On Saturday afternoon, five hours before going onstage in the chorus of the Washington Opera, soprano Marguerita Kris gave a solo recital in Anderson House, expertly assisted by pianist Brian Ganz. The material was intelligently selected and interpreted, with rich tone, powerful sound and exemplary clarity in four languages--plus no language at all in wordless vocalises by Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff and Chenoweth.
Parts of the program were traditional--the opening with five 18th-century Italian arias, for example, a selection of songs from Mahler's "Des Knaben Wunderhorn," and a Puccini aria ("D'onde lieta" from "La Boheme"). But there was also an exquisite surprise, "Cinq Chansons de Femme" by Philip Cannon, which used (mostly anonymous) French texts from the Middle Ages and Renaissance in which women talk of the joys and sorrows of being women to the tune of brilliant melodies lightly flavored with folk cadences. Five songs by Samuel Barber (climaxing with his exquisite "The Monk and His Cat") concluded a recital that was as beautifully sung as it was well chosen.
Kris is a versatile artist, sensitive to a wide variety of styles and with a special flair for dramatic effects--notable, for example, in Mahler's "Das Irdische Leben," where she sings both parts of a dialogue between a mother and a dying child. Ganz coordinated his piano with her voice delicately and expressively, and the program showed no musical problems except for a few trifling lapses of vocal intonation.
That evening, in the chorus of "Trial by Jury," the Kris voice could not easily be picked out of the total choral texture, but the acting ability was obvious in gestures and facial expressions that were both animated and appropriate throughout the evening. One cannot help wondering how many other talents of similar caliber are hidden in the anonymity of that excellent ensemble.