In which I go to a recital

So, the longer report on Tuesday’s concert with Katarina Karnéus: Thanks to the luck of the Tuesday Evening Concert Series ticket-buying procedure, wherein if you aren’t a subscriber you have to get on a waiting list and then they give you the first sold-back tickets they can find for you, I got a seat in the second row of the orchestra section. If I’d been one row closer, I could have followed the score by peering over her accompanist’s shoulder.

We were provided with the words to everything she was singing, with facing English translation, which was handy — though I really they’d printed up a booklet instead of giving us sheets of paper stapled together, because you could hear mass page-turning all through the auditorium. Even when she was singing in English! C’mon, people, who here really needs to follow along with the lyrics to "Can’t Help Loving That Man"?

So I mentioned before that some of my favorite Baroque guys were on the program. For once, the pieces by Baroque composers didn’t grab me as much as the later ones. Something about Karnéus’s performance style made her seem more at home with lieder than with big bravura arias. I say this even though I thoroughly enjoyed her "Parto, parto" from La Clemenza di Tito; she pleaded "Guardami!" so affectingly that, were I Vitellia, I’d have relented right then and there on the spot. ("Oh, all right, Sesto, you don’t have to kill him if you don’t want to. Whoops, there goes the entire plot." Then again, I would swoon if anyone with the right voice sang "Parto, parto" to me, so I’m not the most impartial judge.) I also liked her interpretation of Gluck’s Alceste, staring death right in the eye and not flinching.

However, I felt kind of disengaged when she sang the aria from Handel’s Giulio Cesare, the first piece on the program, and she sounded like she was getting tired by the time she got to Cenerentola’s "Non più mesta" at the end. But as soon as she launched into Mahler’s "Frühlingsmorgen," she was in her element. She has a full, rich, round-edged voice,* and she could definitely fill the auditorium with it, but perhaps because Cabell is such a relatively small space, or perhaps because I was so near the stage, the smaller-scale pieces were the ones that worked the best.

My favorite parts of the program were the songs by Mahler, Strauss, and Poulenc, all of which were delightful. French art song isn’t my usual cuppa, but I loved the crazy-fast cavalcade of metaphor in "Paganini." (Surréalisme!) She highlighted the playfulness of many of the songs: the cuckoo refrain in "Ablösung im Sommer," for instance, and the hippity-hoppity "Killingdans" by Grieg, ending with a rippling "tra la la!" which made the audience giggle. I have mixed feelings about opera singers singing Broadway numbers, but it was a hoot to watch her leaning on the piano and confiding to us with a little "what can I say?" shrug that fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly. As an encore, she sang Gershwin’s "Summertime" and some more Strauss.  In the end, the best parts of the recital were as if she’d invited us all into her living room to hear some really interesting pieces that we might not have encountered otherwise. I ended up not missing the full orchestra.

* I always seem to think of
voices in terms of textures and shapes. I think of wines the same way (soft; fuzzy; flinty; convex; pointy). It’s about as close as I get to synaesthesia.

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