Measha Brueggergosman makes a more sedate return to Vancouver
A Vancouver Recital Society presentation. At the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts on Sunday, November 14
The last time the young Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman was in Vancouver, she was under the glare of the international media, belting out the Olympic hymn with the kind of feverish intensity that could send a Valkyrie running for cover.
Her return appearance in our city on November 14 at the Chan Centre was a rather more sedate affair. No stage props, special effects, symphony musicians, or European dignitaries here: just a singer and her accompanist, Justus Zeyen, with a wide-ranging program of selections from her latest Deutsche Grammophon CD of lieder and chanson, Night and Dreams.
The intimate event presented an opportunity to properly assess Brueggergosman’s vocal abilities in light of her dramatic weight loss (she has shed 150 pounds in two years) and recent health issues (she had emergency heart surgery in June 2009 to repair a dissected aorta). Truth be told, it was, on the whole, an underwhelming performance.
The opening set of songs by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Franz Schubert felt like a bad fit. Brueggergosman was largely unable to fully tame her heavily vibratoed, broad voice and provide the sort of gentility and precision required for these delicate works. There were moments of beauty, for sure: the fiery, passionate conclusion of Mozart’s “Dans un bois solitaire, KV 308”, and the slow burn she created when slowly warming up notes with her wide vibrato in Schubert’s Nachstí¼ck, Op. 36, D. 672. She seemed more at home with the Impressionistic songs of Henri Duparc, in which she could afford a bit more rubato, although she was clearly distracted by the goings-on in the theatre: in the middle of the poignant “Phidylé” an audience member collapsed, and had to be physically dragged out of the hall.
A wardrobe change—from a slinky red-velvet number to a form-fitted sparkly black strapless gown with a cloud of white tulle at its base—kicked off the second half. Brueggergosman let rip with flamenco-inflected songs by Spanish composer Joaquín Turina. She played the sassy femme fatale to the hilt, going so far as to vamp for the audience and conclude “A unos ojos” with an unbridled yelp.
The final set of intertwined songs by Richard Strauss and Alban Berg was uneven. Zeyen’s rich, lush piano accompaniment threatened to overpower Brueggergosman in much of the Strauss, especially the “Wiegenlied, Op. 41. No. 1” lullaby. The musicians seemed much more in tune with one another in the Berg, and Brueggergosman found a lovely depth of tone in “Nacht” and “Traumgekrí¶nt”.
Before getting to the high point of the evening—the encore—Zeyen deserves some praise for his two solo interludes. He gave a sparkling and emotive interpretation of Schumann’s Nachstí¼ck, Op. 23, No. 2 in the first half, and a contemplative and poetic performance of Frédéric Chopin’s Nocturne in D-flat Major, Op. 27, No 2 in the second.
It was after the program had been completed that Brueggergosman pulled an ace out of her sleeve: Samuel Barber’s “Sure on this Shining Night”, into which she settled like a plush, well-loved coat. It sounded gentle, warm, and comfortable. Here’s hoping the singer delivers more of that as she regains her health and settles into her new physique.