Meeting Celeste Headlee

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NPR journalist Celeste Headlee recently moved to Atlanta and will be hosting a 9 a.m. radio show on GPB’s newly acquired signal 88.5 that launches in October 2014.   I had an opportunity to meet Headlee earlier this week and we spoke about her musical legacy as the grand-daughter of esteemed American Composer, William Grant Still (1895-1978).  Still’s opera Troubled Island – with libretto by Langston Hughes and Verna Arvey – premiered at New York City Opera in 1949 and was the first opera by a black composer to be performed in the United States.  Still’s other operas include Blue Steel, A Bayou Legend, Highway NO. 1, U.S.A., Costaso, Mota, The Pillar, and Minette Fontaine.  

In the June 2014 Issue of Opera News: REVIEW of Atlanta Opera’s Faust

Noah Stewart

Atlanta Opera’s spring production of Faust at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre began in a promising way (seen March 11). It is difficult to overstate the remarkable improvement in the opera orchestra’s playing since Maestro Arthur Fagan joined ranks with the Atlanta Opera as music director. Even a season ago, this would have been a difficult opera for this company and this orchestra: the orchestral writing is highly exposed with solo lines throughout. It was apparent from the initial fortissimo note of the prelude that orchestrally things had changed for the better.

Louisa Muller made her Atlanta Opera debut as stage director for this production. She had a gifted cast assembled before her, including Walter Huff’s energetic chorus. It was a traditional but not stodgy staging that employed attractive choreography.

Noah Stewart sang the title role. In a fur-lined robe and surrounded by books, beakers, and other research implements he delivered his initial “Rien!” almost completely doubled over, offering a convincing picture of extreme old age. The opening act was played behind a scrim, providing a sense of intrigue as Faust made his bargain with Méphistophélès, although the darkness of the scene obscured Faust’s transformation after he drank the devil’s frothy potion. Once the scrim was raised and revealed the verdant Act II set — designed by Early Staley and rented from Houston Grand Opera — Stewart was able to convey a stunning contrast between antiquity and youthful impetuousness. His tenor is limpid and warm throughout most of his range. “Salut! Demeure chaste et pure” in Act III provided an especially lovely display of Stewart’s lyric ability and dynamic flexibility, made all the more moving by the exquisite violin solo that followed.

Alexander Vinogradov sang the role of Méphistophélès with grandeur and ease. His solo arias were the high points of the evening, especially the strophic serenade, “Vous qui faites l’endormie” when he flaunted a broad palette of vocal color and resonance. Vinogradov’s only sin was his understatement of the musical guffaws that serve to punctuate each verse. Mary Dunleavy returned to Atlanta to sing the ill-fated heroine Marguerite after a glorious run as Violetta last season. Dunleavy is unarguably radiant. A fluent interpreter of lyric soprano repertoire who admirably maintains a vocal production that is both free and fresh, Dunleavy paces herself and never seems to let herself get caught up in the moment until the finale. That was her way in La Traviata last spring and she followed suit here when she sang with abandon in the prison scene and final trio.

The opposite case was exemplified in mezzo-soprano Emily Fons’s performance. Her interpretation of Marguerite’s lovesick suitor Siébel was anything but reserved — rather raw and exceedingly physical. Fons’ rendition of “Faites-lui mes aveux” revealed a voice that ascended the scale easily, both agile and expressive. Edward Parks gave a confident performance as Valentin, delivering the showpiece aria, “Avant de quitter,” that was added to the score for baritone Charles Santley in 1864. Parks’s upper register was thrilling and especially so when he and the orchestra culminated the piece with an impressive crescendo.

Seamless transitions prevailed overall (with the omission of the Walpurgis Night revels and Faust’s encounter with the courtesans of antiquity), yet the concluding moments of the opera and quick scene changes from church to prison to redemption, seemed disjointed. Resolution was close at hand, though, as Méphistophélès and Faust made a hasty exit after the trio, leaving the stage to Marguerite as she was at last delivered from her earthly suffering.

