So Many Stars
A Christmas Celebration


Kathleen Battle in Richmond

      Lyric soprano Kathleen Battle made her first recital appearance in Richmond, Virginia as a part of The Carpenter Center's 75th Anniversary Gala Celebration. Originally, violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman was to perform as the guest soloist with the Richmond Symphony, but had to withdraw due to medical concerns. The Richmond Symphony performed the first half of the concert as scheduled.

      Ms. Battle regally entered the stage, with accompanist Dennis Helmrich. Wearing a long, form-fitting black gown with her trademark dramatic black wrap, Ms. Battle wooed the audience before a note ever emitted from her mouth. The audience was smitten with her beauty and elegant stage presence.

      Battle opened the recital with Handel's "Let the Bright Seraphim" from his opera Samson. Even though this piece is usually performed with a trumpet, one would never notice that it was not used. This work was beautifully sung with very tasteful ornaments that displayed excellent control throughout, especially in the melismatic passages. Bach's Bist du bei mir, BWV 508 was sung with great devotion and perfect German diction.

      Renowned clarinetist, Todd Palmer joined Ms. Battle and Mr. Helmrich in Schubert's Der Hirt auf dem Felsen, D. 965. Exquisitely sung, the rapport between the musicians, especially with the inclusion of Mr. Palmer, was wonderful in the rendering of this timeless showpiece for soprano.

      Following a brief break Miss Battle returned to the stage, this time with a bright fuschia pink wrap. She offered two opera arias, Puccini's O mio babbino caro from (Gianni Schicchi) and Ah, Je veux vivre from Romeo et Juliette by Gounod. In these arias it seemed that Ms. Battle revisited her glory days on the operatic stage, putting her whole being into helping the audience actually enter the dramatic unfolding of the arias. The operatic stage is truly poorer for her absence, but her voice is now even richer.

      Rounding out the program were four spirituals, Thomas Kerr's Great Day, Hall Johnson's Witness and City Called Heaven and an a cappella rendering of Willis Patterson's Hush! Somebody's Calling My Name, which was added to the program before the set.

      Ms. Battle had one moment of diva indulgence. During Witness she politely asked her accompanist to start over. They simply were not together. He graciously obliged and the rapport between singer and accompanist was unaffected. Ending the recital was Battle's signature piece, Mozart's Alleluja from Exultate, jubilate, K. 165.

      Miss Battle was well received by the capacity audience and performed about five encores which included several spirituals. Kathleen Battle came to Richmond and conquered, proving that when the great lady forms a note, all are eager to listen.

      Following the performance, fans were greeted by Ms. Battle backstage in her dressing room where she signed countless autographs. Ms. Battle's appearance in Richmond again would be most welcome!

      Patrick D. McCoy, B. Mus
      Graduate, Virginia State University
      Petersburg, Virginia

Editor's Note

      You can hear O Mio Babbino Caro by Puccini with piano accompaniment on Ms. Battle's recent CD (Sony Classical SK 89464) titled "Classic Kathleen Battle, a Portrait." The eighteen selections are drawn from several of her previous CDs with four newly recorded tracks including Fix Me Jesus, Ellington's Prelude to A Kiss, Angels Watching Over Me and O Mio Babbino Caro. It also has the Alleluja by Mozart and Let the Bright Seraphim by Handel.

"Kathleen Battle's Voice Was Clear and Beautiful"
by Patrick McCoy

      On Monday, September 20, 2004 the Washington Performing Arts Society opened the 2004-2005 season with a concert by soprano Kathleen Battle, So Many Stars, drawing on her highly acclaimed jazz album. It was a wonderful night for a concert and the Kennedy Center Concert Hall was filled to capacity.

      The audience welcomed the instrumentalists as they took the stage. Then the moment that everyone was waiting for arrived: Ms. Battle entered wearing an elegant black gown with a beautiful gold wrap, her hair pulled into a bun and wearing exquisite diamond earrings. Though she celebrated her 56th birthday in August, she is still simply gorgeous, as is her voice.

      The program opened with three traditional spirituals: I Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray, Give Me Jesus and This Little Light of Mine. These spirituals were given a fresh rendering as they were accompanied in a more improvised style. Give me Jesus was especially moving as Ms. Battle seemed to have a very personal connection with the song, singing with great conviction. At this point, Ms. Battle introduced her colleagues: Cyrus Chestnut, who served as music director and pianist; saxophonist Kirk Whalum and double bassist Rodney Whitaker.

      The next set featured the traditional spiritual Hush! (Somebody's Calling My Name), and Going Home by Antonin Dvorák (from "Largo" from The New World, op. 95) as adapted by Kathleen Battle with a text by William Arms Fisher. Mr. Chestnut also performed a delightful piano rendition of Swing Low Sweet Chariot.

