|John Parr and Heidi Melton
Just another big beautiful gal with a big beautiful voice? Not exactly. Dramatic soprano Heidi Melton has been garnering awards and plum roles for the past nine years or so and was presented yesterday at the Schimmel Center of Pace University as part of their Rising Opera Stars in Recital series.
Such honors and accolades do not come easily and much work evidently went into Ms. Melton's seemingly effortless performance. She credited John Parr, her collaborative pianist and coach, with encouraging her to explore the Wagner repertory. Apparently she picked up that ball and ran with it all the way to the goalpost.
Following Beethoven's concert aria "Ah! Perfido", Ms. Melton gifted us with Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder, a quintet of wondrous songs which Wagner set to poetry by Mathilde Wesendonck. What we love about these songs is the variation of mood, giving the soprano many opportunities to express herself through word coloring.
The gentle quietude of "Der Engel" was followed by the propulsive quality of "Stehe Still!". Only in the last verse do we feel the sustained rapturous mood in the words "versinken" and "verstummt". Our favorite in this group is always "Im Treibhaus" in which the rising sequence of four notes in a scale passage bring to mind the composer's Tristan und Isolde. How can just four notes do this??? Amazing! The room was so still we were sure the audience was collectively holding their breath.
In "Schmerzen", Ms. Melton allowed her voice to expand to its fullest which is full indeed. But she brought it back for "Träume" and built slowly to a climax.
We have only good things to say about Claude Debussy's Chansons de Bilitis to text by Pierre Louÿs. The impressionistic music serves the poetry and Ms. Melton served the music. The work takes us out of our world and to a magical place.
Recently brought under the umbrella of works we enjoy are Alban Berg's Sieben Frühe Lieder. It takes a good interpreter to make sense of the vocal lines which are not nearly as accessible as those of Schubert, Schumann and Brahms. But Ms. Melton is a fine musician as well as a fine singer and we enjoyed them, especially "Die Nachtigall" in which she allowed her voice to expand at the top of her register.
The final set comprised songs by Kurt Weill. In "Je ne t'aime pas", we enjoyed Ms. Melton's French, especially in the pianissimo passages which drew us in. Only a few words at the top of her register got lost.
Interestingly, her English diction was so superb in "September Song" from Knickerbocker Holiday, "Stay Well" from Lost in the Stars, and "My Ship" from Lady in the Dark that we didn't miss a single word! Regular readers will recall how often I complain about needing titles for songs in English. No problem with that here.
As encore, the old Irving Berlin song "Always" delighted the audience. It was a privilege to hear a wonderful dramatic soprano whose instrument is outstanding and who is also a fine musician. We would like to add that Mr. Parr was with her every step of the way, always supportive and never overwhelming.
(c) meche kroop