A Glowing Début:  Vocal Arts DC presented soprano Angel Blue in recital with a program of vocal works by Mozart, Strauss, Rachmaninoff and others.

by Patrick D. McCoy

It is often an artist’s aspiration to make a recital début in a major concert hall or venue.  Such an occasion is certainly worthy of note and celebration.  This was the case for soprano Angel Blue who was presented in recital by Vocal Arts DC.  The soprano is already a darling of the opera world, having performed major roles at The Metropolitan Opera, Royal Opera House and  The Staatoper im Schiller Theater to name a few.  Her recital in The Terrace Theater at The Kennedy Center was an opportunity to hear this extraordinary artist in an intimate musical setting.  Ms. Blue elegantly entered the stage wearing a floor length angelic white gown, complete with a trailing train.

Repertoire and specific composers are two important factors to consider when programming an important recital as a début.  That was on display in Ms. Blue’s recital program on Wednesday night.  Beginning with the “Alleluja” from the Exsultate, jubilate, K. 165 by W. A. Mozart, the soprano immediately made her vocal presence known.  Beautifully resonant, the voice soared and moved agilely with ease in the vocal phrases of the work.  Building with anticipation on the single word ‘Alleluja,’ the beloved sacred showpiece soared to a high ‘C’ resolving resolutely in F major.

A set of songs by Richard Strauss followed.  This group started with “Heimliche Aufforderung,” a spirited pledge to love. The wide range of emotions continued with “Die Nacht” showcasing Blue’s lovely vocal control with attention to the sensitive accompaniment by her pianist Catherine Miller. The elegaic  “Allerseelen” (All Soul’s Day) had an almost reverent quality, further enhanced by the beautifully phrased vocal line.  Ending this group was “Befreit” which allowed for the soprano’s full voice to emerge on the reiteration of “Oh Glück”-Oh Joy!

Completing the first half of the program were four songs by Sergei Rachmaninoff. Sung in Russian, the program offered the English titles of each.  In “Do not sing my beauty to me” the listener felt a sense of deep languish and a moving ahead with urgency mirrored in the piano accompaniment.  “How Fair is the Spot” created a marked mood change with the emotion of  assurance as the text conveyed “Everything is peaceful here.”  “In the night’s mysterious silent night”  showcased some of Ms. Blue’s finest singing with sung spun lines and arching phrases.  Bringing the group of Rachmaninoff to a close was “Spring Waters” again showcasing the facility of the upper tessitura.  At this point of the program, Blue gave a memorial nod to her father and credited UCLA voice teacher Vladimir Chernov for teaching her these songs.

Returning to the stage in dramatic fashion in a fireball red dress, Blue rendered two Spanish selections.  “De España vengo” by Pablo Luna and “Las Carceleras” by Rupert Lorente.  Both pieces allowed the singer to add an exciting contrast to the program showing a more playful side to the music making, much to the delight of the audience.  Bruce Adolphe’s  “Valley Girl” was a light-hearted look at what happens when two people are infatuated with each other.  This selection was definitely a detour from the expected.  It was fun and even perhaps a conversational look at what happens when boy meets girl, girl meets boy and so on.  Three Songs by Jake Heggie followed. “A Route to the Sky” “Animal Passion” and “Connection”  Of the three, “Animal Passion” truly got the attention of the audience, as the subject leaning towards giving in to human desire and voyeruism.  There seemed to be an piqued level of attention during this part of the program.

The evening of song concluded with a group of spirituals.  “Deep River” by H. T. Burleigh began the set and was sung with a feeling of devotion. In the program, Moses Hogan was listed as the arranger of the next two spirituals which one would assume was an error or there was a change in the program after it was already submitted.  “He’s Got the Whole World in Hands”  arranged by Margaret Bonds followed.  A favorite among many sopranos, Blue gave subtle nuance to ‘the birds and the bees’ and ‘the woods and the waters.”  Her voice soared heavenly as she sang an interpolated high D on the last phrase, ending the beloved spiritual in triumph.  Hall Johnson’s “Ride On King Jesus” brought the chariot of music to its end to enthusiastic applause.  Two holiday encores followed: a verse and refrain of “O Holy Night” by Adolphe Adam and the favorite “Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire” Bob Wells and Mel Tormé.

A native of Petersburg, VA, Patrick holds a BM in Vocal Performance from Virginia State University and a MM in Church Music for Shenandoah Conservatory.  Formerly the Performing Arts Columnist for Washington Life Magazine, he currently is a freelance writer, publishing articles for several noted publications, including Early Music America.  He is a member of the Music Critics Association of North America, National Association of Negro Musicians, Inc., a member of the Shenandoah University Alumni Board of Directors  and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.  He serves as Organist/Choirmaster at Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Zion Parish in Beltsville, MD. Visit http://patrickdmccoy.com