A gifted soprano, quite pleased to be facing a live audience for the first time in well over a year, and an audience just as pleased to be there, made for an auspicious opening of the Pittsburgh Festival Opera Legends in the Limelight concert series at Carnegie Music Hall last night. While here and there, small groups of seats were closed off for “distancing” purposes, the crowd on hand presented the closest thing to a “normal” sized gathering seen at a live, indoor musical event in this city for quite some time.
The program Alexandra Loutsion chose, titled Greek Love – A Celebration of Human Connection, was timely, broad in compass, and offered a generous and varied assortment of operatic scenes, show tunes, pop and art songs, sung in English, Italian, French, German and, of course, Greek. The groupings were given Greek titles for the various forms of human love and connection, such as storge (affection), philia (friendship), philautia (love of self), eros (passionate love), and so on, and the pieces selected for each group for the most part fit nicely into their designated categories. The moods of the various pieces were excellently conveyed by the singer, whether the music called for drama, pathos or comedy – the last ranging from lighthearted whimsy to full-blown slapstick.
Those who have heard Ms. Loutsion locally in opera performances need no description of her vocal talents. Her voice is a large and brilliant soprano of wide range, solid and well supported throughout, and her tones can soar or float to the last seat in any sized auditorium. She displays a keen sense of the importance of legato, and excellent breath control allows her to make the most of this in her phrasing. While she is capable of reining in the power and volume of her voice to accommodate the requirements of a pop song or show tune, it is in opera that she is clearly most at home, and it was the operatic excerpts that drew from the audience the highest points of enthusiasm.
She began the program with a fitting “Prologue,” Reynaldo Hahn’s exquisite “D’une Prison.” While the song resonated with what many of us have been feeling for eighteen months or so, and her choice to sing it from behind the scenes spoke of the isolation we have felt, a piece sung so beautifully might have been better delivered from the stage. We would have understood the significance of the selection just as well. After some warm words to the audience, her face aglow with a genuine and endearing smile, Ms. Loutsion sang her first group, “Storge”/Affection” – Leslie Adams’ “Lullaby Eternal,” Paul Simon’s “America,” Hugo Wolf’s setting of Goethe’s “Kennst du das Land,” and “Santo di patria,” from Verdi’s Attila. While the Wolf song was sung with an almost operatic intensity, the Attila aria was brilliantly sung, and the first big thrill of the evening ran over the audience.
Alone under “Philia”/Friendship” was Stephen Schwartz’s “For Good,” from Wicked, sung quite charmingly, and then the fun started with the group “Ludus”/Playful Love.” Erik Satie’s lovely “Je te veux” opened the group, and was one of the best sung numbers of the evening. Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” began innocently enough, but as the lyrics progressed, the singer began to leer and inch closer to Mark Trawka, the evening’s accompanist. As the pianist’s nervousness grew, so did the instability of his playing. The singer lunged for the bench and the accompanist made a break for it, leaving her seated at the piano – alone – to finish off the number. When the laughter subsided she sang Charles Trenet’s “Le soleil et la lune.” The first part of the program then ended with two “Eros”/Passionate Love” numbers – Händel’s “Sussurate onde vezzose” from Amadigi di Gaula, and “Out of My Head,” a contemporary song by Michael Kooman and Christopher Dimond. Ms. Loutsion found similarities in the pieces, but I’ll have to listen to both a few more times before I can hear her point. Both, however, were sung with beauty and finesse.
After the intermission, Ms. Loutsion and Mr. Trawka returned and gave the “Pragma/Committed Love” group, an assortment of numbers that made for very odd bedfellows indeed. “Black is the Color,” from Luciano Berio’s “Folk Songs,” and Napoleon Lambelet’s “Separation,” sung in Greek, were followed by Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You.” The last, probably the best sung pop song of the evening, launched into the title character’s recognition of her brother in Elektra, Richard Strauss’ one-act shocker which gave music critics a collective stroke of apoplexy in 1909. The scene is one of possibly two “lyrical” moments from the entire music-drama, and Ms. Loutsion sang the wrenchingly exquisite plea to Orestes with a gleaming opulence that was so overwhelmingly beautiful that one quickly forgot its odd position on the program.
For the “Agápe/Love For Humanity” group, Ms. Loutsion chose Samaras’ “Spring” and Spathis’ “Remember!” both sung in Greek, and Messiaen’s “Prière exaucée.” All three had a charm which the singer conveyed very effectively. “Philautia/Self-Love” brought forth “Last Night the Rain Spoke to Me,” from Laitman and Oliver’s Early Snow, and the “Epilogue,” “Being Alive,” from Sondheim’s Company, brought the program to a close. The singer and accompanist were showered with applause and roses, and for an encore gave “Love is Always Lovely in the End,” from The Drowsy Chaperone, which allowed for some charming banter between the two artists.
It was a treat to see Mark Trawka in a performing capacity. He’s well known as Pittsburgh Opera’s Chorus Master and Director of Musical Studies for their Resident Artist Training Program, and his work behind the scenes pays off in front of audiences on a consistent basis. Being able to see him play the sympathetic and skillful accompaniments to such a gifted artist as Ms. Loutsion was a large part of the evening’s enjoyment.
And a very enjoyable evening it was, indeed.
For information on the remaining “Legends in the Limelight” concerts, other upcoming events, and tickets, please visit Pittsburgh Festival Opera.
Categories: Show Previews