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Summer Recitals 1 in Down Arts Centre
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Summer Recitals 1 in Down Arts Centre

George Fleeton © 2013

George Fleeton

George Fleeton

The first of two Summer Recitals was given in Down Arts Centre on June 20.

Titled A Midsummer Medley of Songs, Arias and Operatic Chat, it featured local pianist Elizabeth Bicker, Banbridge-based soprano Catherine Harper and special guest baritone, currently working at the Royal Opera House, Scottish-born Donald Maxwell.

They began with three pieces from George Gershwin’s only full-length opera Porgy and Bess (Boston and New York, 1935).

Gershwin had wanted to unite jazz and blues with modern classical music and he largely succeeded with this one-off initiative, a black American folk opera set in fictional Catfish Row.

He had hoped it would combine ‘the drama of Carmen with the beauty of Meistersinger’ – it didn’t and still doesn’t.

But in this Recital we heard how close he got in two solos: Oh, I got plenty o’ nuttin and Summertime(Gershwin’s most inspired melody) and in the love duet Bess, you is my woman now, and we were reminded just how good this opera remains – on  its own terms.

To this Elizabeth Bicker appended a later Gerswhin piece, the song Nice work if you can get it, written for a Fred Astaire film, but given here as a piano solo; and Catherine Harper offered another interesting song, calledBy Strauss (which I seem to remember being sung on the wireless years ago by Ella Fitzgerald)

That was followed by Donald Maxwell, in full anecdotal flight (recounting a one-time distant, confusing and amusing visit to sing in Carrickfergus) as he introduced and sang two of his favourite party pieces.

The lightness of touch in this well constructed programme of songs, arias and stories for mid-June – ‘elements of fun’, as Maxwell described them – was then whole-heartedly taken up by the guest soprano, in Tytania’s aria from Benjamin Britten’s opera A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Aldeburgh, 1960): Be kind and courteous to this gentleman (namely Bottom, the weaver), complete with humble-bees and painted butterflies’ trills on piano.

Incidentally Donald Maxwell’s recording of Bottom in that opera (from 1990, on the Virgin label) is fast becoming a collector’s item.

Britten’s anniversary (he was born in 1913) was not the only one marked in this Recital.

Verdi is two hundred years old this year, so to speak, and he wrote what was to be his last, of twenty-eight operas, Falstaff, in 1893 for La Scala Milan.

The link, of course, with the previous aria is Shakespeare, and comedy is to the fore in both those operas.

For instance, in Falstaff’s very short patter arietta, it’s hardly over before he’s tipped out of the window into the Thames.

This excellent Recital finished with two much enjoyed and unexpected numbers: American songwriter Jeanine Tesori’s The Girl in 14G, and The song that goes like this, written by John du Prez.

The second of these two Recitals – Songs of the Glens and a little bit of Opera – takes place in Down Arts Centre on June 27 at 1.00pm.

Soloists are Elizabeth Bicker piano, Debra Stuart Mezzo-soprano and Eugene O’Hagan tenor

Tickets are £12/£10

Box Office: 028 4461 0747

George Fleeton’s musical tribute to Maria Callas takes place in Calary Co. Wicklow on July 05 at 8.00pm.

Tickets and directions are available from the promoter

Callas in Calary

The Life and the Voice of MARIA CALLAS (1923-77)

A Musical Tribute to mark the 90th anniversary of her birth, with examples drawn from major operas that she performed on stage, or recorded in studio

Norah King soprano and Anthony Byrne piano.

George Fleeton producer/presenter on behalf of the Maria Callas International Club

Friday 05 July 2013

8.00 p.m.