Recital, Vocal Music Review Print

Recently Wedded Elon Faculty Present Centuries of Art Songs

September 12, 2003 - Elon, NC:

An enthusiastic, young and surprisingly large (for Elon University) audience closely attended and warmly received a diverse and appealing program of art songs in Whitley Auditorium on September 12. The artists were Victoria Fischer, whose performances of Bartók have been reviewed by CVNC , and mezzo-soprano Hallie Coppedge, whom we were hearing for the first time. Coppedge teaches voice, music, theatre literature and opera workshops. She has performed extensively opera, oratorio and cabaret in the Midwest. This stage experience was evident throughout her recital.

The selection of uncommon songs covered four languages - English, German, French and Italian. The Spartan program listed typically first lines and gave the composers' names and life spans while an insert provided only English translations. Using The Fischer-Dieskau Book of Lieder and A French Song Companion by Graham Johnson and Richard Stokes, I was able to follow three of the German songs and all of the French ones.

Coppedge has a very pleasant mezzo-soprano voice with a good top and a moderate lower register, and she is able to maintain an even, well-supported line throughout, with no noticeable breaks or bumps. Instead of a limited repertoire of static and stock gestures, she incorporates appropriate body language, facial expressions and restrained hand and arm movements to convey the drama of each song. Following closely the printed translations in the program and the two mentioned sources for the original texts revealed excellent enunciation and projection as well as appropriate dramatization of the meaning of the words.

Fischer played the wonderful 1923 restored Steinway with its lid down to about six inches and with restrained volume. But... Whitley Auditorium, with all of its hard surfaces, was only about 60% full, which led to a fair - or unfair (!) - amount of hall reverberation of the piano part that blurred all of the faster paced songs. Slow songs came across clearly and those with a moderate pace could still be discerned.

Robert King, in his book Henry Purcell , notes that the setting of William Fuller's "Divine Hymn," "Lord, what is man?," from Harmonia Sacra , "demonstrate(s) how Purcell had taken the dramatic, declamatory Italian style and created his own variant, brilliantly colourful yet always aware of every subtlety in the text." The first two stanzas came across as highly dramatic recitative; the third, a lovely arioso, ended with an extended section of Alleluias. Coppedge's interpretation and execution were excellent. Kudos to the poet, the text was worthy of the Bard of Avon. I wouldlove to hear the singer, in the same hall, perform this with an arrangement of the accompaniment for viola da gamba and theorbo.

The German selection was unhackneyed: Robert Schumann's "Was will die einsame Träne," Franz Schubert's "Schlummerlied" and "Alinde" - neither of which was easy to find in my sourcebook because the true first lines weren't given in German - and Hugo Wolf's "Wenn du mich mit dem Augen streifst und lachst" and "In dem Schatten meiner Locken," from the Italienisches Liederbuch and the Spanisches Liederbuch , respectively. The Schumann song was a somber reflection on lost love. The melodies and rhythms of the two Schubert songs gave the pianist a chance to shine. John Reed's The Schubert Song Companion lists the first selections as "Schlaflied" or "Lullaby," praising it for "its purity of style and perfection of form... unsurpassed among Schubert's cradlesongs." The second song owes its popularity to "the infectious lilt of its barcarole rhythm." Coppedge's body language contributed greatly toward communication of the full meaning of each setting. The first Wolf song came across as serious with intense emotions just held back while the second was light hearted, playful and flirtatious.

The five songs that make up Francis Poulenc's Banalités were delightful in every way. Hall reverberation marred the fast paced "Chanson d'Orkenise" and even fleeter "Fagnes de Wallonie," but the languid, moderately-paced "Hôtel" and the popular "Voyage à Paris" were perfection. Fischer merits praise for the delicate opening piano part of "Sanglots," the performance of which was worth the whole trip.

The formal concert ended with Gioacchino Rossini's La Regata Veneziana , about which nothing was easily gleaned from New Grove II online. Coppedge's Italian sounded plausible to one used to following recorded operas with bilingual librettos. This comic piece might best be described as Rossini's successful attempt at musical sportscasting. The mezzo-soprano is the color-person, describing the mood and activity leading up to the boat race, calling the nip and tuck of the race and a rather too "up close and personal" reception of the winner! The piano part was much more complex and effective than I expected.

After I drafted the preceding paragraph on Rossini's three Anzoletas (before, during and after the regata), Coppedge emailed that the composer "wrote several songs in the style of his operatic arias intended for parlor singing. These are three of the best and do seem like a little mini-operas as they tell a story of a young girl at the Regata." My original conceit conveys the text except for the anachronism of a woman reporter rather than a lover.

Coppedge announced that she and Fischer had gotten married this summer (not to each other) and dedicated a macabre and tongue-in-cheek "To Keep My Love Alive" by Rodgers and Hart to their husbands and marriages. Among the many witticisms in the score was a lullaby in the piano part while the singer recounted giving a husband arsenic; Fischer's plummeting arpeggio from high treble to a thud in the bass clearly portrayed the husband being shoved off a balcony. The audience was in stitches. Whitley regulars surely wondered why no train interrupted the concert.