This article pertains to another article I wrote a while back called, “Crossover Artists And Other Terminal Diseases.” Some opera singers seem to think that musical theater is some sort of poor cousin to opera. But, in fact, they are two completely different art forms. However, one needs to make a study of theater to fully understand this. The music is complex in it’s own way, as is the art-form itself. Just because it’s not Wagner, does not mean it’s frivolous and doesn’t have something meaningful to say. I’ll take “Sunday in the Park with George” over “Manon” any day. Of course, tastes vary and musical theater may not be your cup of tea. That is perfectly fine. But to tacitly dismiss something on the basis of snobbery (or mere observation) is inexcusable. Keep an open mind…
Collegiate Chorale Paulo Szot and Deborah Voigt, with orchestra and chorus on Thursday night at the Isaac Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall.
By STEPHEN HOLDEN
Published: May 20, 2011
No question: the musical forces on the stage of Carnegie Hall on Thursday evening were mighty. Take the 180-voice Collegiate Chorale, add a real-life Brünnhilde in the person of the great dramatic soprano Deborah Voigt, and you should expect nothing less than thunder and lightning. But it was not to be. A distant rumble, a flicker on the horizon, a spritz of rain, yes. But except for a rip-roaring “Oklahoma!” when everything suddenly converged, there was only a hint of a storm.
The occasion was the chorale’s spring concert and benefit, “Something Wonderful: An Evening of Broadway With Deborah Voigt.” Ted Sperling conducted the American Symphony Orchestra; the dashing baritone Paulo Szot was special guest and Ms. Voigt’s on-and-off singing partner.
The problems began with the microphone. Ms. Voigt’s decision to use one throughout most of the program turned out to be an exercise in self-suppression. She muted her power to create a more informal, intimate attitude, making her voice sound ragged and occasionally uncertain, if still essentially operatic. Only when she dispensed with amplification to sing “My Man’s Gone Now,” in a “Porgy and Bess” suite, did her magnificent sound unfurl in scorching tongues of fire.
At the same time, Carnegie Hall’s acoustic quirks diffused the chorale’s massed voices into whooshes. You had the impression of tons of vocal confetti being tossed to the wind. The repertory was also problematic. Why the melodious but insipid selections from “The Music Man” that dominated the early part of the 90-minute show? They may be pretty but offer little in the way of interpretive challenge.
To a lesser degree, the same goes for the Kern-Hammerstein songs from “Sweet Adeline” (with the exception of “Why Was I Born? ”) and the so-so “You Are Never Away,” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Allegro.”
As the program became more substantial, a deeper problem emerged. Ms. Voigt’s sincere efforts to break out of an operatic mode into the spontaneous, quasi-conversational fluidity demanded by Broadway were largely futile. “Something Wonderful,” from “The King and I” remained coolly elevated; “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man” was stiff. Even “Losing My Mind,” the killer ballad from “Follies,” whose narrator is questioning her mental stability, remained lofty and safely tranquilized.
“They Say It’s Wonderful,” from “Annie Get Your Gun,” had no underlying yearning or sense of expectation. Some barriers came down during Ms. Voigt’s and Mr. Szot’s duets on “An Old-Fashioned Wedding” and “Anything You Can Do,” but even here, their playfulness was forced.
The show left me pondering a question that has been floating in the air since the 1980s vogue of recordings of Broadway shows sung by opera stars. Are musical comedy and opera first cousins? Or are they really distant relatives? A handful of singers like Audra McDonald and Brian Stokes Mitchell tease us with the possibility that the two are immediate family. But I wonder.
Early in the show Ms. Voigt said, “It’s nice to be among you mortals and to be on a stage that isn’t moving.” But the evening suggested that escaping Valhalla isn’t as easy as picking up a microphone and posing as one of the folks.