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.

Sunday, May 31, 2015


Renate Rohlfing and Julia Bullock

It was excessively warm and close inside of St. Michaels's Church on the Upper West Side where Carnegie Hall offered one of its neighborhood concerts yesterday. Nonetheless, the church was packed with worshippers--music worshippers!  Even the priest noticed that the church had never been that full.

The air was still.  The worshippers were still. No one dared risk missing a single note of what amounted to a devout performance. Soprano Julia Bullock is nothing if not devout in her commitment to vocal artistry. It is not just the superlative soprano instrument but the fact that she serves the music and text equally, while serving up her soul from deep within.  Every song is filtered through her personalized nature and made her own. Do we sound like a fan? We are in good company. There are so many of us.

Accompanied by the gentle hands of collaborative pianist Renate Rohlfing, Ms. Bullock began her program with a startling work by John Cage on prepared piano entitled "She is Asleep". The vocal sounds and the piano sounds were novel--meaningless syllables, something sounding like bird calls, all expressed with variety of color and dynamics. Who else could have sung this?

The pair of artists then shifted from this 1943 work to a 1960 cycle by Francis Poulenc entitled La courte paille, setting of texts by Maurice Carême, composed toward the end of Poulenc's life. We are not sure why the title "the short straw" was chosen. The songs refer to childhood--a tender lullaby entitled "Le sommeil", some fantasies "Quelle aventure!" and "Le carafon" (our personal favorite), and a few surrealistic pieces. All were performed with a depth of understanding that was communicated successfully to the audience.

Modest Mussorgsky's The Nursery always delights us. A good performance of these songs requires that the singer draw forth images of childhood innocence and curiosity; this, Ms. Bullock accomplished completely. Even her appearance was transformed and one could easily picture her as the child relating to her nanny, her fear of the bogeyman, her wish to hear good stories, her saying her prayers, her request for her mother's sympathy. We sat transfixed.

Songs by Samuel Barber followed with the strange "My Lizard", the accessible "The Daisies" and "Nuvoletta" from James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake which seemed to be a tale of suicide obscured by wordplay. As the character leans over the "bannistars", Ms. Bullock leaned over the strings of the piano. We felt a chill.

Richard Strauss' Drei Lieder der Ophelia were movingly sung and Ms. Bullock seguéd directly into the fine spiritual Harry T. Burleigh's "Deep River" and closed with Billy Taylor's "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free".

As encore, we heard "La Conga Blicoti", popularized by Josephine Baker. It was a generous performance by a most generous artist and her fine accompanist.  Bravissime!

(c) meche kroop

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