Songs by Gershwin, Debussy, R. Strauss, Schumann, Bridge, Duparc, Kander, and Korngold; Improvisation No. 15 by Poulenc. Tracy Cantin, soprano; Robert Kortgaard, piano. Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, Four Seasons Centre, 12 p.m. May 1, 2018.
I derive great pleasure hearing singers whose voices are new to me, and I just heard one today, that of the young Canadian soprano Tracy Cantin, in a noon hour recital at the opera house.
I should qualify that statement by saying that I actually heard her twice, very recently. She was one of the singers at the Behind the Season event in late March that the COC put on for its subscribers, to preview the upcoming season. She sang “Ave Maria” from Verdi’s Otello. Then last week, she deputized brilliantly for Sondra Radvanovsky in the dress rehearsal of Anna Bolena. When it was announced that she would once again replace Radvanovsky in the noon hour recital, it represented a great opportunity to hear her.
Cantin began by introducing the program, Love in the Time of War, to the audience. It consisted of eight songs by eight composers. It tells the story of a woman searching for love, falling in love, blissful in union, only to have her love goes to war, never to return. It ends with her heartbreak, resignation, and eventual acceptance. An interesting take on a universal subject matter that has spawned many creations, be it text or music.
No question, Cantin has an uncommonly fine lyric soprano, with a clear and pure timbre, very well focused, even up and down the scale, and secure in technique. It’s also of sufficient volume to fill the typical opera house. She began with Gershwin’s “The Man I Love,” sung lightly, with the proper jazzy manner. She was well supported by the stylish piano of Robert Kortgaard, who captured the essence of the Gershwin piece nicely. This was followed by “Apparition” by Debussy, one of his gems. While her voice was beautiful, to my ears she sang it too forcefully, almost operatically, while it should have a more hushed, softer, subtler delivery.
Her expansive approach in the Debussy suited the next piece better, Strauss’s famous “Zueignung,” a gift from Strauss to big-voices! Here her exuberance was all to the good. I also enjoyed her Frank Bridge’s “Love went a-riding,” set to text by Coleridge, which she also delivered with suitable theatricality. (This is Bridge’s best-known song and often programmed in recitals — in just the last couple of months, I’ve heard it sung three times!) Cantin received perfect support in the sensitive playing of Kortgaard, one of the best collaborative pianists in the business. He also contributed an exquisite Improvisation No. 15 by Poulenc, a tribute to the great Edith Piaf.
With Duparc’s “Au pays ou se fait la guerre,” the mood took a darker turn. It’s a song of lament, of her lover having gone to war. Cantin sang it beautifully. The most poignant moment of the recital was “A Letter from Sullivan Ballou,” by John Kander. One of the most celebrated letters in American history, it dates from the American Civil War, where a Mr. Ballou, an officer in the Union Army, wrote it to his wife a week before he died in battle. This monologue — sung and spoken — has received a great deal of performance, including by Renee Fleming. Cantin commanded the stage well in this long piece and sang it affectingly, with great feeling. If I were to nitpick, I would have liked a bit more high piano. The same could be said about the last piece, the post-Romantic “Was du mir bist?” by Korngold. On balance, a lovely COC/RBA recital debut, and I hope it’s the first of many from this most promising artist.