Chrystal Williams and Robert Brown in Recital

      Billed as "An Evening with Chrystal E, An enchanting evening of exquisite arias, art songs and spirituals," the recital was once again held at the I.C. Norcom High School auditorium on June 10th in Portsmouth, Virginia. Robert Brown was at the piano.

      Chrystal Williams gave her first solo recital in June of 2004 to establish a scholarship fund to help students pursue a career in the performing arts. "It is my hope and dream that in the future young performers will not have to worry about funding for school, but will only have to worry about perfecting their talent and sharing God's gift with the rest of the world. It is also my hope and dream that more young performers from the area will come to know that there are people who support them and their budding careers."

      The first recital was moderately well attended and Chrystal became the first recipient of this scholarship as she graduated from the Governor's School for the Arts and began her work on a degree in vocal music at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

      Her idea for a scholarship fund has grown and the program booklet listed thirty patrons and over 100 sponsors. This year the recipient of the scholarship is dancer Glen R. Lewis who had just graduated from the Governor's School and I.C. Norcom High School.

      Ms. Williams and Mr. Lewis shared the stage for this gala evening and she opened the program with Franz Schubert's An die Musik (To Music) and Hugo Wolf's Verbogenheit (Seclusion). In this repertoire Ms. Williams' voice is a light lyric mezzo-soprano. Her ability to control her ample voice has grown since last year and she sang with a pleasing, even tone. She closed the set with Stefano Donaudy's O del mio amato ben. Voices transition by developmental stages and there is a new carefulness in her singing, more self-conscious and deliberate, replacing the unbridled exuberance of the high school valedictory concert. She has obviously been working very hard to learn new repertory and gain control of her awesome natural instrument.

      GSA vocal chair Alan Fischer, her mentor and teacher, worked with her on this recital and commented that she seemed pre-occupied tonight. Indeed she was. She left for Italy at 6:00 AM the next morning to participate in the Opera Theater and Music Festival of Lucca, Italy for five weeks. She will return July 18.

      Glen Lewis followed with his own choreographed ballet "Unbrokenhearted." Timidly he gives a rose to the ballerina, soon she slaps him and runs away. He dances out his distress to resolution to the music of Dance Russe from Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky.

      Chrystal returned to sing In solitaria stanza by Giuseppe Verdi, Pie Jesu from Duruflé's Requiem and Mon coeur s'ouvre á ta voix from Saint-Saëns' Samson et Dalila.

      After intermission, Glen Lewis, who dances with a natural elegance, performed Something Spanish to music by Chick Corea. In the modern dance piece Day Danse we saw another facet of this young man's talent.

      In English Chrystal sang Rachmaninoff's To the Children, Richard Hundley's Come Ready and See Me, John Duke's White Dress and Alone, and yet alive! from Gilbert and Sullivan's Mikado. Ms. Williams, wearing her second elegant gown of the evening, captured the heart of her audience with her warmth, dignity and ability to communicate in a nuanced way the story behind each song.

      Drawing on a rich history of Black culture, our young artists presented dance and song. Mr. Lewis had choreographed "A Tap Dance" using Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy by Raye and Prince from the 1940s big band era and Ms. Williams sang spirituals. She sang Harry T. Burleigh's Every Time I Feel the Spirit with a new freedom of expression. To our ears the best of the evening was Fix Me Jesus, arranged by William Farley Smith, where her top range opened up leading us to conclude that she could equally bill herself as a soprano.

      The program had a fine finish as we heard Stuart K Hine's How Great Thy Art and Hall Johnson's Ride on King Jesus. These songs moved our hearts and the fellowship afterwards at the reception continued this sense of celebration of what had been accomplished and anticipated what is to come.


Chrystal Williams Gives Wonderful Third Annual Recital

      Chrystal Williams is a natural, straight-from-the-heart communicator and her skill and vocal technique is growing. As her voice gains maturity she now sees herself as a mezzo-soprano. James Senson was the pianist for the June 9, 2006 recital at I.C. Norcom High School.

      A high point for this listener was David Diamond's art song David Mourns for Absalom. With its stately piano soundscape, the raw energy of a father's deep mourning of the loss of his son gave full scope to the power, beauty and passion of Chrystal's voice.

