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

The Consul: an opera for our time

Kara Shay Rhomsoncindy sandlerLayna ChianakasTyler Alessi

(l to r) Kara Shay Thomson, Cindy Sadler, Layna Chianakas and Tyler Alessi

Dayton Opera opens its Season 2017-2018 with Gian Carlo Menotti’s THE CONSUL

When: Friday, October 20, 2017 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, October 22, 2017 at 3 p.m.

Where: In the Mead Theatre of the Schuster Center, Dayton, Ohio.

What: Dayton Opera, under the leadership of Artistic Director Thomas Bankston, will present Gian Carlo Menotti’s opera The Consul.

Other information: Tickets – $28 to $94 at (937) 228-3630.  Senior, Student and Military discounts.  Website

Dayton Opera, as part of the Performing Arts Alliance effort to make Opera a tool for social change will partner with the University of Dayton’s Arts Immersion Initiative. Dayton Opera with also join several Dayton organizations in Building Peace Through the Arts 2017,

Cast and production team:  Kara Shay Thomson (Magda Sorel), Tyler Alessi (John Sorel), Cindy Sadler (The Mother), Kenneth Shaw (Secret Police Agent), Layna Chianakas (The Secretary), with Robert Norman, Thomas Hammons, Alexander Harper, Andrea Chenoweth,  Minnita Daniel-Cox and Ryu-Kyung Kim. Director: Gary Briggle. Conductor: Patrick Reynolds.

The Consul is an opera for our time. Its theme of the struggle against an oppressive regime that persecutes dissidents, and its stifling bureaucracy are as vivid as yesterday’s national and international news.

Sixty-seven years ago Menotti’s opera ran for eight months on Broadway, going on to win both the 1950 Pulitzer Prize for Music and a 1950 New York Drama Critics’ Circle award.

The Consul is sung in English and it has a running time of approximately three hours.

Magda’s aria: To this we’ve come sung by Patricia Neway in a 1960 television broadcast of the complete opera:

Rafael de Acha   http://www.Rafael’  All About the Arts   September 23, 2017



In the case of the repertory for violin and violoncello duos the pickings are, sad to say, slim. Save for a lone Ravel here and a Scarlatti there, most of the music that is available comes from the rarified world of 19th century salon ditties. So it is all the more laudable that two young players of these instruments, Carmine Miranda and Boris Abramov, decided to collaborate on a CD of duos for violin and cello with most satisfying results. It was also fortuitous that the enterprising folks at Navona Records ( agreed to produce this GLOBAL MUSIC SILVER MEDAL award-winning album.

The parts originally written for viola in the two Mozart duos that open the CD are here played with a mellow singing tone by cellist Carmine Miranda. Violinist Boris Abramov undertakes the playing of the melody in all three movements of the G Major Duo, K. 423 and the Bb Major Duo, KV 424, conversationally sharing the musical dialogue with Miranda’s cello in a manner that makes for chamber music of the first order. Miranda is not a subservient accompanist but a collegial partner who provides a solid harmonic and contrapuntal riposte to Abramov’s violin.

The three Beethoven duos, originally conceived for two wind instruments – possibly bassoon and clarinet – are strongly classical in their formal sonata structure yet Romantic in their expansive melodic sweep. Except for the Bb major duo that carries only two movements, the other two: the C major and F major are typically early Beethoven, with opening Allegros, a middle cantabile movement, and an agile closing rondo that provides the prima voce with plenty of bravura filigree. There, again, Miranda and Abramov partner each other with refined elegance and unified musical ideas.

The CD is insightfully annotated by Miranda and lovingly produced by Navona Records’ Bob Lord. It makes for a fine addition to the library of any lover of chamber music.

The album is slated for release in November.

