Soon we will be ready to bid farewell and good riddance to a difficult year, one during which the not so good more than often seemed to outweigh the worthwhile. It was also a year in which the resilience of the arts and the artists who create them filled us all with hope. Here then, in random order that avoids chronology is my list of highlights good and bad, happy and sad, of the year soon to be the year that was.

  • The fall of 2021 saw the return of live performances. It was a cautious one-step-at-a-time rebirth of concerts, operas, recitals and plays in front of live audiences. It soon came to be the “new normal”, one sometimes calling for proof of vaccination and the wearing of masks, as was the case at Music Hall and Memorial Hall in Cincinnati for concerts of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Matinee Musicale Cincinnati.
  • At the College-Conservatory of Music live performances returned, including a Marriage of Figaro where all the singers could be heard in spite of being masked. In that show, a young lyric soprano by the name of Emma Marhefka shone brightly as a great Susanna-in-the-making.  
  • There was an Opera D’Arte Magic Flute available digitally with a talented student cast that managed to synchronize their singing despite the singers and accompaniment being video-taped in separate locations.
  • There are no longer any printed programs at CCM, a measure that makes sense economically and helps to avoid contagion.
  • The Cincinnati Opera and the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra both moved outdoors in an effort to bring normality back to the performing arts in our city. The opera presented cut versions of Carmenand The Barber of Seville with no scenery, simplified staging, and no intermissions. The Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra moved two concerts to Eden Park. In spite of mixed reviews from some naysayers. I tip my hat to both organizations for trying to keep artists employed and music lovers happy.
  • There were several people we said goodbye to, all connected in one way or another to the arts. Bass-baritone Tom Hammons left us even as the memory of his hilarious Majordomo in Ariadne auf Naxos with the Cincinnati Opera is still alive with those of us who saw him steal the show. Polk Laffoon, a patron of the arts and a good friend passed on while swimming near his family’s vacation home in Michigan. Tenor, Marco (Mark) Panuccio passed away, leaving behind a fine leacy of performances that highlighted a career in Opera and concerts. Farther afield the unanticipated death of Stephen Sondheim left a void with so many who in various ways were connected to his music and lyrics.
  • There were changes in Academia and in several arts organizations. Aubrey Berg who helmed the highly successful Musical Theatre program at CCM retired after thirty-two years on the job. So did fund-raising wizard Karen Tully. Two Opera notables were recruited by CCM: tenor Stuart Skelton and baritone Elliott Madore
  • LeAnne Anklam and Ann Stewart both members of the management triumvirate that has successfully run the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra for several years resigned within weeks of each other.
  • The choice of artists and repertory from several arts organizations both nationally and locally has broadened in significantly positive ways. The Metropolitan Opera opened its current season with the first opera by a Black composer in its history: Fire Shut Up My Bones, Terence Blanchard’s adaptation of Charles M. Blow’s memoir of the same title.
  • In Cincinnati, both the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Cincinnati Matinee Musicale have welcomed minority artists to their 2021-2022 seasons, which have also been enriched by the works of minority composers.
  • There were many live performances that live on in our collective memory, among them the Cincinnati debut of conductor Roderick Cox with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Conrad Tao’s playing of the Ravel Piano Concerto in the same program.
  • Starting a new season in its very own space – a flexible black box in which the audience sits just a few feet from the performers – Mutual Dance Theatre the recently renamed brain-child of artistic director Jeanne Mam-Luft brokered an artistic marriage of the Jefferson James Contemporary Dance Theatre and MamLuft&Co.Dance and brought back world class modern dance to Cincinnati.
  • Finally, the notorious MET Ring Cycle will be put to rest in some junk yard or other while a new one begins soon with a streamlined modern-dress Die Walküre that originated at the English National Opera eliciting both glowing and hate-filled reviews.

Rafael de Acha      ALL ABOUT THE ARTS

Trinidadian soprano Jeanine De Bique sings Handel


Concerto Köln conducted by Luca Quintavalle

Berlin Classics

In Mirrors, a recent release by Berlin Classics the Trinidadian soprano Jeanine De Bique, shares the spotlight in her first solo album with the recent news about her birthplace having attained full status of republic. Congratulations to both!

The Concerto Köln conducted by Luca Quintavalle excels, idiomatically supporting the soprano, who in turn shines vocally and dramatically in a dozen Baroque opera arias.

Ranging from the familiar Giulio Cesare showstoppers to rarities such as Rimembranza crudel from Germanicus, De Bique displays a superb command of the vocal technique needed to take on the demands on agility, blend of the registers, range, and sustaining power required to sing this repertory.

More importantly and not content with just singing the notes accurately, the immensely gifted Jeanine De Bique inflects the text of whatever she sings with interpretative incisiveness, fleshing out the characters whose words she brings to life: Cleopatra’s mix of enticing sexuality and vulnerability, Alcina’s manipulative streak, or Agrippina’s innate wickedness are all vividly there.

Beyond the tremendous technique and interpretative acumen present in her singing, De Bique’s luscious voice gleams throughout a two-octave plus range, always at the service of the music.

In a February of 2014 review of Jeanine De Bique’s Cincinnati debut in recital with Matinee Musicale Cincinnati I wrote: “The young Trinidadian soprano’s assertive vocalism and forceful presence left one thinking that she is no mere soubrette, but a great Lucia, Gilda, or Susanna in the making.

We are happy to report that barely eight years later our words have proven true.

Rafael de Acha      ALL ABOUT THE ARTS    

Christoph Prégardien’s Brahms

Naxos Classics has just released a nicely engineered Brahms: Complete Songs, Vol. 1, (8574268) which includes over two dozen songs from opus numbers 32, 43, 86 and 105.

At the age of 65, and after a long and distinguished career as a tenor who primarily specialized in concert and oratorio, Christoph Prégardien, now singing as a baritone, continues to cultivate the German Song repertory.

Choosing lower keys does not magically turn a tenor into a baritone, timbre above all else dictates the vocal classification of a singer, but the range of a song and, even more importantly, tessitura – the area in which the music lies – determines what the singer should be doing.

In the case of Prégardien, the lower keys chosen by him for Wie Melodien zieht es mir, Klage,  Immer leiser wird mein Schlummer, Klage, Auf dem Kirchhofe, Feldeinsamkeit, Auf dem Kirchhofe, and Wie bist du, meine Königin each and every one of these songs short in length and lyric in mood, serve him well, making few demands on endurance and instead calling for delicacy of utterance and sensitivity, both qualities hallmarks of the tenor’s singing.

Prégardien is equally impressive in the narrative songs, like Verrat, where he mines the words as only the past master he is, extracting every ounce of meaning from the dramatic tale.

We hope that Prégardien will continue to collaborate with Ulrich Eisenlohr, a very fine accompanying pianist. It is also hoped that will continue to provide song translations and program notes in the future.

Rafael de Acha      ALL ABOUT THE ARTS