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Brünnhilde Crosses Over

New York
Carnegie Hall, Isaac Stern Auditorium
05/19/2011 -  
Selected Songs by Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers, Jerry Herman, and Frederick Loewe

Deborah Voigt (soprano), Paulo Szot (baritone)
Collegiate Chorale, James Bagwell (Music Director), American Symphony Orchestra, Ted Sperling (Conductor)

P. Szot, D. Voigt (© Erin Baiano)

The title of this evening’s program was Something Wonderful. That’s a very apt description of the 70 year-old Collegiate Chorale, which has been both an anchor and a glory of New York’s musical life since its founding. Its roster of conductors includes Arturo Toscanini, Sir Thomas Beecham, Leonard Bernstein, and James Levine. The 180 singers who graced the Carnegie Hall stage spend their days engaged in other labors; for them, singing with the Chorale is thus a labor of love. And it showed. They were superb.

This Carnegie Hall concert was a celebration of one of America’s supreme gifts to the rest of the world – the Broadway musical. The American Symphony Orchestra, conducted with loving enthusiasm and great verve and panache by Ted Sperling, was a sensitive and accomplished companion for the chorus, as was guest artist, Paulo Szot. Unfortunately, the featured singer, Deborah Voigt, seemed to be under-rehearsed and even, at times, unprepared. She had to be gently reminded by Mr. Sperling of the order of the program. She also began to sing her songs with a microphone but without scaling down her voice; the result was unpleasantly loud. Later, she abandoned amplification, only to resume using it near the end of the evening. There were also lapses in lyrics and in intonation. And a curious lack of engagement with the other performers.

Ms. Voigt seemed to focus on establishing a sort of folksy intimacy with the audience. Interspersed with the songs were many verbal and even musical references to her latest operatic role, Brünnhilde in the Met’s production of Die Walküre. There was the opening joke: “It’s nice to be on a stage that isn’t moving,” and also some very odd interpolations of Brünnhilde’s battle cry, “Hojotoho”.

Crossover is not easy for an opera singer; the kind of singing required to do justice to songs from Broadway musicals is radically different. Calling attention to vocal feats and even one’s technique is out of place. The text is absolutely central to a good performance; the words (at times more spoken than sung) must seem to issue from the character. Phrasing and rubato are critical. Of course, these skills should be part of an opera singer’s arsenal of abilities, but they are absolutely essential in this non-classical repertoire.

The featured artist for the evening, Paulo Szot, an accomplished opera singer, is also a master of crossover. Last season he starred at the Met in Shostakovich’s brilliant absurdist opera, The Nose. And he also won great acclaim and Broadway’s highest accolade, a Tony award, for his extraordinary portrayal of Emile de Becque in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific. His rendition of the beautiful and heart-wrenching song, “This Nearly Was Mine” from that musical was the highlight of the evening. He scaled down his operatic voice, sang with perfect legato, and he seemed to live the words he sang.

The Collegiate Chorale has a wonderfully diverse repertoire. In 2009, at the Verbier Festival, they sang with Bryn Terfel in his final performance as Don Giovanni, streamed live over the internet. This summer, they return to Verbier for Tosca; Terfel will reprise his Scarpia, sung last season to much acclaim at the Met. At Verbier, the Chorale will also appear with Thomas Quasthoff in Elijah and Angelika Kirchschlager in Dido and Aeneas. In the coming months, Paulo Szot will debut with the Paris Opera in Così fan tutte and then go on to sing Count Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro at Aix-en-Provence. He will then cross back over to South Pacific for a series of performances at the Barbican in London. Ms. Voigt returns to the Met as Brünnhilde next season with appearances in Siegfried in the autumn, Götterdämmerung in the winter, and the complete Ring in the spring.

The Website of the Collegiate Chorale
The Website of Deborah Voigt
The Website of Paulo Szot

Arlene Judith Klotzko



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