|Melody Moore (photo by Chip Gillespie)
|Benjamin Perry Wenzelberg
It isn't every day that we get to celebrate two debuts--that of the aptly named famous soprano Melody Moore, heretofore unknown to us, and that of musical wunderkind Benjamin Perry Wenzelberg, about whom we have been writing for several years. Mr. Wenzelberg sings, conducts, plays several instruments and composes. He is finishing his first opera. But last night's impressive debut was a song he was commissioned to write for Ms. Moore.
It isn't every day that we hear the "f word" in Carnegie Hall and that is another first that we will get to further along in our review
Ms. Moore has been making quite a name for herself with her highly dramatic interpretations and warm stage presence. The list of roles she has tackled and those upcoming give one the impression of astonishing versatility--Mozart, Wagner, Puccini, Verdi, Bizet, and Jerome Kern are all represented. With collaborative pianist Robert Mollicone, she held the Weill Recital Hall audience in rapt attention.
Stefano Donaudy and Ottorino Respighi were contemporaries but their turn of the 20th c. songs could not be more different. Donaudy looked backward to the 19th c. that we so love and Ms. Moore sang his "Amorosi miei giorni" with an attractive vibrato and well-shaped phrasing. The embellishments were superbly handled and we are hoping that Ms. Moore may get interested in the bel canto repertory.
Respighi's work looked more toward the future with less glorious melodic invention but more interesting harmonic structure. Ms. Moore sang his "Notte" with gorgeous coloring.
But nothing captivated us as much as Puccini's early song "Sole e amore" to which, we believe, he wrote the text himself. We felt our eyes tearing up and realized that the melody and accompaniment were almost identical with those heard in his opera La Bohème!
Claude Debussy, a contemporary of Puccini, distinguished himself from his colleagues by setting prose and free verse that he wrote himself. Thus what we are hearing seems to be an aural counterpart to paintings of the Impressionist school, although Debussy vociferously objected to his music being called impressionistic. One's ears are surrounded by beauty that is mutable and unstable.
We were delighted to be introduced to his Proses lyriques, in which Ms. Moore and Mr. Mollicone painted pictures in sound. In "De grève", the piano provided multiple images of the sea, both at rest and in its wildest moments. The final song "De soir" gave the singer an opportunity to paint auditory portraits of Debussy's varied images by means of gesture and vocal coloring.
The second half of the program began with Strauss songs, in which Ms. Moore's operatic voice seemed more at home. In the first half, the bronchitis which she had pushed aside (a less confident artist might have begged the audience's indulgence) lent a somewhat hard edge to her voice when she pushed for volume in the upper range. But in the Strauss, everything sounded just fine.
We always love the bittersweet "Befreit" from his Op.39 in which the words speak of joy but the occasion is one of releasing a loved one to death. We heard a beautifully modulated performance in which Ms. Moore spun out the final note to great emotional effect.
The final work on the program sprang from an original idea. Ms. Moore asked five composers to set texts by a poet of whom she is very fond, Clementine von Radics. This young poet has been well-celebrated; we can understand why her texts about the female experience of love have resonated with her readers.
But when we read the texts they seemed to us like novelistic prose, requiring no music to make their impact. Obviously, the five composers felt otherwise and managed to make music for Ms. Moore and Mr. Mollicone to perform.
Having just reviewed an evening of Stephen Schwartz' music at Manhattan School of Music, we were most eager to hear what this versatile composer, equally at home with Broadway musicals and opera, would add to the text. We found he was the most successful of the group at emphasizing the vocal line, making it interesting and singable. His lyricism is wondrously accessible and he knows how to write for the voice so that every single word can be understood. We liked the way he used repetition, especially of the word "river" in "Someday I Will Stop Being Young and Wanting Stupid Tattoos".
It is interesting that Mr. Wenzelberg became friendly with Ms. Moore on the set of Mr. Schwartz' 2011 opera Séance on a Wet Afternoon, one of a very few contemporary operas that we would want to see a second time. We care not a whit if other reviewers find his work "too accessible"!
As far as the texts set by other composers, we admired the pianistic writing more than the vocal line. Since certain verses and lines were omitted from the program notes, there were many phrases that went by without comprehension, although it was no challenge to get the gist of what Ms. Moore was singing about.
Each composer was able to choose the text he wanted to set and Mr. Wenzelberg had felt a special affinity for "Some Things You Could Do to Heal Yourself". We loved the dramatic intensity and the melismatic vocal line on the word "silly".
Scott Gendel's setting had some lovely writing for piano and Gregg Kallor wrote a suitably quiet setting for the text of "A Prayer". David Hanlon wrote the cabaret-inflected music for "Poems and Other Sentimental Bullshit".
It was in this song that the f-bomb was dropped. At the risk of sounding prudish, we do not find the "f word" suitable in an art song. Clearly we were outvoted since the audience seemed to love this instance of épater le bourgeois. We would prefer "sentimental bullshit"!
As encore, Ms. Moore sang Mr. Rogers' song "It's You I Like", an original way to end the evening.
(c) meche kroop