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Sunday Best with Stephanie Blythe: America’s Mezzo Meets Operatoonity

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Stephanie Blythe recorded a new album of the American songbook, ‘As Long As There Are Songs’

If the United States had an order of chivalry like our friends across the pond, surely mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe would be our Dame Stephanie.

Her Wagner, Verdi, and Handel have been heralded the world around. She is our Olympic Gold Medalist in the international sphere of opera, a champion we celebrate with each new success, and one reason why her newest album As Long as There Are Songs is so exciting.

It is sung entirely in English. A classically trained American artist sings a 19th century American songbook featuring beloved tunes by Ira Gershwin, Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer, and Irving Berlin that builds on the success of her Live from Lincoln Center — Celebration: Stephanie Blythe Meets Kate, a concert of works made famous by Kate Smith that was broadcast on PBS in 2013.

As Miss Blythe explains in a video about making the album, As Long As There Are Songs connects her to her audience in an immediate way unlike singing French songs or German lieder.

What’s also brave and striking about this album is the way it was recorded. Some highly sophisticated technology afforded a sound so personal and intimate, it’s like Miss Blythe is serenading you and you alone in your living room.

The sound is so honest and real and organic, and is a reflection of how we made this disk. The sound of the disk is the perfect reflection of what we we experienced in the moment in the room. ” –Stephanie Blythe, As Long as There Are Songs

A very warm welcome to Operatoonity.com, Miss Blythe. What were your initial thoughts when you learned you wouldn’t have to use close-field microphones or headphones to record this album?
I was thrilled!  As a opera singer who rarely deals with microphones of any kind, the idea of having the recorded sound captured purely from the room acoustic was intriguing and very exciting.  I have trained for many years to project my voice into the theater, so I don’t believe that close-field mics really capture my voice adequately.  This is the very question that opened my first conversation with John Meyer about recording the voice.

Listening to ‘AS LONG AS THERE ARE SONGS” absolutely felt like being in a concert hall with you. Accompanied by piano only, you laid your voice naked on this CD. Did that feel more comfortable, more like what you are used to in performance?
I have been singing recitals with piano for many years, and have sung these songs with Craig Terry for many audiences across the country.  It is always fun and always comes with the feeling that anything could happen in terms of interpretation.  The intimacy of voice and piano is something that has always made me feel very comfortable, and I was really happy that our first recording with the Meyers was voice and piano.

Your voice is in tip-top shape. It’s strong, supple–sterling! You even belt! You switch from head to chest range seamlessly. How did you prepare to sing an album of songs that demanded so much of your instrument?
This style of singing has always come very easily to me- there is something there that I connected to when I was quite young.  It probably has something to do with being the child of a jazz musician and with having taken part in so many musicals growing up.  I have always had a fairly well developed chest voice, which is helpful in the belting department, but the style is something that has always spoken to me.  I am just so thankful to finally have a platform for performing these songs!

How did you choose the songs for the album? Were many of them already in your repertoire?
Several of the songs come from our Kate Smith Show, a tribute that Craig and I have toured around the country.  Many of the other songs were new to both of us, and some were sitting in my dream vault for a long time.  “The Man That Got Away” in particular. I have always loved that song, and I am very grateful to have this opportunity to program it — I will sing for as many years as I have to sing.  It is just that kind of song.  As far as how we chose the songs — they are all pieces for which Craig and I have enormous admiration for their musical construction and for their lyrics.  They all have that timeless quality that is the hallmark of a great work.

Do you have a favorite track? If so, which one(s) and why?
I think that “How Deep Is The Ocean” a particular favorite because I really took a point of view of the song when we first rehearsed it in my home.  My husband and I had just adopted our Boston Terrier, June, and she was about two months old when Craig came to the house to work with me for a few days.  She was very weepy that afternoon, and I just picked her up and sang that song to her, and she calmed right down — singing to that beautiful little face ensured it will always be June’s song to me.

