Category Archives: Recitals

Julia Katherine Walsh is celebrated for celebrating song

Reading, Pennsylvania native Julia Katherine Walsh came home Memorial Day weekend to sing for a friendly gathering at Trinity Lutheran Church in downtown Reading, the perfect venue for an evening of intimate music performance.

Currently, she resides in New York and holds a master’s in music from Hunter College. However, since she was raised in Berks County and is an alumna of the Berks Classical Children’s Choir, in every respect Miss Walsh is the quintessential hometown girl-made-good. As such, her homecoming was celebrated robustly, on billboards around the county, on local television programs such as “Backstage” on bctv.org and radio shows in advance of the concert, and in the many personalized ads appearing in the event program, one of which said, “Thank you, Julia Katherine Walsh, for sharing your angelic voice with Berks County.” (From her friends at Performance Toyota–and if she doesn’t drive a Toyota, I think she should think about it.)

Indeed, her recital called “A Celebration of Song,” was something to celebrate. Well planned, well performed, very warmly received.

As far as classical music goes, I prefer a program that stretches me as an audience member and doesn’t indulge all my musical whims. Sure, a recital can contain a potboiler or two, but how much richer will the concert experience be if it introduces you to a new piece of music or several? Miss Walsh’s selections included some accessible pieces such as “America the Beautiful”–it was Memorial Day weekend after all–and “Caro nome” from Rigoletto. However, it also included four lesser known Baroque pieces by Handel, four Lieder by Richard Strauss, and a piece totally unfamiliar to me as a musical work, James Agee’s  “Knoxville: Summer of 1915” set to music by Samuel Barber, which turned out to be my favorite selection in the concert because of Miss Walsh’s performance of it.

Her particular gifts for interpreting Mozart, German Lieder, and operas centered on American Realism were well showcased in this program. She sings with intelligence and sensitivity. She has a strong, agile voice with a crystal clear ring to it, pleasing like a shiny silver bell–a tone I happen to be partial to. Her voice seemed to suit her. She is petite and effervescent and somehow, a dark, dramatic timbre would not have been nearly as fitting a vocal quality based on her stature and personality.

In addition, she showcased her voice to its full potential, including skill with coloratura, and most impressively, a knack for selecting pieces well-suited to her particular blend of singing and acting talents.

Backstage at New York Lyric Opera's Artist in Residence concert

Her aria from The Tales of Hoffmann, “Les Oiseaux dans le charmille,”  was utterly charming, capturing the requisite comic nuances such as the doll being thoroughly entertained and pleased by her own exploits as well as running out of oomph and needing to be wound up again to go on. I was likewise impressed with her facility with the “Queen of the Night Aria” from The Magic Flute, not listed in the program, performed almost as an encore.

Skillfully accompanied on piano by Rebecca Grass Butler, a professor of music at Albright College, the combined talents of Miss Walsh and Miss Butler, in addition to the pleasing venue on a comfortable just-summer evening, made  “A Celebration In Song”  a delightful event, which earned her a standing ovation. Her star is rising quickly, and the next time she comes to town, a recital by Julia Katherine Walsh may not be nearly as accessible or affordable.

I caught up with Miss Walsh via email after the concert, and she graciously agreed to answer some questions about her program.

How did you select the program (who selected the program)? I selected the program after considering these few parameters:

  1. What do I know that I can sing well, but still feel comfortable enough to perform in an intimate setting after a shortened rehearsal period;
  2. I wanted to sing some familiar pieces to the audience (hence why the Doll Song, “Queen of the Night,” and “Caro nome” made the list); and
  3. I wanted to have a good mix of different styles in the songs that weren’t familiar (which is why the Handel pieces were mostly Italian and simple harmonically, the Strauss were super-late in his compositional period and in German, and the Knoxville was a very authentic piece of musical ‘Americana’).

Did you translate what you were singing? Yes. It is absolutely imperative to translate what you sing as a singer, but I also want to say that the translations on the “Aria and Art Song Database” are sometimes 99.9% the same as my own translations, so I use those too, if I don’t have my own already typed up.

