Head of the Class


Opera audiences in New York, St. Louis, and several points between and beyond have found reason to notice a young and increasingly accomplished soprano named Lauren Skuce. The 28-year-old first caught my attention a while back when, as a member of the Juilliard School’s junior opera division, she sang and acted delightfully in the title role of Cavalli’s naughty but moving Calisto. Advancing to Juilliard’s practically professional-level Opera Center, she alternated between ensemble assignments—an anonymous floozy in Weill’s Der Kuhhandel and a born-again chorister in the revival-meeting scene of Floyd’s Susannah—and central roles: Blanche in Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites and Heloise in Stephen Paulus’s Heloise and Abelard.

Her Heloise in that opera’s world premiere last April was performed not only with full regard for the young woman’s tragically willing entrapment in a doomed love affair but also, in her early scenes, as an extra-bright student, with bursts of sassy, defiant wit. (If any composer is thinking of writing an opera based on David Auburn’s Proof, Skuce might be the ideal Catherine.)

But Juilliard is only part of her résumé. Like any other rising singer on the American opera panorama, she’s gained experience and stylistic range with companies like Opera Theater of St. Louis, San Francisco Opera’s apprentice wing, and Wolf Trap in Virginia, and as a soloist in a variety of orchestral and chamber concerts.

Her St. Louis participation is particularly remarkable. Having made her Opera Theater debut two years ago in a small role in Handel’s Radamisto (not one of the company’s better shows), she returned there last year in an even smaller part, the shepherdess who only appears in the last scene of Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie to sing a long, lovely, demanding “nightingale air.” And she performed it so radiantly that the show wound up in her pocket. Her evident reward came this past June in St. Louis with the starring role of Ophelia in Colin Graham’s poetically rich production of the old Ambroise Thomas semi-standard, Hamlet. Right up to the technically fearsome, cruelly extended mad scene (drowning and all), she projected nuance after nuance, vocally and histrionically. And she launched into that coloratura with a fascinating mixture of intelligence and bravery, coming through without a single scar. As her voice matures, there’ll surely be more comfort for her in her conquest of this Sutherland-league scene, but even this year, it was medal time.

She makes her New York City Opera debut September 10 in the small but sparkling role of Genovieffa in Puccini’s Suor Angelica. Next month with City Opera, she’s the love interest in Chabrier’s L’étoile. A New York recital is also on her fall schedule. You’ve been told.


October 1, 5, 9, 17, 20

New York State Theater, Columbus Avenue and 63rd Street, 870-5570

New York City Opera’s new production, staged by the often insightful Ian Judge, introduces as the sex-crazed princess Eilana Lappalainen, whose voice, acting, and glamour have been laying the critics out in other towns.


October 3-4

Carnegie Hall, 57th Street and Seventh Avenue, 247-7800

Daniel Barenboim brings his conductorial mastery to two wide-ranging programs. The first night has Radu Lupu as the brave soloist in Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 1, Schoenberg’s often hypnotic Five Pieces for Orchestra, and Wagner’s roof-raising Tannhäuser Overture. The next night has three B’s: Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, Boulez’s . . . explosante/fixe original . . ., and Bruckner’s cathedral-esque Symphony No. 9.


October 12-13

Merkin Concert Hall, 129 West 67th Street, 501-3330

October 26-27

92nd Street Y, 1395 Lexington Avenue, 415-5540

October 30

Alice Tully Hall, Broadway and 65th Street, 875-5050

December 10

Society for Ethical Culture, 64th Street and Central Park West, 874-5210

December 11-12

New Thalia Theater, Broadway and 95th Street, 864-5400

Wolpe’s pioneering compositions constantly expanded the territory where intellect and musical poetry met on equal terms. The survey’s participants include the Riverside Symphony (October 30, with a U.S. premiere and more familiar works of fierce strength), and the Cygnus Ensemble.


October 14

Carnegie Hall, 154 West 57th Street, 247-7800

This concert-length song cycle is abundant with lovelorn pathos and romance-defying, scathing wit. It’s all served up by newcomer-to-many Angela Denoke, phenomenal baritone Thomas Quasthoff, and super-pianist Daniel Barenboim.


October 20

Alice Tully Hall, Broadway and 65th Street, 875-5050

No other singer communicates more intensely. Her recital ranges from Handel to Ricky Ian Gordon and includes Mahler, Schubert, Schumann, Ravel, Fauré, Turina, and Rodrigo.


October 20

Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, 154 West 57th Street, 247-7800

James Levine conducts members of his great Met Opera Orchestra in an all-American-modern concert. The music is by Cage, Feldman, Carter, Babbitt, Kirchner, and Wuorinen, and none of it is less than wondrous.


October 30 and November 1-2

Brooklyn Academy of Music Opera House, 30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-636-4100

The musical high point of BAM’s Next Wave Festival is the New York premiere of rising genius Osvaldo Golijov’s Hispanically spiced take on the St. Mark Gospel, replete with opera and singers, street dancers, and the Brooklyn Philharmonic conducted by the wizardly Robert Spano.


November 2

Miller Theater, Columbia University, Broadway and 116th Street, 854-7799

The increasingly important Pacifica String Quartet takes up the challenges of stamina, technique, and, above all, musical drama lurking in all five Carter quartets. The third may still be the most hazardous music of any type written in the 20th century, but its power is well worth musicians’ and audiences’ engagement, and, for that matter, none of the five is an easy piece.


December 5, 9, 12, 16, 21, 24, 28

Metropolitan Opera House, Columbus Avenue and 63rd Street, 362-6000

William Bolcom’s opera, in its New York premiere, builds with assurance on the legitimately operatic aspects of Arthur Miller’s play. It’s a thrilling evening.