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Jennifer Johnson Cano makes Carnegie Hall debut

Mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano
Mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano

Jennifer Johnson Cano, Christopher Cano


History was made on the eve of Friday, October 25, 2013. Jennifer Johnson Cano made her Carnegie Hall recital debut in Weill Hall with her husband Christopher Cano at the piano. In a program of French, German, English and Russian, they delighted, wowed, and stunned us with great theatricality and profound musicianship by pulling out all the stops, and sparing no vocal trick. And even came back with two well deserved encores.

Ms. Cano opened with a set of Korngold pieces; a rare but beautiful find in a vocal recital. In the final chord “Das eilend Bächlein, Op. 27, No. 2,” Ms. Cano’s voice resonated throughout the hall with a shimmering brilliance that took ones breath away. Her sound had a splendid mixture of rich, clear tones, but was able to put some dark weightiness to it without harshening the voice, making it flexible and easy to move through her registers.

Her second set was of Francis Poulenc’s Banalités. In this set, she showed how great of a story teller she is. A feat few singers her age accomplish so quickly. In Poulenc’s “Hôtel,” she conveyed the delicate, soft nature of her voice with gorgeous pianissimos.

They ended the first portion of the program with a “spooky song set” of Franz Schubert, Der Tod und das Mädchen. Again she was able to portray her story telling skills by switching seamlessly between characters in the cycle about fear and death. But this would prove to be a mere sample of the theatrical prowess she possesses.

The second half gave us songs by Ivor Gurney, Benjamin Britten, and Herbert Howells. But she chose the best for last in this set. She ended with Vaughan Williams’ “Silent Noon.” This was a perfect example of how a singer makes the song her own. At the end when she sang, “when twofold silence was the song of love,” she held and buzzed the “ng” of "song" rather than singing the vowel all the way through, then flouted down to end the phrase. The effect was magic and came straight from her heart.

Mr. Cano got a chance to shine with his own solo of Mikhail Glinka’s "The Lark" right before her final set of Russian songs. One cannot help but make the comparison between these two and the famous husband and wife pairing of Sutherland and Bonynge. One would also be putting them in the right class.

In her Russian set, she gave us chills in her dramatic interpretation of Georgy Sviridov’s “The Virgin in the City.” As the chords churned and the text delve deeper into the story, Ms. Cano’s performance became darker and more thrilling. She kept one on the edge of ones seat as the piece drew to its climax. The music and her poetry in the text just broke your heart. It was a perfect song choice for her, but then again, the entire evening was filled with moments like this. Moments of raw, unabashed artistic expression.

At the end of the day, all any of this is about connecting. Taking simple dots on lines and communicating from a single person, or persons, to a group of people sitting in the dark. Simple in concept yet marvelously gratifying when executed properly. Mr and Ms. Cano not only communicated, but they touched our souls with their music. During her final encore of “Go ‘way From My Window” by John Jacob Niles, she looked as though she was about to burst with genuine tears. Perhaps because she was overcome with emotion by the reception we had given her, but a real moment nevertheless. This was how recitals should be sung: gripping, communicative, and spellbinding.

This young mezzo is bound to be a star, and we were lucky to have caught her at the beginning of her ascent to the realm of ethereal celebrity. She will be singing again in New York at the Met later this season. Do not, I repeat, do not miss your chance to see her.

For more information about Carnegie Hall, click here.

For more information about Ms. Cano, click here.

For more information about Mr. Cano, click here.