BWW Reviews: Horne of Plenty for Diva's 80th Birthday at Zankel Hall

There was a lovefest for the great mezzo Marilyn Horne in New York last week, filled with the music of friends, acquaintances and admirers at Carnegie Hall's sibling, Zankel Hall. It was hosted by two longtime colleagues of Horne, mezzo Frederika von Stade and bass-baritone Samuel Ramey, who also contributed to the festivities with Lerner & Loewe's "I Remember It Well," from GIGI.

More than bel canto

Horne came to the forefront of the opera world in 1961, at Carnegie, in a concert staging of Bellini's BEATRICE DI TENDA, and while the audience came for Joan Sutherland (or so Horne herself claims), they discovered the mezzo as well. With Sutherland, Beverly Sills, Montserrat Caballe, Luciano Pavarotti and a few others, she was at the center of the (post-Callas) bel canto revival in this country and elsewhere--but there was much more to her than Bellini, Donizetti and Rossini.

In her prime, Horne had one of those voices that was distinctive and amazing, with a bottom as deep as the Grand Canyon and a flexibility that took your breath away. I especially liked her comic roles, where she sang with a relish and gusto that was unmatched. Her Isabella in L'ITALIANA IN ALGERI, Rosina in BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA and Dame Quickly in FALSTAFF were priceless and I was thrilled to hear them live. That's not to say that her Carmen (with Bernstein conducting) or Rinaldo weren't wonderful as well, because I wouldn't have missed them for the world--and I would have been curious to hear her Marie in WOZZECK--but there was something about her buffa roles that really spoke (sang?) to me.

An annual celebration

The concert was the climax of this year's series of "The Song Continues," an annual celebration of the art of song created by Horne to nurture gifted young vocal talent. (It originated with Horne's foundation and is now part of Carnegie Hall's Weill Music Institute.) The program was assembled by artist manager and opera impresario Matthew Epstein, pianist Martin Katz--a longtime collaborator of the singer--and Jeremy Geffen, Carnegie Hall Director of Artistic Planning. Each of the evening's selections referenced Horne's varied career and, while every singer on the program last Thursday was not young, there is no question that they were all gifted. There were many highlights.

You'd never know that Renee Fleming had come from a full day's rehearsal of RUSALKA from her performance of "Traume" from Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder--she sounded relaxed and as involved as she's ever sounded. Later in the program, with vibrant tenor Piotr Beczala and pianist Katz, she gave an enchanting preview of Lehar's DIE LUSTIGE WITWE, which is in her future at the Met, singing "Lippen scheigen," better known in these parts as the Merry Widow Waltz. Beczala, also fresh from the RUSALKA rehearsal, was sweet-toned and urgent, both tender and thoughtful, in an early Beethoven song, Adelaide.




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Richard Sasanow Richard Sasanow is a long-time writer on art, music, food, travel and international business for publications including The New York Times, The Guardian (UK), Town & Country and Travel & Leisure, among many others. He also interviewed some of the great singers of the 20th century for the programs at the San Francisco Opera and San Diego Opera and worked on US tours of the Orchestre National de France and Vienna State Opera, conducted by Lorin Maazel, Zubin Mehta and Leonard Bernstein.



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by Richard Sasanow