Michelle DeYoung in an intimate voice-and-piano recital at CMF

World premiere of songs by Timothy Collins a highlight of the program

By Peter Alexander July 29 at 12:20 a.m.

Mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung, the 2018 SeiSolo artist-in-residence at the Colorado Music Festival, lent her impressive voice to an intimate song recital, last night (July 28) in the Chautauqua Auditorium. Performing with her was pianist Cody Garrison.

2328 Michelle DeYoung LO RES

Michelle DeYoung

The highlight of the recital was the world premiere of a cycle of songs written for DeYoung by Australian composer Timothy Collins. Earlier in the residency, DeYoung had given the world premiere of an orchestral song cycle by Collins, Buch des Sängers (The singer’s book), also composed for DeYoung.

Collins, himself a singer, clearly knows DeYoung’s voice. The four songs of the new cycle, Love’s Crusade, fit her strengths very well. Just as clearly, DeYoung also knows that; these were the most relaxed, the most natural performances of the evening.

tim-collins-high-res

Timothy Collins

The texts of the four songs are taken from four very different sources: one a translation of a poem by German poet Friedrich Rückert; one a setting from Shakespeare; and two texts newly written by Collins. Of the four, the Rückert song (“If you love me”) was by far the sweetest, the most gently affecting. DeYoung sang with great conviction and unforced expression.

The final song, with Collins’ text, was inspired by DeYoung’s Wagnerian credentials. The composer introduced it by observing that she is “the ideal Brunnhilde.” Titled “Warrior Queen,” it is a Viking-like call to arms by a queen who defends her husband’s realm. I found the text rather conventional for this genre (“Lift your hearts, we ride together! . . . . For country! For the King!”). Dramatic as it is, this is the least interesting music of the cycle, static and declamatory. But unquestionably, DeYoung has the voice and the demeanor for this song, and the final cries “For the King!” rang clear and full throughout the large Chautauqua Auditorium.

The two central songs of the set—“Fear No More” on Shakespeare, and Collins’ “Kentucky Coffee Tree”—set the texts sensitively, and elicited expressive performances from DeYoung. The cycle as a whole is nicely varied, and received a warm response from the audience.

1922 Michelle DeYoung HI RES_blur ART 1 version

Michelle DeYoung

Earlier on the program, DeYoung had presented sets of songs by Brahms, Strauss and Samuel Barber. The “ideal Brunnhilde” is not a natural lieder (art song) singer, and at times she was audibly restraining the power in her voice, as though her dramatic force might overflow at any moment. She was at her best in the more dramatic songs, where she could open up more.

The majority of the songs she selected were moderate to slow in tempo and melancholic in temperament. The darkness and natural richness of her voice fits these moods well, giving weight to the music. Nevertheless, the emotional sameness made the exceptions all the more enjoyable: Brahms’ “Mein Liebe ist grün” (My love is green) and Barber’s “Green Lowland of Pianos,” on a witty text by the Polish poet Czesław Miłosz.

After the premiere of the Collins cycle, DeYoung returned to sing as an encore an arrangement of another song written for her by Collins, one of the songs from Buch des Sängers. Completely at ease with music written to suit her individual voice, she sang comfortably and with expression. She was rewarded with cheers from the audience and the obligatory standing ovation.

garrisoncody

Pianist Cody Garrison

A multi-talented artist, Cody Garrison is staff accompanist at Metropolitan State University in Denver and the Boulder Symphony, and the principal collaborative pianist for the Boulder Music Institute, in addition to maintaining a dental practice in Denver. His performance with DeYoung was ever discreet and restrained. While attentive to the leading lines in his part, he never brought out more than necessary or pushed the soloist in any way.

DeYoung will perform one more time at CMF this summer, when she sings the “Abschied” movement from Mahler’s Lied von der Erde (Song of the earth) with conductor Peter Oundjian and the CMF orchestra tonight. Her recording of this deeply moving, elegiac piece is one of the best I have ever heard. Tickets are still available at the Chautauqua box office.

Advertisements

Madama Butterfly, Billy Budd to be presented by Central City Opera in 2019

The schedule also includes smaller works by Debussy and Poulenc

By Peter Alexander July 27 at 5:20 p.m.

While you were busy watching the operas, Central City Opera Company slipped some news into the program book.

CCO House by Ashraf Sewaiilam

Central City Opera House (photo by Ashraf Sewailam)

Page 10 of the deluxe 2018 season book lists the 2019 season, which will offer the opportunity to hear one of the most popular operas ever, as well as three works that are genuine rarities in the opera house. The latter include two smaller works more often classified as oratorios, and one major opera by a truly great opera composer.

