The University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music

CCM Opera Faculty

A review of Nic Muni’s “L’elisir d’amore” at AVA

April 30, 2012
Review from L’elisir d’amore opening at Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia
By David Patrick Stearns

When The Elixir of Love raised its frivolous head on the Post a comment Academy of Vocal Arts season, one had to remember that this organization functions to train singers for the real world, which can mean making something out of very little. Comedian Artie Lange writes about In the up-and-down opera world, singers never know when they’ll end up in a revival of, say, The Pajama Game to make ends meet.

But such a low opinion of The Elixir of Love was defied, possibly smashed, from the first moments of AVA’s Saturday opening. In the tiny Warden Theater, where productions are best regarded as sketches of the real thing, here was a handsome set that appeared to have suffered no compromise. Costumes were stylish. Wigs fit! An updated concept placed the opera in Mussolini’s Italy in World War II, giving it new life.

The director was Nic Muni, a seasoned innovator who ran the Cincinnati Opera for years and often works with the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto. His contention is that Elixir was intended to have serious underpinnings — composer Gaetano Donizetti called the 1832 opera buffa a melodramma giocoso — and, in any case, gave deeper motivation to the simple plot about a boy seeking a girl with a fake love potion. In this production, when the stereotypical minx Adina appears to be spurning the bumpkin who loves her, she’s actually saving him from execution by a jealous, well-armed Blackshirt. Such touches counted for a lot. The opera went from being casually formulaic to purposely lightweight.

The oddest part: AVA’s latest star in the making, mezzo-soprano Margaret Mezzacappa, was very much seen but very seldom heard. The setting was a library, and in a role seemingly created for this production, Mezzacappa was the stern librarian who not only dominated the room but, amid the happy ending, seemed to end up with a guy of her own. This created an implied secondary romantic plot that was obligatory in 1950s Broadway musicals, and for a reason: It takes a bit of weight off leading characters who may be too stereotypical to really carry an entire opera. And what a fascinating opportunity for her to create a character using everything but her primary strength.

Of course, this opera wouldn’t be done at all were it not a good vocal showcase. And the big discovery, for me, was soprano Sydney Mancasola in the leading role of Adina. She’s a classic soubrette with a voice that’s bright, focused, accurate, and projects an air of effortlessness, partly thanks to the solidity of her vocal technique, partly due to her comfort level onstage. She sashayed around as if she owned the place. And she did.

The other principal singers were promising but not at home in this genre. Though Luigi Boccia delivered the goods in Nemorino’s famous Act II aria, “Una Furtiva Lagrima,” his promising lyric tenor perhaps has a bit too much meat for

this type of bel canto opera. Much the same could be said for Wes Mason as his rival Belcore and Musa Ngqungwana as Dr. Dulcamara, the elixir salesman, though it’s hard to imagine anybody minding amid such a satisfying overall package. One would be lucky if any future Elixir encounters are this good. A small but chronic problem: The AVA chorus is made up of divas and divos in training, and they don’t exactly stay in the background. Given a chance, they steal focus.


In memoriam: Malcolm Fraser

From – Arts in Focus
by Janelle Gelfand

Former Cincinnati resident Malcolm Fraser, 72, passed away on May 15th in Stockport, England, of natural causes relating to long term health issues stemming from a hematologic disorder.

Mr. Fraser was a prominent figure in the Cincinnati Arts community, primarily relating to his work at the College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) at the University of Cincinnati, where he was the CCM Opera department chair and holder of the J. Ralph Corbett Distinguished Chair in Opera, 1985 to 2003.  Under his leadership the CMM Opera department won numerous prestigious awards, including 26 awards from the National Opera Association for the best college opera productions in North America, and he inspired and helped many people in the pursuit of their operatic careers.

In 1996 he was a co-founder with Lorenzo Malfatti, a former CCM faculty member, of Opera Theatre of Lucca, CCM’s operatic study abroad program in Lucca, Italy.  Singers, instrumentalists, coaches, designers and production staff were overseen by an international faculty in the most comprehensive summer opera program in Italy.

