The Secret Garden


The Musical Theatre Department of the College-Conservatory of Music at UC pulled off yet another stunning production. This time it is a top-notch mounting of Lucy Simon and Marsha Norman’s magical musical The Secret Garden.

Other than the superb guest director and choreographer Connor Gallagher, the imaginative set designer Joshua E. Gallagher, and the unfailingly great costume designer Dean Mogle, everyone else in this superb production on and off stage is a student. That in and of itself is pretty close to a miracle, considering that what the capacity audience witnessed tonight on the Corbett Auditorium stage was a show on the level of a Broadway hit production.

Jeremy Robin Lyons in the pit led the sizeable orchestra in a musically flawless performance, drawing out terrific turns from a large cast headlined by Zoe Mezoff as Mary Lennox, Delaney Guyer as Lily, Madison Hagler as Archibald Craven, and Sam Pickart as Dr. Neville Craven. In significant supporting roles Anna Chase Lanier as Martha, Kurtis Bradley Brown as Dickon, and Jenna Bienvenue as Colin stood out in a cast of two dozen uniformly gifted singing, dancing, acting talents.

To get to the punch line I would encourage those readers still not holding tickets for this show to cancel whatever else you have planned for this weekend and give the box office at CCM a call at 513-556-4183 and try and see if there are any tickets left for any of the remaining three shows this weekend. You will not regret it.

Rafael de Acha



HUSH! Is the title of the debut CD of Papagena, a group of five women singing a cappella every imaginable kind of music, from Pop to Medieval to Folk to Slavonic to you name it.

They handle Russian, Hebrew, Romanian, Georgian, Sephardic, Greek, Latin, Italian, Bulgarian, Celtic, and perfectly enunciated English with aplomb. Their musicianship is unimpeachable and their cohesive sound a thing of wonder. They sing idiomatically and when Romantic vibrato is undesirable they are able to pull back into a straight-toned approach that suits the music of Hildegard von Bingen and Scarlatti to perfection.

They are sopranos Elizabeth Drury, Abbi Temple, Suzzie Vango, and altos Suzie Purkis and Sarah Tenant Flowers, all-five superb singers and marvelous musicians.

You can visit Papagena at and order a copy of this nifty gift of gentle music, guaranteed to keep all the noise out there at bay.


Rafael de Acha


United States: Inon Barnatan (piano), Dorothea Röschmann (soprano), May Festival Chorus, Robert Porco, director, Soloists, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra / Louis Langrée (conductor). Cincinnati Music Hall, 03/01/2020 (RDA)

Beethoven: Symphony No. 6, Pastoral
Beethoven: Ah! Perfido
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 4
Beethoven: Symphony No. 5
Beethoven: Selections from the Mass in C
Beethoven: Choral Fantasy

On December 22 of 1808, the management of the Theater-an-der-Wien in Vienna condescended after much dilly-dallying to let the 38 year old Beethoven have the theater for one night so that he could have a benefit concert three days before Christmas, just as the Viennese got ready for the biggest holiday of the Austrian calendar.

With Beethoven’s friend and sponsor, Prince Von Lofkowitz in a theater box and a sprinkling of Vienna’s aristocracy in attendance, the concert got off to a rocky start when the already partially deaf Beethoven insisted in conducting the four-hour long marathon.

The maestro had barely had the ink dry on some of the parts he had hastily handed out to the orchestra for a reading at first sight of the premiere of some of his most difficult music.

When things went awry at one point Beethoven stopped the orchestra and asked them to repeat the passage and to get it right this time. The offended musicians, a ragged pick-up group of Vienna’s free-lancers acquiesced, but bad blood permeated the remainder of the night and Beethoven’s days in Vienna.

The soprano who was to sing the concert aria Ah! Perfido cancelled at the last minute, and the young beginner who took her place was a bundle of nerves who sang off-pitch, to add insult to injury.

The audience members who had shelled out two guilders (a workman’s monthly salary) for admission to the four-hour long event sat on uncomfortable seats in the unheated theatre, wearing their coats and scarves.

