Our old friend, tenor Henry Price alerted us to the recent posting on You Tube (https://youtu.be/wxEsheyl3-8) of a 1978 City Opera La traviata with him in the role of Alfredo, the Rumanian soprano Mariana Nicolescu as Violetta, and the late Puerto Rican baritone Pablo Elvira as Giorgio Germont. The Hungarian maestro Imre Pallo leads the NYCO orchestra at a fast clip. The recording is a typical vintage pirate one, complete with occasional coughing and Bravi from the audience.

Ms. Nicolescu sounds great, with a darkish middle voice and fearless high notes, plenty of flexibility for Sempre libera and enough heft to get her through the heavier second and third acts unscathed. Pablo Elvila, a true Verdian baritone delivers a great performance as Germont, with one of the most beautifully sung Di Provenza this listener ever heard. Henry Price is impeccable as Alfredo, with clarion top notes and a lovely lyric tenor voice that serves him well in his duets with Violetta and in a perfectly sung Dei miei bollenti spiriti. Price is not fazed by the more dramatic moments in the gambling scene in act two, which he sings with a keen understanding of text and character.

The comprimarios are all top notch and they bring to mind what a treasure trove the old City Opera was. Ditto for the chorus and orchestra, led by Pallo at times with breakneck tempi but always sympathetic to the singers.

For those of us who feel nostalgic for the great years of City Opera and wonder what became of so many young singers who got their first breaks on that stage, this You Tube link is a welcome gift.

Rafael de Acha   http://www.MusicNotes.com


Yo-Yo Ma, playing Bach, in an amphitheater in Athens on a starlit night.

athens_preview-800x455This is not going to be a review. It will be simply an account of the event that took place on a summer night on the same site where a couple of thousand years ago Greeks and Romans held concerts for an audience upwards of 5,000 people. In the case of this solo concert there could have been several thousand people, but as one watches this video there scarcely a sound emanating from the large crowd while the music plays. It is only at the end of each piece that the silence is broken by applause.

In June of 2019, Yo-Yo Ma sat down in front of an audience in the Herod Atticus Odeon in Athens and for the space of a couple of hours played the six suites for unaccompanied cello of Johann Sebastian Bach. The event was captured on video and has just been released by CMajor Entertainment in DVD (754408) and Blu-ray (754504) formats. Also included in it is a bonus interview with Yo-Yo Ma himself.

Yo-Yo Ma, always the friendly populist, equally generously open-hearted whether playing at Carnegie Hall for the well-heeled or for a casually-dressed young group of Greeks in an outdoor facility in Athens or anywhere in the world, enters the open-air stage of the Odeon wearing black pants and a black long-sleeved shirt, eyeglasses and his ever-present disarming smile. He does not bow but casually salutes the audience with his right arm, cello and bow in his left one.

He then sits down and plays. And casting a spell during which time seems to stand still there is only him – the intermediary – bringing us so close to Bach that we feel as it is just us and the music and neither nothing nor no one else. That kind of spiritual state of tranquil stasis is rarely brought about in today’s concert world.

In my personal recollection only very few artists – those who loom in my memory as giants of music – have elicited that intense an experience. Casals and Segovia, both in Havana, way back when my parents started taking me to concerts with them. Years later, Gérard Souzay, in an all-Fauré recital, at the Salle Pleyel, in Paris.

And now, Yo-Yo Ma.

Rafael de Acha http://www.MusicNotes.com




It would not be unreasonable to label the extraordinary Canadian pianist Stewart Goodyear as a Beethoven specialist, given his lifelong passion for the music of that composer and his ongoing commitment to record the piano works of the Bonn master and to play them in live performances.

But Goodyear’s prolifically varied output says otherwise, encompassing as it does everything from Bach to Gershwin.

Here in my enthusiasm I digress, as my task is to comment on Goodyear’s recent 3CD ORCHID CLASSICS (ORC100127) impressive release of all five of Beethoven’s concertos for piano and orchestra.

The Piano Concerto No. 1 was first performed by the composer himself in Vienna in April of 1800. Labeled number one in the Beethoven catalogue it was in reality Beethoven’s third piano concerto, although first to be published.

With Andrew Constantine superbly helming the BBC Orchestra of Wales, Goodyear is in fine and free fettle in the First, asserting himself in the opening Allegro by first playing firmly but with a perfectly light touch, then blossoming into a fully-voiced extended cadenza without obscuring the classical restraint of this 1797 work while letting us know in no uncertain terms that he is a past master of the grand gesture.

The opening of the ensuing Largo is exquisitely and intimately played by Goodyear as in a solo with the kind of nobility and intense musicality listeners have come to associate with his music making. In due course the orchestra joins him all the while maintaining the mood of quiet intensity that is ultimately changed into a lively Allegro Scherzando.

In 1795 Beethoven performed a piano concerto of his that later got published in 1801 as No.2 in B flat, Op. 19. Perhaps more under the influence of Mozart than any of his other piano concertos, this youthful work still reveals the musical DNA of Beethoven, with an unflagging balance of underlying passion and clarity of surface. Here again Stewart Goodyear uses joyful playfulness in the opening Allegro, delicacy and unflagging legato in the second movement, and dancelike humor in the final mock-Turkish Rondo.

