OPERA NEWS - Luca Pisaroni & Craig Terry (9/9/15); Nicholas Phan, Nicole Heaston, Laquita Mitchell, Michael Brown & Shannon McGinnis (9/10/15)
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In Review > Concerts and Recitals

Luca Pisaroni & Craig Terry (9/9/15); Nicholas Phan, Nicole Heaston, Laquita Mitchell, Michael Brown & Shannon McGinnis (9/10/15)

Collaborative Arts Institute of Chicago

THE COLLABORATIVE ARTS INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO is an enterprising group of pianists, singers and coaches who curate performances and provide educational opportunities throughout Windy City. CAIC’s activities culminate in an annual Collaborative Works Festival consisting of a major solo recital as well as salon concerts and master classes.  Their goal is to enhance the profile of the art song—and based on 2015’s initial two offerings, they very well might.

The organization scored a coup on September 9th in presenting bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni in his Chicago recital debut at Ganz Hall. Pisaroni immediately heralded the exceptional beauty of his voice, as well as a striking ability to negotiate fluid passagework in its lower register, in Schubert’s infrequently heard three Italian songs composed for Luigi Lablache. He then proved himself an able master of German in a collection of the composer’s more familiar lied, offering a cavernous depth of sound in “Atlas” and a thrilling account of the thrice-familiar “Erlkönig” in which father, child, and predatory specter were each specifically and imaginatively distinguished. The recital’s second half was devoted to Tosti, Donaudy and Bellini, with a particularly affecting traversal of “Dolente imagine”.

There was a charming moment during the encores in which Pisaroni went up on the lyrics of Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” and saved matters in a twinkling by turning the gaffe into a hilarious caricature of an Italian singer cheating his way through English text with meaningless vowels. The crowd loved it. He then wrapped things up on a sentimental note with “Embraceable You”, dedicated to his wife (“my sweetest cupcake”) for their anniversary.

Pisaroni was partnered by the delightful Craig Terry at the piano. This was one of those rare occasions where the accompanist proved to be every bit as much fun to spend an evening with as the soloist.  The collaborative energy between the two men was palpable.

September 10th introduced the festival’s 2015 theme American Spirit with a cleverly conceived salon concert entitled “The Transcendentalists,” performed in the elegant glass-enclosed spaces of Chicago’s Poetry Foundation. CAIC artistic director Nicholas Phan initiated proceedings with some friendly patter detailing the history of the transcendental movement’s influence on American thought, as evidenced in the work of Emerson, Thoreau and a host of related poets, before launching into Charles Ives’ exquisite “Thoreau.” Based on the movement of the same title from Ives’ second piano sonata, the piece draws its text from Walden and deftly set the atmosphere for the evening. Phan has always boasted one of the most beautiful young lyric voices around; now at 36, his tenor appears to have grown a half-size in the middle register and in interpretive insight as well. A lovely account of “The Housatonic at Stockbridge”followed before the Ives group gave way to Ned Rorem’s settings of Walt Whitman, in which Phan particularly displayed his prodigious breath control in the evocative “Are you the New Person?”

Aaron Copeland’s cycle Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson is a long, demanding sing, but Nicole Heaston rose to the occasion splendidly. The soprano graced “Heart, we will forget him” with a wealth of dynamics, and the sheer amplitude of her voice was all the more impressive given the delicately floated conclusion to “The chariot”.

The program continued with more Dickinson as soprano Laquita Mitchell coursed her way prettily through Hoiby’s The Shining Place, and brought the concert to a satisfying conclusion with a moving account of “There came the wind like a bugle”.

The singers were skillfully accompanied by Avery Fisher Career Grant winner Michael Brown, and the excellent Shannon McGinnis, a CAIC co-founder. The festival’s subsequent offerings included a second salon concert focusing on the influence of spirituals, hymns and liturgical music on American vocal composition, as well as a master class in American song conducted by Craig Terry. —Mark Thomas Ketterson

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