STEPHANIE ADRIAN

www.artsATL.com Review: Rising star Tara Erraught brings her Irish roots and soaring mezzo to Spivey Hall

March 26, 2014

By Stephanie Adrian

Tara Erraught

The month of March prompts one to think of shamrocks, corned beef and cabbage, and a myriad of other Irish clichés like kissing the Blarney Stone and green beer. In the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day, perhaps, Spivey Hall welcomed Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught and her pianist Dearbhla Collins to perform a recital on March 23. Erraught’s offering of Respighi, Brahms, Wolf and several opera arias, however, was anything but a cliché.

The 25-year-old Erraught, a native of Dundalk, Ireland, is a principal singer at the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich, where she has sung as an ensemble member for the last six years. Her distinction as a leading lady on the operatic stage has become evident this season as she sang the role of Kitty in Iain Bell’s Harlot’s Progress at the Theater an der Wien and the role of Angelina in La Cenerentola at the Bayerische Staatsoper. Erraught is garnering attention on this side of the pond as well, and will debut shortly at both the Washington National Opera and San Francisco Opera.

The concert at Spivey Hall opened with Joseph Haydn’s “Scena di Berenice,” a Metastasio text from his libretto L’Antigono. The scena provided us time to admire Erraught’s intense, spinning top notes. A lyric mezzo with a rather sizeable voice, her instrument possesses the earthy timbre of an alto, but the range of a soprano. Her Bartoli-like melismas and long phrases showcased the utmost vocal freedom and an easy, pulsing vibrato that was stunning to hear. As the scena developed, Erraught became exceedingly involved physically and dramatically, piquing our interest.

After a melancholy group of three songs by Ottorino Respighi, Erraught told us that while there was no unifying theme for her repertoire choices, each song was a favorite — songs that she desperately wanted to do. The Respighi set included a gem entitled “Nebbie,” a song that the composer wrote without words even before encountering the poem by Ada Negri, which would eventually be assigned to it. The piece seems simple — a chordal accompaniment with a tonic pedal and predictable ascending and descending vocal lines that culminate with a declamatory statement, “Vieni! Vieni!” Yet the piece was incredibly moving. Erraught aptly conveyed elegance amid a text that is weighted with angst and despair.

Next, the Irish mezzo launched into selections from Johannes Brahm’s Zigeunerlieder. The eight Hungarian Gypsy songs were selected from some 380 songs that Brahms wrote during his lifetime and exhibit dance rhythms and strong accents. The final piece, “Rote Abendwolken ziehn,” is exuberant and gave us a first glimpse of the operatic scope and dynamic capability of Erraught’s voice. The Brahms set was immediately followed by Wolf’s “Mörike-Lieder.” The juxtaposition held a hint of irony as Wolf is reputed to be “anti-Brahms” as he strived for a perfect synthesis of words and music.

It’s always a pleasure to hear a formal song recital conclude with a few choice arias that exhibit a singer’s virtuosic capability; it’s like dessert after an incredibly satisfying meal. On this afternoon, Erraught and Collins gave us three unique arias — “Amour, viens render à mon âme” from Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, “Voce di donna” from Ponchielli’s La Gioconda and “Non v’è donna sulla terra” from Michael William Balfe’s Falstaff. The latter, composed in 1838, is so rarely heard that it was like the cherry on top of the sundae.

Erraught qualified Balfe as the “Irish Rossini.” This aria for Nanetta is characteristic of the bel canto vocal style of Bellini, Rossini and Donizetti. The double aria consists of both an andante cavatina section and a more energetic and showy ensuing cabaletta. Erraught displayed all of the bel canto characteristics one hopes for — a naturally beautiful voice and effortless delivery of highly florid passages. 

And just as we were wishing that we had been in Munich in early March to hear Tara Erraught’s Angelina in La Cenerentola, she seemed to read our minds and bestowed upon us “Non più mesta” as an encore. 

Preview on www.artsATL.com: Music educators convene for public conference, concerts based on Zoltán Kodály’s “universal musical humanism”

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March 17, 2014

By Stephanie Adrian

Hungarian pianist and composer Zoltán Kodály held that everyone has musical ability that should be cultivated in order to benefit humanity. The Organization of American Kodály Educators (OAKE), a professional organization for music educators, will convene in Atlanta on March 20 to promote his philosophy of “universal musical humanism.”

