Two recent exciting programs of songs are interwoven in the fabric of Tidewater vocal arts development. The first, in Williamsburg, was a recital by Barbara Quintiliani, soprano, with Charles Woodward at the piano. The second was a Governor's School for the Arts Vocal Music Department program, "A Celebration of American Music III." We saw Robert Brown both nights. In Williamsburg, joined by several of Tidewater's vocal recitalists, he had come to hear his former student Barbara Quintiliani. At Chandler Hall he was accompanist and teacher for the current students at the Governor's School.
In Williamsburg, on January 25, 2002, at the pre-concert lecture, Genevieve McGiffert, president of Art Song of Williamsburg, spoke on the importance of the Governor's School to music students in general, and specifically to Ms. Quintiliani, who told her that the school was a major turning point in her life. She says she wouldn't be where she is today, both emotionally and professionally if it hadn't been for the Governor's School.
Ms. Quintiliani accepted the challenge to develop her voice which has been described in the Boston Globe as "...drop-dead gorgeous, with pearly-lustrous timbre, supple cantilena and high notes that open out into the hall with real glamour." Next season she will sing Elettra opposite Placido Domingo's Idamante in the Washington Opera production of Idomeneo by Mozart. Ms. Quintiliani is a graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music, where her teachers included Kathleen Kaun and Anna Gabrieli. In the 2000-2001 season the singer was a member of the Houston Grand Opera Studio and could be heard last fall on WHRO in the Saturday afternoon opera from Houston. She has won several competitions including a 1999 Metropolitan Opera National Council Audition.
Barbara Quintiliani Recital
The program opened with two Handel (1685-1759) arias: Let the bright seraphim, and Where e'er you walk, proving once again the lovliness of her voice and the passion of her delivery. This was followed by four selections by Robert Schumann: Er ist's, Aufträge, Widmung and Sehnsucht. In er ist's (It's Spring) the line "violets are already dreaming" was delivered with a fine pianissimo. Charles Woodward, the singer's frequent collaborator, played with authority and an excellent touch. Though we had been warned that the piano substituted for the ailing Steinway of past ASW recitals was not up to par, Chuck's artistry made it a small distraction.
In the last European composer set we were treated to selections from Rossini's Serate Musicali (Musical Evenings), songs that he dubbed "Sins of my old age." In reality, these brief songs became miniature operas in the hands of our performers. The impish facial expressions and gestures were altogether appropriate for this material. In Il Rimprovero (The Reproof), the grieving coquette says she will bemoan in silence her "bitter, bitter fate." But the intense, over-the-top song was anything but suffering in silence, which brought forth a chuckle from the audience. The text by Pietro Metastasio was set almost 50 times by Rossini.
In La Pastorelle delle Alpi, the youth of our singer and the youth of the shepherdess made an interesting fusion. With gesture and vocal play the shepherdess came alive before our eyes. At the end of the song the singer crossed herself and smiled at her pianist. The third Rossini selection, La Danza, is a tour de force for both voice and piano. The dance tune goes faster and faster but never spins out of control.
The first American selection, Samuel Barber's ten-song cycle Hermit Songs was sung complete. After the concert I discussed with Ms. Quintiliani the contrast in her accessible, friendly and at times mischievous approach to some of the light-hearted songs compared to the recordings of Leontyne Price and others, where a serious dignity reigns. It is a challenge to switch from humor in The Heavenly Banquet, where the singer is literally drunk by the end of the song, to the somberness of The Crucifixion, a piece filled with pathos and grief.
One had the feeling that the character singing Promiscuity knew exactly where "fair Eden" would be sleeping tonight. All the warmth and rightness of the living arrangement between The Monk and His Cat was in her interpretation. Seriousness reigned in The Praises of God and The Desire for Hermitage. (For more discussion of this song cycle refer to Artsong Update #5).
Songs by Amy Beach (1867-1944) followed, Three Browning Songs: The Year's at the Spring, Ah, Love, but a day, and I send my heart up to thee. These well-crafted, lyrical songs follow European models in a late Romantic style and were beautiful to hear. In 1926 Amy Beach co-founded and was first president of the Association of American Women Composers.
Two Ernest Charles (1895-1984) pieces ended the program. Our singer sweetly apologized for these "parlor songs": but "I love to sing them and hope you will enjoy them." We did. The last time Ms. Quintiiani gave a recital in our area, May 2000, at the Wells Theatre in Norfolk, she opened the program with art songs by three European composers: Verdi, Chausson and Richard Strauss. In the second half she sang selections by American arts song composers Griffes, Brody, Richard Hagerman, Amy Beach and closed the program with these same two selections by Ernest Charles: Let My Song Fill Your Heart, and When I Have Sung My Songs to You. Charles was a recitalist and Broadway and vaudeville performer. In the mid-1930's a young Kirsten Flagstad sang When I have sung my songs and it became her favorite encore piece. At this point in time, it seems to be Ms. Quintiliani's signature also.
The encore O, mio babbino caro from Puccini's Gianni Schicchi was a stunning showpiece for this budding diva who also brought us art songs that are accessible, fresh and exciting.