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.

Monday, September 28, 2015


Miriam Leskis and Raehann Bryce-Davis

The title of this review comes from an Amy Beach song brought to life by the glorious mezzo-soprano Raehann Bryce-Davis. The words, penned by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, seemed to have been written with someone just like Ms. Bryce-Davis in mind. Not only does her singing contain her entire heart but a great deal of soul as well. Last night's recital at the National Opera Center was glorious.

Ms. Beach's songs are lyrically melodic; she is one of the few American composers who knew how to choose poetry and how to amplify and enhance it.  Ms. Bryce-Davis sang the selections with impressive intensity, making each word count. Her English diction is faultless. Her instrument is a large and generous one with a most appealing vibrato.

The second set comprised a cycle of songs by Dominick Argento, settings of entries From the Diary of Virginia Woolf, entries from the period between the two World Wars. We would have no desire to read the ramblings of a disordered mind, nor could we imagine setting such stuff to music, but Ms. Bryce-Davis is such a compelling storyteller that we listened with rapt attention. We couldn't help but wondering if any operas contain mad scenes for mezzos! There surely must be something like that in the singer's future.

The second half of the program was far more in line with our taste.  We generally think of sopranos when we think of Richard Strauss' songs but this artist's special sound, along with her vitality and commitment, made them new again.  We always love "Heimliche Aufforderung, Op. 27, No. 3" as it speaks to a secret meeting between familiar lovers. "Zueignung, Op. 10, No. 1" is a tribute to the benefits of love and always makes us smile. Need we mention that the artist's German was crisp and clear?

Regular readers will recall how taken we are with zarzuela and will understand how delighted we were by the two which Ms. Bryce-Davis sang last night. First she sang Concha's song "De España Venga" from Pablo Luna's early 20th c. zarzuela El Niño Judío; she sang it with passion and pride in perfect Spanish.

The other selection was "Maria La O" from Ernesto Lecuona's zarzuela of the same name. This Cuban work from 1930 involves a young mulata  who refuses to accept the second-class status of a mistress, and rebels against the racial and gender politics of the times. Ms. Bryce-Davis made me want to see the entire work performed. 

The set with which the artist closed the evening comprised two spirituals from Jamaica, her parents' homeland. Part of "No Dark There" was sung a capella and then piano partner Miriam Leskis, who had contributed so much support for the evening, joined the singer for some good rousing music with a Caribbean beat. "Dis is My Word" was sung in dialect and was marked by touches of humor.

As encore, we heard "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands". Let's see what He has in store for the amazing Ms. Bryce-Davis. We foresee a magnificent future.

(c) meche kroop