Vocal Arts DC presents an Angel Blue Christmas at the Kennedy Center

Thu Dec 20, 2018 at 1:38 pm

Soprano Angel Blue performed a recital Wednesday night at the Kennedy Center.

In her recital on Wednesday night Angel Blue, who has sung at the Met, showed her operatic side, to no surprise. Yet, the California-born soprano, who was presented by Vocal Arts DC in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, seemed most comfortable in repertoire with a popular twist. The voice has enormous potential, approaching the heights of her range with assurance and power.

Admirable breadth of tone and solid breath support electrified the ecstatic high notes in a set of Strauss songs, as at the climax of “Heimliche Aufforderung.” Blue mollified this dramatic facet of her voice with a more sensitive touch in “Die Nacht” and “Allerseelen.” The interpretation was stronger, though, in songs like “Befreit,” where the power of the performance rested on the soprano’s muscular tone.

Training in Germany and Austria has polished Blue’s German diction, matched by a fine sense of arching line in a set of beautifully enunciated Rachmaninoff songs. Her rendition of “Do not sing, my beauty, to me” shivered with pathos, in the melancholic soft sections but especially so in the full-throated high point of the song. Blue placed the shimmering high B at the end of “How fair is the spot” with assurance, caressing that delicate pianissimo note with a long tenuto.

Pianist Catherine Miller played with technical agility in the showpiece “Spring Waters,” although she was generally too foursquare in setting up musical pinnacles for her partner, except with “In the night’s mysterious silence.” Both artists seemed least home in the opening “Alleluia” from Mozart’s Exsultate, jubilate. Some uncertainty in the middle section caused a marked slowdown in the pacing, but the performers quickly got back on track with one another.

If the first half sometimes hovered at the edge of primness, Blue came to life on the second half. More dramatic repertory, drawn from zarzuelas, jazz-influenced song, and gospel, allowed her to open up and act more freely. When Miller took the stage by herself for the second half, it set up a self-satirizing dramatic entrance by the soprano for the opening of Pablo Luna’s “De España vengo.” Seemingly more relaxed when she had a role to play, Blue lit up the room with theatrical high notes in Ruperto Chapí y Lorente’s “Las Carceleras.”

Bruce Adolphe’s “Valley Girl in Love,” with its text of California nonsense, might have cloyed in less charming hands. Blue, a former Miss Hollywood, played the vapid character (“Once I was like, you know, whatever!”) with a knowing wink. In “A Route to the Sky,” from Jake Heggie’s Paper Wings, the soprano was just as cute, playing off the blues routine in the keyboard part, with its nod to Beethoven’s Für Elise. (Mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong sang the whole set on her Vocal Arts recital earlier this fall.)

Blue and Miller both vamped it up for Heggie’s “Animal Passion,” surpassed in intensity by the exultant high notes at the conclusion of “Connection.” Both songs were drawn from Natural Selection, a cycle set to ferocious poetry by Gini Savage.

Intensity and sincerity marked the final set, authentic performances of gospel spirituals. (Blue’s father, who died in 2006, was a gospel singer.) “Deep River” was broad in tone, the vocal strength communicating the tidal yearning to pass over into heaven. “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” in the arrangement by Moses Hogan, featured the most dramatic vocal pyrotechnics, with whoops upward and some shattering high notes, also heard in a majestic interpretation of “Ride on, King Jesus.”

Acknowledging the approach of Christmas, Blue and Miller offered two encores: Adolphe Adam’s “O Holy Night” (just one verse, with the high note at the end) and “The Christmas Song” by Bob Wells and Mel Tormé. Sometimes encores can be like holiday comfort food, simply enjoyed without guilt.

Vocal Arts DC presents tenor Lawrence Brownlee and pianist Myra Huang 7:30 p.m. April 11, 2019. vocalartsdc.org; 202-669-1463


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