Propelled by disenchantment with Hungary’s education system, Kodály (1882–1967) dedicated himself to understanding what children were learning and how they were learning it. He found that children possess an innate musical ability and learn best through the songs, games, and dances of their native culture. In an effort to preserve the music of Hungary, Kodály traveled to villages throughout his country and developed several core principles through which music educators could advance universal music literacy.

American teachers will adapt the songs native to regions across the United States — Texas cowboy songs, Appalachian folk tunes or blues songs — for use within the classroom. They may use a high-quality popular song or even a Disney ditty to present a rhythmic or musical concept. Recognizing the voice as a child’s primary instrument, Kodály educators begin with the folk music of the child’s mother tongue. They progress from the known to the unknown, selecting age-appropriate music of the highest quality and eventually bridging to the music of the masters: Bach, Beethoven, Brahms.

The Atlanta conference, which is open to the public, will feature presentations on Lithuanian folk dance, Jewish choral music, Freedom Songs from the Civil War to the civil rights movement, and African American playground songs. This year OAKE will also offer a secondary choral track and classroom demonstrations for newcomers. Information is available on the organization’s website http://www.oake.org.

Two public concerts will bookend the conference. On March 19 at 8 p.m. pianist Gilbert de Greeve, professor emeritus of the Royal Conservatory of Antwerp, will present a benefit recital of Claude Debussy’s “24 Préludes for Piano” at Central Presbyterian Church. Part of the Arts of the Spirit concert series, it will feature a visual presentation and narration by Atlanta soprano Alexis Lundy. Concert proceeds will benefit the National Conference Choir Scholarship Fund.

Some 500 children, selected by audition, participate in these choirs, learning the concert repertoire through the Kodály process. The conference finale is a performance by several of these National Choirs at 7 p.m. On March 22 at the Woodruff Arts Center in Midtown.

ArtsATL Review: Skylark Vocal Ensemble performs impressive array of songs for winter and spring

January 27, 2014

By Stephanie Adrian

Skylark Vocal Ensemble

On Friday night conductor Matthew Guard and his Skylark Vocal Ensemble offered a concert titled From Winter to Spring at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Buckhead.

Equipped with a theme exceedingly apropos for Atlanta’s chilly weather conditions, the Skylark singers entered a darkened sanctuary and opened with Moritz Hauptmann’s “Zigeunerlied.” Miniature reading lamps were attached to their individual scores and were the only source of illumination, causing the singers to look almost ghoulish as they sang of werewolves and witches on a winter’s night in the forest wild.

Overall it was an ambitious program for Skylark, a fledgling ensemble of professional singers that only comes together five weeks a year and has limited rehearsal time prior to each engagement. The group of 16 Boston and Atlanta-based individuals struggled with intonation early in the evening. And regrettably, the dry acoustics at Covenant Presbyterian provided the singers with none of the reverberation or echo effect that would have been thrilling in another space.

Francis Poulenc’s four-movement chamber cantata “Un soir de neige” (an evening of snow) followed “Zigeunerlied.” Poulenc composed it over a span of three days in December 1944 during the Nazi occupation of Paris. (Think The Last Metro for context.) The poetry by Paul Éluard tells of a man’s journey into wintery woods without provisions and of his eventual death. It is a homage to the Jewish poet Max Jacob, who died in the Drancy internment camp while en route to a concentration camp in Germany.

Matthew Guard’s singers did this work justice, particularly in the third song, “Bois meurtri.” The initital descending intervals were striking, and Skylark’s alto section contributed an especially beautiful color to the whole.

Skylark suggested the promise of spring with Benjamin Britten’s delightful “Five Flower Songs.” Each song can be attributed to a different poet. Robert Herrick, a British Renaissance–era poet and clergyman, penned “The Succession Of The Four Sweet Months.” For this song Britten assigns one month to each voice part, beginning with the sopranos who describe April’s mellow showers. The Skylark women tapered phrases elegantly, making way for the altos who sang of smiling May, the tenors who pleasingly crooned about June, and lastly, the baritones who bragged about the wealth of July. Layer upon layer was added as each quartet continued its melody. Skylark offered an impressive mezzo piano finish, finding the perfect balance of timbre and finesse in its final line: “April! May! June! July!”

