Review: Tara Erraught and Jonathan Ware in Dvorak, Respighi, Brahms, Wolf, Handel, and Rossini

Many who follow the opera world will have heard of Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught’s fast rise to stardom – replacing Vesselina Kasarova as Romeo in a high profile new production of I Capuleti e I Montecchi in Munich, quickly followed by debuts as Rosina, Angelina, and Hansel in Vienna and Munich. It turns out that she’s as accomplished a recitalist as opera singer, with charm and musicality to burn. She explained to the audience that her programme was based on storytelling, and she certainly has that critical ability to communicate with the audience.

The recital opened with Dvorak’s op. 82 songs, performed in a slightly different order (Frühling, Die Stickerin, Laßt mich allein, and Am Bache). This was a surprisingly intense beginning to the recital, with a highly moving ‘Laßt mich allein’ forming the heart of the set. It was immediately apparent that Erraught will certainly develop into more than a lyric coloratura – she has a large, round voice, which will eventually develop into a full lyric or even some lighter dramatic roles. This was followed by three songs by Respighi. Largely mood-based, these songs allowed pianist Jonathan Ware to show off his considerable musical skills as well. Particularly effective was a suitably suspenseful and creepy account of ‘Nebbie’. The first half of the recital finished off with Brahms’ op. 103 Zigeunerlieder, and it was in these songs that Erraught really shone. Partnered by Ware’s dazzling playing, she truly relaxed into the music, and a great deal of fun was had by all.

The second half opened with six of Hugo Wolf’s famous Mörike-lieder. Here she and Ware displayed a talent for switching moods quickly, from the lighthearted ‘Er ist’s’ straight to the agonies of ‘Das verlassene Mågdlein’. Best among the Wolf set was a sparkling and appropriately animated ‘Nixe Binsefuß’, which was in perfect accordance with Ware’s playing. The recital ended with three arias, two by Handel and one by Rossini. First was an absolutely astonishing performance of Ariodante’s ‘Dopo Notte’. Sung with incredible accuracy and musicality, the aria exhibited her even registers and impeccable technique to its fullest. More importantly, it was a brilliant showcase for her communicative skills, as Ariodante’s exuberance was absolutely infectious. Also worth noting was Ware’s playing, which could not have been bettered by any orchestra. Immediately following it with the popular ‘Lascia ch’io pianga’ was a rather bold choice – it was slightly too fast for my taste, but again was highly musical and showed off Erraught’s pianissimos very nicely. In this aria, as with the previous one, the ornamentation was appropriate and expressive. The recital ended, of course, with Rossini’s ‘Una Voce Poco Fa’. The touchstone of every mezzo-soprano recital, Erraught’s technique and charm allowed her to stand above the rest. She’s also a natural comedian, and the slightest gesture was enough to send the audience into gales of laughter. It’s arguable whether Rosina is supposed to be quite so funny at that point, but both she was clearly enjoying herself greatly. The audience was delighted, of course, and Erraught performed two encores: a wonderfully understated Danny Boy, and a dazzling ‘Nacqui all’affanno…Non piu mesta’ from Rossini’s La Cenerentola. Both displayed the uniformly high musical and vocal levels present throughout the evening.

Pianist Jonathan Ware played sensitively throughout, and though of course the Brahms and Wolf lieder are hardly easy pieces, the programme was truly designed to allow Erraught to shine. This wide-ranging programme would be challenging for any artist, but her stunning technique, musical maturity, and evident joy in performing are reminiscent of (dare I say it?) a certain other lyric coloratura mezzo of Irish origin. Of course, Tara Erraught is very much her own artist, and it will be thrilling to see her career grow.

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