Krysty Swann has a voice, and she knows how to use it, as she showed in an hour-long recital at the Phillips Collection on Sunday afternoon. The Detroit-born mezzo-soprano, whose star has been rising since she was featured a few years ago in New York City Opera’s production of Richard Danielpour’s opera “Margaret Garner,” displayed an instrument of immense power, natural beauty of tone and luscious legato line.
Not surprisingly, she excelled in operatic selections with which she seemed most familiar and sang without a score. Arias from Massenet’s “Werther,” Cilea’s “Adriana Lecouvreur” (“Acerba volutta” for the Princesse de Bouillon) and Saint-Saens’s “Samson et Dalila” indicated that Swann’s strengths lie in dramatic mezzo territory. The voice makes a broad swath of sound, the vibrato not spinning out of control, with a volcanic chest voice and equally blazing high notes, shown in one fell swoop on a two-octave run at a particularly thrilling point in “Amour! Viens aider ma faiblesse!”
Non-operatic pieces were still beautiful but often seemed more effortful. She had the right sort of elemental timbre for the “Urlicht” movement of Mahler’s Second Symphony, although the phrases were often interrupted by too many breaths. Swann hit her stride in two arrangements of traditional spirituals and in two selections from “Margaret Garner,” strongly derivative of the spiritual tradition. At an audience discussion after the recital, she spoke about growing up singing spirituals in Baptist churches, a background that came across clearly in her heartfelt renditions of “Deep River” and “Give Me Jesus.”
Pianist Steven Silverman provided just the right amount of support, scaling the orchestral arrangements to the scope of Swann’s voice. The highlight of an otherwise plain “Erbarme dich, mein Gott,” from Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion,” was Elizabeth Field’s graceful turn on the solo violin part.
Downey is a freelance writer.