‘Vocal Colors’ a welcome summer concert at the Phillips Collection


Andrea Carroll and Ben Bliss (front) and Maya Lahyani and Steven LaBrie (seated) in the Wolf Trap Opera Company’s production of “Vocal Colors: A Musical Exploration of Visual Art.” (Margaret Lee/Margaret Lee)
July 26, 2013

By midsummer, the classical music scene in Washington is usually deep in the doldrums, nodding along sleepily until the superstars return to Strathmore and the Kennedy Center in the fall. But it’s a great time to catch young, up-and-coming performers — particularly those in the Wolf Trap Opera Company’s annual summer residency program, four of whom were showcased Thursday evening in a very personal, deftly sung and relentlessly charming concert at the Phillips Collection.

The evening — titled “Vocal Colors” — ranged from show tunes to serious lieder and music chosen by the singers and paired with artwork from the Phillips. Soprano Andrea Carroll and mezzo-soprano Maya Lahyani (both of whom starred in Wolf Trap’s production of Rossini’s “The Journey to Reims” last month) got things off to a strong start with the “Barcarolle” duo from Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffmann,” showing off rich and supple voices as well as a subtle sense of drama.

Those qualities marked both women’s singing all evening. Carroll — a native of Bethesda — has a warm, confident voice that brought out the delicately shaded hues of Debussy’s “C’est l’extase,” as well as the more physical punchiness of “Troubled Woman” by Ricky Ian Gordon. She brought power and insight to both works.

Lahyani’s gorgeous mezzo voice was delicately balanced between anguish and nostalgia in Rachmaninoff’s “Do Not Sing for Me,” and her account of “Forgiveness” by the Israeli composer Oded Lerer — a beautiful piece in moody colors — was as lyrical as it was sensuous, delivered with quiet and convincing passion.

The men didn’t fare quite as well. Benjamin Bliss has a wonderfully clear and light, but not particularly rich, tenor voice and kept things entertaining with an arrangement of the Appalachian folk tune “The Old Woman’s Courtship” and Paul Simon’s “The Boxer,” on which he accompanied himself on the guitar. Baritone Steven LaBrie pulled out the stops for Agustin Lara’s heart-on-sleeve “Humo en los ojos,” but it came out so over-emoted that it might have worked better if he’d left a few stops in. He has a fine voice, though, and his lower-key reading of Howard Wells’s “Everyone Sang” was genuinely moving.

The real climax of the evening was Stephen Sondheim’s “You’re Gonna Love Tomorrow” (from “Follies”), which brought all four singers together for an upbeat close to the concert — music perfect for lifting the summer doldrums. Josephine Riggs provided fine accompaniment on the piano, as she did all evening.

Brookes is a freelance writer.

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