      The recital opened with two pleasant Italian songs, performed in an open, natural voice. There was exuberance in the German selections by Schumann, Schubert and Brahms. Von ewiger Liebe (Of Eternal Love) by Brahms had an ominous feeling. In the male side of the dialogue her voice took on a strident, pained sound to heighten the contrast of the gentle, confident sweetness of the female's declaration of a love that she says will last forever.

      Two arias closed the first section. The high final note of Ambrose Thomas's Me voici dans son boudoir (I am here in her dressing room) from Mignon was thrilling. In Samuel Barber's Vanessa selection Must the Winter Come so Soon? with its melodious, sad tune, her voice was beautifully showcased in the variations of the title repeated several times to end the song.

      In Et exulatvit from Bach's Magnificat, it was apparent that Chrystal's trills are getting stronger and better defined year by year. While the more consistent sweetness of tone was clear in Mendelssohn's I Will Sing of Thy Great Mercies. A setting of Psalm 23 by English composer Edmund Rubbra (1901-1986) presented some wonderfully embellished lines of a familiar text. Rubbra, a composer with a gift for precise and direct expression was a natural match for a singer with the same strengths.

      The last set opened with Diamond's David Mourns for Absalom and was followed by the hymn It is Well with My Soul. Next came the spiritual I Want Jesus to Walk with Me with an a cappella opening of haunting beauty and sung in dialect. As with her two previous solo recitals she closed with the stirring Ride on King Jesus with a spectacular vocal setting by Hall Johnson. The most important news is that she sounds as comfortable in the rest of her program as she always has in these songs. So far we've had no encores but those will come with time. Program notes with foreign texts and translations were a plus and her crystal-clear diction made text unnecessary for the songs in English.

      As a young adult singer, what Chrystal Williams needs is a local audience to experience the joy that her ever-growing and educated talent can bring. Tentatively scheduled for November is a recital at Third Baptist Church in Portsmouth on Godwin Street.


An Evening with Chrystal E. 2007

      Looking elegant in a black velvet sheath with a blue bustier, Chrystal E. sang Oui, Dieu le veut!...Adieu forêts (Yes, God wills it...farewell forests), an aria in which a teenage Joan of Arc realizes she must follow God's orders. There is an agony of uncertainty as well as an exuberance in setting off on her great mission to lead the French army against the English invaders. The broad emotional palette of this piece was a challenge to mezzo-soprano Chrystal E. Williams. The exuberant part was not the challenge because that is in her nature, but the self-doubt in the face of such a formidable calling was. The fear and trembling, the great sadness at having to say goodbye to the forest and flowering meadows, her natural dwelling space - her sweet valley and the lambs she tended - were St. Joan's challenge. But Chrystal E has grown in her ability to bring alive this complex character. The song ends "I go where the voices call me, holy voices. Lord you see to the depth of my soul."

      This aria from The Maid of Orléans or Orleanskaya deva in Russian or Jeanne d'Arc in French, the language in which she sang, was the highpoint for me. This was her fourth annual recital to raise money for the Chrystal E. Williams Scholarship, given to a student pursuing a career in the performing arts from I.C. Norcom High School in Portsmouth, Virginia, where the recital is presented every year.

      The program opened with an introduction by the Honorable Cynthia P. Morrison and closed with the announcement of the scholarship award. This year's winner is Miss Trae Thomas who plans to study theater and dance at Virginia Commonwealth University. In between we were regaled by beautiful music. Ne men con l'ombre from Serse and Mighty Love Now Calls to Arm from the oratorio Alexander Balus by G.F. Handel, gave us our first chance to hear her richer and deeper mezzo sound and her new-found ability to sustain a long Handelian musical line. Patty La Rossa, pianist and Dr. Jiashi Hou, violin accompanied with accuracy and style.