Skylark also performed John Tavener’s delicate eight-movement work “Butterfly Dreams” this night. Each song is dramatically singular — for instance, the sixth song, “Butterfly,” which consists of a disjunct melodic line and demands an extreme vocal range from its interpreters. Tavener chose many of the texts — drawn from writers of different ethnicities and experiences — for their simplicity and intended that the music be sung as simply and naturally as possible. Even still, “Butterfly Dreams” is a challenging and sophisticated work, not easily mastered.

The evening came to a close with two dissimilar pieces: Britten’s “Hymn to St. Cecelia” and an original arrangement of the famous jazz standard “Skylark.” The latter, a Peter Mansfield arrangement, was commissioned especially for the Skylark Vocal Ensemble and is evidently a sampling of things to come in late March, when the group reunites to perform a selection of love songs with a wide range of choral styles, languages and periods.

This Spring at Spivey

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Just a small portion of the wall backstage at Spivey Hall that displays autographed press photos of the stunning artists who have performed here. In this shot you can see Bryn Terfel, Christine Brewer, Joyce DiDonato, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, and Murray Perahia.

Tomorrow my 9-year-old daughter will have the privilege of playing a small Schumann song in a recital on the Spivey stage.

Later this spring patrons will be able to hear recitals by Christiane Karg and Tara Erraught.

Tommasini’s Assessment of 2013 in The New York Times

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“Lessons in a Year of Crises” by Anthony Tommasini mourns the loss of New York City Opera and highlights Gotham Chamber Opera, a company with a $1.5 annual budget and no endowment.

http://nyti.ms/19eB7br

ArtsATL Year in Review: The most notable performances and events in Atlanta music

January 3, 2014

By ArtsATL staff

Gil Shaham, left, with Robert Spano at the podium. (Photo by Jeff Roffman)

Though the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra performed a reduced number of concerts last year, the quality more than made up for the quantity. And the city’s burgeoning alternative classical scene received a major boost when both Sonic Generator and Bent Frequency looked to expand their horizon to foreign destinations. Tomer Zvulun was named the new artistic director of the Atlanta Opera as the company tries to re-shape and re-build its brand.

Popular music highlights included Paul Simon’s lecture series and concert performance at Emory University, the success of the small stages at the Atlanta Jazz Festival and the Allman Brothers Band’s shimmering Memorial Day show. Here are the year’s turning points and highlights as noted by ArtsATL music writers Mark Gresham, Jon Ross, Stephanie Adrian, Scott Freeman and Brenda Stepp.

Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

2013 was a year of turning points and strong performances. At the top of the list in the orchestral world was introduction of the new acoustical shell at Symphony Hall. The shell made its debut in September with the kickoff of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s 2013–14 season and is proving a game-changer for the orchestra. The musicians hit a high point in mid-November with Robert Spano conducting Bartok’s Violin Concerto No. 2 featuring violinist Gil Shaham, and Orff’s “Carmina Burana” with the Atlanta Symphony Chorus and guest soloists.

Other notable performances include the stunning performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 by guest pianist Inon Barnatan, who was a last-minute substitute for an indisposed Marc-André Hamelin in May. Also, two world premieres: Michael Gandolfi’s clarinet concerto, “The Nature of Light,” featuring ASO principal clarinetist Laura Ardan; and “Everything Lasts Forever” by Michael Kurth, a member of the orchestra’s contrabass section whose star as a local composer has risen steadily over the last couple of years. – MG

Opera’s Revival Path

A promising turning point for the Atlanta Opera was the arrival of Tomer Zvulun, the company’s new general and artistic director, who spoke at length from the stage just before the season-opening performance of Puccini’s “Tosca.” While his fingerprints will not fully be on the opera’s productions until next season, he spoke passionately about the importance of live opera produced and staged in Atlanta rather than “streamed in from somewhere else.” That immediately resulted in an audible gasp and rumble in the audience. Kudos to Zvulun for advocating the “made here, performed here” concept and verbally investing in the city’s own creativity. We’ll see how that plays out over the next season.

