From Fauré to Cole Porter to Jason Robert Brown, join us as we explore the complexity of love through song. Artistic Director Steven Blier selects four young voices and a pianist for a weeklong residency, which includes daily coaching, rehearsals, and workshops, culminating in a public performance to bring these songs to life. Assisted by Michael Barrett, Associate Artistic Director of the New York Festival of Song (NYFOS), and developed in conjunction with NYFOS, this search for love’s meaning will have us pondering from many musical angles.
Schwab Vocal Rising Stars
Devony Smith, soprano
Gina Perregrino, mezzo-soprano
Philippe L’Espérance, tenor
Erik Van Heyningen, baritone
Danny Zelibor, pianist
Steven Blier, Artistic Director of Schwab Vocal Rising Stars, coach, piano, arrangements
Michael Barrett, coach and piano
Stephen Barker Turner
FIRST MOVEMENT: Head Over Heels Saint-Saëns “Vénus” from La belle Hélène Chausson “Réveil” from Deux duos, Op. 11, No. 2 (“The Awakening”) FauréDans les ruines d’une abbaye LaloAu fond des halliers Fauré Madrigal, Op. 35
SECOND MOVEMENT: The Honeymoon’s Over Sondheim “Two Fairy Tales” intended for A Little Night Music Sondheim “Country House” from Follies Brown “A Miracle Would Happen” from The Last Five Years Duke, Nash “Just Like a Man” from Two’s Company Traditional IrishI Will Walk With My Love (arr. By Gerald Moore) Berlin “Outside of That I Love You” from Louisiana Purchase
— Intermission —
SCHERZO: Philandering BrittenUnderneath the Abject Willow Kleban “Do it Yourself” fromm Warhol BlitzsteinModest Maid Coleman “The Tennis Song” from City of Angels
Devony Smith is a versatile soprano excelling in both contemporary and traditional repertoire with her “sensuous” and “strong” voice (The New York Times). Devony has recently appeared with Norwalk Symphony, Musica Viva NY, and New Orchestra of Washington performing the soprano solos for Vivaldi’s Gloria, Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem, Mozart’s Requiem, Bach’s Magnificat, and Carmina Burana. This year, Devony was the recipient of the Lyndon Woodside award in the Lyndon Woodside Oratorio-Solo Competition at Carnegie Hall. Also at Carnegie, she participated in the prestigious Song Continues Workshop with Marilyn Horne. In 2019, she will present a recital in a partnership with Carnegie Hall’s Citywide Concerts.
On the operatic stage, Devony has performed Kate Soper’s self-accompanied opera Here Be Sirens at National Sawdust, the title role in the workshop of Matt Aucoin’s new opera Eurydice as a part of Cincinnati Opera’s Opera Fusion: New Works program, Micaëla (Carmen) at the Axelrod Performing Arts Center, Violetta (La Traviata) at the Narnia Festival, Susanna (Le nozze di Figaro) with Bronx Opera and OperaRox Productions, and the title role in Cendrillon with Utopia Opera.
Devony relishes the opportunity to perform contemporary works. As a Sorel Fellow at Songfest, she performed John Harbison’s “Simple Daylight” at Zipper Hall. As a 2017 fellow at Ravinia Steans Music Institute, she collaborated with composer William Bolcom in a concert of his music. Also at Songfest, she performed the world premiere of Ben Moore’s “John and Abigail.”
Praised by Opera News as a “standout,” young mezzo Gina Perregrino is already garnering attention on stages around the country.
Last summer she made her debut with the Santa Fe Opera as Paquette in a new production of Candide by Laurent Pelly. She returns in the 2019 season singing the role of Pastuchyna in Janáček’s Jenůfa.
Ms. Perregrino has frequented The Atlanta Opera where she sang Anna I in Seven Deadly Sins, Nica in Charlie Parker’s Yardbird, and Edka in the world premiere of Out of Darkness: Two Remain by Jake Heggie. She joined Central City Opera in 2017 where she sang the title role in a performance of Carmen.
