The New York Festival of Song (NYFOS) opened its 29th season, on November 1, at Merkin Concert Hall, with “Rodgers, Rodgers & Guettel,” music of Richard Rodgers, his daughter Mary Rodgers, and her son Adam Guettel, and what a wealth of music that encompassed! Artistic Director Steven Blier was at Steinway, leading a fantastic quartet of theater and opera singers Lauren Worsham, Mary Testa, Hal Cazalet, and John Brancy.
The program began with songs from musicals that Richard Rodgers wrote with Lorenz Hart. Cazalet and Brancy, as the eponymous “Boys from Syracuse,” aired their homesickness and saluted their native city with a lively “Dear Old Syracuse,” during which Cazalet joined Blier for a bit of piano four hands. Backhanded complements were rife in Cazalet and Worsham’s charming “Maybe It’s Me,” from “Peggy-Ann.” Testa wryly assured a most unlikeable someone that “Ev’rybody Loves You (when you’re asleep),” cut from “I’d Rather be Right.”
Rodgers’ work with Oscar Hammerstein II followed, beginning with Worsham’s exquisite performance of “Out of My Dreams,” from “Oklahoma.” In “The Gentleman Is a Dope,” from “Allegro,” Testa brought out the sadness lurking beneath the seething anger about a breakup that’s welcome—or not. Brancy approached “Some Enchanted Evening,” from “South Pacific,” gently and thoughtfully, and capped it with a beautifully floated ending.
Cazalet gave us “Bargaining,” from Rodgers and Stephen Sondheim’s “Do I Hear a Waltz?,” ostensibly a song about shopping and haggling, portraying both the shopkeeper and his American woman customer—or is it his own charm that he’s recommending?
Turning to songs by Mary Rodgers, Worsham lent her silvery soprano to exploring the elusive, contradictory nature of love, in Rodgers and Marshall Barer’s “Something Known,” from the never-produced “Member of the Wedding.” Reveling in the tongue-twisting and breath-challenging lines, Testa waxed clueless in her pursuit of the gayest “Boy from …,” by Rodgers and Sondheim, from “The Mad Show.” To strains in the spirit of Ravel and Debussy, from Rodgers and Ellen Fitzhugh’s “The Griffin and the Minor Canon,” Cazalet, as the mythological creature, part lion and part eagle, mused about the image he’s seen of himself in sculpture for the first time, in “Am I,” and in “Fear,” contrasted the terror he inspires in the humans he preys on, with Brancy’s cleric’s love for humankind. In “Happily Ever After,” from Rodgers and Barer’s “Once Upon a Mattress,” Testa, Cazalet, and Brancy jazzily debunked—or longed for?—the neat and traditional fairytale ending.
Works by Adam Guettel made up the final part of the performance. Worsham’s “There Go I” was at once dreamy, woozy, and fear-filled. Blier described it as “a New York hangover song,” perhaps originally intended for a setting of “Days of Wine and Roses.” In “Saint Who,” from “Millions,” a work-in-progress, Brancy, backed by Worsham, Testa, and Cazalet, jazzily and heartrendingly portrayed the boy who seeks canonization for his deceased mother, as much a martyr as any of the traditional saints. In aria-like songs from “The Light in the Piazza,” Testa played Margaret Johnson and Worsham, Clara, her ‘mentally impaired,’ maturing daughter, the former apprehensive for Clara’s future, in “Dividing Day,” and the latter, radiant in the title song. Brancy illuminated the rock song and art song sounds, the rousing and the introspective aspects of “Awaiting You,” from “Myths and Hymns,” and the company closed with that score’s “Migratory V,” a song of questions more than answers about humanity and its hopes, beginning with Worsham’s a cappella vocalise and ending with a hummed verse for the quartet.
NYFOS’ season continues on January 11, 2017 with “From Lute Song to the Beatles,” a collaboration with Juilliard, at the Juilliard School; and at Merkin, on January 24, with “Pyotr the Great,” music of Tchaikovsky, Arensky, Taneyev, Rachmaninoff, and Rubenstein, with Antonina Chehovska and Alexey Lavrov; on February 21, with Paul Bowles and James Schuyler’s “Picnic Cantata,” William Bolcom and Mark Campbell’s new songs from “Dinner at Eight,” and a new song cycle by Gabriel Kahane, with Chelsea Morris, Amy Owens, Amanda Bottoms, Naomi Louisa O’Connell, and Jesse Blumberg; and on March 14, with “Four Islands,” covering Ireland, the West Indies, Madagascar, and Manhattan, with Caramoor’s 2017 Schwab Vocal Rising Stars. NYFOS’ Spring Gala takes place on April 19 at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, celebrating Stephen Sondheim, with Tyne Daly and other stars, followed by dinner at “21.” Visit www.nyfos.org
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