|Bretton Brown and Pureum Jo|
There was something very ardent about her performance of spiritual songs. We have never been particularly fond of spirituals but Ms. Jo made two of Harry Burleigh's songs memorable, especially with the slow tempo and dynamic variety which she brought to "Deep River". Cesar Franck's "Panis Angelicus" is always a treat, especially since it was accompanied by the fine cellist Sang Jun Yhee. Luigi Luzzi's "Ave Maria" is perhaps not heard as often as Schubert's setting but was very lovely to listen to, especially as Ms. Jo sang it.
After the spiritual songs came a set of fanciful songs about witches! In Richard Strauss' "Junghexenlied", Ms. Jo conveyed an elfin quality; her wonderful collaborative pianist Bretton Brown gave his all to the very apt accompaniment. Wolf's "Nixe Binsefuss" and the spirited "Hexenlied" followed, all sung with involvement, meaning and excellent diction.
A pair of well-chosen love songs included the beloved "A Chloris" by Reynaldo Hahn, earnestly sung, and a rather seductive "Je Te Veux" by Eric Satie which Ms. Jo invested with a cabaret style.
Two Rossini songs allowed Ms. Jo to demonstrate her fine bel canto technique with accurate and elaborate embellishments. "Aragonese" was sung like an operatic aria complete with a stunning cadenza. The frisky "La Danza" with its tongue twisting text was accompanied by Ms. Jo dancing in a variety of styles with a bunch of her classmates joining her onstage. Now THAT was FUN!
In such a well designed and beautifully executed program, it is difficult to say which part was the best; but to our ears, Tchaikovsky's "Was I not a little blade of grass?" had a depth of feeling that broke our heart. It is the metaphor-heavy lament of a young woman married off to an old man she does not love. Ms. Jo's voice soared up into the stratosphere in a goose-bump-inducing finale.
As an encore, we heard Dvořak's "Song to the Moon" from Rusalka which Ms. Jo sang exquisitely. We were fantasizing that Renée Fleming was there conducting a master class and that she said, "Ms. Jo, you nailed it. I have nothing more to add." Well, let us hope that we will soon hear Ms. Jo sing the role at the Metropolitan Opera.
Ⓒ meche kroop