The New York Festival of Song (NYFOS), headed by brilliant Artistic Director Steven Blier and Associate Artistic Director Michael Barrett, offered a gem of a program, on March 15 at Merkin Concert Hall, featuring the exceptional emerging artists of the Terrance W. Schwab Vocal Rising Stars at Caramoor—created by Eileen Caulfield Schwab in memory of her husband—and entitled “At Home: Intrigues in the salon, the kitchen, the nursery, and the bedroom,” with Blier and William Kelley at the Steinway pianos. Comprising the quartet of fine lyric singers were soprano Liv Redpath, recently heard in opera at Juilliard; mezzo-soprano Abigail Levis, who will also participate in the gala benefit “Topsy-Turvy: the NYFOS Guide to Gilbert & Sullivan,” on April 5; tenor Galeano Salas; and baritone Justin Austin, who was announced as indisposed, though no one would have known it from his singing. Alison Moritz directed and a story line emerged. This was NYFOS’ eighth annual Schwab Vocal Rising Stars program.
In “The Parlor,” Redpath and Levis harmonized mellifluously in Ernest Chausson and Théodore de Banville’s euphoric “La nuit,” with Blier at the piano. Introduced by a pertinent, or impertinent, quote from Oscar Wilde, from “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” delivered by Salas—“You must have a cigarette. A cigarette is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure. It is exquisite, and it leaves one unsatisfied. What more can one want?”—Levis led the company in a lilting Edwardian era ode to the “Cigarette”—controversial for a woman to be singing at the time—by Herbert E. Haines and Charles H. Taylor. Two songs by French composers, in Spanish style, followed, Camille Saint-Saën’s florid and torrid “El desdichado,” with Redpath and Austin, and Jules Massenet and Jules Ruelle’s sprightly coloratura “Sevilliana,” for Redpath, with Kelley joining Blier on the piano part. Salas, with Blier, gave us a graceful “To Daisies,” Roger Quilter’s setting of a Robert Herrick poem, and Salas and Austin, assisted by Blier and Kelley, offered an ebullient “Trust Her Not,” complete with dainty dance steps and period posturing, to music by Michael William Balfe and poetry by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Redpath, Salas, and Austin delivered selections from an 18th century cookbook to usher us into “The Kitchen,” where Levis seduced us with her serious culinary technique, in Heitor Villa-Lobos’ “Food for Thought,” from “Magdalena,” with lyrics by Wright and Forrest, and Austin vehemently whipped up a Turkish chicken dish, “Tavouk Gueunksis,” by Leonard Bernstein, from “La bonne cuisine,” based on Emile Dumont’s cookbook of the same name. Blier and Kelley assisted and then, seated at the Steinway on stage right, played piano four hands for Salas’ heated account of John Bucchino’s “Painting My Kitchen,” about a conflict in the kitchen—or in the bedroom—encompassing the suggestive—“the size of your cock(pause)tail ring”—and more—“I’d be willing to paint the floor …/With my tongue … In the nude … On network T.V.”
We repaired to “The Nursery,” where Austin, with Blier and Kelley, regaled the company with Xavier Montsalvatge and Federico García Lorca’s “El lagarto está llorando,” a romp, with scary undertones, for children. With Kelley, Levis serenaded a teddy bear with Reynaldo Hahn and Robert Louis Stevenson’s sentimental “My Ship and I,” and Redpath laced, with breezy coloratura, Darius Milhaud and Pierre de Ronsard’s “Tais-toi, babillarde,” proposing doing violence to a swallow akin to that threatened to a no-less-vocal lark in “Alouette.”
We paused in “The Dressing Room” for an airy interlude of self-love, Edwin Weber and Jack Hoins’ “I Love Me,” for the singers, engrossed in their mirrors, with Blier, prefaced by Levis’ lusty quote from Eddie Izzard about narcissism. Salas flirted briefly with Kelley here, but warned him about getting too excited, because the object of the tenor’s affections was himself.
Austin’s quotation from James Baldwin began “The Bedroom,” where, assisted by Blier, Levis reveled in the lush ecstasy of Francis Poulenc and Louise de Vilmorin’s “C’est ainsi que tu es,” blending both secular sound and liturgical overtones; Austin sang a dulcet “Im Zimmer,” a traditional lied by Alban Berg to Johannes Schlaf’s poetry; Redpath, on the other hand, protested, in Polish, that she was suffering from a headache, in Grazyna Bacewicz’s “Boli mnie glowa;” Salas lulled us, at first, with “Serenata,” a declaration of love, by Pietro Mascagni and ‘Lorenzo Stecchetti’ (Olindo Guerrini), which blossomed into a hot blooded virtual verismo aria; and the company longed for “Sleep,” in Ivor Gurney’s early 20th century song, to John Fletcher’s Elizabethan poetry.
For an encore, the company, armed with rubber duckies, sponges, shower caps, and towel, celebrated “Singin’ in the Bathtub,” a favorite Tweety Bird number, by Michael H. Cleary, Herb Magidson, and Ned Washington.
On April 5 at 7 p.m., join NYFOS at Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall for Gilbert and Sullivan favorites sung by David Hyde Pierce, Lauren Worsham, Bryce Pinkham, Hal Cazalet, and Levis, followed by dinner at ‘21’ Club. NYFOS returns to Merkin Concert Hall, at 129 West 67th Street, on April 26 at 8 p.m., for “Compositora: Songs by Latin American Women,” with María Valdés, Efraín Solís, Blier, and Barrett, performing works by María Grever, Violeta Parra, Odaline de la Martínez, Ernestina Lecuona, Chabuca Granda, Susana Baca, Joyce Morena, and Beatriz Lockhart. Visit www.nyfos.org
for further information.