Clara Schumann’s lied are some of my favorite pieces to collaborate on with vocalists. Every piece is a study in elegance and romantic expression.
From Caramoor’s Manager of Artistic Planning, Ellie Gisler Murphy:
I spent the school breaks of my college years in Norway, while my parents lived there for a work assignment. It was impressed upon me during that time that the Norwegians are an entirely proud bunch, and nothing makes them more proud than their stunning landscape of rugged coastlines, vast mountain-scapes, and steep fjords. To be Norwegian is to understand that participation in the outdoors, regardless of the weather, is compulsory. (Perhaps made evident than their obvious and consistent domination in the Winter Olympics, and with their famous saying “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing”).
Though known for those dark and long winters, perhaps no season is more special to the Norwegians than their springtime, a brief and late season where 18 hours of darkness, thick snow and ice gives way to flowers, greenery and sunlight. Those who live in the Northeast can perhaps relate to a certain extent, especially so in late February. The notable Norwegian composer, Edvard Grieg captured the approaching season in his song “Våren” (“The Spring”). The poem, written by Aasmund Vinje, wistfully recalls the emerald meadows, butterflies dancing in blossoms, and spring-gladdened vales. Among all the songs of spring, it is one of the more solemn, as the speaker imagines this spring to be their last on earth, but to me, it makes the song all the more exquisite.
You can’t beat it in the original Norwegian dialect Landsmål, here sung by Barbara Bonney:
For the finale, back to harmony and counterpoint. This is the final trio from Der Rosenkavalier, by my all-time favorite cast of Renee Fleming, Susan Graham, and Christine Schaefer. In 2000 a friend and I saw the Fleming-Graham-Schaefer trio in Rosenkavalier at the Met Opera and it was glorious. So my friend told me that they were repeating the production at the Royal Opera in London and we should go. Since we both had money at that time, we went. If New York was glorious, London was transcendent. This is music that has always made so many emotions of joy and sorrow audible. I have sometimes chased my favorite music to Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago, but this was the first (and probably the last) time I traveled across an ocean and it was worth it. Since I could only find the final trio for F-G-S, I have added the final duet by Anne Sophie von Otter and Barbara Bonney for your listening pleasure.
This week, soprano María Valdés curates Song of the Day. She will perform with NYFOS next Tuesday, April 26th, in Compositora: Songs by Latin American Women, alongside baritone Efraín Solís. She is a recent alumna of the Adler Fellowship at San Francisco Opera where she sang and covered several roles. Her performance with NYFOS will mark her New York recital debut.
Mozart – Et incarnatus est- Barbara Bonney
Mozart’s C Minor Mass was my first professional job. I was very excited (and nervous) to perform this piece at the Bellingham Festival of Music in Washington. Unfortunately, before the gig I came down with a killer case of pneumonia and wasn’t able to sing for a month. With only a couple weeks left until rehearsals began, I slowly attempted to get back into shape. During my first coaching—this is hilarious now but mortifying at the time—I was singing this and half way through collapsed onto the piano. My lungs just couldn’t expand enough to prepare for the long phrases. Luckily for me, I recovered soon after and had a successful performance in the end!
Now, this aria is difficult on its own, but it comes at the very end of a LONG sing. I remembered having a sense of impending doom when the orchestra began. I’m sure many of my singer friends can relate when I say that the maestro inevitably took the slowest possible tempo. I thought to myself, how can I ever do justice to this exquisite composition? How will I make it through? But when the strings swelled before my entrance it was smooth sailing from there. That’s because this piece has a way of making time stand still. It kind of feels like being wrapped in a soft blanket and being placed on top of a cloud. Mmmmm.
Barbara Bonney definitely takes us to that place in her interpretation. There is nothing showy about her delivery, even as she effortlessly glides through the technical challenges this piece presents. Her voice becomes an instrument and the instruments become voices, culminating with a call and response duet between the soprano and oboe.
I hope you all enjoy this idyllic setting of “Et incarnatus est.”
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