|Galeano Salas, Will Kelley, Liv Redpath, Abigail Levis, and Justin Austin with Steven Blier at the piano|
"At Home", the latest entry in Steven Blier's New York Festival of Song, seen last night at Merkin Concert Hall, was a cleverly constructed program based on the concept of songs for each room of the home. This concept originated at Wolf Trap. We have no idea where Maestro Blier finds the unusual songs that he programs but each one was a gem and all were new to us.
And do we need to mention how judiciously the singers are chosen? Each one possesses a fine voice and a dramatic style that conveys the meaning of each song. The group spent a residency up at Caramoor for the past week or so, polishing their performances for the delectation of the audience. It was difficult to say whether they had more fun onstage or the audience.
There were songs for the parlor, the kitchen, the nursery, the dressing room, and the bedroom. Can you guess where the encore took place? Segments were introduced by quotes from Oscar Wilde, John Ruskin, Gilbert Chesterton, Eddie Izzard, and James Baldwin. Effective dramatic direction was provided by Alison Moritz.
The Parlor offered a number of thrills, comprising pieces commissioned by wealthy 19th c. patrons for private concerts. Readers will recall our affection for 19th c. music. The opening number, Ernest Chausson's "La nuit" gave soprano Liv Redpath and mezzo-soprano Abigail Levis the opportunity to join voices in delicious harmonies with overlapping voices.
Massenet's "Sevillanas" permitted Ms. Redpath to launch some vocal fireworks with a Spanish flavor, accompanied by both Mr. Blier and the dashing collaborative pianist Will Kelley.
There was humor aplenty when Ms. Levis performed a tribute to the cigarette in the song of the same name by Herbert E. Haines from 1904. Tenor Galeano Salas teamed up with baritone Justin Austin for "Trust Her Not" by Michael William Balfe. They not only sang together but danced a little vaudeville turn. We wondered what Henry Wadsworth Longfellow might have thought of this delightful use of his text.
Moving on to The Kitchen, we enjoyed lots more humor. Ms. Levis came onto the stage waving a knife and wooden spoon to perform Heitor Villa-Lobos' "Food for Thought", the lyrics of which contained clever internal rhymes by Robert Wright and George Forrest.
We loved the way Mr. Salas performed the lengthy "Painting My Kitchen", a late 20th c. work by John Bucchino. Underpinning his humorous delivery was the driving four-handed piano of Maestro Blier and Mr. Kelley.
In The Nursery section, astute direction by Alison Moritz had Mr. Austin entertaining the other singers appearing as children with Xavier Montsalvatge's "El lagarto está llorando", the setting of a text by Federico Garcia Lorca.
We never knew that the marvelous melodist Reynaldo Hahn set any English texts but we loved "My Ship and I", a text by Robert Louis Stevenson; and we loved the way Ms. Levis performed it.
Darius Milhaud's "Tais-toi, babillarde", a song from the 1940 Quatre poèmes de Ronsard opened with an extended vocalise in which Ms. Redpath gave vent to all of her coloratura skills, sounding more like a nightingale than the swallow of the text. (To tell the truth, we don't really know what either bird sounds like!) Mr. Kelley's piano gave us the subtext.
The Dressing Room had only one song which the company performed with narcissistic glee--Edwin Weber's 1923 "I Love Me".
There were some wonderful songs taking place in The Bedroom. Mr. Austin delivered the romantic ballad "Im Zimmer" written at the very beginning of Alban Berg's creative life. His performance was intimate and accessible--but was followed by the Polish song by Grazyna Bacewicz from 1955, translated as "I have such a headache". Ms. Redpath gave it a very funny delivery as a woman responding to the romantic advances of the prior song.
Perhaps our favorite song of the evening was Pietro Mascagni's "Serenata", a simply gorgeous strophic song which Mr. Salas performed with lots of garlic, supported by Maestro Blier's lilting piano. We could imagine an entire opera surrounding this superb song.
If you haven't already figured it out, the encore took place in (drumroll please) The Bathroom with the entire cast wearing shower caps and carrying sponges and rubber duckies for the 1929 song "Singing in the Bathtub" (Magidson/Washington/Cleary).
It was the perfect end to another delightful NYFOS evening.
(c) meche kroop