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On the evening of March 18, St. Mary's alumna Jeanne LaRoque Jolly returned to her alma mater to give a recital in the "Emerging Young Artists Series" in Smedes Parlor, the school's wonderful and historic recital hall. In her introductory comments, series director and school piano faculty member Terry Thompson reminisced that when Jolly arrived on campus as a high school sophomore, she was "a free spirit with beads in her hair" and she "just loved to sing" anything. In May she will receive the Master of Music degree from the New England Conservatory in Boston, where she has also just been accepted into the fine early music ensemble Boston Baroque, directed by Martin Perlman. She did an undergraduate degree in vocal performance at Western Carolina in between. Consequently, she is older and more mature as an artist than many of the musicians who have appeared on this series previously, but her appearance was in no way inappropriate because she is just about to begin her career whose groundwork was laid on this campus.
Appropriately, she opened with two arias from Handel operas in Italian: "Rasserena o Madre! Rend'il sereno al ciglio" from Sosarme (1732), and "Ah! Spietato" from Amadigi (1715). (The notes had them in the correct order, but the printed program had them in chronological order.) It was easy to see why she was welcomed into Boston Baroque; her voice seems especially well suited to Handel. Her Italian diction was excellent. Her collaborative pianist, Linda Velto, however, played much too heavily for this music, which was written for harpsichord accompaniment, and this marred the overall effect. It must also be said that St. Mary's piano leaves a lot to be desired, its being a Steinway notwithstanding.
Jolly followed with Drei Lieder der Ophelia by Richard Strauss, composed in 1918. The three songs are quite different from each other and Jolly differentiated them well both vocally and expressively. Although occasionally too loud for both the singer and the performance space, Velto's accompaniment was generally speaking much better for this short cycle, which, like the Handel arias, Jolly sang from memory. She closed the first half of her presentation with Maurice Ravel's Cinq mélodies populaires grecques , dating from 1905, for which she had a score on a stand. NC Symphony harpist Anita Burroughs-Price accompanied for this the fourth performance that I have had the pleasure of hearing in about a year. (See my review of the February 10 recital at Peace College for the run-down.) Burroughs-Price could probably play these from memory at this point - she was the accompanist for three of the four performances - but she had a score and a page-turner. Together, they gave a sensitive and spirited interpretation. Jolly's French and German diction are as good as her Italian.
Following the intermission, Jolly offered the pièce de résistance of the evening's fare, Libby Larsen's fairly lengthy five-song cycle from 2000, Try Me, Good King : Last words of the wives of Henry VIII, again sung from memory and with Velto at the keyboard. The composer set texts actually written - or spoken and recorded by others - by the five women as they faced their deaths. Musically, it is an impressive piece where the notes fit the words like a glove fits a hand. Jolly's performance was likewise impressive; she really got to the heart of these pieces, sang them very naturally, with impeccable diction and nicely nuanced expression, and made them come alive for the overflow crowd of admiring listeners, from whom she received well-deserved enthusiastic applause.
Jolly closed the evening fittingly with the short song "Thank you All...," from Aaron Copland's 1954 opera The Tender Land. She planned a fine program to demonstrate that since she graduated from St. Mary's she has learned to turn that youthful, innocent, and enthusiastic love of singing into a skill and an art that she can use to communicate with her listeners and make them love her singing. While she does not have a big voice, she does have a very pretty one and has learned how to use it well and to show it off to its best advantage. She will have a fine career, we hope.
Jolly also prepared the program notes, which were on the whole succinct, informative and well written with the exception of a huge grammatical blunder in the introduction to the Ravel and an "of" where "to" was meant in a passage about one of Henry's wives. She might want to have someone else read her notes before she goes to press in the future, if for no other reason than two pairs of eyes are better than one. She should also include dates of composition (when known) next to the titles of the works on the printed program and provide the original language texts with side-by-side translations instead of uncredited translations alone for future recitals, which this reviewer hopes to have the pleasure of hearing.
[Posting delayed due to illness.]