This is a program of songs from the WWI era conceived with the Cabaret@Café Sabarsky series in mind. Pianist Reiko Uchida and I also performed it at the Fontana Chamber Arts Festival in Kalamazoo, the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, on the Unique Voices Series at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Mass. I also sang this program at the Huntington Estate Music Festival in Mudgee, NSW.
Composers included Kurt Weill, Irving Berlin, Charles Ives, Webern, Korngold, Poulenc, and a whole lot of popular tunes and parlor songs.
(Named by the Philadelphia Inquirer as one of the TOP TEN BEST CLASSICAL MUSIC PERFORMANCES OF THE YEAR)
The Philadelphia Inquirer, October 23, 2009
Musical Oddities, Delightfully Sung
by David Patrick Stearns
Young singers can take the most chances in recitals, knowing that the audiences didn't pay the huge ticket prices that warrant a safe Puccini aria or two. But no singer I've encountered assembled such musical obscurities as baritone Thomas Meglioranza during Wednesday's Philadelphia Chamber Music Society recital at the American Philosophical Society.
On paper, the program looked like a perverse joke - strange songs by long-forgotten composers and so-so ones by familiar figures such as Poulenc and Debussy, all hailing from the World War I era. The appeal wasn't nostalgia - the audience wasn't that old - but a tour through the attic of your eccentric grandparents in a 90-minute concert without intermission.
Oddest of all was a cycle of 30-second songs (and some even shorter) written by one Carrie Jacobs-Bond and consisting of little more than such homespun aphorisms as "Success never comes to the sleeping." There were songs about germs and Satan protesting the wars of mankind. We're talking cultural roadkill here, stuff that's best left behind in the era that spawned it except when sung by a fine singer and good strategist like Meglioranza.
Much of the delight (and there was plenty) was afforded by Meglioranza's healthy love of absurdity and folly that unexpectedly arise from something serious - all aggrandized with no sense of mockery. The fairly seasoned baritone (whom I've heard in Bach's St. Matthew Passion in New York) has an effortless sense of style that arises naturally out of the needs of the words and the music. He fluffed up the phrases of Rudolf Sieczynski's "Vienna, My City of Dreams" and found logic in fractured word settings of Charles Ives.
The unfussy beauty of his voice - his upper range suggests the tone of the great Gerard Souzay - makes him a phone-book baritone able to make the thinnest repertoire alluring. Few recitalists are so at home onstage with a physical freedom to thoroughly characterize the song without fear of possible embarrassment - particularly important in Poulenc's characterization of camels and lobsters in his "Le Bestiaire" song cycle.
Meglioranza didn't court the audience - with his Italian/Thai/Polish good looks he doesn't have to - but assumed that we were already friends and would like everything he did. And he was right, even in three potentially alienating atonal songs by Anton Webern that he introduced by describing them as so delicate that "I feel like I'm blowing bubbles." I'd love to hear him take on canonic works like Schumann's Dichterliebe. But at this point, I'd trust him in any program in which he trusts himself.