Julia Bullock & Renate Rohlfing
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Julia Bullock & Renate Rohlfing

Met Museum’s Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium | Naumburg Foundation

ON NOVEMBER 10, the Naumburg Foundation presented Julia Bullock, a very gifted soprano, in recital in the Met Museum’s Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium. Bullock’s voice is certainly one of the most beautiful lyric instruments of her generation: hers is a warm sound, heavy but not inhibited by vibrato with a supple middle and jazzy undertones in her lower register. 

Most suited to Bullock in this recital were the songs of Kurt Weill and Pierre Revel (1901–1984). From the catalogue of the lesser-known, latter composer, Bullock performed Six chansons de Pierre Revel, which she’s championed in recital previously. Revel’s lush melodies were illuminated by Bullock’s rich middle; in fact, the adroit handling of the tessitura made one curious as to what Bullock could do with lyric mezzo opera roles. Clearly, this middle voice is an easy place for Bullock to live, and she stayed there for most of her selections; there were no signs of stress on her face, as there sometimes was when she extended her reach upward, such as in songs by Samuel Barber. Of Bullock’s Weill selections, “Wie lange noch” (How much longer?) was a particular powerhouse; given its debut by Lotte Lenya towards the end of World War II, it was a protest against Nazism, and in Bullock’s telling, it was a poignant outpouring of emotion. In fact, each of her Weill selections (which also included “Denn wie man sich bettet,” “Lost in the Stars,” and “The Princess of Pure Delight”) allowed Bullock to marry her innate tendency to tell a story with her intense musicality. Bullock’s performances made translations, which were provided in the program, unnecessary. 

The music of the more famous Ravel (Maurice) showed Bullock’s smooth movement between notes; the more recit-like moments of Cinq mélodies populaires grecques were delivered conversationally, with care taken in the words. Bullock’s work in “Vandring i Skoven,” with music by Edvard Grieg set to a poem by Hans Christian Andersen, made the most beautiful lullaby, while her bottom notes in Poulenc’s “Métamorphoses,” while sensuous, made one want for just a bit more projection. (The same could be said of Bullock’s opener, John Cage’s “She is Asleep,” a very curious way to begin the recital.) 

Much kudos are due to the excellent Renate Rohlfing at the piano, whose thoughtful playing (most especially in Nystroem’s “Ute i skären,” and in the music of Ravel) somehow always management to remain dynamic at the exact perfect volume.  —Maria Mazzaro 

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