco Tárrega’s Estudio Brillante (Brilliant Study)