|Martin Néron, Jean-Bernard Cerin, Christopher Reames, and Laure-Catherine Beyers|
Last night at the National Opera Center we attended the Gérard Souzay Award Showcase presented by Dalton Baldwin in collaboration with Joy in Singing and The Art Song Preservation Society of New York.
Coming on the heels of the afternoon recital by Stéphane Sénéchal and Mark Markham, perhaps the recital did not get the attention it deserved. Perhaps we just overdosed on French mélodies. We found our attention wandering to the pianist Martin Néron to whom we paid insufficient attention on the two prior occasions on which we heard him. He is an absolutely marvelous collaborative pianist and we admired his delicate touch and the sensitivity with which he related to the singers.
During the recital, a certain valuable memory rose to consciousness. It was the advice a prominent conductor/coach gave to a young singer at a master class. "Sing what you love", he said. When baritone Jean-Bernard Cerin (winner of the first Gérard Souzay Prize for Best Performance of a French Mélodie at the 2018 Joy in Singing Song Competition in NYC) performed Maurice Ravel's Histoires naturelles we could tell that he loved those songs.
Earlier in the program we found his involvement a bit wanting; we found his facial expressions excessive to the point of mugging and his gestures underdone. But in the Ravel he blossomed! He was particularly excellent in his portrayal of the courting peacock in "Le Paon" and the embattled guinea hen in "La Pintade".
There are those who like their singers of art song to stand still and use only the voice to tell the story. But as we learned at the Sénéchal recital early in the day (review just below), we like acting. We like gesture. We like storytelling. It's a matter of taste.
Similarly, when mezzo-soprano Laure-Catherine Beyers performed Henri Dutilleux's "Féerie au clair de lune" with generous use of color and gesture, we were captivated as we were not in her earlier performance of Reynaldo Hahn's "L'heure exquise", in spite of the fact that it is one of our favorites. She closed the program with a highly dramatic performance of the tango inflected "Youkali" from Kurt Weill's Marie Galante, convincing us of how cabaret style music can exist comfortably alongside opera.
We have heard and enjoyed tenor Christopher Reames on a couple prior occasions and enjoyed his performances more than we did last night. Curiously, on both occasions it was Debussy's settings of Paul Verlaine's text in Fêtes galantes I; we don't exactly know what was missing. His voice is sweet with a fine vibrato but perhaps we were looking for more "acting". Mr. Cerin had just performed Fauré's setting of "En sourdine" which also left us cold.
We might have enjoyed hearing the two versions of "En sourdine" back to back, so to speak. We would also have enjoyed the libretto in French, instead of just English, and enough illumination to follow along.
(c) meche kroop