      The three songs by Robert Schumann gave us a demonstration of how passion in singing gives great satisfaction to the listener. Two French melodies by Poulenc, A sa guitare with the flair in the piano ending and Voyage à Paris, had the singer showing joy in her face and arms open as she sang in French "Ah, how delightful it is to leave a dismal place and head for Paris!" Is this a bit biographical? As one of fourteen students chosen for the Opera theatre and Music Festival of Lucca-Solisti program in Lucca, Italy she was scheduled to leave in two days. She will then spend the rest of the summer in Salzburg as a participant in the University of Miami's Frost School of Music program, only to touch down for one day in Portsmouth before she returns to Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburg for her senior year.

      Her selections in English were the familiar Copland's Heart, we will forget him and the unknown Love's Lament and O let no star compare with thee by English composer Michael Head (1900-1976), the setting of a poem by Henry Vaughan (1622-1695). The star shone and so did our singer.

      Post intermission Chrystal E. wore a floor length white gown with train that flowed behind. The program ended with two spirituals Give me Jesus (Burleigh) and Ride on King Jesus (Hall Johnson) and the hymn It is well with my soul (Philip Bliss). All three were performed with a deep sincerity. Her goal is to perfect her talent and share God's gift with the rest of the world from the opera stage. We look forward with her to her bright future.


Chrystal Williams Celebrates

On December 14, 2008 the Virginian-Pilot Current announced that mezzo-soprano Chrystal E. Williams of Portsmouth was one of six winners in the Connecticut District of the Metropolitan Opera National Auditions. When Chrystal Williams graduated from Carnegie-Mellon University last spring she came home to celebrate by giving her fifth annual recital at I.C. Norcom High School Auditorium.

The June 7, 2008 recital opened with two selections by G.F. Handel. Her poise and vocal polish were impressive as she sang the recitative and aria Ombra mai fu from Serse. The elegance remained as she gave her audience the long, vocally and emotionally demanding L'angue offeso from Giulio Cesare. Cleopatra sings before she opens the cage to let the serpent take her life. In two selections by Johannes Brahms the drama was of restrained longing for peace and rest in Gestillte Sehnsucht and an excited urgency to communicate in Geistliches Wiegenlied. A breath of sweet serenity washed over me as she finished Gestillte Sehnsucht. Robert Brown, her accompanist on piano, and violist Andrew Gonzalez, who is a high school sophomore from Chesapeake, created the lovely romantic instrumental setting.

After intermission we had three art songs by Georges Bizet. The joyful awakening of love in spring in Chanson d' Avril was followed by a red and gold sunset in La Chanson du Fou with the mystery and intrigue of night coming on. The third song, Ouvre ton coeur had a Spanish flavor in the piano. The next selection was Ms. Williams's musical report card. In the June 2005 recital she sang Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix from Saint-Saens Samson et Dalila. She revisited the aria demonstrating a confidence that allows her to deliver a gentle, ravishingly beautiful rendition that indicated how much her skill at bringing a song to life has grown.

Five of Six Elizabethan Songs by contemporary American composer Dominick Argento (b.1927) followed: Spring, Sleep, Winter, Dirge and Diaphenia. Argento has said of these songs "...the music is in the spirit (if not the manners) of the great English composer-singer-lutenist John Dowland." Pianist Robert Brown had the great facility required and voice and piano sound were well integrated in these lyrical songs. Our singer sang with depth of understanding and clarity of text even in passages of many speedy words. In Dirge, a setting of Shakespeare's "Come away, death" we were carried on a great emotional journey enhanced by gesture and physical attitude.

The final set gave us simple, dignified and polished performances of Give me Jesus, Ev'ry Time I Feel de Spirit (Burleigh) and Ride On, King Jesus with its powerful ending. People had applauded and were beginning to leave when Chrystal came out and said "I want to do an encore, It is Well with My Soul." This was the only encore she's given in her five recitals.

Chrystal attends Yale University School of Music working toward a graduate degree in vocal music. As one of six winners, the Connecticut District of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, she won a $300 prize and will compete in the New England finals in Boston on January 25, 2009. Winners there will be part of a Grand Finals Concert to be broadcast from the Met stage later in the year.

We join Alan Fischer and Robert Brown of the Governor's School and a host of Portsmouth community supporters in hoping that she makes it all the way in this her first time in the Met auditions.

Update. Alan Fischer tells us: "Chrystal placed second in the Eastern Regionals. She was pleased with her showing, and looks forward to competing again."

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