Lots of Lieder: A Weekend of Recitals with Tara Erraught and Diana Damrau

Despite the cold that has come upon New York during these past few early days of December, two fulfilling lieder recitals warmed me up this weekend at Carnegie Hall: One by Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught on Friday night and one by German soprano Diana Damrau on Sunday afternoon. Ms. Erraught made her New York Recital Debut on Friday after making her Boston Recital Debut two nights before, while Ms. Damrau took a break from her rehearsals of Bizet’s Les Pêcheurs de Perles at the Met. Each of them gave monumental performances and exemplified fluidity on their respective programs.

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Diana Damrau (© Michael Tammaro/ Virgin Classics) and Tara Erraught (© Dario Acosta 2014)

Even the biggest of American opera buffs have difficulty placing the name of Tara Erraught. She simply has not sung a lot in this country. Those Americans who are familiar with her might know her from the live simulcasts provided by the Bayerische Staatsoper and Glyndebourne. She recently gave performances as Sesto alongside Kristine Opolais as Vitellia in a production of La Clemenza di Tito from Munich, and as Octavian in Glyndebourne’s new production of Der Rosenkavalier, directed by Richard Jones, both of which were viewable online worldwide.

The iconic richness of her voice is something that cannot simply be appreciated through computer speakers or even a reputable audio system; Her sound in Weill Recital Hall’s intimate space wrapped itself around the audience like a velvety cape. As a mezzo, her middle and bottom registers were rich, however, even her upper register remained sunny, especially so in the Strauss. Her residency in Munich for the past several years as a member of the Bayerische Staatsoper’s ensemble has evidently helped her in building an appropriate German character for the meaningful songs of Brahms and Strauss. She was just as strong in her inherent inflections of the English texts used by Quilter and Delius. Her assiduous attention to text made for a very devoted, entertaining, and warm performance. Her “Allerseelen” and “Morgen” in particular left me very convinced of her respective messages for each. The playing of Henning Ruhe was attentive and sensitive, especially in the huge, chromatic swells Liszt composed in some of the more stormy repertoire Ms. Erraught performed.

Diana Damrau gave a very similar program, if one subtracted English songs and replaced them with French. After a period of vocal rest, her voice sounded healthier and fuller as she characterized and tore through the lust of Schubert’s and Strauss’ lieder as well as some very comical French works. Her grasp of the German language brought out the true colors of Schubert’s purposeful songs. Her pianissimos were so delicate, especially in her show-stopper (her last encore), “Morgen”. This gorgeous portrayal of Strauss’ sensual prospect of “Tomorrow” was accompanied slowly and dolce by the very sensitive Craig Rutenberg. One could feel the chemistry between the two of them even in the 2800-seat Stern auditorium. Even if the German language is one of her strong suits, the French language draped easily off her tongue in both the Poulenc and Rosenthal. She was absolutely hilarious in the funny, sentimental Chansons du Monsieur Bleu of Manuel Rosenthal. Her versatility truly shined as she showed her mastering of both German and French.

While Diana Damrau is a veteran to the New York stage, Tara Erraught as a newcomer matched her in lingual versatility and sensitivity. Each of their recitals made for a great weekend in New York.

 

 

Things to Learn from Marilyn Horne: The Song Continues

Marilyn Horne’s autobiography, published in 2004 with the help of Jane Scovell, serves not only to discuss her career and artistry, but also to enlighten young singers in their endeavors to become professional musicians.

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She begins her book telling how she played the mighty and powerful soldier Tancredi, who has been exiled in Rossini’s opera of the same name. In the end, Tancredi wins a victorious battle and is united with his lover Amenaide for a happy ending. Throughout her book, Horne evokes this very confidence as she fought for her career in music; never was there any doubt in her mind that she could make it, even if it took embarking overseas to Europe for opportunities. She eloquently described the fear factor of this whole process, crossing over the Atlantic to countries in which language barriers were prevalent, living conditions were questionable, and the uncertainty of success, even after traveling such great distances, loomed. (Nowadays, as she mentioned, singers are able to start their careers in the United States, whereas up until the mid to late twentieth century singers were obligated to venture over to Europe and beyond).

Cover of Marilyn Horne's 1989 recording of Rossini's Tancredi

Cover of Marilyn Horne’s 1989 recording of Rossini’s Tancredi

As the book is written chronologically, she also describes how she was able to overcome the loss of her parents, siblings, friends, and many others in order to get her job done on the stage; an almost impossible feat in light of such emotional events. This confidence factor that she carried throughout her career is something young singers should take to heart and remember over the course of their trials and errors.