Kara Shay Thomson, Massimiliano Pisapia (front) and Luis Ledesma. (Photo by Ken Howard)

Speaking of “made here,” a too-much-overlooked event this past March was the small-budget Capitol City Opera Company’s premiere of “The Secret Agent” by Atlanta composer Curtis Bryant and New York librettist Allen Reichman, a work that was nine years in the making and Bryant’s second full-length opera. – MG

On the Contemporary Scene

Two of Atlanta’s stalwart contemporary music ensembles made steps toward their first international tours. Bent Frequency, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in May, performed Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon’s “Comala” at the Fiestas de Octubre, Guadalajara, Mexico, soon after performing it at the Rialto. Sonic Generator collaborated with members of the Orchestre national de Lorraine and its conductor, Jacques Mercier, in a concert at the Ferst Center, in an exchange that will take the ensemble to Metz, France.

Sonic Generator performing with the Orchestre national de Lorraine at the Ferst Center.  Courtesy Orchestre national de Lorraine.

Sonic Generator performing with the Orchestre national de Lorraine at the Ferst Center. Courtesy Orchestre national de Lorraine.

Also memorable, Sonic Generator performed a live score along with the full-length restoration of Fritz Lang’s iconic motion picture “Metropolis” outdoors on the Sifley Plaza at Woodruff Arts Center.

On the Chamber Scene

In chamber music, the highlight was the much-anticipated advent of the Molly Blank Jewish Concert Series at the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum. Under the artistic direction of the Atlanta Opera’s music director, Arthur Fagen, the series’ inaugural concert took place on November 12 in remembrance of the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht. The recital featured mezzo-soprano Helene Schneiderman and pianist Götz Payer.

David Coucheron. (Photo by J.D. Scott)

Among notable Atlanta musicians: Dantes Rameau, cofounder and executive director of the Atlanta Music Project, was named to Ebony magazine’s 2013 “Power 100” list of today’s most influential African Americans. ArtsATL offered its own nod to young artists in its “30 Under 30” series of interviews, which included five musicians: violinists David Coucheron and Domenic Salerni, cellist Jennifer Humphreys, percussionist Victor Pons and electric guitarist Nick Johnson. Late in the year, pianist Paula Peace announced she would be stepping down in early 2015 as artistic managing director of Atlanta Chamber Players after leading the organization for 38 seasons.

Among the musicians who passed away in 2013 were violinist William Steck, who served as concertmaster of the ASO from 1974 to 1982, and contrabassist Ralph Jones, who joined the orchestra in 1970 and was principal contrabass from 1977 until his retirement at the end of the past season. – MG

Barton in Wales

Opera singer and Georgia native Jamie Barton represented the United States at the 2013 Cardiff Singer of the World Competition in Wales this spring and did something that no woman has ever done before — brought home both the Main Prize and the Song Prize. This 30-something mezzo-soprano is turning heads wherever she goes, be it at the Metropolitan Opera or back home in Atlanta where she has given several concerts this year. In November she and pianist Bradley Moore dazzled a full house at Spivey Hall, offering a recital of Ives, Brahms, Sibelius and Elgar. – SA

Kennesaw State’s Guest Artist Series

Star power was the operative word at the Kennesaw State University School of Music this year. The Guest Artist Series, which takes place at the Dr. Bobby Bailey and Family Performance Center, featured a lineup of significant artists this fall that included violinist David Coucheron, concertmaster of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and later pianist Jeremy Denk, whose recent CD release and U.S. tour playing Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” has been well-received. The School of Music recently added soprano Leah Partridge, an opera singer who maintains a busy performing schedule, to its faculty and lost its opera director Russell Young when he unexpectedly passed away in early December. Young, who had taught at KSU since 2005, was also an exceptional pianist and served as an official accompanist for the Regional Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. – SA

paulsimon1

Paul Simon at Emory

Paul Simon was certainly a unique choice to deliver the Richard Ellmann Lectures in Modern Literature, which are usually reserved for literary heavyweights. But Simon is a literary giant in another field of writing, namely as the author of some of the greatest songs of the 20th century. Simon’s 90-minute-plus lecture on September 22 was obviously painstakingly composed, and offered keen insights into the writing of many of his greatest songs. The one drawback was the P.A. system at the Glenn Memorial Auditorium did Simon no favors, with his voice often coming through muddled and unclear.

