New York Festival of Song
Steven Blier, Artistic Director
Michael Barrett, Assoc. Artistic Director
Elizabeth Ellis Hurwitt, Executive Director
W. Bradley Rubenstein, Chairman, Board of Directors
Night and Day/USA: Americans Working and Dreaming
Sari Gruber, Soprano
Liza Forrester, Mezzo-Soprano
James Martin, Baritone
Steven Blier and Michael Barrett, Piano
With Christopher Tiesi, Tenor
At Merkin Concert Hall
(Merkin Hall Website)
Press: Aleba Gartner Associates: 212.206.1450
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
February 15, 2011
“Night and Day/USA: Americans Working and Dreaming”
Works by: Bernstein/Comden/Green, Ives, Leiber/Stoller, Weill/Lerner, Weill/Hammerstein II, Bolcom/Weinstein, Porter, Rorem/Whitman, Sahl/Mandel, and others
Once again, the New York Festival of Song (NYFOS) enchanted its fans with sophisticated songs sung in theatrical style. Merkin Hall was packed with those savvy New Yorkers and visitors, who have come to expect warmth, sparkling musicality, humor, fascination, and educational enlightenment from Steven Blier, the Festival’s Artistic Director. As always, Mr. Blier introduced the theme and then each song with his background research, impassioned details, and unbounded enthusiasm. Mr. Blier and Michael Barrett sat at both Steinways, taking turns as the animated songs filled Merkin Hall. The theme tonight, “Night and Day/USA”, according to Mr. Blier, refers to nighttime dreams, secret hopes, and the reality of morning. Songs encompass a lover deciding to stay and the pragmatic economics of marriage. Lyrics veer from a dancer who’s “sick of spendin’ my nights in tights” to “let me make my career Dream-dancing, To paradise prancing…”
Sari Gruber, soprano, has powerful high notes, and her “In the Morning”, from Ives’ Eleven Songs and Two Harmonizations, a 1929 spiritual put to music by Ives, introduced her to the audience in an outstanding performance. Her repetitive “Give Me Jesus!” showcased her ardent style and vitality. James Martin, baritone, opened the program with “I Feel Like I’m Not Out of Bed Yet”, from the Bernstein/Comden/Green On the Town, and his deep vocals resonated richly throughout Merkin Hall. He sang with purpose and poignancy, but with understated theatrics, keeping the focus on his magnetic tones. Liza Forrester, quite an actress, whom I favorably reviewed last year at City Opera, was introduced with the song, “6 a.m.”, by Paul Fujimoto, written recently in 2006. It’s about, as it happens, a soprano in an open call for Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera. Ms. Forrester seized the stage with out-sized expressiveness, physical as well as vocal, singing lyrics about her competition, “…the quasi-nouveau avant-garde who feels, cause she’s from Juilliard, the need to constantly bombard us with her perfect diction.” Ms. Forrester’s comedic mime enhanced this entertaining piece.
But, it was Ms. Forrester’s “Who’ll Buy?” from the Weill/Anderson Lost in the Stars that took down the house. The lyrics are non-stop erotically infused (“Who’ll buy my juicy rutabagas?...Look over what I offer…”, for starters), and the ending is an ecstatic waterfall of screaming high notes. Michael Barrett, pianist, added gestures of approval, as the audience laughed heartily. “Susan’s Dream” from the Weill/Lerner Love Life brought out Mr. Martin to join Ms. Forrester, as well as a short virtuosic passage sung by Christopher Tiesi, tenor. The lyrics are about an unhappy housewife, whose husband wanders and drinks; then she dreams of a happier life, which she discovers was hers all along. This is an improbable ending for today’s women’s expectations, but the trio sang with compelling charisma. Mr. Martin’s solo, “On the Dusty Road”, by Johnson and Hughes, showed his calm assurance and fluid enunciation, and it was sung with impressive musicality.
Ms. Gruber’s solo, “I Ain’t Here”, by Leiber and Stoller, was soothingly melodic, sultry, and warmly received. It was about a woman guarding her private space, while toiling away at home, and her mezzo-soprano cadences were liltingly lyrical, lovely to the ear. She paired with Ms. Forrester for “Buddy on the Nightshift” from the Weill/Hammerstein Propaganda Songs, about working the assembly lines, and both women sang with stylized strength and a wide range of tone. Mr. Martin’s final solo, “The Night You Decided to Stay”, from the Marzullo/Campbell Songs from an Unmade Bed, was his finest of the evening, with nuanced expressiveness and mellifluent tonality. There were several encores, to the delight of the audience, with the re-appearance of Mr. Tiesi. And, as always, Mr. Blier’s piano artistry (along with Mr. Barrett’s), remains incomparable in the genre, and his many fans adore him. Cheers were aplenty tonight, and a cocktail reception followed. I look forward to more NYFOS events.
Photo courtesy of Dario Acosta