|Kenneth Merrill and Guanbo Su|
We had only heard basso Guanbo Su on one occasion--but he showed such vocal and dramatic skills performing two very different characters in the same production that we were most eager to hear him again. It was about six weeks ago that we enjoyed Janacek's The Adventures of Vixen Sharp-Ears at Manhattan School of Music; Mr. Su portrayed both the starchy Parson and the grumpy Badger whose den gets preempted by the heroine. We wondered who was the possessor of that incredibly mature sounding bass.
The basso fach is a late blooming one (and also a long-lasting one) so it is an astonishment to find one so young and so well developed. Another astonishment was to hear a program for bass that wasn't ponderous. On the contrary, Mr. Su's voice is dark and rich, but also with a lightness that makes it difficult to describe but very agreeable to listen to. Think Italian roast espresso capped with milk foam!
There is one thing we noticed that may be a contributing factor--his embouchure probably adds some height and resonance in the head, but we are no voice teacher and that is just a speculation. We would love to ask his teacher Cynthia Hoffman.
With excellent German, Mr. Su performed Richard Strauss' "Morgen" with stunnng expressivity. We don't think we ever heard it sung by a bass but there's always a first time. Robert Schumann's "Die beiden Grenadiere" showed off Mr. Su's gift for storytelling. The discreet use of dynamics injected variety into the lengthy lied.
Schubert songs seemed a natural for Mr. Su's storytelling. He produced markedly different coloration for the frightened Maiden and the reassuring Death in "Der Tod und das Madchen". But it was "Erlkonig" that captured our admiration. In this dramatic masterpiece, Mr. Su used facial expression and direction of glances along with vocal coloration to indicate the identities of the four characters. How we would have loved to share with our readers photos of his face but, truth to tell, our attention was so rapt that we forgot to pick up the camera! This was the first time that happened to us and says a great deal about the intensity of the performance. We may never forget the twisted snarl of the titular character.
Jacques Ibert's Chansons de Don Quichotte revealed a fine facility with French and impressive melismatic singing. In "Chanson a Dulcinee", he floated the final note in a manner we've not observed in the basso fach.
From Gerald Finzi's 20th c. setting of Shakespearean text (Let Us Garlands Bring) we heard three selections sung in clear English. Setting English generally results in an unappealing vocal line but Shakespeare's iambic pentameter is a whole 'nother story. The songs were quite lovely and we particularly enjoyed the jolly "It Was a Lover and His Lass".
Stefano Donaudy composed in the early 20th c. but his music harks back to the Baroque period. We have always loved his "O del mio amato ben" and Mr. Su was nicely flexible in the melismatic passages and ardent in his delivery.
The final work on the program was Giuseppi Giordani's 18th c. "Caro mio ben". This is every beginning singer's "first song" so we may have been taking it for granted. No longer! Mr. Su gave it a beautiful pianissimo in the ritornello with some interesting embellishments.
Renowned coach and collaborative pianist Kenneth Merrill utilized both his talents last night and added a great deal to this exemplary recital. The vociferous audience demanded an encore and we heard a passionate delivery of a song in Mandarin which Mr Su said was a folk song, not an art song. Well, we could not have discerned the difference but wish we'd had a translation.
Mr. Su has some interesting plans for the summer including Glenn Morton's Classic Lyric Arts program in France. Having graduated from Manhattan School of Music, he will return for his Master of Music degree and we are looking forward to hearing more from him as his voice develops.
(c) meche kroop