Rita Addico-Cohen

Saturday, May 3rd, 2003

Dear Readers,

      I've just returned from hearing Rita Addico-Cohen sing with the Virginia Beach Symphony. Many of us heard Rita in January at Chandler Hall singing Eva Del'Acqua's Villanelle a high coloratura soprano aria that gave us a sample of her vocal ability. At the rehearsal today she did four pieces that show her amazing voice in its full glory. Johann Strauss' Voices of Spring, Delibes' Les Filles de Cadiz and The Bell Song from Lakmé and Leonard Bernstein's Glitter and Be Gay from Candide. Each song was sung in its original language.

      There is so much power in her voice, even at the top of her range. This is surprising and rare in such an agile high voice. She hits those precise high notes with such ease. She creates characters with gesture and posture and has an elegant and natural stage presence. Don't miss this opportunity to hear this lovely singer and experience her rare voice.

John Campbell

The Virginia Beach Symphony Orchestra
David S. Kunkel, Conductor


The final subscription concert of its 22nd season
Song and Dance

Rita Addico-Cohen, soprano

Glitter and Be Gay from Candide by Bernstein,
the Bell Song from Lakme,
and Les Filles de Cadiz by Delibes

Candide Overture of Bernstein
the Irish Suite of Leroy Anderson
and several American favorites

Sunday, May 4, 2003 at 3:00 pm

Pavilion Theater
Tickets are $15 for general admission,
and $12 for seniors and students,
$9 for active duty military and their dependents
and may be purchased at the Pavilion Box Office from 9-5 weekdays,
or by calling 1-800-955-5566,
or by visiting www.tickets.com

Rita Addico-Cohen Triumphs as Treemonisha

      With a new orchestration by Rick Benjamin, The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra has brought to life America's first musically significant opera, Scott Joplin's (1868-1917) Treemonisha (1908-1911) with Rita Addico-Cohen in the title role. After the performance at Wake Forest University on October 27, 2005 the reviewer William Thomas Walker wrote: "The most finished voice was the bright, high soprano of Rita Addico-Cohen. Her diction was consistently clear and her high notes were on dead center. "Walker also praises Tidewater's own baritone Frank Ward Jr. for his comic timing and an infinite number of facial expressions in the role of the father, Ned.

      Personally I'm delighted to hear that Rita Addico-Cohen has found an opportunity to use her high, light voice in a leading role. This physically beautiful, slim, well-trained singer has often discussed with me the challenge of balancing the roles of wife and mother of two young children with her career as a singer for which she studied and trained for many years. Her undergraduate degree is from the University of Virginia and her master's degree from Manhattan School of Music. She has studied with Bill Schumann and Adele Addison and is currently in the voice studio of Dr. Julian Kwok in New York City.

      Some years ago I borrowed a video of Scott Joplin's ragtime opera from Virginia Beach Public Library (it's still available) and was not impressed. The 1975 production was by Houston Grand Opera with orchestration by Gunther Schuller. Schuller and William Bolcom led a ragtime revival with their popular recordings. Joplin's music was used for the soundtrack for the movie The Sting in 1973. Joplin had orchestrated his opera in 1915 but did not find backers for a production. Later he self-published the piano score but his orchestration is lost. Treemonisha is an unsophisticated American morality tale and the heavy European orchestration by Schuller overwhelmed what might be a charming folk opera with a score of ragtime tunes. Ms. Addico-Cohen commented "Imagine if Wagner had composed Die Zauberflöte. Yes, I would flinch also!"

      Rick Benjamin's new musical score is for a twelve piece theater orchestra of the sort that traveling minstrel shows used during Joplin's time. Benjamin uses a string quartet, double-bass, flute, clarinet, trombone, two cornets, piano and a collection of drums and other percussion instruments to achieve a sparkling ragtime sound. Ms. Addico-Cohen says "Having had the privilege of singing the title role in the restored orchestration, I for one can attest to the fact that it is much more successful with a smaller orchestral arrangement, as Joplin would have surely intended. At the turn of the century when the opera was composed, it would have been sung by an ensemble cast and orchestra, who would travel, to tour the opera. In addition to the singers, a 50-piece orchestra would just have been too cumbersome and expensive to move around!"