Rafael de Acha         www.Rafael’           All About the Arts


South of the Border

183530_10151341904336328_1114606915_nOriginally sited on 1,200 wooded acres in Indian Hill, Peterloon Estate was built in 1928 to rival the grandest houses of America and Europe. Its expansive living room provides a perfect intimate venue for the four yearly concerts of Music for All Seasons, now in its fourth year. All proceeds from ticket sales go to the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music for its Scholarship Fund.

Our next concert, slated for October 8th at 2 p.m: “South of the Border”, will feature music from Spain, Cuba, Argentina and Brazil.

eb6ced_7a7a51cb37c749379cb26ed43fb7cadb Mezzo-Soprano Kayleigh Decker

 19029652_10156322440858306_6819610218225069323_nCellist Alan Rafferty and his Studio Cello Ensemble

21742846_1421640101218558_6179240265783145514_n Soprano Chloe Legrand

21751967_1421640224551879_7529829205977201202_nPianist Jesse Leong

533eb8_712e602bcd384066aada74cfabb54f62Guitarist James Meade

DANIEL Tenor Daniel Weeks

21740065_1421641271218441_4606881735779394732_n South African pianist Eben Wagenstroom

…will share a program of instrumental and vocal music that will include…

Ignacio Cervantes’ Danzas Cubanas (

Enrique Granados’ Tonadillas (

Astor Piazzola’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires (

Joaquin Turina’s Poema en Forma de Canciones (


Heitor Villalobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras nos. 1 and 5. (

For further information and reservations please email

Rafael de Acha    http://www.Rafael’    All About the Arts     9/17/2017

Cesare Bardelli, Prince of Baritones


Cesare Bardelli, Prince of Baritones

His vocal fiber was that of a dramatic baritone but his singing was at all times lyrical, never forced or overblown. He clearly sang in the grand old manner, having studied with the great Carlo Tagliabue. Without overly modifying his vowels, even when he “covers” on an E natural for the sake of coloring more than out of necessity, Bardelli never muddles the words, the vocal emission remaining pure, steady, unencumbered by trickery or manipulations.

In a recording that dates back to the 1950’s, he delivers a spectacular Nemico della patria from Giordano’s Andrea Chenier: In the same manner he rides the perils and potential pitfalls of the Prologue from I Pagliacci (NYC, 1965) without breaking a sweat, capping it with as good an Ab as this listener has ever heard:

Sadly, the MET wasted him in second-tier roles like Alfio in Cavalleria Rusticana at a time when Merrill and Warren ruled the Verdi roost, occasionally throwing a Tonio in his direction. Other American and many European opera houses put Bardelli’s talents to better and more imaginative use. His 1966 Escamillo from Philadelphia is a case in point. With bravura by spades, handling both the high and low ends of the Toreador Song with equal ease, Bardelli is an Escamillo to the manner born.

The cantilena section in Rigoletto‘s Cortigiani: “Miei signori, perdono…” shows the kind of legato singing that is often absent from our stages these days: His Il ballen (, on the other hand, shows both the lyrical and heroic singing Bardelli could deliver back to back when he moves into the cabaletta that follows the aria.

Even though he grew up fast as a singer, debuting at age 27, Bardelli stayed vocally fresh though his retirement, singing a grueling and steady diet of Scarpias, the role becoming a signature of his. But he remained at heart and at his very core a true Verdi baritone: Ezios’ scena from Attila is a lesson in Verdian singing, bringing to life what Verdi called “lunga la linea”:

This might have just been one of the sturdiest baritone voices this listener ever heard: the longer he sang the better he got. His Scarpia, which he sang hundreds of times: justifiably earned Bardelli the sobriquet of Prince of Baritones: a well deserved, hard earned tribute.

Rafael de Acha www.                      Rafael’       All About the Arts



When the Fall Music Season gets up to speed in Cincinnati there will be more events to chose from than days in the week. Here I share our list of Top Picks for you to pick and choose.

