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Lieder and Songs by Black by Composers

BWW Review: AN AUTUMN AFTERNOON WITH RAEHANN BRYCE-DAVIS at Home Computer Screens "An Autumn Afternoon with Raehann Bryce-Davis"

During the 2021-22 season, mezzo-soprano Raehann Bryce-Davis, a 2015 alumna of the Merola Opera Program, is performing at Opera Ballet Vlaanderen and La Monnaie de Munt in Belgium, Théâtre du Capitole in France, Staatstheater Nürnberg in Germany, Theater St Gallen in Switzerland, Teatro alla Scala in Italy, The Glimmerglass Festival, and the Los Angeles Opera in the United States.

South African-born pianist Jeanne-Minette Cilliers, who performs with Bryce-Davis in this recital, can also be heard with the mezzo on the L A Opera 2021 Digital Short, "Brown Sounds." Cilliers is known as a poet of the piano, and she garners rave reviews for her richly colored and imaginative playing.

Bryce Davis and Cilliers opened their recital program with Richard Strauss' and John Henry Mackay's uplifting "Heimliche Aufforderung" ("The Secret Invitation"). This joyous, celebratory composition was the composer's gift to his bride on their wedding day. Bryce-Davis sang it with exquisite vocal colors. Next was Robert Schumann "Die Lotosblume" ("The Lotus Flower") in which the poet Heinrich Heine described the beauty of the love between the flower and the moon. Bryce-Davis showed the lyric tones of her voice as she told of this delicate love.

Bryce-Davis and Cilliers followed with the immortal song "Von ewiger Liebe" ("Of Eternal Love") that Johannes Brahms composed to a text by A. H. Hoffmann von Fallersleben. The composer's music kept drawing the audience closer as the singer insisted with ever higher, more overtone-imbued sound: "Our love can never be severed! Steel and iron are strong but our love is stronger. Metal can melt away, but our love must endure for ever!"

The finale of the group was Richard Wagner's "Schmerzen" ("Pains"), with words by his amour-du-jour, Mathilde Wesendonck. "Death gives way to renewed life, and pain to to bliss. Thus, I am thankful for nature's pains!" Both Cilliers and Bryce-Davis told much more about joy than pain.

Bryce-Davis' second group contained songs by Black writers. She opened with Florence Price's "The Crescent Moon" the text of which is by Louise Charlotte Wallace. Florence Beatrice Price, (1887-1953) from Little Rock, Arkansas, became the first black female composer to have her symphony performed by a major American orchestra. Bryce-Davis and Cillers set the mood and painted an exquisite vocal/piano picture of night.

Margaret Bonds (1913-1972), a pianist and composer who studied composition with Florence Price, was noted for her musical adaptations of Shakespeare and her collaboration with Langston Hughes. Bonds was the first African American soloist to appear with the Chicago Symphony and she played an important role in the development of twentieth century musical theater. Bonds' song "Birth" evoked the meaning of Hughes' text in both the melody and the accompaniment while Bryce-Davis and Cilliers clothed the words in musically colorful tones.

The words to Maria Thompson Corley's full-blooded new work, "I Am Not an Angry Black Woman (World Premiere) were not printed in the program, nor are they easily available on the Internet. Brice-Davis sang them with excellent diction and made her point with violet-shaded tone. Composer B.E. Boykin and poet Paul Laurence Dunbar's "We Wear the Mask" reminds white folks that people of color are always aware of the difference and often tell us what they think we want to hear. Bryce-Davis' voice said one thing and her eyes another.

Then came fun time and composer Peter Ashbourne's absolutely delightful Jamaican songs which reminded the audience of the beauty of that flower-laden land. Cillers, too, attained a different point of view for these lighter pieces. "Fi Mi Love Have Lion Heart" was the perfect finale to a lovely afternoon concert.
"An Autumn Afternoon with Raehann Bryce-Davis" can can be heard on demand. It will be available through November 30, 2021, and those who missed the premiere can purchase tickets for $25 to stream the recital on-demand by contacting the Merola offices at (415) 936-2311.

Photo of Raehann Bryce-Davis courtesy of Los Angeles Opera.

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