Measha Brueggergosman is MEASHA!!!!, capital letters and exclamation points, every time. She's irrepressible, her personality larger than life. She was probably a DIVA!!!! in kindergarten, but a level-headed diva in touch with reality. I first saw her years ago at the Wigmore Hall Song Competition. She won second prize but that was the year they controversially didn't award a first prize at all (Erik Nelson Werner won the Audience prize). Even then she had stage presence. Since then she's gone on to many things and sang the opening song at the Winter Olympics. Not that that means you star at La Scala and wipe La Renée out of the Met, but Measha is rivetting.
It was good to hear her again at the Wigmore Hall on Sunday, with Justus Zeyen, who turned up in jeans because his luggage was lost at the airport No problem: good singing is communication, not packaging, and Measha communicates, big time. She sang Berg, surprisingly well. People have hang-ups about Berg, not realizing how laidback he can be. Measha singing Der Wein would be great, as she'd get the slightly boozy sensuality better than most. Jessye Norman, for example, whose Der Wein is my favourite, isn't louche enough.
At the WH Song Competition, I think she sang Le Spectre de la Rose. She was born to sing Berlioz, but managed nicely with Duparc and Fauré. She's capable of greater refinement and delicacy, but that would have been lost at a matinee with an audience largely made up of people who don't usually go to art song recitals. Still, she managed to get them to listen even though the words were "in foreign". Had she ventured into Susan Graham territory with some of the funnier, wilder French repertoire she would have had them astounded even if they didn't understand a word. Imagine her singing Banalités or Rapsodie nègre, where language is no barrier. She's proof that you don't need to dumb down to reach non-classical audiences. Just do what you do with enthusiasm and verve.
As an encore she sang a spiritual. She doesn't do soul. She's Canadian. On the other hand it demonstrated her vocal range and flexibility. This is a voice that could do a lot, and venture into parts unknown - music could be written for this voice. Much as Measha clowns about, I think she has reserves of steel, and is capable of disciplined practice and development. She's only 32, after all, which is still very young for a singer.
There are thousands of young singers about. Even very good singers face a horrific uphill struggle to succeed. She has what it takes, I think, and certainly the dramatic ability to do well in opera. But it's a long, difficult battle, you can't drop the ball for a minute. Yet she's so charismatic that she could succeed in many ways. I can even imagine her hosting serious music shows, singing or presenting. (though not together). She doesn't need to dumb down, she's got enough genuine charm to enthuse people.
Her pianist here, Justus Zeyen, regularly plays for Thomas Quasthoff, who's rumoured to please some kinds of audience by knocking the "serious stuff" though I haven't heard that myself. Which is fine, it's his choice. But Measha is s such a natural communicator that she won't need to differentiate between serious and non-serious. (If her Motherless child is anything to go by, she should steer clear of jazz.) She's interesting enough to stick to what she's good at, and do it with warmth and vivacity. She's got so much of that, she doesn't need to compromise. Classical music needs people like that. No dumbing down!