Arias from opera; songs
New Zealand School of Music: Vocal students of Richard Greager, Jenny Wollerman, Margaret Medlyn, with Mark Dorrell (piano)
St. Andrew’s on The Terrace
2 October 2013, 12.15pm
A varied programme was provided, both in terms of the styles of voices, and of the composers whose music was sung.
The programme opened with a couple of duets (and one solo in between). Tess Robinson and William McElwee sang a Handel duet from L’Allegro, Il Penseroso ed Il Moderato, the first part of which I missed due to problems at the parking building. The latter part seemed to suffer from some intonation wobbles, and not a lot of subtlety in dynamics, though otherwise it was a sound performance.
Mozart’s aria from Don Giovanni, ‘Batti, batti o bel Masetto’ was given a lively, apt and accurate interpretation by Olivia Sheat. With the help of incomparable accompanist Mark Dorrell, the performance flowed beautifully.
Haydn was the composer of the next duet: ‘Graceful Consort’ from The Creation. Hannah Jones’s attractive, agile and accurate soprano voice coped well, but Rory Sweeney’s voice was not sufficiently supported, the words were not very clear, and the tone was sometimes hard.
Donizetti was the composer of Hannah Jones’s solo: ‘Il barcaiolo’ from Nuits d’été à Pausilippe. This song about the sea was sung with lovely unforced tone.
Bellini’s opera I Puritani is opened by an aria for Riccardo, the leader of the Puritan army: ‘Ah, per sempre’. This was sung by Rory Sweeney, who this time had better tonal quality and clearer words. The aria was well managed with a good range of dynamics – but surely a little facial expression is permitted,
and a little more sadness, as Riccardo hears his beloved being wed to another?
The next tenor was William McElwee, performing ‘Lunga da lei… De’ miei bollenti spiriti’ from Verdi’s La Traviata. He has a bigger voice than does Sweeney, and it is more operatic in timbre. He included plenty of facial expression and gesture in his performance. He has a fine sense of the dramatic, and is a
very promising performer.
After such a number of operatic excerpts, it was refreshing to hear lieder: Wolf’s ‘Heiss mich nicht reden’, one of Goethe’s Mignon songs. Olivia Sheat gave a beautifully controlled rendition with excellent words and dynamics, and employing subtle shades of tone, to make a moving presentation.
Mark Dorrell got a rest now; Esther Leefe (soprano) and Michelle Velvin (harp) performed A Birthday Hansel; a song cycle for high voice and harp set by Benjamin Britten to words by Robert Burns, some of which were amusing, the poems being in mixed English and Scottish dialects. Although premiered by Peter Pears, it worked well for soprano. Esther Leefe’s voice was beautifully produced, and the four songs were delightful and unusual, the presentation, charming. Both musicians gave first-class performances. I couldn’t catch a lot of the words – the harp was between me and the singer. It was skilled playing and singing, sustained throughout ‘Birthday Song’, Wee Willie’, ‘My Hoggie’ and ‘Leezie
Staying with twentieth-century song, was Tess Robinson singing ‘The Seal Man’ by Rebecca Clarke. I’m not aware of having heard this singer before, but I was struck by her strong, expressive voice. Words were exceptionally well projected and clear. She painted the picture of the seal man searching for a lover on land superbly well, as did Mark Dorrell in the accompaniment.
The only New Zealand composition on the programme was Anthony Ritchie’s ‘He moemoea’ (‘A dream’, recently sung at the Adam Concert Room by Isabella Moore). Hannah Jones sang it with lovely resonance, and her words came over pretty well.
Tess Robinson returned to sing two Japanese songs – something I don’t recall ever hearing before. By Yoshinao Nakada, they were ‘Ubagufuma’ and ‘Karasu’ from Muttsu no kodomo no uta. She used the score (as did the duettists, earlier) – probably as much for the unfamiliar language as for the music. Her singing was very eloquent, and her voice conveyed feelings well.
We moved into lighter vein now, with Rory Sweeney singing ‘If I loved you’ from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel. It was a fine rendition, but there was insufficient feeling in the performance.
The final item was from William McElwee, singing ‘La fleur que tu m’avais jetée’, probably one of the most familiar of all tenor arias, from Bizet’s opera Carmen. The tempo was a little too fast and unvarying – it could have done with some rubato. McElwee’s high notes were very fine, and his French language excellent.
Some of the programme notes, which were brief but informative, suffered from poor proof-reading in regard to grammar, others had tell-tale signs of being derived from the internet.
All the performances (aside from the songs with harp) were enhanced by having Mark Dorrell as the sensitive and capable accompanist.