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.

Friday, June 12, 2015


David Leisner and Michael Kelly

Although we have heard some atrocities passed off as transcriptions, this was definitely not the case last night when baritone (we'd call him a barihunk but the overworked appellation has lost its meaning) Michael Kelly joined forces with guitarist extraordinaire David Leisner for a riveting performance of our favorite song cycle, Franz Schubert's Die Schöne Müllerin.  Mr. Leisner, a performing and recording artist of great renown, transcribed it himself and it owes no apologies to the piano from which it was borrowed. Had Schubert himself been in the room we think he would have been mighty pleased.

Wilhelm Müller composed the poetry in 1820 and Schubert set it over the next couple years, premiering it in 1823. Typical of German Romanticism, it concerns a youth wandering the countryside, presumably to find his pathway in life. A brook, which becomes a main character in the poetry, leads him to a mill where he finds work as an apprentice, falls in love with the boss' daughter, loses her to a hunter, and drowns himself in the brook.

This tale involves myriad emotions and Mr. Kelly's involvement was so deep and so intense that we felt every single one of them along with him--the carefree opening gives way to a sense of purpose, the joy of working, feelings of inadequacy, romantic longing, hopefulness, elation, anxiety, jealousy, anger, and ultimately despair. 

Mr. Kelly has a beautiful baritone but what distinguished his performance was the manner in which he employed it. The phrasing was faultless, the German diction crisp and clear in spite of a nearly Italianate legato, and the word coloring went beyond any we have heard before. It seemed as if he were painting with his voice.

This is truly a young man's cycle and we do not agree with those who believe that a man needs decades of experience to sing it well.  In our opinion, a young man is closer to the intense feelings of infatuation, of wanting to impress the idealized love object, of the despair of crushed aspirations. How vivid Mr. Kelly made it all seem! It was so real we wanted to shout out "Don't do it!  Don't throw yourself in the brook! Other lovers will come along." It was similar to the feeling we have when Siegfried refuses to give the ring back to the Rhinemaidens and we want to shout "Give it back, Siegfried, give it back!"  That kind of involvement is rare!!!

We are sure that the preparation involved in presenting this cycle was extensive.  So how did Mr.Kelly make it seem so spontaneous? This we cannot answer; such is the mystery of art.  But in our post-ironic age where disappointed lovers shrug and say "next" or "whatever" this sort of emotionality seems rapturous.

And what of the guitar arrangement? It was accomplished by Mr. Leisner himself and struck us as a masterpiece in its own right. Just as the piano originally assumed the role of emphasizing the emotional content, so did the guitar; we loved the softness of its voice and heard new things in the music.  We were held rapt for over an hour and wanted the performance never to stop. That's ART!

The recital was presented by SongFusion and lieder lovers are welcome to support their fine work on Fractured Atlas.org. You do want to hear more of this quality of work, don't you?  You do!

(c) meche kroop

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