The season will follow the pattern of recent years, with two large-scale productions in the Central City Opera House, and two smaller one-act works in more intimate venues in Central City:

* Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini
* Billy Budd by Benjamin Britten
* La Damoiselle élue (The blessed damozel) by Claude Debussy
* Litanies à la Vierge noire (Litanies to the Black Virgin) by Francis Poulenc

CCO Butterfly 2010 Yunah Lee.Chad Shelton

Yunah Lee and Chad Shelton in Madama Butterfly, Central City 2010

According to the Web site Operabase, Butterfly was the seventh most frequently performed opera in 2017–18, with 2,428 performances world wide. It was last performed by CCO in 2010. That production will be returning, but with a different director.

It was long been the ambition of CCO’s general/artistic director Pelham G. Pearce, Jr., to present all of the operas by Benjamin Britten in Central City. “Oh, I love Britten!” he says.

Of the Britten operas yet to be done at Central City, Billy Budd, which calls for a very large cast of all men and takes place on a British man-o’-war, would seem to pose the greatest challenge in the intimate Central City Opera House.

glyndebourne-billy-budd

Billy Budd at the Glyndebourne Festival

Billy Budd is at this point the biggest show we will ever have done inside the theater,” Pearce says. “I’m really excited about it. There are so many people in Billy Budd it’s just crazy, but it’s such a glorious work. I swear the roof is going to come off in that space!”

In contrast, the smaller works next year will feature female voices. “Because Billy Budd is all male, outside of the main stage we will be staging Debussy’s Blessed Damozel, which is all female” Pearce says. “And going along with that will be The Litany of the Black Virgin by Poulenc, also for all female voices.”

Offering two shorter works each year is a plan that Pearce has become attached to. “We do really well with these (shorter) shows,” he says. “And they provide a really great opportunity to show off young artists. So I’m pleased with them.

“It provides me the opportunity to play a little bit in areas of repertory that we normally don’t get into. There’s a whole lot of stuff that’s written that’s not a full evening in the theater, and that often gets neglected. So having the opportunity to play in that pond of work has been really a lot of fun for me.”

Pat.Pearce.2018

Pelham (Pat) Pearce

Pearce is especially happy to offer the two works for all female voices. “I have a thing about just women voices,” he says. “Blessed Damozel is a gorgeous piece that (Debussy) wrote when he was very young. He originally wrote it for just piano, which is how we’re going to do it. It’s glorious music, (and all) you’re going to have to do is walk into the church, sit down, and be immersed in the sound.”

He first heard Blessed Damozel years ago when he bought a recording. He had never heard it before, but, he says, “I put this on and said ‘My god, that’s the most beautiful thing I’ve heard in my life!’ So that’s been stuck in the back of my head for years. And now I have an opportunity to do it!”

Although the season has been announced, tickets are not yet available for 2019. Cast members and production details are generally announced in the fall, with subscriptions going on sale in December and single tickets in the spring preceding the summer season. Watch for further announcements on the CCO Web page.

 

Central City Opera one-acts offer fun, joy

Mollicone’s Face on the Barroom Floor, Handel’s Acis and Galatea

By Peter Alexander July 27 at 12:45 p.m.

Central City Opera is offering two one-act operas this summer, in addition to their two full-scale productions in the main opera house (Verdi’s Il Trovatore and Mozart’s Magic Flute).

Handel’s Acis and Galatea is receiving its first CCO production, while The Face on the Barroom Floor by Henry Mollicone was written for the company 40 years ago and was performed annually until a few years ago. It is being revived this year for its fortieth anniversary. Both shows are cast with members of the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation Artists Training Program.

FaceI may be the last person in Colorado who has not seen Face on the Barroom Floor, but if you find yourself in the same category, it’s too late this year; remaining performances of this modest 25-minute work are all sold out. The opera is presented in the Williams’ Stables, an intimate theater space across the street from the main Central City Opera House. And that is both the joy and the one drawback of the performance.

It is a joy, because everyone in the 90-seat Williams’ Stables performance space is close enough to interact with the singers. In fact, members of the audience are recruited to stand in as the barroom’s patrons for about half of the opera. But the drawback is that it is a small space, with a low ceiling, easily filled by operatic voices. Between pure volume and some imperfect diction, not all of the text can be understood.

williams-stables-central-city-colorado-BK4KWP

Williams’ Stables in Central City

That aside, the performance is great entertainment. It is a young person’s story, brim full of youthful passions, ideally suited for the young artists of the training program. The cast I saw had Gillian Hollis as Isabelle/Madeline, who becomes the face; Zachary Johnson as the hotheaded barman of past and present (Tom/John), and Martin Luther Clark as his sarcastic, skeptical rival for Isabelle/Madeline’s attentions (Larry/Matt). All were delightful.

