The soaring power of women musicians

Soprano Melody Moore made her Chicago debut at the Logan Center in Hyde Park on Sunday. -Jiyang Chen

By M.L. RANTALA
Classical Music Critic

The Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago (CAIC) hosted the Chicago premiere of soprano Melody Moore in the Penthouse of the Logan Center here in Hyde Park on Sunday afternoon. The music was glittering and glorious, with Moore creating sumptuous sound and Shannon McGinnis offering able and astute support at the piano.

Moore has sung title and major roles in many leading opera houses, including San Francisco Opera, Houston Grand Opera, English National Opera, New York City Opera, Washington National Opera, and Seattle Opera. She came to Chicago with opera’s big sound, but with the focus and intimacy that only a lieder recital can offer. Under the title “Spring Lieder Lounge” Moore dispatched three beautiful sets of music, first in Italian, then in French, and finally in German.

Her recital opened with “Amorosi miei giorni” (“My amorous days”) by Stefano Donaudy. The song, bittersweet and evocative, found Moore lingering lightly and deliciously at the final iteration of the word “speranza” (“hope”). She mingled the darkness of Rspighi’s “Notte” with dramatic shards of light. Puccini’s “Sole e amore” (“Sun and love”) is familiar to opera-goers as having the same melodic theme of the third act quartet in “La boheme” (where the two pairs of lovers separate). The song’s mood is different, drenched in both light and joy, which Moore expressed exquisitely.

The French set was made up of “Proses lyriques” by Debussy. “De Rêve” (“Of Dreams”) displayed Moore’s power and her remarkably earthy and intriguing low register. It ended on a gently-held, luminous high note. “De grêve” (“On the Strand”) was full of unsettling music set to texts such as “the clouds, solemn travelers, band together to make the next storm.” “De fleurs (“Of flowers”) made effective use of the idea of a “glasshouse of sorrow” and Moore brought out the anguish as well as the sly elements. “De soir…” (“Of evening…”) gave Moore a chance to put both her power and her gentleness to the test. The contrasts were expertly evinced.

The final song set was made up of Richard Strauss pieces. “Frülingsfeier” (“Spring Festival”) was muscular with the soprano’s calls to Adonis haunting. “Nichts” (“Nothing”) whisked by rapidly leading to the deeply moving “Befreit” (“Freed”), a song celebrating love even in the death of the one loved. Moore brought me to tears.

Moore and McGinnis concluded the recital with “Vissi d’arte” from “Tosca,” a powerful encore with robust singing and emotional punch.

The already splendid afternoon concluded with a charming wine, cheese, and sweets reception where listeners were able to chat with the performers and the folks who run CAIC. This was my first CAIC event and I look forward to many more in the future. I hope they are able to maintain their Hyde Park presence, because they have so much to offer.

On Friday night, I made my way to Ganz Hall at Roosevelt University downtown to hear a concert put on by 6Degrees, a Chicago collective of women composers. All four composers on the program were present to hear remarkable performances of some fine music.

Regina Harris Baiocchi had four works on the program, including the opening “Karibu” (which is Swahili for “welcome”). She describes it as her own expression of “how the ancestors welcomed her father, Elgie Harris, Sr., back to the spiritual realm.” Clarinetist Daniel Won offered a sincere approach, with a lovely final high note. Baiocchi’s “Chassé” found Won joined by Kuang-Hao Huang on piano for this piece inspired in part by ballet. Baiocchi’s “Liszten, my husband is not a hat!” was complex, like the Oliver Sacks’ account on which it is based.

Patricia Morehead’s “Antiphonal” was hard not to love. It is based on the Gospel antiphon “O rubor sanguinis” by 12th-century composer Hildegard von Bingen. Alicia Cordoba Tait on English horn and George Blanchet on marimba, gave it life, love, and a modern sensibility. Because they worked so well together, it was not surprising to learn that these two performers are husband and wife. This same pair also took on two other Morehead compositions, “Conversations: I, II, III” and “Design One” with Tait on oboe and Blanchet on a brace of percussion instruments. The first was most pleasing for its dreaminess while the latter was engaging throughout.

Kyong Mee Choi, on the faculty at Roosevelt, participated in the performance of her work, “The words of Tagore”. She handled the electronics from the front of the seating area while soprano Leila Bowie, narrator Andrew Greiche, and pianist Jana Pavlovska performed from the stage. The effect was mesmerizing, with the electronics blending beautifully with the live sound.

Janice Misurell-Mitchell brought a good dose of humor to the proceedings with her piece for flute and voice (both performed by her) and percussion, the latter being taken on by the skilled John Corkill. It was funky, funny, and inventive. Misurell-Mitchell has created other works which require the flutist to both play the instrument and speak, sometimes at the same time. The effect is alluring and unusual. The surprise ending, with whistles, meant that the piece concluded with a wheeze and a whistle.

This concert too had a reception, and it was a delight to hear the composers speak with such appreciation of the artists who had worked so hard to give the music all it deserved. It was a wonderful evening of music created by four talented women.