Are there any contemporary songwriters whose hits you’d like to take on in your next album?
There are far too many to name, but I would like to sing some of BIlly Joel’s work — a dream is to do a song recording with him.  He is one of the most important American voices of this or any generation.

Learn more about how they recorded this album:

YouTube Preview Image

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Learn more about “as long as there are songs:”
http://meyersound.com/news/2013/steph…

Purchase the album:
http://www.innova.mu/artist/stephanie…
http://www.amazon.com/As-Long-There-A…

Stephanie Blythe:
http://www.opus3artists.com/artists/s…

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Magnificent new recording of Handel’s ‘Atalanta’

Philharmonia Baroque of San Francisco has released a new recording of Handel’s Atalanta this year. It is the fourth disc since the founding of Philharmonia Baroque Productions in 2011, and Atalanta is, in a word, magnificent. Sheer beauty to the ear.

Atalanta is a two-disc album of the 1736 opera in three acts that was recorded live at Berkley’s First Congregational Church on September 10 and 11 of 2005. It features the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra conducted by Nicholas McGegan, the Philharmonia Chorale under the direction of Bruce Lamott, and a stellar cast, featuring:

ATALANTA – Dominique Labelle, soprano
MELEAGRO – Susanne Rydén, soprano
IRENE – Cécile van de Sant, mezzo-soprano
AMYNTAS – Michael Slattery, tenor
NICANDRO – Philip Cutlip, baritone
MERCURIO – Corey McKern, baritone

The story behind Atalanta’s creation is interesting. Handel sought to write something to entertain Frederick, Prince of Wales, on the occasion of his marriage to Princess Augusta of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. A work intended for a wedding must not be too sober and needs to end happily in celebration of true love,  thereby auguring a happy union for the newlyweds.  In that regard Atalanta absolutely fits the bill and ends in a happy duet between the royal lovers after a few missteps including a serious instance of mistaken identity. But how can any royal know if he or she is truly loved without taking on the guise of a commoner?

Dominique Labelle / photo by Lino Alvarez

The leading roles are all expertly sung. In the title role, soprano Dominique Labelle is simply angelic. She exhibits both an indescribable augustness and, though everyone knows true love will prevail for Atalanta by the end of the opera, a surprising level of passion that is perceived as genuinely plaintive, especially in her Act II aria “Lassa! ch’io t’ho perduta,” which has a piercing beauty.

Swedish soprano Susanne Rydén as King Mealagro (originally a castrato role) is also a standout in this recording and displays an impressive command of the baroque repertoire from the moment the opera opens with her mellifluous-as-honey arioso “Cara selve.” What an incredible amount of voice control and judicious use of vibrato!

If there is a style of opera where voices project with more clarity and purity of tone than baroque, I am not aware of it. Of course, the quality of this recording also is to be commended in complementing the form.

Another singer turning in an unforgettable performance on this recording is young American tenor and crossover artist Michael Slattery. He sang the lovesick shepherd Amyntas  adroitly, with power and passion. Slattery sings Baroque opera as skillfully as he handles oratorio and Broadway tunes. His pitch-perfect emotional performance washes over the listener and has the power to sweep her away in a tide of happy reverie. And sometimes unbridled longing to be in the physical presence of such a talented artist.

Nicholas McGegan, conductor of “Atalanta”

The orchestration and choral interludes are alternately crisp and grand–vivacious and befitting of nobility–and a sheer treat for the listener. While Handel himself deserves much of the credit for such a charming and uncommon score, credit must also go to the conductor Nicholas McGegan, whose expertise in handling and interpretation of 18th-century music is unprecedented. He is one of a select few baroque specialists who regularly conducts the major orchestras, including those of Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Montreal, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, St. Louis, and Washington, to name a few. Listening to the chorale is like hearing the choirs of heaven.

Since its inception in 1981, San Francisco’s Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra has been devoted historically-informed performance of Baroque, Classical, and early-Romantic music on original instruments and is regarded as an “ensemble for early music as fine as any in the world today.” It was founded by early music pioneer and harpsichoridist Laurette Goldberg.

Click here to order your copy today.

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