Steven Blier reaches far and wide in ‘big international’ program


Craig Colclough in the Wolf Trap Opera Company’s performance of “Wonders to Wander To.” (Courtesy of Wolf Trap Opera Company)
July 7, 2013

Steven Blier — pianist, vocal coach, director and all-around repository of a terrific fund of musical lore — kicked off his “big international year,” as he described it, with a short but eclectic program of song Saturday at the Barns at Wolf Trap. He called the program “Wonders to Wander To,” the title taken from a line in William Bolcom’s song “Places to Live.” “Places” opened the program, sung by the vocal quartet from this year’s Filene Young Artist troupe: soprano Mireille Asselin, mezzo-
soprano Carolyn Sproule, tenor Brenton Ryan and bass-baritone Craig Colclough.

Bolcom and Blier are soul mates in their conviction that any dichotomy between good art songs and good popular songs is a false one. As a composer, Bolcom revels freely in the worlds of jazz, cabaret and lieder, and, in its variety, this program was a testament to Blier’s eclectic musical tastes. The wry sophistication of Noel Coward, Hoagy Carmichael and Cole Porter rubbed elbows with the more romantic longings of Bizet, Rimsky-Korsakov and Anton Rubinstein. Lumped together with music from Spain, South America and Scandinavia, however, they made for an unusually forced example of another one of Blier’s hallmarks: a unifying context for his programs — this one, international adventure. This didn’t really matter, however. The songs were delicious, as was most of the singing.

Ryan and Colclough got most of the comic assignments and were as comfortable dramatically as they were vocally. Both have splendid diction and can sing effectively at both extremes of their dynamic ranges. Colclough’s voice, with its rich mix of overtones, carries easily but is less effective as a foundation in ensembles. Sproule unrolled lovely, rich, smooth legatos in the sultry lines of Bob Telson’s “Calling You” and demonstrated a talent for humor in Moises Simons’s ”C’est ca la Vie.” Asselin’s tight vibrato overwhelmed the ensemble pieces early in the program, but she seemed to rein it in as the afternoon went on, and she managed some impressive coloratura in a song by Joaquin Turina. Very few consonants, however, actually escaped her lips.

Under Blier’s direction (and with his wonderfully idiomatic accompanying), the whole show moved seamlessly, with introductions spread among the five musicians, some bits of poetry tossed in and entrances and staging handled with an elegant touch.

Reinthaler is a freelance writer.

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