Not that there was a war, but after mezzo, Liz Cass, Baritone Phillip D. Hall and pianist/song leader Cynthia Wilson finished their program Sunday at the Episcopal Cathedral in Kansas City, everyone in the room had become friends. A perfect launch of the 2014 Summer Music in the Cathedrals, spanning all five Sundays in August.
Most remarkable was the members' ability to present French, German, English and Italian operatic arias, art songs, pop songs, and musical tunes in perfect mode, while dropping no intensity, timbre, or room-filling resonance. The vocal duo and pianist presented the eclectic program in a discernible order.
After introductory comments by Canon John Schaefer, principal musician at the cathedral, Ms Cass took the floor to sing O don fatale from Don Carlo by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). She was more than capable of filling the nave with sound, completely in character, as she pled for Don Carlo to be freed from the Inquisition; in fact she was more than in character, she was conjuring the absent members of the scene. Her embouchure was consistent, the pronunciation was clear, the drama was captivating.
Mr. Hall then established his matching operatic sound with "Hear me o Lord," from Susanna by Carlisle Floyd (1956). His sound, also filled the three-story room, with glorious opera-house sound, and full use of broad gestures, which helped to fill the front-of-the-chancel space used for the program.
Liz Cass returned for four of the five songs from Mahler's Rückert-Lieder, first performed in 1905, with the composer conducting. Surprise or no, these were not operatic renderings of songs, but intense, vibrant, emotional renderings with all of the dynamic levels of the aria but in a timbre appropriate for the literature.
Mr. Hill took the next rotation with three German songs from Brahms, Wolf and Schumann, portraying a love song, a prayer, and Schumann's reflections at the time of his wedding. Phillip acquitted himself well, keeping a sonorous, interactive vocal line, meeting also the challenge of changing composers, but at least they were all in German.
Liz Cass completed the first section of the program with the "Composer's Aria," from Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos. Ms Cass performance included a seamless crescendo from very soft to very loud, never sacrificing intonation or diction.
Following the intermission, Ms Cass sang "Rainbow Connection," a song written by Paul Williams. Liz did not sound like the original performer in the 1979 Muppet Movie, Kermit the Frog (Jim Henson) but she sounded like herself singing a simple childish, oscar winning, song with a mature, expressive voice.
Mr. Hill responded with the braggadocious air from Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance, "Pirate King." Unlike his French and German renditions, he sounded as an American singer with a very bright voice and broad gestures, and not an English baritone with the accoutrements. Very nicely done, and I am sure there was thought given as to whether to affect the British brogue.
Liz sang Trois chansons de Bilitis, by Claude Debussy, with very French sound, but without the foggy sotto voce often heard for this composer's songs. The French accent was completed by pianist, Cynthia Wilson, who seemed to have absorbed the Debussy sound.
Two songs followed, sung by Mr. Hill, that (unknown to the composers) competed against each other to be the score for a 1932 movie about Don Quixote. The first, by Ibert, Chanson de la mort de Don Quichotte, Andante molto, was used in the movie (sung by Chaliapin). It is lyrical and emotional, and my well have been a better choice for the film, but it was embarrassing to Ibert when he learned of the submission of the second song we heard by Ravel, Chanson a boire. The latter is more French, if that makes sense, more of a patter song.
Then came the reason for the red dress for the second half; Liz sang Seguidilla from Carmen, with all of the flirtatious, earthy arrogance, required for the part. She had the full lows and highs, legato glissandos, and consistent resonance required to make this favorite something other than a reprise from what everyone has already heard.
Phillip's singing of No Puede Ser, by Pablo Sorozabal was marked by a beautifully constructed spun crescendo-decrescendo. This was followed by the posted finale, Sondheim's, "It Takes Two." This was followed by the unlisted finale which became an encore, then a singalong romp, "I Got You, Babe."
Throughout the program, both singers maintained the quality timbre and exceptional diction that delight audiences of distinction. Besides, it was fun to hear Cher's part actually sung, rather than brayed.
There will be four more summer concerts at the cathedrals, only the French Music Festival will be at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on August twenty-fourth. Y'all come, the music is fine, the air conditioning is already there.