During 2021 ALL ABOUT THE ARTS (c/o posted 114 articles and reviews, receiving 14,454 visits from 9,794 arts lovers from the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, Canada, Germany, France, China, Ireland, Netherlands, Israel, Australia, Brazil, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Japan, Sweden, Poland, Hungary, Hong Kong, Belgium, Russia, Ecuador, Argentina, Lithuania, Denmark, Austria, South Africa, Norway, Finland, India, Belarus,  Singapore, Mexico, Ghana, Greece, Taiwan, Indonesia, Ukraine, Turkey, New Zealand, Portugal, Romania, Thailand, Czech Republic, Armenia, Malaysia, Kazakhstan, Serbia, Bulgaria, Egypt, Iceland, Latvia, Trinidad & Tobago, Luxembourg, Georgia, Chile, Slovakia, Puerto Rico, Croatia, Colombia, Estonia, Venezuela, Honduras, Barbados, Vietnam, St. Kitts & Nevis, Cuba, Mongolia, Malta, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Pakistan, Slovenia, Iraq, Tunisia, Uzbekistan, Morocco, Kenya, Mianmar, Panama, Guam, Faroe Islands, Vanuatu, Uruguay, Albania, Macedonia, Mauritius, El Salvador, Syria, Macau, Dominican Republic, Bahrain, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Uganda, Kuwait, Gernsey, Peru, Moldova, Saint Lucia, and American Samoa.

To each and every one of our readers we say: Mille Grazie! Merci Beacoup! Vielen Dank! Muito Obrigado! ¡Muchas gracias! Multe mulțumiri! Baie dankie! Shumë faleminderit! شكرًا جزيلاً!  Շատ շնորհակալ եմ! Mnogo hvala! Много благодаря! 深谢之! Puno hvala! Mnohokrát děkuji! Mange tak! Hartelijk dank! Suur tänu! Maraming salamat! Paljon kiitoksia! დიდი მადლობა! Σας ευχαριστώ πολύ! תודה רבה! बहुत धन्यवाद! Nagyon köszönöm! Kærar þakkir! Liels paldies! Labai ačiū! Многу фала!   ᠲᠤᠢ᠌ᠯ ᠢᠶᠠᠷ ᠲᠠᠯᠠᠷᠬᠠᠵᠤ ᠪᠠᠢ᠌ᠨ᠎ᠠ ! Tusen takk! Wielkie dzięki! Благодарю! Много хвала! Veľká vďaka! Najlepša hvala! Stort tack! Çok teşekkürler! Велике спасибі! Rất cảm ơn!


For creative people in the arts – many of them free-lancers who live from gig to gig – economic stability and security are most often uncertain. Now in the midst of the current pandemic their financial challenges have increased thousand-fold.

A long-tem friend, an unemployed set designer and theatre teacher is “… mostly bored…going through the thousands of photos from my travels. I also participate in an occasional on line scavenger hunt with other artists and theater folk. It’s a lot of fun and it raises money for various causes…”

Now that the pandemic has become a world-wide crisis, freelance artists and even those previously employed by major orchestras, regional theatres and dance companies are all facing major life decisions: “Do I move in with my parents or friends or move out of the big city or even consider a career change…What can I do to survive?”

Another long-term friend – a sound designer, sounds off a somewhat positive note: Well, my work has pretty much stopped short. I haven’t been employed since mid-March (2020) … all my summer shows have been cancelled. I can’t say that I haven’t enjoyed the break however. Having months off to decompress has…allowed me to reflect on what being a freelance designer means…Now that I’ve been home with my family for so long, I see how important that is to me and I will concentrate on a better work-life balance…”.

Here is one of two musicians: “We put together a 5-day virtual violin intensive – like a camp – a crash course on music theory, violin technique, sight reading, and more! The biggest unfortunate reality for us was being unable to travel… and visit my grandparents – something (we) have done every summer of our lives. Thankfully, they are all healthy and know how to video call!”

In spite of having lost many gigs – one of them an entire concert series that she directs, this young musician is grateful for a ‘drive by’ concert that a neighbor hired her for and for the opportunity to grow a vegetable garden.

These are just some of the stories about artist friends from the world of the performing arts – a world in which almost all activities can only be pursued in conjunction with others. Solo instrumentalists need most of the time a pianist or an orchestra or at the very least another instrumentalist. A theatre designer needs a technical staff to flesh out his design concept.

A young man that we know has lost his part-time work both as an accompanist to singers and as a music librarian, on top of his work playing for various churches around town.

All of it is on hold.

A composer of our acquaintance who has made a successful living in New York for most of his working life has left the Big Apple now that work has all but dried up and has come home where rentals are cheaper and where he hopes to diversify his income by doing some part time teaching.

