- Jason Victor Serinus in SFCV
- Joshua Kosman in the Chron
- John Marcher at A Beast in the Jungle
- Opera Tattler
- Out West Arts heard Graham in the same program in SoCal
As for my opinion. Among other things, I have to wonder whether I am really cut out for vocal recitals, especially those that run two hours. I think the last one I attended (and reviewed) was Anne-Sophie von Otter in the fall of 2005. (Right, I have missed quite a few really good ones along the way, and previously, most prominently, every last LHL recital.) It's not so easy to listen to one voice for so long; there's a built-in lack of variety even when it's the greatest artist in the world on stage.
And lest there be any doubt, Graham is among the greats of our time, a singer who pretty much has it all: a beautiful and beautifully-controlled voice, great technical facility in fioriture, skill with languages, a fine actor, and, well, sincerity. I believe every word that comes out of her mouth; there are no false notes.
I loved most of her program, especially the French songs, and thought the half-dozen plus encore from Wilhelm Meister a real stroke of genius, especially the contrasting settings (by Liszt, Duparc, Wolf, and Thomas) of "Kennst du das Land?" The Poulenc set on the second half, with its delicacy and wry tone, suited her especially well. She was magnificent and touching in the Purcell scena that opened the concert.
Still, I found myself feeling faintly dissatisfied afterward. It's not that she did anything wrong. The whole recital, including the funny and often sexy encores, was immaculately done, everything where it should be. But I was never deeply moved and also never got the sense that she was taking chances or pushing her own limits. I think this might be what Jason is getting at in his review (although see below for comments on one area where he faults her).
Next question: is that a problem, or a mismatch of what the artist is offering in a particular program with my hope for being transported or overwhelmed in some way? I think it's perfectly reasonable for an artist to offer a program that is superbly performed in every way (as this was) and that isn't an attempt to plumb the depths. After all, half the program was French, where the emotions and intellect are engaged in a different way from, say, German or some English (see Britten) works. And French chanson seems the perfect match for her, or was the other night.
As for the Horowitz setting of Lady M.'s major speeches from the Scottish play: Jason, honestly, the reason she didn't grab you in that is that the composer didn't give her a damn thing to work with. The texts, so different from each other in mood and style, were set to music that hardly varied. Sure, she could have shrieked more, but I doubt the composer called for it, and in his particular idiom, it would have been out of place. The idiom itself is flat - all that damn parlando - and the magnificence of the texts simply overwhelmed the mediocrity of the idiom.
This got me thinking: how many great Shakespeare operas are in English?
(pause for reflection)
Right, two. Verdi and Reimann - and even poor Thomas, whose Hamlet is not very good - all have the luxury of setting paraphrases, a choice that Thomas Ades made in setting The Tempest. How Britten got away with setting Shakespeare, and creating music to match the language, is one of the great triumphs of composition.
As to the critical distinctions, I think Jason's speculations about Graham's motives for this program are just that - speculation, and unnecessary speculation. I've heard a couple of tiny signs of age in her singing (a few unnecessary glottal attacks, a surprising amount of sliding around - perhaps a style choice? in Xerxes), but I think the comparative restraint of the other evening had more to do with the repertory she was singing than anything else.
Update: Yeah, couldn't stand the cute but inaccurate headline. A mezzo, but not mezzo.
Update 2: Added a link to Brian's review on Out West Arts. He heard exactly what I heard. And so much for spontaneity; she sang the same program as in Berkeley.