Friday, March 30, 2012

Mecco all' altar di Venere

No, dear reader, it's not another Norma post, but how could I resist making a comparison between the name of Pollione's aria and that of the wonderful CD I am reviewing today, Talise Trevigne's recording At the Statue of Venus, on GPR Records.  OK, it's a stretch, but if about half of you think it's clever, I'm OK with it.

I say this is a wonderful CD because I am enamored with the lovely Miss Trevigne's singing and her interpretation of the three works on the CD--a song cycle and a scena by Mr. Jake Heggie, known for his widely acclaimed operatic setting of Dead Man Walking, among other things, as well as a song collection by Mr. Glen Roven.  Those with razor-sharp memories will recall that I praised Miss Trevigne's singing in the brief role of Jemmy in Guillaume Tell at Caramoor last July.

The centerpiece of this CD is Mr. Heggie's "At the Statue of Venus", a scena with a very likable libretto by Terrance McNally.  This is, in fact, a soprano monodrama in six sections.  The story, if one is necessary, is about a woman waiting to meet a blind date and enduring a wide range of predictable adolescent feelings about what she might expect.  Junior high school never really ends, does it?  The woman becomes pensive, thinking about what she really wants from love and recalling the feeling of safety and certainty in her father's arms, and in the last section is finally her confident self, appearing to put her adolescent fears to rest, believing that if the man she is meeting today is truly the one for her, she'll know.

I call the libretto likable, but the songs as a whole are quite beautiful, showing the conflict and fear in the woman's heart and the humor of the libretto at the same time.  As she grows in turns fearful, angry, self-deprecating, pensive, and confident, Mr. Heggie's piano accompaniment and vocal lines tell us all, reinforcing the humor and pathos in the libretto, skillfully building tension and release.  Miss Trevigne gives us lyrical, passionate, beautifully heartfelt performances of these songs.  This work is worth the price of the CD.

I also enjoyed the other cycle from Mr. Heggie's pen, "Natural Selection", to five poems by Gini Savage.  The liner notes explain these songs "trace a young woman's search for her own identity."  My favorites of this cycle were "Animal Passion", in which the poet revels in fantasies of behaving like a wild animal in heat--or at least in the gutter--and "Alas! Alack!", in which she rather too proudly complains about being attracted to the bad boys.  Cavaradossi bores her, but Scarpia has all that power and a steady job!  (I would swear I heard motives from Tosca in Mr. Heggie's piano part!)  In "Indian Summer" she rhapsodizes about the car that gave her freedom in her teenage years and contrasts it to her current life as the wife of a Bluebeard-like man, a veritable emotional hostage.  I quite like Mr. Heggie's boogie-woogie piano part for the automotive rhapsody compared to the blues feel when the poet sings about being Bluebeard's wife.

The songs in the third collection, "The Santa Fe Songs," are settings by Mr. Roven of eight poems by various poets each related in some way to Santa Fe.  Mr. Roven discloses in his liner notes how finding the volume that contains these poems offered some solace in the dazed period after suffering a tragic loss. Among my favorites are "Listening to jazz now" (Jimmy Santiago Baca), a joyful song about simple pleasures.  "Bowl" (Valerie Mart├Čnez) contemplates a bowl as metaphor for the cosmos, the earth and sea, and a chalice that unites all mankind.  In "Flying Backbone" (Christopher Buckley), Mr. Roven's piano part reflects the logy feeling of the first verse ("...our selves water heavy and/Low, lusterless as river bottom clay. ") and the more airy feeling of the second.  "Bone Bead" and "Sowing the Pecos Wilderness" (both Thomas Fox Averill) are about the emptiness and eventual hope felt after flinging a loved one's ashes to the wind.  Miss Trevigne sings these songs, somewhat more complex in melodic nature than those of Mr. Heggie, with beauty of tone and feeling for the poems.  As with all the songs on this album, it is easy to understand her English diction. This is a major accomplishment for any singer.

I've written before that I'm not qualified to judge the technical merits of new-ish music, and have joked that November 29, 1924, was to me The Day the Music Died (sorry, Don McLean), but I like these songs, and this CD will not gather dust on my shelf.  (Well, not much--I'm a very bad housekeeper.)  I especially like Miss Trevigne and hope to hear more recordings and see more live performance by this appealing artist.

Coming soon!  My reviews of these two CDs, also from GPR Records:

To other record producers and artists:  I happily review CDs, especially those that come accompanied by chocolate.

You can buy all these CDs from Amazon. If you start by clicking my Amazon store at the upper right, no matter what you buy, I earn a tiny percentage.  And I stop pestering you to buy stuff. OK, maybe not the last part.

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