The Palm Beach Opera Young Artists gave a Liederabend on March 29 at the Royal Poinciana Chapel in Palm Beach; close on 200 people attended this rare form of songmaking.
European opera singers trot out their best lieder songs at festivals in between engagements ad nauseam. And retired greats offer milder versions, extending their careers by a few years. American opera singers are not particularly drawn to this form when they retire from the stage, which is a pity because many still have much to offer their public. There’s a wealth of music available to suit their not so sonorous, but lovely voices. Besides, lieder is an intimate experience. Vocal fireworks aren’t expected, just charm and an even delivery.
Liana Guberman began the evening by opening with “Frühling,” one of the Four Last Songs of Richard Strauss. Try as he may, pianist Timothy Cheung could not equal the orchestral sounds of Strauss’s magnificent music. It is not a lieder piece. Guberman’s choice was far too ambitious and taken too quickly, but one has to admire her bravery. Her second choice, Debussy’s “Apparition” was much more appealing and suited her voice perfectly, particularly in her lower register.
Baritone Jason Duika sang Duparc’s “Extase” and Schumann’s “Frühlingsnacht.” His rich vocal sound was better suited to the Schumann, which was a vocal triumph. Mezzo Danielle MacMillan sang two songs by Franesco Santoliquido, “Twilight Sadness” and “The Meeting.” Showing great improvement since I heard her last December, the voice has taken on a warmth of tone with superb breath control.
Spencer Viator was next with Liszt’s “Pace non trovo.” His young tenor voice is ripe for fuller development and his delivery was perfection. He has great potential. I loved the tender crescendo at the end and his careful run up to his last high C. Plaudits, too, to the piano work of Zalman Kelber for his amazing arpeggios and sensitive accompaniment.
Soprano Jessica Fishenfeld chose three art songs by Debussy; her dramatic voice and phrasing were lovely. Fishenfeld has good vocal control and refined sound that’s beautiful to hear. Mezzo Fleur Barron delivered in spades with “Tragedy” by Robert Schumann, which demonstrated her strong vocal output and vocal range. In the quiet passages one could have heard a pin drop, so intense was her interpretation. Her mezzo has a deep rich quality. The second song was by Hugo Wolf, the master of lieder, which she sang sweetly.
Bass Andrew Bogard was next singing three songs. Poulenc’s “Invocation of the Fates” had his resounding wonderful bass voice producing the loveliest rounded musical sounds. In Schumann’s “The Smuggler,” his gestures helped as we realized the flexibility of this young man’s resonant voice. Schubert’s “The Group from Tartarus” was sung with expression and what few quiet passages there were he sang with spellbinding ease.
Danielle MacMillan. (Photo by Nicola Betts)
A thunderclap introduced tenor Robert Watson: the weather outside was awful. Not to be put off, without flinching he launched into a lovely rendition of Strauss’s “All Souls Day.” He gave it a fine flowing interpretation taking the top notes easily. His developing heldentenor voice seems ideally suited to the German repertory. Indeed, he flies to Berlin soon to sing with the Deutsche Oper. He had wonderful bursts of power in Britten’s “Since she who I lov’ d,” and I thought, here’s a Peter Grimes in the making. He wowed the audience with his last choice, Ernest Ball’s “I’m Going Back to California,” which he discovered framed in a San Francisco boarding house when at the Conservatory of Music there. A vaudeville song without doubt, but an excellent choice that met with roars of approval.
The earlier singers returned for a few more songs. Barron’s “Amor,” by William Bolcom, was beautifully sung and quite cheeky in parts. Her animation was delightful. Cheung’s fine accompaniment added sensitivity to Bolcom’s staccato piano arrangement. Duika sang “Nature Boy,” the crooner classic by Eden Ahbez. Guberman made Cole Porter’s “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” a heartfelt memory and MacMillan delivered Richard Rodgers’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone” in brilliant style.
Kudos to all who arranged such a great evening of song. Palm Beach Opera’s Young Artists get better and better each year. Let’s hope these seeds of lieder will grow like a mighty oak tree, with intimate recital spaces in every state, ringing with a superfluity of lieder in the not-too-distant future. Retired opera singers, please take note.