Monday, October 17, 2011

Stephanie Blythe Sings American Songs

The Herbst Theatre audience gave mezzo Stephanie Blythe extended applause when she appeared on stage for this recital of American songs. Ms. Blythe began by explaining that when she sings in English she does not distribute printed texts. She works hard to communicate the words & wants to see the audiences' faces, not the tops of their heads as they read the program. To familiarize us with the texts of James Legg's Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson, she & accompanist Warren Jones took turns reciting the poems, temporarily turning the concert into a high school English class.

Ms. Blythe has no problems communicating the text while singing. Her voice is thrilling & martial, & I felt it bodily as much as heard it. She never sings softly, & no matter how much sound she made, I always felt she was actually holding back. Mr. Jones was an active accompanist & stated his musical ideas boldly. Legg's songs are compact & range from meditative to plaintive to angry. I found them a bit precious, & many of them end with a drawn-out silence.

Ms. Blythe broke the mood before starting into Barber's Three Songs, Op. 10. Noting how hot it is was, she declared, "I'm sweating my bazooms off!" She then told a slightly improper anecdote about the James Joyce Chamber Music poems about to be sung. She & Mr. Jones again recited the poems before performing. They communicated the story of anguished love clearly, & Ms. Blythe's powerhouse sound was especially suited to the war-like & raging "I Hear an Army."

The 2nd half of the program was all about having fun. Mr. Jones started us off with a jaunty Scott Joplin rag, then Ms. Blythe sang 2 sets of Tin Pan Alley songs, making each song a little vaudeville routine. She strutted onto the stage during the introduction to "Coax Me," & she sang it with a few growls & just the right amount of naughtiness. "What'll I do?" gave us her quietest singing of the evening. She stormed off the stage in hurt & anger at the end of "After You've Gone" & sang the hymn "How Can I Keep from Singing?" as an a cappella encore.

§ San Francisco Performances Vocal Series
Stephanie Blythe, mezzo-soprano
Warren Jones, piano

JAMES LEGG: Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson
SAMUEL BARBER: Three Songs, Op. 10

Songs from Tin Pan Alley
JOPLIN: Peacherine Rag
HERBERT & MacDONOUGH: Ask Her While the Band is Playing
HENDERSON, BROWN & DeSYLVA: If I had a Talking Picture of You
CREAMER & LAYTON: After You've Gone
JOPLIN: Magnetic Rag
BERLIN: If you Don't Want my Peaches
You'd be Surprised
What'll I Do?
I Love a Piano

JOPLIN: Maple Leaf Rag
LOWRY: How Can I Keep from Singing?
FOSTER: Beautiful Dreamer

Thursday, October 13
Herbst Theatre

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