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Friday, November 29, 2013

A Winning Battle

From the Vault Dept.: When Kathleen Battle sang a recital program in Troy, NY, in 1986, she was zooming to the top of the profession, performing in opera companies around the world, in televised productions and, soon enough, at the Met. Eight years later, she’d be swiftly fired from that company for what were termed “unprofessional actions.” She hasn’t been on an opera stage since, but has appeared in a variety of musical settings, both classical and popular. Here’s my report on what was a truly thrilling event.


THE WOMAN WHO SWEPT ONTO the stage of the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall two Wednesdays ago wore a stunning red gown that few divas could wear so well, and moved with the self-possession of an opera star. Appropriately, she is an opera star.

Kathleen Battle
A capacity house sat as quietly as I’ve ever heard an audience sit in that reverberant hall and listened worshipfully as Battle took them through an unfamiliar, charming program of songs that sidestepped opera excerpts and instead set a sweetly moody tone.

Pianist Neal Goren shared the credit for a concert with polish and insight that would do credit to a pair of artists twice the age of these (comparative) youngsters.

You many have seen Battle as a sassy Susanna in the televised Marriage of Figaro last season. She is the complete actress as well as singer, and took the stage at Troy in the character of demure recitalist.

And she gave each song a character, achieving a subtle differentiation that isn’t often the stuff of the recital stage.

Beginning with a set of songs by Henry Purcell, Battle displayed a technique as artless as the quality of her voice, an ethereal soprano of which she has complete command.

There were subtle contrasts from set to set: from Purcell we went to Haydn and a group of three songs from varying sources. Four Liszt settings of Victor Hugo completed the first half, which was a little bit like sampling a sushi bar: it’s all raw fish, sure, but what a world of difference from each to each.

Those in the crowd who wanted some fireworks had to settle for a selection from Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet, Juliet’s “Je veux vivre dans ce reve.” Then we settled back for a trenchant tour through some Richard Strauss laments, including “Staendchen,” with its flowing arpeggio accompaniment complementing a brook mentioned in the text – and what composer can turn down a setting with water? – and the slow, gentle “Morgen.”

The unusual finish came with four songs by Fernando Obradors, delivered with a Spanish flavor and a beautiful sense of that music’s sensibility.

The on-its-feet audience got unusual encores of settings of spirituals: “Good News” (not the DeSylva, Brown and Henderson song) and “Witness,” with a nifty Hall Johnson arrangement that inspired a lot of toes to tap.

Kathleen Battle, soprano, and Neal Goren, pianist
Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Nov. 12

Metroland Magazine, 27 November 1986

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