Dallas — Soprano Angel Blue’s name is on the lips of the opera world since her Metropolitan Opera debut as part of their Summer Recital Series. She recently exploded to a much larger audience with her performance as Bess in the Met’s recent production of Gershwin’s wonderous opera, Porgy and Bess. While the opening night performance received mixed notices, Blue was extoled to the skies with rapturous reviews rife with superlatives. Thus, there was an air of anticipation in Moody Performance Hall on Jan. 26 when she appeared as part of The Dallas Opera’s Robert E. and Jean Ann Titus Art Song Recital Series. Even with almost unbelievable hype pervaded by the national press, not only were not disappointed, we were wowed.
It is almost impossible to relay the experience of attending her remarkable performance without re-employing all of the euphoric exuberating already conferred on her by my colleagues in the international press. My cornucopia of celebrational comments comes up crickets when scoured for something fresh to say. So, let me summarize before moving on the actual performance: everything that has been said to date is absolutely true and bereft of exaggerations.
Blue is strikingly statuesque; she earned her the title of Miss Hollywood which resulted in winning the title of first runner-up as Miss California. For the first half of the concert, she wore a stunning blue satin full skirt with a plunging halter. For the second half, she was splendid in salmon, even adding a whimsical sound-sensitive lighted halter for part of the concert. Yet all of this glamour is naturally occurring, without requiring any more effort than just showing up.
Her repertoire is as wide as her smile, from Musetta and Mimi to Violetta and there is even talk of a possible Tosca — and her program reflected this versatility. We saw three contrasting sides of her personality as the program progressed.
She opened with a joyful romp through Mozart’s “Alleluia” from his mini-cantata Exsulate, jubilate. All of the coloratura works was fast and clean, which shows why Violetta remains part of her lyric, maybe lyric-spinto, repertoire. She followed this with five songs by Richard Strauss, delivered with hand-clasped-in-front standard lieder-singer poise. She stayed serious for a set of four songs by Rachmaninoff. All of the above was sung in a velvety voice that is precisely produced and placed as well as perfectly even from top to bottom — no small accomplishment. Perhaps because of her extensive opera experience, she tended to over-sing on the high notes. However, when hearing her lovely floated pianissimo singing lines, all was forgiven.
The second half opened with a red-hot and appropriately wink-wink flirty performance in rapid-fire Spanish of “Las Carceleras” by Ruperto Chapi y Lorente from his zarzuela Las hijas del Zebedeo (The Daughters of Zebedeo). This is the selection that used the sparkling lights of her splashy halter. You can experience her riff through this selection, seven years ago but still similar, here.
Songs by Jake Heggie followed. He is our modern-day Schubert, as far as songs go, and including works by a living American composer gets her a gold star in itself. But Heggie is also a local hero, so the inclusion of his music was even more appreciated. His Moby-Dick was a huge hit at its world premiere presented by the Dallas Opera in 2010 and TDO’s premiere of his back-stage comic opera, Great Scott, delighted everyone. Blue presented each song, semi-staged as it were, as mini-opera scenes as the composer intended.
Blue’s early grounding was in the church, where she played guitar, alto sax and piano, as well as sang in her Southern California church’s band. So, spirituals were expected in this recital, but as with everything else, Blue surpassed expectations once again.
Her excellent collaborative pianist, James Baillieu was with her all the way, underlining and illustrating the aspects of the music as she performed it. While sharing the stage with such a megawatt singer is a challenge, the audience appreciated his invaluable contribution as much as she did.
Thanks must also go to Sarah Titus, who is the energy behind this series. Art songs, and their performance, are routinely ignored these days by the top echelon of singers mostly because of a dearth of sponsors. We are fortunate in the Metroplex that Titus family brings us such opportunities.