Youthful voices savoured – NZSM Voice Students

NZSM presents: Arias and lieder

New Zealand School of Music: vocal students of Richard Greager, Jenny Wollerman and Margaret Medlyn, with Mark Dorell, piano

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday, 10 April 2013, 12.15pm

I heard four of these same singers perform last October, in Upper Hutt (9 October 2012), and my remarks then in some cases still apply; in others, the singers have noticeably improved their skills and performances.  Elisabeth Harris I heard in the master-class run by Denis O’Neill after the Lexus Song Quest last year.  Her singing has certainly moved onwards and upwards since then.

First, though, we heard from Oliver Sewell (tenor) who sang  the recitative “Comfort ye” and the following aria “Every Valley” from The Messiah by Handel.  Following the short overture, these open the great work, so must be arresting and interesting.   Sewell made them both of these things.  Although he was the only performer to use a music score, this is, after all, the norm in oratorio.

Sewell proved to have easy voice production, a good control of dynamics, a strong tenor voice, and appeared very confident.  His was as fine a performance technically, as I have heard in the many performances of The Messiah for which I have been a choir member.  Just a little more subtlety in interpreting the words and meaning are required.

James Henare has a very fine bass-baritone voice, with which he sang one of my favourite Schubert songs, “Du bist die Ruhe”.   The words were beautifully rendered, as was the phrasing.  Perhaps the loud section was a little too loud for this song.

Elisabeth Harris (mezzo-soprano) sang “Se Romeo t’uccise un figlio” from Bellini’s opera I Capuleti e I Montecchi in a fine, strong, dramatic rendition, using her voice to good effect, although there was a slightly breathy quality at times, and the intonation was a bit variable in places early on.

From Bizet’s Carmen Christina Orgias (soprano) gave us Micaela’s aria, in a most convincing performance.  Her splendid voice and her confidence carried her through a long and difficult aria, with the feeling of pathos conveyed well.

Henare sang again, a stirring “Il lacerato spirito” from Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra.  This was sung in a splendid Verdian voice; the low notes were simply fabulous, and the entire characterisation splendid.  His variation of timbre was impressive; this was indeed very fine Verdi.

Isabella Moore has earned plaudits for her fine soprano singing.  As well as knowing how to use her big voice, she knows how to look dramatic – appropriate for the character of Salome in Massenet’s Herodiade.  Her warm tone and clear words gave excellent expression to this lesser-known aria.

Christian Thurston is a baritone, and also possesses a fine voice.  His aria from Ambroise Thomas’s Hamlet, “O vin, dissipe la tristesse” was difficult, but he portrayed the hero convincingly, thanks to good breath control, and excellent French.  Indeed, all the singers pronounced and enunciated their words well.

Baritone Fredi Jones has spent time as a tenor, and this showed in that the bottom of his baritone voice lost tone, while the resonance and tone of the top was very fine.  His singing of Yetletsky’s aria from The Queen of Spades by Tchaikovsky was accomplished, and his Russian was good (as far as I could tell).

Isabella Moore returned to sing Heimliche Aufforderung, one of Richard Strauss’s many beautiful songs for soprano voice – specifically, for his wife-to-be at the time he wrote it in 1894.  It is a song of bright character, with his typical superb rising cadences.  A gratifying song, magnificently sung.

The next offering from Fredi Jones, the lovely “Sure on this Shining Night” by Barber, was sung perhaps a little too dramatically for this contemplative song.  It was a very pleasing performance, nevertheless.

Contemporary American composer Ben Moore’s Sexy Lady proved to be an excellent vehicle for Elisabeth Harris.  Another trouser role (well, partly!), it was the only item in the programme sung in English, conveyed very clearly.  It suited Harris better than did her first offering; her dramatic abilities, including facial expression, had full play, and her voice sounded better.  Parodies of many classical arias were incorporated in humorous fashion, and Harris’s enjoyment of the piece was obvious, and added to that of the audience.

Mark Dorell, as always, was a splendid accompanist, playing many a complex accompaniment in a cool church.

Programme notes were good, although the English was a little strange in a couple of them.  It was great to have the dates of the composers and the names of poets and librettists.  However, it was a pity that Richard Strauss was deprived of 16 years of life – no Four Last Songs, but no enduring World War II either, if he had in fact died in 1933, rather than the actual date of 1949.

The New Zealand School of Music is training some fine singers, and teaching a range of repertoire and also excellent language skills.  Some of these people should make fine careers in opera – starting out with the School’s production of Verdi’s Il Corsaro in July this year.

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