Chamber Music Cincinnati ( )

Marc-André Hamelin, one of the finest pianists of his generation, is the first artist in Chamber Music Cincinnati ’s 2017-18 line-up. He will play a program ambitiously including several Liszt Leviathans plus rarities by Samuel Feinberg and Edward Godowsky. At Memorial Hall on Monday September 18 at 7:30 pm


Cincinnati Song Initiative (
Samuel Martin’s one-of-a-kind Cincinnati Song Initiative is here again, starting up its second season of vocal music concerts. Their first event this fall features music by Milhaud, Honegger, Poulenc, and Auric. Three singers and three pianists will be sharing the all-French program on Saturday, September 23, at 7:30pm at the intimate Willis Music Steinway GallerCincinnati Symphony Orchestra (






Cincinnati celebrates the opening of the newly-renovated Music Hall with Louis Langrée and the CSO in a program that includes Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1, Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy, John Adams’ Short Ride in a Fast Machine, and the world premiere of a work by Jonathan Bailey Holland commissioned by the CSO for the opening of Music Hall on Friday, October 6 at 8 pm, with a repeat of the same program the following day at the same time.


It’s much easier to say CCM than to wrap one’s mouth around College Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati, and it is an even bigger challenge to list all of the events CCM offers that are Top Picks for us. That said, here are just two of the dozens of concerts that will be taking in this fall as CCM celebrates its 150th Anniversary:


Tenor, Daniel Weeks with pianist, Donna Loewy, on September 18 at 8 pm, in Robert J. Werner Recital Hall, in a program of vocal music in various languages including a triptych of songs by Franz Liszt.

thAmy Johnson

The CCM Philharmonia, led by Maestro Mark Gibson play an all-Italian themed concert: Berlioz- Harold in Italy; Respighi – Fountains of Rome, and Act I of Puccini’s Tosca with Amy Johnson, soprano and Kenneth Shaw, bass-baritone.

Coming up at CCM…look out for concerts by the Ariel Quartet, Bach’s Mass in B Minor, an all-Sondheim review directed by Aubrey Berg, Bernstein’s Candide and more orchestral concerts by the CCM Philharmonia and Concert Orchestra.


concert:nova (

Artistic Directors Ixi Chen and Martin Garcia have concocted an enticing season for concert:nova that opens on October 22 at 5 pm and at 7:30 pm with two back-to-back events that feature food, drink and music  in equal portions at Dutch’s Larder.

Later on, on November 13 & 14, at 7:30pm, in the Great Hall of the Cincinnati Art Museum, Hiro Matsuo leads an exploration of J.S. Bach’s Art of the Fugue, Michael Ippolito’s String Quartet No.4, and the Grosse Fugue by Ludwig van Beethoven, with Jimmy Cunningham of the Cincinnati Ballet providing a kinetic response to the music.


Linton Chamber Music (

The 4pm Sunday Linton Chamber Music concerts at the First Unitarian Church of Cincinnati, and the 7:30pm Monday evening concerts at Congregation Beth Adam of Loveland are both indispensable elements of the music scene in town. Sharon Robinson and Jaime Laredo join Cynthia Phelps, Bella Hristova, and Peter Serkin in the first pair of Linton concerts this season, on October 1 and 2 playing Bach, Beethoven and Brahms.

Matinee Musicale Cincinnati (
Having lived since 1912 through two World Wars and endured the ups and downs of non-profit arts, the redoubtable Matinee Musicale Cincinnati will begin its 105th season with 17-year old violin prodigy Joshua Brown playing Mozart, Prokofiev, Kreusler, Szymanowski, Schumann and Waxman on Sunday, October 8, 2017 at 3 p.m. in the recently refurbished Memorial Hall.
Happy Listening!

Rafael de Acha    All About the Arts

Still looking for Verdi baritones



We recently set out to discuss the present state of singing among the rare vocal species known as “Verdi baritones” in a post of ours, Where Are The Verdi baritones?

