Saturday, June 5, 2010

Sarah Coburn's Recital- The Three B's: Baroque, Bel Canto, and Beyond

I was immensely blessed to be in attendance for the previously mentioned event, which was the final concert of the Canterbury Choral Society's 2009-10 season, and I wish it had never ended. My primary reson for going was to see soprano Sarah Coburn, and you can imagine my dismay when I read in my local newspaper that she was only performing during the Bel Canto section of the perofrmance. I am pleased to say that I am now better informed of their misinformation, and I was greatly surprised to learn that Coburn would perform for much more than just the Bel Canto section of the recital.

Before I procedd with my narrative of the evening itself, let me say something concerning the venue for this auspicious occasion. The Civic Center Music Hall was the location of the concert, and, it being divided into five separate performance spaces, this recital was held in the Thelma Gaylord Performing Arts Theatre, which is the place's largest single hall to my knowledge. I have been told that it seats some three thousand, five hundred occupants, but I am unsure of the veracity of this claim. I purchased a seat in the Upper Orchestra level, and my seat was situated well enough so that I could notice that the proscenium lacked paint towards the bottom of the structure, and I thought this was particularly idiotic since this is supposed to be our state's premiere performance venue for theatre and classical music. Despite that fact it is a rather elegant performance hall, and I have heard rumors that there is another plan to soon upgrade it, but that is something of a sore subject with taxpayers, so I shall not mention it further. The seating arrangements did not make me feel detached from the performers or the stage, but this may have been due to the fact that I was so greatly anticipating what an excellent performance I was about to witness that I could not help but to feel a connection with the performers.

The orchestra, which was advertised to be the Oklahoma City Philharmonic, was rather small, which would explain something of my reluctance to believe it to be the orchestra that was claimed, and the conductor was Dr. Randi Von Ellefson. The orchestra reminded me of rather a large ensemble, but I found it hard to imagine it as a full orchestra, but I suppose that the Met has made everything in the world of opera and classical music seem grand to me.

The program included George Frederick Handel's Let The Bright Seraphim. Sarah Coburn sang this aria well, and the cadenzas she added made up for the breath one could hear in the selection. She seemed to breathe rather often here, and this was not long after the start of the recital; this may be attributed to the fact that she had a baby last summer, which was something she spoke about in an interview in our newspaper, or it could be a number of other variables. The trumpet player did well with his solos, and he followed the voice admirably. I was impressed by the cadenzas from Coburn, for, while I prefer simplicity in Baroque music, it is also nice to hear it performed with engaging new elements.

The chorus was featured without the soprano for a few selections, and I noticed that their diction was rather poor. It was evident that they do not make many forays into Italian opera. A dear acquaintance of mine is the president of Canterbury Choral Societym and he said as much when I conversed with him on the concert prior to the event; he even ventured to say that the arias sort of sounded the the same, which I discounted. In summation the chorus sounded as if they were from Oklahoma.

Another selection of Sarah's was Mozart's Martern aller arten, which it seems nobody could pronounce, for everyone, even the Choral Society's Artistic Director in addressing the audience before the start of the performance, referred to it as "the Mozart piece." Coburn's rendition was excellent, and it made me recall the Met's broadcast of this opera from a couple of years since starring Diana Damrau. I thought that it was a marvelous way to finish the first half.

During the intermission, I was pleased to recognize an acquaintance of mine who was also in attendance, and he very cordially approached me and held some small discourse upon the recital and what a marvelous one it was. I sat in my seat for some time listening to the other patrons discuss the performance with their neighbors or friends, and then I went to get a bottle of water, which I shall admit was rather expensive for my customs. While I was thus engaged, I heard two young men and a woman conversing near me, and it was then that I learned that half of the people in the audience around me were voice students, most of whom were from OCU. The woman was rather rude to her two conversationalists, for she was detached from their topic, which was one's progress in becoming an opera singer, and she did not seem to mean it when she said, "Keep me informed because you know that I just love your voice."

When I returned to the concert hall, I noticed that the couple who had been sitting two seats to my right did not come to their seats for the second half, which means they probably "upgraded" their view. As I was siiting there, an usher came towards me, and he began to talk to me about the evening. Naturally, he began his inquiry with '"Isn't she amazing?"' This was a middle-aged gentleman, and he apparently adores opera. I was glad of the ensuing conversation we held, for it is not often that I am afforded the luxury of conversing upon a subject so delightful as opera, and I replied by expressing my immense enjoyment of the affair. I mentioned that I greatly desired to hear Coburn's rendition of Ah, non credea mirarti, and he mentioned that he saw the Met's new production of Bellini's La Sonnambula starring Juan Diego Florez and Natalie Dessay when it opened. I asked him what he thought of the production, and he told me that he did not think much of the production, but, and I quote, '"...that Juan Diego Florez is young and sensuous and good-looking , so he and Natalie Dessay wrapped up the whole... thing."' I then attempted to compare Dessay's voice to Coburn's, and I said that I thought her voice was a little darker than our soprano's, especially after her two surgeries on her vocal cords, to which he said, '"Yeah, I think that her voice is a little lower, too."' I did not take the time to explain what I meant by darker after that. I could tell he was from Oklahoma when he pronounced La Sonnambula, for he said La Son-AM-BULL-ah, which I thought was hideous. He inquired what other operas I had seen, and I told him that I had never seen one live except through the Met's Live in HD series, and I informed him that my most recent screening was Renee Fleming in Rossini's Armida. He had a reason for not going to see that, and it was because he could not find any excerpts of it on YouTube. I think he missed a mesmerizing performance.

The next half was as thrilling as the first, and it was here that we were to hear the aforementioned aria and, indeed, the entire ensuing scene and the Libiamo from Verdi's La Traviata. The Bellini aria was as beautiful as any recording I have ever heard, and she infused the aria with the exact amount of emotion in the first syllable in much the way Cecilia Bartoli does on her recent recording of the opera with Juan Diego Florez. Since the program did not mention the Non, non piu reggo or the Ah non giunge as additions to the aria, I was not expecting them when they came, and this led to a nice surprise. With the exception of an encore, Sarah chose to end her evening with this, and I think it was most appropriate. The tenor, whose name escapes me and who holds a Master's degree in Vocal Performance from OCU, was acceptable, but he has some way to go before he approaches international acclaim.

The Brindisi, which was called the Drinking Chorus in the program proved to be rather muddy in the choral passages. Indeed, one might have well though it was the Drunken Chorus from some of the measures of uncertainty. The orchestra was rather overwhelming at times, especially in the deep brass section of the tubas, and I fear that I must say that this quickly turned into Verdi's Polka. Whether this was through the fault of the conductor, who did seem rather energetic for some selections, and who may have taken Ricardo Muti's advice on the Met's intermission for Attila rather too seriously, or the instrumentalists, I cannot say, but I did not like this new artistic license.

Thank you all for reading, and may God continue to bless all of you!