Eduardo Gutierrez, Saul Ibarra, Elizabeth Pope, and François Gizycki
The sanctuary at Jt. Johns in the Village was "standing room only", a rare condition for a vocal recital in Manhattan. Apparently, word had gotten out that a remarkable young artist named Elizabeth Pope would be performing a challenging program of arias. We are happy to tell you that the promise was fulfilled. We love hearing singers at the start of their professional careers and following them as they mature and become successful on the world's stages.
Yes, the program was a challenging one, covering several periods and several languages. As extensive as was this survey of soprano arias, the audience begged for more and, trooper as she is, Ms. Pope gifted the audience with three encores.
Let us begin by saying that she is an engaging young woman who spoke easily to the audience, showing neither stiffness nor reserve. This created a welcoming atmosphere that drew us in collectively. Having come from a family of musicians (all present for the concert) and having received excellent vocal training, this young artist "picked up the ball and ran with it". It was clear that a lot of work and study had gone into the preparation of a most ambitious program but Ms. Pope succeeded in making it all appear effortless, even as she gave her all.
The program opened with "Tornami a vagheggiar" from Händel's Alcina which immediately gave evidence of a bright pure tone and a facility with ornamentation. The trill was clean as were the staccato passages. There was a nice contrast between the sections. Along the same lines was "Armate face et anguibus" from Vivaldi's oratorio Juditha Triumphans, in which the artist tore into this vengeance aria with a vengeance, making us think of the Queen of the Night. Her superlative collaborative pianist Saúl Ibarra was as undaunted by the racing piano score as she was by the florid decoration of the vocal line.
Was that the same artist switching easily to a 19th c. work-- Jules Massenet's Hérodiade? In "Il eat doux, il est bon" she showed us an adolescent girl besotted with the prophet Jean, and did so in fine French.
This was far more effective dramatically than Violetta's first act scena "É strano..Sempre Libera" from Verdi's La Traviata. The vocalism was fine but, in spite of the generous use of gesture and facial expression, we were not convinced that this was a desperate woman weighing the choice between a chance at love and frantic partying. We think a few years of emotional experience on the part of the artist will result in a more convincing portrayal. We admit that we are very demanding of our Violettas since she is our favorite operatic character. Tenor Fernando Silva-Gorbea made an all-too-brief appearance as Alfredo but there was insufficient stage time to establish any chemistry between them.
Far more believable was her Nedda, the unfortunate heroine of Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci. As Ms. Pope sang "Qual fiamma...Stridono lassú", we could feel the yearning for freedom of a young woman in unhappy marital "captivity", envying the birds overhead. This gave us optimism that the dramatic skills are there, just waiting to be coaxed out by a good director.
We felt the same about Fiordiligi's aria "Come scoglio" from Mozart's Cosi fan tutte. We wish that portraying a young woman with intended characterological firmness might come a bit more easily to Ms. Pope than it did. Perhaps negotiating those huge leaps in the score took a great deal of concentration. Focus on the character may come later as she develops. Perhaps it was the sophisticated sequined gown that was partly at fault, fighting, as it were, with the image of a teenage girl.
On the other hand, it did not distract from the half-mad desperation of Margherita from Boito's Mefistofele as she confusedly tries to deal with her guilt for poisoning her mother and drowning her baby. We haven't often heard "L'altra notte in fondo al mare" but we found it convincingly moving.
The program closed with an excellent performance of movements I and II from Heitor Villa-Lobos' Bachianas Brasileiras no.5. We were impressed by the fact that Ms. Pope herself arranged the work for the cello, played by Francois Gizycki, and guitar, played by Eduardo Gutteres. In this work she achieved the heights of expressivity, especially in the vocalise part in which the cello emphasized the memorable theme whilst the guitar filled in the harmonies. Even more astounding was the humming part which left us amazed. Whilst Part I is often heard, Part II (Dança) is less commonly performed. The excitement made a fine contrast with the tender vocalise.
The first encore was a Maria Grever song "Te quiero, dijiste" which Grever wrote for a child she lost. It is a beautiful song with which we are quite familiar and we were happy to hear it once more. Following another encore, a song by Debussy, the audience wanted more. We got a repeat of the Bachianas Brasilieras and finally the audience was satisfied.
For any more, we will have to wait for Ms. Pope's next recital. We will be eager to watch her growth as an artist.
© meche kroop