There were no such problems two days later at a performance at the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts. It was a concert unlike any Simon will likely ever give, with the air of sitting in his living room and listening to him perform his favorite songs – both his own and ones by other artists. A highlight was a rendition of George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun.” — SF

Atlanta Jazz Festival

This year’s hit-or-miss festival in Piedmont Park introduced Atlanta audiences to phenomenal talents on the smaller of two stages. There are sure to be some lackluster acts in a program designed to appeal to everyone on a small budget, but performances on the small stage by vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant and the saxophonists Rudresh Mahanthappa and Miguel Zenon — with each artist augmented by a stellar grouping of sidemen — added a welcome depth to the weekend’s performances. Atlanta guitarist Jacob Deaton, pianist Aaron Diehl’s group and a band put together by trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire provided sparks on the main stage. – JR

Chris Thile

Chris Thile

The folks at Emory’s Schwartz Center for Performing Arts proved they continue to make smart, engaging programming choices by bringing in Thile for a sold-out solo concert. In one of the best shows of the year by far, Thile performed a significant chunk of his latest disc of Bach arrangements, augmenting these compositions with traditional selections and songs performed with his not-to-be-missed band, the Punch Brothers. In fact, the fall concert proved to be a nice bookend to the Punch Brothers show at Variety Playhouse last January. — JR

The Allman Brothers Band

The music of the Allman Brothers Band spans over more than four decades. They’ve been playing 45 years, to be exact, and they’ve become a Southern tradition as recognizable as blue skies and sunny days. On Memorial Day the sun prevailed over the rain, providing one of those amazing summer evenings in Atlanta.

When the Allman Brothers — Gregg Allman (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Butch Trucks (drums and tympani), Jaimoe (drums), Warren Haynes (vocals, lead and slide guitar), Derek Trucks (slide and lead guitar), Oteil Burbridge (bass) and Marc Quinones (congos and percussion) — took the stage at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, the crowd took to their feet where they remained, seemingly “electrified,” as they sang every word to every song for the entire show. The Brothers played one timeless hit after another and, somehow, managed to deliver every tune fresh. Their fans ranged from their early teens up to their ’70s. There’s something inexplicably powerful when music can transcend time and close generational gaps. The music of ABB is just such music. – BS

 

Preview: Skylark Vocal Ensemble opens season with mix of modern and ancient Christmas songs

December 18, 2013

By Stephanie Adrian

The Skylark Vocal Ensemble

A skylark is a small bird found in Europe, Asia and northern Africa, especially known for singing while in flight. And conductor Matthew Guard — inspired by a P.B. Shelley poem called “To a Skylark” — chose the lark as his choral group’s namesake, classifying it as Atlanta’s only chamber choir featuring world-class artists flying to Atlanta from around the United States to practice their art.

The Skylark Vocal Ensemble, an a cappella group founded in 2011, has a roster of 30 professional singers based in Boston and Atlanta. Guard fashioned it after similar groups such as Seraphic Fire and Tucson Chamber Artists. The group follows a project-based model and comes together five weeks a year, featuring only 16-18 singers at a time.  Skylark performs repertoire as varied as plainchant dating back to the Middle Ages, part-songs from late Romantic composers and jazz standards by Cole Porter.

“My intention was to create a group for mixed voices that could achieve the same caliber as Chanticleer,” says Guard, referring to the men’s group considered the top male a cappella group in the world. “I’m attracted to music that requires a high degree of musicality and nuance.”

