Pati, Sierra ravishing as star-cross’d lovers at SF Opera

Nadine Sierra and Pene Pati as Romeo and Juliet at San Francisco Opera. Photos provided/Cory Weaver

It’s always rewarding to see the understudy step in for the indisposed star, and become an “overnight” sensation. That is what happened at San Francisco Opera’s “Romeo and Juliet” earlier this month, when Samoan-born New Zealand tenor Pene Pati, who was scheduled to sing one performance, replaced Bryan Hymel for the entire run.

On Tuesday, I was able to catch a performance of the production, which opened the company’s 97th season in the War Memorial Opera House. I was partly interested because Cincinnati had the pleasure of being wowed by Pati in recital just last season for Matinee Musicale. But I was also interested in his Juliet — American soprano Nadine Sierra — who also performed a delicious recital for Matinee Musicale a couple of years ago. Since then, she has appeared at the Metropolitan Opera and won the 2017 Richard Tucker Award.

After the stunning performance by both of these artists on Tuesday, Cincinnatians can say, “We knew them when.”Read More »

In memoriam Alice Weston

Alice Weston with one of her photographs, which I took in her home in 2012

Cincinnati lost a giant in the arts this week when Alice Weston, philanthropist and artist, passed away at age 93. Over the years, I interviewed Alice a number of times on a variety of topics, from her own extraordinary work in photography, shown above, to works she commissioned for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. One of my favorite interviews, though, was conducted with her cousin, Jane Ellis, about their experiences as children in the Philippines.Read More »

Chuck Miller, savior of Sorg Opera House, steps down

Chuck Miller in his element, backstage at the Sorg

It took a man with a vision to see the beauty behind the dilapidated and abandoned Sorg Opera House in Middletown. Now, as John Kiesewetter reports this morning, Chuck Miller has resigned as president of the Sorg Opera Revitalization Group (SORG) to become the new executive director of the historic “State Movie Palace of Kansas,” the Fox Theatre in Hutchinson. Wife Denise Brodsky has also resigned her position on the board.

Current board members Roger Daniels and Chris Riva are stepping in to fill roles, although his successor has not been decided.

Here’s my story from about a year ago of how Chuck and his devoted board have been working — extremely hard — to restore the Hannaford-built theater to its former grandeur.

There are similarities between the Sorg Opera House (1891) and Music Hall (1878) as you can see in the balconies. Both were designed by Samuel Hannaford. The Sorg is on the National Register of Historic Places.
In the lobby
You can visit your old Music Hall seats

I’m posting a few memories of visiting the Sorg while these dedicated preservationists were at work restoring and programming a series of concerts in the hall. By the way, the acoustics are wonderful. And, for people who remember Music Hall’s old seats, you can revisit them up in Middletown.

Good luck Chuck and Denise! You’ll be missed.

Last-minute Romeo (aka car buff, surfer) steps in at Cincinnati Opera

Matthew White debuts as Romeo this week with Cincinnati Opera. Photo provided.

When Canadian tenor Frédéric Antoun had to withdraw as Romeo in Cincinnati Opera’s “Romeo and Juliet” (for personal reasons) two weeks before rehearsals were to begin, artistic director Evans Mirageas knew he had a problem.

“Romeo is a notoriously difficult role, and the opera isn’t performed as often as the other warhorses, so the pool of singers who would know the role is small,” says Mirageas.

Besides that, there was no time to secure an artist visa for an international singer — a process that can take months.

“Luckily,” says Mirageas, “we found Matthew, a very gifted young artist who had just sung the role in his final year at the Academy of Vocal Arts.”

The 27-year-old American tenor Matthew White will make his debut opposite Cincinnati favorite Nicole Cabell as Juliet, in her sixth appearance with the company.

Had Cincinnati Opera not called, the tenor’s summer plans included returning to his tiny hometown in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, practicing for upcoming roles and working on his Volkswagen GTI. Or he might have waxed up his surfboard, as he has a surfboard business with an international client list.

He’s won a fistful of prizes: Grand Prize of the Gerda Lissner International Vocal Competition, 1st place in the Deborah Voigt International Vocal Competition, 2nd place in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions Mid-Atlantic region, Grand Prize in the Mario Lanza Vocal Competition, and he was the recipient of the Alfonso Cavaliere Award.

Matthew White as Romeo in Gounod’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’

In his future, he’ll debut leading roles with The Dallas Opera, Edmonton Opera, and Tulsa Opera following his Cincinnati debut.

“It’s a major opportunity for him, in what could prove to be a breakout role. Cincinnati gets to see him first!” says Mirageas.

“Romeo and Juliet” will be presented at Music Hall on June 27 and 29 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available through the Cincinnati Opera Box Office at (513) 241-2742 or

Watch for my review of tomorrow night’s performance on the Arts Front at

Click here to read the review for “The Marriage of Figaro,” which opened the season.

Impressive musical lineup to benefit Literacy Council

Lit_Council1 image 2019Next Sunday, June 23, an impressive lineup of local classical musicians will come together for a concert to benefit the Literacy Council of Clermont & Brown Counties. Reach for the Stars will take place at 4 p.m. June 23 at Knox Presbyterian Church in Hyde Park.

Spearheaded by Suzanne Bona, host of the nationally broadcast public radio program “Sunday Baroque” and an accomplished musician, the concert aims to raise awareness and funds for adult literacy.

“With the upcoming 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, we thought it would be fun to feature music with astronomical themes such as Holst’s ‘Mars’ and Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ Sonata,” said Bona. “Plus, Reach for the Stars is what the clients of the Literacy Council do every day as they open up the world of possibilities reading can bring.”Read More »

Der Freischütz hits the mark in rare American performance by Queen City Opera

The hunters carried assault rifles in Queen City Opera’s “Der Freischütz.” Photo by Tina Gutierrez

It’s amazing that Carl Maria von Weber’s 1821 opera, “Der Freischütz,” is rarely performed in the United States. The early German romantic opera – which Queen City Opera loosely translated as “The Magic Bullets,” has a rich orchestral score, wonderful choruses and arias and a supernatural story. It’s easy to see how it paved the way to the German opera that was to come, especially that of Richard Wagner.

Isaac Selya, founder and artistic director of Queen City Opera and conductor for the production, told me in an interview for the Cincinnati Business Courier that the opera has only been performed once before in Ohio, by Cincinnati Opera in 1933. According to Operavore, the Met last performed this early romantic gem in 1972.

On Sunday, I joined many other opera lovers who were curious to see and hear Weber’s under-appreciated work, which was staged by Rebecca Herman. Read More »

Coming up: Paradise for piano lovers

Awadagin Pratt established Art of the Piano nine years ago at CCM

Awadagin Pratt’s 2019 Art of the Piano Festival will pair legendary soloists with young artists from around the globe starting this weekend, May 25 through June 15 at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.

The ninth annual festival will feature 15 renowned artists in recitals and conducting public master classes with rising stars. Besides Pratt, a CCM faculty member, the festival includes the return of legendary pianist Leon Fleisher, as well as Christopher O’Riley, Alexander Korsantia, Boris Berman, Jura Margulis, Maria Murawska and Vladimir Feltsman.

There are also recitals by young artists. The festival will include pre-concert gatherings with food, wine, and talks with the artists and talk-backs with the artists at the close of their concerts.Read More »