      Guitarist Romero Lubambo and percussionist Cyro Baptista then joined the ensemble on stage to accompany Ms. Battle in Canción de cuna (a traditional Spanish cradle song), So Many Stars by Sergio Mendes, Parar Ninar (Go to Sleep) by Paurillo Barroso and Fais do do (a Creole lullaby). These selections were very sensual and Ms. Battle sang them with a velvety tone. The instrumentalists were given moments to shine in solo passages throughout the evening. They are all jazz luminaries in their own right and were well received by the audience.

      Following intermission, Ms. Battle returned, this time wearing a black wrap and sang a set of Spanish and Portuguese selections: Melodia Sentimental by Heitor Villa-Lobos, Del cabello mas sutil (The Softest Hair) by Fernando Obradors and Azulăo (Bluebird) by Jayme Ovalle. It was refreshing to hear these familiar songs with breathtaking jazz accompaniment.

      Three songs by Duke Ellington rounded out the program, Prelude to a Kiss, Heaven and Come Sunday, all sung with seamless elegance. Though not on the program, Kirk Whalum, on saxophone accompanied Ms. Battle in the spiritual If I Had Two Wings. Together they electrified the audience. Ms. Battle explained that her father taught her this spiritual when she was already grown and singing professionally, but she never has seen it in print.

      Encores included Summertime by George Gershwin and a reprise of If I Had Two Wings. The people were not ready to let Ms. Battle go, but the evening came to a close.

      I consider Ms. Battle one of the greatest singers of the century. Later at a private reception I was introduced to Ms. Battle by my friend Veronika Arkhangel who is the founder of the Kathy Battle group on I am looking for many more opportunities to hear Ms. Battle.

      Patrick D. McCoy is a graduate student in voice at Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, Virginia.

      Note: The CD So Many Stars (Sony Classical SK 68473) contains most of the songs in the concert except the Duke Ellington selections.

Kathleen Battle Sings Christmas Program in Washington, D.C.

Reviewed by Patrick D. McCoy

Friday, December 7, 2007 Kennedy Center Concert Hall, Washington, D.C. The Washington Performing Arts Society presented the internationally acclaimed soprano, Kathleen Battle in "A Christmas Celebration" with the WPAS choir, Children of the Gospel, conducted by Artistic Director Stanley J. Thurston. Celebrated pianist Joel Martin accompanied Ms. Battle and the choir. This concert was not your traditional, rigid recital format. It was truly a festive celebration, capturing the many musical genres of the season: Baroque, lieder, gospel, pop and jazz. Since leaving the Metropolitan Opera, Ms. Battle has embraced an art that now allows for great creativity and spontaneity. As a music educator, it gives me great joy to introduce my students to an artist of such diversity.

Ms. Battle opened with Rejoice, Greatly from Handel's Messiah. It was quite lovely, full of baroque ornamentation and effortless trills. Next she sang the Maria Wiegenlied by Max Reger. I must make a note on the present state of Ms. Battle's voice: her voice is well preserved, maintaining the radiance and beauty that made her a star.

Traditionally a duet for soprano and mezzo-soprano, Ms. Battle sang the Evening Prayer from Hansel and Gretel by Humperdinck with the young ladies of the choir. Ms. Battle sang the melody through in its entirety and then the women of the choir repeated the main statement in harmony. It was absolutely beautiful and quite effective.

Ms. Battle and the Children then sang a wonderful quasi-gospel He Shall Feed His Flock and Come Unto Him from Handel's Messiah. Ms. Battle's approach was quite effective. She made it a point to engage the children and they beamed ever so joyfully!

The Children of the Gospel then sang a spirited arrangement by African-American composer W.C. Handy (1873-1958), Shine Like a Morning Star. Ms. Battle then joined the choir for two spirituals: Mary Had A Baby (arr. Sadin) and then a rousing Go Tell it on the Mountain. After intermission Ms Battle sang with the choir Mary's Boy Chile by Jester Hairston. Then Ms. Battle sang several achingly beautiful songs: Hush My Babe, Lie Still and Slumber and I Wonder as I Wander.

Ms. Battle and the Children premiered a wonderful piece by Stacy Penson entitled The Real Meaning of Christmas. It was a very appropriate song for this day and age. Mr. Penson was in the audience and Ms. Battle introduced him and graciously called him down front to be recognized. The piece was well received. Ms. Battle then started to sing Mary Did you Know? but as she got midway through she stopped and laughed and let the audience know that it was too low! After all, she is a lyric not a mezzo! It was a cute moment. She then sang some of the wonderful popular pieces including My Favorite Things, Santa Baby, which brought the house down and The Christmas Song.

Closing out the program was a wonderful free flowing medley of carols. The concert was wonderful and Ms. Battle sang several encores including Swing Low, which moved the capacity audience and then a reprise of Go tell it on the Mountain. This is my fourth time hearing Ms. Battle in concert. What makes this concert very significant to me is that Ms. Battle actually recognized and remembered me from the previous concerts!

Mr.Patrick D. McCoy is Minister of Music atTakoma Park Baptist Church Washington, DC and Vocal Music Educator, Prince George's County Public Schools, Upper Malboro, MD.

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