Song of the Day: April 22

San Francisco Opera Singer Headshots | Anna Wu PhotographyThis week, soprano María Valdés curates Song of the Day. She will perform with NYFOS next Tuesday, April 26th, in Compositora: Songs by Latin American Women, alongside baritone Efraín Solís. She is a recent alumna of the Adler Fellowship at San Francisco Opera where she sang and covered several roles. Her performance with NYFOS will mark her New York recital debut.

 

Stravinsky – No Word From Tom – Laura Claycomb

In order to end this week on a high note, I bring you Laura Claycomb singing “No Word from Tom” from Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress. This is one of my favorite arias to sung by one of my favorite sopranos. There are so many things that make this piece wonderful, but my favorite is the orchestration. I was privileged enough to perform this with the San Francisco Opera orchestra during my time as an Adler Fellow.  It always amazes me how singing with an orchestra changes my experience of a piece. I feel completely surrounded and supported by sound. And each melody has a character and personality of its own. My favorite in this piece is the bassoon. Its haunting timbre really sets the night scene. The brightness of the staccato strings illustrate Anne’s nervous energy. This except is from the Robert LePage production at Théâtre de la Monnaie in 2007. l love it most because of its perspective. It creates so much depth on the stage, making Anne seem far away from the house as she anxiously decides to go after her true love, Tom Rakewell. Laura Claycomb masters the technical hurdles this piece presents. She shows Anne’s conflicting emotions in her interpretation of the contrasting segments of the aria—something that is difficult to pull off!

It’s been a great pleasure to share some of my favorite music with you this week. Now onto NYC to begin rehearsals for “Compositora.” If you’re in the area, please join me at Merkin Hall on April 26th at 8 pm.

Song of the Day: April 21

San Francisco Opera Singer Headshots | Anna Wu PhotographyThis week, soprano María Valdés curates Song of the Day. She will perform with NYFOS next Tuesday, April 26th, in Compositora: Songs by Latin American Women, alongside baritone Efraín Solís. She is a recent alumna of the Adler Fellowship at San Francisco Opera where she sang and covered several roles. Her performance with NYFOS will mark her New York recital debut.

 

Mozart – Et incarnatus est- Barbara Bonney

Mozart’s C Minor Mass was my first professional job. I was very excited (and nervous) to perform this piece at the Bellingham Festival of Music in Washington. Unfortunately, before the gig I came down with a killer case of pneumonia and wasn’t able to sing for a month. With only a couple weeks left until rehearsals began, I slowly attempted to get back into shape. During my first coaching—this is hilarious now but mortifying at the time—I was singing this and half way through collapsed onto the piano. My lungs just couldn’t expand enough to prepare for the long phrases. Luckily for me, I recovered soon after and had a successful performance in the end!

Now, this aria is difficult on its own, but it comes at the very end of a LONG sing. I remembered having a sense of impending doom when the orchestra began. I’m sure many of my singer friends can relate when I say that the maestro inevitably took the slowest possible tempo. I thought to myself, how can I ever do justice to this exquisite composition? How will I make it through? But when the strings swelled before my entrance it was smooth sailing from there. That’s because this piece has a way of making time stand still. It kind of feels like being wrapped in a soft blanket and being placed on top of a cloud. Mmmmm.

Barbara Bonney definitely takes us to that place in her interpretation. There is nothing showy about her delivery, even as she effortlessly glides through the technical challenges this piece presents. Her voice becomes an instrument and the instruments become voices, culminating with a call and response duet between the soprano and oboe.

I hope you all enjoy this idyllic setting of “Et incarnatus est.”

Song of the Day: April 20

San Francisco Opera Singer Headshots | Anna Wu PhotographyThis week, soprano María Valdés curates Song of the Day. She will perform with NYFOS next Tuesday, April 26th, in Compositora: Songs by Latin American Women, alongside baritone Efraín Solís. She is a recent alumna of the Adler Fellowship at San Francisco Opera where she sang and covered several roles. Her performance with NYFOS will mark her New York recital debut.

