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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Concert Review: Gowns, Gods and Generals

Lisette Oropesa opens  2016 recital series at the Armory.
Lisette Oropesa (right) and pianist John Churchwell at the Park Avenue Armory.
Photo by Da Ping Luo © 2016 Park Avenue Armory.
Lisette Oropesa is rapidly advancing to the front rank of sopranos that sing lyric repertory on the world’s operatic stages. Now 32 and a decade out of the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artists Program, the willowy Cuban-American soprano appeared this week at e Park Avenue Armory, with two concerts to open that institution’s 2016 series of recitals in the historic Board of Officers Room.

On Thursday night, this lovingly restored chamber was dominated by a stage and a Steinway, the perfect platform for an evening of German, French and Spanish songs. Entering in a stunning, pine-green concert gown, Ms. Oropesa opened with Romilda’s Act One aria from Xerxes, letting the simple melody make its own statement accompanied sensitively by pianist John Churchwell. At the da capo, she opened up her instrument just a little giving hints at the treasures that were to come.

She followed with a set of four Schumann lieder. Mr. Churchwell, an accompanist with long experience of the Met and the San Francisco Opera Proved able, handling the sometimes-tricky accompaniment with ease. Her German smooth and effortless, she caught the pointed meaning behind each syllable, the vocal inflections that Schumann added to give poignancy to his carefully chosen texts. Audience members applauded between songs, cheerfully ignoring concert decorum and appreciating each lied on its own merits.

A quartet of Schubert selections followed. With Mr. Churchwell waking closely with the singer, the tandem  brought beauty and depth to “Ruhe, meine seele” and to the twinned Suleika songs, Schubertian attempts at capturing the exoticism of Persia that formed toe other anchor of the leg bridge started by the selection from Xerxes. Even if that’s little bit of a stretch, these two pieces of Oriental romanticism were lovely in their own right.

Ms. Oropesa returned sheathed in red. She then sang a glorious “Clair de lune,” launching a set of songs by Gabriel Fauré. Here, the directness of German is replaced by the diaphanous, elusive sounds of French, sweetly sung over an accompaniment that shifts and drifts on its way to Impressionism. These songs were transportive, all pastel colors and muted chords, the murmurs of a dreamer who just happened to write his reveries down.

The concert ended with a septet of popular Spanish songs by Manuel de Falla. These perfect little miniatures alternated between grief and celebration of life in all its bright colors. Throughout, Ms. Oropesa added flamboyant vocal style, supporting her interpretations with hand gestures that indicated her depth of involvement with the texts. She delivered the Spanish texts with relish as the audience followed along with a set of English translations created by the singer herself.

The Seven Songs set by Falla were in different styles, from the sober commerce of nprthern Iberia to the more passionate inflections of the South. The last was a flamenco, ending in a triumphant two-syllable cry of "¡Ay!" over the staccato rhythm of Mr. Churchwell’s pounding right hand. It was followed by a slow-fast pair of encores, including a joyful Mozart “ Allelulia”, which Ms. Oropesa declared was an expression of her joy at being back in New York. May her returns be frequent.

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