Hollis was pert, pretty and bright-voiced in the central role—can we call it the title role? She sang with convincing expression throughout, capturing the audience’s sympathies as she tries to keep the testosterone-fueled macho outbursts of the men under control. Of course, sopranos often have to die in opera, but it must be a record that she, poor thing, is shot dead twice in about 15 minutes.

Johnson was the very image of the bartender, solicitous of the guests from the audience, then on alert both times Larry/John came into his bar. His voice is clear and strong, his acting effective and believable. In spite of his morally ambiguous role in both scenes, he remained a sympathetic character.

Clark has a solid tenor voice, with clear diction throughout; not a word was lost. He put across Larry’s sarcasm in the present-day scenes so well that one understood the bartender’s antagonism but not why Isabelle was with him in the first place. His fights with Tom/John were well done, by both actors and in both eras.

The small accompanying ensemble (piano, flute, cello) played well, the costumes are effective in both delineating character and distinguishing eras, the staging fitting. If you missed it, you may need to lobby CCO to produce it again; it is a Central City tradition well worth enjoying.

# # # # #

AcisHandel is a world away from the old West and Mollicone’s gritty barroom drama, but Acis and Galatea is another opera well suited to young singers. Populated by shepherds, nymphs and a monstrous cyclops from Greek mythology, it has the same central conflict as Face: two men fighting for a woman’s love. Performed before a house of 120 seats set up in an open rehearsal room of the Martin Foundry in Central City, Acis is as intimate as Face, with members of the audience invited the help during the performance.

In Handel’s “Pastoral Entertainment” (as it was billed in 1718), Acis and Galatea are deeply in love and pine for one another when separated. The cyclops Polyphemus desires Galatea, and in his raging jealousy he kills Acis. But just as the spirit of Madeline haunts the barroom in Face, Acis lives on in a stream so that Galatea can swim in his love forever.

Acis18_0005

Acis and Galatea cast, left to right: Chris Mosz (Damon), George Milosh (Acis), Matthew Peterson (Polyphemus), Graycen Gardner (Galatea), Benjamin DaCosta-Kaufman (Corydon). Photo by Amanda Tipton

Director Ken Cazan has cleverly updated the setting to a Woodstock-like ‘60s hippie haven, an effective modern analogue to the pleasure-seeking Arcadian world evoked by the pastoral poetry of Handel’s time. Lines such as “Love on her breast sits panting” and “When he returns, no more she mourns, but loves the live-long day” certainly suggest the era of “make love, not war.” Cazan even takes in the modern sense the words of the opening chorus: “Happy nymphs and happy swains, harmless, merry, free and gay, dance and sport the hours away.”

The set—a long, narrow platform that runs the full diagonal length of the hall—, the costumes by Stacie Logue, and the hippy-dippy manner of the five-member cast all support the transformation to the sixties. The music, however, is pure Handel, and some of his most gorgeous music at that—stylishly played and sung by the cast and a small orchestra under the able direction of Christopher Zemliauskas. It was a joy to hear.

Acis 18_0018

Graycen Gardner (Galatea) and George Milosh (Acis). Photo by Amanda Tipton.

The 18th-century English of the libretto does not lend itself to easy understanding by a modern audience. Texts such as “Ye verdant plains and woody mountains, purling streams and bubbling fountains,” and “Where shall I seek the charming fair?” are not easily grasped, especially when diction is compromised by elaborate twists and turns of the vocal lines, but the simple plot is easily conveyed through action.

The cast were all strong and well rehearsed, keeping ensembles together even when wide apart on the runway set and facing different directions. (A mirror at one of the room allowed them to see Zemliauskas even with their back to him.) Phrasing and sound were all fit well to Handel’s style.

Acis 18_0041

Matthew Peterson (Polyphemus). Photo by Amanda Tipton.

As Galatea, Graycen Gardner sang with a flexible soprano, handling leaps and flourishes with apparent ease. Her musicality and exquisite phrasing were a source of pleasure. George Milosh brought a light, lyrical tenor voice to the role of Acis. His command of the text was evident, as almost every word came through. Baritone Matthew Peterson coped well with the rapid coloratura lines of “the monster Polypheme,’ keeping his musical focus even while being wheeled up and down the set, standing on a chair. Chris Mosz and Benjamin DaCosta-Kaufman, the designated “free and gay” members of the hippy band, were effective in their smaller parts as Damon and Corydon.

