VOCE DI MECHE
Reviews of performing arts with emphasis on young artists and small opera companies.
Friday, March 24, 2023
AND THE LAST SHALL BE FIRST
Sunday, March 19, 2023
EICHENDORFF TWO WAYS
Thursday, March 16, 2023
A TALE OF TWO MEZZOS
|Mary Beth Nelson and Francesco Barfoed|
It isn't every day that we get to hear two talented mezzo-sopranos on the same program and to observe how very different two artists from the same fach can be--as different as yin and yang or as fire and ice Both were dazzling in different ways. Both shared a highly engaging manner and the ability to make the audience feel welcome and involved.
Each chose her own program comprising material that was meaningful to herself. We found our own self wishing that they had not announced their respective themes, inasmuch as it was the way each chose to interpret the material and perhaps not the way we in the audience might understand it. It reminded us of the "Director's Notes" in a playbill announcing what the director was trying to say. Readers have heard me before opining that a work of art should speak for itself.
Several singers were nominated by their respective voice teachers at Juilliard to audition and then these two were selected by a panel of judges to participate in last night's Vocal Arts Honors Recital at Merkin Hall. This annual recital has always been a highlight of the vocal scene.
The first half of the program was performed by Mary Beth Nelson and Collaborative Pianist Francesco Barfoed. The first set was a setting of Three Poems of Christina Rossetti, a Victorian poet who came from an artistic family, including a famous Pre-Raphaelite painter.
We found the contemporary settings by David Conte to be more interesting in the piano part than the vocal part. Ms. Nelson's approach was elegant, sophisticated, and spare of gesture, as appropriate to the content of the text, which was largely about death. In our opinion, the text didn't ask for music and stands alone as poetry, enjoyable if you love poetry. It felt to us as if Ms. Nelson's gorgeous instrument (which we have very much enjoyed on prior occasions, when she sang Rossini and Strauss) was searching for a melody that wasn't there. Nonetheless, we enjoyed some personal touches such as the ritardando on the closing "think it long" of "Rest" and the emphasis on the recurrence of the phrase "calling me" in "A Hope Carol". The expressive lower register fell lightly on the ear--quite a change from the coloratura that we have admired on prior occasions.
We also enjoyed Mr. Barfoed's playing of the sometimes dense score, especially the extended postlude of "Echo".
The second set comprised three lieder by Schubert that were completely unfamiliar to us. We must have heard them ten years ago when Lachlan Glen produced a year long and exhaustive survey of Schubert's 600 plus lieder. We would love to tell you that we were thrilled to discover "new" Schubert lieder but in all honesty, we cannot. We did not hear the melodic invention nor feel the rhythmic thrust that enthralls.
"Verklärung" is a setting of Alexander Pope's "Transfiguration" translated into German by Johann Gottfried Herder--still more on the theme of death. The piano part was powerful with alternating lyrical parts. The variety of pacing and dynamics held one's interest and it was a story that Ms. Nelson relished telling.
Similarly, the setting of Franz von Bruchmann's "Schwestergrüss" gave Ms. Nelson a story to tell, a ghost story! Schubert wrote it with phrases occurring in ever ascending registers and Ms. Nelson gave this device full measure to build the drama. We also liked the insistent piano in the lower register.
Christoph Kuffner's "Glaube, Hoffnung, und Liebe" seemed to occupy more familiar territory, offering an interesting alternation of major and minor mode. We loved the way Schubert ended the lied with a firm resolution in the piano.
We were left admiring Ms. Nelson's vocal gifts and the will to take the audience to unfamiliar places. Yet, the selections were not our taste and we were left wanting an encore of "Non piu mesto" or "Una voce poco fa".
Sunday, March 12, 2023
MANNES SOUNDS FESTIVAL SOUNDS GREAT
Sunday, March 5, 2023
THE SMALLEST SOUND IN THE SMALLEST SPACE
Friday, March 3, 2023
A GIFT FROM GERDA LISSNER
Monday, February 27, 2023
CARNEGIE HALL CITYWIDE
Dear Reader, if you haven't yet heard about the free vocal concerts offered by Carnegie Hall, let me tell you about them now. Yesterday, in collaboration with St. Paul and St. Andrew United Methodist Church, we had the opportunity to catch up on a singer we have been following for the past five years since her undergraduate days at Manhattan School of Music. Nothing gives us greater pleasure than watching a young singer go from "promising" to "rising star".
We have enjoyed Yvette Keong , a lovely Chinese-Australian soprano, in a number of roles, in a masterclass, as a Gerda Lissner award winner, and outdoors in Washington Square Park a few summers ago. These memories came flooding back when Ms. Keong satisfied the audience with an encore--Stephen Foster's "Beautiful Dreamer" which we may consider her "calling card", sung as it was with perfect diction, gorgeous legato, and the tenderest of feeling.
The program was a challenging one, beginning with four songs by Arnold Schoenberg notable for their mysterious texts by Richard Dehmel and Johannes Schlaf. Two songs by the 20th c. composer Joseph Schwantner utilized texts that were translated from Spanish poetry of Agueda Pizarro that might better have been left in Spanish, which we find far more singable than English. There were some jagged vocal lines that were well handled by the singer but we enjoyed it more when she produced some gorgeous melismatic singing that reminded us of a vocalise. However, the piano writing was colorful and evocative--well performed by collaborative pianist Gracie Francis.
The lyrical "La maja y el ruiseñor" by Enrique Granados was far more to our liking. Ms. Keong's voice represented the girl of the title and Ms. Francis' piano played the part of the nightingale. Ms. Keong's eyes followed the bird in much the same fashion as Nedda's followed the birds in I Pagliacci. So we not only heard the nightingale but we saw it through the eyes of the girl. How completely compelling!
Six songs by Rachmaninoff covered a great deal of emotional territory from the sorrowful imagery of "In my garden at night" to the frisky "The rat-catcher" to the passion of "The Quest"--all sung in impeccable Russian and with flowing vocal line.
The final five songs on the program were our favorites. There is something about Chinese poetry that stirs our soul; there is a timelessness that carries through from the 11th c. to the 20th that we can only begin to appreciate in the English translation but which inspires the most exquisite melodies in the 20th c. composers. The marriage of vocal sound and piano accompaniment left us feeling more than satisfied.
The next vocal recital in the series will be 4/13 when Jonathan Mc Cullough will perform. . Thanks Carnegie Hall!
© meche kroop