If you’re looking for the next Marilyn Horne, Luciano Pavarotti or Herman Prey, look no further than the Young Artists of Palm Beach Opera.
I heard eight of them sing last March 16 in the lovely Royal Poinciana Chapel meeting room on Palm Beach, in which every seat had been sold. This was the opera troupe’s fifth annual Liederabend — German for “evening of song” — an all-too-rare concert of art songs. Palm Beach Opera is to be congratulated for bringing it to the fore.
Tenor Derrick Stark from Bath, N.Y., opened with three songs. His first, by Paolo Tosti, a favorite of Pavarotti, was “L’alba separa dalla luce l’ombra,” (The dawn separates the darkness from light), in which his bright mature tenor production sounded even fresher than the late beloved king of the high C’s. Next came Brahms’s “Dein blaues Augen halt so still,” (Your blue eyes keep so still) in which Stark used his voice to demonstrate control over the light and shade in the song. Lastly he sang Richard Strauss’s “Zueignung.” (Dedication) With its gentle beginning to its great crescendo ending, his rendition was perfection; it’s a very attractive voice indeed.
Mezzo-soprano Tara Curtis of Kansas City was next. She sang two songs. The first from Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder, “Oft denk ich, sie sind nur ausgegangen,” (I often think they have only gone out) which she sang with superb vocal control, because this song requires a soft delivery and she has a big sound. Her lovely voice here put me in mind of the late Kathleen Ferrier, an English contralto whom I heard in England at a lieder recital just like this one. Her second song was one of Sir Edward Elgar’s’ Four Sea Songs, “Where Corals Lie.” Here Curtis could let go with all her power and she impressed greatly with an amazing range up and down the register. It was beautifully sung. I’d dare to say there’s a Marilyn Horne timbre locked in her ready to break out.
Bass Andrew Simpson sang “O Tod, wie bitter bist du” (Oh death, how bitter thou art) by Brahms. Simpson’s rolling, deep bass has a good range and a pleasant sound and he came across as a sensitive singer intent on a fine interpretation. Simpson, who hails from Dallas, then sang a rarely heard piece by Gerald Finzi, an English composer with strong output of music rarely heard today. It was another song about death: “Come Away, Come Away, Death.” Words by Shakespeare, it tells of a lonely man’s last days on earth. Simpson caught the characterization nicely and showed his gentler side with excellent vocal artistry.
The delightful baritone Joshua Conyers, of The Bronx, who won hearts and minds with his Marullo in Palm Beach Opera’s Rigoletto, chose two songs. His first was the very difficult “Erlkonig,” (The Erl-King) by Franz Schubert. He acted each part and sounded wonderful, effectively switching his tones from dark to light, conveying the father and son of the sad story. In this piece there were hints of Hermann Prey, whom I heard often in Germany. Conyers finished with Virgil Thomson’s “A Prayer to St. Catherine,” in which his beautiful voice made all the top notes with ease. It too was an excellent interpretation.
Soprano Kasia Borowiec, from Summit, N.J., picked three songs by Rachmaninov, all sung in Russian: “It is Beautiful Here,” “Daisies” and “Spring Waters.” Borowiec has a pure silky sound with a lovely top. She got passion into the “Spring Waters,” and apparently her Russian diction was perfection, a neighbor told me. Russian can be difficult to sing with all its consonants. Borowiec sounded wonderful.
Danielle MacMillan, a mezzo from Toronto who wore a black filigree blouse and red dirndl skirt, chose four fascinating songs by Joaquin Rodrigo. All that was missing was a mantilla to complete her Spanish dress. She looked lovely, and sang beautifully. First came “Con que la lavare,” (With what shall I wash), then “Vos me matasteis” (You Killed Me). Third was “De donde venis, amor?” (Where do you come from, love?), and it was here that I said to myself that this is another Dame Janet Baker in the making because of her very intelligent approach and sensitive singing. Closing with “De los alamos vengo, Madre” (From the poplars I come, Mother) it was superbly interpreted and brilliantly accompanied by Timothy Cheung, and met by roars of bravas.
Tenor Spencer Viator, a holdover from last year, thrilled the packed house with two Sonettos by Benjamin Britten. Viator’s unusual choices, Nos. XXXVIII and XXIV, were in Latin. His diction was perfect, and his bright tenor rang true throughout the difficult pitches Britten writes. For his last song, he too turned to Finzi, with “Life Laughs Onwards,” which he sang very well. I wrongly thought Viator, who is from Cincinnati, would turn out to be a Heldentenor last year, but now revise my opinion and say that Mozart and Rossini operas will welcome him with open arms, with a few Britten opera leads thrown in for good measure. Another excellent artist.
Soprano Jessica Fishenfeld, also one of last year’s Young Artists, gave the program a resoundingly fine ending. She is from Great Neck, N.Y. First was Amy Beach’s “Ah, Love, but a day,” with words by Robert Browning. A Boston Brahmin, Beach wrote over 130 songs. Lastly came Cellius Dougherty’s “Primavera,” about spring arriving, words by poet Amy Lowell. There were smiles all around as Fishenfeld finished her last lovely note, reminding me of Sophie Weiss, a highly regarded Austrian soprano who escaped to England at the time of the Anschluss.
This Liederabend was a night to remember, the quality of the singing, superb. Hearing the human voice singing in intimate spaces has no comparison. The opera world will be all the richer when these young professionals sing, in America, Europe, wherever their careers take them.
Greg Ritchey and Cory Battey were also wonderful accompanists.