by Michael Caruso
Chestnut Hill’s Woodmere Art Museum hosted Tempesta di Mare co-founder/co-director Richard Stone on lute and soprano Julianne Baird in “Songs for Shakespeare” on Saturday, Sept. 20. Although Woodmere has sadly cut back on the scope of its classical music offerings, ensembles such as Tempesta di Mare, Greater Philadelphia’s leading period instruments ensemble, are among the few still presented in recital at Woodmere. That’s welcome news because Woodmere’s rotunda offers the resonant acoustics that are perfect for the intimate tones of the lute accompanying the delicate singing of late Renaissance and early Baroque songs.
Shakespeare’s plays are filled to overflowing with songs. Composers of his own time — he lived from 1564 to 1616 during the reigns of England’s Queen Elizabeth I and King James I (VI of Scotland) — were eager to set his peerless poetry to music whenever his works for the stage required it. John Dowland was, perhaps, the most prolific and acclaimed of the composers whose music was programmed Saturday afternoon, but other notables such as Thomas Morley were also represented. And Stone, who was playing for the first time on a new lute made in nearby Princeton, was generous in performing several lovely lute solos to enhance the musical offerings.
Although Baird’s voice has lost some of its power of projection and effortless legato, she still delineates far more than the surface charm of the music by evoking the comic insights and opening up the profound revelations of Shakespeare’s texts. Stone accompanied her with sensitivity, providing an instrumental foundation that was both unshakable and transparent. His solo work was equally noteworthy for its technical prowess and lyrical delicacy.
Lyric Fest, the vocal ensemble founded and directed by Chestnut Hill pianist Laura Ward and East Falls mezzo-soprano Suzanne DuPlantis, will open its 2014-15 season with “Vienna, City of Song.” The program will be performed twice: 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 5, in the Warden Theater of the Academy of Vocal Arts, 1920 Spruce St., and 7:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 6, in the Music Room of Bryn Mawr College’s Goodhart Hall. Also singing will be Erica Miller and Gabe Preisser.
DuPlantis explained that German “lied” (art song) is the union of great German poets with many of the greatest composers of the Austro-Germanic tradition, most notably Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Wolf and Mahler. For ticket information call 215-438-1702 or visit www.lyricfest.org
ROSSINI’s ‘IL BARBIERE’
Opera Philadelphia opened its 40th anniversary season this weekend with an updated production of Gioachino Rossini’s “Il barbiere di Siviglia,” and several local singers took part. Baritone Jonathan Beyer, a 2011 graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, was Figaro, the barber of the title; tenor Taylor Stayton, a graduate of the Academy of Vocal Arts and a South Philadelphian, was Count Almaviva; and soprano Katrina Thurman of East Falls was Berta.
Although there were a few jarring contradictions and inconsistencies that resulted from director Michael Shell’s decision to update the opera from playwright Beaumarchais’ original 17th century Spain and Rossini’s early 19th century Italy to 20th century Spain, he set the Academy of Music’s stage brimming over with focused activity and energetic personalities. One might quibble that some of the theatrical characterizations veered into caricature, but then again so do both the original play and libretto.
AVA alumnus Taylor Stayton was the cast’s finest singer and most compelling actor. He essayed Rossini’s daunting coloratura writing with spirit and polish. “The Barber of Seville” continues in the Academy of Music October 1, 3 and 5. For ticket information, call 215-732-8400 or visit www.operaphila.org.