Dallas — In digging out from the landslide that was the Soluna Festival, here are some comments about two song recitals in recent weeks (May 17 and 23) under the auspices of The Dallas Opera, both at the Dallas Museum of Art’s Horchow Auditorium.
The first was on Sunday, May 17 and was part of the Robert E. and Jean Ann Titus Family Art Song Recital Series. The artists were the winners of the Marilyn Horne Song Competition: soprano Michelle Bradley and collaborative pianist Michael Gaertner. In this competition, both the singers and pianists compete and it is about time that their equal status is recognized.
The two presented a big program that opened with Beethoven’s Ah! Perfido, a relatively early work. It is a concert aria, originally for soprano and orchestra. It certainly points the way for the soprano towards the heavier repertoire. A group of French songs followed. After intermission, there was a group of Richard Strauss songs and Five Songs of Laurence Hope, set by H. T. Burleigh.
Bradley sang with elegance and great attention to detail. She has a glorious voice, rich and vibrant, with evenness from the top to the bottom. Her German was excellent and she communicated the meaning of each word.
At the piano, Gaertner was nothing less than remarkable. Not only was he precisely with her in every phrase, his playing actually added to Bradley’s interpretation, enhancing the meaning of the poetry. At intermission, many members of the audience commented on his sensitive and supportive performance.
Unfortunately because of the plethora of performances in these past few weeks, another concurrent concert did not permit me to hear the Burleigh songs—the most intriguing set on the program.
A comment: The Metroplex arts community is grateful to the Titus family for starting this song recital series. An art song recital series on this level was missing, although there is a local organization dedicated to art song, Voces Intimae. The Titus family filled a gaping hole in the musical offerings of our ever-growing and vibrant concert scene.
The Dallas Opera, in conjunction with the Dallas Museum of Art, presented the second song recital. The May 23 concert featured baritone Craig Verm, who made a great impression in the leading role in the opera Everest, a TDO world premiere. My interview with the singer about his role in that opera is here. His collaborative pianist works with him on a personal level as well as an artistic one: Karen Roethlisberger Verm.
The Verms presented an odd program for the occasion, a short recital in the middle of the afternoon. They began with an aria from Korngold’s Die Tote Stadt (produced by TDO in 2014), followed by a set of Richard Strauss songs and the five songs that make up Gustav Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder, originally for voice and orchestra.
As in the Bradley recital, Verm’s German was excellent and communicative. Vocally, these songs are perfect for Verm’s voice, especially the Mahler.
There were many children in the audience and museum-goers came and went as the free concert progressed. Lighter fare that didn’t require following printed translations of relatively esoteric poetry would have been more appropriate. Some of the clever settings by Aaron Copland of Old American Songs or some arias from operas by American composers (“Warm as the Autumn Light” from The Ballad of Baby Doe or even the “Soliloquy” from Carousel come to mind.) Perhaps they were not aware of the situation.
At the piano, the other Verm gave a technically solid performance. However, her touch was on the light side for supporting such a big voice. Also, she exaggerated the rubato passages and some ritards almost came to a stop between notes on the way to the finish.
Both recitals suffered from the same problem. Instrumentalists who regularly perform in Horchow complain about the dead acoustics. The room is paneled with walls that look like pegboards, full of small holes that are antithetic to the proper reflecting sound. Without even a hint of reverberation, every little flaw becomes magnified, especially intonation.
Such unhelpful acoustics are even worse for singers. Both Bradley and Verm have big voices, with vibrato and projection trained for the acoustically friendly opera house with decent reverberation. Without even a hint of that acoustical assistance, vibrato sounded wide and projection, over singing for venue, sounded forced.
Both singers made a valiant effort to fight the acoustics and turned in an admirable performance under the circumstances.