 

Devil Got My Woman- Skip James

When I was about 20, I became very interested in early American music after being introduced to Alan Lomax. Lomax was an American folklorist and ethnomusicologist. He collected thousands of field recordings for The Archive of American Folk song at the Library of Congress. Without the work of Lomax and and his contemporaries, much of the popular music we have today would not have developed.

I would spend hours listening to his discography. There was something so refreshing about hearing music that wasn’t produced in a studio. Lomax would just go into someone’s home and ask them to play a couple of songs. There were mistakes and there was laughing and talking. Sometimes it was 45 minutes of intolerable wailing when, suddenly, you’d stumble upon something breathtaking. One such breathtaking discovery was Skip James.

Mr. James takes us back to 1931 to give us today’s song, “Devil Got my Woman.” It’s one of those songs that sticks to your soul. ‘Been tryin’ to shake it for years and it just won’t quit!

P.S. Listen for how different the guitar accompaniment is from the vocal line. How does he do that???

Song of the Day: April 19

San Francisco Opera Singer Headshots | Anna Wu PhotographyThis week, soprano María Valdés curates Song of the Day. She will perform with NYFOS next Tuesday, April 26th, in Compositora: Songs by Latin American Women, alongside baritone Efraín Solís. She is a recent alumna of the Adler Fellowship at San Francisco Opera where she sang and covered several roles. Her performance with NYFOS will mark her New York recital debut.

 

Today’s song is brought to you by Joanna Newsom, one of my ALL-TIME FAVORITE singer/songwriters. (Please forgive the exclamation…!) She has carved a very special niche in the folk music realm. Though she doesn’t identify with any particular genre, some have coined her as one of the founding artists of the “freak folk” movement. As usual, the nomenclature gets a bit sticky (but I’m a nerd for this kind of thing so I indulge it). In a nutshell, the genre is characterized by acoustic instruments, pastoral themes, early American folk and avant-garde music. Basically, it is weird and kind of indescribable, but you will totally understand once you hear it.

“Monkey & Bear” is from the album Ys (2006). It is a ten minute song on the album and can be 20 mins+ live. It is a creation story about one of the Ursa constellations. A performing bear, Ursala, searches for freedom in the face of a duplicitous monkey overlord. Luckily, the bear escapes, teaching us a valuable lesson.

Here are the lyrics (you’ll need them!):
Down in the green hay,
where monkey and bear usually lay,
they woke from a stable-boy’s cry.
He said: “someone come quick —
the horses got loose, got grass-sick —
they’ll founder! Fain, they’ll die.”

What is now known by the sorrel and the roan?
By the chestnut, and the bay, and the gelding grey?
It is: stay by the gate you are given.
And remain in your place, for your season.
And had the overfed dead but listened
to the high-fence, horse-sense, wisdom…

“Did you hear that, bear?” said
monkey, “we’ll get out of here, fair and square
they left the gate open wide!

“So, my bride.

“Here is my hand. Where is your paw?
Try and understand my plan, Ursala.
My heart is a furnace
full of love that’s just, and earnest.
Now.
You know that we must unlearn this
allegiance to a life of service,
and no longer answer to that heartless
hay-monger, nor be his accomplice —
(the charlatan, with artless hustling!)
But Ursala, we’ve got to eat something,
and earn our keep, while still within
the borders of the land that man has girded,
(all double-bolted and tightfisted!),
until we reach the open country,
a-steeped in milk and honey.
Will you keep your fancy clothes on, for me?
Can you bear a little longer to wear that leash?

“My love, I swear by the air I breathe:
Sooner or later, you’ll bare your teeth.

“But for now, just dance, darling.
C’mon, will you dance, my darling?
Darling, there’s a place for us;
can we go, before I turn to dust?
My darling there’s a place for us.

“Darling. C’mon will you dance,
My darling?
The hills are groaning with excess,
like a table ceaselessly being set.
My darling we will get there yet.”

