Sunday, April 1, 2012

Valentines in Season / Elizabeth Agnew

20th- and 21st-Century art music composers have had a lot to say about anger, excitement, fear, happiness, and sadness over the last 110 years.

But what about love?

Perhaps, not at much, when compared to the vast number of popular-music manifestations created within the same period on the same subject.

That made Goat Hall's "Pick Your Own Aria" Valentines Day Benefit show, on April 12 at Julia Morgan Chamber Arts House in Berkeley a must-listen-and-see.

And, sure enough, contemporary composers, older and newer, do have a lot to say on the subject. Giacomo Puccini, for one, whose long life ultimately made him a 20th-century composer by default, with such shining works as "O mio babbino caro" from Gianni Schicchi -- a work radiantly performed by the sweet-toned Kimberly Anderman, in concordance with Alex Katsman's sensitive accompaniment.

In more recent and comic vein's Mona Lyn Reese offered "Food for Love" from her Three Fat Women of Antibes (to a libretto of Thomas Hassing), in a lithe rendition by Cary Ann Rosko, followed by JJ Hollingsworth's resounding "Mr. Honor My Request", part of Cabaret Cantata, winningly sold thanks to the theatricality and musicality of Maria Mikheyenko.

One of the love duets of the night was charmingly enacted by Anderman, who joined with her husband Mark for another Hollingsworth crossover gem, "A Wrinkle in Time", drawn from her 70's era musical comedy Pomp and Circumstances. This was followed by a much darker account of love and loss from Mikheyenko and Alex Jerinic in John Bilotta's "I Know What Stillness Is" from Trifles, repeating roles so compelling realized recently in the work's dynamic full production. Bilotta was also heard through rich tones of Rosko, as she recounted This Autumn Day, as a valentine in- and out-of-season.

Rounding out the contemporary aspect of the program was Mark Alburger's "I Loved Him" from The Wind God, on a text by Harriet March Page -- the pair appearing as pianist and soloist for this beguinian stream-of-consciousness wandering through a surreal boatscape and landscape mapped on Giuseppe Verdi's Quartet from Rigoletto.

The recent work definitely got a run for its money when facing the older competition of Sarita Cannon's rendition of Claude Debussy's "C'est l'extase langoureuse", from Ariettes Oubliees (1887), which was indeed exquisitely lovely and languorous. Also on the delicious cusp was Page's soulful interpretation of Gustav Mahler's "Die zwei blauen Augen von meinem Schatz" ("The Two Blue Eyes of my Beloved") from Songs of a Wayfarer, lovingly accompanied by Allan Crossman. Similarly exquisite was Sibel Demirmen in Robert Schumann's Kennst du das Land, demonstrating this fine singer's versatility beyond the Kurt Weill repertory heard of late.

With love the order of the night, it was no surprise to hear more scintillating and excellent couplings -- Rosko and Eliza O'Malley in the Leo Delibes Lakme "Flower Duet" and another expert wife and husband team in the W.A. Mozart Magic Flute "Bei Mannern, welche Liebe" from Ann Callaway and Richard Mix.

Katsman provided his agile keyboard support as yet another committed couple held forth in splendor when the beauteous O'Malley was joined by new-music-clarinet-monster Peter Josheff in a sensitive rendition of Franz Schubert's classic Shepherd on the Rock.

What can we say? As with the rest of this program in the cultivated tradition, the music rocked.