Tenor Vinson Cole: Eleventh-Hour Artistry

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

It's not every day that a singer and pianist walk onto one of Washington's premier stages with only 24 hours' notice and give a superb recital.

But on Monday night, tenor Vinson Cole, along with pianist Jonathan Kelly, did just that at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater. (Scheduled tenor Jonas Kaufmann was indisposed.)

After a last-minute rehearsal, Cole and Kelly assembled a program leading from three of Aaron Copland's heartwarming "Old American Songs" to four of Richard Strauss's best-known lieder, a Vincenzo Bellini aria, chansons of Reynaldo Hahn and Henri Duparc, some lovely Catalan songs by Joaquin Nin-Culmell and a set of souful spirituals.

Cole has a vibrant, appealing and versatile voice. He is a veteran performer whom the legendary conductor Herbert von Karajan (who died in 1989) invited to the Salzburg Festival to sing the Italian Tenor role in Richard Strauss's opera "Der Rosenkavalier."

Cole's distinguished record became clearly apparent as he summoned his voice to lofty heights and to his deepest lower range with utter control and support, doing this with a buoyant sense of spontaneity whether in outgoing theatrical innuendos or in hushed intimacy.

Cole's voice remains supple and assured. Most striking on Monday was the sensitive way he tailored changes of color to communicate the emotional meaning of a word despite a mix of languages and assorted musical styles. This was most particularly noticeable at phrase endings, for which Cole carefully measured the speed of his vibrato -- at times showing a flexible falsetto that opened up to full voice.

He maintained the intensity of tone quality whether airy or richly concentrated.

The evening, sponsored by the Vocal Arts Society, was an engaging one. Yet one could single out the singer's searing plaintiveness in the Catalan set, the majestic bearing of the Strauss, and, in the Bellini, the dramatic stage presence of an experienced opera soloist.

Kelly is a singer's dream. He listened attentively and followed Cole with full awareness. Overwhelming cheering and applause drew two encores.

-- Cecelia Porter

© 2007 The Washington Post Company