To open up the discussion we put forward then the notion that there is a dozen or so fast-moving artists who just might be in line to collectively inherit a throne about to be left vacant by the scarcity of true-blue singers of the Verdi baritone roles. Major artists who have made Rigoletto, Simone, Di Luna and the rest of those parts theirs are approaching their sixties and winding down their careers. Others, mostly lyric voices who have attempted on their own terms to tackle the big Verdi roles have had varying degrees of success, but have failed to truly own those roles and to enter the international circuit singing the thirty six or so Verdi leading baritone roles.

We wrapped up our post with some questions and some wishes: “Are these fellows the new hope? I hope and think so. We need more young singers with the potential to keep the three dozen operas of Verdi in the repertory.”

Well. The post elicited a wide response from literally hundreds of fans coming from more than fifty countries. Among those who made sensible comments, the Americans raved about Quinn Kelsey, the Italians yelled “Bravo!” at the mention of Luca Salsi, and even a couple of Russians greeted the names of Ariunbaatar Ganbaatar and Amartuvshin Enkhbat with elation. None of that was surprising.

The nationalistic fervor made sense: who, in America is familiar with either one or both of the above mentioned Mongolians. And how many in Europe would recognize the name of the fast-rising Quinn Kelsey? That will hopefully change when and if the MET adds the names of Ganbaatar and Enkhbat to its Rolodex, and La Scala, Covent Garden or Hamburg or Vienna decide to issue Kelsey a contract.

Back in the days of the great baritone of the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s the MET boasted the likes of Americans Robert Merrill, Sherrill Milnes and Cornell McNeil. South Americans and Europeans Matteo Manuguerra, Jorma Hynninen, Leo Nucci, Nicolae Herlea and Ingvar Wixell sang the Verdi roles regularly in New York and abroad, along with their American counterparts. But in today’s world, which is getting smaller and more expensive, opera companies are tightening their budgets. That reflects in the increasing difficulty of hiring singers at the top of their game and keeping them around for a decent-length rehearsal period.

The absence of major international stars with their enormous fees on ours and Europe’s regional stages is a boon for early-career singers who are allowed to mature and blossom without the cruel exposure to the New York-London-Milan-Vienna public and critics.

So, back to Verdi baritones… Here are eleven singers whose names were suggested by several Opera-loving friends who visited www.Rafael’ to view our post. Two, with whose singing this listener is familiar were unwittingly overlooked in our original post. The other nine, one must confess, were not known by us.

These are the names we failed to mention. Click on the links. Enjoy. Comment.

Carlos Alvarez – O dei  ver’anni miei (ERNANI

Juan Jesus Rodriguez – Perfidi! All anglo…Pieta, rispetto, amore (MACBETH)

Dimitri Platanias – Alzati…Eri tu (Un ballo in maschera)

Stephen Powell – O Lisbonne (Dom Sebastien)

Nelson Martinez – Cortigiani, vil razza dannata (Rigoletto)

Jason Stearns – O dei  ver’anni miei (ERNANI (from 6:34)

Zachary Nelson – Nemico della patria (Andrea Chenier)

Simone Piazzola – Il ballen del suo sorriso (Il Trovatore)

David Wakeham – Alzati…Eri tu (Un ballo in maschera)

Scott Bearden – Di Provenza (La Traviata)

Marco Caria – Cruda, funesta smania (Lucia di Lammermoor)

Rafael de Acha  www.Rafael’ All About the Arts

The CCM Philharmonia opens the 2017-2018 Concert Season


The CCM Philharmonia opened the 2017-2018 Concert Season at the University of Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music with the Overture to Mozart’s The Magic Flute. The capacity audience at the recently-renovated and acoustically friendly Patricia Corbett Theatre greeted Mark Gibson’s impassioned conducting of what he called, in his own words, “the National Anthem of Classical Music” with an enthusiastic response.

