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.

Saturday, April 18, 2015


Lachlan Glen and Ben Bliss

Our writing skills are insufficient to do justice to the artistry we witnessed onstage yesterday at the recital of the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program. We felt enthralled for 80 short minutes and wanted more. How do we find the words to convey what it's like to have one's heart and soul swept away in torrents of music? We may fail but we must make the effort.

Tenor Ben Bliss has a remarkable instrument, the timbre of which has a near magical effect on the very cells of the body. The phrase "liquid balm" comes to mind. One hears the tone and it's as if one is in touch with the music of the spheres.

Add to this the musicianship--the phrasing, the diction, the pacing--and every song became a mini-opera. Mr. Bliss seems to be so involved with the emotional tone of each song and conveys it so successfully that it becomes a shared experience. We sat with moist eyes, partly from the sheer beauty we heard and partly from identifying with the emotions in many of the songs.

To add to the intensity of the experience we had the piano partnering of Lachlan Glen who touches the keys and thereby touches the heart. He seemed to become one with the instrument and brings forth joy and sorrow, delicacy and passion, each in its own turn.

The first half of the program included songs of Vincenzo Bellini and Ottorini Respighi. The three canzone by Bellini are well known to us and much loved. "Malinconia, Ninfa gentile", "Vanne, o rosa fortuna", and "Ma rendi pur contento", which was rendered with great delicacy. We are sure that Bellini would have loved the interpretations which were imbued with a great variety of color.

As far as the Respighi songs, they belong to the category of songs that we've heard that never made much of an impression on us. All that was changed by Mr. Bliss and Mr. Glen who took them to an entirely new level. 

In "Pioggia", the poet (Vittoria Aganoor Pompilj) speaks of "il tumulto dei colori" and Mr. Bliss sang in such a tumult of colors!  In "Nebbie" the lonely unloved feelings of the poet (Ada Negri) came through with such clarity that we wept. The gradual crescendo led to feelings of near horror at the conclusion. We have written before about how a deeply felt performance can change the way we feel about a song and such was the case.

Franz Liszt's "Pace non trovo" from Tre Sonetti di Petrarca was filled with passion and clearly illustrated the poet's bafflement over his contradictory feelings towards the mysterious Laura. Each feeling came through by means of adept and artistic word coloring. There was a suspenseful pause just before the final pair of lines ("In questo stato son") in which we realized we were holding our breath!

The second half of the program included the participation of The Kleio Quartet: violinists Christina Bouey and Clare Semes, violist Isabel Hagen, and cellist Madeline Fayette. Ralph Vaughan Williams composed the evocative On Wenlock Edge in 1908, scored for tenor, piano and string quartet. The influence of Maurice Ravel is marked. The text is from A.E. Housman's A Shropshire Lad.

The instrumental effects are poignant and add greatly to the tenor's storytelling. We heard "From far, from eve and morning", followed by the very sorrowful " 'Is my team ploughing" in which the texture of cello and piano alternated with the voices of the violins and viola. Mr. Bliss brought out the chilling end, as a storyteller must.

Mr. Glen employed his piano artistry well in "Bredon Hill"; there was no missing the pealing of the church bells. This sad tale had the violins weeping.  And we wept along.

Mr. Glen had his chance to shine in his performance of Ravel's "Jeux d'eau" for solo piano. He addressed the audience and shared that the piece represents the river goddess laughing as the waters of the Fountain of Versaille tickle her. Needless to say, our ears were equally tickled as Mr. Glen's fingers tickled the ivories.  What a performance!

The program closed with a few unusual choices. Mr. Bliss began "As I went down to the river to pray" a capella and with great simplicity.  Then the piano entered and each verse grew in fervor. It became a work of wonder.

Ann Ronnel's "Willow weep for me" was followed by "Orange colored sky" by Milton De Lugg and Willie Stein, a jazzy number that Mr. Bliss sang with flair and more than enough facility with "scat".

As encore we heard in impeccable German the luscious arietta "Magische Töne" from Karl Goldmark's 1875 opera Die Königen von Saba. The music and the words are equally seductive and Mr. Bliss floated the notes of his upper register in a lingering pianissimo. We could feel the "milde abendluft".  Pure Bliss!

(c) meche kroop

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