Ms. Leonard has been thrilling us with her marvelous mezzo instrument, her musicality and intimate presentation since her undergraduate days at Juilliard. She manifests the qualities that we so admire in any singer of songs; she invites the members of the audience to join her on a very personal journey, following the advice of James Levine who once, in a master class, advised her to sing songs she loves. She addressed the audience with brief anecdotes and made good eye contact; she moved about the stage with ease. We were instantly won over by these qualities.
Mr. Iftinca, well known from his work with The Metropolitan Opera and from his coaching at the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program is a stylish pianist and preternaturally tuned in to his singer and supportive in every way. Together they make a fine team and reportedly chose the program together.
The songs were well-chosen to demonstrate a range of emotions. The order in which they were sung was atypical and not organized by composer so that the audience applauded after each and every one. We heard songs by Manuel De Falla, Federico García Lorca, Enrique Granados, Frederic Mompou, Xavier Montsalvatge, and Joaquín Valverde Sanjuán--a veritable banquet. We have been hearing more and more Spanish music this year and are glad for it. Some of them can be labeled (if you must label) as folk songs or zarzuela but it doesn't matter. When sung by an artist they are all "art songs". We particularly enjoyed it when Ms. Leonard used her lovely body in a little dance, as in Sanjuán's "Clavelitos", revealing her delightful personality.
Each song offered new delights, a graceful portamento in García Lorca's "Los Pelegrinitos", a soaring vocal line in the loving "Gracia mía", the wild dance of Montsalvatge's "Canto negro", a thrilling vibrato in De Falla's "Preludios". Mr. Iftinca brought out every flavor of Spain, particularly in the folk melodies of García Lorca. There were no projected titles and one didn't want to take one's eyes off the stage but the mood of each song came through clearly, even if one did not understand the Spanish. The two artists moved easily from irony to joy, from flirtatiousness to pensiveness, from heartbreak to anxiety.
The second half of the program comprised American songs, a tribute to Ms. Leonard's American father. Again, we heard songs one might label "cabaret" or "popular" but in Mr. Iftinca's hands and with Ms. Leonard's voice, they are all art songs. Our personal favorites were Jennifer Higdon's "Hop and Toe Dance" (a New York premiere), Ernest Charles' "When I have sung my songs", Adam Guettel's highly accessible "How can I lose you?" and, above all Cole Porter's "Where, Oh Where". Two world premieres were on the program and Ms. Leonard introduced the composers Glen Roven and Ben Moore.
As if this banquet were not enough, we were treated to three encores: Rossini's "Canzonetta Spagnuola" with its thrilling trills and fleet runs, an hilarious aria from Offenbach's La Périchole, and "There's a place for us" from Bernstein's West Side Story. Each one was graced by Ms. Leonard's unique communicative skills. It is a rare art to be able to immerse oneself in the song and yet to retain one's own identity.
© meche kroop