Valente's voice disappoints in recital

March 22, 1994|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

The soprano Benita Valente's recital Sunday afternoon at Shriver Hall was originally intended to have been a joint appearance with her friend, the distinguished mezzo-soprano Tatiana Troyanos. That concert was canceled because of the death last year of Troyanos from cancer. What we heard instead was a recital, with the pianist Cynthia Raim, of lieder by Schumann, Debussy, Wolf (15 selections from the "Italian Songbook") and Fernando Obradors.

Perhaps because one expected so much, it proved a somewhat disappointing concert. Singers -- at least female ones -- are sometimes divided into "kunst" divas and "stimme" divas. The German terms refer to singers who depend primarily on artistry ("kunst") or on a naturally beautiful voice ("stimme"). The most famous example of the former was Maria Callas; of the latter, Renata Tebaldi.

Although Valente always had a beautiful voice, one would have classed her among the "kunst" divas. She was a superb singer of art songs and contemporary repertory. And her portrayals of Mozart's Countess and Verdi's Violetta at the Met in the '70s and early '80s displayed unusual intelligence and musical penetration.

But Valente will be 60 this year, and her voice simply isn't as smooth, richly colored or flexible as it was. The singer never lost control of her voice, but there were occasions throughout the program in which she struggled to support her voice, particularly in quiet singing, and her changes in register could be awkward. Except for the initial songs, the Schumann group was not affecting. She seemed to run out of steam. Six Debussy settings of poems by Paul Verlaine were insufficiently sensuous.

Even the Wolf songs, which depend for much of their effect on perceptive artistry, did not seem as effective as they should have been. Valente reached a peak that recalled her glorious best in the Obradors songs, which she sang with beauty of tone, a smoothly produced legato and considerable wit and charm.

What also seemed slightly off-kilter about the recital was the playing of Cynthia Raim. She is a superb pianist who has worked with Valente often in the past. Art songs are collaborative affairs -- examples of true chamber music -- in which singer and pianist are equal partners. But on this occasion, Ms. Raim seemed to call attention to herself in ways that were not supportive of the soprano.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.