Young Wagnerians Stun and Astound in Recital

07/03/2018

Various composers: Heidi Melton (soprano), Kyle van Schoonhoven (tenor), Craig Rutenberg (piano), Morgan Library and Museum, New York, 4.3.2018. (RP)

Kyle van Schoonhoven © Paul Sirochman

Vaughan Williams – ‘Silent Noon’ from The House of Life
Britten – ‘O Waly, Waly’, ‘The Salley Gardens’
Bridge – ‘Love Went A-Riding’
DebussyTrois Chansons de
Wagner – ‘Allmächt’ger Vater’ (‘Rienzi’s Prayer’) from Rienzi;Wie lachend sie’ (‘Isolde’s Narrative and Curse’) from Tristan und Isolde; ‘Mein lieber Schwan’ and ‘Das süsse Lied verhallt’ from Lohengrin

The 280-seat Gilder Lehman Theater at the Morgan Library and Museum is a fine performance space, with some of the most commodious seats around for a very tall person, which I truly appreciate. However, it is not the ideal hall in which to hear budding Wagnerians, especially tenor Kyle van Schoonhoven, in recital. He might be able to modulate his voice a bit but, let’s face it, if the stars align, he is destined for far bigger halls.

Van Schoonhoven opened this joint concert with soprano Heidi Melton with four classic British songs. There was no doubting either the young tenor’s sincerity or his intentions. Nonetheless, sound just pours out of him and sheer volume often blurred the results. Not that tenderness was lacking. The final line of ‘Silent Noon’ was sung in a beautiful head voice and actual tears seemed to flow at the end of ‘The Salley Gardens’.

It is a voice that wants to soar. Pegasus did not so much take flight in ‘Love Went A-Riding’ as lift off like a rocket, fueled by Craig Rutenberg setting the piano on fire. It was a spectacular burst of swirling sounds and colors that left me dazzled.

If van Schoonhoven’s physique did not have you thinking ‘budding Heldentenor’, once he started singing Wagner there was no doubt. He performed ‘Rienzi’s Prayer’ with ease and power, hurling the tribune’s final plea to the Almighty into the auditorium like a javelin. In Lohengrin’s farewell to Elsa, ‘Mein lieber Schwan’, he found equally congenial turf, his singing no less ardent but a bit more subdued.

Heidi Melton © Simon Pauly

Heidi Melton chose to open with Debussy’s Trois Chansons de Bilitis. The songs rest in the rich, expressive middle of her voice, which was easy on the ear. She imbued the erotically charged songs with mystery and intimacy, aided in no small part by Rutenberg’s superb accompaniments.

Then came the Wagner. Melton recently essayed Brünnhilde in a new production of the Ring in Karlsruhe and Isolde under the baton of Valery Gergiev with the Mariinsky Orchestra. It is easy to see why she is making waves. ‘Isolde’s Narrative and Curse’ not only displayed her temperament, but again the especially strong and vibrant middle of her voice, molten metal turned to sound. She tossed out Isolde’s high notes with unbridled fury, never missing the mark, although a few almost got away from her.

They joined forces for the duet from Act III of Lohengrin where Elsa and the Swan Knight rapturously express their love for one another, until Elsa starts asking questions. Van Schoonhoven, totally in command of his voice, embodied the tragic hero remaining stoic throughout. Melton, however, blazed with fury and indignation as she demanded answers. Her taunts became shrieks as she grew increasingly frenzied at Lohengrin’s calm demurrers, ultimately collapsing, crushed by the realization that her hopes have been dashed by her own doubts and mistrust.

For an encore they sang ‘Kosende Wellen’ from Lehar’s Der Zarewitsch; robust voices joined in sumptuous Viennese melodies. Bring on the schnitzel and goulash! All eyes and ears were on Rutenberg as he played the interlude. Even if couldn’t always be heard, Rutenberg’s benevolent gaze and unparalleled musicianship kept things in check. He deserved a solo turn.

Melton and van Schoonhoven were both George London prize winners, and the Foundation co-sponsored this and other vocal recitals with the Morgan. Rutenberg paid tribute to Nora London, the driving force of the operation, in glowing terms. Her response, shouted from the audience, was ‘I love singers’. That just about sums it up for everyone in that special audience, doesn’t it?

Rick Perdian

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