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.

Saturday, August 9, 2014


Joseph Illick and Paul Groves
We sometimes get teary-eyed at an art song recital when a song is very sad, but at yesterday's Performance Santa Fe recital we wept from the sheer beauty of witnessing an artist totally in touch with his material and completely able to communicate with his audience.  One might raise that comment by the power of ten in order to convey the intensely intimate experience created by tenor Paul Groves and his piano partner Joseph Illick, Artistic Director of Performance Santa Fe and wearer of many other hats. Mr. Illick introduced Mr. Groves by saying that an opera singer makes the best interpreter of art songs. After that recital we are inclined to agree.  Every song on the program became a drama in miniature.

Henri Duparc was a troubled soul, as Mr. Groves shared with us, a man who burned most of his works. Very little survives and he is best known for sixteen songs that are perfect miniatures and which appear consistently on recital programs.  Yesterday Mr. Groves brought them to vivid life by his mastery of the French style with its long even lines.  Any young singer wanting to succeed in the French repertory would do well to study Mr. Groves' technique.  It appears effortless, belying the amount of hard work it must have taken.

Mr. Groves' tenor has a steel-strong core that seems covered in velvet.  The initial song of his Duparc set was the highly dramatic "Le manoir de Rosemonde"in which the poet (de Bonnieres) moves from passion to resignation and Mr. Groves emphasized first the steel and then the velvet.  The contrast was chilling.  "Extase" allowed the delicate line of Mr. Illick's piano to interact with the equally delicate vocal line. Mr. Illick shone again in the arpeggios of "Chanson triste".  In "Soupir", we swooned over the final diminuendo.  But it was "Phidyle" that stole our heart.  Mr. Groves obviously loves words and enjoys communicating their significance.  Just listen to what he did with the word "repose"!  Magic!

Our tears gave way to smiles when he moved on to Britten's Folksongs.  "The Brisk Young Widow" related the tale of a courtship gone awry.  "Sally in Our Alley" made us care about the light-hearted goofy young lover waiting for his apprenticeship to end so he could wed.  Next we heard about "The Lincolnshire Poacher" and his war with the gamekeeper.  The entire set transported us to the British Isles in days of yore.

We have heard Liszt's Victor Hugo Songs many times but enjoyed them particularly well as performed by Mr. Groves without any breaks.  "Comment, disaient-ils" is a sprightly ditty about three riddles.  The closing song of the set "Oh! quand je dors" was perhaps the most affecting.  Just hear how our wonderful tenor shed his special light on the word "s'eveillera"!

The recital ended with three songs by Sergei Rachmaninoff, of which our favorite was "Oh, Never Sing to Me Again" with sad homesick words penned by Pushkin.  The piano and vocal lines echo each other in an avalanche of unbearable suffering.  It offered Mr. Groves the opportunity to show off some lovely and haunting melismatic singing.

Lest the audience leave on a tearful note, Mr. Groves performed the delightful "Au fond du temple saint" with the fine baritone Kostas Smoriginas.

Both will be heard onstage at the Santa Fe Opera so stay tuned for upcoming reviews  We are particularly looking forward to hearing Mr. Groves as Florestan in Beethoven's Fidelio.

(c) meche kroop

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