Brandon Cedel makes Kennedy Center debut


Brandon Cedel (Peter Konerko)

Attentive Washington audiences recognize the voice of Brandon Cedel. I heard him as an apprentice singer at the Castleton Festival last year, and he appeared at Wolf Trap this summer. The young bass-baritone won a grand prize at this year’s Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, leading to his debut on the Met stage this fall. The savvy folks at Vocal Arts D.C. presented his first show at the Kennedy Center on Wednesday night in the Terrace Theater.

Cedel was not in the best vocal shape, and thus a little cautious at the top of his range, but he made a fine impression. He came most alive in the opening set of songs by Aaron Copland, with a lusty tone but also a sweet crooning sound when he needed it. He showed the same level of animation in the “Songs of Travel” set by Ralph Vaughan Williams, relishing Robert Louis Stevenson’s melancholy poetry. Pianist Brian Zeger, the executive director of the Lindemann Young Artists Development Program at the Met, accompanied expertly, giving an especially pictorial touch to the Vaughan Williams songs. A rousing encore, “Vi ravviso, o luoghi ameni” from Bellini’s “La Sonnambula,” made plain the good effect of the Lindemann program’s operatic coaching, where Cedel began this fall.

Songs by Brahms and Jacques Ibert showed less accomplished diction in German and French, and some of the interpretation in these songs fell a bit flat. The biggest disappointment was the pedestrian programming, which sometimes seemed like an ambitious undergraduate’s senior recital, touching its nadir with a rather ordinary selection from Handel’s “Messiah.” Still, this was an admirable beginning for the new Vocal Arts D.C. fund for emerging artists, named for the series’ benevolent founder, Gerald Perman.

Downey is a freelance writer.

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