The Smedes Parlor Concert Series reopened for its 39th season at Saint Mary’s School on Sept. 26th with a delightful program featuring Chapel Hill native Susannah Stewart, soprano. The concert was open for limited in-person seating and was simultaneously live-streamed through the Saint Mary’s School YouTube, where it will remain available for viewing through this week.

Stewart opened the program with Charles Gounod’s buoyant waltz “Ah! Je veux vivre” from the French composer’s 1867 Roméo et Juliette. Though masked, Stewart immediately revealed a powerful voice with lovely tone and character. Accompanied by pianist Allen Bailey, Stewart gracefully expressed Juliette’s giddy, though doomed, joie de vivre.

Stewart is only a recent graduate of UNC Chapel Hill, where, as an undergraduate, she won UNC’s Concerto Competition, as well as first place for Junior/Senior College Women at the National Association of Teachers of Singing. Though she is still a student (currently pursuing a master’s at the prestigious Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY), her credits already include feature performances throughout the Triangle, including with the Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle and the Carolina Theatre in Durham. Her features also span outside of North Carolina: Recently, Stewart was invited to perform as soloist for Eastman’s Dr. Marie Rolf in the professor’s lecture concert in New York City, where Stewart helped premiere several ‘long-lost’ pieces by Debussy.

Though Stewart did not sing any Debussy on this program, she followed Juliette’s aria with one of Debussy’s great admirers, François Poulenc. Stewart performed Poulenc’s Banalités, a piece in five movements based on the poetry of Guillaume Apollinaire, the 20th century poet often described as a forefather of the surrealist and cubist movements. Poulenc’s music, too, is surrealist, with overlapping and drawn-out chords and wistful, contemplative, vocal melodies that create a dream-like experience for the listener. Stewart and Bailey captured this atmosphere with a range of dynamic and emotion, including moments of declaration contrasting indecisive sighs.    

Stewart continued the program with two pieces by Edvard Grieg and Harry T. Burleigh. Later, she was joined by baritone Caleb Hopkins and six Saint Mary’s students for an excerpt from Act I of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, the brief and light “Giovinette che fate all’amore,” in which Zerlina and Masetto celebrate their love with a chorus of excited villagers. The six “villagers” were spirited in their portrayals and in their support of Stewart and Hopkins.

Hopkins remained for the rest of the concert, joining Stewart in three showtune love songs from Oklahoma!, Showboat, and The King and I. These beautiful ending tunes provided Stewart the occasion to demonstrate more of her dramatic capacities, and, complemented by Hopkins, her impressive range in style.

Smedes Parlor’s intimate concerts will continue at the Saint Mary’s School with a season that is to be announced. Please stay updated through our events listings.