Young Artists take on vernacular challenge




Leah Harrison | Staff Writer

Intuition may tell you that English is the easiest language for English-speaking singers to perform. Without the work of translation, unfamiliar diction and communicating in a language most of the audience does not understand, it is reasonable to assume singing in English makes for an easier job.

But any relief provided by performing English songs — rather than Spanish or Italian — dissolves with the additional responsibilities inherent in singing in the vernacular.

“English is the easiest to memorize, but it’s the hardest to perfect because it’s the language that everyone else can understand,” said baritone Thomas Lehman, one of three Chautauqua Opera Company Studio Artists performing today. “And the common problem with all singers is that we take English for granted. If you don’t have true meaning behind every word that you say, nobody understands what you’re saying, even though it’s in English.”

At 4 p.m. today in the Hall of Christ, Lehman joins soprano Mandy Brown and tenor Adam Bonanni in a vocal study of English contrasted with other languages. The three will perform two sets of art songs each — one in English, the other in French, Russian or Italian. Allison Voth will play the piano.

Bonanni feels that the Italian language and vocal technique complement each other, making the Romance language especially easy to sing.

“The way the language is set up and Italian vowels are great for singing,” Bonanni said. “It’s all about the position of the vowels. In Italian, technique just flows because the language keeps the voice open and free.”

One of Bonanni’s sets is in Italian. Crafted for his voice by Margo Garrett, a coach from his undergraduate studies, the set combines two Ottorino Respighi songs — “Sopra un’aria antica” and “Invito alla Danza” — and one Rossini, “L’esule.

Bonanni will also perform John Musto’s “Old Photograph” and Ben Moore’s

“Early Morning.” The Musto song text comes from Archibald MacLeish, husband to an opera singer who sang Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande, which is quoted throughout the song. Seeing an old photograph of his wife brings back memories.

Musto’s quote is only one instance of the French impressionist’s music on today’s recital. Brown will sing three Debussy songs, including “Coquetterie Posthume,” a flirtatious piece listing the ways in which a woman wants to be buried — with rouge on her cheeks and black smudged around her eyes, so she looks the way she did on a special night.

Brown will also sing “Romance” and “La Romance d’Ariel,” the latter of which is based on Ariel’s character in Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

“The way that Debussy paints those images and gives you that flirtatious spirit is great,” Brown said.

She will also sing three songs from Barber’s well-known “Hermit Songs.” The set takes its text from writings by Irish monks from the 8th to 13th centuries.

“So much of the chosen text really makes you think for yourself,” Brown said. “Barber will ask a very poignant question, and he doesn’t really answer it for you. He wants you to be able to come up with your own answer.”

The “Hermit Songs” Brown will sing are “At Saint Patrick’s Purgatory,” “Promiscuity” and “The Monk and His Cat.”

Lehman will sing three Tchaikovsky songs, each addressing love. One catalogues a man’s techniques he plans to use to woo a woman. In another, the singer has succumbed to loneliness.

Continuing with the combination of sadness and love, Lehman will perform three Barber songs with text from James Joyce. The first, “Rain Has Fallen,” constructs a metaphor between rain and the heaviness of unrequited love. In “Sleep Now,” the singer tries to convince his heart to get over disappointed love, but the heart does not listen. The last, “I Hear an Army,” encounters anger about loneliness, which feels like an army against one man.