Thursday, November 4, 2010

7 Reasons to Hear Richard Zeller Nov 7

Opera Roanoke is celebrating National Opera Week with an "opera unplugged" recital November 7 featuring "one of America's foremost baritones," Richard Zeller.

We've been offering promotions in honor of the celebration all week, and we'll be giving away tickets at our "free-for-all" booth outside Center in the Square at the Historic Roanoke City Market Friday from 11-1.

Since inquiring minds want to know what this recital thing is and what to expect, I offer the following annotated list.

7. A Sunday matinee of live music is one of the best ways to add some variety to a fall season of game-days. Add some cultural spice to your weekend ahead of the holiday shopping rush. Give yourself a gift. Feed your senses and your soul by spending 90 minutes with Richard Zeller Sunday.

6. The songs Richard will be singing are ravishingly beautiful. The pop ballads that have been crooned in showers and cars for generations owe their provenance to the 19th century Romantic "art song." And you don't have to understand German, French or Russian to appreciate how gorgeous the songs of Schumann, Brahms, Duparc and Rachmaninoff are. Their meaning will be obvious through Richard's performance. And the basic human emotions of longing, love and loss have never been set to more ravishing music.

Schumann's bicentennial is this year, but we don't need an excuse to program the music of this romantic who was a prototype of the tortured artistic genius. Besides being one of the great composers after Schumann, Brahms was one of music history's most talented babysitters, looking after the Schumann children while he cut his teeth as a composer.

Duparc left us only a handful of songs, but what exquisite miniatures they are. If a single song can be a self-contained world unto itself, Duparc's are a perfect example. And if you've never heard a great Russian song, then Rachmaninoff's are worth the recital alone. The beautifully haunting lyricism that perfumes the music we associate with the "Russian soul" is embodied in these songs.

5. The arias (that is, "songs" extracted from operas, not to be confused with the stand-alone "art" songs) Richard is offering feature music that will put a smile on the faces of all: young & old, opera buff and newcomer. The Toreador Aria from Carmen is one of the most beloved tunes in the world, and if you don't recognize the title you will recognize the tune (and want to hum along)! This great aria--full of life and spirit--is a prime example of why opera is not the distant, remote, inaccessible art some still think it is.

4. The standards from the Broadway stage are American classics. Some Enchanted Evening is one of the most popular songs of all time, and if you've never heard a voice like Richard's sing this music --burnished, resonant, full-bodied (and un-amplified)--then you have never heard it the way it was intended to be sung. As familiar a song as it is, I cherish the chance to hear a singer like Richard sing it.

3. And speaking of American classics, Richard is including a wonderful slice of "Americana" in a set of songs by Robert MacGimsey. "Sweet little Jesus Boy" is a classic of the American folk song tradition. One would be forgiven for thinking it was the product of the African American spiritual tradition. In fact, its composer was a caucasian man who studied and worked with black artists and paid tribute to his apprenticeship by adopting his teachers' style.

2. If you've been to a recital by a great classical singer like Richard, you know what a special experience it is. Words like "magical," "transcendent" and "powerful" are but a few of the adjectives to describe this concert featuring one voice accompanied by a single piano. The "opera unplugged" moniker is an apt one. Whatever you call it, recitals like this are a special occasion; we are fortunate to have them here at Opera Roanoke every season.

1. The single best reason to come on Sunday is Richard Zeller himself. Richard's voice is a mirror of his person--warm, rich, strong and full of character. When a great singer like Richard opens his throat to sing the listener is offered a window into his soul. The opportunity to enter into the world of an opera singer through the solo recital is a singular experience.

To be invited & lured into this realm heightens the magic of the experience while rendering its expressiveness even truer to life. Why else do we call such voices "larger than life?!" To be captivated & entranced by such resonant tones emanating from a singer only a few feet away is thrilling. If you've ever been impressed by a singer on a show like "America's Got Talent" then you're in for a treat. America has talent indeed, and a supreme example of it will be in Roanoke for one day only November 7 at 2:30 pm on the Shaftman Performance Hall Stage at the Jefferson Center in downtown Roanoke. I hope you will be there too.

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