Singers who honed their craft during his 18 years at CCM follow Mr. Fraser’s predecessors from the Italo Tajo generation and are working all over North America and Europe. Currently, CCM artists are working in the following companies (in many cases three or four with each company): Metropolitan Opera, Chicago Lyric Opera, San Francisco Opera, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Santa Fe Opera, Florida Grand Opera, Orlando Opera, Cincinnati Opera, Wolf Trap Opera, Seattle Opera, Skylight Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, Portland Opera, Canadian Opera, Vienna State Opera, Kassel Opera, Stuttgart Opera, Lucerne Opera, Karlsruhe Opera, Dusseldorf Opera and many more.

After he retired in 2003, he moved back to England.

In 1979, Mr. Fraser was a co-founder of the Buxton Festival, an international celebration of the arts held in Buxton, England.

He loved opera and spent his entire career advancing himself in that field and helping to spread his passion to others.  He encouraged his students and colleagues to take risks and have fun with the art form that he enjoyed so much.

He is survived by his wife of 47 years, Fay Conway-Fraser, his four sons Dom, Sam, Hal and Tim, eight grandchildren, four great-grandchildren, and others.  He was a dedicated family man who balanced his enthusiasm for opera with his commitment to and love for his wife, four sons and ever-growing family.  He will be missed by his family, friends and colleagues, and will be remembered as a generous and passionate man.

His funeral will be held at 11am on Tuesday May 29th at St John the Baptist church in Tideswell, Derbyshire, England.

Malcolm Fraser – Biography
Malcolm Fraser – Key Accomplishments at CCM

CCM Opera Faculty Profile: Terry Lusk

A professor at CCM since 1999, Terry Lusk brings a valuable perspective from decades of professional experience to his weekly coachings with CCM students. Recently, we sat down with Professor Lusk to reflect upon his career.

1. Where is your hometown?


2. Where did you receive your education?

Morton East High School and Northwestern University

3. Where/when was your 1st professional engagement?

New York City Opera

4. Can you tell us some of the notable artists you have worked with throughout your career (singers, conductors, etc.)

I have worked with many fine conductors: Erich Leinsdorf, Charles Mackerras, Stage director-Jean Pierre Ponnelle,S Singers-Leontyne Price, Margaret Price, Luciano Pavarotti, Sherrill Milnes, Dolora Zajick, Mignon Dunne, Ruth Anne Swenson, Giorgio Tozzi, Regine Crespin,

5. What opera companies have you worked for during your career?

Santa Fe, New York City, San Francisco

6. Can you tell us some of the highlights of your career? Was there a particular production you enjoyed working on?

I always enjoyed working on Jean Pierre Ponnelle productions.

7. Did you have a mentor in your career that you feel guided you in the right path?

John Crosby, the founder of the Santa Fe Opera

8. What was the most challenging job you have worked on in your career?

I taught for one year in a junior high school.

9. What was the 1st opera you worked on at CCM (either as faculty or guest artists)?

Rossini’s Voyage a Rheims

10. What do you enjoy most about working with the students here at CCM?

Their commitment

11. If you could have picked another profession, what would it have been?

Something to do with foreign languages.

12. Do you have any hobbies/activities that you’d like to share?

I love gardening.

13. What advice would you give to someone who is starting out in your career path?

Study foreign languages and listen to a lot of classic recordings of opera, especially Jo Stafford, Fischer Dieskau, Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, and Maria Callas.

Zhang Xuan at The Cincinnati Symphony

Zhang Xuan

Peter Landgren, Zhang Xuan & Robin Guarino

Zhang Xuan & Robin Guarino

Zhang Xuan (CCM Alumna) served as the fifth music director of the Sioux City Symphony Orchestra from 2005 to 2007. In January 2008, she became the first woman to conduct the Staatskapelle Dresden in its principal hall. In March 2009, the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi announced the appointment of Zhang as its next music director, the first woman to be named music director of an Italian symphony orchestra, effective with the 2009-2010 season.

CCM Faculty Recitals, Oct. 4th – 10th

Donna Loewy (thank you) sent out and email this morning reminding everyone of 3 great CCM Faculty recitals coming up in the next 7 days.
Here is the list again in case you missed it.

