|Asher Denburg, Jeremy Griffin, Anna Viemeister, and Valentin Peytchinov|
We love new experiences; we love being introduced to new singers; and we love getting more evidence for our strongly held beliefs. The belief in question has to do with American opera and its definition. The academic music world insists on presenting the public with works which we see out of curiosity, works which very few people ever wish to see again.
Meanwhile, there are writers of "Broadway Musical Theater" who entertain us in the same way as Mozart, Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini, Verdi, and Puccini did in previous centuries. These works hold our interest and endure mainly because of one feature. They have melody. The melodies stay with us and we want to hear them again and again.
Of course, looking at 20th c. musical theater, there was a lot of trash, but there were also forgettable operas in the 19th c. So, dear reader, last night found us back at St. John's in the Village, the Rector of which is a true music lover. The occasion was a celebration of the centennial of Prohibition and celebrate we did with a compelling concert of music theater and cabaret, performed unamplified (YAY!) by a trio of splendid singers, accompanied on the piano by Asher Denburg, a pianist new to us but one we look forward to hearing again.
The singer who was new to us is Jeremy Griffin whose baritone voice readily encompasses the lower register. Whatever he sang was given the full force of his personality; he has plenty of presence and uses his entire body to get a song across. And he enunciates English clearly so that every word is understood.
Our favorite number of the evening was William Bolcom's "The Song of Black Max"--in our opinion the best song Bolcom ever wrote. We were introduced to this song by none other than cabaret artist Kim David Smith and we fell in love with it on the spot. We have heard it several times over the past few years with feelings of disappointment because the other singers failed to paint the picture.
Mr. Griffin succeeded where others failed. He virtually created the character of Black Max but also created the characters of the "lady organ-grinder", not to mention "all the sons behind her", as well as the "little girls with little curls in little dollhouse jails".
He was very funny in "You Won't Succeed on Broadway" from Eric Idle's Spamalot, adding in some appropriate dance moves.
He conveyed different facets of fatherhood from the silly to the serious. The father in "The Baby Song" from I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change by Roberts and DiPietro is dealing with the challenge of a new baby, whereas the father-to-be in the "Soliloquy" from Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel is dealing with his fantasies of fatherhood. The father in "I Confess" from Snow and Pitchford's Footloose is dealing with far more serious issues, as a preacher laments the son he lost.
In an entirely different mood was "Epiphany" from Sondheim's Sweeney Todd in which Mr. Griffin created a scarily believable angry and vengeful character. And how about that relaxed and confident singer of Paul Anka's "My Way" who's nearing the end of a fulfilling life! So many different characters and all so well realized!
Although Mr. Griffin did the heavy lifting for the evening, mezzo-soprano Anna Viemeister created the hilarious character of Prince Orlofsky from Johann Strauss' Die Fledermaus, singing in heavily accented English his famous aria "Chacun a son goût" in a pretty clever English translation. She also made a superlative emcee for the evening.
To cap things off, Bulgarian bass Valentin Peytchinov lent his venerable instrument and larger than life personality to create the character of French planter Emile de Becque lamenting the loss of his love in "This Nearly Was Mine" from Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific.
What a treat to hear such wonderful music unamplified in an intimate environment and sung by such terrific talent! We celebrated Prohibition at a post-concert reception with bubbly toasts and a sing-a-long with Francisco Mirando at the piano.
© meche kroop