It was altogether a wretched situation rescued from the brink of disaster by the sheer glory of some of Beethoven’s gems, including both the symphonies nos. 5 and 6, the piano concerto no. 4, excerpts from the C major Mass, and various and sundry bits and pieces from the Beethoven bucket list.

Beethoven took home a good portion of the box office intake and he never looked back

Over two hundred years have gone by, and this year being the one when we celebrate Beethoven’s 250th Happy Birthday, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra has stepped up to honor the Master with a two-part, two-day Beethoven Fest.

I am happy to report that without a hint of any sort of Viennese disaster, the CSO’s event was a smashing success.

With four hours of music to account for, space constraints limit one’s evaluation of this event, but I will say that during both halves: the two and one half hours part one in the afternoon and the one and one half hour part two in the evening the audience never grew weary.

The CSO gave as an opening an exquisite rendition of the Pastoral Symphony, which was followed by Dorothea Röschmann’s memorably extraordinary singing of Beethoven’s concert aria Ah! Perfido, a perfect vehicle for the noted German soprano’s stylishly classical delivery, and her signature dramatic sound, alternating steely invective and melting forgiveness in her plea to one who deserted the female character of Beethoven’s powerful scena.

This long-overdue Cincinnati debut merits a return in an upcoming season.

Pianist Inon Barnatan gave a noble reading of the Piano Concerto no. 4 before the Beethoven-saturated audience and artists took a break. He would come back in the second half to do an imaginative improvisation on themes by Beethoven.

In between the two halves of the concert the ballroom of Music Hall functioned as Beer Garden, where a Viennese buffet was served and bit of Beethoven mixed with bits of Beergarten um-pah-pah permeated the atmosphere.

At the top of the second half Beethoven’s Symphony no. 5 received yet another A+ delivery from the CSO musicians, led by the indefatigable Louis Langrée, providing such a musical climax that one thought it impossible to follow with anything other than good night and safe home.

But the concert continued well into the early evening with the May Festival Chorus clamoring to the Heavens in a shattering delivery of the Sanctus from the Mass in C, with the peerless soprano Janai Brugger, the impressive mezzo-soprano Joyner Horn, the sterling tenor Thomas Cooley, and the very fine bass-baritone Nicholas Brownlee up front doing superb solo and ensemble work.

The finale was, as in 1808, Beethoven’s seed for what would eventually become the final movement of his Ninth: the Choral Fantasy, with all the evening soloists and the May Festival Chorus playing up a storm and singing for all their worth the words of the work’s unknown poet: “Welcome the gift of Art, all you blessed souls! When love and strength combine the grace of God is yours to have!”

Rafael de Acha    http://www.Rafael’



After I watched the Munich production of Leoš Janáček’s final opera, From the House of the Dead, now available on video from Bel Air, I went to my reliable guilty pleasure, You Tube to find some points of comparison between this Bayerische Staatsoper mounting and any previous staging, possibly one originating on this side of the Atlantic.

All that You Tube could come up with were a few video games bearing the same title. But since both Janacek’s take on Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s original and this particular production are as far removed from the Russian original as the Siberia which provides the setting for the opera is from us, I decided instead to have a look at Dostoyevsky’s novella itself.

Written in 1861 by Dostoyevsky, a literary giant who himself spent time in a Siberian prison camp, the work is a harrowing and rambling tale about a man imprisoned in 19th century Russia for murdering his wife. Why Janacek thought that this  yarn of sadness and suffering had the makings of an opera evades me. But write it he did, after having under his composer’s belt two great lyric dramas: Jenůfa and Káťa Kabanová.

But mind you, Jenůfa with its story about love against all odds and at all costs offers, as the gloomier Káťa Kabanová does a cathartic ending that unfortunately the nearly all-male From the House of the Dead is sorely lacking. Janacek’s unrelenting tale of cruelty among caged men offers little relief of any sort throughout its nearly two-hours, intermission-less duration. After yet one more scene of physical and mental abuse I found myself tempted to turn off my computer. But I persevered.