How long did you rehearse for this? Three months. I got back to the United States from my audition time in Germany on March 3rd, and practice for this began on March 5th.

Did you have a favorite piece that you performed? My favorite piece of the evening (talking about the whole piece, not just a section of it) was the third song of the Strauss set, “Saeusle, liebe Myrte.”  But, my favorite section of a piece from that evening was the line in Samuel Barber’s “Knoxville: Summer of 1915” where the text is “By some chance, here they are, all on this Earth.  And who shall ever tell the sorrow of being on this Earth? Lying on quilts, on the grass in a summer evening, among the sounds of the night.” I think that that is the best part of that piece, without a doubt.

I really liked the Barber piece on you? Tell me more about how long you’ve been singing that piece and why it made the program. I actually began working on the Barber piece in 2007 for about 6 months, but at that point it was a bit too big of a sing for me (in terms of stamina vocally-speaking) so then I put it aside and didn’t work on it again until just at the beginning of March of this year.  It seems to have become much more of a fit for me; the diction and vocalism are much easier to get across to the audience clearly (which before were a problem because of the sometimes difficult words in awkward places in the vocal tessitura), and the message of the text (so superbly written by James Agee from his book A Death in the Family) means more to me now that I have lived longer in the world since I last sang this piece.  It made the program simply because I think it’s a wonderful piece which is written in English and not nearly performed as often as it should be.  Plus, it was a big challenge to the audience too, I think, because of its length and form.

a photo from her website

I am sure not many people that evening had heard something that is almost a mini-opera unto itself like that, and I wanted to stretch the listeners’ ears so that they will be open to hearing it again (hopefully with orchestra in the future!).

One thing I’d like to add is that I really appreciated everyone coming out on a Friday night before Memorial Day Weekend to listen to classical singing. That was  a wonderfully heartening show of support by the community not only of my singing, but also of classical music in general, and I really can’t thank everyone enough for attending such a meaningful and transformative art form.

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You can follow Julia on Twitter at @operadventuress and friend her on her Facebook page at Julia Katherine Walsh. You can find out more about her musical background here. For audio clips and other goodies, you can visit her website at http://juliakatherinewalsh.weebly.com/. Visit her blog “Opera Adventuress” at http://operaadventuress.blogspot.com/, especially if you want to read about how she chose her gowns for this recital. (You chose well, Miss Walsh!)

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Filed under Classical Music, Concerts, Recitals, Reviews, sopranos

keys to a classy recital: a how-to from bari Andy Stuckey

Baritone Andy Stuckey's April 28 recital at Share Hall

A rigorous solo recital may have been a requirement for his doctoral degree in musical arts from Rutgers University, but baritone W. Andrew “Andy” Stuckey transformed an academic expectation into a labor of love for him and (especially) for the audience.     

It was a stunning evening of vocally challenging music which showcased Mr. Stuckey’s  facility in a range of pieces, including perfectly appointed selections from rare baroque arias to quirky contemporary tunes, all masterfully sung.     

First, Mr. Stuckey has a powerful voice and exceptional control, soundly tested in a Veracini piece, “Se main piagato la morte,”  replete with run after run. The other pieces of early music presented included “Ah! Si vien Morte” from Nicola Porpora  and “Pensa a chi geme d’amor piagata” by George Frederic Handel.     

Joining Mr. Stuckey for the Baroque portion of the program were  Andrew Kirkman, violin;  Mira Kang, cello; and Allison Brewster Franzetti, harpsichord–all accomplished musicians. Then the stage was reset and Mr. Stuckey was accompanied by Ms. Franzetti on piano for the balance of the program.     

My favorite pieces were the Brahms selections, “Vier ernste Gesänge,” which were ideally suited to his range, his velvety rich baritone, and the intensity he projects in performance. (Mr. Stuckey talks at length about the Brahms’ selections later in this post.) He concluded the program with two of Paul Verlaine‘s poems set to music by Stravinsky and three of E.A. Robinson’s poems set to music by J. Duke. I hadn’t heard the poem “Richard Cory” for decades–literally.  Duke’s selections dripped with irony, as startling as the first time I heard them recited–expertly interpreted and sung by Mr. Stuckey. The encore, which Mr. Stuckey called a potboiler, was the perfect ending to a first-rate program.     

