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.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016


Jason Wirth and Marie Marquis

Joy in Singing has been celebrating art song for six decades, supporting young singers with master classes and competitions and bringing emerging artists to the public by means of recitals. The big news is that this non-profit foundation, founded by Winifred Cecil, is expanding its activities and will have master classes open to the public, additional SongSalon evenings in private homes (program directed by Maria Fattore), and increased educational and community outreach. Song lovers take note and keep yourself informed by visiting their website-- www.joyinsinging.org. Start thinking about what you may take from them and also what you might have to contribute.

We have been privileged to attend several of their events and are always thrilled to hear artists that we might have otherwise not heard, artists of exemplary quality.  Last night at Merkin Concert Hall we had exposure to two artists that we actually had heard before but we heard them in a new light.  Soprano Marie Marquis was seen and heard this past Halloween as part of Heartbeat Opera's concert of Mozart in drag (Queens of the Night), the review of which can be read by scrolling down a month's worth of reviews. Collaborative pianist Jason Wirth conducted Dido and Aeneas from the harpsichord for Utopia Opera, the review of which is also archived.  Both of these companies are among our favorites.

Ms. Marquis lacks nothing. Not only is she a major vocal talent but she has the beauty and poise to grace any stage. Her self presentation is that of a confident young woman with a natural elegance but no pretensions. Her presence is a warm and engaging one; she makes ample use of her expressive face but reserves her gestures for emotional moments that count.

It is difficult for us to get a good feel for a singer's instrument when they sing contemporary music in English so let us jump right to the encore, a song we know well and always love--Hugo Wolf's "Auch kleine Dinge", sung in fine German and with the requisite charm.  We could not have asked for a better performance.

The final set on the program comprised some highly passionate songs of Sergei Rachmaninoff, Six Romances, Op.38, the very last of his output of 85 songs. Rachmaninoff was at the top of his form here, offering powerful writing for piano and sensitive writing for the voice. Ms. Marquis and Mr. Wirth interpreted these masterpieces quite beautifully. "At Night in my Garden" has spare writing for the piano and evocative writing for the voice with the minor key giving it a mournful feel.

In contrast, "To Her", a song of yearning for an absent beloved, enjoyed lavish writing for the piano. The final song "A-oo"
has the same theme and the intense longing was conveyed by both voice and piano.

Two of the songs involved more cheerful coloration--the familiar "Daisies" with its rapid piano figures and "Ratcatcher" which gives the piano some frisky syncopated rhythms as it portrays the romantic piper.  "Dream" was appropriately ethereal and gave Ms. Marquis an opportunity for a short but lovely portamento close to the end.

Francis Poulenc's cycle La Courte Paille is filled with whimsy. "Le Sommeil", a gentle lullaby, was sung with consummate sweetness and "Quelle Aventure" conveys the wonder of childhood with wide leaps that Ms. Marquis negotiated with finesse.  Our favorites, however, were "Les Anges Musiciens" with its beautiful imagery and the clever "Le Carafon", which made us just want to say "AWWWW". "Lune d'Avril" expresses an anti-war sentiment and Mr. Wirth's piano went from forceful to peaceful.

Dominick Argento set texts from the Elizabethan era for his Six Elizabethan Songs and we think the poetry should have been left alone. The rhythm of the English language seems to dictate a vocal line that is not particularly melodic.  Clearly Ms. Marquis chose these songs because she loves to sing them but we did not love the listening experience.

Neither did we care for the French Renaissance poetry set by Wilhelm Killmayer in his Les Blasons Anatomiques du Corps Feminin, but we loved the sound of the old French and the way Ms. Marquis sang it. Just as we are very unhappy when a poor singer maims a song we love, so we can be made happy when a good singer shows us something worthwhile in a song we don't love!

Another of Mr. Killmayer's compositions made an appearance on the program--yet another setting of Heinrich Heine's famous poem "Die Loreley". Was he trying to outdo Franz Liszt and Clara Schumann whose settings capture different essences of this German fairytale? We do not know, but several dozen other composers have also tried their hand at it. We failed to see what Killmayer's attempt achieved.

John Masefield's "The Seal Man" reads like an interesting scary story but not exactly poetry and not offering much for composer Rebecca Clarke to add. The words get lost at the upper register which is a problem for almost all writing in English. In this genre, we far preferred Claude Debussy's setting of Leconte de Lisle's poem "Les Elfes". Ms. Marquis' facility with French--not just the pronunciation but the rhythm of the phrasing--ensured a more delightful experience of the macabre.

(c) meche kroop

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