A very vocal day at Spoleto

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  • William Struhs

Every Spoleto, the time inevitably comes when events pile up, and so does the writing, so I’m not always able to discuss each event in detail, as I usually do. But I attended two quality vocal events Friday: the late-afternoon Intermezzo concert (program II) and the early evening performance of Proserpina, one of Spoleto’s pair of operas featuring people onstage (the Haydn opera was for puppets).

The Intermezzo program at St. Matthew’s Lutheran church was Spoleto’s annual vocal recital that shows off various singers from one or more of the festival’s operas. In this one, we got to hear two terrific cast members from this year’s production of Flora: soprano Andriana Chuchman and baritone Tyler Duncan. They began by taking turns singing from a brace of choice art-songs by Robert Schumann, whose 200th birthday the world is celebrating this year. Chuchman then delivered Ukrainian Songs,  a 95-song set by composer Yakov Stepovyi, followed by Duncan’s performance of Let us Garlands Bring, five engaging songs by Englishman Gerald Finzi.

Both singers excelled, from start to finish. Duncan displayed a fine, rolling baritone voice that’s a bit on the lighter side, with not a whole lot of bass sonority underlying it. But no matter, as he was still more than a good match for Chuchmann, whose amazing instrument had it all: ringing and silvery tone, a huge and uniformly resonant range, and glittering vocal technique. That said, the singers polished off their program with well-known operatic arias by Bizet (Duncan) and Massenet (Chuchman), plus a pair of famous (and beautifully done) duets: the first from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro and the second from Rossini’s Barber of Seville, a florid, coloratura-rich showpiece that brought the house down.

From there, I had to scurry to make it to Memminger Auditorium for German genius Wolfgang Rihm's single-act opera, Proserpina. I'll be discussing that one in greater detail in an operatic overview later in the festival. But it was simply fabulous, albeit rather depressing, even nightmarish, as it spun the mythological tale of a sunshine-girl goddess who is consigned to spend eternity as the wife of the lord of the underworld (wouldn't you be depressed?).

Heather Buck, the opera's sole vocal soloist, was absolutely amazing. And her retinue of female attendants (the women of the Westminster Choir, looking rather like a bunch of ghoulish kewpie dolls) sounded wonderful, both offstage and on. The small orchestra sounded terrific under conductor John Kennedy's authoritative control.

And there's more prime vocal material to enjoy tomorrow: watch for my impending coverage of Piccolo Spoleto's go at the sublime German Requiem by Brahms, as well as Spoleto's traditional stand-alone concert by the full Westminster Choir.

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