In 2016–17 season, Ms. Perregrino was heard at Minnesota Opera for two productions (Stéphano in Roméo et Juliette and Clizia in L’arbore di Diana), Opera Theatre of Saint Louis (Blindwoman in the world premiere of Shalimar the Clown), and the Lyric Opera of Guatemala (Maddalena in Rigoletto) in a production that was broadcast on Univision TeleOnce throughout parts of Central America.
Ms. Perregrino was the 2016 grand prize winner of the Metropolitan International Vocal Competition and a Metropolitan Opera National Council Encouragement Award winner. She has been heard as a soloist with the Cincinnati May Festival and with the Dallas Opera’s Hart Institute for Women Conductors.
Ms. Perregrino is a graduate of Manhattan School of Music where she performed the leading role in Susa’s contemporary opera Dangerous Liaisons under the of baton of George Manahan, for which she received critical acclaim.
Philippe L’Esperance, tenor
Praised for his “agility, range, and pleasant timbre” (Opera News), tenor Philippe L’Esperance is a recent graduate of the Manhattan School of Music. At MSM, he was featured as Prince Ramiro in Rossini’s La Cenerentola, Ferrando in Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte, Sandor Barinkay in J. Strauss’s Der Zigeunerbaron and Tito in Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito. For the past two seasons, Philippe was a Gerdine Young Artist with the Opera Theater of St. Louis, where he appeared as Giuseppe in Verdi’s La Traviata and as Jake in Ricky Ian Gordon’s The Grapes of Wrath, and covered the role of Danny Chen in the premiere of An American Soldier by Huang Ruo. With the Chautauqua Institution’s Voice Program, he has appeared as Nemorino in Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’amore, Prince Karl Franz in Romberg’s The Student Prince, and Peter Quint in Britten’s The Turn of the Screw. Philippe made his New York Festival of Song debut this past summer as an Emerging Artist with NYFOS@North Fork. Later this year, Philippe will make his Carnegie Hall debut as a soloist in Manhattan School of Music’s Centennial Gala Concert, and will return to Opera Theater of St. Louis as a Gaddes Festival Artist in the role of Lucano in Monteverdi’s The Coronation of Poppea.
Erik Van Heyningen, bass-baritone
Bass-baritone Erik Van Heyningen is an Artist Diploma in Opera Studies student at The Juilliard School. Erik appeared in his Carnegie Hall debut in 2018 as the bass soloist in Handel’s Israel in Egypt with Mastervoices. Erik makes several debuts in 2019, including his Alice Tully debut as part of a Schubert program curated by Brian Zeger through Juilliard’s Songfest, as Leporello in Don Giovanni with the Juilliard School, 1st Nazarene in Salome with the Spoleto Festival, and Fernando in La gazza ladra with Teatro Nuovo. Erik spent the Summer of 2018 at Santa Fe Opera for his second year as an Apprentice Artist. There he sang The Imperial Commissioner in Madama Butterfly, and Ragotzki/Archbishop in Candide. In addition, he covered Voltaire et. al in Candide, Haly in L’italiana in Algeri, and Robert J. Oppenheimer in Dr. Atomic. van Heyningen received the Donald Gramm Memorial Award from the Santa Fe Opera in 2017, the first place prize in the Gerda Lissner Lieder competition in 2016, and the Richman Memorial Award from the Opera Theatre of St. Louis in 2015, where he spent three summers as a young artist.
Texan pianist, Danny Zelibor, is a pianist and collaborator to watch on the international music scene. He has performed in recital with Los Angeles Philharmonic principal cellist, Robert DeMaine, and Chicago Symphony cellist, Brant Taylor. Most recently, Mr. Zelibor made his Carnegie Hall debut in concert with baritone, Jarrett Ott, as well as performing for the first time with the Brooklyn Art Song Society.
