The phenomenal Raehann Bryce-Davis in recital for The George and Nora London Foundation for Singers

United StatesUnited States Various: Raehann Bryce-Davis (mezzo-soprano), Jeanne-Minette Cilliers (piano). The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, 2.10.2022. (RP)

Raehann Bryce-Davis (mezzo-soprano) and Jeanne-Minette Cilliers (piano) © Beth Bergman

Amy BeachThree Browning Songs, Op.44
R. Strauss – ‘Heimliche Aufforderung’, Op.27 No.3
Wagner – ‘Der Engel’, ‘Stehe Still!’, ‘Schmerzen’ from Wesendonck Lieder
Brahms – ‘Von ewiger Liebe’, Op.43 No.1
Melissa Dunphy – ‘Come, My Tan-Faced Children’
Margaret Bonds – ‘Birth’
Florence Price – ‘The Crescent Moon’
Maria Thompson Corley – ‘The Beauty in my Blackness’ (world premiere); ‘I’m Not an Angry Black Woman’
Peter Ashbourne – ‘Banyan Tree’, ‘Fi Mi Love Have Lion Heart’, ‘Nobody’s Business’ from Fi Mi Love Have Lion Heart – Five Songs based on Famous Jamaican Folk Songs

A case can be made that over the past decade or so, the solo song recital has evolved more than any other classical musical genre. Undoubtedly, past exponents of song believed that they were expressing their authentic selves through the standard repertoire, and perhaps even more so by occasional forays into contemporary music or popular song. But many young singers today are of a totally different breed, using their voices and the music that they perform to reveal themselves more fully and speak out in ways that were once unimaginable. The phenomenal mezzo-soprano Raehann Bryce-Davis is one of them.

Bryce-Davis was a winner of the 2018 George London Award at the George London Competition. Since then, she has gone on to appear in recital, concert and opera in the US and Europe, and made her Metropolitan Opera debut last season as Baba the Turk in Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress. That, however, is only one facet of her activities as an artist.

Raehann Bryce-Davis (mezzo-soprano) © Beth Bergman

An advocate for social justice in opera and a co-founder of the Black Opera Alliance, Bryce-Davis is also a producer/performer, whose first musical video, ‘To the Afflicted’, was chosen as an official video for World Opera Day. Her second digital short, ‘Brown Sounds’ (co-produced with the Los Angeles Opera and Aural Compass Projects), won prizes at film festivals around the world.

Returning to the stage of The Morgan Library & Museum under the auspices of The George and Nora London Foundation, Bryce-Davis and the superb pianist Jeanne-Minette Cilliers presented a recital of song that was as challenging and inspiring as it was glorious musically. Cilliers was an equal partner in all ways, providing the backdrop for Bryce-Davis to shine.

There was a time not so long ago when a singer speaking to the audience during a recital made people cringe. Those days are gone, and Bryce-Davis is as comfortable speaking as she is singing. In her brief remarks, she explained that Robert Schumann’s song cycle, Frauenlieben und -leben, was the inspiration for the program that she and Cilliers would perform, but with a twist. They wanted to explore a woman’s life from a feminine perspective, rather than the idealized portrait of innocence, motherhood and wifely devotion depicted in Schumann’s cycle.

If Bryce-Davis selected songs that resonated with her personally, she also chose ones that suited her voice to a tee. She explained to the audience the joy of singing Melissa Dunphy’s ‘Come, My Tan-Faced Children’, which she premiered at Lyric Fest in Philadelphia 2019, as it was tailor-made for her voice. The same could be said of many of the songs here, especially those that contained soaring phrases, climactic high notes on which she could linger and emotions that ran high.

The recital opened with Amy Beach’s rapturous ‘The Year’s at the Spring’ from Three Browning Songs. The same glowing sentiments of rapture echoed in the third song of the set, ‘I send my heart up to thee’. In between, Bryce-Davis struck a more reflective mood in observing how the world can change in a moment and wondering if her beloved’s affections could as well. She revealed her sumptuous lower range, as well as the evenness of her voice that neither volume nor range altered.

Next came songs by Richard Strauss, Wagner and Brahms. Bryce-Davis imbued Strauss’s ‘Heimliche Aufforderung’ with humor, but it is the glorious sound and aura of exaltation that made the most impression. Songs by Wagner may seem an odd fit with the recital’s theme, but then again, the poems were written by a woman with whom the composer had a passionate relationship.

Brahms’s ‘Von ewiger Lieber’ ended the set with a demonstration of Bryce-Davis’s narrative skills. There was no doubt that the young woman’s love for the man who questioned whether he was worthy of her was stronger than iron and steel.

At the core of the recital were songs that dealt directly with the issue of race. Dunphy’s ‘Come, My Tan-Faced Children’, with a text by Walt Whitman, was as much a call to arms as an expression of all-encompassing love for humanity. In the first-ever performance of Maria Thompson Corley’s ‘The Beauty in my Blackness’, Bryce-Davis was like a lioness, defying anyone to question the premise set forth in the song’s title. In Corley’s ‘I’m Not an Angry Black Woman’, frustration and belligerence – coupled at times with the impressive wall of sound emanating from the singer – spelled danger.

The recital concluded with three songs from Peter Ashbourne’s Fi Mi Love Have Lion Heart – Five Songs based on Famous Jamaican Folk Songs. Bryce-Davis explained that she had often been to the island for family reasons, but it was only on a visit on her own that she got to know its music. These were fun, light songs with catchy tunes and rhythms. Although none of the grandeur of Bryce-Davis’s voice was missing, she slimmed it down in keeping with the spirit of the songs. In ‘Nobody’s Business’, she was downright sassy.

The sole encore was Jacqueline Hairston’s ‘I Don’t Feel No Ways Tired’. With it, Bryce-Davis paid homage to the past but took aim at the future.

Rick Perdian

1 thought on “The phenomenal Raehann Bryce-Davis in recital for The George and Nora London Foundation for Singers”

  1. What a wonderful review. It came alive and really captured a sense of a glorious, well-conceived, innovative, and beautifully sung recital. I loved so many comments — this one too: ‘She revealed her sumptuous lower range, as well as the evenness of her voice that neither volume nor range altered.’


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