The orchestra provided more than support for the singers. From a stylishly played overture to the closing chorus (“Galatea, dry thy tears, Acis now a god appears!”) they performed the Baroque score on the highest level—the more credit to conductor Zemliauskas, whose barefoot entrance, flashing peace signs to the audience set the scene as well as his leadership set the musical level.

Acis and Galateais a great opportunity to hear some little known, enchanting music by Handel. Tickets are still available for the performance at 8 p.m. Aug. 1.

CMF concert has four highlights, each presented with great polish

Augustin Hadelich a soloist to remember in the Barber Violin Concerto.

By Peter Alexander July 27 at 1:15 a.m.

The Colorado Music Festival presented a remarkable orchestra concert last night (July 26), even by their high standards, featuring four works composed in America, all of them worth hearing and all of them presented with great polish.

http://www.jaimehogge.com

CMF artist advisor Peter Oundjian (photo by Jaime Hogge)

The CMF orchestra was conducted by the festival’s artistic advisor, Peter Oundjian, who has devoted his programs this summer to music with American connections. Appearing with Oundjian was violinist Augustin Hadelich, whose performance of the Barber Violin Concerto would be a highlight on any program. But so were, each in their own way, the other three works on the concert.

Barber’s Concerto is unquestionably one of the greatest works by an American composer. No piece starts more enticingly, with music of seductive beauty. Hadelich was in command from the first note, playing with an incomparably sweet tone that easily carried to the back of the hall without a hint of harshness, then turning on a dime to skip through the concerto’s playful moments.

carnegie-hall-augustin-hadelich

Violinist Augustin Hadelich

The expressive beauty of his playing served him well in the second movement, a distillation of the late Romantic love of pure sound, with only occasional glimpses of the darker side of the 20th century. The finale, a famously virtuosic display of perpetual motion, went in a blaze of fireworks, zipping past without a single slip. In every facet of the concerto, Hadelich was a soloist to remember.

As if that were not enough, he came back for an encore, playing a Paganini Caprice just to show that no, his fingers are not tired. After the concerto, it was striking to hear the violin alone, every sound exposed. And it sounded just the way it looks on the page, every note right where it should be. The violinist who accompanied me to the concert whispered, “Perfect. That’s all you have to say.”

The concert opened with Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber, a boisterous and entertaining work that showcases just about every section of the orchestra, including percussion. Weber’s charming early-Romantic ideas are run through Hindemith’s late Romantic filter, adding a lot of instrumental color, a lot of variation, and an occasional harmonic twist to make an attractive, audience-friendly concert piece. Oundjian’s performance loved the orchestral colors of the score and let them shine. It was all great fun, as it is meant to be.

After intermission, the orchestra’s string section returned for George Walker’s Lyric for Strings. Like Barber’s Adagio for Strings, which it resembles, this is a movement from a string quartet arranged for string orchestra. Walker uses the string instruments’ ability to sustain long musical lines, expand into a rich, deep texture, and play ethereal chords that drift into silence. The CMF players filled the hall with luxurious sounds.

Dr. Atomic Met

Gerald Finley as Oppenheimer in Doctor Atomic at the Metropolitan Opera

The final member of the quartet of fascinating pieces was the Doctor Atomic Symphony by John Adams, comprising music from Adams’ 2005 opera about Robert Oppenheimer and the first test of an atomic bomb in 1945. The opera compellingly captures the pressures and conflicts experienced by Oppenheimer and the other scientists of the Manhattan Project as the date of the first test approached, as well as the pressure felt and exerted by Gen. Leslie Groves, the Army’s commander for the project. (Doctor Atomic is currently being produced by the Santa Fe Opera. Learn more here.)

All of this is transferred into the Symphony, which contains music of ominous intensity. To my ears, this is one of the most dramatic, most powerful, and most effective new orchestral works I have heard in recent years, and it was played with great force and sheer virtuosity by the CMF orchestra. Individual solos—especially the trumpet’s eloquent interpretation of Oppenheimer’s aria from John Donne’s sonnet “Batter my heart, three person’d God”—were all played very well.

One of the central issues and greatest sources of conflict in the opera is weather, with thunderstorms threatening to cancel the long-awaited test. Perhaps it was coincidence, but the CMF performance was powerful enough that it seemed to stir up its own sudden thunderstorm that lasted beyond a long ovation.

Just like the actual test in 1945, the audience departure from the auditorium had to be delayed. But just as in 1945, the storm passed, and to all appearances the audience went home more than satisfied with what they heard.

CMF Orch.by Eric Berlin

Bass Kevin Langan brings 40 years of Sarastro to Central City

Sometimes his career “just happened,” but he’s been lucky

By Peter Alexander July 24 at 4:05 p.m.