However, just as Rossini revised the ending of Tancredi to have him mortally wounded in battle and learn then that his lover never betrayed him, Horne goes into great detail the pain and anguish the very life of a singer caused her. Even though opera singers largely have individual and self-motivated careers, they all have people in their lives who can be affected by the unattractive aspects of the career: traveling being a big factor. It is clearly shown through her warm reverence that family meant a lot to Marilyn Horne, even though she could not be around for every single life event. She and Henry Lewis loved each other dearly, yet due to the gruesome aspects of the life of a singer, as described by Horne, their marriage was not meant to succeed. There was no operatic betrayal involved, like that found in Tancredi, it was just a real-life, offstage tragedy.

On a lighter note, Horne’s humor made her book truly enjoyable. It is evident how funny she is simply based on what she did for her career. Even at the times when her weight became an issue, she managed to turn it on other people. When one German opera company hesitated in hiring her because of her weight, she stood back and sang a ringing “Ritorna vincitor” for the director, who later ended up hiring her. As weight has become a prevalent issue in recent years for singers due to the Met Live in HD series and more stress placed on productions and “vision”, carrying Horne’s passive and humorous attitude towards the matter is an idea to keep in mind. It is a shame that there was even a slight chance that Marilyn Horne’s weight would have spoken louder of her ability as an artist than her immense talent, corresponding to what happened earlier last year with Irish Marilyn Horne-esque mezzo soprano Tara Erraught at Glyndebourne.

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Marilyn Horne giving a master class at Carnegie Hall on January 13, 2014 (Pete Checchia/Carnegie Hall)

It was a delight reading about Marilyn Horne’s career as both a singer, and later the proponent of the Marilyn Horne Foundation, launched on January 16, 1994. The organization allows young artists to explore the world of recital-based singing, and to participate in master classes, a few of which are held at Carnegie Hall annually during the week of Horne’s birthday, held by guest artists and Ms. Horne herself. I have had the lucky opportunity over the last few years to attend her master classes, as well as adjunct ones taught by Christa Ludwig and Anne Sofie von Otter, in 2014 and 2015 respectively. She is sharp as a tack when it comes to dealing with singers’ proper breath support, of which she is a huge advocate, as well as diction, and having an idea of the background information. In her 2013 master class, I vividly remember her getting on a singer, whose art song was based on William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, for not having read the play. This proved to be a valuable lesson in song preparation for not only the poor singer but to every vocal student sitting in Carnegie Hall that night. Her tact and aptness in her preparation during her career showed brilliantly in her autobiography, just as they do in her master classes.

I would recommend this book to vocal students who are looking to pursue solo careers like she had. Many of the hardships she described relate to traveling and feeling far away from home, therefore, I think anyone pursuing a career that requires being separated from family and friends would appreciate her confessions of how tough that life can be. Her book was truly enlightening, just as she acts as a beacon of light for the next generation of classical vocalists.

A Different Genre of Prom

Mahler, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and Verdi go to prom Credits to Susan Spector, my multi-talented mother

Mahler, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and Verdi go to prom
Credits to Susan Spector, my multi-talented mother

It is the end of May. As a high school senior, I should be excited and be looking forward to putting on makeup, my overpriced dress and shoes, and getting out on the dance floor to have a fun time at prom. For some reason, none of this sounds appealing to me. Paying $300 (dress and shoes not included) for myself, an outside date, and crappy food to be stuck in a hotel ballroom until 2:00 AM does not sound “fun”. I refuse to believe that I will look back when I am in my forties, pondering over why I chose not to attend my school’s prom. Maybe I am just a curmudgeon, but I am looking forward to prom in a different way. A different kind of prom: The BBC Proms live from Royal Albert Hall. Beginning in July over seventy concerts will be broadcast live from the great concert hall in London. This year’s program features everything from Alice Coote singing Handel with the English Concert to all five Prokofiev piano concerti. To me, this sounds far more fun, even just listening on a stereo at home, than going out on Friday night to my dreaded school prom and sitting on the Jersey Shore all weekend.

Here are twelve proms that I am looking forward to “attending”:

Logo for the BBC Proms 2015 season

Logo for the BBC Proms 2015 season

Prom 7: July 22

Prom 7 celebrates the 150th birthday of Carl Nielsen with Mark Simpson playing his iconic clarinet concerto. Instead of getting “summer vibes” from the Jersey shore, the concert will also feature the BBC Symphony under Sir Andrew Davis playing Delius’ flowery “In a Summer Garden” and Ravel’s romantic Daphnis et Chloe.

Prom 11: July 25

For something offbeat, Bryn Terfel will star as Tevye in a semi-staged version of Fiddler on the Roof. After his terrifyingly good performances as Sweeney Todd on the stages of New York and London last year, this is a not-miss. This will also be a debut for the Hampshire Grange Park Opera at the Proms.

