A rising young baritone stumbles in Vocal Arts recital

Wed Mar 21, 2018 at 12:20 pm

Baritone Theo Hoffman performed a recital Tuesday night at the Kennedy Center for Vocal Arts DC.

Vocal Arts DC presented a recital by Theo Hoffman on Tuesday night. Stretches of empty seats in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater were likely due to anxiety about the incoming snow storm more than lack of interest. The event was supported by the Gerald Perman Fund for Emerging Artists, named for Vocal Arts’ late founder.

The young American baritone, who finished well in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, has benefited from some of the best training programs in the country. With a pleasing physical presence ready-made for the digital camera close-ups that are–for better or worse–opera’s future, Hoffman seems poised to have a strong career on the stage.

In the more exposed format of a recital, however, these assets were not enough to make up for some shortcomings of his voice. A nervous edge to the vibrato produced an unpleasant tightness in the tone, undermining the serenity needed to pull off Fauré’s L’horizon chimérique, for example. Breath support petered out at the ends of long phrases, sometimes reducing the voice to a dry tremor, more shake than pitch.

Hoffman’s high range often became constricted in sound, while the low notes tended toward shallowness, both heard at the extremes of a set of Schubert songs. Three of the five lieder were repeated from Christoph Prégardien’s recital on the same series, inviting a less-than-flattering comparison in terms of vocal polish.

Hoffman has received excellent coaching for both German and French pronunciation, but he tended to substitute over-the-top gestures and facial expressions for care in diction and phrasing.

The compensation of the evening was the playing of accompanist Bradley Moore, who gave each song a much greater variety and facility of tone than his partner. A silken touch in the Fauré set created an enigmatic backdrop for the poetry of Jean de la Ville de Mirmont. In the Schubert Moore displayed both lightness in undulating right-hand patterns and a thrilling virtuosity, as in the rollicking accompaniment of “Auf der Bruck.”

Hoffman built the second half of the recital around the monologue that begins “All the world’s a stage” from Shakespeare’s As You Like It. It was an intriguing idea, even if all the songs did not line up ideally with the seven ages of human life outlined by Jaques in the speech.

Showing his theater training, Hoffman recited these verses as an opening for this set of mostly more recent songs, layering the final line over Moore’s forceful take on the mysterious introduction, harmonically ambiguous, of Britten’s “Midnight on the Great Western.”

Here was a greater range of musical styles, from the Glass-like repetitions of Jonathan Dove’s “O Swallow, Swallow” to the spare simplicity of Mahler’s “Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen.” Where Moore gave an individual palette of colors to each song, especially the riot of allusions in Ives’s “Tom sails away” and the lush harmonies of Viktor Ullmann’s “Abendphantasie,” Hoffman’s voice had a generic sameness, with continued intonation issues, especially in softer dynamics.

Mahler’s “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen” did not seem a good match for the seventh age in Shakespeare’s conception, “second childishness and mere oblivion.” Again Hoffman had the misfortune of comparison in this song to the outstanding rendition of it by Dorothea Röschmann on this series last month.

Hoffman’s gifts may be more suited to musical theater, already featured in his career, underscored by his choice of encore, the song “Talent” from Stephen Sondheim’s musical Bounce.

Vocal Arts DC next presents baritone Brian Mulligan and pianist Timothy Long 7:30 p.m. April 28 at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. vocalartsdc.org; 202-669-1463.

2 Responses to “A rising young baritone stumbles in Vocal Arts recital”

  1. Posted Mar 22, 2018 at 4:59 pm by Catherine Rich


    This article was so tacky and poorly written.
    Why are you comparing a young singer to 60 year old singers. Your points are invalid.

    -Catherine Rich

  2. Posted Mar 23, 2018 at 3:56 pm by Samuel Kincaid

    This is awfully harsh, don’t you think? My wife and I thought the young man did brilliantly. We loved the program! So much thought and imagination. If we want more young people interested in giving recitals, reviews like this probably won’t help.

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