On Dec. 10, 1830, one of America's most creative personalities was born in Amherst, Mass. During her lifetime she was probably best known for wearing white every day and never leaving her house from the age of 35 to her death in 1886. She might have been renowned as a poet, but her verses were kept tucked away in her room, considered by myopic critics "too delicate to publish." That she never resented such judgments was yet another testament to the uniqueness of Emily Dickinson.
Last night, in honor of her birthday, the Library of Congress paid tribute to the Dickinson legacy by way of a novel program entitled "The Poetess Sings." With the stage decorated in Victorian style, soprano Carolyn Heafner performed 27 songs settings of Dickinson texts by six American composers, interspersed with some relatively mundane narration.
Despite an often strident tone in the top register, Heafner gave each of the selections a compelling quality, particularly those like Robert Baksa's "Who Robbed the Woods" and Ernest Bacon's "It's All I have" that matched the poet's extraordinary words with sublime music. Pianist Shirley Anne Sequin handled the various styles, from Copland to Luening, with authority and insight.