At Kennedy Center, soprano Ana María Martínez excels with pleasing, lighter songs

Why singers connect to some types of music more than others often comes down to personal taste, and how music and language sit in the voice. During the recital by soprano Ana María Martínez, presented Wednesday night by Vocal Arts D.C. at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, it was French songs and Mozart arias that were most suited to her pleasing, compact, flexible lyric soprano voice.

It is a voice beautifully suited for the lighter roles in the Mozart operas: airy in “Un moto di gioia,” one of the arias Mozart wrote for a new Susanna in a revival of “The Marriage of Figaro,” and plangent in the slow section of “Vado, ma dove?” A set of songs by Fauré proved the high point, for the singer’s well-articulated French diction and ease of her voice. This elegant music brought out a lovely richness in Martínez’s voice, culminating in a floated, pristine high note at the end of “En sourdine,” the nightingale signaling the end of the lovers’ afternoon of love.

Baroque selections, by Purcell and Handel, seemed the least comfortable, revealing a slight wiriness of tone and edge in the vibrato. Martínez excelled in fast passagework in the Handel pieces, such as the triplets in “Lascia omai le brune vele” from the cantata “Il delirio amoroso,” and especially in the florid embellishments she added to the showpiece “Da tempeste.”

A second half of charming Spanish songs played best to the soprano’s dramatic side, matched nicely, here and elsewhere, by the sparkling musicianship of pianist Craig Terry. Martínez dedicated her performance of “Tres estrofas de amor,” a tender song composed by cellist Pablo Casals for his wife, to the lady herself, Marta Casals Istomin, who was in the audience.

Downey is a freelance writer.

Ana Maria Martinez. (Tom Specht/Tom Specht)

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