Andy Stuckey and his accompanist Allison Brewster Franzetti were ideally matched--both gifted professionals.

Stuckey and his accompanist Allison Brewster Franzetti were ideally matched--both gifted professionals.

 

Besides being a polished performance, the entire program was such a well conceived event that I was full of questions for Mr. Stuckey, which he gamely answered below.     

How did you select the program (who selected the program)?
It was a collaboration between me and my teacher at Rutgers, Professor Eduardo Chama.  In my career, I have found that the opportunities to sing recitals are few and far between so I am delighted to do the recital as part of the Doctoral degree requirement.     

I consider the Brahms “Four Serious Songs” to be a milestone set for my voice type.  They are at the absolute height of song repertoire and are challenging in every way.  In these songs the range is broad both tonally and emotionally, the subject is complex and deep, and the intensity required is breathtaking.  The challenge of performing music like this is what I relish about being a singer.  It is an honor to perform them.  The Stravinsky are interesting as they are a somewhat unique representation of his style.  They also happen to be orchestrated which will hopefully make them useful to me in future orchestral engagements.  The trio of John Duke vignettes are pieces that I’ve wanted to perform for quite some time.  I find the poetry fascinating and effective and the music quite illustrative. They are simply fun!  The Baroque arias were added in part, to fulfill the chamber music requirement of the degree.  I had performed them at Rutgers in concert with the original instrument group Musica Raritana.  In fact the violinist in my recital, Dr. Andrew Kirkman, is the conductor of that group. The trio of arias represent a sort of picture of the London opera scene in 1735.  It happened that one of Handel’s singers, Signor Montagnano had “defected” from Handel’s theater to a rival.     

Is it customary for the recitalist to translate what he is singing?
Generally, it is considered an important courtesy to provide the audience with a translation of the works in the recital.  A recital is SO much about the setting of poetry and prose to music that it really enhances the experience if all who are there understand the text.  Because the meaning is paramount, translation is a necessary part of the process for any recitalist.     

How long did you rehearse for this?
I started learning the repertoire last Fall and have been working like crazy ever since.  A recital is a HUGE undertaking.  Understand that the largest opera role, say Falstaff or Scarpia in my case, might be onstage for an hour.  However, the character would certainly not be singing the entire time.  In a recital of 50 minutes, it’s just the singer and a pianist. There is usually a more dense concentration of text and multiple styles which make the recital a hugely challenging art.     

What was the name of the encore piece?
 The encore was “And This Shall be for Music” by George Cory.     

Did you have a favorite piece that you performed?
The third Brahms song, “O Tod, wie bitter bist du”, is a song that has changed my view of life.     

You sang the Brahms beautifully. Do you agree with NY Times critic Anthony Tommasini who named Brahms to his top ten classical composers list?
Thank you!  Interesting list.  My initial impression of the list is that it is well done.  I might have included Monteverdi rather than Brahms but I see why Brahms was included.  Brahms is easy to overlook because to our ears it is an awful lot of pretty.  There is no doubt that he was one of the great composers of Western Classical Music though so I wouldn’t quibble too much.     

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You can follow Andrew Stuckey on Twitter @wastuckey or friend him on Facebook. He was also featured during Baritone Month earlier this year on this blog.

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opera and humanity . . . perfect together

Benefit concert for St. Luke's Children's Hospital/photo by Michael Chadwick

It’s beautiful and noble. Classy, classical, and charitable. It’s Opera for Humanity (OFH), and it has been aiding children and charities through benefit recitals since 2006. That’s when founder Amy Shoremount-Obra, a classical singer who trained at the Julliard School and the Manhattan School of Music, began combining her musical gifts with a desire to serve for children in need. 

