|Eric Sedgwick, Michael Kelly, Mary Mackenzie, and Samantha Malk|
We have reviewed baritone Michael Kelly's performances on many prior occasions and have always been impressed, not only by the satiny quality of his voice but by his perfect diction and his ability to tell a story in a meaningful way. This was the first time we have been witness to his talents as an impresario or producer. Last night he curated an evening of songs at The National Opera Center. The photographer Matthew Morrocco, inspired by the songs, contributed photographs that were projected above the singers. The songs in the program were in turn inspired by and organized according to the Chinese zodiac, involving not just animals but elements of nature. The program notes were fascinating.
Mr. Kelly was joined by two outstanding young women whose vocal and dramatic skills matched his own. Mary Mackenzie has that bright shiny soprano that we love to listen to and Samantha Malk's mellow mezzo rested easily on the ear. Both of them demonstrated the same superb diction as Mr. Kelly, making sense of works we have heard before and not cared much about. Piano partner Eric Sedgwick showed a sensitivity of touch and great versatility, working equally well with the modern and the traditional.
As readers already know, our taste runs toward the traditional so it is no accident that our favorite songs fell into that category. Ms. Mackenzie and Ms. Malk performed a marvelous duet by Brahms entitled "Jägerlied", exchanging question and answer. Mr. Kelly's delivery of the fatalistic "Der Tannenbaum" by Richard Wagner was chilling and emotional. Neither did he stint on the menace of Schoenberg's "Warnung"; it made us shiver.
Fauré's "Eau Vivante", a tribute to a spring, was given a beautifully bright and clear delivery by Ms. Mackenzie. We understood every word of her French, even though the range was rather high. She also excelled in Poulenc's "Tu vois le feu du soir", making good use of enough dynamic variety to make the several verses interesting.
We enjoyed Ms. Malk the most in Brahms' "Von Ewiger Liebe", a song that always touches our heart. She is a born storyteller and drew us in. In terms of storytelling, however, nothing matched Mr. Kelly's dramatic telling of Hugo Wolf's "Der Feuerreiter", a song filled with horror.
In the category of more modern pieces, we liked Copland's "The Little Horses" in which Ms. Mackenzie made vivid contrast between the gentle soothing verses and the lively description of the types of horses the child would wake to have. We like English best when good use is made of the clever rhymes it allows (as in Gilbert and Sullivan) so it is no surprise that we loved the humorous "Judged by the Company One Keeps" by David Sisco--given a sensational delivery by Mr. Kelly.
Of all the Britten songs on the program, we far preferred "A Charm", a setting of a 17th c. text by Thomas Randolf. Ms. Malk gave it an intense delivery and captured the irony of trying to terrify a child into sleep! But we also were quite taken with Britten's "Silver" because of the lovely poetry by de la Mare; Mr. Kelly made generous use of word coloring to enhance the effect.
The program tied each song to an animal and/or an element, surely an unusual way to organize a program. It had the effect of making us search our own Chinese zodiac sign on Google. We like Western astrology better! Although the concept of music inspiring photography, we did not succeed at grasping the connections and preferred to focus on the glorious voices.
© meche kroop