Bass Kevin Langan, Sarastro in this summer’s remarkable production of Mozart’s Magic Flute at Central City Opera, brings a little bit of experience to the role.

36912496_10214780108129643_3747920090352320512_o

Kevin Langan is performing in his 20th production as Sarastro, at Central City Opera

It is his 20th Sarastro over a 40-year career, starting with a performance at the Indiana University Opera Theater when he was a student.

That was a particularly remarkable production, since among the cast were singers who went on to performances at the Metropolitan Opera, the Glyndebourne Festival, the Chicago Lyric Opera, the Santa Fe Opera, the Houston Grand Opera, La Scala, the Salzburg Festival, the Bavarian State Opera, and other major opera houses. Many are conservatory or university faculty today. (I resist the temptation to name some for fear I will forget others, and they all have had serious careers.)

36739880_10216356441801210_3937471299365896192_n

Kevin Langan and Sally Wolf earlier this summer in Central City (photo courtesy of Kevin Langan)

One I can name: soprano Sally Wolf, who sang the Queen of the Night in 1977 and married Langan a few years later. Both Langan and Wolf have performed at CCO over the years, although only Langan is cast this summer. They just celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary while in Central City.

I knew Langan and Wolf when we were all graduate students at Indiana U., and I attended that performance in 1977. I don’t remember it in detail, having heard many Flutes since then, but Langan does. After hearing the performance in Central City last week, I sat down with Langan and asked him to reflect back on his 40 years of singing Sarastro, and talk about his interpretation of the role. Interestingly, he says it has not changed much since 1977.

“When I first saw Magic Flute (it was) at the Metropolitan Opera around 1977, right before we did it at IU, because I wanted to get an idea of what it was like,” he says. “The German basses who used to do it at the Met were usually big voices that sang loud, and I thought that’s the way you’re supposed to do Sarastro. Over the years as I did it and worked on it, I decided no, Sarastro should be sung like an (art song) singer would sing it, like you were going to sing Schubert or Schumann.”

Langan names one singer as a model for his approach. “I never saw him live, but I liked the way he sounded on records, and that’s Ludwig Weber,” he said. Weber was an Austrian bass who sang leading roles in Europe from the 1930s, including roles at the Royal Opera Covent Garden during the Second World War and the Vienna State Opera in the 1950s. (You can hear Weber here.)

“The music is not bombastic. That’s the way Mozart wrote it. I don’t think he writes fortissimo once for Sarastro, barely even forte. The more times I did it, I would go to conductors and say ’I don’t want to just go up there and hammer it out, I want to do it like a song.’ And the conductor this time around [André de Ridder] said, ‘Perfect. That’s exactly how I want to do it.’”

Like the Queen of the Night, Sarastro’s part consists largely of two major arias: O Isis und Osiris, sung to the priests of his temple, and In diesen heil’gen Hallen, sung to Pamina. “They’re lessons,” Langan explains. “The first one is a lesson about the gods, and In diesen heil’gen Hallen is a lesson to Pamina, who’s been just devastated by her mother (who asked her to kill Sarastro and rejected her when she refused). It shouldn’t be (sung) out to the audience, it should be to her, and the audience is privy to these two people talking.

“That’s my approach to the role, no matter what production values you give it. I don’t want to make him a blowhard—I want him to be friendly. And that’s the way I sang it at Indiana.”

c6f748c7c1c8e368f090d858141317f9

Poster for the Houston Grand Opera production designed by Maurice Sendak

Langan has been thinking back about his career, partly for a potential memoir of his years in opera. He has sung with many of the greats of the operatic stage over the years, including Leontyne Price, Luciano Pavarotti, Joan Sutherland and Cesare Siepi, to name a few, so he has a lot of memories to draw upon. And of all the Magic Flutes he has sung, two stand out. Interestingly, he remembers them more for their production designs than their musical interpretations.

One was designed by children’s author Maurice Sendak, created originally for the Houston Grand Opera and later performed by other companies around the country, including Opera Colorado in 1999. That one was like performing inside a story book, Langan said.

He and Wolf both performed in a production designed by the English painter David Hockney. Originally created for the Glyndebourne Festival Opera in 1978, that one also toured around the country. Langan and Wolf sang in the Hockney production in San Francisco in 1991, and a DVD of the production from the Metropolitan Opera was released in 2000.

