We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Vira Slywotzky and Jesse Blumberg
Is one allowed to have fun at a recital?  We certainly hope so. So many of them are serious affairs; we emerge feeling deeply moved (or not) but it isn't often that we leave grinning from ear to ear.  Before last night, Emmanuel Chabrier was just a blip on our radar screen but today we see him in an entirely new light, thanks to The Mirror Visions Ensemble who presented the work of Chabrier and his circle; it was a lighthearted oeuvre comprising his music (setting of texts by Verlaine and several other poets), his amusing and original letters (which were set by Christopher Berg a few years ago), and also works by Poulenc, Duparc, Chausson and D'Indy.

Chabrier, like so many gifted artists of the latter half of the 19th c., worked as a civil servant but had music as his first love.  He was a man of great wit, judging by a letter he wrote to his boss confessing that his absence from work was due to a trip to Bordeaux to realize his dream of seeing Tristan und Isolde.  This letter was set by Mr. Berg who is, like Chabrier, self-taught; his music is tuneful and nothing like the contemporary music which leaves us with clenched teeth.  Mr. Berg himself played the piano and, along with Gary Chapman, played a four-hand piano piece entitled "Souvenirs de Munich" which included themes from Tristan und Isolde but with irreverent and affectionately sacriligious variations.  The two pianists also performed Chabrier's "Cortège burlesque", a toe-tapping number that pressaged the ragtime music to come in the not-too-distant future.

A trio from Monsieur Chabrier's operetta Fisch-Ton-Kan opened the program; he and librettist Paul Verlaine were barely in their 20's yet the work is totally entertaining as brought to life by soprano Vira Slywotzky, tenor Scott Murphree and baritone Jesse Blumberg who got the chance to show off his terpsichorean skills to the delight of the audience.  All three singers had total command of this material and they closed the program with Mr. Berg's beautiful setting of M. Chabrier's letter to his wife; the phrases were eminently singable and the harmonies gorgeous.

In between we heard chansons by Henri Duparc, Ernest Chausson, and Vincent D'Indy whose vocal line in "Madrigal" was beautifully sung by Ms. Slywotzky; the writing for piano was reflective of early music and simply stunning.  Chabrier, like many other composers, enjoyed writing about animals--in this case, turkeys, cicadas and ducklings--charming miniatures all.

But our favorite work of the evening was a duet entitled "Duo de l'ouvreuse de l'Opéra-Comique et de l'employé du Bon-Marché" for which M. Chabrier wrote both text and music.  Ms. S. and Mr. B. portrayed the two lovers, an usherette and a clerk, who were delighted when the Opéra burned down and the government provided a huge stipend so they could finally marry.  It was a perfect storm of singing, acting, music and text.  What fun!

©  meche kroop

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