Dueling Mezzos, An Evening of Song
With Adriane Shelton & Shawna Lawhorn

This cleverly titled song recital was performed on December 11, 2010 at First Lutheran in Ghent. Actually it was dueling repertory, not sopranos, with good program notes for Broadway songs sung by mezzo-soprano Shawna Lawhorn in tandem with classical songs sung by Adriane Shelton with Shelley Cady at the piano. The singers met in 2004 when they sang in the chorus of Virginia Opera's production of Turandot. Ms. Shelton was a Spectrum Resident Artist with the opera and Ms. Lawhorn grew up here. “A love of emo[emotional] folk music, theater and all things quirky helped the two to forge a friendship that's sure to last over the years.”

The opening song, a Verdi aria Stride la vampa!... from Il Trovatore, showcased a voice with metal and power just perfect for the role of Azucena. No sweetness here. This was followed by Ms. Lawhorn singing two selections from the Gershwin's musical Crazy for You, the title tune and Someone to Watch Over Me, delivered with such clarity that a text sheet was unnecessary.

Our focus on art song was gratified by Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) Banalités, settings of poetry by Guillaume Apollinaire that appeared in a literary journal that Poulenc held on to from his teenage years. These little gems allowed our singer to once again capture those brief moments in time: the sensual, indolent energy of Hôtel, the stormy heart in Fagnes de Wallonie (Walloon Moorlands), the traveling piano tune marching through Voyage à Paris that left a smile at the end. The diction and the mood were so very French and Sanglots (Sobs), the final song, was delivered with deep intensity and pathos.

Shifting gears, we next heard Ms. Lawhorn sing Sympathy, Tenderness... from Jekyll and Hyde (Wildhorn and Bricusse) followed by a powerful aria, Augusta, How Can You Turn Away?..., from Douglas Moore The Ballad of Baby Doe.

Ms. Lawhorn returned to sing the Sondheim Children Will Listen from Into the Woods with meaning that seemed especially deep. By contrast, she also sang from Wicked a fantasy on a perfect romance until reality returns in I'm Not That Girl. There were selections form Hairspray and 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. She was joined by Tony Brach and Rachel Lynn Fobbs in The I Love You Song.

Three selections from Wesendonk Lieder by Richard Wagner (1813-1883) were a first live experience for us. Wagner wrote these songs with their over-the-top, hothouse, romantic lyrics while he was working on his opera Die Walküre. He and his wife were living in a cottage on the Wesendonk estate and Wagner and Matilde, the wife of his benefactor, had a deep infatuation. He later called them “studies” for Tristan und Isolde. We have listened extensively to a CD by Birgit Nillson with orchestra. This performance, with piano, had the singer staying in character and singing with great power and connection. A sample of the lyrics of Träume (Dreams) will give an idea: “Dreams which, like holy rays of light sink into the soul, there to paint an eternal image...” Translations and program notes made the experience complete.

A duet encore closed the show after another aria and a set of Broadway tunes were presented. I was left with an appreciation for the depth of talent in the Hampton Roads music community.

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