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A Singer’s Notes, 11: New Year’s Blessings and my Favorites from ’09

Kara Cornell as Carmen

The holidays are over in my rural kingdom of music and art, and there were some blessed nights. I enjoyed particularly a cogent and real My Fair Lady played at the Capital Rep. This was a show that seemed like it belonged in the same universe with George Bernard Shaw. The speaking in particular was entirely believable. The Professor Higgins (Fred Rose) did not ingratiate. He wasn’t charming. He had all the negative aspects of the character connected with a vocal honesty that made us wonder what Eliza could possibly see in him. I felt the tension I think the creators intended. A tough, harsh character who sings. He was in every way the best performer of this part I have seen. The Eliza (Allison Spratt) did not flounce. She didn’t overdo the Cockney. One of my favorite moments, since this was a production in which the actors occasionally played their own accompaniment, was seeing Eliza standing between two upright pianos, upstage, while the men were taking credit for her success at the Embassy Ball. She looked lonely, distressed, torn, small. She also suggested, with creative risk, her growing affection for that bounder Higgins. She did this in a way that did not make sense, but still convinced, as love often does. The singing in this show was functional, and I mean that in the best sense of the word. It moved the drama forward, and it had beauty. The pace was refreshingly relaxed. Nobody was trying to sell it. It was fine.

I also saw a very well-crafted adaption of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol at the Berkshire Theatre Festival. Eric Hill, whose productions I have long admired, was a physically convincing Scrooge whose every thought was quickly in his face. The Company had an excellent unity of purpose and execution. The special effects seemed necessary and not hokey. The audience loved it.

On January 2, a group of superb players, mostly from New York, some from the Berkshires, played all of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos in Troy Music Hall. They showed clearly that this music has not been entirely stolen from modern instrument players. All of the graces that we have become used to in authentic Baroque playing were present in this concert. There was lightness, grace, a sense of rhetoric, playfulness, and a virtuosity which made no 19th century display of itself. With players on this level, one could have heard the entire concert over again with pleasure. Because they had such ease, they gave us a sweet energy. The music of Bach sounded like the life force itself.

My favorite things in 2009:

  • the continuo playing of Nat Parke and Andre O’Neill in Purcell’s “In Guilty Night” and “Dido and Aeneas.” Nat, the more modern sounding player, spoke. Andre, trained in Holland, insinuated. They both did these things as well as the finest singer could.
  • the Tanglewood Fellows playing the introduction to the 3rd act of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger. The string playing in particular had more content than any other string playing I heard this summer. It was as if they read Levine’s mind, or by some divination he played all their instruments at once. It was so marvelous to hear a large body of players connected entirely to the deep singing nature of the prelude. No two phrases were at all alike.
  • the grandeur and high intelligence of Dido’s Lament in Vivien Shotwell’s performance with The New Opera. Since I was in this performance I heard her from the front and the back, It was intensely moving to see her on stage without seeing her face. Vivien has grandeur. She is an ancient heroine. The energy was a straight-through kind of determination which nothing could stop. Her voice, now a magnificent instrument, has a kind of largeness in its detail, and subtlety in its largeness which made the Queen seem like a personage who would die at will.
  • the completeness of Kara Cornell’s Carmen at Hubbard Hall was something to behold. Every part of the role was integrated…no, it’s better than that…was at one with its interpreter. I have rarely seen so young a performer understand so well what an opera singer needs to do to be real on stage.
  • Lucille Beer’s performance of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben of Schumann in Schenectady was some of the finest Lieder singing I have ever heard. Because her line is spun with such superb art, one hears the details indelibly. She is a still singer, draws you in and creates a universe, a habitation of sound.
  • I loved hearing a Machaut song, sung by excellent early music singers including Boston’s Pamela Dellal, as Alison Mondel walked down the aisle to marry my dear friend Richard Giarusso. This music was innocent and insouciant at the same time.
  • Last and certainly not least, the poignancy of sound my superb student Gwen started to get in Fauré’s great song “Les Roses d’Ispahan.” Her ear has taught me so much.

Happy New Year!

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