      Ms. Addico-Cohen continues: "While I praise the work as a legitimate operatic composition, I still have some minor problems with it. My biggest problem is with the libretto for which Joplin is responsible. Act I has only one solo, The Sacred Tree, sung by Monisha, the mother. There are none in Act II, and four, one after the other in Act III, with only short interjections sung by Treemonisha and the chorus to separate them. The first is Remus's Wrong Is Never Right (which sounds incredibly like a Viennese waltz once the chorus joins in); then Ned's When Villains Ramble Far And Near, who suddenly becomes eloquent while heretofore speaking only in dialect. Both of these are termed 'lectures'. Then, finally, after two acts of endless one-liners and mini duets, Treemonisha sings her solos. She sings We Will Trust You as Our Leader, then A Real Slow Drag. All of these solos, including the one in Act I, are long! In both the Schuller version and the PRO versions, there were enormous cuts, and they still felt long!"

      "Another major bone of contention is that we never see or hear Treemonisha actually teaching her 'student' Remus. What a lovely scene that would be. It would also let the audience glimpse how their teacher-student relationship blossomed into one of love, as the pair's music clearly indicates (Joplin does use leitmotifs!). Another slight problem is how Joplin sometimes sets the text to the music; Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress springs to mind. At one time or another, all of the principal singers have to find a convincing way to sing some of their lines comfortably."

      Ms. Addico-Cohen, a native of Accra, Ghana in West Africa, wonders why this opera has been so neglected. "Could it be that the topic of the opera, specifically about the first generation of free black Americans using what was taught them by white Christians to better themselves, is too dated and well, too specific? Then what about Le nozze di Figaro, The Crucible, Les dialogues des Carmelites, Lucia di Lammermoor, and countless others? Aren't they dated as well? Well, the very first and perhaps most significant difference between these operas and that of Joplin's is the length, and therefore the amount of music contained therein."

      "The irony about the performance (or lack thereof) of Treemonisha is that while it is rarely performed in America, it is performed quite often in Europe, from Norway all the way to the Czech Republic. Google Treemonisha and find out for yourself. Perhaps opera companies shy away from it because it is too short to stand on its own, and then it would have to be presented as a 'double bill' with another opera, which would altogether be costly. Well, other short operas are presented in such a manner, so, why not? Again, in my opinion, these are minor problems which would be encountered in any 'major' opera of any language. So why is Treemonisha not performed more often? Something tells me that it will be. Natchez Opera is doing it in May of '06, and PRO will still be touring their production. Who knows? It could come to Hampton Roads in the near future." Rita tells us "Frank Ward is now in Providence, RI, not teaching, but freelancing and singing like myself. We were both pleasantly surprised to see each other at the first music rehearsal."

      For more information on the Paragon Ragrime Orchestra visit www.paragonragtime.com/

Rita Addico-Cohen Gives First Tidewater Recital
with Pianist Amanda Halstead

Two glamorous young women gave the community an art song recital of music by women composers to benefit the National Breast Cancer Foundation on Saturday evening, November 17, 2007 at Chandler Recital Hall. A rich program of songs written by women was presented with sophisticated style and deep understanding of the art of bringing texts alive. In a spoken introduction, Ms. Addico-Cohen told of the death of mezzo-soprano Tatiana Troyanos in 1993 from breast cancer and of Dawn Upshaw's and Ruth Ann Swenson's current battles with the disease. She then asked her audience to applaud at the end of each set of songs, rather than after each individual song. As the program unfolded the reason for the request was apparent. The emotional intensity and flow of energy she brings to each song would be harmed by any interruption, even applause.

