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.

Sunday, April 28, 2024


 Myra Huang and Fleur Barron

Our happiest moments come from witnessing the growth of young artists that we admired as students. Often their career development takes them far from New York City and there is a considerable interlude during which we lose track of them. Such was the case with the truly gifted mezzo-soprano Fleur Barron. It has been at least ten years since we heard her sing in a master class at Manhattan School of Music, led by Martina Arroyo and Maestro Jorge Parodi.

Ms. Barron sang a duet from one of our favorite zarzuelas --Luisa Fernanda, and Mo. Parodi gave her a few pointers in Spanish diction. What we noticed about this lovely Singaporean-British mezzo-soprano was the expressiveness found in her face as well as her voice. We are happy to report that she continues to make excellent use of these assets and created a recital last night at the 92nd Street Y that impressed us with its directness and connection with the audience.

Buttenweiser Hall was the perfectly sized venue for a recital of this nature, and one can see from the photo above that the artist dressed in stylish informality that served to amplify the accessible nature of her performance. What made this important was that she took the audience on a journey "home" with many songs that were difficult in nature.

However, let us begin with the most accessible, Modest Mussorgsky's Nursery Songs. They were composed in two cycles between 1868 and 1872. The first cycle In the Nursery comprises five songs, of which we heard four. The second cycle At the Dacha comprises four songs, of which we heard one. Sadly the last two songs have been lost. We hope some day they will show up somewhere because these songs are touchingly effective at limning the qualities of childhood.

They also offer major opportunities for the singer to assume various roles and adopt several moods-- the insistence upon storytelling,  the enthusiasm for physical activity, the evasion of responsibility for accidents, the tenderness toward dolls, and the gravity of bedtime prayers. We always love hearing this cycle but never have we heard the songs performed with such dramatic effectiveness. Ms. Barron easily adopted the persona of the child in its various moods and also that of the nurse and mother. The expressiveness of her voice was matched by the expressiveness of her face. This, for us, was the highlight of the recital.

We also enjoyed the songs of Charles Trenet, affirming our opinion that, sung without amplification, cabaret songs are raised to the level of "art song". If Steven Blier has not yet discovered this treasure trove, he probably will in the future! In "Si vous aimiez", the composer/lyricist fancies himself unique because he experiences deeper joy and suffering than "the other" does. In "Boum!" the lyrics are full of onomatopoeticisms and reminded us of a German cabaret song in which the heart beats to a "boum"-- the title of which we cannot recall. If you, Dear Reader, know the one we are thinking of, please leave a comment below.

Although contemporary music is not our favorite, we found much to like about Huang Ruo's "Fisherman's Sonnet" which began with rippling effects in the piano and featured expressive dynamic variation.  The piano wa similarly interesting in Chen Yi's "Know You How Many Petals Falling". We love the sound of Mandarin, which is musical even when spoken. The gentle folksong "Northeast Lullaby" was particularly lovely and involved a humming passage. 

Alex Ho's post modern piece "Four miniatures for our littler selves" involved what seemed to be a prepared piano with Ms. Barron sticking her head underneath the raised lid and making odd sounds. Fortunately she prepared the audience beforehand. We found it an original curiosity of limited artistic value.

However, this reminds us to mention Ms. Barron's incredible audience rapport, enhanced by a conversational naturalism. We were less impressed by the audience who, sheeplike, followed the lead of an individual who found it necessary to applaud at inopportune times. Audiences should learn to watch the body language of the singer which generally indicates a stopping point. Otherwise, the mood is broken and the beginning of the next song is obliterated.

We would also like to applaud the excellent collaborative work of Myra Huang. How interesting that we wrote about her also about ten years ago when she accompanied Susana Phillips at a George London Foundation recital at The Morgan Library. We still recall her performance of the "Meditation" from Massenet's Thaïs, in duet with a violin. We have always admired her consummate collaborative skills. Her career has taken off as successfully as Ms. Barron's and she is now part of the Lindemann Program and is also on the Collaborative Piano faculty at Manhattan School of Music.

There were other riches on this very personal program, including a pair of songs by Brahms to texts by Klaus Groth about homesickness, which set the tone for this program about "home". One might speculate on the meaning of this subject to an artist who sings all over the world. We have often wondered if they get homesick!

© meche kroop

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