This year Skylark will embark on its first-ever tour convening in New York City, Tulsa, and Boston. But it kicks off its season with “A Skylark Christmas: King James and Carols” on Thursday at 8 p.m. at the Covenant Presbyterian Church in Atlanta. They’ll repeat the concert on Friday at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal Church.

The concert will span over a thousand years of music, beginning with 21st Century composer John Tavener’s “O, do not move” followed by a 10th Century plainsong setting of “Divinum mysterium.” Carols will be interlaced with Christmas readings from the King James Bible.

Skylark will also offer one of Guard’s favorites, Jean Mouton’s “Nesciens mater.” It’s an opus for eight voices, yet only notated for quartet. The second choir actually sings two measures behind and a fifth apart from the initial four voices, a hidden choir conceived as an allegory to the Virgin birth.

In keeping with their mission to support music education this Christmas, Skylark is offering free admission to both students and music educators. General admission tickets can be purchased online and at the door for $30. Seniors will receive a discount at $20 a ticket.

Two additional offerings will follow this season in Atlanta venues. A concert titled “From Winter to Spring” will feature Francis Poulenc’s “Soir de Neige,” as well as Benjamin Britten’s “Flower Songs,” on January 24 at the Covenant Presbyterian Church. The program will be repeated the following evening at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church.

Later in the year, Skylark will sing a concert with the theme, “The Many Languages of Love” on March 20 at the Covenant Presbyterian Church, and on the following evening at a location to be determined. It will be a tour of the love song throughout history; many genres in many different languages.

Fans can also look forward to the Skylark Vocal Ensemble’s first CD, recorded last month in Boston. Both the album title and release date are to be determined, but judging by the group’s high level of artistry last season, the endeavor is more than just a lark.

In the December Issue of Opera News…Review of Tosca

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Atlanta Opera

10/5/13

Atlanta Opera’s newly appointed general and artistic director, Tomer Zvulun, started the company’s 2013–14 season with a tasteful production of Puccini’s Tosca (seen Oct. 5). Zvulun, who is not yet forty, is a sought-after stage director who will manage the affairs of A.O. while fulfilling prior directing commitments at the Met, Boston Lyric Opera and Kansas City Opera this season. Zvulun’s previous stagings for Atlanta — Der Fliegende HolländerLucia di Lammermoor and The Magic Flute — have been highlights of the company’s recent seasons. Next season (2014–15) will be the first for which Zvulun will have full planning responsibility; his intention is to increase the company’s offerings from  three productions to four by collaborating with other arts organizations in the metro Atlanta area.

In his Tosca, Zvulun didn’t update the action from the traditional setting of late eighteenth-century Rome — the action takes place in June 1800 — nor did he give Scarpia any appalling stage business to make him seem even more scurrilous. Rather, Zvulun observed conventional performance practice and let the opera speak for itself.

When baritone Mark Delavan, originally announced for Baron Scarpia, cancelled the engagement, Atlanta Opera was able to find an acceptable replacement in Luis Ledesma. Ledesma, a former winner of the Pavarotti International Voice Competition, is adept and attractive, but in vocal terms he was no match for his Tosca, soprano Kara Shay Thomson. Thomson has a sizeable voice with a lovely command of nuance, especially in regard to color and dynamics. While some sopranos choose to underscore this heroine’s melodramatic qualities, Thomson emphasized Tosca’s vulnerability.

Massimiliano Pisapia completed the love triangle as Mario Cavaradossi. The tenor wowed the audience with his bravado, brilliant voice and exceptional high notes. He transformed Cavaradossi from a lovesick painter to a credible revolutionary.

Arthur Fagen continues to hone the sound of the Atlanta Opera Orchestra, but clearly it will take time. By and large the ensemble was good, yet moments of poor intonation were difficult to ignore; one such instance occurred during the vital statements of the well motif in Act II, after Tosca has revealed Angelotti’s hiding place.

The grand sets depicting the church of Sant’ Andrea della Valle, the Palazzo Farnese and the prison Castel Sant’Angelo were designed by Andrew Horn and rented from Fort Worth Opera. They were a good investment, transporting the audience to Puccini’s Rome immediately and requiring little suspension of disbelief.

STEPHANIE ADRIAN

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