Zandra Rhodes FLUTE San Diego 2001

Langan backstage with designer Zandra Rhodes (photo courtesy of Kevin Langan)

Those are not the only productions he remembers, though. Another favorite was a production designed by Zandra Rhodes, a clothing designer from the “Swinging ‘60s” in London. “I looked like Don King with orange hair,” Langan recalls. “I had a bright orange outfit, and she herself always had purple hair. We had a lot of fun with that show, but it was more about the visuals.

Calgary FLUTE 1997

Langan in costume as Sarastro at Calgary Opera (photo courtesy of Kevin Langan)

“I played Sarastro as an Indian chief in Calgary. We were all a tribe of Indians and I was their chief. That was fun. And there was Zack Brown’s production that we did in Washington, where I was in a white gown, bald, very elegant. That was cool—I almost look like I’m out of Star Wars!”

Looking back, Langan feels lucky, because he was never asked to do Sarastro in a production that was too crazy. “I don’t think I ever did one that was really ridiculous. I’ve done some pretty whacked-out shows, but not Flute. I was pretty lucky.”

Magic Flute, SFO, Summer, 1991 (Ruth Ann Swenson & Jerry Hadley)

Langan (left) as Sarastro at the San Francisco Opera in 1991, with Ruth Ann Swenson (Pamina) and Jerry Hadley (Tamino) (photo courtesy of Kevin Langan)

And that’s the last point that Langan wants to make, especially for young singers: His career may look like it was all well planned, going from one Sarastro to another, singing other great bass roles including Osmin in Abduction from the Seraglio, Timur in Turandot, King of Egypt in Aida and The Grand Inquisitor in Don Carlos. You might think that’s just the way he planned it, but that’s not really the case. Some of it was luck.

“I had a lot of things happen to me that were unusual for a young singer,” he says. “Going to San Francisco so young, and working with all these great singers. (But) I had no idea what was going to happen next. It was an odyssey. Things just happened. And that’s one thing about a career, you have no control over it. It takes you on a trip.”

As a lifelong fan of the Beatles, whom he credits for his first interest in singing, Langan can’t resist one more comment. “I say John Lennon’s line, ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.’ That is so true.”

Langan will continure in the role of Sarastro at Central City Opera through Aug. 5. Tickets are available here.

36285470_10216733559152131_359432563028131840_n

Kevin Langan outside the Central City Opera House (photo courtesy of Kevin Langan)

Zeitouni returns, bringing Romantic music, verve and excitement

Michelle DeYoung combines mezzo heft with soaring soprano

By Peter Alexander July 20 at 1 a.m.

Last night (July 19) Jean-Marie Zeitouni returned to the Colorado Music Festival, conducting a concert that had the same verve and excitement that marked so many of his performances when he was the music director.

2328 Michelle DeYoung LO RES

Michelle DeYoung

Joining Zeitouni and the Festival Orchestra on the first half of the concert was mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung, this year’s SeiSolo artist-in-residence at CMF, who contributed a powerful soprano—going well above the usual mezzo range—to a performance of the Prelude and Liebestod from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.

Noted for a wide vocal range that opens the door to dramatic soprano roles as well as the deeper mezzo roles, DeYoung has earned a reputation as an outstanding Wagnerian singer. Onstage she has sung roles including Venus in Tannhäuser, Kundry in Parsifal and Brangäne in Tristan, among many others, and she often sings the heroic soprano excerpts including the Liebestod and Brunnhilde’s Immolation Scene from Gotterdämmerung in concert.

Her performance of the Liebestod had a Wagnerian heft as well as shimmering high notes—in effect, a mezzo sound in the lower range and a bright soprano sound up high. She could always be heard, even the middle of a massive orchestral texture. It was a performance few could match.

Zeitouni drew carefully controlled phrases and carefully shaped surges from the orchestra in the Prelude. Apart from imperfectly blended wind sounds once or twice, this was a consistently first-rate performance.

JMZBowtie

Jean-Marie Zeitouni

After Wagner, Zeitouni turned and addressed “my beloved CMF audience,” adding a touching personal note to the evening. He introduced composer Timothy Collins, whose song cycle Buch des Sängers (The singer’s book), written for DeYoung, received its world premiere next on the concert.

The vocal lines of Buch des Sängers fall squarely in DeYoung’s mezzo range, with only a few excursions into a higher, brighter range. The first song, “Loveliness,” is indeed as lovely as anything you will hear, with beautiful vocal lines cushioned in a warm blanket of orchestral sound.

That description could apply to most of the rest of the cycle, however. The orchestral sounds are consistently warm and flowing, almost always at a moderate tempo, with added sparkle from percussion and harp to provide highlights. It is all very pleasant, very welcoming to the audience, but greater variety of sound and tempo would command closer attention.

