New York Festival of Song
Steven Blier, Artistic Director
Juilliard Vocal Arts
Brian Zeger, Artistic Director
Steven Blier (Piano and Arrangements)
Meredith Lustig and Jennifer Zetlan (Sopranos)
Rebecca Jo Loeb and Isabel Vera (Mezzo-Sopranos)
Paul Appleby and Christopher Tiesi (Tenors)
Carlton Ford (Baritone)
Adrian Rosas (Bass-Baritone)
Eric Roberts (Percussion)
Jeanne Slater (Choreographer)
At The Peter Jay Sharp Theater
Press: Reva Cooper
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
January 14, 2009
ARGENTINEAN: “Pueblito, mi pueblo”, by Carlos Guastavino, sung by Isabel Vera and Paul Appleby; “Pampamapa”, by Carlos Guastavino, sung by Adrian Rosas; “Vidala”, by Carlos López Buchardo, sung by Christopher Tiesi and Adrian Rosas; “Canción al árbol del olvido”, by Alberto Ginastera, sung by Paul Appleby; “Los pájaros perdidos”, by Astor Piazzolla, sung by Christopher Tiesi.
BRAZILIAN: “Nenê”, by Ernesto Nazareth, sung by Meredith Lustig; “Quando te vi pela primeira vez”, by Mozart Camargo Guarnieri, sung by Rebecca Jo Loeb; “Melodia sentimental”, by Heitor Villa-Lobos, sung by Jennifer Zetlan; “Samba classico”, by Villa-Lobos, sung by Paul Appleby.
CUBAN: “La Volanta”, by Eduardo Sánchez de Fuentes, sung by Isabel Vera; “Tú no sabe ingle”, by Emilio Grenet, sung by Carlton Ford; “Quiero ser hombre”, by Ernesto Lecuona, sung by Jennifer Zetlan; “Juego santo”, by Alejandro García Caturla, sung by The Ensemble.
ZARZUELA: “Aria de Matilde”, from “The Slave”, by José Mauri, sung by Jennifer Zetlan; “María La O”, by Ernesto Lecuona, sung by Christopher Tiesi; “Milonga de María” from “María de Buenos Aires”, by Astor Piazzolla, sung by Adrian Rosas and Isabel Vera; “Entrada de Cecilia”, from “Cecilia Valdés”, by Gonzalo Roig, sung by Meredith Lustig, with The Ensemble.
POSTRE: “Corcorvado”, by Antonio Carlos Jobim, sung by Rebecca Jo Loeb; “Como el arrullo de palmas”, by Ernesto Lecuona, sung by Paul Appleby and Carlton Ford; “Palmira”, by Moisés Simons, sung by Rebecca Jo Loeb; “Alfonsina y el mar”, by Ariel Ramírez, sung by Isabel Vera; “Por una cabeza”, by Carlos Gardel, sung by Carlton Ford; “Carinhoso”, by Pixinguinha, sung by Paul Appleby; “Milonga de Fidela”, by Jaurés Lamarque Pons, sung by The Ensemble.
The New York Festival of Song (NYFOS), founded by Stephen Blier and Michael Barrett in 1988, presents “art songs, concert works, theater pieces, and commissioned works”, according to its notes. NYFOS also tours internationally, to wide acclaim. I’ve been attending their concerts intermittently for years, and I am always amazed at the high quality of the vocalists (think of all the disappointing voices on Broadway this season). Also impressive are the detailed programs (with translations and historical descriptions of each song), Stephen Blier’s anecdotes that reflect the evening’s theme, and Mr. Blier’s warmth and generosity as Piano Accompanist, Artistic Director, and Raconteur. He is beloved by his fans, and his upbeat mood is infectious throughout the concert, every time.