Coloratura soprano and OFH founder Amy Shoremount-Obra/photo by Allan Reider

The New York-based Opera for Humanity is a vehicle for both social change and artistic development. OFH realizes their mission by helping children worldwide overcome poverty and disease through benefit performances of world-class opera by exceptionally promising young stars. Opera for Humanity is also committed to reaching many through outreach performances in communities where opera and classical music are not widely accessible. 

According to their website, in addition to its philanthropic activities, OFH is dedicated to providing opportunities for gifted young artists, helping to promote up and coming talent. Participating artists have the opportunity to help children in need and to give back to the community while collaborating with equally talented colleagues in prestigious venues. 

“We have already been fortunate enough to help many organizations,” Ms. Shoremount-Obra explained. Ronald McDonald House of New York City, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Bryan’s Dream Foundation are just some of programs they’ve supported. 

OFH's Lucia di Lammermoor/photo by Allan Reider Studio

OFH received official non-profit status in 2008. Proceeds from their inaugural performance of Donizetti’s Elixir of Love  established a fund for the company itself. Its recent performance of Lucia di Lammermoor raised $5,000 for the New York City Food Bank as well as children in Cambodia and Malawi through World Vision

Opera for Humanity has slated an entire series of recitals and a Holiday Benefit, beginning with Mim Paquin (Soprano) and Donna Gill (Piano) on November 5th, at 7:30pm at 345 E. 56th St, Kala Maxym (Soprano) and Maria Garcia (Piano) on November 19th at 7:30pm in the “Madame Butterfly” Room at 853 7th Ave. (For a special post about Kala Maxym’s upcoming recital, click here.)   

“Our Holiday Benefit will be at Bechstein Hall on December 17th,” Ms. Shoremount-Obra said.  “We are excited to announce that New York City Opera Director Beth Greenberg will direct!” 

OFH has two more recitals coming up in January, including one featuring Ms. Shoremount-Obra on January 21, to benefit the Scott Family.   

OFH participating in Make Music New York 2010

Amy is quick to credit the OFH team, which also includes Suzanne Halasz (the daughter of Maestro Laszlo Halasz, who founded New York City Opera, and also New York City Center), Director of Development; Linda Platzer, Director of Public Relations, and Julia Mintzer, Director of Production; for their tireless work in helping children in need while providing fantastic performing opportunities for young, talented artists. 

For more information on any OFH event or to be added to their mailing list, email info@operaforhumanity.org

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, Benefit, Classic Opera, Concert Opera, Heartstoppers, Recitals

a celebration of life and music . . . con pasión, con Kala

Does an intimate evening of music by Bizet, Mompou,Turina, and Wolf, as well as a selection of zarzuelas by various Spanish composers appeal to you as much as it does me? Then mark your calendars for “Pasión de España,” a benefit recital performed by The Opera Insider’s own, Kala Maxym.

The event has been organized in cooperation with Opera for Humanity, and is slated for Friday, November 19, at 7:30 p.m., in the “Madame Butterfly Room,” at 853 Seventh Avenue in New York City.

Partnering with Kala for this solo performance is Cuban pianist Maria Paulina Garcia, who holds a master’s degree from the internationally acclaimed Manhattan School of Music, among other credentials.

Though Kala has extensive experience in opera performance (see this professional profile published on “Operatoonity” earlier this year), she also loves recital work. “It gives you such freedom to create your own program and really develop a relationship with the pianist or instrumentalists,” she explained in a recent interview, “which you don’t always get in opera.”

The recital is significant for another reason as well. It marks the seventh anniversary of her bone marrow donation, which saved the life of Peggy Waara. “I’m singing in honor of my recipient,” who is faring well, Kala said, “and will also be talking about how you can get involved and get yourself on the registry, etc.”

Tickets are $25 in advance; and $30 at the door. This is a first-rate “operatoonity” to support Kala and her pasión for music and for helping children worldwide through Opera for Humanity.

See the YouTube video below about Kala’s experience as a bone marrow donor:

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Filed under Benefit, Classical Music, Performers, Recitals