What do you get when members of the voice faculty of The Music School of Delaware come together for an evening of song? A night of “Sensational Singing.”
Ward, who chairs the voice faculty, applied her strong, crystalline soprano to a set of contemporary songs that traced the journey of a couple from their courting days (Seymour Barab’s setting of James Stevens’ poem "The Daisies” from his song cycle The Rivals) to commitment (Norman Dello Joio’s setting of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s How Do I Love Thee) to their parting through death (Gwyneth Walker’s setting of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Crossing the Bar).
Ward lightened the mood with Sheldon Harnick’s contemporary madrigal The Ballad of the Shape of Things. Richard Gangwisch’s piano winked while Ward’s vocal — wisely — played it straight. Marvelous!
Ward and Miller then combined their very different sopranos in a rendering of Lucy Simon’s Clusters of Crocus/Come to My Garden from "The Secret Garden.”
Miller returned a bit later applying her ethereal soprano to John Corigliano’s Three Irish Folksong Settings: I. The Sally Gardens, II. The Foggy Dew and III. She Moved Through the Fair. Corigliano’s “otherworldly” approach evoked a journey through an alien landscape. The songs pitted Miller’s voice against the rhapsodic line of Melinda Bowman’s flute, placing these well-known folk tunes in a new environment.
Miller showed off her versatility joining with alto Maria Rusu in an energetic rendering of Wrong Note Rag from Leonard Bernstein’s Wonderful Town.
Countertenor Augustine Mercante offered two bittersweet selections with Schubert’s In Abendrot and Alec Wilder’s Blackberry Winter, countertenor David Daniels’ signature song. Although it is a song of joy, In Abendrot is a leave-taking song, moving us to tears as it reminds us of the fleeting beauty of a sunset — and of our own mortality.
Mercante does not just sing (albeit exquisitely) a lyric so much as he lives and loves it. That depth became evident in his emotional and mature exploration of Wilder’s Blackberry Winter with its pained realization of “I’ll never get over losing you/But I’ve learned that life goes on.”
Mercante opened his set with A Chloris by Reynaldo Hahn, who as ex-lover of Marcel Proust, has much to share about separations, sentiments and remembrance.
Bass Colin Armstrong treated the students of singing in the audience with a concert rendition of Amarilli, mia bella, the most well-known of Giullio Caccini’s solo madrigals and a staple of just about every vocal teacher. It was a nice change to hear it so beautifully delivered in performance.
Armstrong also offered a rendition of the nostalgic I’ll Be Seeing You. He decided to include the rarely heard chorus, which opens with the line “Cathedral bells were tolling/And our hears sang on/Was it the spell of Paris/Or the April dawn?” An eerie reminder of what had just happened in the City of Lights two days earlier.
Armstrong’s set also included J.S. Bach’s So du willst from Aus der tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir, BWV 131 which he performed with Maria Rusu.
Then it was Rusu’s time to shine and shine she did in a set of jazz classics, including On Green Dolphin Street and Tony Bennett’s signature The Good Life by Sasha Distel. Her scatting skills were amply displayed in Sandu, by trumpet great and Wilmington native Clifford Brown.
The evening concluded with an a capella performance of the soaring Make Our Garden Grow, from Leonard Bernstein’s Candide.