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BWW Review: J'Nai Bridges Recital for LA Opera


A Feast of Fabulous Pieces by Brahms, Gounod, and Black American Composers

BWW Review: J'Nai Bridges Recital for LA Opera On June 22, I watched J'Nai Bridges' online recital at Los Angeles Opera's website. Bridges has been making highly acclaimed debuts at major opera houses. She was Nefertiti in Philip Glass' opera Akhnaten at The Metropolitan Opera. She was Kasturbai in Satyagraha at LA Opera, and she was Dalila in Samson and Dalila at Washington National Opera.

For her LA Opera recital, she chose major selections by Johannes Brahms and Charles Gounod as well as many lesser-known short pieces. Accompanying her performance were pianist Jeremy Frank, harpist Brandee Younger, violist Drew Forde, and choreographer/dancer Shauna Davis. Bridges opened with a rousing rendition of James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamond Johnson's "Lift Every Voice and Sing," sometimes referred to as the Black national anthem. She followed it with a clear-toned harp and piano version of Carlos Simon's "Prayer."

Then came piece that rocked me back in my couch-seat. Dave Ragland composed "I Believe" to an anonymous inscription written in the Cologne concentration camp. Bridges sang this never-to-be-forgotten piece with great dignity and consummate grace.

If you were wondering why she included violist Drew Forde, the answer is Johannes Brahms' Two Songs, Op. 91, accompanied by piano and viola. "Gestillte Sehnsucht" ("Satisfied Longing") has a text by Friedrich Rückert. "Geistliches Wiegenlied" ("Spiritual Cradle Song") was written to a text by Emanuel Geibel after Lope De Vega. Bridges low notes and the resonant tones of the viola were a gorgeous match.

Bridges followed them with a poignant performance of Sappho's death scene, "O ma Lyre Immortelle" ("O my Immortal Lyre") from Charles Gounod 's early opera, Sappho. A three-act opera that Charles Gounod composed to a libretto by Émile Augier, Sappho premiered by the Paris Opera in 1851 and brought a taste of success to the young composer. For the mezzo, the scene was a chance to let those who plan opera know she would be a fine Sappho, both vocally and visually. The Lyre Immortelle was, of course, played with exquisite grace by harpist Brandee Younger.

Bridges' second song, "Prayer," had a text by Langston Hughes, and so did two of her later offerings: "Hold Fast to Dreams" with music by Florence B. Price, and "Minstrel Man" with music by Margaret Bonds. Bridges clear diction, sweet tones, and exquisite taste made each of them memorable. Her finale consisted of selections rarely heard in the concert hall but nonetheless welcome: "Oh Glory" for which Shawn E. Okpebholo wrote both texts and music, and Stevie Wonder's classic pop tune, "If It's Magic." There is no question that this recital is magic and you can view it online now at the Los Angeles Opera web site.

Photo of J'Nai Bridges courtesy of Los Angeles Opera.

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