Tag Archives: Stephanie Blythe

All About Brenda: Wisconsin coloratura captures Phila’s heart

Operatoonity.com review: Tancredi presented by Opera Philadelphia
Live performance: Friday, February 10, 2017, 8:00 p.m.
Venue: The Academy of Music, Philadelphia
Music’: Gioachini Rossini
Libretto:
Gaetano Rossi
4.0 out of 5.0 stars

4-stars

 

 

 Tancredi opened February 10 with Stephanie Blythe in the title role.

Tancredi opened February 10 with Stephanie Blythe in the title role (but another woman stole the show). | Kelly & Massa for Opera Philadelphia

What could have been sleepy homage to opera seria was instead transformed into a moving, vital production at the Academy of Music last Friday evening. Tancredi captured loads of advance media attention and cachet for Opera Phila, who attracted Metropolitan Opera star Stephanie Blythe to the City of Brotherly Love. Ultimately, Opera Phila’s reproduction will remembered for the virtuoso vocal performance of coloratura soprano Brenda Rae as the lovelorn Amenaide.

Yes, seeing Blythe on the Academy of Music stage was a gift to me and all assembled. Yes, the directorial execution, both beautiful and controlled, by Emilio Sagi was impressive. Yes, Corrado Rovaris, who can conduct anything, has extraordinary facility with the bel canto canon.

But simply put, once the stage fog settled, this production of Tancredi was all about Brenda.

Brenda Rae delivers a show-stealing turn in Opera Phila's Tancredi

Brenda Rae delivers a show-stealing turn in Opera Phila’s Tancredi. | Kelly & Massa for Opera Philadelphia | Kelly & Massa for Opera Philadelphia

Tancredi is hardly the most dynamic of operas and is admittedly flawed–mostly static and plodding in pace. It can’t be the opera on which Rossini wanted to hang his Bombetta–too simple in plot, too staid in tone. The storyline proves barely palatable to progressive women and men in our modern era. Tancredi is a tale extracted from the Middle ages, when the Byzantine Empire was under constant threat of attack from the Saracens. Amenaide is wrongly condemned to death as a traitor without any process, let alone due process. Though her honor is defended by her secret suitor Tancredi, essentially she had no voice, no rights, and no recourse, having been stripped of her stature and dignity without any proof of her treason. Scary? You betcha. Laughably archaic tenets? Don’t we wish!

 At their wedding, Orbazzano (Daniel Mobbs) accuses Amenaide (Brenda Rae) of being a traitor.

At their wedding, Orbazzano (Daniel Mobbs) accuses Amenaide (Brenda Rae) of being a traitor. | Kelly & Massa for Opera Philadelphia

So, the feudal-era mores undergirding the story are tough to stomach despite the setting being updated to the 20th century. In spite of the inherent shortcomings in the work, Tancredi succeeds on the Academy of Music stage as a showcase for superb vocal artistry from a winning cast and chorus: tenor Michele Angelini as Argirio, bass-baritone Daniel Mobbs as Orbazzano, mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe singing the title role, and the powerful and versatile Opera Phila Chorus.

But most especially because of Brenda Rae, whose meltingly lovely tone, stunning vocal range, and vocal agility spurred the audience to dozens of “bravas” after aria, each more taxing than the last. Bring this talented performer back to Opera Phila in a stronger show, pretty please.

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Amenaide (Brenda Rae) is released from her chains after Tancredi comes to her defense. | Kelly & Massa for Opera Philadelphia

In the title role of Tancredi, the power of Blythe’s voice sent it right up to the rafters. However, her vocal runs were not as easily accomplished especially when compared to Rae’s facility with Rossini. While it may have been Blythe’s wish fulfillment to play a trouser role with such heft and dimension to it, and it was commendable for Opera Phila to give her the chance to realize the title role in a fully staged production, the reality of singing Tancredi proved a less than perfect picture. Certainly, the voicings in Rae and Blythe’s duetti succeeded, with Rossini pairing soprano and mezzo for optimum effect. But this could not have been the versatile Blythe’s finest turn on stage of late. A solid turn, but not a stellar one.

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Tancredi (Stephanie Blythe) and his family have been stripped of their estates and inheritances and banished from their homeland. | Kelly & Massa for Opera Philadelphia

The patriarchs, despite their provinciality and geopolitical shortcomings, were both a vocal triumph. Both Angelini and Mobbs came to their roles vocally well-equipped for the demands of bel canto. However, the fact that two men were deciding the fate of a powerless woman was not lost on the audience.  One couple at intermission couldn’t help but compare Amenaide’s tribunal to a much-publicized political tableau of six white men deciding women’s reproductive rights. (Though likely an unintended consequence, perhaps thanks are due to Opera Phila for reminding us how deadly the world can be when women have no voice.) More to the point of this exercise, their pairings with Blythe and Rae made for rich and complex trios and quartets.

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Orbazzano (Daniel Mobbs) negotiates a truce with his rival Argirio (Michele Angelini), with whom he has been at war for many years. | Kelly & Massa for Opera Philadelphia

While the director chose not to set the work in the medieval period, citing cost-savings, his choice turned out to be an aesthetically rich. The set combined grandeur with enough flexibility to create the various change in stage sets to support the plot, sweeping and subtly turning back and forth to create fresh staging areas. Sagi and his design principals’ (sets by Daniel Bianco and lighting by Eduardo Bravo) seamless mastery made the reproduction as successful as it could be.

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Tancredi (Stephanie Blythe) dies in the arms of Amenaide (Brenda Rae). | Kelly & Massa for Opera Philadelphia

It may be unfair to have enormous expectations of an opera star like Blythe and few of an up-and-coming soprano like Rae by comparison, and to allow those expectations to guide this review. But that is the beauty and the treachery evident in live performance and reviews by sentimental human critics.

In the final analysis, Tancredi is a solid presentation of a seldom-seen show and deserves to be seen for Rae’s breakout performance, everyone’s vocal calisthenics, beautifully controlled conducting, and clean and sexy staging. The show continues through February 19. More information is available at the Opera Phila website.

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

album art

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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