  • Tuesday, Oct. 4th: Recital Daniel Weeks (CCM Alumnus), tenor/Donna Loewy, piano
    8:00 pm Werner Recital Hall (Quilter, Caplet, Karlowicz, Turina, Wood)

  • Sunday,  Oct. 9th: Recital Mary H. Stucky, mezzo-soprano/Donna Loewy, piano
    4:00 pm Werner Recital Hall (Poldowski, Lang/Hensel Mendelssohn/ Vercoe)

  • Monday, Oct. 10th: Recital Gwen Coleman Detwiler, soprano; William McGraw, baritone/Kenneth Griffiths, piano
    8:00 pm Werner Recital Hall  (Vivaldi, Strauss, Larsen, Schubert, Ravel, Rorem) Loewy, additional piano for Rorem

Steven Goldstein’s “A Little Night Music” highlighted in The Sondheim Review

The Sondheim Review (TSR) is the quarterly magazine dedicated to the work of the musical theatre and Broadway’s foremost composer and lyricist, Stephen Sondheim. In the Winter issue our own Steven Goldstein was reviewed by Rick Pender for his production of A Little Night Music.

Steven Goldstein brought maturity to a student production of A Little Night Music in Cincinnati. – Rick Pender, The Sondheim Review

Click here to read Rick Pender’s review of CCM’s A Little Night Music.

New York Times reviews Nic Muni’s productions at Manhattan School of Music

April 28, 2011

Two Jilted Lovers Sharing a Stage, but Not Their Men


At the heart of both “El Amor Brujo” and “La Vida Breve,” striking works by the Spanish composer Manuel de Falla, is a woman of low social standing, jilted in love. Each incorporates the
influence of flamenco music and Gypsy culture. Where they part ways drastically is in how each central character deals with betrayal: one bedevils, the other expires.
Stylistically, though, the pieces have little in common. “La Vida Breve,” composed for a 1905 contest and first staged in France in 1913, is potent verismo, with Italianate lyricism and French
iridescence. “El Amor Brujo,” in its original 1915 version, is effectively a monodrama created for a singing flamenco dancer, with secondary roles mostly spoken. French Impressionism wafts
through its orchestrations, as well.
In staging these works for a Manhattan School of Music Opera Theater production — part of “Visiones,” the school’s season-long focus on Spanish and Latin American music — the director Nic
Muni conjoined them through shared stage resources and duplicate casting. Presented at the John C. Borden Auditorium on Wednesday evening, the double bill represented one of the more
audacious, intriguing operatic undertakings to hit a New York stage this season.
“El Amor Brujo” — usually translated as “Love, the Magician,” but rendered here as “Love, Bewitched” — posed the greater challenge: few opera singers, students or otherwise, are also
accomplished dancers. Mr. Muni addressed this by casting a dancer to shadow each singer and actor.
As Candelas, a prostitute who sells her soul to ensnare her lover, the striking mezzo-soprano Raehann Bryce-Davis sang and spoke potently and moved vivaciously. Kaitlyn Costello, her
counterpart, writhed alluringly in seductive dances choreographed by La Meira.
Secondary players from “El Amor Brujo” took on primary roles in “La Vida Breve” (“The Brief Life”), in which Salud, a poor Gypsy girl, is abandoned by her wealthy lover, Paco, then turns up at
his wedding to die of heartbreak. Rebecca Krynski, a vibrant soprano who played an unwitting rival to Candelas, sang Salud with a secure, appealing sound and eye-opening volume. The tenor
David Sauer, previously Candelas’s ensorcelled lover, sang handsomely as Paco.
Nicole Weigelt and Robert Mellon were admirable as Salud’s grandmother and uncle. Ms. Bryce-Davis returned as Carmela, Paco’s bride. Brian Wahlstrom, charismatic as a silent Devil in “El
Amor Brujo,” sang strongly as Carmela’s brother. Brett Sprague’s honeyed tenor floated sweetly in selections sung offstage; as a wedding singer, Jhosoa Agosto showed an impressive grasp of
flamenco’s throaty, melismatic “cante jondo” (“deep song”).
Abetting the cast’s impressive achievements was solid work from choristers and dancers. The conductor José De Eusebio conjured fire and refinement from the orchestra. And in minimal sets by
Andrew Jackness and moody lighting by Japhy Weideman, you were reminded that ingenuity doesn’t always require an extravagant budget.