Dallas — Gala events are always something special; as an organization puts on its best Sunday dress to raise some much-needed funds. But more than that, they try to present an out-of-the-ordinary treat for their supporters. Such was the case last Sunday when the art song group Voces Intimae presented baritone Jonathan Beyer in an intriguing recital of songs from Jean Sibelius to Richard Rodgers.
The event was held at the stunningly beautiful Briggs Mansion, hosted in grand style by Faye Briggs herself. Keith Chambers, the assistant conductor for The Dallas opera, was at the keyboard.
In addition to the tasty hand-served appetizers, interesting wines and valet parking, there was a silent auction of items that caught everyone’s eye (and charge card). All that was fine and good, and expected, but what was not expected was the superior quality of the recital that was offered. Usually, these sorts of soirées offer fairly light fare, replete with the familiar. Not so in Beyer’s hands.
Taking full advantage of Chambers’ virtuosity, Beyer picked a challenging program. Three songs by Sibelius, sung in Swedish, gave the piano a Rachmaninoff-style workout, as did three songs by the American impressionist, Charles Griffes. There was something lighter, but it was in a very dark context. Beyer sang what he calls his “lonesome” cycle.
It opened with a song by Paul Bowles, “Lonesome Man,” followed by “Lonely People” in a setting by the relatively unknown Jean Berger. Next came “Lonely Room” from Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s Oklahoma! The whole experience ended with Gershwin’s cri de coeur, “Someone to Watch Over Me.”
Things got considerably cheerier with the last set, three selections from Aaron Copland’s charming arrangements of Old American Folksongs.
Beyer’s operatic experience turned each song into a mini-opera, communicating all the emotions of the words in a vivid manner. Yet, he kept it all in the scale of a salon recital. In between, he briefly chatted in an informal manner about the songs and his thoughts about them. This was not a lecture, by any means. Beyer eschewed the “opera singer” persona and became Jonathan, the cute guy next door who happens to sing.
It will be a far different Beyer who will appear in the leading role of Marcello in The Dallas Opera’s production of Puccini’s La bohéme opening on March 11. His burnished voice, with bass overtones, is one of the most evenly produced you will ever hear. There is little difference between his middle and higher registers. This means that high notes don’t stick out as “high notes” in his voice. Instead, they are just another note in the melodic line. He does this by averaging the registers; hooking notes far lower in the voice that you usually hear.
It is quite a remarkable effect and one that should suit the role of Marcello perfectly. There are times, when the music demands it, that he releases the middle voice to soar on its own and he sounds much more lyric in those moments. It is this flexibility that will allow him to sing a variety of roles in his growing career. It also enabled him to give such an intimately sung recital.