A bass-baritone and voice teacher has been able to continue doing his instruction on line, but most all up and coming singing gigs have vanished from his schedule. He is even contemplating the possibility of doing a recital on line. As a tenured professor in a major music conservatory he holds out the hope that a projected student production that he is slated to direct and co-produce will take place, although the school, in his words “has had to reorganize and rethink, and in some cases reprogram the entire season.”

Some stories, like the one about a pianist and her husband, a composer are compelling.

“Like many of our colleagues, we were very sad to see the cancellation and postponement of performances and projects for which we were very excited. However, we have been extremely lucky to be able to take part in projects in response to COVID-19 (such as) our own series which merges experimental video, photography, and contemporary music. This extra time has given us the opportunity to reconnect with nature, slow down our speed, and work and practice in new and rewarding ways…We both have found so much hope and imagination from our colleagues and the arts during this pandemic, and we want to share that positive message as much as possible.”

Designers, instrumentalists, singers… They all need an audience. They need Federal, State, and City assistance. They need governmental and private entities, donors, foundations, corporations to step up to help, so that the artists in our country can continue to do their work in pandemic America, to lift up our spirits and alleviate our cares and our grief.

Rafael de Acha ALL BOUT THE ARTS


Antonin Dvorak – RUSALKA

UNITEL DVD – Recorded live at the Teatro Real, Madrid, November 202

Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Real, conducted by Ivor Bolto

Stage Director: Christof Loy

The water nymph Rusalka (soprano Asmik Grigorian) wants to be human, especially since she saw in the distance across the lake in which she lives a handsome Prince (tenor Eric Cutle).

Her father, Vodnik, a water goblin (baritone Maxim Kuzmin-Karavaev) warns her that if she assumes a human form she will then lose her voice (the worst of fates for a soprano) and that her happiness will depend on the Prince’s fidelity: should he prove unfaithful, she will be cursed.

Not heeding the warnings of her father, Rusalka asks the witch Jezibaba (mezzo-soprano Katarina Dalayman) to help her walk without the aid of a crutch. We assume this orthopedic device to be a substitution in Christof Loy’s confusing staging for the fish tails all water nymphs are supposed to have.

But I digress.

Now that Rusalka can walk barefoot and even dance en pointe (don’t ask) she is getting married after getting thoroughly groped by the ill-mannered Prince (some more of Christof Loy’s clumsy staging).

A foreign Princess (soprano Karita Mattila) manages to seduce a couple of the wdding guests (male ballet dancers) before bedding down the Prince himself, much to Rusalka’s silent displeasure.

Now that the Prince has broken his oath of loyalty to Rusalka, the curse is on. The hapless tenor is now walking with the aid of crutches (more of Christof Loy’s puzzling staging).

The witch Jezibaba now informs Rusalka that she can be given water nymph immortality by kissing the Prince. But there is one small detail: Rusalka’s kiss will kill the Prince. The Prince gets his kiss. He dies. Rusalka walks back into the lake, no longer a fish out of water.

End of the three-hour-long opera.

All of the above takes place in a set vaguely resembling a large room devoid of furniture. Rusalka spends most of the time in bed, in a white slip. The water sprite sports a three-piece suit. The time and place of the action are left up for grabs. The singing is very good. When it comes to the acting, the principals appear to have been left to their own devices. The orchestra can’t be faulted.

But the stage director…

Rafael de Acha    ALL ABOUT THE ARTS


What first struck me about the UNITEL CD of the Theater an der Wien 2020 production of Ruggero Leoncavallo’s lyric comedy Zazà is how very contemporary in spirit this neglected 1900 gem is.

Written just a few years after Pagliacci and preceding by decades the composer’s other equally neglected operas and operettas, this story of an ill-fated vaudeville performer is blunt, true to life, and deserving of a place in the repertory of those opera companies in search of vehicles for three first-rank leading singers who can look the part, sing Leoncavallo’s demanding music, and act with conviction.

Like Pagliacci – another opera about performers – the story of Zazà deals with the music hall star of the same name who becomes entangled in a passionate love affair with the married businessman Milio Dufresne. The fellow performer Cascart is infatuated with Zazà, but his feelings are not reciprocated by her.

The Unitel DVD features a cast of twenty-two gifted singing actors, led by the superb soprano Svetlana Aksenova, who has been building an international career in Europe, singing a repertoire that ranges from Puccini’s Tosca and Madame Butterfly to Tchaikovsky’s Lisa and Tatiana. Temperamentally suited to the character, Ms. Aksenova acts the title role with a mix of tempestuousness and sensitivity, looks like what the role is: a very pretty show business star, and sings with intensity and assurance a role that is anything but easy.

