Dallas — Art song, usually the redheaded stepchild of the musical world, appears to be having a revival, courtesy of the Dallas Opera. In January, the Dallas Opera's Robert E. and Jean Ann Titus Art Song Recital Series debuted under the energetic and watchful eye of Sarah Titus. On May 31, TDO gave arts songs another outing in conjunction with the Dallas Museum of Art. Both concerts were packed, which means that audiences are voting with their presence to keep such recitals going.
This particular concert featured tenor Andrew Bidlack and soprano Ava Pine with Kate Stevens at the piano.
Audiences will remember Bidlack from his chilling turn as the youngest of the three caretakers who mysteriously vanish in the production of Peter Maxwell Davies’ The Lighthouse. More recently, he was Albert, one of the revelers in the outstanding production of Erich Korngold’s Die Tote Stadt.
Pine is local favorite and local audiences have watched her rapid rise from a TDO apprentice to stardom in the wider opera world with justifiable pride. Lately, we have seen her in the Fort Worth Opera’s stunning production of Kevin Puts’ opera Silent Night and she made a memorable Pamina in the TDO production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute in 2012. By the way, she was as big a hit at the simulcast in Cowboys Stadium as she was in the Winspear Opera House.
Australian pianist Kate Stevens enjoys an international career as a collaborative pianist and is always in demand. She recently relocated to Fort Worth and is already performing with the top musicians in the Metroplex. Welcome to Texas, Ms. Stevens!
The program for the afternoon of songs was “Love: In Mixed Musical Media.” It also had an element of other media mixed in. Various works of art from the museum’s collection were projected in the background for the entire production. Whoever did the selection was mostly right on, with only a few misses. What René Magritte’s surreal painting, Our Daily Bread, has to do with the mystical paean to physical love, Phidylé, escapes me.
The program was a hodgepodge of composers, many of whom rarely find themselves on the same program. Only three composers were given a spot for two songs, and it was not the expected ones such as Schubert or Brahms. They were Robert Schumann and a pair of French composers, Henri Duparc and Francis Poulenc. The music of both Frenchmen is much loved by song aficionadi, but not so well known by general audiences (especially Duparc). The other composers on the program make for an intriguing list: Sammy Fain, John Alden Carpenter, Albert Roussel, Leonard Bernstein, Samuel Barber, Gustav Mahler, Robert Schumann, Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel (Felix's sister), Franz Schubert, Alban Berg, Johannes Brahms, Hugo Wolf, Gabriel Fauré, and the aforementioned Poulenc and Duparc. The printed program had the words printed in type big enough to see, although the list of songs and the translations did not exactly agree.
The program ended with a bit of opera, the charming duet from Donizetti’s Elixir of Love. These are perfect roles for the two singers and ones Pine and Bidlack performed. Both voices opened up, especially the over-cautious Bidlack, and they settled into vivid characterizations and impressive vocal fireworks. It was the best singing of the afternoon.
Pine’s voice has been growing lately and she is gradually expanding her repertoire into more lyric roles without giving up the coloratura roles that made her famous. This added heft is more apparent as an increase in volume and vocal edge than in vocal quality. That edge is something she needs to watch because, while still gorgeous, it gives her voice a slightly different sound in the upper register. It lacks the lower overtones, which are the hallmark of her individual sound. You can actually see it happen when she uses more of a smile than dropping the jaw.
Pine was considerably louder than the lyric tenor voice of Bidlack and he wisely didn’t try to match her. His voice is not one that can be pushed, even a little bit. His velvety quality is pure buttercream with a relatively fast vibrato. His sound is consistent from his surprisingly vibrant low notes (for a young tenor) to the very top of his upper register. He has some trouble deciding on how to end the final notes in some phrases. Occasionally, he would succeed, but often as not, the note would just end—like an on/off switch would do. Also, the dividing line between his middle and top voice is still a moving target. Some notes on this divide can be placed either way with varying degrees of success. Experience will take care of the former and some additional years will fix the later.
Both singers turned polished performances and reconfirmed the impression that they well on their way to the top of the profession.