Lyric tenor Stanley Cornett, who sang a splendid recital last night at St. James Church on Capitol Hill, is one of the freshest talents of the young singers who now sing regularly in Washington.
It is not a large voice -- and, in truth, it is not a great voice. But for its lack of power, it has two great compensating qualities. One is that beguiling sweet, bright timbre possessed by the finest lyric tenors in the Baroque, song and lyric operatic repertories -- and at this point the quality is relatively even through his range (the low voice is the weakest and the middle is the most beautiful). And further, Cornett knows how -- and when -- to color it.
He also is a fastidious muscician with a personable stage presence.
The fact that his best moments embraced a wide range of styles is an encouraging sign. There was the beautifully characterized aria from ""Gulio Sabino," on opera by Giuseppi Sarti, a Mozart contemporary. Schubert's poignant "Nacht und Traume" was beautifully shaded. Two Fauresetting from Verlaine were idiomatic. And Britten's arrangement of the folk tune "The Foggy, Foggy Dew" was bracingly conveyed.
Cornett wisely chose not to push his voice beyond its size, the kind of problem that has caused such strain for the best-known current American lyric tenor, Rockwell Blake, at the Met.
Pianist Christine Niehaus played well for Cornett and performed two solo works -- Paderewski's pristine little B-flat Nocturne and Liszt's technically staggering pastiche of Mozart's "Don Giovanni" -- the "Don Juan Fantasy." It is a tour de force, and Niehaus had plenty of force.