I missed Measha Brueggergosman’s Mahler 4, so last Sunday’s recital was the first time I’d heard her voice, though I’d been hearing about her voice for a while now. Maybe it was high expectations or just my bad luck, but I was disappointed. She has a louche glam persona that fit in well with her languorous fin-de-siecle selections, but I was starting to think that, much as I like that sort of thing, maybe it would be nice to hear something else. To me she sounded breathy, with some notes (particularly in Hahn’s L’heure exquise) that just couldn’t be right. Nothing sounded clear or sustained and the piano covered her voice a couple of times – not what I expected from someone who sings Mahler with a full orchestra. Maybe it was an off day; even with a fairly short recital (a bit over an hour if you don’t count the intermission and pauses) she seemed to be taking a long time backstage between sets, and she stopped for a drink in between songs. I did think concert improved as it went on. The penultimate group was Montsalvatge’s Cinco canciones negras, and she clearly loved characterizing another set of sultry songs, but frankly the lyrics for some of them are about a banjo away from a minstrel show – a high class minstrel show, and I liked the songs, but nonetheless. She finished with some of Bolcom’s Cabaret Songs – nice, and vividly done, but I still like Voigt’s performance better.
The one encore was Amor, a delightful song by Bolcom that, fan of his work as I am, I hadn’t heard. She preceded this with a lengthy monologue about visiting Berkeley and eating at Chez Panisse and the after-effects of her yoga workout that hovered between funny and WTF? She ended by saying that she had never been propositioned as often as she had on her trip to Berkeley, hence her choice of Amor to close out. She does seem like someone who would get propositioned a lot as she strolls around. I don’t think I’ve ever been propositioned in Berkeley, even when I lived there, but since this was the end of the concert I can’t attribute my reaction to envy.
The people around me seemed to love everything, but I wonder if some of it is just Brueggergosman’s very appealing stage presence. Certainly they seemed to spend a lot of the concert chewing gum and flipping through the program reading the donor lists rather than listening, but who knows what comes through to people. Though one woman nearby completely lost her aesthetic standing with me by stating that Bolcom’s Surprise is “just a funny song.” It’s a funny song, but not just a funny song.
Afterwards I ran into a member of the SF Symphony chorus who recognized me from the audience and asked what I thought. He pretty much agreed with me, which made me think that maybe it wasn’t just that I was the one having an off day. He also asked me if I sang opera because I “look like an opera singer.” I wasn’t sure how to take that – are we talking Nathan Gunn or late-period Pavarotti? I’m not a singer – it’s that “lack of vocal talent” thing – but last time I was in New York people kept asking me if I were an actor. I’m not an actor either (on stage) – I’m the wrong type of self-absorbed – but the questions made me wonder what air of arrogant desperation I’m projecting.