Last week we saw two operas, both French, one at the MET, one at Juilliard. The MET’s production of Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette is actually a La Scala/Salzburg Festival co-production revived this season to please those in the MET audience that cry out for more French Romanticism and less Sturm und Drang. In order to satisfy that demand the MET has also included in its 2018 season its first ever production of Massenet’s Cendrillon, which alas! I could not catch as it hadn’t yet opened while we were in NYC to satisfy our hunger for operatic haute cuisine.

At Juilliard we had a fine afternoon listening to Rameau’s gorgeous music for Hippolyte et Aricie while enjoying the work of some two dozen plus young artists who are still perfecting their craft as members of various ensembles as undergraduates, or as graduates on an Artist Diploma track. Without exception their work was stellar, due in great part to the training they receive from a faculty that includes stage director Stephen Wadsworth, choreographer Zack Winokur, and a phalanx of top-notch vocal, musical, movement, diction and acting coaches and master teachers.

French Baroque Opera has a complex set of demands for the singing actor, greater than many other operas in the canon. There is above all the French language – highly poetic in the hands of Quinault, Rameau’s librettist and immensely important in the telling of the convoluted story of Hippolytus, the hapless love object of Phedre, his stepmother, and the son of King Theseus.

Rameau was re-inventing French opera, half a century after Lully had created the first masterpieces of Baroque French tragedie lyrique, and he wove a seamless musical tapestry in this, his operatic debut at the age of 48, giving his singers pages and pages of accompanied recitative punctuated now and then by an arioso and very rarely by an ensemble. Instead choruses and dance sequences are interspersed throughout the opera’s five acts not merely to enliven the action but to tell the story and drive forward the action.

Portraying characters driven by fate rather than by psychology demands a cast comfortable with the style of French Baroque opera. Add to that the necessity to move comfortably about in period costumes and make it all look real, and the cast of this opera had its work cut out for it. Even though Hyppolitus is the co-protagonist of the opera, it is Theseus he who comes across as central and intrinsic to the denouement of the crazy-quilt story.

Bass-baritone Alex Rosen nobly held the stage for long stretches of time, delivering Rameau’s music as sonorously, comfortably and stylishly as one could ever hope for, especially in his invocation to Jupiter, Puisque Pluton est inflexible. Rosen will be singing Seneca in the upcoming production of Monteverdi’s Incoronazione di Poppea in this summer’s Cincinnati Opera, and we look forward to his debut.

Soprano Onadek Winan was a vulnerable, forthright Aricie, and guest haute-contre Kyle Stegall a sterling Hyppolite.  Soprano Natalia Kutateladze stopped the show cold a couple of times with her fierce singing of the role of the conflicted Phaedre.

The production is handsome, and scene changes smoothly transition from infernal darkness to Arcadian spring thanks to David Lander’s spot-on lighting. Charlie Corcoran’s set and Sarah Cubbage costumes perfectly straddle Greek classical references and Louis XV decadence.

Director Stephen Wadsworth and choreographer Zack Winokur keep it all aloft, and musical director Stephen Stubbs in the pit and often at the harpsichord keeps the performance on track.

At the MET, our seats at the Grand Tier provided a perfect view of a massive set by the usually reliable Michael Yeargan, whose take on Verona, is not the one of Shakespeare’s Renaissance, but a dark-hued 1700’s one which steadfastly resisted transforming itself into anything else. This was a lamentable setback that consigned the ill- fated loves of the tale to a public display of love-making on a flat platform situated smack dead center stage and presumably in the middle of Verona’s busiest marketplace.

The mixed metaphor then continued into the marriage scene in Friar Laurent’s cell again in the middle of things, and lastly into the tomb scene. Bartlet Sher’s production came off as a mixed bag in which metaphor and slice of life uneasily shared the stage.

The supporting cast was solid: Laurent Nouri’s convincing Capulet, Joshua Hopkins mercurial Mercutio, and Kangchul Youn’s fervent Friar Laurent were faultlessly cast. Placido Domingo is steadily developing into a first-rate conductor: he led well and remained ever sensitive to the singers.

Juliet is a tricky part. When first she appears we encounter Shakespeare’s painfully shy fourteen-year old singing about her wish to live freely as in a dream. Four acts later she has become a woman capable of feigning her own death so as to live in connubial bliss happily ever after. But Gounod places vocal demands on his protagonist that clearly call for a full-voice lyric soprano capable of matching her Romeo high note for high note in a couple of hefty duets. Ailyn Perez might just be the ideal Juliet for Gounod’s version of the classic tale. On opening night she sounded guardedly cautious at first, but by the time she got to the final scene she had thrown all caution to the wind and held the audience transfixed with impassioned translucent singing.

