Michael Ballam, a handsome young tenor, was introduced to Washington Opera audiences in recent weeks in the Terrace Theater. Saturday afternoon he made his recital debut in the same theater, the first in a new series of Young Artists being sponsored by the Bolla wine company.
At 26, Ballam as a concert singer is very much a novice. His program consisted of six familiar Purcell songs; the first seven songs from Schumann's "Dichterliebe"; the three best known songs of Richard Strauss; one each from Debussy, Faure' and Liszt; four Britten folksongs; and three Italian pop songs, including "Torna a Surriento" and "Core 'n grato."
Such a list brings down the house if done by one of the big-name opera stars of today. No serious singer of song recitals would think of such a program, topped off with Hely-Hutchinson's parody called "Old Mother Hubbard."
Ballam has plenty of personality, but he has real problems in vocal technique and artistic realization. His voice is kept on a very tight rein and its manner of production helps Ballam to swallow words rather than project them. He does not seem to believe that "In the beginning is the word," a dictum to which every song recitalist must adhere. Ends of words went unheard. "Meet" came out "mee," "feet" turned into "fee," and "tears" ended up as "tea."
Not until near the end of the afternoon, in Liszt's "Oh! quand je dors," did Ballam penetrate into the heart of a song. And right at the end of that one, his pianist, Anthony Strong, produced a real blooper. It was not a great afternoon for song in a theater that four days ago enjoyed Elisabeth So derstro m. Ballam would do himself a favor by listening to Mary Garden sing "Beau soir," Souzay in "Dichterliebe" and Pears in Britten. He has some good material that at present he is misusing.