Mr. Zelibor’s debut CD for Toccata Classics, the first in a multi-volume set of the piano music of Alexandre Tansman, received widespread praise from top music publications including “Fanfare,” “MusicWeb International,” and “Deutsche Grammophon.” The second album in the series, which includes two world premieres, has been equally applauded. “Fanfare” praised “the brilliant young American pianist Danny Zelibor [who] proves an ideal exponent of this music, not only in the way he instinctively seems to grasp the essence of the composer’s often elusive idiom, but also in the way he infuses the music with the last ounce of character, color, and excitement.”
A top prizewinner in the 2014 Los Angeles International Liszt Competition, Mr. Zelibor spent two summers as pianist and vocal coach at Seagle Music Colony and spent the summer of 2018 as a Tanglewood fellow. He is a graduate of Texas Christian University and the University of North Texas, where he studied with Tamás Ungár and Joseph Banowetz respectively. He recently completed his degree in collaborative piano with Warren Jones at the Manhattan School of Music in New York City, where he continues to reside.
Steven Blier, Artistic Director of Schwab Vocal Rising Stars, coach, piano, arrangements
Steven Blier is the Artistic Director of the New York Festival of Song (NYFOS), which he co-founded in 1988 with Michael Barrett. Since the Festival’s inception, he has programmed, performed, translated, and annotated more than 140 vocal recitals with repertoire spanning the entire range of American song, art song from Schubert to Szymanowski, and popular song from early vaudeville to Lennon-McCartney. NYFOS has also made in-depth explorations of music from Spain, Latin America, Scandinavia, and Russia. New York Magazine gave NYFOS its award for Best Classical Programming, while Opera News proclaimed Blier “the coolest dude in town.”
Mr. Blier enjoys an eminent career as an accompanist and vocal coach. His recital partners have included Renée Fleming, Cecilia Bartoli, Samuel Ramey, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Susan Graham, Jessye Norman, and José van Dam, in venues ranging from Carnegie Hall to La Scala. He is also on the faculty of The Juilliard School and has been active in encouraging young recitalists at summer programs, including the Wolf Trap Opera Company, Santa Fe Opera, and the San Francisco Opera Center. Many of his former students, including Stephanie Blythe, Joseph Kaiser, Sasha Cooke, Paul Appleby, Dina Kuznetsova, Corinne Winters, and Kate Lindsey, have gone on to be valued recital colleagues and sought-after stars on the opera and concert stage.
In keeping the traditions of American music alive, he has brought back to the stage many of the rarely heard songs of George Gershwin, Harold Arlen, Kurt Weill, and Cole Porter. He has also played ragtime, blues, and stride piano evenings with John Musto. A champion of American art song, he has premiered works of John Corigliano, Paul Moravec, Ned Rorem, William Bolcom, Mark Adamo, John Musto, Richard Danielpour, Tobias Picker, Robert Beaser, Lowell Liebermann, Harold Meltzer, and Lee Hoiby, many of which were commissioned by NYFOS.
Mr. Blier’s extensive discography includes the premiere recording of Leonard Bernstein’s Arias and Barcarolles (Koch International), which won a Grammy Award; Spanish Love Songs (Bridge Records), recorded live at the Caramoor Music Festival with Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Joseph Kaiser, and Michael Barrett; the world premiere recording of Bastianello (John Musto) and Lucrezia(William Bolcom), a double bill of oneact comic operas set to librettos by Mark Campbell; and Quiet Please, an album of jazz standards with vocalist Darius de Haas. His latest release is Canción amorosa, a CD of Spanish songs with soprano Corinne Winters on the GRP label.
His writings on opera have been featured in Opera News and the Yale Review. A native New Yorker, he received a Bachelor’s Degree with Honors in English Literature at Yale University, where he studied piano with Alexander Farkas. He completed his musical studies in New York with Martin Isepp and Paul Jacobs.
