Sunday, June 5, 2011

On vocal recitals

Are there any readers who attend vocal recitals and care very much whether they are hearing arias or lieder? In the case of a program of arias, you are generally hearing a piano reduction of the score and you have to fill in the orchestra with your mind’s ear and the scenery in your mind’s eye, as well as remembering at what point in the story the aria is delivered. If you are an opera lover, this should be easy. Your focus lands squarely on the vocal skill of the artist and his/her own dramatic abilities. Should the singer “tone down” the drama or “let it all hang out”? I personally love the emphasis on the drama but recently shared an experience with some family members who are not very familiar with opera; one of them found a performance “excessive”. The glamorous and talented soprano Emily Duncan-Brown (reported to be “indisposed” but not to my ear) delivered a thrilling account of “Je veux vivre” from Gounod’s “Romeo et Juliette”. She actually got inside the song and wore it with as much style as the red gown she rocked. It was the entire romance encapsulated and truly filled the heart.

Further contributions were made by soprano Jessica Rose Cambio, mezzo Filomena Francesca Tritto, the on-the-brink-of-fame tenor Taylor Stayton, and baritone Shannon De Vine. Everyone sang beautifully but Ms. Duncan-Brown put her heart and soul into the performance. Piano partners were Douglas Martin and Maestra Eve Queler who generously provided this recital for her many fans from The Opera Orchestra of New York, which she founded and served for more years than her youthful appearance would indicate.

Now, what about the lieder recital? Here we have works written (usually) for voice and piano; it becomes even more incumbent upon the artist to tell a story. The text had better be good! Brahms, Schubert, Schumann, Mahler and Strauss generally chose beautiful poetry to inspire their equally beautiful music, whereas many 20th and 21st c. composers choose flaccid or prosaic texts. Leave it to dear Thomas Bagwell who, under the auspices of The Lotte Lehmann Foundation, makes the effort to find gifted young singers and match them with worthwhile but lesser known songs. This inaugural season brought us three concerts of impressive variety and depth and introduced some young singers who are fulfilling their promise. The last recital of the season brought us the impressive mezzo Heather Johnson who put her Scandinavian background to good use in a program of rarely heard songs, the most outstanding of which were the light-hearted “En Possitivvisa” by Wilhelm Stenhammar, “Fylgia” by Ture Ranstrom, Grieg’s better known “En Svane” and Sibelius’ “Var det en drom”. Pure magic!
Barihunk (forgive me!) Christopher Dylan Herbert gave us a lovely set by Korngold and made vocal gold out of Roussel’s “Le Jardin Mouille”, Auric’s “Le Gloxinia”, and Faure’s setting of a Victor Hugo poem “Puisqu’ici-bas toute ame”. Maestro Bagwell himself was the piano partner and played with his customary sensitivity and delicacy, always supporting the singer; indeed they seemed to breathe together. So...which will it be, lieder or arias? Thankfully in New York we can enjoy both. I will close by expressing my deepest gratitude for the foundations that provide this embarrassment of riches.

© meche kroop for The Opera Insider

No comments:

Post a Comment