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.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017


Jennifer Peterson and Jordan Rutter

We know the songs of William Bolcom as encore pieces at opera recitals. The thought of hearing a bunch of them all together at a cabaret performance was tempting. So last night at The Duplex Cabaret Theatre we joined a crowd of similarly inclined music lovers and heard all 24 songs he wrote with Arnold Weinstein between 1963 and 1996. We were particularly enchanted by the ones we had never heard before.

At the piano was conductor/harpsichordist/pianist/director of Operamission Jennifer Peterson whose Rinaldo we reviewed and loved last year. Singing his heart out was counter-tenor Jordan Rutter whom we haven't heard since the Classic Lyric Arts Gala about a year and a half ago, when he wowed us with a duet from Handel's Serse. We love to see artists pushing their boundaries.

Mr. Rutter began the evening with "Over the Piano"--the perfect opening since he took the title literally, draping himself over the piano and staring longingly at Ms. Peterson. This was a perfect representation of a partnership between two people who adore Handel's music and have worked together to mutual advantage.

Clad in skinny pants, held up with suspenders and sporting a fuschia bow tie at a rakish angle, the impish Mr. Rutter employed every ounce of dramatic ability to make each song an operatic story. Ms. Peterson's piano was supportive but never dominant, although Mr. Bolcom's music, varied as it is, holds plenty of interest.

In no particular order, we recall some of our favorites.  The hymn-like "Waitin'", brief and simple, allows the listener to take away whatever message they wish. Hearing a man sing "Amor" brought fresh interest to that most charming crowd-pleaser. We recall the very first time we heard it as an encore piece, sung by mezzo-soprano Margaret Lattimore, and pestered everyone we knew to learn who composed it.

Many of the songs are about relationships, a favorite topic of ours. "Toothbrush Time" is one of the best expressions of ambivalence that we have heard outside of Stephen Sondheim's oeuvre. Similarly "At the Last Lousy Moments of Love" reflects a common situation that we can all relate to and deplore. 

"Angels Are the Highest Form of Virtue" was new to us and another favorite. "Georgia" was yet another favorite, a sad tale of a bad end visited upon a generous soul who didn't deserve his fate.  

We might add that Mr. Rutter's clear enunciation of the English contributed to the success of the evening.  With text as compelling as Mr. Weinstein's, one doesn't want to miss anything.

The piano writing seemed an amalgam of many influences but is quintessentially American and we certainly enjoyed Ms. Peterson's jazzy style.

Of course, Bolcom wrote dozens upon dozens of songs and someday we may get to hear more of them.

(c) meche kroop

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