Vocal Glory at St. Matthews

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Thursday’s third and final Intermezzi series event featured three lead singers from this year’s production of Louise (our only opera this time ‘round) in recital. But significant changes were made from the festival’s program guide: the only singer listed who actually performed was Stefania Dovhan, who handled the opera’s title role beautifully. The listed tenor was Sergey Kunaev, Louise’s male lead — but we heard tenor David Cangelosi (Louise’s Noctambulist/Pope of Fools) instead (and I’m glad we did). Then there was the bonus appearance of Louis Otey , Louise’s operatic daddy. Their collaborator at the piano was all-round keyboard wizard Michael Baitzer.

Together, they brought us a choice assortment of opera arias, art-songs and Neapolitan numbers. Baitzer further served as host, announcing each number and telling us something about it. Our artists pretty much took turns evenly throughout the recital — but here, I’ll cover each singer’s contributions all at once — making for (I hope) a more coherent review.

Ladies first. Dovhan began her all-operatic selections with a pair of linked arias from G. F. Handel’s Giulio Cesare: one of his masterpieces in the genre. She let it be known right away that she was in spectacular voice in “E pur cosi in un giorno,” a desperate lament — following it with “Piangero la sorte mia,” a scathing “rage” aria. Her rendition of “Come scoglio,” from W. A. Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte, showed off both her vocal agility and her remarkable range (Mozart left his sopranos some cruelly low notes in this one). Her piercing high notes made the rafters ring in her final solo aria: “Stridono Lassu,” from Ruggiero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci. She also appeared with Otey, excelling in “Tutte le feste al tempio,” a dramatic and touching duet from Verdi’s Rigoletto: the same general kind of father-daughter duet she’s been singing with him in Louise.

On to Mr. Cangelosi, who started off with “Pecche,” a lovelorn Neapolitan song that showcased his rich, emotion-laden tenor. His next offerings were art-songs: “Sonntag,” a giddy number by Brahms — and Faure’s “Lydia,” a tender piece that revealed his more pastel vocal colors. And he floated some ravishing, high head-tones in “Vainement, ma bien aimee,” from Edouard Lalo’s Le Roi d’Ys. His final number was “Nothing more than this,” from Leonard Bernstein’s Candide — and he gave it a passionate and ringing rendition that brought the house down.

Otey owns a rich and rolling bass-baritone voice — married to a deep, but uncontrived sense of expression that made him memorable in Louise. And he used it to mostly good advantage here. He was most impressive in “Nemico della patria,” from Umberto Giordano’s Andrea Chenier. But in his Rigoletto duet with Dovhan, some small signs of vocal distress became apparent. A few of his notes sounded burry or strangled, and sounded like he had to drop down from his final high note. By the time he got to “Core ‘ngrato” — a Neapolitan love song by Salvatore Cardillo — his problems were even more apparent (vocal overstrain? Charleston’s pea-soup humidity?). But he still managed a fair account of his final piece, “Ol’ Man River,” from Showboat, the Jerome Kern musical … to include everybody’s favorite low note.

Baitzer provided his usual emotive and seemingly effortless piano collaboration. He’s earned the chance to shine in such a recital as this: Michael is one of the festival’s busiest musical worker-bees, and he never gets proper credit for it. He’s the main rehearsal pianist for Spoleto’s opera productions (a tough job) — and he pops up in performances wherever a steady and sensitive hand at the keyboard is needed (like at Music in Time, the day before). Whether at the harpsichord or piano — or even the early “fortepiano” (as in his deft recitative support in Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte some years back) — Michael’s our main keyboard workhorse. And now we know he’s a great host/announcer, too!

In all, it was a most impressive and enjoyable display of vocal glory.

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