The uncertainty of the date for the composition of the Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor, Op.37, can lead to more confusion as to the chronology of Beethoven’s concertos for the piano, although its 1803 premiere along with the Second Symphony and its subsequent publication in 1804 situates it following the first that is really the third and the second that is really the first.

But cataloguing vagaries aside, what is clear in this recording is the mix of nobility of utterance, classical elegance, pure joyfulness, and underlying wistfulness with which Beethoven imbues this quintessentially Romantic composition, both of which Goodyear mines, coming up with pure musical gold.

By the completion and premiere of the Piano Concerto No.4 in 1806, with Beethoven as soloist, the composer had hit his stride, writing with an assurance and a command of structure and style that made the newspaper of record exclaim it to be “the most admirable, singular, artistic and complex Beethoven concerto”.

And indeed, structurally novel and groundbreaking in its repetition of a melodic kernel from the first into the subsequent movements, and finally in its way of linking movement to movement, the fourth appeared to be the ne plus ultra of 19th century compositions for piano and orchestra. Little did anyone know that the monumental Emperor Concerto was just less than four years away.

Here as in the previous four concertos, Stewart Goodyear is in command of some unreasonably challenging music. Just listen to how he handles the separate though parallel voices in the first movement, with a rumbling bass controlled by the artist’s left hand and a right hand that steadily draws a plangent singing tone out of eighty-eight ivories and an undetermined number of taut metal strings.

Listen to the all-in-service to the music approach Goodyear takes with not for a moment any hint of self-aggrandizement or pizzazz or posing or posturing yet imprinting into every bar of music the mark of a refined spirit.

It is lamentable that the current world-wide health crisis has brought to a temporary standstill the performing career of this protean pianist. At least we have a temporary palliative in Stewart Goodyear’s recordings.

SAMPLE: https://youtu.be/JDcL9QSPD4A

Rafael de Acha http://www.MusicNotes.com



A Macbeth that would have pleased Verdi

Performance from the MET 2019 season
Conductor – Fabio Luisi  Production – Adrian Noble
Macbeth – Željko Lučić Banquo – René Pape Lady Macbeth – Anna Netrebko                         Macduff – Joseph Calleja

Verdi would have been happy with the results achieved by Adrian Noble and Fabio Luisi in this unfussy and straightforward production of Macbeth, just as he would have likewise been satisfied with the pairing of Anna Netrebko and Željko Lučić as the couple whose vaulting ambition (in Shakespeare’s words) leads to rack and ruin after they commit a string of murders to ascend the throne of Scotland only to rapidly descend into ignominy, suicide (hers) and his death at the hands of his avenging enemies.

Neither Željko Lučić nor Anna Netrebko offer much in the way of sheer vocal beauty. No need for that in this transitional work that preceded the lyrical beauties of Rigoletto and La traviata. Instead they offer exciting, high decibel singing coupled to honest acting. But then, if we are to believe Verdi’s writings about his 1847 Macbeth, the Maestro was not expecting vocal beauty from Marianna Barbieri-Nini, his Lady Macbeth, whom he described in his diary as “una donna con una voce brutta,” (a woman with an ugly voice) expecting instead of bel canto a full commitment to text and dramatic intention.

In that respect no one could ask more of Anna Netrebko, whose blazing performance is admirable notwithstanding patches of stridency and occasional off-pitch singing. Lučić is a convincing Macbeth: strong of voice and physical built, a good actor and a fine singer in a role deemed among the hardest in the Verdi baritone canon. The part lies high, and it calls for extended declamatory singing in the upper range of the baritone voice. There have been many other baritones who have gone on to essay the role of Macbeth at the MET but I cannot think of another singer active in the opera business today better suited to this role.

René Pape is a first-rate Banquo, dignified and vocally splendid in his aria Come dal ciel precipita. Joseph Calleja delivers a good performance capped by a stirring Dalla paterna mano. Special kudos to the always hard-working, good singing MET chorus, whose sopranos and mezzos are terrific as a coven of witches dressed like church ladies I would certainly not like to have as next door neighbors.

Rafael de Acha




In 1762 Christoph Willibald von Gluck saw the premiere of the first of three versions of the story of the mythical poet who goes to hell and back in search of Eurydice, his dead beloved.

In 1609 Claudio Monteverdi tapping onto the same legend penned in one single stroke of genius L’Orfeo, the first true-blue dramma per musica barely years after the Peri-Bardi-Caccini triumvirate struggled to flesh out something similar to – they surmised – what the Greeks must have had for their tragedies: dramatic action coupled to vocal and instrumental music.

But no amount of perspiration can supplant sheer inspiration, and that is the very element that Gluck’s most famous opera lacks, something quite evident in the 2019 MET production of Orfeo ed Euridice, just recently broadcast on a Saturday afternoon and possibly soon to be available free on the MET nightly offerings on the company’s website, for both of which this listener is more than grateful.