When I first read that the English baritone Christopher Maltman was featured as Cascart – an Italian baritone part long associated with the likes of Sammarco, De Luca, and Amato – I wondered if he could deliver what the role demands. More than just surprised I was impressed by Maltman’s committed handling of the challenging role, including a beautifully sung Zazà, piccola zingara and a lovely Buona Zazà del mio buon tempo.

Nicolai Schukoff plays the role of Dufresne with an edgy mix of insouciance and earnestness, handling very well the high tessitura of the part of the duplicitous Frenchman.

The remainder of the cast escels as singing actors under the precise direction of Christof Loy, in a staging enhanced by the set of Raimund Orfeo Voigt and the costumes of Herbert Barz-Murauer. Stefan Soltész beautifully leads the ORF Radio Symphony of Vienna and the Arnold Schoenberg Choir with insight into the Verismo of Leoncavallo.



In the NAXOS DVD of the 2020 Opera Comique production of Jean-Philippe Rameau’s tragedie-lyrique Hyppolite et Aricie the staging is at odds with the often sublimely beautiful music of the enlightened French Enlightenment 18th century composer.

Rameau’s music is all balance of thought and feeling, aesthetic symmetry, elegant restraint, and concealment of artfulness all for the sake of artistry, and in this production, Raphael Pichon’s leadership of the Pygmalion orchestra and chorus is, all well and good, superbly idiomatic.  

In contradictory and confusing contrast, the staging of Jeanne Candel and Lionel Gonzalez, and the sets by Lisa Navarro and costumes by Pauline Kieffer are all about European Regietheater in which more is less. That is too bad, because a superb French cast of Baroque specialists does great justice to Rameau’s music as it works against the untidy stage direction, the come-as you-are costumes, and the just plain silly scenery.

For those not up on Greek mythology, the story is about the love between Hyppolite (the escellent tenor, Reinoud von Mechelen) and Aricie (the lovely and very pregnant soprano Elsa Benoit) – a passion which ultimately either unconsummated or merely preserved for all eternity in a magical garden of delights (paradise?) well out of the reach of Hyppolite’s vengeful father, King Theseus (the superb baritone Stephane Dregout) and Phedre, Hyppolite’s lustful stepmother (the fine mezzo-soprano Sylvie Brunet-Grupposo).

While deities and demons and worshippers and priestesses at the Temple of the goddess Dianne do their divine or devilish or mortal best and worst to derail the inevitable triumph of love over all obstacles earthly and otherwise, though all to no avail, the soloists sing up storm against the adverse tide of Fate.

I do not advocate for bringing back the sort of reverentially stodgy productions that many of us endured in our salad days, when the MET and other American opera companies and music conservatories first began to explore the yet-to-be-discovered riches of the 17th and 18th century lyric stage.

And yet I would much rather prefer not to watch stagings of Rameau and Lully and Handel and Monteverdi in which the proliferation of post-modern theatrical clichés overwhelms the music and trips up the singers.

Therefore and in the meantime and while a happy marriage of good music-making and reasonably intelligent staging is arrived at, I will content myself with listening to the music.

Rafael de Acha     ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

Good wishes

In little over three weeks we will be ready to bid farewell and good riddance to this difficult year, one during which the bad more than often than not seemed to outweigh the good.

But 2021 was also a year in which the resilience of the arts and the artists who create them filled us all with hope. In America, Broadway and off-Broadway and some of the regional theatre have begun to open up cautiously.  One step at a time symphony orchestras and opera companies and concert series and performing arts conservatories and pop and jazz and rock and all kinds of music enterprises are starting to operate again. Musicians and performers of all kinds are beginning to return to work after being furloughed or laid off or put on hiatus for close to two years. These are all hopeful signs.

I have kept busy reviewing recordings and live performances and writing about the arts for this blog, and that has kept me creative and productive all these years even through the worst of the pandemic.

Life has been and continues to be quite good and rewarding for me and for my loved ones, and I never cease to count our blessings.

I am taking this opportunity to reach out to each and every one of you: my readers near and far. I have appreciated your reading my posts and loved listening to the music I review and making your acquaintance even if separated by time and distance.

Let this post – possibly my last one for the year 2021 – carry to each and every one of you and yours all over the world my heartfelt good wishes.


Alexandre Kantorow plays Brahms

“In 2019, when Alexandre Kantorow, at the age of 22, became the first French pianist to win the Gold Medal at the Tchaikovsky competition, his program included no less than three works by Johannes Brahms.”

