|Susan Morton and Alexis Cregger|
"Dramatic soprano" is the way Alexis Cregger describes her fach but the word "dramatic" also describes this artist's way of approaching a song, be it lied or aria. Not only is her instrument of good size but her dramatic skills are brought to bear on everything she sings. Her connection with the text is so deep that we experience the song along with her. We got the impression that she sees in her mind's eye and hears in her mind's ear what the poet or librettist is describing.
Last night at the National Opera Center, her marvelously varied program demonstrated her facility with French, German, Italian and Spanish; it also revealed her artistry in a number of styles. She was introduced by the delightful opera impressario/conductor/raconteur William Remmers for whose Opera Utopia she has performed in numerous Gilbert and Sullivan roles.
The program opened with Maurice Ravel's Cinq Mélodies Populaires Grecques. Ravel's music paints a picture of the Greece of his fantasies and we enjoyed Ms. Cregger's sharing those fantasies with us. We particularly enjoyed the romantic "Chanson de la mariée", the boastful fellow in "Quel galant m'est comparable" and the joyful "Tout gai!". In this cycle major and minor shift back and forth to fine effect.
Joaquín Rodrigo's cycle Cuatros Madrigales Amatorios also covers the emotional waterfront from the sad lament of a lonely woman in "Con que la lavare?" to the angry jealousy of "De donde venis amore?", an emotion discerned and revealed by Ms. Cregger that we had missed in prior performances by other singers.
If there is one composer for which Ms. Cregger's voice seems meant it is Richard Strauss. For unknown reasons, the marvelous Brentano Lieder are not performed as often as many of the others and we were thrilled to hear Ms. Cregger immerse herself in the first five of the six. Strauss wrote these rather later than most of his song output, in 1918, after he had written many of his operas.
The poetry of Clemens Brentano is filled with passion for nature expressed with unusual harmonies, chromatic melodies, and lots of melismatic passages, all beautiful revealed by Ms. Cregger and her excellent piano partner Susan Morton. The only one with which we are truly familiar was "Amor", a charming tale of a shepherdess who feels pity for the suffering blind child and gets burned.
And now we come to the most exciting part of the program--the arias! We heard "Martern aller Arten" from Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail in which Kostanze sings of her steadfast nature. It was a powerful performance to say the least.
But capping the program was "Regnava nel silenzio...Quando rapito in estasi" from Act I of Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. Lucia is wandering in the woods with her companion and recounts a ghost story. Ms. Cregger's artistry hinted strongly at the emotional fragility and unbalanced nature of the eponymous Lucia. One could see disaster waiting in the wings. There was astonishing vocal fireworks in the cabaletta.
As if this were not sufficient, we heard an arresting delivery of the punishing aria "Der Hölle Rache" that was absolutely chilling. Ms. Cregger's voice is not only substantial but sufficiently flexible to blow us away with accurate fioritura.
A gentle encore was exactly what was needed lest we fall over in the street on the way out! We got just exactly that--Ernesto Lecuona's "Escucha el Ruiseñor". Escuchar we did!
Ms. Cregger has a bright and beautiful instrument with plenty of strength to back it up. Everything she sings has dramatic validity. She is on her way to Germany to audition and we are sure she will take the Germans by storm.
(c) meche kroop