There seem to be two sopranos named Elly Ameling, both of whom sang last night in the University of Maryland's Community Concerts. One (before intermission) sang German Lieder in a style that was certainly satisfactory but not quite up to the highest standards (those set by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, for example, or Elisabeth Schumann). By that measure, this singer's voice seemed slightly lacking in freedom, and there was a perceptible loss of richness in its upper register. Stylistically, it was restrained to the point of colorlessness, demonstrating little significant difference between Schubert, Wolf and Brahms--though it did brighten considerably for the folksong-like "Hat gesagt, bleibt's nicht dabei" of Richard Strauss, which came just before intermission.
The Ameling of the second half, with a mostly French repertoire, was one of the great singers of our time and a marvelous entertainer as well. An enormous increase in expressiveness was immediately evident in Faure''s "Apre s un Re ve," and she came very close to perfection in two songs of Debussy (particularly a very lively rendition of his "Mandoline,") and superbly phrased readings of Poulenc's "Violon," Chausson's "Le Colibri" and Duparc's "Chanson Triste." Any one of these could have been the climax of the recital. Coming one after another, they made it a unique experience.
She concluded the evening with a variety of rather light material: very idiomatic performances of two Spanish songs (notably, Rodrigo's superb "De los alamos vengo"), Erik Satie's "La Diva de L'Empire," which transformed the auditorium momentarily into a cabaret, and Hahn's sentimental "La Dernie re Valse," which got a much better performance than it deserves.
The final number, Arnold Schoenberg's playfully erotic "Gigerlette," was totally unrecognizable as a work by the stern composer of "Moses und Aron." It was also unrecognizable as a Lied in the style of performance. By that time, Ameling had departed far from the very proper Lieder pose--almost motionless, hands clasped in front of her and eyes gazing upward or out to vast distances--that had been her style in the first half. She had come to life and unfrozen her face and hands with Debussy, Poulenc and Duparc, taken a few dance steps for Satie and Hahn, and the momentum carried her beautifully through Schoenberg. But when her encores took her back into Lieder proper, the pallid singer of the first half materialized mysteriously again.
Elly Ameling is a singer of enormous ability, and her program was excellent even at its low points. But to reach her full potential, she would do well to reexamine her approach to Lieder. There is as much life in Schubert and Wolf as in the French composers, and she is certainly capable of bringing it out.