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Eternal Flame

New York
Merkin Concert Hall
01/04/2001 -  
Ludwig van Beethoven: Ah! perfido
Richard Strauss: Five Songs
Umberto Giordano: from Andrea Chenier
Maurice Ravel: from Sheherazade
Claude Debussy: Two Preludes
Richard Wagner: from Die Walkuere

Amanda Mace (soprano)
Thomas Bagwell (piano)

One of the more interesting and convivial groups on the New York music scene is the Wagner Society which regularly presents evenings of entertainment and erudition that never fail to both fascinate and educate. Under the tireless leadership of its president, Nathalie Wagner (pronounced like actors Robert or Lindsay), the group has brought such brilliant singers as Jerome Hines, Jon Vickers, Blanche Thebom and Inge Borkh to town in recent years and has allowed them to keep the faithful spellbound with tales of past glories and sage opinions on current and future trends. The society also sponsors lectures by distinguished scholars on a wide range of subjects which touch on the life and work of Richard Wagner, including a memorable afternoon with the composer’s grandson Wolfgang (the current keeper of the magic fire at Bayreuth) and a presentation of very rare set designs constructed by Alfred Roller for the fin-de-siecle Vienna Opera, expertly commented upon by Mahler biographer extraordinaire Henry-Louis de la Grange. Additionally, the group sponsors a variety of musicales including an annual recital by the winner of the Robert Lauch memorial scholarship for aspiring stars of the lyric stage. Mr. Lauch was a dear personal friend and aficionado of the opera who, in fact, accompanied me on my very first live operatic experience, the memory of Ms. Thebom alone on the bridge in the snow of the old Metropolitan house in an inspired Pique Dame still wonderfully fresh after all of these years. Bob taught me a very valuable lesson: never become so enthralled with the greatness of the work of the composer as to lose my abilities to evaluate the merits of an individual artistic performance. In the grand tradition of Tannhauser and Meistersinger, this year’s prize winner Amanda Mace, chosen by a singer’s committee of the society, presented a varied program last night at the Merkin Concert Hall.

In this age of home entertainment centers and theatrical amplification it is often disconcerting to hear a favored performer live for the first time and find their instrument deficient in strength and depth (after all of this time, I am still not over the disappointment of finally experiencing Kathleen Battle’s wee little voice). However, in this recital we were all treated to the opposite sensation: Ms. Mace’s voice is so powerful that, from the first, it was actually too big for the room. Seeming more a force of nature than a developed technique, her dramatic soprano could easily survive the cavernous recesses of the Metropolitan Opera or, in the case of Beethoven’s great concert aria, Carnegie Hall. At the age of 23, she possesses a great natural gift and has learned how to shape it well. Her set of Strauss songs was remarkable for its power, both acoustical and emotive, her heartfelt longing for Heine’s Adonis in Fruehlingsfeier speaking to a level of maturity unusual in a young performer. Not only adept at German repertoire, she showed considerable savvy in the Giordano, even including a variant on the “Caruso sob” at the end of La mamma morta

Living in New York, I am blessed to be able to hear many fine youthful aspirants, particularly at the adventurous opera theater of the Manhattan School. Although rare, there are some graduate students there who exhibit a level of professionalism equal to Ms. Mace, but not one can even come close to her raw power. If there were a failing of this program, I would point out the lack of attention to any repertoire which could exhibit a softer, more intimate style. Perhaps a set of Brahms or Schubert songs would have given us all an opportunity to evaluate this voice at a quieter level, but I do not despair because I feel confident that the potential for a fine career will allow me the chance in future to review other facets of this diamond already well out of the rough. The musical contrast which made the recital nicely shaped was the performance of pianist Thomas Bagwell in two dexterous pieces of Debussy. He provided solid grounding for Ms. Mace throughout (this with only one rehearsal) and impressed with his sense of elan in these playful studies.

It takes a great deal of self-confidence to make it in the opera world and Amanda Mace seems quite up to the task. It is one thing to sing Ravel and Strauss to this particularly intelligent and vocally discerning audience, and quite another to face the lion (or is it the dragon?) in his den by performing two excerpts from the white hot role of Sieglinde before the members of the Wagner Society. Courageously she prevailed, largely on the strength of her glorious instrument. The subtleties will come with time; without question she has the ability to travel far in the opera world and, if I have the pleasure of reviewing her one evening from the grand tier of the Met, I will be able to look back at the boost she received from this fine gathering of helpful souls who live and breathe every day the precepts of their motto:

“to learn, to teach, to share”.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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