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Seldom have a program's participants received the amount and quality of pre-performance publicity as that accorded to the Saturday evening recital at St. Michael's Episcopal Church. A preview article of October 11 by Susan Roundtree in this journal constituted a glowing encomium to the participants, soprano Katherine Kaufman Posner and pianist Margaret Singer. Then on October 19, Craig Jarvis expressed similar notions in a feature article for The News & Observer (Raleigh). These writers pointed out that the unusual artistic collaboration between these musicians has lasted, off and on, for over forty years.
Both soprano and pianist can claim enviable credentials. Posner won a Metropolitan Opera competition, along with two years' study at the Metropolitan Opera Studio. There she won high praise from conductor Kurt Adler. Singer's career can be characterized by referring to her numerous world famous colleagues. Among these were Sills, Carreras, and Pavarotti of contemporary note, all the way back to such earlier musical giants as Jan Peerce and Lucine Amara.
After an opening aria and recitative from Handel, where for some reason the enunciation sounded muffled, the soprano seemed to hit her stride in several numbers by Schubert, notably "Fischerweise" ("Fisherman's Story"). The dramatic "Erster Verlust" ("First Loss"), with powerful text by Goethe, demonstrated her fine lower register. The enthusiastic audience showed a clear preference for the Schubert song of the "Erl-King," another tragic poem by Goethe. Here the malignant goblin of that name haunts the Black Forest and lures people, particularly children, to destruction. Posner's dramatic skills worked to great advantage in capturing the power of this piece and the wails of the child.
Selections from Seven Popular Spanish Songs by Manuel de Falla probably showed this singer at her very finest. In these folksongs (and indeed throughout the entire recital), she evinced a most welcome control of vibrato. Such consistently pure tone is all too rare. (It's a shame that more modern string players do not seem able to follow suit.)
The featured piano solo of the evening was Ravel's "Alborado del Gracioso." Walter Gieseking, that premier Ravel interpreter from an earlier generation, called it one of "the most difficult piano pieces ever written." In the hands of Margaret Singer it did not appear so challenging. It was obviously a piece that she loved and played with the requisite virtuosity. Her support during the entire recital merits high praise. It is no wonder that Gerald Moore, the world renowned "unashamed accompanist," was so laudatory of her pianism.
The Rodgers and Hart numbers were less successful. "With a Song in My Heart" and "Spring Is Here" received a somewhat heavy or "operatic" treatment. These songs, especially the latter, call for a light, pensive touch. The spirituals were a crowd-pleasing joy. "Goin' Home," from the largo movement of Dvorak's Opus 95, "From the New World," never seemed hackneyed or over done. And here Singer's spare accompaniment captured the poignant essence of that famed score.
The rapt audience was fortunate that this duo of veteran artists had felt led to collaborate yet again in such a pleasing fashion.
October 11, 2007, Raleigh, NC: Katherine Kaufman Posner steps up to the grand piano and takes a deep breath. As she exhales, her body moves; as she engages with sweetness of Schubert’s "Die Männer sind méchant!" ("Men are bad!"), the clarity of the notes drift toward the arches that grace the nave of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church. The singer is 64, but Katherine’s voice exudes strength and beauty. And forty-four years after she walked onto the stage at the Metropolitan Opera National Auditions and found herself a winner, Katherine still sings.
The renowned soprano will bring her gifts to St. Michael’s on October 20, when she presents a concert with pianist Margaret Singer, one of the world’s most prominent accompanists and vocal coaches who now trains vocal coaches at the Paris National Opera. They will perform arias by Handel, songs by Schubert, Falla, Rodgers and Hart, and African-American spirituals.
Once called one of the voices of her generation by Metropolitan Opera conductor Kurt Adler, Katherine has spent the last three decades teaching other singers the secrets of Bel Canto and free singing. She has taught at Duke University, Langston University, and The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, in addition to giving private lessons in Miami, San Francisco, and in the Triangle. Her gift for singing and for teaching connects her with God, she says, as she attempts to be a good steward of the talents she’s been given.
"Sound is spirit in action," Katherine says. "Making sound is a spiritual activity and voice is spirit in us. I believe this. Our voices express our very nature and creative power."
Katherine first learned that power in high school and college, winning local and regional singing competitions. Armed with the knowledge of what her voice could do and a desire to share it, Katherine entered the Metropolitan’s competition.
“"It was 1964," says Katherine of her trip at age 20 to the Met from her home in Oklahoma, when she and her voice teacher headed to New York and the chance to sing on one of the world’s premiere operatic stages. "I was singing an aria in the Key of E, but the maestro made me sing it in F." She had only a few days to learn the new key, but that didn’t stop her.
Among five winners that year, Katherine found herself the recipient of two years of study at the Metropolitan Opera Studio, her tuition funded by her win. She later joined an opera touring company, bringing the music she loved to those who had otherwise had no opportunity to hear it.
She began teaching when the touring interfered with her family life, returning to Oklahoma City to teach predominantly African-American students. "I saw these students who really needed help," she says, "and I felt a responsibility to pay forward what I had learned."
Her joy, she admits, is opera. "Opera is the complete art form. There is no facet of human experience that is not conveyed in opera,” she says. And today’s simultaneous translations should be an encouragement to anyone who feels a little afraid of the genre because of the language barrier. "How sad when the audience misses the point," she says, "because they don’t understand the language. We must make the meaning available to people."
"I’ve always been spiritually-minded," Katherine says. "I grew up with the idea that it was my responsibility to use my talent. It’s so wrong of us to stand up in front of others and say 'Look at me!' Instead," she says, "the talented should say: 'Look here. Isn’t is wonderful that we can do this beautiful thing.'"
"We are children of God in the sense that we share 100 percent of what God is," she adds. "I’m inseparable from what God is. What I’m offering is a little piece of God."
"Making sound has an incredible creative power. When you put yourself in that frame of mind, the most amazing things happen. I really feel at times the composer (even if, like Schubert, he’s been dead for well over nearly 200 years) tells me what he wants."
"It’s crucial," Katherine says, "for performing artists to put their work out there. We don’t exist without audiences," she says. And audiences play a key role as well.
"The act of receiving is completing the circle. An audience needs to understand that they are active in this holy process of creating music."
About the Pianist
Margaret Singer is well established as a prominent accompanists and vocal coach. She was a Fulbright grant winner and studied at the Royal Academy of Music, London. As Assistant Conductor at the New York City Opera, she worked with Beverly Sills and José Carreras, among others. At the San Francisco Opera, she worked with Placido Domingo and Magda Olivero. During the summers, she was Vocal Music Director for the Rhode Island Festival of the Arts at Newport. At Tanglewood, she worked with Leonard Bernstein. She was also Music Administrator of the Opera Company of Philadelphia, and she collaborated with Pavarotti and Gian Carlo Menotti. She also performed with singers Jan Peerce, Veronica Tyler, and Lucine Amara, as well as with violinist Paul Zukovsky. She started the Merola Program for training young singers at the San Francisco Opera and is now in charge of the training of coaches at the Paris National Opera. She is a regular coach at major opera houses in Germany, including the Theatre Erfurt, where she is the head vocal coach. Margaret Singer and Katherine Kaufman Posner have been artistic partners since meeting in New York during the 1960s. Their performances include radio and television recitals. They last performed in Raleigh in 2005.
Hear Katherine Kaufman Posner and Margaret Singer in concert at St. Michael's Episcopal Church, 1520 Canterbury Road, Raleigh, on Saturday, October 20, at 8:00 p.m. Free. For more information, call 919/782-0731. The recital is the first offering on the 2007-8 "Concerts at St. Michael's" series.