They trooped past the guards,
past the coops, and the fields, and the
farmyards, all night, till finally,

the space they gained
grew much farther than
the stone that bear threw,
to mark where they’d stop for tea.

But,
“Walk a little faster,
don’t look backwards —

“your feast is to the East, which lies a little past the pasture.

“When the blackbirds hear tea whistling they rise and clap.
Their applause caws the kettle black.
And we can’t have none of that!
Move along, Bear; there, there; that’s that.”

(Though cast in plaster,
our Ursala’s heart beat faster
than monkey’s ever will.)

But still,
they have got to pay the bills.
Hadn’t they?
That is what the monkey’d say.
So, with the courage of a clown, or a cur,
or a kite, jerking tight at its tether,
in her dun-brown gown of fur,
and her jerkin of
swansdown and leather,
Bear would sway on her hind legs;
the organ would grind dregs of song,
for the pleasure
of the children who’d shriek,
throwing coins at her feet,
then recoiling in terror.

Sing, “dance, darling.
C’mon, will you dance, my darling?
Darling, there’s a place for us;
can we go, before I turn to dust?
My darling there’s a place for us.

“Darling.
C’mon, will you dance, my darling?
You keep your eyes fixed on the highest hill,
where you’ll ever-after eat your fill.
O my darling…dear…mine…if you dance,
dance darling and I’ll love you still.”

*

Deep in the night
shone a weak and miserly light,
where the monkey shouldered his lamp.
Someone had told him the
bear’d been wandering a fair piece away
from where they were camped.
Someone had told him
the bear had been sneaking away,
to the seaside caverns, to bathe;
and the thought troubled the monkey,
for he was afraid of spelunking
down in those caves.
Also afraid what the
village people would say,
if they saw the bear in that state —
lolling and splashing obscenely
well, it seemed irrational, really,
washing that face;
washing that matted and flea-bit pelt
in some sea-spit-shine —
old kelp dripping with brine.
But monkey just laughed, and he muttered,
“When she comes back, Ursala will be bursting with pride —
till I jump up!
Saying, ‘You’ve been rolling in muck!
Saying, ‘You smell of garbage and grime!’”

But far out,
far out,
by now,
by now —
far out, by now, Bear ploughed,
Because she would
Not drown:

First the outside-legs of the bear
up and fell down, in the water, like knobby garters,
Then the outside-arms of the bear
fell off, as easy as if sloughed
from boiled tomatoes.
Low’red in a genteel curtsy,
bear shed the mantle of her
diluvian shoulders;
and, with a sigh,
she allowed the burden of belly to drop,
like an apronfull of boulders.

If you could hold up her
threadbare coat to the light,
where it’s worn translucent in places,
you’d see spots where,
almost every night of the year,
Bear had been mending,
suspending that baseness.

Now her coat drags through the water,
bagging, with a life’s-worth of hunger,
limitless minnows;

in the magnetic embrace,
balletic and glacial,
of bear’s insatiable shadow —

Left there!
Left there!
When bear
Left bear;

Left there,
Left there,
When bear
stepped clear of bear.

(Sooner or later you’ll bury your teeth)

Song of the Day: April 18

San Francisco Opera Singer Headshots | Anna Wu PhotographyThis week, soprano María Valdés curates Song of the Day. She will perform with NYFOS next Tuesday, April 26th, in Compositora: Songs by Latin American Women, alongside baritone Efraín Solís. She is a recent alumna of the Adler Fellowship at San Francisco Opera where she sang and covered several roles. Her performance with NYFOS will mark her New York recital debut.

 

Letter to a Lover (Gabriel Kahane with Brooklyn Rider)

Today’s Song of the Day is brought to you by Gabriel Kahane, one of my favorite up-and-coming composers. His works have been lauded by the classical music scene as well as the pop world, having been performed at symphony halls and rock venues alike. His album The Ambassador , for instance, was acclaimed by Rolling Stone Magazine as “one of the year’s very best albums.”

