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.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017


Jenni Seo and Amanda Lynn Bottoms (Dan K. Kurland at the piano)

We have written about mezzo-soprano Amanda Lynn Bottoms at least ten times in the past couple of years, predominantly about her appearances with Steven Blier's cabaret evenings, with a couple brief roles in a couple of operas, and a star turn as Carmen in a recent master class. She has always impressed us with her warm dusky soprano and elegant stage presence. But last night's recital at Juilliard, in honor of her Master of Music degree, showed us fresh aspects of her artistry.

Prior commitments kept us from enjoying the entire recital, but the hour we spent listening to Ms. Bottoms brought us joy and terror. Let us start with the terror because it was a very special terror.  How rare to hear a woman tackle Schubert's "Erlkonig"! How successfully she performed it!  Goethe's text is replete with supernatural horror but the work needs both a dramatically skilled singer and  aggressive hands on the piano.

Ms. Bottoms revealed herself to be a consummate storyteller, coloring her voice four different ways to bring to life each character. Moreover, her body language and facial expression were brought to bear on the individuation. When the titular character spoke, our blood ran cold, our hairs stood at attention, and we shivered.  Now that's a performance! Dan Kurland's vigorous piano added yet another dimension. We doubt we will hear the like again and we don't think we will ever forget those few minutes of horror.

Truth to tell, we did not comprehend Ms. Bottom's introduction to the set of three songs asserting that they were related. The first of the set was a beautifully sung piece by Dvorak about a broken heart; it brought Russalka's "Song to the Moon" to mind. The third of the set was "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen" from Mahler's Ruckert-Lieder. It was also beautifully interpreted but we were still living in the Goethe and had been denied the release of applause!

A pair of songs by Brahms (Zwei Gesange, Op.91) were accompanied by the viola of Jenni Seo. The poor viola is largely overlooked and unfairly maligned. Ms. Seo was playing largely in the lower range of the instrument and it sounded like a less mellow cello. Our favorite was the lullaby "Geistliches Wiegenlied". The haunting oft-repeated motif ensures that the song will stay in one's ear for at least the remainder of the day. It was sung with appropriate tenderness.

Debussy's Chansons de Bilitis stand in a special place in our affection, especially "La Chevelure", the first and most romantic of the set. Ms. Bottoms sang it so wonderfully we wanted her to sing the rest, allowing her skill at coloring and phrasing to tell the entire story, but we will have to wait for that gift.

Instead we heard "La Fraicheur et le Feu" with the typical surreal text that Poulenc liked to set.

At this point we had to leave for the opera and missed the closing spirituals.

We had thought twice about racing up to Juilliard to experience just a part of a recital but we wouldn't have missed the experience for the world.

(c) meche kroop

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