To elaborate just a bit more on the comparison between both works: Monteverdi lets us navigate the emotional journey of Orfeo from elation over his future prospects to the shattering news about Eurydice’s death to his journey to Hades to his renewed joy when Pluto and Proserpine allow him to take her on his trek back to the world above and on to the catastrophic moment in which he glances back at Eurydice, against the warnings he received in the netherworld, losing her forever, and finally on to his ultimate redemption through the mercy of the gods above.

Past the mythological overload of the story there is a basic dramatic/theatrical tenet present in Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo: show me, don’t tell me.

By contrast, Gluck’s version, straight-jacketed by Calzabigi’s stiff classical libretto is theatrically wan, no matter how sublime much of the music is. And in the MET version, all we end up with is an endlessly numbing string of recitatives and ariosos during which we get mostly variations on Orfeo’s heartbreak invariably set to slow tempi. Not even the last minute introduction of the god of love can help the sameness of the first hour plus of the opera.

The role of Orfeo was initially created by the Italian castrato Guadagni and revived seven years later by another castrato in the Parma version. It was not until the Paris staging that the French tenor Legros assumed the role. I‘ve always favored the casting of a male singer in the title roles of both the Monteverdi and the Gluck versions.

The MET chose to assign the title role in this production to the fast rising mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, whose big, dramatic sound with its full-throttle vibrato is better suited to the Verdi/Wagner/Donizetti repertory that she has been cultivating of late than to the long-lined, classically elegant, text oriented Gluck style.


Odious as comparisons might be, the reader might want to have a look/listen at the young French mezzo-soprano Marianne Crebassa’s video of the work (see https://rafaelmusicnotes.com/2019/10/10/orphee-et-eurydice-to-hell-and-back/). And if a true contralto is what one would wish to have in this part, check out Delphine Galou and/or Sonia Prina, both early music specialists, both visually and vocally perfectly suited to the role of the young poet of antiquity.


Casting of Opera in the 21st century is becoming more and more about physical appearance in balance with vocal qualifications. In this respect German, French, English, Scandinavian, Spanish and Russian opera companies are way ahead of our American opera companies which, with a few notable exceptions continue to neglect in their casting choices how a singer looks. Their attitude seems to be one of tolerance of unsuitable looks and/or poor acting skills in favor of  how good the voice is. But both voice and looks count equally in today’ opera world, and companies that lag behind in this respect are falling behind the times, and their audiences are letting them know.

Let the boys be boys and the girls be girls and let the role of Orfeo one conceived by both Gluck and Monteverdi to be sung by a full-blooded male countertenor or haute-contre, go to one of these male singers of which there are plenty from which to choose, Juan Diego Florez, for one (see https://rafaelmusicnotes.com/2019/02/07/orfee-et-Euridice/).


Rafael de Acha


niv ashkenazi Violins of Hope is an artistic and educational project that utilizes instruments once owned by Jewish musicians, many of which were played in concentration camps and ghettos. Israeli luthiers Amnon and Avshalom Weinstein have collected many of these instruments, refurbishing them to concert quality, and in this singularly engaging album, violinist Niv Ashkenazi and pianist Matthew Graybil bring to life music by many Jewish composers both dead and alive, including Serenade by Robert Dauber, Nigun by Ernest Bloch, the theme from “Schindler’s List” by John Williams, The Chassid by Julius Chajes, Bestemming: Triumph by Sharon Farber, Trois pièces de concert by Szymon Laks, Dance of the Rebbitzen by George Perlman, both Berceuse Sfaradite and Three Songs Without Words by Paul Ben-Haim, and Kaddisch by Maurice Ravel.

For many of us the names of Robert Dauber, Julius Chajes, Sharon Farber, Szymon Laks, George Perlman, and Paul Ben-Haim might not be well known and their music unjustly neglected, yet listening to the music in this recording I was quite taken by the sweeping Romanticism of Robert Dauber’s Serenade, the melodic richness of Paul Ben-Haim’s Berceuse sfaradite and Three Songs Without Words and by the dance-like flair of both Dance of the Rebbitzen by George Perlman and Julius Chajes’ The Chassid. The inventiveness of Trois pièces de concert by Szymon Laks anchored as it is in an early 20th century aesthetic, and the engaging sweep of Bestemming: Triumph by Sharon Farber were immediately arresting and now remain memorable, making this listener eager to hear more of this wonderful musical treasure trove.

The download I reviewed contained three tracks (12, 13, 14) whose composers did not appear on the list I failed to obtain, my apologies if this is my oversight.

Throughout the CD the immensely gifted Niv Ashkenazi and Matthew Graybil, his superb collaborative pianist both play soulfully imbuing the music with appropriate emotional depth though never falling prey to sentimentality. Altogether a worthy project, Violins of Hope provided this listener with a lovely listening experience.

Anyone interested in reaching out to the artists, please contact Mr. Ashkenazi at niv@nivashkenazi.com or through his website http://www.nivashkenazi.com. The album can be found physically and digitally on Amazon and Albany Records, digitally on iTunes, and on Spotify for streaming.

Rafael de Acha    http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com