In the 10 years since mezzo-soprano Renata Babak's defection to the West abruptly terminated her established vocal career in the Soviet Union, she has lost none of the dramatic vocal power and control that brought her such acclaim with the Bolshoi Opera. Her recital at the Jewish Community Center in Rockville last night embraced Russian folk songs and romances, songs on Hebrew texts and selections from Russian, Italian and French opera, providing throughout an impressive display of that rich, dark intensity so peculiar to the Russian voice.
Babak's beautifully sustained lines highlighted the opening romances by Glinka, Rachmaninoff and Rubinstein. In these, Anna Kofner's piano accompaniments were enhanced by David Premo's sensitive rendering of the obbligato cello parts. Flutist Katherine Burdik added some charming word-painting to two folksongs about nightingales, songs that also required some rather amazing bird imitations from Babak herself. Hearing a native Russian perform this repertoire, especially with Babak's excellent diction, was a distinct pleasure.
It was in the second half of the program that Babak's operatic experience and impassioned vocal feeling produced the most memorable moments. Her Hebrew songs were particularly moving, and her closing arias by Bizet, Puccini and Verdi exuded such drama and purity of characterization that even occasional pitch problems could not rob them of their impact.