NZSM Voice-Students at St Andrew’s

Arias from Opera, and Songs
New Zealand School of Music: Vocal students of Richard Greager,
Jenny Wollerman, and Margaret Medlyn,
with Mark Dorrell (piano)

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Tuesday 6 October 2015, 12.15pm

A varied programme was provided, both in terms of the styles of voices, and of the composers whose music was sung.  The items were all solos, unlike the equivalent programme two years ago, when ensembles were included in the programme.  There was a nice mixture of the familiar and the less familiar.

Each singer sang two or three (or in one case, four) items.  I have grouped the items by each singer, but in most cases they sang one song and returned later in the programme to perform more. It was a pity that no programme notes, words or translations of the songs were provided.

Luka Venter was, sadly, the only male on the programme.  His light tenor voice was suitable for the Monteverdi opening aria, ‘Vi ricorda o boschi ombrosi’ from L’Orfeo, which he sang in robust style, with clear words. Despite this not being a big voice, it was used well, amounting to an effective presentation.

Later Luka sang the sublime and well-known ‘Morgen’ by Richard Strauss.  It receivedappropriate phrasing and emphasis.  I couldn’t help being reminded of Renée Fleming’s wonderful performance with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra recently.  Here, it was sensitively sung and played, but perhaps it required a fuller voice.

However, Luka must be congratulated for tackling the greatest variety of songs (and languages) in the programme, including the earliest one, the Monteverdi.  Finally he sang Manuel de Falla’s ‘Seguidilla Murciana’ from Siete Canciones Populares Españolas.  While sung accurately and with panache and commitment, the voice was not sufficiently mellow or sultry for this song.

Next we heard from Hannah Jones, the first of the five women, all of whom were sopranos. Singing Donizetti’s ‘Chacun le sait’ from La fille du régiment, she was not always spot on with intonation in the difficult, high introductory part of the aria.  Later on, the high notes were very secure.  Her sound was very pleasing, and pronunciation and enunciation of words were excellent, as was the case with all the singers.  A little more variation of tone would have added to a dramatic performance.

Her second piece was a song by Rachmaninoff, which translates as ‘Oh, never sing to me again’.  She conveyed the Russian language and idiom well, and the drama of the song; this was a very fine performance.

Elyse Hemara, like Hannah Jones, had been noteworthy in the School of Music’s  operas this year – Dido and Aeneas, and L’enfant et les Sortilèges (Elyse in much smaller roles).  Her voice has a lovely quality throughout.  Expressive singing was enhanced by excellent words.  Her singing was very accurate and ‘Una voce poco fa’ from Il Barbiere di Siviglia by Rossini demonstrated her considerable range.

Later she sang three short songs by Ned Rorem, a contemporary American composer notable particularly for the huge number of songs he has written.  ‘Stopping by woods on a snowy evening’, ‘Ferry me across the water’ and ‘Love’ featured clear words, while tone and presentation were excellent.  Elyse appeared to know the songs really well, so that she could concentrate on communicating them to the listeners.  Her tone was attractive, and her vowels immaculate.

She was followed by Alexandra Gandionco, who gave us first ‘Mondnacht’ from Liederkreis Op. 39 of Robert Schumann.  This singer has a pure, open sound which is gorgeous.  After the excesses (sometimes) of opera, this was a beautiful pool of calm delight.  It illustrated what I had just been reading about soprano (and mezzo) Christa Ludwig, that there is an opera voice and a lied voice.

Her second song was from Gounod’s Faust: ‘Faites-lui mes aveux’.  This did not suit her as well as did the lied, and her tone was a little breathy, though it improved.  Her top notes were very good.

Rebecca Howie sang Schumann’s ‘Widmung’ from Myrthen with feeling and gusto, but intonation was occasionally slightly wayward.  Just a little rubato here and there would have made the performance seem less breathless.   Her next piece was the lovely Mozart aria ‘Ach, ich fühl’s’ from Die Zauberflöte.  A pleasing tone was evident, but again, some notes were not quite nailed.  As with her lied, the performance was a little mechanical, as though she was not right ‘inside’ the music (another Ludwig quote), and having to think about it too much.  Nevertheless, she had a variety of tone colours.

Katherine McIndoe was ‘L’enfant’ in the recent opera, and performed extremely well.  Today’s first offering was also in the French language, though written by Benjamin Britten: ‘Parade’ from Les Illuminations.  The drama of the poem (by Rimbaud) was in her vocal tone and in her face.  She was thoroughly involved in that drama, and her French pronunciation was excellent.  Katherine then sang ‘Summertime’ from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess.  It’s a song heard frequently, but here it was beautiful.

Katherine was the only performer to choose three twentieth-century songs – or was the last one twenty-first century?  It was by recently-retired Professor of Music at Otago University, John Drummond, with words by well-known comedy playwright, Roger Hall.  It was entitled ‘Prima Donna’.  There have been other songs that spoofed opera themes and the role of the soprano heroine, but I don’t recall any of them being as intelligently funny as this one!   

Katherine’s soprano wished to make a living from dying, and demonstrated this energetically, including with a rather convincing knife.The music was appropriately operatic, and the excesses involved were hardly greaterthan they are in some operas.  The humorous words were very clever.  Katherine sang in a thoroughly believable way, with great timing and panache.  The piece was difficult and demanding, and was given a very musical and entertaining performance.

Brilliant writing made this parody of opera heroines a great way to end the concert. Mark Dorrell’s accompaniments were sensitive or dramatic as occasion required.  He was never too loud for the singers, but had plenty of spirit when opportunities arose.