Bryan Hymel was to have sung the title role but took ill and had to be replaced by Andrea Shin. The Korean tenor made an auspicious debut, singing a lovely  Ah! Leve-toi, soleil! and navigating well through tricky blocking, difficult sword fights, and perilous music. He set all doubts to rest with glorious singing and well-intentioned acting.

But let the MET provide the two lovers with some privacy next time around!

Rafael de Acha


NRR2013112553_1SOFT LIGHT is the title of a recent release by the métier label that has of recent been producing quite a great deal of new music. With the participation of SHONORITIES, a group that includes Shie Shoji on vocals, Naomi Sato on soprano saxophone and Japanese sho, Lin Lin on flutes, Stelios Chatziliosifidis on violin, and Jasmina Samssuli at the piano, composer Basil Athanasiadis offers a soothing sampling of seven of his compositions.

All ten tracks are nothing but mesmerizing quietude as their titles immediately and prior to listening indicate. Both Air Still and The Cat in Love are vocal settings of haikus, the first peaceful and meditative, the second whimsical. The instrumental tracks contain music that embraces both the western roots of the composer – Greek born, English-trained at Trinity College and at the Royal Academy of Music – and his study and complete assimilation of Japanese music acquired while living and doing research in Japan. The results are absolutely intriguing and immensely satisfying, leaving this listener in a state of completely peaceful relaxation.

Unlike western music with its frequent reliance on motif development, rhythmic drive and contrapuntal intricacy, this is music that hues closely to a Japanese aesthetic based on simplicity of utterance and purity of expression. Hence there is not one single moment of bombast in all of this CD. Instead Athanasiadis offers the listener a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of a world where noise has come to supplant the sort of soothing sounds of silence that Basil Athanasiadis embraces quietly and unobtrusively intersperses with his calming compositions.

Rafael de Acha               http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com                       April 7, 2018


enrico chapela

Music and mathematics have long been studied and written about as strongly connected to one another. For Mexican composer Enrico Chapela, music and mathematics seemed to be joined at the hip if we but look at the titles of many of his compositions. Chapela’s Radioaxial is having its world premiere at Music Hall on Friday April 6 and 7, and we had an intriguing visit with the composer on the morning of the concert.

We opened what had been planned as an interview but quickly developed into a laid-back conversation by asking how could a composer of such cutting edge music as his make a living in Mexico. Chapela’ response (and note I do not quote him verbatim) was as measured as our question was blunt. In his case, indeed, it has been possible to dedicate all his time during the last fifteen years to making, teaching, playing and composing music in his homeland and internationally.

There has been a great deal of support for all his dedication and hard work, and that has allowed the 42-year old composer to finally phase out a formerly heavy teaching load to devote all of his time to composing, as commissions keep coming in and with each new commitment weeks of intense labor that balances inspiration with perspiration.

Chapela mines forms and sounds as diverse as those of the national music of his homeland, heavy metal rock, jazz, electronics and above all the corners of an inexhaustibly creative imagination. The composer flat out rejects the label “classical music” which he rightly says can only be used to describe the compositions of 18th century masters. Instead he prefers the simpler label – if one need be used – of ‘contemporary’ music.

Much too busy with the here and now of his world to worry about the future of concert music, Chapela writes from the gut and from the intellect, crafting music that has blown off the roofs of many august institutions where his music has been conducted by the likes of Essa-Pekka Salonen and Gustavo Dudamel, and played by large ensembles – Los Angeles Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony Orchestra – and small groupings of instrumentalists interested in what lies beyond rather than in what has preceded the music of today.

Enrico Chapela’s Radioaxial premieres as part of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Season 2017-2018.

Rafael de Acha http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com April 6, 2018

Listen to: https://youtu.be/_bplOksJTWQ : The Philharmonic Orchestra of the Autonomous National University of Mexico plays Enrico Chapela’s Lunática, conducted by Niksa Bareza




In a 1994 New York Times piece titled, “Tonality is Dead: Long Live Tonality” musicologist Michael Beckerman cried out (I paraphrase ) that writing tonal music in the halls of Academia (Columbia University specifically in his case) in the 1960’s and 1970’s was tantamount to death. Imagine then, this being the second decade of the 21st century what composer Joshua Fineberg would encounter were he to write some innocuously pretty music that could inconspicuously play in the background while we visited with friends or played cards. Not to worry: Fineberg is safe. His music – not to say that it is ugly – is…well…not “pretty.” It demands for you to listen. Really listen. Daydreaming is not allowed.

Joshua Fineberg writes about his music as well as he composes it. His prose is dense and complex, and, once you are done reading his words you will want to settle down and listen to the music. Upon a first hearing one could wrongly ascribe the four selections in Sonic Fictions, a collection of compositions by this American composer, to just about any number of experimentalists. But make no mistake, this is quintessentially original music.

