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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 24 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 04
Vocal ecstasy: Angela Meade in recital
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Vocal ecstasy: Angela Meade in recital

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

How would you describe ecstasy? What for you can cause a state of ecstasy? Music does it most often for me. It's rare, unpredictable, and intoxicating; I'm not safe to drive until I've calmed down a bit afterwards. Otherwise, I think it's good for your health (like laughter). But where can it be found?

In a sense, my selecting what I'm going to attend and perhaps review is an educated crapshoot in a search for ecstasy. Not only does the event have to deliver the proper stimuli, but I also must be in a receptive mood. The same recording, for instance, can sometimes work its magic and at other times fall flat. When ecstasy calls, it is always a surprise, even though I have been looking for it, because its power is so overwhelming. At concerts I have had to learn how to sob silently, even if I can't keep my eyes clear enough to see the whole happening.

I make these observations because Saturday's benefit recital at Pacific Lutheran University by soprano Angela Meade held multiple moments of ecstasy of the highest intensity I have ever experienced in my 75 years.

The great Birgit Nilsson once answered a question about her voice with, 'I was born with freaky things in my throat.' If you've ever experienced her singing live, you'll credit her answer. Very few singers possess voices worthy of it. But Angela Meade is definitely one of those rarities. Her voice is not only huge, but also warm, attractive, and extremely flexible.

But the voice is only one ingredient in the makeup of a great singer. Excellent health is another. But these don't matter if two other ingredients are missing: a huge capacity for discipline and hard work, and the musical intelligence to bring it all together. We saw and heard all of this come together with incredible power in this program of mostly German and French art songs, even though Angela began and ended the evening with an operatic aria.

Magda's aria from Puccini's opera La Rondine sounded like an easy, simple and lovely tune. It sounded that way until you remembered that that soft, floated high note is a high C! The set of four songs by Giocomo Meyerbeer that followed was a shock. Who knew Meyerbeer wrote totally engaging art songs; I was familiar only with his sometimes-not-so-engaging operas. These songs also drew our attention to the extraordinary playing of Bradley Moore, Angela's superb accompanist. For a complete change of color and mood, she then sang four by Bizet. Here especially one noticed the singer's superb articulation of rhythms and grace notes.

After intermission we heard three vocally operatic and viscerally exciting songs by Franz Liszt. After the recital, the pianist said to me, 'I don't understand why these Liszt songs aren't performed more often.' To which I replied, 'Because most sopranos would be scared to death by them!' Indeed, the vocal demands were formidable in every way: range, agility, and dramatic thrust.

Another impressive set of four Meyerbeer songs followed, before the final item on the printed program: 'Addio, addio mio dolce amor!' from Puccini's opera, Edgar. The encore that followed, 'Pace, pace mio Dio' from Verdi's La Forza del destino, ... well, that's the hardest part to describe. How can one completely lose it and yet describe, even poetically, the waves of ecstasy that ensued. If you know the aria, it begins with a 'messa di voce,' a high note begun very softly, then slowly swelled to pretty loud, and then slowly diminished to the original soft. The diminuendo should exactly mirror the crescendo, in the opposite direction. (This is part of the 'science' of great vocal art.)

Angela did it so perfectly that it set off my ecstasy thing big time! The rest of this great aria was no less impressive in its dramatic power and vocal splendor, concluding with a high B-flat that was the perfect combination of power and beauty. Shaking with excitement and wiping away the tears, my two guests and I could not have handled more and thus welcomed the end of the singing.

Angela, who hails from Centralia, spoke to the audience about the vocal scholarship that this benefit helped fund for her alma mater, PLU. She introduced one of the students, who was set to compete in the Metropolitan Opera regional auditions the next day at Benaroya Hall. The soprano has to know how unique her talents are, but she doesn't show it in her humble and charming manner.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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