Monday, February 16, 2009

Review: Jennifer Larmore

Feb. 16, University of Richmond

Maureen Forrester, the great Canadian mezzo-soprano, likes to say that a mezzo’s operatic opportunities are limited largely to portraying "mothers, maids, witches and bitches." Except for that last category, "lovers" don’t seem to fit into the career trajectory.

Jennifer Larmore, one of today’s reigning mezzos, pushed back against Forrester’s quip in a recital titled "The Art of Love." Accompanied by pianist Antoine Palloc, Larmore revisited three of the best-known operatic roles for her voice register: Carmen and Cinderella from the operas of Bizet and Rossini, and Cherubino, the chronically love-struck adolescent boy from Mozart’s "The Marriage of Figaro." She also sang Ravel’s song cycle "Shéhérazade," Haydn’s concert aria "Berenice che fai" and a set of four songs by the Cuban Joaquín Nin, the Spaniard Ferran Jaumandreau Obradors and the Argentinian Carlos Guastavino.

This program required substantial range in musical style, vocal timbre and characterization, not to mention range up and down the scale. Larmore was in command of most of it; her pitch was occasionally wayward in the most florid or fiery material. The heft and brilliance of her voice, and her palette of tone colors, were sounds to behold.

Ravel’s three songs on poems of Tristan Klingsor, a tonally luscious and dreamily erotic fantasy for both the singer and pianist, were the recital’s artistic summit. Larmore and Palloc rendered Ravel’s colors, sound effects and subtle dynamics vividly; the pianist summoned as much technique as he might in one of Ravel's finger-busters for solo piano. The singer’s treatment of the French language was a seduction scene in itself.

The earthier French of "Carmen" isn’t as seductive as the tunes Bizet wrote for his gypsy heroine. Larmore garnished her vocalizations with body language and bits of vampish shtick.

Her performances of the Italian opera arias were fueled mostly by nervy vocal brilliance and emotional intensity, more convincingly in the Haydn and Rossini than in Mozart’s numbers for Cherubino. Comparable intensity propelled the set of Spanish songs.

Larmore will give a free master class from 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Feb. 17 in Camp Concert of the University of Richmond’s Modlin Arts Center. Details: (804) 289-8980;