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, November 4, 2017


Stanichka Dimitrova, Tami Petty, Michael Brofman, Spencer Myer, Mario Diaz-Moresco, Paul La Rosa, Timothy Fallon, Adrian Daurov, Chieh-Fan Yiu, and Yezu Elizabeth Woo

Last night's entry in Brooklyn Art Song Society's French season held a number of surprises. The first surprise was that we actually enjoyed the pre-concert lecture in which composer Daniel Felsenfeld held our attention by actually speaking, not reading a paper. He assured us that he would not merely recapitulate the program notes (which were excellent on their own terms, as written by Founder and Artistic Director Michael Brofman).

He lived up to his promise and prepared the audience for the concert by demonstrating the famed "Tristan chord" and how it does not resolve for four hours more or less! He spoke extemporaneously about Wagner's effect on French music and about the importance of text in the French chanson. He clearly loves poetry and infected us with his enthusiasm. He pointed out that in the time of Chausson and Duparc, poets were lauded, not ignored. He emphasized the importance of what we would call word coloration.

The program to follow surprised us also. We are accustomed to hearing French chanson performed rather quietly with long even lyrical lines and very little drama.  At times, it has seemed almost effete with variety coming solely through word coloration. Last night's performances were uniformly highly dramatic. This is not meant as criticism. This opera lover adores drama! We have never insisted on stylistic purity.

The program featured works by Ernest Chausson and Henri Duparc, united by generation, friendship, and their absorption of the influence of Richard Wagner. Their oeuvres are limited but their influence on French music was great. The piano writing is always dense and complex.

The program opened with a half dozen songs, some familiar, some not so. Tenor Timothy Fallon began with the oft performed "L'Invitation au Voyage" by Duparc which he sang with warm ringing tone and fine phrasing. We liked the timbre of his voice and the variations of dynamics. The song is sensual (Of course! The text is by Baudelaire.) giving Mr. Fallon multiple opportunities for word coloring. Spencer Myer's piano articulated the lovely arpeggi we so love. There were more arpeggi, this time descending ones, in the gorgeous Nocturne by Chausson.

Baritone Mario Diaz-Moresco has a lovely warm tone as well and seems to alternatively feel the music within and convey the text without.  He was particularly expressive in Duparc's "Sérénade". Later in the program we loved his performance of Duparc's "Sérénade florentine" in which his tenderness was perfectly matched by Mr. Myer. Similarly we felt that same tenderness in the famous "Phidylé", of which we never tire.

We are coming to enjoy chamber music with voice more and more these days and are learning to appreciate the voice as a member of a group--another instrument, so to speak. The excellent PhiloSonia String Quartet was on hand, joining soprano Tami Petty for a performance of the very sad "Chanson Perpetuelle" of Chausson. The sound of her voice merged with the voices of the instrumentalists.

The group comprises violinists Stanichka Dimitrova (a most musical name which we have been saying out loud all night) and Yezu Elizabeth Woo, violist Chieh-Fan Yiu, and cellist Adrian Daurov. This highly dramatic work is no less than an operatic aria in which a woman, bereft of her lover, contemplates her suicide.

We understand that in chamber music, it is acceptable for the singer to use a score but we were happy to hear Ms. Petty sing two songs by Duparc, accompanied only by Mr. Myer's excellent piano. Duparc's setting of the Mignon story, "Romance de Mignon",  is radically different from that of the many Germans who set the story of the girl stolen by gypsies and encountered by Wilhelm Meister in the tale by Goethe. 

She also performed another lament by a bereft young woman "Au pays où se fait la guerre", this one by Duparc. We wonder whether the two composers were competing to express the way a woman feels!

There was one more singer on the program whose performance irritated us more than delighted us. Baritone Paul La Rosa has a dark voice that would perhaps be better suited to some of Schubert's lieder, "Der Atlas" for example. The bio in the program notes informed us of some light hearted roles in his repertory and that he has a reputation for comic flair.

We would want to see and hear that before making up our mind but he seemed singularly unsuited to this repertory. His stage presence seemed self-serving rather than in service to the music, with distracting posturing. Heavy handed dramatics could have been reduced by 95% to good effect.

Furthermore, his connection was to his music stand, not to the audience. To watch him trying to act while turning pages and looking down was so painful that we gave up listening and focused our attention on Mr. Brofman's lovely piano. The delicate sadness of Chausson's "Le temps des lilas" came through in the piano, if not the voice.

Mr. Brofman's piano thoroughly limned the rolling waves of Duparc's "La vague et la cloche", the text of which is a frightening nightmare. The program ended with another Baudelaire text set by Duparc, "La vie antérieure", which is filled with erotic longing--heard in the piano but not in the voice.

Mr. Brofman has developed a large and enthusiastic audience for art song and no one else seemed to mind what bothered us and our musically knowledgeable companion.  The applause was generous. Just sayin'.

(c) meche kroop

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