Frank Castorf’s production is quintessential Eurotrash Regietheater incarnate. We get interminable dumb-shows, as a sort of visual-dramatic interludes out of which one cannot make heads or tails. We get snippets of German, Spanish, Russian spoken, sung, and projected both on stage screens and on the video version I watched, in that case competing with the subtitles for those of us not fluent in Czech, which provides nearly 90% of the sung text.

We get video all over the place: video cameramen walking around among the singers, video images counterpointing though never ever supporting or explicating what is happening on stage. The costuming is a hodge-podge of periods, complete with incarcerated men wearing furs, others in drag. A ballerina portrays the metaphorical wounded eagle of the original tale, reducing the proceedings to silliness.

The cast and the marvelous Simone Young in the pit leading the superb Bayerische Staatsoper orchestra must be saluted for their endurance and for maintaining their dignity in spite of all the directorial nonsense. Among the more than twenty named roles, veteran bass Peter Rose is a standout, as is the Czech dramatic tenor Aleš Briscein, who manages to make his mother tongue, beset as it is with consonant clusters sound lyrical, when not dealing with the parlando setting of much of the text.

After a brief trial and on the evidence of this mess I would condemn the production’s director to a few months in a Siberian camp for egocentric stage directors, and exonerate everyone else for merely trying.

Rafael de Acha



The Greek poet Constantin Cavafis (1863 – 1933) on the need to embrace our journey not simply longing for the objective.


When you set out on your voyage to Ithaca
Ask that the road be long and filled
With adventure and new experiences,
Fear neither the Leastrygonians nor raging Poseidon.

You will never encounter such beings on your journey
If your thoughts are lofty
And pure are the emotions
That fill your spirit and body.

Neither Anthropophagi nor one-eyed monsters,
Nor the savage sea-god shall you encounter
Unless you carry them inside your soul
And they rise up within you.

Ask that the road be long
And that the summer mornings be many
When you joyfully arrive, filled with pleasure
In ports never seen by you before.

Stop at the emporiums of Phoenicia
And behold the beautiful goods
Of mother of pearl, coral, amber, and ebony.
And enjoy all manner of sensual scents.

The more you see, the better.
And learn, learn from the Wise
Do go and visit many Egyptian cities
And learn, learn from the Wise.

Always keep Ithaca in your mind,
For it is your Destiny to get there.
But do not hasten the journey:
Much better it is for it to last years.

And drop anchor on that isle
When you are old and enriched
By all that you garnered on your way there,
Rather than waiting for Ithaca to make you rich.

Ithaca provides you with a beautiful voyage
Without which you would not
Have embarked on that journey
But it no longer has anything to give you.

Even if you find Ithaca impoverished
You were not deceived,
So that now, all the wiser from experience
You have come to know the meaning of Ithaca.

Music for All Seasons announces its eighth season of concerts: 2020-2021


Music for All Seasons announces its eighth season of concerts: 2020-2021

October 4, 2020 at 2 pm – Music of the Spanish and Italian Baroque

Gaspar Sanz Selections from Instrucción de música sobre la guitarra española
Luigi Boccherini Guitar Quintet No. 4 in D Major G 448 ‘Fandango’
Antonio Vivaldi The Seasons

December 6, 2020 at 2 pm – Our Annual Pops Concert & Silent Auction
Artists to be announced

March 7, 2021 – Music for Guitar and Violin

Johann Sebastian Bach Partita No.1 in B minor for Violin, BWV 1002
Niccolò Paganini Grand Sonata for Violin and Guitar
Heitor Villa-Lobos Twelve Studies for Guitar
Astor Piazzolla History of the Tango

May 2, 2021 – Music for the Piano

Joseph Haydn – Piano Sonata nº 59 in E flat
Maurice Ravel – Le Tombeau de Couperin
Claude Debussy – Petite Suite for Piano Four Hands

Ariadne Antipa, piano Kimberly Daniel, narrator Rafael de Acha, narrator                    David Goist, violin Martin Hintz, viola Jonathan Lee, cello James Meade, guitar            Kanako Shimasaki, violin Mariko Shimasaki, violin                                                                Eben Wagenstroom, piano Christopher Wilke, Guitar

All concerts at Historic Peterloon Estate, 8605 Hopewell Road, in the Village of Indian Hill.