Prom 14: July 28

To celebrate Tchaikovsky’s 175th birthday earlier this month, Valery Gergiev conducted the Mariinsky Orchestra in all three of his piano concertos with soloist Denis Matsuev. On July 28, Gergiev will accomplish a similar feat by conducting all five of Prokofiev’s piano concertos. Three different pianists will split this daunting task: Daniil Trifonov will play Concertos No. 1 and 3; Sergei Babayan will play Concertos No. 2 and 5, and Alexei Volodin will play Concerto No. 4. Gergiev conducted all five in a row with the Mariinsky in 2012. This time, however, the London Symphony will take a stab at these five monsters.

Prom 23: August 2

Considering I am going about my last days of high school thinking about prom as a “Dies Irae”, I think I should look forward to the Verdi Requiem with the BBC Scottish Symphony and Donald Runnicles on the podium. Three out of the four soloists will be making their BBC Prom debuts: Angela Meade, Yosep Kang, and Raymond Aceto. Karen Cargill sang with the BBC Scottish Symphony as the mezzo soloist in Mahler 3 at the 2010 Proms. For those hot days at the beginning of August, the Verdi Requiem is guaranteed to chill your spine.

Prom 39: August 14

I was reminded this past February how delightful a piece Die Entführung aus dem Serail is after playing the overture with my youth orchestra at Manhattan School of Music. The petite Glyndebourne Festival Opera takes the enormous Royal Albert Hall stage in this amusing work. Robin Ticciati, who most recently succeeded Vladimir Jurowski as the director of the Glyndebourne Festival in January 2014, conducts the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

Prom 40: August 15 – Symphonies No. 1 & 2

Prom 42: August 16 – Symphonies No. 3 & 4

Prom 43: August 17 – Symphonies No. 5, 6, & 7

All seven of Sibelius’ symphonies are being performed at the Proms this year on three separate nights. What a way to FINNISH off senior year, eh?! Ok, let’s continue…

Andris Nelsons conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra © Marco Borggreve

Andris Nelsons conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra © Marco Borggreve

Prom 49: August 22 – Mahler 6

Prom 51: August 23 – Shostakovich 10

On their most recent New York tour, the Boston Symphony performed Shostakovich 10 and Mahler 6 on consecutive nights. Andris Nelsons’ agile and limber movements on the podium brought joy to these pieces when I saw the BSO at Carnegie Hall in April. His stress for line and legato allows even Shostakovich’s turbulence and the pandemonium found in Mahler 6 to be lush (with the exception of the hammer blows). It will also be worth tuning in to hear John Ferrillo’s oboe playing. His cantabile and light style of playing is attractive and sweet compared to some of the pinched oboe sounds coming out of some European orchestras.

Prom 65: September 3

The beginning of September will bring Alice Coote singing Handel with the English Concert conducted by Harry Bicket. Last November, she and Joyce DiDonato costarred in Handel’s Alcina with the same orchestra, giving a fiery performance at Carnegie Hall. She will sing several cantatas and arias from various operas brought to the surface in the Marilyn Horne era of Baroque singing, including Giulio Cesare and Semele. Handel’s music has a way of taking anyone’s swirling, violent emotions, about the end of senior year for example, and rushing them into a rhythmic, powerful storm of sound. It seems to me like this would be much more exciting than the computer-fabricated dubstep at your normal, everyday prom.

Prom 66: September 4

The London Philharmonic returns to the Proms with Shostakovich 8, one of his later war symphonies. These musicians went to battle on the piece back in October of last year at Carnegie Hall, where I got to witness the low brass section give their all for Shostakovich’s demands. The trombones particularly blasted their parts, not in an ugly manner, however. Maestro Jurowski will lead Shosty 8 once again on Friday, September 4. Mitsuko Uchida will precede the Shostakovich with the Schoenberg Piano Concerto.

Jonas Kaufmann, photo featured on RAH's website © Gregor Hohenberg

Jonas Kaufmann, photo featured on RAH’s website © Gregor Hohenberg

Prom 76: September 12

Last but not least, the Last Night of the Proms will be a real treat this year. Jonas Kaufmann is this year’s featured guest who has the honor of singing “Rule, Brittania!” at the conclusion of the BBC Proms season. He will also sing several opera arias, including “Nessun Dorma” from Turandot and “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz” from Lehar’s Das Land des Lächlens. It would be a dream if Jonas Kaufmann took me to prom, however, I can settle for this amazing concert.

As I reassure myself that prom is really not crucial in the grand scheme of things, which includes graduating, going off to college, and trying to make a career in music happen, I realize that listening to the BBC Proms would be an ample substitute. They always feature fun commentary and provide a niche for classical music during the summer, while New York has an awkward gap between the spring and fall. Instead of struggling to understand why I am not enjoying the end of senior year, I will look forward to all of these BBC Proms concerts in July, August, and September.