Mezzo-palooza: Gabrielle Beteag, Megan Marino, Daniela Mack and Jamie Barton sing, an open-air recital with pianist Elena Kholodova under the Atlanta Opera's Big Tent. (credit: Felipe Barral)

Review: Magnificent mezzos sing a range of repertoire al fresco

Mark Gresham | 13 NOV 2020

On Tuesday evening The Atlanta Opera presented the second of its three stand-alone concerts that are part of its Big Tent Series for Fall 2020, performed outdoors on the campus of Atlanta’s Oglethorpe University. Entitled “Mezzo Extravaganza,” the program featured a quartet of mezzo-sopranos from the resident Atlanta Opera Company Players and Glynn Studio Players — Jamie Barton, Gabrielle Beteag, Daniela Mack and Megan Marino — accompanied by pianist Elena Kholodova. The drizzly weather did not dampen the spirits of either performers or audience.

The concert began with a set of arias drawn from opera.

Daniela Mack opened with “Carceleras” (“Jailers”)from Act II of the zaruela Las hijas del Zebedeo (“The Daughters of Zebedee”) by Ruperto Chapí y Lorente, a 19th century Spanish composer who is unfamiliar to most contemporary American audiences, but was a popular and composer in his own day and region. Mack recorded it in 2018 as part of a video broadcast from radio station WFMT in Chicago, and the energetic Iberian-flavored aria is finding a new popularity in mezzo recital repertoire.

Gabrielle Beteag sang Pauline’s aria (“Pedrugi milyye”), a romance from Act I, Scene 2 of Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades — a plaintive song about enjoying life, but for which the only reward is death.

Megan Marino followed with “Connais-tu, le pays?” from Act I of Mignon by Ambroise Thomas, in which the title character sings of her native Italy, of which she has only vague memories.


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Jamie Barton concluded the set with “Acerba voluttà… O vagabonda stella” from Act II of Adriana Lecouvreur by Francesco Cilèa, an aria in which the Princesse de Bouillon complains of the pains love brings as she anxiously awaits the arrival of her lover.

The second set featured art songs not from opera, most of them drawn from folk culture.

Barton sang “Songs my mother taught me” (“Když mne stará matka zpívat učívala”) the fourth of seven songs from Antonin Dvořák’s Gypsy Songs (“Cigánské melodie”), B. 104, Op. 55, and is the mostb famous of the cycle, about memories passed from generation to generation.

Mack again brought forth Spanish-language repertoire with “Polo” from the song cycle Siete canciones populares españolas (“Seven Spanish Folksongs”) as set for voice and piano by Manuel de Falla in 1914, one of the most popular set of Spanish songs.

Ina shift away from folk song,but not too far from its character, Beteag performed a pair of songs by Johannes Brahms: “Meine Liebe ist grün wie der Fliederbusch” (“My love is green like the lilac bush”), Op. 63 No. 5, which has a text by Felix Schumann, son of Clara and Robert, who died when only 25 years old, and “Von ewiger Liebe” (“Of Eternal Love”). Op. 48 No. 1, with lyrics by August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben, based on a Wendish (West Slavic) folk text.


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The music returned to folk song with Megan Marino’s rendition “The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond,” a popular traditional Scottish folk song (Roud No. 9598), most likely originating I the 18th century but not published until 1941 in a collection, Vocal Melodies of Scotland.

The program rounded the corner by taking on some humor with the somewhat related topics of witches and kittens in more familiar operatic fare. (After all, what witch’s lair or public library could possibly survive without a resident familiar spirit at hand?)

Beteag offered up “Hurr Hopp Hopp Hopp,” the Knusperhexe (“Gingerbread Witch”) song from Act III, scene 3 of Hansel und Gretel by Engelbert Humperdinck. (Knusperhexe is more literally “crispy witch” but that only comes to pass near the opera’s end.)

Turning to another fairy-tale opera, Jamie Barton sang “Čury mury fuk” from Act I of Dvořák’s Rusalka, in which Ježibaba the witch does some potion brewing. Barton has sung the role with the Metropolitan Opera, which posted Barton singing the passage in a dress rehearsal on YouTube. As it was sung, Mack and Marino slunk about, pretending to be cats, which suited the Rusalka scene but also set up the next number.


 
The “Duetto buffo di due gatti” (“Humorous Duet for Two Cats”), sung by Mack and Marino, is a popular performance piece attributed to Rossini but was not actually written by him, rather a compilation of the brief “Cat Cavatina” by Danish composer C.E.F. Weyse, part of the duet for Otello and Jago in Act II of Rossini’s Otello (“Non m’inganno al mio rivale”), and part of the cabaletta to the aria “Ah, come mai non senti,” sung by Rodrigo in the same act. Often performed as an encore, the lyrics are entirely the word “miau” (“meow”), with added feline hisses and spitting. Marino in particular clawed into the feline theatrics.

Marino followed with “Voi, che sapete” from Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, a lyric trouser role arietta in which the character Cherubino pleas for women to help him understand his feelings of young love. Then as complementary cavatina, Mack then closed the set with “Cruda sorte!” from Act I, Scene 2 of Rossini’s L’italiana in Algeri, in which the shipwrecked Isabella, captured by pirates, sings of how she is only in this danger because of love, but since the pirates are only men they are no challenge to her wits.

The show was then wrapped up with homage to another female character who wielded control over the male of the species in a set of four excerpts from that most famous of titular mezzo roles, Bizet’s Carmen, in this instance shared by all four of the singers. Barton sang the “Habanera,” Mack sang the “Seguidilla,” and Marino sang “En vain pour éviter” (the Card Aria). For the concluding number, Beteag was featured as Carmen in “Les tringles des sistres tintaient” with Barton, Mack and Marino joining in with the “Tra la la la la” responses of Frasquita and Mercedes. What better way to end than with a full-force tribute to the fiery gypsy by these four outstanding artists?

The final concert of this series, “Crossroads,” will be presented as a 2pm matinee on Sunday afternoon, Nov. 15. There are also remaining performances of the two Big Tent Series operas: Pagliacci tonight and on Sunday evening, and the final performance of The Kaiser of Atlantis on Saturday evening. As of this writing, there are still tickets available for each, but due to some current, temporary technical difficulties with their online ticketing system, The Atlanta Opera asks those who would like to attend to call 404-881-8885 to purchase tickets, sold in “pods” of four seats each. ■


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