Dallas — The interdisciplinary approach toward art has always yielded great innovations in artistic imagination and understanding. The delicate weaving together of genres and styles breathes new life into the old, ushering in exciting new interpretations of performance practice and creative standards.
In a new partnership between The Dallas Opera and the Nasher Sculpture Center called Sculpting Sounds, these principles operate in great effect as the performing and visual arts come together; the program on March 10 featured a vocal recital inspired by the museum’s special exhibitions, followed by a gallery tour.
Moreover, the featured soloist, Texas-native and acclaimed countertenor John Holiday, demonstrated an adeptness across multiple vocal disciplines that, when married together so seamlessly, worked to convey lovely artistry and a moving narrative.
The first half of Holiday’s program consisted of beautiful French and German art song, centered on a unifying theme of love, longing, and romance. On pieces like “Si Mes Vers Avaient Des Alles (If My Verses Had Wings)” and “À Chloris (For Chloris),” both by composer Reynaldo Hahn, his diction was delicate and sensitive, with lush, long lines that were warm throughout. Holiday’s countertenor is sweet and expressive, with a natural affinity for the French style. The German was treated with equal care and expression, but with what felt like an extra layer of verve. Beethoven’s idyllic “Der Kuss (The Kiss)” whistled with charm as the fullness of Holiday’s brightness gave movement and drive to each animated crescendo. Holiday also displayed his virtuosic prowess on “Adelaide,” also by Beethoven. The piece was active and athletic in its diverse colors and tempi, and Holiday’s countertenor offered a unique interpretation that was at once warm and light.
The second half of his program was characterized by selections from H. Leslie Adams’ song cycle Nightsongs, which features the musical setting of poetry from African-American poets. Here, Holiday’s technique was dripping with ethos. The movements moved through wrenching lamentations to moments of reverent introspection. Adam’s compositions draw on familiar tonalities that harken to old Negro spirituals, which lead effectively into his final set of jazz inspired selections.
The ever-popular “Summertime,” “Fly Me to the Moon,” and “My Funny Valentine,” were artfully arranged within the stirring medleys, with Holiday imploring adroit, gospel-inspired riffs and runs throughout. His sensitivity to the material was manifested as a truly moving experience, particularly on pieces like “Strange Fruit.” This timeless standard beckons the deepest emotional well of the African-American experience, and as Holiday accompanied himself on piano with beautiful precision, his rendition hung in the air with an emotive weight that was noticeably felt by everyone present.
Through his style and faithful coloring, the cultural core of these pieces rang through from start to finish, with a technically sound aura that brought cohesion to the entire program. Holiday’s greatest achievement in this recital, however, was the connection he formed with everyone present. Together with his esteemed and agile accompanists, Kevin J. Miller and Neeki Bey, the collection of music filled the space with both tonal and emotional resonance, which I believe spoke straight to the hearts and minds of the audience. The experience was communal, faintly spiritual, and enjoyable, with a bellowing medley of “Over My Head” and “Amazing Grace” capping it off as a fitting encore.