“Two of these, Piano Sonata No. 2 and the Rhapsody in B minor, he went on to record for release on his previous, highly praised recital disc, which was awarded distinctions such as Gramophone’s Editor’s Choice, Diapason d’Or, and Choc de Classica.”

“The Brahms interpretations won Kantorow particular praise – the Guardian (UK) described them as ‘magisterial’ while the website ResMusica placed his sonata ‘among the great reference recordings of the piece – if not the modern one.’ “

“There is much to look forward to, then, when Kantorow releases an all-Brahms album with a playing time of no less than 85 minutes. He opens with music by a composer of a similar age as himself: Brahms wrote the Four Ballades in 1854 while only 21 years old, taking up a fashionable genre introduced by Chopin as late as 1840.”

“The set is followed by the even earlier Sonata No. 3 in E minor which forms the center of the program. The sonata is of almost symphonic dimensions and it was indeed, along with its predecessors, famously described as a disguised symphony by no one less than Robert Schumann.”

“To bring this stormy, impassioned album to a close, Kantorow has chosen a later, and contrasting work: With a lifelong admiration for Bach, Brahms in 1879 made a piano arrangement, for the left hand alone, of the iconic Chaconne from Partita No. 2 for solo violin – a composition that Brahms himself described as ‘a whole world of the deepest thoughts and most powerful impressions’.”

Re-posted from the text accompanying the annoucement of the release of the Kantorow CD.



In Cincinnati several musical organizations cautiously began live performances. We were not able to catch the return of the Cincinnati Opera or that of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, both coming back to live performances in temporary outdoor venues in the summer. As the fall set in and indoor performances began, we caught these favorites:

Matinee Musicale came back

After a year long hiatus, the 108-year young Matinee Musicale opened their 2021-2022 season with WindSync, a wind quintet whose five members played authoritatively, elegantly, with adroit technique, and with great fun.

Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra up close and personal

In his auspicious debut with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra Roderick Cox arrived largely unknown to a Cincinnati audience still in the midst of pandemic restrictions. Within a few moments after the start of the concert it was clear that we were in the presence of a fully matured and impressive maestro.

In the same concert Conrad Tao took on Ravel’s Piano Concerto and brought out both its lyrical and its zany aspects, conquering all of its technical hurdles in a performance that brought the audience to its feet. Tao returned for an encore: Sunday, from Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George in a moving performance.

Back to School

In September Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music began its line-up of performances for 2021-2022 with a concert by the Philharmonia Orchestra, led by Mark Gibson, who paced the eighty-plus young musicians in an impassioned performance of Mahler’ First Symphony that reminded the listeners in Corbett Auditorium of what treasures this orchestra and their conductor are.

In November, at CCM, a production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro was blessed with imaginative stage direction by Robin Guarino, an elegantly chameleonic set by Tom Umfrid, pretty costumes by CCM design student Meredith Buckley, the conducting of the gifted young student Brian McCann – a last minute replacement to lead the very nice student orchestra, and in the role of Susanna, Emma Marhefka, a young soprano we will be hearing about in the very near future.

Modern Dance is back

Starting a new season in their very own space – a flexible black box in which the audience sits just a few feet from the performers, Mutual Dance Theatre – an artistic marriage of the Jefferson James Contemporary Dance Theatre and MamLuft&Co.Dance – delivered an exciting evening of dance in November.

Rafael de Acha     ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

The good and bad librettos of contemporary operas

Zachary Woolfe’s NY Times review of the MET’s production of Matthew Aucoine’s Eurydice ends with a little preview of things to come: “Brett Dean and Matthew Jocelyn’s eerie 2017 adaptation of “Hamlet” arrives in the spring. Premieres by Kevin Puts, Missy Mazzoli, Mason Bates, Jeanine Tesori and others are on the horizon, as are overlooked works of the past few decades, like Anthony Davis’s X: The Life andTimes of Malcolm X.

I hold some hope for the operas Zachary Woolfe speaks of other than Hamlet by Brett Dean, a poor version of the original minus most of Shakespeare’s text.

I fervently hope that none of them will turn out to be be as irrelevant to my life as Aucoine’s Eurydice or some of the contemporary operas the MET has been trotting out over the past several years.

I passionately embrace the music of much contemporary Opera, whereas I am often sent into a stupor by many of their libretti, both by their lame dramaturgy and by subject matters that hold no interest for me as a Latin man living in 2001 America.

The recent MET producion of Fire Shut up in my Bones with words and music by Terence Blanchard resonated for many of us – Black or White, Straigt or Gay – with its story about growing up Black and Gay in 20th century America. On the other hand, a modern dress reworking of the Orpheus myth won’t say anything that Monteverdi and Striggio or Gluck and Calzabigi already said much better.