Michael Barrett, coach and piano
Associate Artistic Director of the New York Festival of Song (NYFOS), Michael Barrett started NYFOS in 1988 with his friend and colleague Steven Blier. Mr. Barrett was Chief Executive and General Director of the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts from 2003-2012. In 1992, he co-founded the Moab Music Festival with his wife, violist Leslie Tomkins. From 1994 to 1997, he was the Director of the Tisch Center for the Arts at the 92nd Street Y in New York.
A protégé of Leonard Bernstein, Mr. Barrett began his long association with the renowned conductor and composer as a student in 1982. He is currently the Artistic Advisor for the estate of Leonard Bernstein. He has been a guest conductor with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, the New York Philharmonic, the London Symphony, the Israel Philharmonic, and the Orchestre National de France, among others. He also has served variously as conductor, producer, and music director of numerous special projects, including dozens of world premieres by Bernstein, Musto, Bolcom, Rorem, and D’Rivera.
Mr. Barrett’s discography includes: Spanish Love Songs, recorded live at Caramoor with Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Steven Blier, and Joseph Kaiser; Live from the Moab Music Festival; the Grammy-nominated Evidence of Things Not Seen (New World Records); Aaron Kernis: 100 Greatest Dance Hits (New Albion); On the Town (Deutsche Grammophon); Kaballah (Koch Classics) by Stewart Wallace and Michael Korie; Schumann Lieder with Lorraine Hunt and Kurt Ollmann (Koch); andArias and Barcarolles (Koch) by Leonard Bernstein (Grammy Award).
About the Music.
Today’s program takes its inspiration from an opera — Mozart’s Cosí fan tutte — and a movie, Max Ophuls’ La ronde, which was based on the hugely controversial play by Arthur Schnitzler, Reigen. Both works are about the disruptive interplay of love and lust, fidelity and libido, id and superego. In our concert two couples meet and fall in love, but the honeymoon fades. Soon the guys feel trapped and the women feel betrayed, and then all hell breaks loose. The guys experiment (including a fling with one another), while the girls drop all inhibitions and indulge their sexual whims. Wild oats sown, the four come warily back together with more experience, more wisdom, more doubts — and fuller hearts.
Each of the four chapters demanded its own language and musical genre. The couples fall in love to French romantic art song, which evokes that wonderful moment of infatuation when life sparkles with promise, the spirit shimmers, and the words lovers exchange are perhaps more beautiful for the way they sound than for what they actually mean. But when that moment wears off and reality sets in, things suddenly get more literal. “But you said,” “But I never meant,” “I just can’t stand…!” Suddenly we go from wings of song to the language of negotiation, recrimination, and comedy: English. English is also the best language for Act III, “Philandering.” After all, you don’t want to miss any of the juicy details. But German song seemed right for the closing section. Lieder offered the most beautiful, complex examples of mature love tinged with loneliness and betrayal. For a reflective coda, I drew on a Spanish song by the Catalan composer Manuel Oltra set to a Lorca poem. Once again life vibrates with possibilities — and memories.
Tonight’s playlist careens from the sublime to the ridiculous. Love is at once the highest expression of humanity and an unruly biological urge, a blissful merging and a litigious, daily negotiation. All of our composers and lyricists are exposing the exalted, messy truth about love — Schubert and Irving Berlin, Fauré and Jason Robert Brown, Brahms and Ed Kleban. A few of the composers, classical icons like Saint-Saëns and Strauss, won’t require biographical sketches for experienced concert-goers. But there are a some lesser-known pieces in the program about which you may be curious. Below: a quick guide to those recherché numbers.
The two Stephen Sondheim songs are comparative rarities from this often-sung composer. “Two Fairy Tales” was written for the two ingénues in A Little Night Music, Hendrik and Anne. Its dazzling wit shed a bit of light on their characters, but it did nothing to advance the story in Act II when the action needs the most velocity. Sondheim slyly recycled “Two Fairy Tales” as an instrumental piece: it became the tedious piano exercise played by Desirée’s daughter Frederika.
