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.

Sunday, September 23, 2012


Wilhelm Müller

Wilhelm Müller was but a quarter-century in age when he wrote the impassioned poetry of Die Schöne Müllerin; Schubert set the twenty poems within a couple years.  Neither would live to a ripe old age and neither does the hapless hero in this tale.  The eponymous mill-maid is not the major player here but she leads to the downfall of the tragic young man who seeks his fortune in the early 19th c.  He leaves home and wanders the countryside, guided by a rushing brook.  He winds up finding work at a mill and falls for the miller's daughter who, at first, seems to encourage him and later switches her affections to a hunter.  Perhaps she was won over by a brace of pheasants; our poet doesn't tell us.  Within the cycle of songs our poor hero goes through some very intense feelings--reveling in the joys of la belle nature, enthusiasm for his new job, wanting to please the miller, trying to impress the daughter, the excitement of being in love, the anxiety of not knowing whether his love will be returned, the exaltation of believing it is, the rage at being replaced in her affection, the despair of loss, and finally the peacefulness as he settles on the embrace of the brook and an early death.

Gifted American tenor William Ferguson took us on this journey last night and didn't miss a single emotion.  We belong to the subgroup of lieder fans who want all the drama.  We further belong to the subgroup that believes this cycle about youth should be sung by a young man.  This past year we have heard it magnificently sung by tenor Paul Appleby and baritone Jesse Blumberg.  Mr. Ferguson's magnificence was no less.  We felt ourselves sharing his joy, his exaltation, his rage and his pain.  Fortunately we did not wish to commit suicide at the end so we mopped the tears from our eyes and congratulated him on a very fine performance.  Mr. Ferguson informed us that he learned the cycle ten years ago and hasn't sung it since.  We hope he will sing it again soon.  We felt sad for the hero but happy for Mr. Ferguson's success in tackling this intensely dramatic work and doing it justice.

The lack of translation may have hampered those without a knowledge of German but we understood every word due to his fine diction.  Although not a native German speaker, we did notice that, like most American singers, there is a bit of confusion regarding the pronunciation of the final "g" and "ch"; but we can't say it hampered our enjoyment.

The reknowned Brian Zeger was, as one would expect, a major contributor as piano partner.  Schubert was perhaps the first composer to put the piano in such an important position.  One could hear the brook rushing along just as one could hear the mill wheels turning.  Could there be any finer piano writing or playing?  We think not!

(c) meche kroop

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