|Craig Rutenberg, Danielle Orlando, Nicholas Pallesen, and Angela Meade|
Some songs were old and some were new; perhaps some were borrowed and many were blue. It was a most unusual program at the Morgan Library as Nora London's birthday was celebrated yesterday. As you have read here, the George London Foundation for Singers is renowned for supporting young singers. Winners of the annual competition are invited back to perform in a series of superb recitals.
Both baritone Nicholas Pallesen and soprano Angela Meade have been setting the opera world on fire and garnering lavish praise and precious prizes for their dazzling vocal artistry. Yesterday we got to see and hear them "up close and personal".
Mr. Rutenberg, a peerless piano partner, opened the program with some introductory remarks about Francis Poulenc's 1942 song cycle Chanson villageoises, written under the German occupation of France. France under siege is a topic that cannot help but resonate with us today. Poulenc's songs are spiky, filled with irony and somehow reminiscent of the cabaret. We have never heard this cycle before but hope to become more familiar with its treasures.
Mr. Pallesen is a singer of great artistry, demonstrating a consummate ability to communicate the intentions of the composer. He is equally comfortable with the charming, the frisky and the angry. His technique is so refined that one doesn't notice it. We found ourself overwhelmed by the drama, particularly in the bitter "Le mendiant" and the sad "Le retour du sergent". Poverty and war are never pretty but Mr. Pallesen made them moving and upsetting.
Continuing in the French language, Ms. Meade offered a quartet of songs by Giacomo Meyerbeer that we had likewise never heard before. Her piano partner Danielle Orlando leapt right into "Le voeu pendant l'orage" with some rumbling in the piano which shifted to some rather tinkly figures. She is fearless in her accompanying and a perfect partner for Ms. Meade who grabs a song by the throat and doesn't let go. Her operatic expressiveness served her well in these songs of melodic richness and rhythmic intensity. These songs also merit a second hearing. Truth to tell, we would happily have had an instant replay of the entire recital!
This ground-breaking portion of the program was not over yet. Mr. Pallesen and Mr. Rutenberg returned for "Ha! noch einen ganzen Tag!....Ha! welche Lust aus schönen Augen" from Der Vampyr by Heinrich Marschner, a contemporary of Meyerbeer. This is a role Mr. Pallesen has been performing and he filled the aria with great excitement and power without neglecting German diction. Every word was clear as crystal; consonants were crisp without cheating the vowels. We never noticed the absence of titles.
The second half of the program took us to more familiar territory. Ms. Meade initiated with "Crudele!...Non mi dir", Donna Anna's aria from Mozart's Don Giovanni. This was the perfect vehicle for Ms. Meade to show the ample size of her beautiful instrument, her elegant phrasing, and ease with embellishments.
Five songs by Charles Ives were then sung by Mr. Pallesen; our favorite was "Charlie Rutledge" which he sang with a Texas accent with some contributions from Mr. Rutenberg. What fun!
The four Strauss songs chosen by Ms. Meade for the next set are very familiar to us but that never detracts from the pleasure we get from the passionate importuning "Stänchen", the joyful "Zueignung", the soulful "Allerseelen" and the enthusiastic "Cäcilie". Indeed, Ms. Meade brought her unique communicative skills to the performance and made the songs new again. Her voice seems made for Strauss!
To close the program, both singers joined to perform one of Verdi's father-daughter duets--"Figlia t'avanza...Tu pur lo sai" from I Due Foscari. In this duet, a woman begs the Doge of Venice, her father-in-law, to intervene on behalf of his son. It is beyond our understanding how he could resist! It was such a captivating performance that we now yearn to hear the entire opera, if and when we get the opportunity.
So...happy birthday Nora London and many thanks for the fine way in which you honor your husband's memory.
© meche kroop