|Irina and Lucas Meachem|
Only fifty fortunate folk can be accommodated in the spooky subterranean Crypt of the Church of the Intercession. This makes every event there, produced by Andrew Ousley for Unison Media, a major exclusive event.
In the 1830's, poet Friedrich Rückert poured out his grief over the loss of two of his children in a massive way--over 400 songs which were never intended for publication. Fortunately, they were published posthumously; we say "fortunately" because his working through of grief may have helped countless grieving parents. In his day, children died of scarlet fever; today children die of cancer and accidents. The poems reveal anguish, despair, perhaps even a touch of guilt, fantasies of restitution, and ultimately acceptance and peace.
Gustav Mahler selected five of the poems to set in the early 20th c. His wife Alma thought he was tempting fate, and, strangely, a few years later, he lost his beloved little daughter, also to scarlet fever. The songs are written in the late Romantic style, one which we love hearing.
The choice of Kindertotenlieder by baritone Lucas Meachem and his lovely and very pregnant wife seemed to us to be a form of what mental health people call "reaction formation"--flying in the face of fear. We cannot help but say reassuring things in our mind. We cannot help but wish well to this artistic couple before we even address the performances.
Mr. Meachem has a huge voice which was magnified by the acoustics of the Crypt, an appropriate venue for songs about death. He made no attempt to scale his voice to the size of the room and the audience faced the full force of these songs that one would never have experienced elsewhere.
Far more important than his enormous instrument is the artistry with which he employs it. Here's a man who sings from the heart; he knows just how to phrase and how to color and how to play with dynamics for maximum effect.
The program touched some unexpected bases. He opened with "La calme rentre dans mon coeur" from Act II of Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride, performed in finely flowing French with exquisite attention to line. It is almost a self generated lullaby sung by Orestes to himself.
Our favorite part of the program was Mr. Meachem's delivery of Onegin's response to Tatiana's letter from Act I of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin. Lacking a Russian keyboard, we cannot give you the title. Nonetheless, we love this opera and loved Mr. Meachem's performance.
Before he sang "They Wish They Could Kill Me" from Corigliano's The Ghosts of Versailles, Mr. Meachem gave a few riffs from other iterations of Figaro by Rossini and Mozart. Truth to tell, we prefer the music of those titans to that of Corigliano but we did enjoy the baritone's characterization of Figaro, now aged.
Copeland's Old American Songs don't do much for us but they were engagingly performed. The folk song "Shenandoah" made much more of an impression on us and seemed to have a special meaning for Mr. Meachem.
His other encore surprised us! Even after he announced that it was sung by a king, we didn't get the joke until the singing began. Elvis Presley's 1969 hit "I Can't Help Falling in Love with You" never sounded so good and did wonders for relieving our dark mood left over from the Kindertotenlieder.
His wife Irina is a gifted collaborative pianist and gave perfect support to the singing throughout the performances. We wish she had had a solo!
Mr. Ousley always comes up with original ideas well suited to his available venues. Summer is a-comin' in and that means The Angel's Share series at Greenwood Cemetery. We ain't spillin' the beans unless you twist our arm!
(c) meche kroop