Friday, 8 April 2011

Lawrence Zazzo's Adventure in American song

Lawrence Zazzo, the American countertenor, gave a recital last week at the Wigmore Hall with Simon Lepper. Amazing programme, which overturns the image countertenors have in this country. That in itself should have made the concert a big draw. Modern composers love the countertenor voice because it extends the palette and opens up new possibilities. This recital was "news" that should have attracted more attention. Regrettably, I couldn't get there but Claire Seymour has written about it in depth in Opera Today. Follow the link, it's detailed and analytical.
Zazzo's established his baroque credentials so well he has nothing to prove. Remember his Radamisto at ENO So this programme showed courage. Samuel Barber's Hermit Songs, for example, are so closely identified with Leontyne Price that they're not performed nearly as frequently as they should be. Her interpretation, though loved by Barber and the audiences of the time, is classic, but it doesn't necessarily explore all the levels in the cycle. Perhaps a male voice with wit and asperity might find new things in it? I wish I'd heard Zazzo!

Ned Rorem loves the countertenor voice and has written lots for it. There are whole CD collections of Rorem countertenor songs. Zazzo sang Rorem's War Scenes to poems about the US Civil War by Walt Whitman. Not quite Alfred Deller territory, though he could have done them had his audiences been more used to the genre. Charles Ives songs are more problematic, since they were conceived for more conventional performance. On the other hand, Ives himself was hardly conventional even if he seemed so on the surface. I hope Zazzo persists with this kind of repertoire because it's much too interesting to leave fallow.

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