Tonight’s program was divided among works composed by artists from Argentina, Brazil, and Cuba, and the performers were all outstanding. I eagerly anticipated hearing again from each, in solo, duo, or ensemble, as their names were listed (see above program) with each of the songs. A percussionist, Eric Roberts, was on hand tonight to add clavé rhythms to Mr. Blier’s keyboard arrangements, and the vocalists had even practiced simple Latin choreography (thanks to Jeanne Slater). In the first quarter of the program (Argentina), the two Guastavino pieces set a mellow mood, with Ms. Vera’s and Mr. Appleby’s crisp lyrics in the first and Mr. Rosas’ deep, bass-baritone in the second. The Ginastera gave Mr. Appleby a chance to show off his theatrics, and the Piazzolla introduced Mr. Tiesi, a young tenor to watch (as were all of these young soloists).
For the Brazilian quarter of the program, Ms. Lustig was introduced, and the Nazareth brought out her refreshing lyricism. She used dramatic seductive qualities to enhance the song. Ms. Loeb’s work by Camargo bore a touch of cruelty and edge, evocative of so many operatic roles. The Villa-Lobos introduced Ms. Zetlan, a young soprano of tremendous talent, and she sang this melody with captivating skill. In the next Villa-Lobos, Mr. Appleby showcased his excellent Portuguese accent (tonight’s vocalists exemplified superb mastery of the requisite Spanish or Portuguese accents in each work). Mr. Vera was the first artist to sing the Cuban repertoire, and the guitarist appeared here, as well. Three solos were performed by Ms. Vera, Mr. Ford, and Ms. Zetlan, and each vocalist used humor and expanded tonality to highlight these works, with their resonant rhythms and percussive ornamentations. The ensemble joined for the final Cuban work, by Caturla, before intermission, and they sang in a sharp, aggressive, confident style.
For the program’s third quarter, called Zarzuela, which refers to the musical theatre and opera in Latin America, with pieces that are spoken, sung, and danced, Ms. Zetlan opened with a Mauri aria, from La Esclava, in true operatic fashion. Her capacity to reach across the scale was exceptional and well received. Mr. Tiesi followed, in the Lecuona, from Maria La O, and he used, as well, highly trained talent to showcase this stunning piece, with a feigned casual demeanor. Ms. Vera and Mr. Rosas joined for the Piazzolla piece, from Maria de Buenos Aires, with Ms. Vera singing offstage, as a ghost-like force. There was a guitarist onstage, to enhance Mr. Blier’s piano arrangement, and this work was one of my favorites, partly due to my longtime passion for all that is Piazzolla. The Zarzuela segment concluded with Roig’s aria, from Cecilia Valdés, with Ms. Lustig leading the ensemble. Mr. Blier had effusively previewed this work’s plot, about a girl who makes bad choices in love and so on. The ensemble and Ms. Lustig were persuasively dramatic and entertaining.
For the Postre section, which means dessert, in Spanish, Mr. Blier chose from among his favorite Latin works. The Jobim Corcorvado, that opened the program’s final quarter, sung by Ms. Loeb, was rich and sultry, a tribute to her presentation. Mr. Appleby and Mr. Ford appeared next for the forthright Lecuona piece, and these first two works were accompanied by both guitar and percussion. Ms. Loeb came returned for the Simons work, bringing all the men back for a chorus of song and Mambo moves. Ms. Vera personified Alfonsina y el mar, about a woman choosing her own fate, with pathos and passion. I’ve always been a Gardel fan, and Por una cabeza was expertly performed by Mr. Ford. Mr. Appleby sang a solo by Pixinguinha next, accompanied by solo guitar, with expansive emotion and soaring vocals.
For the finale, the ensemble sang a Milonga from Marta Gruni, by Pons. Mr. Blier appeared especially moved by this piece, adding scintillating flourishes and expressive chords. For an encore, the ensemble and musicians showcased Cachita Rumba, a Cuban delight. Kudos to Stephen Blier, kudos to New York Festival of Song and Juilliard Vocal Arts, and kudos to all of tonight’s performers..
Photo courtesy of Dario Acosta