Here in Cincinnati our Cincinnati Opera has been developing works that have gradually enriched the repertory of Opera companies across the United States.

Coming up this season the Cincinnati Opera is bringing two world premieres: William Menefield‘s Fierce with a libretto by Sheila Williams, and Castor and Patience with music by Gregory Spears and a libretto by Tracy K. Smith. Both these works deal with the Black experience. Both will surely speak to a multi-racial audience in our ethnically diverse Cincinnati.

Farther afield, the MET is not only developing new artistic projects but also planning to take some of them outside its 3,800 seat behemoth of a house and collaborate with other producing and presenting organizations, among them Lincoln Center – with its plethora of smaller spaces – and the New York Public Theatre, all in an effort to find the right kind of spaces for chamber operas that would get lost in the opera house.

Blue, an opera with music by Jeanine Tesori and a libretto by Tazewell Thompson takes place in Harlem, where a couple celebrates the birth of their firstborn child. Tragedy  strikes the family years later, when the son is killed by a white officer.

Tesori is also working on an operatic adaptation of George Brant’s Grounded, about a female fighter pilot reduced to operating drones during her pregnancy.

Missy Mazzoli’s opera Lincoln in the Bardo based on the George Saunders novel of the same title and set in set in an intermediate space between life and rebirth deals with the president’s grief at the loss of his son, Willie.

Both Tesori and Mazzoli will become the first American female composers with works to be produced by the MET in over one century.

The Hours, a new opera jointly commissioned by the MET and the Philadelphia Orchestra, with music by Kevin Puts and a libretto adapted from Michael Cunningham’s novel of the same title tells the story of three women whose personal and working lives interconnect.

Mason Bates’ The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, an operatic version of Michael Chabon’s novel about two Jewish cousins before, during and after World War II is also being planned.

Rafael de Acha      ALL ABOUT THE ARTS    

Stewart Goodyear – an extraordinary pianist

Every time I hear Stewart Goodyear play I am reminded of what an extraordinary pianist he is. That just happened when I received a copy of his CD Phoenix from the enterprising label Bright Shiny Things.

Flawlesly engineered, mixed, and mastered by Daniel Shores, elegantly produced by Dan Mercurio and Louis Levitt, and nicely packaged and designed by Marian C. Holmes and Julia-Buz, the CD was recorded back in February of this year and just released. It features an intriguing selection of contemporary music by Jennifer Higdon, Anthony Davis, and Stewart Goodyear himself.

Accompanying the new music is Debussy’s La cathedrale engloutie and L’isle joyeuse, in addition to Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.

First things first: the music. Anthony Davis’ compelling Middle Passage forcefully depicts in dissonant and often violently dramatic music the trans-Atlantic slave trade in which millions of enslaved Africans were transported to North America, the Caribbean, Central, and South America in subhuman conditions. It is harrowing music that tells a disturbing story and literally grabs the listener and won’t let go.

Goodyear gives Middle Passage an energetically played reading, as he does his own Caribbean-inflected Congotay, a joyous incorporation of Trinidadian Soca rhythms into a classically-grounded pianistic technique.

Jennifer Higdon’s Secret and Glass Gardens takes its title and gives it musical meaning in music both mysterious and crystalline that avails itself of an expansive vocabulary of massive chords, glissandi, arpeggios, and subtle snippets of melody while avoiding a firmly central tonality.

As with Jennifer Higdon’s Secret and Glass Gardens, Stewart Goodyear capitalizes on the delicate aspects of Debussy’s quintessentially Gallic music: nobly serious in La cathedrale engloutie with those bottomless chords, and riotously happy in L’isle joyeuse.

The longest piece in Goodyear’s CD is Modeste Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. A suite made up of an introduction which comes back several times in between its ten episodes, the 1874 composition for piano by the 35 year old composer fares far better with this listener than the all-too-much Ravel arrangement for orchestra. Here, in its original form, Goodyear takes judicious tempi much closer to Mussorgsky’s originally intended ones, bringing out the clarity of the work and the humor inherent in many of the sardonically descriptive episodes: Bydio, Ballet of Un-hatched Chicks, The Hut on Hen’s Legs, and the majesty in The Old Castle and The Great Gate of Kiev.

Stewart Goodyear closes the CD with a work titled Panorama – a work so Cuban-sounding that even this Havana-born listener was fooled into thinking it was the music of my compatriots Alejandro Garcia-Caturla or that of Amadeo Roldan I was hearing.

Thank you for the memories and thank you for all the good music!

Rafael de Acha                  ALL ABOUT THE ARTS