The University of North Carolina School of the Arts hosted their very own voice faculty member, Phyllis Pancella, in Watson Hall for a recital featuring some of the mezzo-soprano’s favorite songs. The program started as all great voice recitals do: with a viola solo. Really, though, Pancella’s choice to begin with Charles Martin Loeffler’s Quatre poëmes, Op. 5, allowed her to introduce the themes that would be common throughout the remainder of the program – themes of love and memories, and the beautiful and painful sides of both. With the help of UNCSA viola faculty member Ulrich Eichenauer and collaborative piano faculty member Ashley Clasen, Pancella presented a set of songs that was pained and distant at times while being resounding and triumphant at others. The final line of the final song, “Serenade,” describes the song the narrator sings as “both cruel and tender,” which perfectly embodies the sentiment of the set as a whole.

Respighi’s Il Tramonto followed Loeffler, which used an Italian translation of English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “The Sunset.” The piece took on an almost cinematic quality, or could even be viewed as a miniature opera. It has its own plot telling the story of a young couple planning their future together, but the young man dies, leaving “Isabel” to live the rest of her life wondering if she will find peace once again in death. Alongside the Reynolda Quartet, Pancella perfectly evoked the feelings of great loss that Isabel feels, portraying the happiness of the couple before the man’s death and the hopelessness that followed. There was, however, a slight return to warmth by the end as Isabel, through Pancella, comes to terms with her inevitable death and her own hope for tranquility.

The penultimate piece on the program was Kamala Sankaram‘s ramonanewyorkamsterdam. Sankaram – who was in attendance for the performance premiere of her piece – said the work’s title was based on the cities she and her sister lived in, who recently passed away. The text of her piece was centered around the question, “What does ‘home’ mean?” For this piece, Pancella was once again joined by Clasen and several UNCSA string students who provided the fluttering effect of distant memories and the (understandable) constant avoidance of resolution. Pancella treated the vocal line of the entire piece as one long question as it transitioned from asking if physical elements of a house make a “home,” or if it is the memories shared with the people within it. Naturally, the ensemble left the ending unresolved, as the question they had to approach in the piece is not so easily answered.

To finish the program Pancella selected Luciano Berio’s Folk Songs. The set featured 11 folk songs from around the world, which allowed Pancella and the ensemble comprised of UNCSA faculty, students, and alumni to showcase their versatility by constantly switching styles. In addition to using techniques more akin to singing folksongs, Pancella changed timbres from one song to the next when appropriate. This set juxtaposed the playful and the romantic, moving from youthful, innocent songs to love songs, to dancing, somewhat scandalous songs. The harsher sound Pancella created in certain songs was also a nice change, and created a unique effect.

Pancella said she simply chose songs that she liked when arranging the program for this recital, which offers an intimate glimpse into the feelings she identifies with and the types of music she can most effectively interpret. The “Both cruel and tender” line from Loeffler’s “Serenade” really applies to most of the songs Pancella performed, displaying the wide range of emotions found between “cruel” and “tender.” It was clear to see her passion for the music she chose; her adaptability, combined with the rich and unique repertoire, made it a performance to remember.