He is joined by a group of similar prestige, Brooklyn Rider. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette describes them as “four classical musicians performing with the energy of young rock stars jamming on their guitars, a Beethoven-goes-indie foray into making classical music accessible but also celebrating why it was good in the first place.”

I think artists like these are essential to continuing the classical tradition. They offer a solution to our constant efforts to keep classical music welcoming to and relevant to new audiences.

I’ve chosen to share a piece from Gabriel Kahane’s LP, The Fiction Issue. It tells the story of a man (presumably) going to pick up his girlfriend from the airport. The text is forthright but still maintains poetic integrity with its vivid imagery. This quality is typical of Kahane. He talks about everyday experiences, whether mundane or extraordinary—something we can all relate to.

For more information about Gabriel Kahane, follow him on Tumblr or buy his music at

http://www.gabrielkahane.com
http://www.gabrielkahane.bandcamp.com

And visit Brooklyn Rider’s website at
http://www.brooklynrider.com

Song of the Day: April 8

Sarah Nelson Craft headshotThis week’s Song of the Day is curated by mezzo-soprano Sarah Nelson Craft, who is currently the Program Administrator for NYFOS (until Claire Molloy returns from maternity leave!). As a performer she was most recently presented by Carnegie Hall in a solo Spotlight Recital with pianist Warren Jones as part of The Song Continues. She has also been heard as a soloist at venues such as Avery Fisher Hall, Alice Tully Hall, and the Caramoor Festival.

 

I briefly considered continuing to worship at the altar of my mezzo-soprano idols as I have been doing here over the last several days (Oh, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Frederica Von Stade, don’t think I have forgotten you!) And I was so close to featuring Handel, because I think he wrote the most beautiful melodies on the planet, and I’d love to pay homage to that musical era, which is very close to my heart. And I also thought of my dear Ella Fitzgerald… and Patsy Cline… neither of whom I wanted to neglect (I swear there are some male singers I admire, too!). BUT I decided that for day #5 instead of bringing you an old favorite, I’ll share something that is a newer discovery for me, and something that might be brand new to you.

I admit to not being that up on my jazz – I have a few great albums that I got in high school that I’ve listened to many many times over the years (Thelonious Monk, John Coltraine, Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, and several Ella CDs), but my knowledge of the genre is far from thorough. Since I tend to be partial to jazz that’s on the traditional side, I’ve always really liked everything I’ve heard from Duke Ellington, but I had no awareness of the music he wrote for classically trained singers!
I was introduced to it when soprano Candice Hoyes unearthed a whole album’s worth of Ellington rarities for her debut album, On a Turquoise Cloud, in 2015. This track, “Heaven,” is from Ellington’s Sacred Concerts, which the composer called “the most important thing I’ve ever done.” It premiered right here in New York in 1968 at St. John the Divine Church, but no recording of this has surfaced.  It’s hard to believe this Harlem gem was little known, but it’s very exciting that a singer of my generation has chosen to interpret it!
Hoyes is made to sing this repertoire – she has the soprano chops to soar into the stratosphere as well as the style and range to pull off the soulful jazzy low notes. I knew her as a high operatic soprano (I’ve had the joy of singing opera and art song repertoire with her many times), so when I went to hear her sing jazz at Minton’s in Harlem for the first time, I was blown away! Her cool, confident performance would have made Ellington proud, I have no doubt.
Hoyes’ recording of this song really captures the soul, beauty, and versatility of Ellington. I love how she employs such a variety of vocal colors, and I love how the arrangement builds and ends with her super soprano-y riffs! This song (and her album in general) is so soothing and dreamy, not to mention that it’s a really cool aspect of New York song history. Enjoy!
It’s been such a treat to write for the NYFOS blog this week. Thanks for going on this journey with me!

