Jeanine De Bique’s voice has grown in refinement and range since her local debut in 2009, judging by the mixed review she received then in these pages. The young soprano from Trinidad shone Wednesday night, in spite of reportedly being under the weather, in a program of American songs and lieder by Richard Strauss and Hugo Wolf in the intimate auditorium of the National Museum of Women in the Arts.
Strauss’s “Ophelia-Lieder” highlighted De Bique’s dramatic stage presence, as she incarnated the distant and manic sides of Shakespeare’s demented character with a disturbed smile as she sang “Er ist tot, o weh!” Here and in an elegant set of Wolf songs, the top of her voice had a light and airy sound, with intonation and rich German diction always clean, the tone occasionally straightened to add an air of strangeness to the Ophelia songs. Pianist Christopher Cano stroked an admirable range of colors from the museum’s not exactly beautiful piano.
A set of spirituals was the least striking selection, approached in the way a classically trained singer often sings spirituals and in rather plain arrangements, but with a robust chest voice and a hefty side to the high notes. The emotional high point came at the end, with a heartfelt rendition of André Previn’s “Honey and Rue,” a song cycle based on powerful texts by Toni Morrison written for Kathleen Battle in 1992. A couple of vocal clicks shifting into the high register, including in an otherwise luscious encore of George Gershwin’s “Summertime,” were the only sign of vocal indisposition. To paraphrase Morrison’s words in “Honey and Rue,” De Bique’s voice was easy to take, but definitely not easy to mistake.
Downey is a freelance writer.