Absent harmony, melody and counterpoint – the centuries-old triumvirate of western music in operation from the Renaissance on, all we have left is pure sound: acoustic or electronic. And pure sound is delivered by Fineberg, in spades, in four exotically-titled compositions: “L’abime” (The abyss), “just as much entangled with other matter” (all in lower case, in case you wondered), “La Quintina”, and “Objets trouves” (Found objects). The four compositions clock in total at 63 minutes, averaging 10 to 18 minutes per, so, as I said before, plan on settling down before you put the metier (msv 28564) excellently engineered release on your CD player. You will be rewarded. I certainly was.

The players are beyond reproach: the Talea Ensemble on the first track, accordionist Pascal Contet on the second, the Arditi Quartet on the third and the Argento Chamber Ensemble on the closing one. All these artists walk dangerous territory bravely and elegantly.

Listening to this music reminds me of a Jorge Luis Borges short story that depicts an unending journey down a hallway lined up with doors on either side. The surrogate narrator/character (think Borges himself) would open any one of these dozens, hundreds, thousands of doors. Once opened. that door would reveal yet another hallway lined up with as many doors as the one before. The operation would be repeated ad infinitum leading not to nowhere but to unexplored new passageways down which the adventure seeker would wonder. That sort of journey to what is just beyond those doors is what Fineberg’s music evokes for me.

Rafael d Acha   http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com   April 4, 2018



This post to bring to the attention of our readers an extraordinary violinist, Irina Muresanu.

Rumanian by birth, she now lives in Maryland and teaches at the University of Maryland. Sono Luminus recently released the album Four Strings Around the World (DSL 92221) and forwarded to us a copy for review on our blog.

When you have a chance, email Sono Luminus for a digital link to Four Strings Around the World. Or even better, find a hard copy of this beautifully engineered CD. I promise you will be stunned by not only the virtuosic playing of Irina Muresanu’s playing but also by her deep commitment to exploring music for her instrument from musical cultures as diverse as Indian, Persian, Native American, Irish, Chinese and Argentine ones. Oh, and read her liner notes. This is a musical scholar who gives voice to her ideas both in words and in her playing.

In her album she mixes samples of an off-beat repertory with sundry pieces by Kreisler, Paganini, and JS Bach. The Caprice No. 24 of Niccolo Paganini, Fritz Kreisler’s Recitative and Scherzo, Op. 6 and JS Bach’s Chaconne from the D minor Partita are de rigueur test pieces for the best of violinists and Irina Muresanu quickly puts any doubts to rest: this is a superb artist in full command of her instrument. She plays the Italian master’s Caprice with Romantic bel canto singing tone. The Kreisler is all pure Viennese Schlagmusik here given a lively reading. The Bach Chaconne – a notoriously tricky musical mine-field is played by Muresanu with classical sobriety

None of the rest of the music in this album is strictly and traditionally classic, but grown from strong folk roots. Such is the case with Georges Enescu’s decidedly gypsy-flavored Airs in Romanian Style, which Muresanu plays with the dash and abandon of a village fiddler and with daunting technique.

In the Gaelic Tar éis an Caoineadh the composer and Ms. Muresanu employ all sorts of technically dazzling effects typical of Irish fiddle music. In Reza Vali’s Calligraphy No. 5 the inspiration for the composer is born out of ancient music for the Arab rebab and the Persian kemancheh, both ancestors to the western violin. In both these compositions Muresanu is nothing short of dazzling, as her violin imitates the bending of the pitch typical of much Iranian music with its modal, non-western sound.

In Shirih Korde’s three-part Vak for violin and electronic drone Muresanu’s playing is hauntingly redolent of the sound of Indian string instruments. In Bright Sheng’s lovely The Stream Flows: II, Mureanu adopts a percussive mode of playing that alternates with a plangent sound reminiscent of a Chinese erhu.

The music of Astor Piazzolla’s Tango Etude No. 3 is cool at times, red hot at others, recalling the sound of fiddles played in dimly-lit, smoke-filled dives near the docks of the River Plate. Muresanu cuts loose on this track fearlessly throwing all caution to the winds.

Entering the musically unknown territory of Native American composer Jerod Impichchaachaha’Tate, of the Chickasaw Nation, Irina Muresanu plays Oshta with intensity and respect for the spirituality inherent in this strangely haunting composition.

Mark O’Connor’s The Cricket Dance is Appalachian to the core and foot-tappin’ and fiddlin’ her way into a grand finale, Irina Muresanu convinces us there’s simply nothing in this world she cannot play.

Rafael de Acha http://www.rafaelmusicnotes.com April 2, 2018