Song of the Day: April 7

Sarah Nelson Craft headshotThis week’s Song of the Day is curated by mezzo-soprano Sarah Nelson Craft, who is currently the Program Administrator for NYFOS (until Claire Molloy returns from maternity leave!). As a performer she was most recently presented by Carnegie Hall in a solo Spotlight Recital with pianist Warren Jones as part of The Song Continues. She has also been heard as a soloist at venues such as Avery Fisher Hall, Alice Tully Hall, and the Caramoor Festival.

 

I’ve just got to feature a piece I’m obsessed with, not a “song” per se, but an opera duet, one of my favorite moments in all of opera, one that I  occasionally find myself listening to over and over again because I can’t get enough of it:  “Mira, o Norma” from Bellini’s Norma. I love bel canto opera to begin with, and to me this duet is the epitome of the beauty and excitement of this style. It’s SO satisfying. The slow section sucks you right in and washes over you with its warmth, and then the fast section, exhilarating with its syncopated rhythms and soaring thirds, is impossible to listen to it without a giant smile on your face! (In my case happy tears are usually involved as well… it’s what you might call “bel-canto-induced ecstasy.”) The fact that it’s about the building of a strong female friendship makes it that much more rewarding.

 

There are several wonderful and classic recordings of this, but when it comes to video clips, I have a soft spot for this one with Marilyn Horne and Joan Sutherland from an Ed Sullivan Show telecast in 1970. It’s partly because Sutherland/Horne was the first Norma/Adalgisa pairing I ever heard, and because I don’t think it gets any better than Marilyn Horne on Adalgisa — it’s probably my favorite thing in her voice (and there are a lot of things I love in her voice). When she begins this piece, I can just feel myself absolutely melting. The other thing I love about this particular clip is the old telecast look — it makes me somehow nostalgic for a time when I wasn’t even alive, a time when opera stars were household names and were regulars on mainstream television. Not to mention the fact that I get such a kick out of their late-60s/early-70s style here (that hair!!) — Horne looks so absolutely radiant in that green dress with the never-ending sleeves! But most importantly, these are two of the most glorious voices of our time. The beauty and resonance and seeming effortlessness of their sound, their legato, their phrasing, the elegant way in which they hold themselves — it’s bel canto singing at its best.

 

This piece also holds some beautiful memories for me — I first really took note of the duet several years ago when I was an apprentice artist in the Bel Canto at Caramoor program. I had heard “Casta diva” many times but didn’t know the rest of the opera very well. Will Crutchfield played a recording for us during one of his lectures (I’m fairly certain this was the lecture on legato) which included a clip of this duet. I remember being especially captivated by Horne’s Adalgisa. And that summer, we happened to also be performing Norma up at Caramoor’s Venetian Theater, so we young artists were the chorus. It was one of the most exhilarating and memorable chorus experiences I’ve ever had (notwithstanding the 90+ degree heat and profuse sweating from everyone on stage in the semi-outdoor theater). For starters, standing mere feet from Angela Meade while she sang “Casta diva” was thrilling! And Bellini’s chorus music was so much fun to sing (especially the “Guerra, guerra” chorus!). But then, when we weren’t on stage, I hovered just offstage in the wings to watch the rest of it go down; I just about bawled from the emotion of watching that duet for the first time, with Meade and Keri Alkema as Adalgisa, in the absolutely electric atmosphere that is the packed Venetian Theater. Unforgettable.

 

And now I’m finally learning the duet myself (about to perform it in recital with the wonderful soprano Reyna Carguill on May 1st at 2:30pm at Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village — shameless plug!), and so I have been working on it with one of my coaches and mentors, none other than Marilyn Horne herself. It’s more than a little surreal to sing the opening line for Adalgisa herself and then have her pipe right in on Norma’s line, clearly in the style of Sutherland! Just priceless.

 

So it seems my obsession with this duet will not end any time soon! I hope to sing the whole role someday, but for not I will wallow in the joy of this scene. Enjoy this clip, and then go look up all the other wonderful Norma/Adalgisa pairs of the past! Who are your favorites?