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.

Saturday, January 14, 2017


Brenda Rae (photo by Kristin Hoebermann)

This is the sixth time we have reviewed the stunning soprano Brenda Rae (all reviews archived and searchable) and have never had a single negative opinion. Whether in recital or onstage as a scintillating or tragic heroine of an opera, she dazzles with her gentle charm, expressiveness, and compelling voice. It is never easy to definite in words what makes a vocal instrument uniquely affecting and we also acknowledge that everyone's ears hear things a bit differently.  Still, we have to say that Ms. Rae's voice has a special timbre that is exciting to hear. 

Last night at Weill Recital Hall of Carnegie Hall, we heard Ms. Rae perform a recital with her highly tuned-in piano partner In Sun Suh. The choice of material and its expressive delivery drew us in until the music engulfed us.  It was at times an almost out-of-body experience.

Several songs on the program recalled to us the excellent recital she performed in Santa Fe, also with Ms. Suh. We have not changed our minds on this point: Ms. Rae and Richard Strauss were made for each other. Ms. Rae's obvious affection for the songs mirrored Strauss' affection for the soprano fach

Over years of paying attention in master classes, we have heard time and again the advice not to give it all away at the start. It was the subtle initiation Ms. Rae gave to "Die Nacht" that brought that to mind. The delicacy of her approach made the onset of dusk and the anxiety of losing one's lover all too clear. The vocal coloring was impressive. This would not be the first time we made note of her pianissimoThere was plenty of spell-binding without grandstanding.

Other songs revealed the excitement she brings to her expansive upper register with its tingly vibrato. For in "Befreit", accompanied by some gorgeous arpeggios in the piano she allowed her voice to expand to fill the emotion. Anxiety about loss can be quiet but the real loss of this song required passion and that we got.  Ms. Rae seems to be able to sustain the vocal tone and the emotional tone without apparent effort.

"Muttertanderlei" gave Ms. Rae the chance to have some fun, portraying a proud mother given to melismatic flights of maternal delight in her perfect child.  Continuing with the lighthearted mood, we heard a charming performance of "Schlagende Herzen" with its appreciation for young love.

Franz Liszt set texts of both German and French and Ms. Rae continued on a roll, as one might say. In"Comment disaient-ils" she colored her voice differently for the questioner and the female authority who responds succinctly and accurately.

In "Wie singt die Lerche schon", we loved the rising phrases of the vocal line against the rippling piano. "Oh! quand je dors", with its text by Victor Hugo, is one of Liszt's most expressive creations and last night we heard it anew.

Mozart's aria "Vorrei spiegarvi, oh Dio" was written to be interpolated into an opera by Pasquale Anfossi (not a rare practice at that time) . The opera was entitled Il Curioso Indiscreto; the plot concerns a woman rejecting the advances of a man, unaware that he has been sent by her intended to test her faithfulness. She is weakening and, in an impassioned cabaletta she requests divine relief from her suffering.

The tessitura for this aria is in the stratosphere but presented no challenge to our star soprano. She generated a lot of heat with her vocal fireworks and thrilled with her trill.

We heard a quartet of Debussy songs, our favorite of which was "Rondel chinois" with its orientalist flavor and a gorgeous vocalise for Ms. Rae to enjoy, and enjoy she did.  As did we! In "Pierrot" we liked the harsh way in which Ms. Suh rendered the appropriated French folk song. About Ms. Suh's playing, let us just say that we admire her soft hands and the quiet support she gave to Ms. Rae. This was the only moment when harshness was called for.

The program ended with five songs by the prolific Schubert. We were most interested in the Iberian inflected "Aus Diego Manazares" (also called "Ilmerine"), a short but pithy lament of longing in which the insistent piano imitates the guitar and the syncopated rhythms remind one of flamenco.

We always love to hear Schubert's strophic song "Du bist die Ruh"and were caught in a web of tranquility by the tender delivery of the artists.  The final song "Lied der Delphine" swelled with youthful passion and all its extravagance.

We were totally satisfied but joined the other greedy members of the audience in demanding an encore. Strauss' "Amor" is the perfect encore piece.  If the character Amor's wings caught fire it must have been from the vocal fireworks, so blazingly provided by Ms. Rae. This is a perfect encore piece for Ms. Rae. We have heard her sing it before. Which leads us to ask the question...why impair your wonderful interpretation with the use of a music stand when you know the piece so well? We hope Ms. Rae will keep that perfect encore piece polished and ready to go without the music stand.

(c) meche kroop

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