Young Artists find alternate methods to communicate in foreign languages for today’s ‘Artsongs in the Afternoon’




Leah Harrison | Staff Writer

As the fifth in a series of six, today’s “Artsongs in the Afternoon” recital presents three vocalists who have learned from watching their peers in the first four recitals.

“It’s amazing how much you can learn just by watching,” said baritone Justin Brown. “It’s inspirational. We’re all at different levels but present the recital as one. There are some people who have a knack to stand there and tell a story. Others can be much more animated. They’re all beautiful and wonderful in their own ways. As a performer, you get ideas from watching them and think, ‘Oh, where can I employ that?’ ”

Brown joins soprano Caitlyn Glennon and mezzo-soprano Beth Lytwynec at 4 p.m. today in the Hall of Christ to display the tricks they have learned, whether from their colleagues or experiences from years past. John Keene collaborates on piano.

This particular series opts for verbal explanation preceding each set of songs as opposed to program notes or printed translations. One of the most significant challenges the singers face is communicating in foreign languages without a translation.

“When I’m on the other side of it and hear my colleagues perform works I’m unfamiliar with,” Glennon said, “it’s clear that it really falls on the performer’s shoulders to keep the audience engaged with their voice, with the coloring, the dynamics. You have to 100 percent be in that song, be a part of that song, in order for the audience to have a chance at understanding what you’re singing about.”

Lytwynec turns to the composer for help in communicating foreign texts.

“First and foremost, you have to look at the music and what the composer gives you,” she said. “I think about why Brahms set a text the way he did and try to embody the character of that text.”

Intimate familiarity with a song helps Brown communicate its meaning.

“You have to be able to wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning and know exactly what that song is about. It has to be that natural to you so you can play that character and communicate in a way that other people can relate to, even if they don’t have the textual translation,” he said. “It’s kind of like recording — you have to use all the tools in your toolbox.”

Brown’s solo sets are all in foreign languages, including five selections from Schumann’s “Liederkreis” and Ravel’s three chansons, “Don Quichotte à Dulcinee.” The baritone chose the Schumann works for their poetry, later realizing he was drawn to those particular five because they all occur after the sun goes down.

Lytwynec will sing Brahms’ “Zigeunerlieder,” a set of eight gypsy songs. The piano imitates a band, creating a rustic and improvisational feel.

“Looking at Brahms’ other works,” Lytwynec said,” these really get down and dirty.”

She will also sing three of William Bolcom’s “Cabaret Songs,” which include “At the last lousy moments of love,” “The Actor” and “George.”

“In a way, these Bolcom songs are a lot like Schumann’s postludes,” Lytwynec said. “There are so many times when you don’t understand the poetry, but then all of a sudden, he gives you this feeling at the end of the piece. And it has nothing to do with the text, nothing to do with how the performer interprets it. He leaves it open and makes you relate to it as an audience member. I really appreciate that about these pieces.”

Glennon opens the recital with two Mozart songs and concludes the solo portion of the recital with three Kurt Weill songs.

“Kurt Weill is kind of ‘opera meets musical theater’ in this really cool way,” Glennon said. “It’s a style that really suits my voice.”

Like the Chautauqua Opera Company production opening Friday, a number of Puccini’s works are lesser-known, though they possess the qualities that pushed Puccini into the “master” category. Today, Glennon will sing three of Puccini’s “unknown songs.”

“With these songs, you can get that post-Romantic operatic style of Puccini, but it’s not as taxing on a young voice,” she said.

The recital will conclude with the three singers in ensemble, performing a scene from Arthur Sullivan’s Haddon Hall.

“It still has the lightheartedness of the typical Gilbert and Sullivan, but you can really see where Sullivan is trying to do something else, try something new,” Brown said. “This is the first time I’ve heard of the show. It’s a fun introduction to it.”