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.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


Ken Noda (Christian Steiner)

Cecelia Hall (Pat Arnow)

The week of recitals, concert and master classes celebrating Marilyn Horne's birthday (she can't really be 80 and is still beautiful!) got off to a breathtaking start last night with a Spotlight Recital that literally left us breathless.  Mezzo-soprano Cecelia Hall and collaborative pianist Ken Noda teamed up for an hour that seemed to last but ten minutes and left us totally satisfied and yet eager for more.

The program was perfectly designed to show off Ms. Hall's numerous assets and Mr. Noda's uncanny ability to match her, phrase for glorious phrase.  The aforementioned assets are vocal, dramatic and linguistic.  Ms. Hall sang in English, Italian, German and French with equally fine diction.  A native French speaker in the audience who comes every year for this event (and is rarely satisfied with a singer's French) confirmed my favorable opinion.

Ms. Hall's vocal assets are remarkable.  The voice is pleasing to the ear and the technique is so invisible that the listener can focus on the interpretation.  And it is here that Ms. Hall shines.  She used her voice, which has as many colors as the rainbow, her facial expression and her body to communicate the text--be it sad, joyful, nostalgic or coquettish.  She demonstrated what we want every singer to demonstrate--connection with the material and connection with the audience.

The program went from the Baroque Period to the 20th c.  Let's take a closer look.  We loved the melismatic phrases of Purcell's "If music be the food of love" in which she reveled in joy and "I attempt from Love's sickness to fly" that was no less expressive.  When she sang the only existing fragment of Monteverdi's L'Arianna-- "Lasciatemi morire" we felt the pain in our own heart.

Music from the Romantic Period was handled with the same devotion.  If you wanted to know what Robert Schumann felt about his marriage to Clara Wieck, all you'd have to do was  listen to Ms. Hall sing "Widmung".  In his "Mondnacht", Ms. Hall literally spread her wings in a glorious balletic gesture while Mr. Noda created the sensation of moonlight on the piano.

And just hear how Mr. Noda created the sounds of the lark, the bees and the rustling of the linden branches in Mahler's "Frühlingsmorgen"!  Ms. Hall dedicated "Liebst du um Schönheit" to her husband and this may have been the most expressive singing of the evening and also offered her the opportunity to let loose in her upper register, to great effect. Four early songs by Schoenberg were erotic and mysterious.

The French conclusion of the recital was pure delight.  André Messager's "J'ai deux amants" from L'amour masqué allowed the singer to show her coquettish side and delighted the audience.  The lassitude of Poulenc's "Hôtel" was never made clearer nor the nostalgia of "Les chemins de l'amour".  The final selection was a 1929 cabaret piece entitled "Quand je danse avec lui" which was re-created by our talented duo from a film because the sheet music n'existe plus!  Mr. Noda's waltzy arrangement probably surpassed the original.

As encore we enjoyed the brothers Gershwin's fine song "Lorelei".  We were enchanted and emerged from the recital on a cloud of joy.

After an hour's break, Ms. Horne herself took the stage for a master class and generously coached four young singers and pianists.  We were quite impressed with mezzo Kate Jackman who gave a lovely reading of Elgar's "Where corals lie", accompanied by Mario Antonio Marra.  Ms. Horne gave her some useful suggestions about where to take her breaths and counseled her to add a little lilt to the key phrase.

Soprano Natalie Conte, accompanied by Nathan Salazar, sang Strauss' "September" and was helped to make the delivery more ethereal.  In Ms. Horne's own words "Put a halo around it".

Baritone Leo Radosavljevic, accompanied by Brent Funderburk, offered Copeland's folksy lullabye "The Little Horses" and was coached to imagine holding a baby.  Let it be noted that Mr. R.'s talent for baby-holding needed more coaching than his excellent singing!  The audience really enjoyed the spectacle.

Tenor Christian Ketter, accompanied by Marek Ruszczynski, got some fine help with Cordillo's "Core 'ngrato" regarding placement of the voice.  Ms. Horne most definitely favors placing the voice in the "mask" and the advice seems to work wonders.

As long as Ms. Horne is around, we do not have to worry about the future of the art song!  All is well in studio and onstage.  There are lots more events to come, culminating in a grand recital Thursday night at Zankel Hall.

© meche kroop

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