|Ken Noda, Julie Adams, and Emily D'Angelo|
After two weeks of operas about women being suppressed and abused it came as quite a relief to enjoy a George London Foundation recital in which two women made a strong showing of artistry and presence. Soprano Julie Adams and mezzo-soprano Emily D'Angelo have no qualms about showing both beauty and strength. We couldn't have imagined a better recital, well worth the soaking we got from yet another rainy day.
The big surprise was how Ms. D'Angelo's artistry surpassed our inherent dislike of American 20th c. songs. We have suffered through Copland's settings of Emily Dickinson's poetry on a few occasions and we were not expecting to be so drawn in. But, there it is! True artistry can bring out hidden qualities in anything. (We are thinking of how Moroccan Cauliflower Soup changed our mind about that previously detested vegetable.)
We felt as if this gifted young singer were composing the poetry as she sang it but actually, she was "merely" channeling Ms. Dickinson. Words on a page became experienced reality. "Heart we will forget him" was particularly affecting. She is a true story-teller!
She performed two works about eerie myths in a single set. In "The Seal Man" by 20th c. composer Rebecca Clarke, she related the story of a woman so madly in love that she follows her beloved into the sea and drowns-- quite a metaphor! We preferred Clara Schumann's telling of the tale of "Die Lorelie", probably because we prefer German lieder of the 19th c. better than 20th c. songs in English. The former rhymes and scans; the latter is prosy.
Ms. D'Angelo's instrument has a wonderful texture and her artistry has earned awards and recognition including a 2018 George London award. All the ingredients for success are there; it is gratifying to read about the many roles for which she has been chosen.
It take courage to include Schoenberg and Berg on a recital program. The vocal lines are strange to the ear and the text even stranger. And yet she made sense of them with her precise German and apt phrasing.
Nonetheless, our favorite among Ms. D'Angelo's selections was "Sein wir wieder gut" from Strauss' comedy Ariadne auf Naxos. She captured all the enthusiasm of a young composer who recognizes the reconciliation required of this most sacred art.
Ms. Adams is likewise the recipient of many awards including a 2015 George London award; she too has earned recognition for her powerful dramatic soprano which lent itself so well to "Elsa's Dream" from Wagner's Lohengrin. She sang with ardent passion and ringing tone, bringing out the yearning in Elsa's character. We loved it!
Lovers of Strauss (and we count ourself in that group) could not help but thrill to her performance of two songs--"Morgen" and "Beim Schlafengehen". Both songs are of a peaceful nature, the first one a shared peacefulness, and the second one a solitary peace. In "Morgen" we realized we were holding our breath! At the word "stumm", her coloration and diction took us into a new place. The violin accompaniment by David Chan echoed the vocal line to great effect.
And look how she interpreted a pair of songs by Rachmaninoff! We generally expect "Ne poy, Krasavitsa" to be sung by a man so it was an interesting choice. It is so filled with Russian soul that we could feel the pain in our heart. We love the way the piano echoes the Oriental mode of the vocal line and vice versa. In "Son" we enjoyed the dreamlike rippling in the piano. This seems like a good place to tell how much we appreciate Ken Noda's playing, about which we will have more to say further along.
Grieg too wrote about a dream. In "Ein Traum" the dreamer's dream becomes reality and what passion we heard in Ms. Adams' coloration! This set of songs included some low lying passages but this did not daunt our singer, not even in the regret filled "Zur Rosenzeit".
We were thinking how perfect the recital would have been had there been a duet. Lo and behold, these two lovely ladies provided an encore that was the perfect cherry on the sundae--"Belle nuit" from Offenbach's Contes d'Hoffman. We had just heard it Friday night but would be happy to hear it again tomorrow. The harmony of the two contrasting voices was delicious and it didn't hurt that these two ladies looked the parts they played. There was shapely Ms. Adams with flowing blond locks, very believable as an enchanting courtesan; and next to her the stately Ms. D'Angelo with her short hair and androgynous attire, looking like a young student.
We could end here on a high note, so to speak, but we would be remiss not to say more about the superb violinist Mr. Chan who opened the program playing the "Allegro vivo" from Debussy's Sonata in G minor. We know very little about violin technique but we know artistry when we hear it and noticed how similar the violin is to the human voice in terms of dynamics and phrasing. Both Mr. Chan and Mr. Noda began with a delicate touch that quickly swelled into passion. Mr. Noda's piano produced purling figures to accompany and support the wordless voice of the violin.
The two instrumentalists were even more impressive in the "Méditation" from Massenet's Thaïs in which the violin sang its secrets supported by some gorgeous arpeggi in the piano. We love the way tenderness gave way to passion.
What an exceptional concert! We love the fact that the George London Foundation supports these young singers at the early stage of their careers and then invites them back a few years later so we can assess their growth. We love witnessing promise becoming perfection!
(c) meche kroop