“Country House” comes from the 1987 London production of Follies. Sondheim and his book writer William Goldman made a conscious attempt to add more comedy to their brilliant but problematic musical. To that end they tweaked the libretto and added three new songs including “Country House,” sung by the wealthy, unhappily married Phyllis and Ben. In the 1971 Broadway script they had dialogue scenes but they never sang together. Sondheim and Goldman eventually withdrew the London version of Follies as a failed experiment, preferring the disquieting original. Still, this song is prime Sondheim. Smart, psychologically astute, and ultimately quite touching, “Country House” shows us a side of Phyllis and Ben Stone that makes them more sympathetic and vulnerable. And only Hugo Wolf can match Sondheim for turning perfectly inflected line-readings into melody.
Vernon Duke’s brilliance as a songwriter was matched by his bad luck and bad judgment in the theater. The Gershwin brothers took Duke, then a Russian emigré named Vladimir Dukelsky, under their wing in the 1930s, and his early projects went well. “April in Paris” and “Autumn in New York” were instant classics, and his 1940 Broadway show Cabin in the Sky was a rousing success. But thereafter his luck turned, and he produced a string of failures — the last of them, Sweet Bye and Bye never even made it out of Philadelphia previews, and was such an out-and-out disaster that Duke vowed to leave the theater forever. He eventually returned to Broadway in 1952 with Two’s Company, a revue starring Bette Davis and choreographed by the brilliant, tyrannical Jerome Robbins. Duke recycled a few of the best songs from Sweet Bye and Bye, including “Just Like a Man.” Duke’s vast songwriting skills are on full display: a patrician ability to evoke sophisticated world-weariness, and a harmonic inventiveness that begins in the song ’s verse, an opportunity most other composers throw away.
Alas, Duke was defeated once again. The fly in the ointment was the show’s star, Bette Davis, a breathtakingly unmusical performer. Her grim, leaden rendition of the opening number, “Turn Me Loose on Broadway,” gives new meaning to the phrase “two left feet.” (You can check it out on YouTube if you’re brave.) She claimed illness during the run of the show — her croaking rendition of “Just Like a Man” on the original cast album certainly doesn’t sound healthy. Good or bad, Bette Davis was a huge box office draw, and when she left Two’s Company after three months the show closed.
Marc Blitzstein is most famous for his left-wing agitprop musical The Cradle Will Rock, and his classic translation of Brecht and Weill’s The Threepenny Opera. One doesn’t usually associate this serious artist with froth like “Modest Maid.” The song was written during World War II when Blitzstein was stationed in London working for the United States Army. His job was to promote cultural ties between Britain and the States. What better way to do so than to write a bawdy song for the great English comedienne Beatrice Lillie?
Alas, she never performed it. But twelve years later it became a showstopper for Charlotte Rae, who met Blitzstein when she played Mrs. Peachum in Threepenny at the Theater de Lys. Blitzstein’s lyrics were probably inspired by the opportunities for outdoor sex during the blackouts in wartime London — a boon not just for “modest maids” but gay men like Blitzstein.
Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years had only a short run off Broadway in 2002, but it has become a beloved work for the current generation of music theater fans and performers. It tells the story of a failed marriage with a unique narrative twist: the heroine’s songs start at the end of the relationship and move backwards to their first date, while the leading man’s plot line starts at the beginning of their love and ends with his leaving his wife. The structure of the musical is a beautiful metaphor for the inability of this young couple to synchronize their lives. Brown’s songs, especially those for his hero, Jamie (a successful writer and clearly a stand-in for Brown himself ) have startlingly vivid lyrics and a lively musical groove. For me, The Last Five Years shows Jason Robert Brown at his very best and “A Miracle Would Happen” is one of my many favorites from this show.