For further information visit us at and/or email us at for reservations.


untitledHandel’s Partenope in Cincinnati
February 20-23, 2020 at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Cincinnati, Ohio.

Caleb Glickman, conductor
Director – Greg Eldridge

Claire Lopatka – Partenope     Nicholas Kelliher – Arsace      Grace Kiver – Armindo              Tyler Johnson- Emilio              Christina Hazen – Rosmira/Eurimene                                  Justin Burgess – Ormonte

With a comically convoluted plot chockfull of mistaken identities and romantic ambiguities, who would have thought that Handel’s Partenope would enter the repertory of the most daring of today’s operas companies! But Partenope is here to stay, and thanks to the fine production CCM has just delivered one is easily convinced that this comic opera’s staying power is well earned.

The plot is filled with confusing twists and turns that can disorient and ultimately distract the audience from Handel’s musical riches, including gems that provide satisfaction even when delivered by young singers-in-the-making.

Partenope calls for no chorus and a cast of six: two sopranos, one mezzo-soprano (since true contraltos rarely roam the earth), a tenor and a bass. In addition there’s a part originally written for Antonio Bernacchi, one of the great castrati of Handel’s time, which is usually undertaken by a countertenor in today’s opera business. The singer of the role of Arsace gets at least one of those show-stoppers that call for insanely difficult coloratura passages delivered at warp speed. The immensely promising countertenor Nicholas Kelliher delivered the aria di bravura Furibondo spira il vento with the assurance of a much older artist. The dusky-voiced mezzo-soprano Christina Hazen stood out vocally and dramatically in the travesti part of Rosmira/Eurimene.

The CCM singers handled with aplomb the sensible staging by Greg Eldridge, which allowed a mix of comical histrionics and recognizably human behavior. Caleb Glickman led the Baroque-sized orchestra, allowing the young singers the necessary space to do their singing.

This is an updated addenda: In my haste to get the review up on my blog in order to get the good word out in a timely manner, I neglected to mention and kudo the design team for the show, which unified the cool Goth look of  the costumes by Maddie Kevelson and Madison Weber’s wigs and make up, with the effective set by CCM faculty member Mark Halpin, well lit by student Kelly C. Howland and given  an interesting sound landscape by Haruka  Iihoshi.

Check with CCM for tickets for three additional performances at 513-556-6638

Rafael de Acha

Wondrous music from Brazil

OIPJ9B8UOQS Wondrously spacious like Brazil, mystical like the utterly Brazilian mix of Catholicism and African beliefs, impishly playful at times, soberly serious at others, alluring in its ambivalent mix of melancholy saudade and sunny melody, and alternatively dramatic and lyrical, Heitor Villalobos’ music is all that and more.

It is more than long overdue to recognize Heitor Villalobos, the quintessentially South American giant as an essential 20th century musical genius.

And if there is any doubt, this splendid new release from Naxos, part of the series The Music of Brazil, is palpable proof of the reasons for my enthusiasm. The Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has created an all-encompassing initiative: Brasil em Concerto which will bring to new life the work of Brazilian composers from the 18th century through ours.

Fully on board with the project, three Brazilian orchestras: the Orchestra Filarmônica de Minas Gerais, the Orquestra Filarmônica de Goiás, and the Orquestra Sinfônica do Estado de São Paulo will work hand in hand with the Academia Brasileira de Música, musicologists, and Brazilian chamber ensembles and vocal and instrumental soloists.

This CD features the Concerto for Guitar and Small Orchestra played lustrously by Manuel Barrueco with Giancarlo Guerrero leading the superb Orquestra Sinfônica do Estado de São Paulo in a note perfect reading of this key work of 20th century guitar music.