Nevertheless, there is much to enjoy in Buch des Sängers, and DeYoung sang with a radiant conviction. This is music that audiences can embrace without difficulty. It is not hard to predict that other singers will want to take up this cycle, and that it will have many future performances.

The second half of the concert was devoted to an explosive and spectacular performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s most brilliant orchestral showpiece, Scheherazade. This is a piece that can display the best of any orchestra, and the CMF orchestra did not disappoint.

Never afraid of dramatic gestures, Zeitouni started the performance with a powerful call to attention, reminding us that the story the music is going to tell comes from the Arabian Nights. “Now we begin!” the lower voices declaim. This was immediately followed by one of many violin solos representing Scheherazade herself, played with a beautifully sweet sound and expressive rhythmic freedom by concertmaster Calin Lupanu.

In fact, the score is filled with individual instrumental solos, and one of the pleasures of the performance was hearing so many individual members of the orchestra have the opportunity to shine. In addition to Lupanu, there were solos for cello, flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon, horn, trumpet, trombone, harp—did I miss anyone?—all played with relish and artistry. Every one was a joy to hear.

The final movement was taken at a breakneck pace, about as fast as some parts can be played. It was almost all clean and clear, in spite of the speed, bringing the concert to a rousing close. Played with gusto, such Romantic warhorses can be great fun, and this one certainly was.

Scheherazade will be repeated tonight (July 20) at 6:30 as part of a “Fresh Fridays’ program. Zeitouni will also conduct the CMF Chamber Orchestra on Saturday in a program of Ravel and Beethoven. Purchase tickets here.

 

 

Jean-Marie Zeitouni and Michelle DeYoung return to CMF

Performances include world premieres, iconic masterpieces

By Peter Alexander July 19 at 10:42 a.m.

Jean-Marie Zeitouni is back in town and he feels like a new man.

Jean-MarieNew1

Jean-Marie Zeitouni

Currently principal guest conductor of the Colorado Music Festival, Zeitouni was the CMF’s music director through the end of last summer. He is here for the current week, conducting concerts tonight and Sunday (July 19 and 22). Over the past year he has had surgery to reconstruct some joints, and says “I have much more energy and much less pain.”

Although he took time off for the surgeries, Zeitouni had a very good year professionally. “I did a lot of European conducting,” he says. “I managed to spend four months in Europe doing three opera productions, all French operas. I did squeeze in a tour in Brazil with my chamber orchestra, and guest conducting engagements throughout North America.”

Also coming back to CMF is mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung, who grew up in Colorado and sang at CMF last year. This year she is the SeiSolo Artist-in-Residence at the festival, which includes teaching a masterclass and three performances over eleven days.

1922 Michelle DeYoung HI RES_blur ART 1 version

Michelle DeYoung

In that short span, she will perform two of the iconic masterpieces of the soprano and mezzo-soprano repertoires—her range is so great that she sings both—the Liebestod from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde and the Abschied movement from Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde. As if that weren’t enough, she will also present two world premieres of music written for her by Australian composer Timothy Collins.

That all gets underway at 7:30 p.m. tonight in the Chautauqua Auditorium, when Zeitouni, DeYoung and the CMF Festival Orchestra will collaborate on a program that features the Wagner, the premiere of Collins’s Buch des Sängers (The singer’s book), and one of the great orchestral showpieces, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade.

The program is built around the premiere. Collins and DeYoung have sung together, and he had written songs for her in the past. She asked him to write the orchestral pieces for her, asking that he find texts that had not been set before. His search led him to Goethe’s last poetry, contained in a large set of volumes known as the West-östlicher Divan (roughly translated as the West-Eastern Poetry Collection), which was inspired by translations of the 14th-century Persian poet Hafez. Goethe’s monumental collection actually comprises 12 books of poems, the first of which is titled Buch des Sängers. Collins set five of the poems from that volume.

All participants agree that the premiere is a special occasion. “I feel very lucky to partake in the creation of something that is so intimately connected with the performer,” Zeitouni says. “Usually, we try to fit the (performer to the) written music, but now the written music fits the performer. It’s like a glove around her voice. It fits her perfectly.

“It’s rare that we participate in this process, and I’m really honored.”

tim-collins-high-res

Composer Timothy Collins

Collins feels both honored and challenged. “It’s a big responsibility, as well as a huge honor,” he says. “How many composers are asked to write for a Grammy Award-winning mezzo soprano? I just have to think a very great deal about trying to get it right for her voice to showcase what’s so unique about it.

“It’s not just any mezzo-soprano voice, because she has extra high notes, she has particular colors in certain parts of her voice. I just have to think a very great deal about trying to get it right for her voice to showcase what’s so unique about it.”

