Lachlan Glen and Michelle Bradley
We give very little thought to religion other than an idle curiosity about what other people derive from it. But last night concert gave us a glimpse of how deeply held beliefs can affect an artist's performance, suffusing it with intensity, passion, and light. It was the encore of Michelle Bradley's divine performance when she sang "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands". Words fail us and that's rather unusual. Let's just say we "got the feels".
The entire hourlong concert was way too short. Ms. Bradley, a bright light on the world's opera stages, possesses a rich dramatic soprano of consummate flexibility and phrasing that likely took countless hours of practice to achieve such perfection--but seemed as natural as speaking. Not only is she a gifted artist but a charming raconteur, sharing intimate thoughts about her selections.
We continue to grow in our appreciation of Samuel Barber's Hermit Songs. One can perform them or one can reveal them. The range of moods of the monk-poets encompasses the deepest spirituality and also some naughtiness. Our favorite is always "Scholar and Cat" with its lighthearted good humor and sensitivity to the poet's relationship with and respect for his cat Pangur. We only wish that Ms. Bradley had included the naughty one!
In terms of a challenge for a large voice, there is nothing like Richard Strauss' Vier Letzte Lieder. The texts are filled with references to the natural world and the mood is elegiac. We know well the collaborative piano artistry of Lachlan Glen but we had never heard him recite poetry before. He read a translation of each song with expressivity and fine rhythm. He also alerted the audience to listen for the birdsong which was cleverly produced by an unseen flutist. A delicate violin accompanied for a brief period.
The final piece on the program was "Vissi d'arte" from Puccini's Tosca. Before last night, we thought of this aria as a showpiece, the highlight of the opera, the moment we are all waiting for with bated breath. The manner in which Ms. Bradley performed it, we realized how deeply religious Tosca is. The aria is in many ways a prayer.
In describing her deeply religious feeling and beneficent behavior Tosca cannot believe that her god would abandon her. She is begging for help. What we are left to imagine is how she then reconciles her beliefs with her murder of the evil Scarpia. It is more evidence of Ms. Bradley's artistry that we learned more about the character and experienced her in a new light.
Mr. Glen has a true knack for bringing new people into the fold of classical voice. He chooses only the finest artists to perform, keeps the program brief enough so that newbies could not possibly get bored, and includes socializing with wine and food. Acquaintances are greeted and friendships initiated. After such a long Covid-fueled hiatus, it was a special treat to get together once more with opera lovers.
© meche kroop