Mezzo-soprano Kelly Guerra moved to New York City to live with her fiancé during the COVID-19 pandemic. And like everyone else, they found themselves with a lot of time on their hands; the two needed a project.
Luckily, her fiancé Eric Sedgwick is a pianist, and so they got to work adding Gabriel Fauré’s “La bonne chanson” to their repertoire.
“We got to really delve into this poetry about deep love and really getting to know each other at the same time as musicians,” Guerra said.
Fauré’s song cycle tells of the first year of a couple’s marriage. For a newly engaged couple, it made the project and the music all the more special.
When Guerra participated in Chautauqua Opera Company’s virtual 2020 season, General and Artistic Director Steven Osgood asked over Zoom what everyone’s favorite piece of music was at the moment. Guerra couldn’t help but think of “La bonne chanson” and her love for both the music and Sedgwick.
“I just busted up crying,” Guerra said.
Now Guerra is back on the grounds to play Esperanza Cordero in Chautauqua Opera’s workshop reading of The House on Mango Street: The Opera by librettist Sandra Cisneros and composer Derek Bermel; she will also perform with Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra Diversity Fellows as part of the Chautauqua Chamber Music Resident Artist Series at 4 p.m. Saturday in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall. However, following the attack Friday morning of Salman Rushdie and Henry Reese on the Amphitheater stage, both the workshop reading of The House on Mango Street: The Opera and Saturday’s chamber recital have been canceled.
In preparation for the now-canceled recital, Guerra chose Fauré’s song cycle, along with Gabriela Lena Frank’s Kanto Kechua (Quechua Song) No. 2, Meilina Tsui’s String Quartet No. 2 and Gustav Mahler’s “Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen” to share with the audience.
While she is thrilled to share Fauré’s music, she admitted it will feel odd to perform Fauré accompanied by a chamber ensemble instead of Sedgwick.
“But it’s very nice to have that inspiration,” she said. “I mean, I’m literally planning my wedding right now, and one of the songs describes the wedding (that) will be on a summer day and it’ll be outside and the sky is blue. And our wedding will be on a summer day, and hopefully the sky will be blue.”
This piece will follow Mahler’s “Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen.” The two are quite different in tone, but Guerra feels that when played together, they tell the coherent story of a character who has known heartbreak and finds love.
“The poetry was written by Mahler himself, and he was very in love with this girl,” Guerra said. “She did not love him back.”
Mahler was an Austro-Bohemian composer who, during his life, faced anti-Semitism and the death of his daughter. Mahler knew grief, and Guerra feels he also knew how to write about it well.
The first few lines of the “Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen” read: “When my love has her wedding-day, / Her joyous wedding-day, / I have my day of mourning!”
In this chamber concert, weddings are portrayed as both mournful and happy at different times. Guerra sees the songs’ characters finding the space to eventually see joy, which shows growth; even though they have faced loss, that is not the end of the story.
“I imagine taking that character who heals, finds themself, then is able to actually fall in love with someone who loves them back,” she said. “It’s kind of a long story arc of grief to eventually finding the right person for you.”