Gibson’s crystal clear take on Mozart’s overture was evident from the iconic opening triple chords that begin the piece to the vertiginously agile allegro that ends it. The Maestro brought out the best of his sizeable ensemble, eliciting utter clarity in the back and forth dialogue between the higher and lower strings while keeping the enthusiastic brass section of the youthful Philharmonic Orchestra from drowning out the rest of the ensemble. It was interesting to note that Gibson likes to separate his first violins to his left and the violas and second violins to his right, an arrangement that allowed for the inner voices to have much presence throughout the evening.

The orchestra quickly rearranged its personnel in order to play Brahms’ Symphony no. 3 in F. The composer spoke of the recurring F-A (or Ab)-E theme as his coded “Frei aber einsam” (Free but alone) message. Gibson described it as a Doubt melodic motif which hesitates about whether to be tonally consonant or chromatically free.

Beyond that, in his introductory words to the Brahms symphony, Gibson attributed to the Brahms a questioning quality, which in the company of the joyful Mozart overture and the second half’s austerely assertive Mendelssohn Reformation Symphony formed a musical triumvirate that expressed deeply religious feelings that ranged from questioning one’s faith to firmly believing in it. It was a fascinating program which the CCM student orchestra played with the flair and technique of a professional ensemble.

Up next the Philharmonia tackles an all-Italian line up of Respighi, Berlioz and the first act of Puccini’s Tosca. Pencil in the date of Wednesday October 4th at 8:00 p.m. and secure your tickets from the CCM box office, for the performance will fill up just like tonight’s did.

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

In the good company of kindred spirits.

euclid quartetIt’s not often that one encounters the music of a 19th Czech composer on the same CD as that of one of the foremost jazz trumpeters of today. But in the recently released Afinat Records CD AMERICAN QUARTETS (AR1701), the 19th century Romantic happens to be America-loving Antonín Dvořák and the music is that of his 1893 String Quartet No. 12 in F Major, Op. 96, “American”, and the music of the 21st century musician is that of Wynton Marsalis’ 1995 all-American String Quartet No. 1, “At the Octoroon Balls”, and the players are the members of the Euclid Quartet.

From the very first track of this CD we are quite aurally assured of being in the good company of kindred spirits.

Dvořák found the inspiration to compose his “American” quartet in the bucolic surroundings of Spilville, Iowa, where a Czech immigrant community lived and thrived. There, as a guest of the family of his secretary, Josef Jan Kovařík, the Czech master found the quietude to finish his string quartet in less than two weeks. The composer was so at peace with the stillness of his surroundings that, when the insistent song of a scarlet tanager kept distracting him, he incorporated the pentatonic melody of his winged visitor into the molto vivace third movement of his work in progress.

One can speculate as to whether the many melodies in his quartet have Native American or African American origins, just as much as those in Dvořák’s New World Symphony may or may not have come from those folk sources; after all, both the American quartet and the New World Symphony were written during the three years that the composer spent in the United States.

Whatever the provenance of its melodic ideas, the F Major quartet is an enduringly mature composition that has become a staple of the string quartet repertoire. It is given in this CD an exuberantly played performance that on repeated playbacks continues to delight the listener. The Euclid Quartet has a limpid sound, a faultless technique and both musicianship and musicality – all qualities that honorably serve the music of the Czech master.

With an equal mix of precision and panache, the Euclid takes on the jazz-inflected, freely polytonal musical language of Wynton Marsalis’ At the Octoroon Balls. Marsalis’ quartet – his first – comes from a world of music in which African-American rhythms and melodic motifs comingle with Mississippi River Delta banjo tunes, New Orleans blues, Cuban Contra dances and Creole zydeko. Marsalis brilliantly spices up his multi-ethnic musical gumbo, creating a vibrantly rhythmic composition that provides the Euclid Quartet with an opportunity to successfully show their virtuosic versatility.

The Euclid Quartet will be donating their proceeds from worldwide sales of this album to the Raclin School of the Arts String Scholarship Fund at Indiana University South Bend, where the quartet has been in residency since 2007.   This CD is now available exclusively through the Afinat Store ( and will become available from most major music retailers in physical and digital formats on October 6.

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