Songs by various composers
Voice students of Te Koki New Zealand School of Music, accompanied by Mark W. Dorrell (piano)
St. Andrew’s on The Terrace
Wednesday, 13 July 2016, 12.15pm
A variety of voices was heard at today’s concert, and a great variety of songs from 18th, 19th and 20th century composers – interesting repertoire.
Stefano Donaudy (1879-1925) was a composer new to me; he was Italian-French, and a resident of Palermo in Sicily. He composed mainly vocal music, including operas, and is known today for a number of songs, of which ‘O del mio amato ben’ is one. It was sung to open this student recital by Olivia Sheat (soprano), a fourth year student. She has admirable voice production and her tone was beautifully sustained. Along with well enunciated words and inaudible breathing, she made great work of this aria, as indeed with the utterly different ‘I shall not live in vain’ by Jake Heggie (b. 1961), where she characterised the splendid words of Emily Dickinson aptly and mellifluously. However, I found Mark Dorrell’s accompaniment in the first song, and elsewhere in the recital, rather too loud at times.
Olivia Sheat’s third contribution was the wonderful ‘Mi tradi’ from Mozart’s Don Giovanni. It was notable that the singer’s spoken introduction to the audience was very clear, and loud enough (without microphone!). She did not drop her voice, after starting, as so many do. The aria was sung very dramatically. She will make a fine opera singer; presence, voice and interpretation were all in line.
Nicole Davey, another soprano (second-year), has a lighter voice, but she gave it plenty of variety. A problem I find with a few quite noted singers is that although they have voices of fine quality, and sing accurately, they do not vary the timbre or even the dynamics very much. A Pergolesi aria from his Stabat Mater suited Nicole well, and her ‘Vedrai carino’ from Don Giovanni was sung with very pleasing tone; she phrased Mozart’s lovely music splendidly. Appropriately, the singer adopted a different vocal quality for ‘Bill’ from Jerome Kern’s Showboat. In any case, it was set low in her voice. Not all the English words were clear.
The opposite was the case with mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Harré’s singing of ‘The shearer’s wife’ by Dorothea Franchi, a New Zealand composer (and harpist), who died in 2003. Here, the English words were clear and precise. It was interesting to hear a voice so different from the previous singer’s. Harré’s darker, deeper tone suited her first song: ‘Au cimetiére’ by Fauré. This was very accomplished singing from a second-year student. Her legato singing was superb, and her French pronunciation excellent. It was a very touching performance.
Her final offering was ‘Smeton’s aria’ from Anna Bolena by Donizetti. The lilting character of this aria was well portrayed.
Another soprano was Elyse Hemara, a third-year student. She displayed a wide vocal range in her songs, with a rich tone throughout. Her first song, the lovely ‘Lilacs’ by Rachmaninoff, started low in the voice, while the second, the same composer’s ‘How fair this spot’, was quite high. Both were sung in Russian, and both, as befitted Rachmaninoff, the great pianist and composer for that instrument, had gorgeous accompaniments, beautifully played. Her third aria was by Massenet, from his opera Herodiade: ‘Il est doux, il est bon’. Hemara’s mature voice and good French pronunciation made a good job of it; one could imagine her singing it on an operatic stage, but she would need rather more facial expression and characterisation.
Here, as elsewhere, Mark Dorrell was required to play some complicated accompaniments when substituting for an orchestra, in the operatic arias.
The last singer was another third-year student, baritone Joseph Haddow. His first song was ‘Die beiden grenadiere’ by Schumann, a setting of words by Heine that needs to display the irony in both poet’s and composer’s views of Napoleon and of war. Haddow has a strong voice, and sang this song with suitable bravado and panache. His habit of poking his head forward rather, needs to be overcome. For ‘Ah! Per sempre io ti perdei’ from Bellini’s I Puritani he adopted a more dramatic tonal quality that suited the aria well. This was fine singing: he has plenty of volume, but used subtlety as well. There were one or two slight lapses of intonation – the only ones I heard throughout the recital.
It was a pleasure to hear fresh, new voices; I think that the opening singer was the only one I had heard before. All were obviously well-taught, and gave intelligent and musical performances. Naturally, their skill levels varied somewhat, but I think all present would feel pleased with what they heard.