Thursday, September 04, 2014

James Rodgers Sings Weill

Last weekend I was fortunate to attend a house concert & hear tenor James Rodgers, a former Merola Artist, in a recital of Kurt Weill songs. Before each number, Mr. Rodgers read from extensively prepared notes, giving us political & biographical context for each selection. It was nice that the substantial program included mostly less familiar songs. The 1st half had songs in German & French, & the 2nd half was largely devoted to Weill's Broadway career.

Mr. Rodgers acted the songs as well as sang them, embodying a character for each one. His voice sounded comfortable & unforced in the middle & lower range. He often sounded like he was right at the break in his voice for the higher notes. His diction was clear, & his style suited the Broadway numbers well. In "Der Bäcker backt ums Morgenrot" & "J'attends un navire" he did a good job tracing a story arc of shifting moods. His rendition of "Youkali" in particular had a range of dynamic levels & contrasting emotions.

Pianist Jillian Zack was a careful & supportive accompanist, & her playing was engaged & precise without being distracting. She also played under Mr. Rodgers's spoken narrations, giving the program a continuous flow, though this meant that neither performer could rest. I found out later that constantly switching between talking & singing is hard on the voice, & it was a relief to see Mr. Rodgers accept a glass of water from the concert's host midway through the 1st half.

I was very happy to be in such an intimate setting, where the singer could make eye contact with individual audience members. There were around 50 attendees, in a high-ceilinged room with good acoustics. In honor of Mr. Rodgers's country of birth, wine from New Zealand was available afterward. For those unable to hear Mr. Rodgers live, he has just released a CD of Weill songs. A companion Website contains his substantial program notes.

§ Exiled: The Evolution of Kurt Weill
James Benjamin Rodgers - Tenor
Jillian Zack - Piano

"Was wir Versprechen" from Die Bürgschaft
Lyrics by Caspar Neher

"Der Bäcker backt ums Morgenrot" from Der Silbersee
Lyrics by George Kaiser

Lotterieagents Tango from Der Silbersee
Lyrics by George Kaiser

"Es Regnet"
Poem by Jean Cocteau

"Játtends un navire" from Marie Galante
Lyrics by Jacques Deval

Juan's Lied from Der Kuhandel
Lyrics by Robert Vambery

Poem by Roger Fernay

"Oh the Rio Grande" from Johnny Johnson
Lyrics by Paul Green

"Johnny's Song" from Johnny Johnson
Lyrics by Paul Green

"The Saga of Jenny" from Lady in the Dark
Lyrics by Ira Gershwin

"Oh Captain! My Captain!" from Four Songs of Walt Whitman
Poem by Walt Whitman

"Westwind" from One Touch of Venus
Lyrics by Ogden Nash

"Wie lange noch"
Poem by Walter Mehring

"A Rhyme for Angela" from Firebrand of FlorenceLyrics by Ira Gershwin

"Lonely House" from Street Scene
Lyrics by Langston Hughes

"Here I'll Stay" from Love Life
Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner

"Lost in the Stars" from Lost in the Stars
Lyrics by Maxwell Anderson

"This Time Next Year" from A Raft on the River
Lyrics by Maxwell Anderson

"Mac the Knife" from Threepenny Opera
Lyrics by Bertolt Brecht
Translation by Mark Blitzstein

San Francisco, August 30th, 2014

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