Sexteto Mistico is an eight-minute, three-movement tone poem, here given a lovely rendition by Maestro Guerrero and his Brazilian maestri.

Next in the CD is a fully mature work for harmonica and orchestra, given a jaw-dropping performance by the Brazilian harmonica virtuoso José Staneck, with Guerrero and his Paulistas keeping a low profile to allow the gentle harmonica to be up center throughout.

The 1957 Quinteto Instrumental is pure enchantment: a three-movement chamber work for strings, harp and woodwinds that owes its harmonic inventiveness to no one but Villalobos himself and its colors to the mix of Brazilian blood coursing through the veins of its composer and the pan-European influences he acquired while on his many journeys to the continent.

My CD collection is now augmented by one more gem from Naxos. I can hardly wait for what’s up next.

Rafael de Acha 


Ferdinando Paer’s AGNESE and Francesco Morlacchi’s TEBALDO E ISOLINA both recently released respectively by DYNAMIC and SWR by way of NAXOS are both obscure operas.

AGNESE dating back to 1809 was for several years as popular an opera as any in its time, getting first rate productions all over Europe. Morlacchi’s TEBALDO E ISOLINA first saw stage lights in 1822, and much like Paer’s opera enjoyed successes all over Europe.

And then?

Paer’s AGNESE, thanks to the enterprising Teatro Regio Torino is receiving its first performance in quite a while. And a good one this one is, recorded on video in 2019 and given a stylish, tongue-in-cheek production directed by Leo Muscato and designed by Federica Parolini, Silvia Aymonine, and Alessandro Verazzi.

The nine-strong cast features a terrific group of singing actors: Maria Rey-Joli, Markus Werba, Edgardo Rocha, Filippo Morace, Andrea Giovannini, Lucia Cirillo, Giulia Della Peruta, Federico Benetti, and a charming six-year old named Sofia La Cara.

The Orchestra and Chorus Teatro Regio Torino are beautifully conducted by Diego Fasolis, and the video and sound are first rate.

Morlacchi’s TEBALDO E ISOLINA was recorded in 2014 during the XXVI Rossini Festival in Wildbad. Here it receives a winning revival with a young cast, supported by the Camerata Bach Choir and the Virtuosi Brunensis, led by Antonio Fogliani.

For the inveterate collector both these offerings will make a nice addiction to an opera collection.

Rafael de Acha

Hanna-Elisabeth Müller

Hanna-Elisabeth Müller

Hanna-Elisabeth Müller is a musical miniaturist who, ever faithful to the texts of an album of songs by Robert Schumann, Francis Poulenc, and Alexander von Zemlinzky uses a full palette of vocal hues to tell stories about the human condition.

With the perfect partnership of Juliane Ruf, Müller takes the listener on a voyage of discovery throughout thirty-two songs that range from the six  Lieder in the Opus 107 of Schumann through both of Poulenc’s La courte paille and Fiancailles pour rire, and on through Zemlinky’s Six Waltz Songs.

Müller’s lyric voice is pristine, flawlessly on pitch, effortlessly produced, and never-ever pushed past its limits: those of a light lyric soprano with a bell-like upper-range and a warm, supple middle voice. In art song volume is a non-issue but I hasten to mention that at the end of Zemlinzky’s cycle Müller puts out a healthy amount of sound in the closing song.

Her German being her first language is supple and not pedantic, her French that of a native speaker. Her way with the sensuality of Poulenc’s Violon is as inviting as a real seduction, and her summoning of the ethereal in Fleurs a thing of wonder. Her depiction of the mix of emotions in Schumann’s Meine Rose is as memorable as any interpretation of this gem in memory.

The 2020 Pentatone issue of great songs by a heretofore lesser-known artist (to Americans) is perfectly engineered by Martin Sauer and exquisitely produced by Renaud Loranger, both factors that will no doubt help introduce Hanna-Elisabeth Müller to the wider public she so richly deserves.

Rafael de Acha