In last Thursday’s afternoon art song recital, a 17th-century poem by Robert Herrick served as inspiration for the program. At 3:15 p.m. Thursday in the Athenaeum Hotel Parlor, two more of the Chautauqua Opera Company’s Studio Artists will perform a program both comprised of and inspired by their favorite works.
“What I’m looking for in planning a recital is not so much that the music all be about a certain topic, but that it form a musically cohesive whole,” said Rick Hoffenberg, accompanist and vocal coach for today’s performance. “I always start by asking the singers, ‘What pieces are you most passionate about performing?’ ”
Hoffenberg said he considers style, genre and compositional period when he arranges a program and tries to remain cognizant of how one piece complements and flows into another.
Tenor Vincent Festa and soprano Margaret Bridge, along with Hoffenberg on piano, will perform works by Franz Schubert, Franz Liszt, Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss, Benjamin Britten, Ralph Vaughan Williams and Leonard Bernstein.
“It’s interesting to be back in a totally different part of the Institution,” said Festa, who came to the Chautauqua five years ago to study in Marlena Malas’ Voice Program.
Festa and Bridge will open the recital with two duets by Schubert — Mignon und der Harfner, D. 877, No. 1, and Licht und Liebe (Nachtgesang), D. 352 — followed by one of Festa’s signature songs. The piece is one of three Petrarch sonnets set to music by Liszt, titled Benedetto sia ‘l giorno, S. 270, No. 2.
“The Liszt fits my voice very well,” Festa said. “It’s a little more operatic than the other pieces, and it feels almost like an aria because it has this story throughout.”
The story he referred to is Francesco Petrarch’s infatuation with a woman named Laura, who is thought to have been — though never positively identified as — 14th-century figure Laura de Noves. Festa described the song as having a bel canto style.
“I’m kind of notorious for picking beautiful music,” he said.
Bridge is originally from Bray in County Wicklow, Ireland. She earned her master’s degree in vocal performance at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, Dublin, and currently studies with Lisa Saffer at the New England Conservatory of Music.
In addition to her duets with Festa, Bridge will sing a Mahler song cycle originally written for a full orchestral accompaniment.
“They’re really lush and full and gorgeous,” she said of the Mahler pieces. “The other set, a set of cabaret songs by Benjamin Britten, is completely different. They’re not performed that often.”
Bridge will also perform “The Gartan Mother’s Lullaby,” set to a traditional Irish melody, and will join Festa for their final duet “Oh, Happy We” from Bernstein’s Candide.
For Hoffenberg, working with Bridge and Festa (as well as the rest of the opera company’s Young Artists) is the highlight of being a recital coach.
“These are some of the best young aspiring opera singers in the country, and so it’s such a privilege to be able to meet them, work with them and help guide them at such a formative time in their careers,” Hoffenberg said. “When they’re figuring out if this is the way they want to spend their lives, when they’re trying to get musical feedback about their singing and trying to get suggestions for repertoire, that is absolutely my favorite thing about the job.”