This performance reminded me of that there are so many songs composed by women that I have not heard. There were composers that are mythic figures from the past, including several who were singers of renown like Isabella Colbran (1785-1845), Pauline Viardot (1821-1910) and Eva Dell'Acqua (1865-1930). Colbran was a dramatic coloratura who lived with and later married Rossini. They were together twenty-two years during which he created roles for her in Otello, Semiramide, Elisabetta, Regina d'Inghilterra and others. The Oxford Dictionary of Music was my source, but it only mentions that she composed songs but gives no details. Ms. Addico-Cohen opened the recital with the lovely love song Adonta del fato mio bene (Defy your fate, my beloved) and Già la notte s'avvicina (Evening is already upon us) with spectacular high notes and trills. She followed this with the coquettish fireworks of Fingo per mio diletto by Viardot.

A substantial selection of songs by Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel (1805-1847), sister of Felix Mendelssohn, followed. The songs are matter-of-fact settings with no romantic indulgence. Ms. Addico-Cohen's animated face seemed to sparkle as she sang Frühling (Spring). Other song texts were "why are the roses so pale?" (Warum sind denn die Rosen so blaß) and two were about the suffering of lovers who are apart, Suleika and Morgenständchen.

Amy Beach (1867-1944) is an American composer and a virtuoso pianist who concertized in Germany. In her lifetime her music was performed by the Boston Symphony and the Symphony Society of New York. Her setting of Three Browning Songs, Op. 44, The year's at the spring, Ah, Love, but a day! and I send my heart up to thee are often heard at recitals. Ms. Addico-Cohen, in a black gown that highlights her stunning, slim figure, sang as if she were sharing secrets with us.

After intermission we heard three songs by Clara Wieck Schumann who had a sixty year career as a concert pianist. She revolutionized the piano recital focusing on the music as written by the composer, rather than on virtuosic display. She became the foremost interpreter of her husband Robert's music, while touring Russia and England and teaching in Berlin. She befriended Brahms early in his career and they remained lifelong friends. The performance of Ihr Bildnis (Her portrait) was stunning. The text tells of looking at the portrait of the beloved and coming apart emotionally because "I have lost you." Ms. Addico-Cohen became the bereaved. The intensity continued in Er ist gekommen in Sturm and Regen (He came in storm and rain). She seems to look over the horizon, attempting to see him as the pianist finishes the song.

Les filles de Cadix (The girls from Cadiz) and Fleur desséchée (Pressed flowers) set by Viardot were included with Eva Dell'Acqua's coloratura showpiece Villanelle and two songs, Chanson and Le couteau (The knife) by Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979) to form the next set. Boulanger was the first woman to conduct a complete concert at the Royal Philharmonic Society, London (1937), Boston Symphony (1938) and New York Philharmonic Orchestra (1939). She was a renowned teacher of many American composers including Copland, Harris, Thomson, Carter, Piston but not Rorem. Chanson is a deliciously light-hearted song while Le couteau is of the sorrow of a knife of love to the heart. There was agony in our singer's stance as she inhabited the love song.

The final set, chosen by Rita, the mother of two young children, included Liza Lehmann's There are fairies at the bottom of our garden sung with crystal clear diction, good humor and charm, Estelle Liebling's (1880-1970) arrangement of a Polish folksong Mother Dear, Amy Beach's Fairy Lullaby with text from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and This Little Light of Mine set by Jacqueline Hairston (b.1938). The encore, also by Hairston was Ain't-a That Good News.

We are so pleased to have heard Ms. Addico-Cohen give a full recital in Tidewater with the excellent playing of Ms. Halstead. Ever growing in the art of singing, a few pitch issues not withstanding, this was a wonderful evening. Hopefully this is the first of many and the fact that she and Ms. Halstead raised over $1000 for a worthy women's cause makes it even more impressive.

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