This week, Chautauquans are talking about the future of cities, and in order to thrive, cities require travel — to, fro’ and every which way around.
At 3:15 p.m. Thursday in the Athenaeum Hotel Parlor, three Chautauqua Opera Company Studio Artists will present their final recital of the summer, “Songs of Travel, Home and Love.”
“One of the goals of travel is to find home,” said Jeremy Gill, composer-in-residence and this week’s accompanist-coach. “That seems to be the theme, finding home rather than leaving home.”
The program will feature the world premiere of Gill’s “The Invisible City.” Inspiration for the song came from the novel Invisible Cities by Italian journalist and novelist Italo Calvino. In it, Calvino imagined Marco Polo’s conversation with Kublai Khan, emperor of the Yuan dynasty in 13th century China.
Patrick Terry will perform the song, which Gill wrote specifically for his voice.
“I could absolutely tell that Jeremy [Gill] had taken the time to listen to [my audition] recordings and feel where my voice sits,” Terry said. “Working for these past few weeks on it together has been really rewarding, and obviously, very personal and wonderful.”
Terry sings countertenor, a male voice part that sits comfortably in the range of a female contralto or mezzo-soprano. The part was commonly sung in the Renaissance and Baroque periods but fell out of use in the ensuing years. It was English singer Alfred Deller who brought it back into popularity in the mid-20th century.
“It’s a less common voice type, but it’s actually a really exciting time to be a countertenor,” Terry said. “It seems like every day there are a billion new countertenors and that much more music written specifically for countertenors, so it’s becoming less and less an anomaly.”
In addition to the Gill piece, Terry will sing six songs from “Le bestiaire,” Op. 17, by Louis Durey and “Morgen!” by Richard Strauss.
Soprano Emily Michiko Jensen will shift the theme from purposeful travel to existential wandering when she performs “Nacht” and “Die Nachtigal,” two of Alban Berg’s “Sieben frühe Lieder” (Seven Early Songs), along with “St. Ita’s Vision” and “The Heavenly Banquet” from Samuel Barber’s Hermit Songs.
“It may not be literal, you know, physically walking from one place to another,” Jensen said of her character in the Barber songs. “But she’s traveling in her own mind with what she wants and where she wants to go.”
As for semi-literal travel, bass-baritone Ryan Stoll will traverse three selections from Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Songs of Travel,” musical settings to texts by R.L. Stevenson that will be interspersed throughout the program.
“Roadside Fire is kind of describing home and what this person would do for his loved ones,” Stoll said. “Youth and Love is obviously about the love of a traveler and the things you have to give up to enjoy your travels.”
Stoll will also sing two of Arthur Honegger’s Quatre Chansons, “Fühlt meine Seele” from Hugo Wolf’s Michelangelo Lieder and a “Se tu non lasci amore,” a quasi-choral Handel trio written for two trebles and a low bass — the perfect combination for Terry, Jensen and Stoll.
Gill said the aforementioned vocal ensemble is unusual and there aren’t many chamber works to accommodate that combination. He doesn’t know what the Handel trio was originally written for, but that Handel published a book of duets and tucked this and one other trio into the final pages. Gill also said there is a tendency in Baroque music to play without any color by flattening the voices and forcing the singers to match one another’s tone.
“We are not going to do that because it’s not interesting; it doesn’t feel good to do that,” he said. “[The trio] is chamber music. It’s real counterpoint, so if Ryan sounds like a double bass and Patrick sounds like an oboe and Emily sounds like a cornet, great.”