DeYoung returns the compliments. “He knows what the strengths and weaknesses of my voice are, so when he writes for me it really suits my voice—he highlights what I think is good about my voice. (The songs) are so beautiful that it’s an honor to sing them and to create them.”

Zeitouni wanted to build a program around the premier that would fit the occasion. Because she is known for singing Wagnerian roles, he thought there should be some Wagner in the program, and she had sung the Liebestod before. Then he added Scheherazade because it compliments the Goethe texts as another example of Eastern literature, the 1001 Nights, filtered through Western ears.

For Sunday’s concert with the Chamber Orchestra, Zeitouni says he wanted “to do a concert that is all orchestra, because I want the orchestra to be the gem. Basically we chose Mother Goose, the ballet, not the suite so it’s little longer, it’s a bit more developed, and (Beethoven’s) Eroica (Symphony).

The Beethoven of course is well known to the orchestral players and classical audiences alike, but Zeitouni says it is easy to make it new. “Each time I get a new score, I get fresh ideas, I imagine the people coming and hearing this the first time. How can we get tired of playing this?

“I’m not very old, but I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and I’ve done it almost every year. I’m still looking forward (to it) in the calendar. And I’m looking forward so much to do it here.”

De Young’s masterclass will be open to the public, at 2 p.m. Saturday (July 21) in the Center for Musical Arts in Lafayette. She travels too much to have her own roster of students, but she often gives masterclasses. “I’m from Colorado, so it’s exciting to me,” she says of her role as SeiSolo Artist in Residence at the festival. “It’s a huge honor. If I can do anything to help or be involved, I want to do that.”

2328 Michelle DeYoung LO RES

Michelle DeYoung

The other premiere she will present will be part of her song recital the following Saturday (July 28) with pianist Cody Garrison from Denver. In addition to art songs by Brahms, Strauss and Barber, she will sing Collins’s Love’s Crusade, another piece that was written for her.

Love’s Crusade is a cycle of four songs, all taken from very different sources from Shakespeare to Collins’s own texts. “When I put these four songs together, it seemed that there was a common underlying theme of love, the struggle to protect love, and eternal love, so that’s where the title Love’s Crusade came from.

One song in particular Collins included because it fits DeYoung’s image as a Wagnerian soprano. Titled “Warrior Queen,” it tells of a Viking queen who leads the army to protect her husband’s realm. “I loved to present that role (of the) heroic woman who will lead the troops and that she’s the hero.

“I’m very excited to hear this for the first time in the flesh. They’re all very different.”

“That’s one thing that’s very interesting about his compositions,” DeYoung says. “In that cycle especially all four are so different. I always call him a melodist, because he writes such incredible melodies, and writes for (each individual) poem.”

DeYoung will finish her CMF residence fittingly, with the final movement of Mahler’s great song cycle Das Lied von der Erde. Titled Abschied (Farewell), this is one of the great pieces written for mezzo-soprano. That performance will be on a program with conductor Peter Oundjian and the CMF chamber orchestra at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, July 29.

# # # # #

Colorado Music Festival
Events with Jean-Mari Zeitouni, conductor, and
Michelle DeYoung, mezzo-soprano, SeiSolo Artist in Residence
July 19–29
All concerts in the Chautauqua Auditorium

Scheherazade
7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 19
Jean-Marie Zeitouni, conductor, with Michelle DeYoung, mezzo-soprano

Wagner: Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde
Timothy Collins: Buch des Sängers (world premiere)
Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade

Fresh Fridays: Scheherazade
6:30 p.m. Friday, July 20
Conductor: Jean-Marie Zeitouni, conductor

Borodin: In the Steppes of Central Asia
Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade
(Played without intermission)

Vocal Masterclass
2 p.m. Saturday ,July 21
Center for Musical Arts, 200 East Baseline Road, Lafayette
Mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung
Free and open to the public

Beethoven’s “Eroica”
7:30 p.m. Sunday, July 22
Jean-Marie Zeitouni, conductor

Ravel: Mother Goose (full ballet)
Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 (“Eroica”)

A Poetic Evening
7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 28
Michelle DeYoung, mezzo-soprano, and Cody Garrison, piano

Timothy Collins: Love’s Crusade (World Premiere)
Music by Brahms, Strauss and Barber

Made in America
7:30 p.m. Sunday, July 29
Peter Oundjian, conductor, with Michelle DeYoung, mezzo-soprano

Joan Tower: Made in America
Stravinsky: Pulcinella Suite
Maher: Abschied from Das Lied von der Erde

Tickets
Full CMF calendar