Capital City Opera Company In Concert: Summer of Song

My rough week was smoothed out quite a bit this evening by Capitol City Opera Company‘s “Summer of Song.” This was a concert of art song performed by soprano Rachel Eve Holmes accompanied by music director Catherine Giel on piano. The program featured works by Giuseppe Verdi, Gabriel Faure, Amy Beach, and Richard Strauss, all of which were performed capably and were a joy to hear.

Throughout the concert, Holmes voice was strong and the acoustics of the church’s sanctuary favored her tremendously. Unfortunately, the piano didn’t fare quite so well: echoes from a tile floor and the hollowness of the hall created a muddy sound. A few rugs around the baby grand would have done wonders to clear up the sound and it would have given Holmes something more comfortable than hard tile on which to stand. Still, Giel’s playing was a solid accompaniment to Holmes’s voice.

The program began with Verdi’s “Album di Sei Romanze.” This collection of six programmatically unrelated songs ranged in emotional tone from fairly upbeat to fairly melancholy. Holmes did an excellent job of dramatizing the works for us without going distractingly overboard such that her facial expressions might distract us from her voice. Her enthusiasm for the work particularly showed in “Lo Spazzacamino,” a piece in which a cheerful chimney-sweep hawks his services, which Holmes identified as her favorite in the set.

Although her voice was as good with the Faure that followed, Holmes’ French articulation was not quite as solid as it was with the Italian of the Verdi. Still, it was a pleasure to hear her sing the pieces, which included “Les roses d’ispahan,” “Les berceaux,” “Chanson d’amour,” “Le secret,” “Au bord de l’eau,” and “Nell.” Even if this was the weakest performance of the four sets of songs, it speaks well to how enjoyable the concert was.

After an intermission, we got to hear Beach’s “Three Browning Songs.” This is the set that really drew me to this concert: I’ve been wanting to hear something of hers live for some time. Beach was fairly popular in the early 20th century but her work seems to have fallen out of the common repertoire. There has been some attention given to her lately, though, and I’ve heard a few recorded performances of her piano concerto in C# minor that I’ve really enjoyed. And I must say that I enjoyed these, too. They were well performed, even if Holmes inserted a few extra H’s here and there. I’d love to hear these again somewhere that the piano would sound better: the piano part is really great and, while I’ve no complaints about Giel’s playing, the acoustics of the room really detracted from it.

The concert concluded with some solid Strauss. The five songs on the program were “Allerseelen,” “Cacilie,” “Ich Schwebe,” “Morgen!,” and “Zeuignung.” Holmes voice carried the songs well and she didn’t soften the hard German consonants as so many are wont to do. Although not as good as her Italian, it’s clear that she handles the sung language very well.

I really enjoyed this whole program: it left me feeling like my trying week and finally ended and that I will have a good weekend. There was a good blend of emotion and tone and I have to say that I’m impressed with Holmes competent handling of four distinctly different composers in four distinctly different languages.

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