Everyone knows Ed Kleban’s work, even if they don’t know his name: he wrote the lyrics for the 1975 blockbuster A Chorus Line. He had a number of other musicals in the pipeline but they never came to fruition. Kleban died in 1987 at age 48, leaving a scattering of songs and unfinished projects. One of them was a musical called Warhol, the source for “Do It Yourself.” I first heard this song at a benefit for the Manhattan Theater Club in 1974, when the now-venerable MTC had just finished its second season. Bob Balaban (of Waiting for Guffman fame) was the lead singer, with Kleban and writer/producer Richard Maltby, Jr. filling in as backup chorus. Ed promised to get me a copy but fate intervened. Thirty-three years later his longtime companion, Linda Kline, finally sent me the music for a piece that had haunted my memory for decades.
Even Britten specialists don’t tend to know the duet “Underneath the Abject Willow,” which received a premiere at London’s Wigmore Hall in December 1936. Its poet, W. H. Auden, and its composer, Benjamin Britten, had become artistic collaborators and close friends the year before, and they continued to work on films (through the G.P.O. Film Unit), song cycles (On This Island and Our Hunting Fathers), and operas (Paul Bunyan) for another six years before their paths diverged. Britten was initially somewhat cowed by Auden’s keen, articulate intelligence; it took him some time to feel that he was the intellectual equal of his friend. He was also far less sexually adventurous and experienced than Auden, who wrote “Underneath the Abject Willow” as a way of encouraging the rather repressed Britten to enjoy his youth and accept himself as a gay man. Britten turns Auden’s poem into a breezy three-movement suite of dance tunes that lightly mock and taunt, and ends with Britten’s musical equivalent of a kick in the pants.
The poem for Schubert’s Licht und Liebe comes from a play by Matthäus von Collin, The Death of Duke Frederick the Valiant (Der Tod Friedrichs des Streitbaren). As the title character thinks about happier times in his past, he hears this poem sung by two voices passing in the forest. The music probably dates from 1822 — no autograph survives — and is reminiscent of Schubert’s operatic works from that time in his life. Schubert may have lacked the theatrical skills to create successful music drama, but few can match his ability to suggest subtle, shifting gradations of emotion, or portray the human heart in all its strength and vulnerability. In three minutes Schubert evokes love’s healing light and its ability to wound, simply by juxtaposing two contrasting rhythmic patterns, dipping suddenly into the minor mode, dropping briefly into recitative, and returning to the opening theme using overlapping vocal lines that allow the music to flower.
Manuel Oltra is probably the least familiar of tonight’s classical composers. He was a Catalan musician in the lineage of NYFOS favorites Eduardo Toldrà, Frederic Mompou, and Narcís Bonet. Like his fellow Catalan composers, he prized simplicity and lyricism, and shared with them a beautiful sense of musical space. Oltra casts a spell using refined, spare musical materials — a delicate watercolorist of sound.
Eco was the first song I chose for tonight’s concert, even though at that point I really didn’t know exactly what story we would be telling. The music startled me with its beauty, and so did the brief poem by García Lorca. Its nostalgia for a perfect shared moment, bathed in a combination of warmth and coldness, seemed the perfect conclusion to any story about love. The poem became even more resonant as I found out a bit more about the meaning of “nardo,” that mysterious “spikenard plant” mentioned by Lorca. Spikenard is known more commonly in this country as valerian, and is a traditional flower at Mexican weddings. It has large white buds shaped like spheres, which is why Lorca compares them to the moon. “Nard” is also mentioned in the Bible, where it figures in the Song of Solomon, and is used to anoint the head and feet of Jesus. “Nardo” carries with it a sense of deep reverence and the holy consecration of marriage.
I admit it: Cy Coleman and Gabriel Fauré aren’t the kind of artists you’d expect to see on the same musical quilt. Yet all the disparate, brilliant voices in tonight’s program understood the power of love, and each one advances the story in his own way. If Fiordiligi and Dorabella, the heroines of Cosí fan tutte, sang art songs, I doubt they’d let loose with “Modest Maid,” and I doubt that their swains Ferrando and Guglielmo would be sparring with the “Tennis Duet.” But this is the age of Hamilton. Let’s allow our two modern couples to duke it out with the full psychological and social artillery of the twenty-first century. And afterwards, we can discuss who went home with whom.