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BWW Review: My Desert Island (and 92nd St. Y) All-Time Dream Team – Brownlee, Spyres and Rossini


All-Rossini Concert by the Two Singers Left Heads Spinning from a Night of ‘Barnburners’

BWW Review: My Desert Island (and 92nd St. Y) All-Time Dream Team – Brownlee, Spyres and Rossini
Pianist Huang, Lawrence Brownlee, Michael Spyres.
Photo: Joe Sinnott

Oh, sure, give us Missy Mazzoli, Nico Muhly, Laura Kaminsky, Kevin Puts, Terence Blanchard, Paul Moravec, Huang Ruo and all the other fabulous composers at work today. But let's talk about Rossini--and it's hard for anyone who attended the concert the other night at New York's 92nd Street Y not to.

With tenor Lawrence Brownlee, (bari)tenor Michael Spyres and pianist Myra Huang presenting us with a dizzying array of what Brownlee called "barnburner pieces, back to back," there was not much more to do than stand up and scream for more. And more there was, after the printed program with a suite of pieces from BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA, a song from "Sins of Old Age," and arias from ELISABETTA REGINA D'INGHILTERRA, RICCIARDO E ZORAIDE and ROSSINI's tenor-laden version of OTELLO.

It was an unbelievable treat to hear Brownlee and Spyres alternate high C's in their (encore) duet version of "O, mes amis" from FILLE DU REGIMENT, but it also showed up the differences in their voices one more time. Brownlee produced that succulent wall of sound that just kept pouring out of him like it would never stop, from his first solo in "All'idea di quell metallo" from BARBIERE.

BWW Review: My Desert Island (and 92nd St. Y) All-Time Dream Team – Brownlee, Spyres and Rossini
Lawrence Brownlee. Photo: Joe Sinnott

You couldn't help but thinking how amazing it was that he could get up there and sing like that without a chance to warm up. But it was misleading, because he did warm up and sounded better and better as the concert proceeded. The vocal fireworks from Brownlee were simply astounding.

The two men seemed to be having such a good time together that it became totally infectious, with their different styles and different voices, like watching Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dancing across the stage.

Spyres reminded me of some of the mezzos I've interviewed who insist that they not be pigeonholed because they just don't sing in one fach. He hasn't had the exposure in New York that Brownlee has had, but I saw him as Aeneas in a production from Strasbourg and he was awe-inspiring--even next to the brilliant Dido of DiDonato. Spyres showed off a range that, well, was surprising to say the least. His baritonal work, in arias like "Largo al factotum" from BARBIERE at the start of the program, which he sang full-voiced and included lots of shtick, left us unprepared for those high C's (and more) he threw off with abandon not so soon after.

Unlike someone like Jonas Kaufmann, who just has that baritonal quality to his tenorial work, Spyres seemed to be inhabited by two singers, vocalizing seamlessly. While he (mostly) didn't have that suave, effortless bel canto tenor sound that Brownlee pulls out and makes our eyes bulge in amazement, Spyres makes up for it in a million other ways.

BWW Review: My Desert Island (and 92nd St. Y) All-Time Dream Team – Brownlee, Spyres and Rossini
Myra Huang and Michael Spyres. Photo: Joe Sinnott

He delighted us with the composer's "L'escule" (which also showed us that the composer couldn't help steal from himself), but when he sang in duet with Brownlee, in "Deh! Scusa I trasporti" (ELISABETTA) and "Donala a questo core" (RICCIARDO), he sounded like a veritable baritone. Brownlee may have seemed a bit more elegant, but when they sang in unison, well, they were an unbeatable pair, matching coloratura and sound like they were 'brothers from a different mother.'

Their singular and duet work from the Rossini OTELLO made me long to hear a live performance of the whole opera with these two (the opera last heard in New York from the late-lamented Loft Opera in Bushwick), which is so different from Verdi's take. By this time in the program, when others might have found themselves starting to lag, it was as if these two were only getting started, whether in the solo "Che ascolto?" (bold but nuanced, with voice and more voice from Brownlee) and "Ah, si per voi gia sento" (where Spyres could get more out of the few lines from the composer than anyone has a right to) or the spectacular duet "Ah! Vieni nel tuo sangue."

Pianist Huang did stellar work accompanying these two brilliant singers and while I applaud her opportunities for solos of her own, I wish the choices had been a little more interesting. The transcription of the overture from BARBIERE, with pianists Thomas Lausmann and Bryan Wagorn, seemed like it was a lot more fun for the trio at the keyboard than it was for listeners (the hijinks were, however, amusing). And the familiar overture from GUILLAUME TELL (in her own arrangement), was, well, perhaps too familiar, unless Bugs Bunny was in the house.

However, the concert as a whole was one of those unmissable events. But if you did happen to be elsewhere, the two have recorded most of the concert's material and more in AMICI E RIVALI (Friends and Rivals) on Warner Classics/Erato.

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From This Author Richard Sasanow