Soprano Marymal Holmes has the kind of voice that could fill Yankee Stadium and then some. After her recital yesterday, in the intimate surroundings of the Bethune Museum-Archives, it was a wonder that the walls of the stately Vermont Avenue brownstone were still standing.
But Holmes made no concessions to the size of the hall, singing the ebulliant Mozart "Exsultate Jubilate" with a sense of great jubilation, and the aria from Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor" as if backed by a full opera orchestra and all the trappings of grand opera. This made for an uncommonly interesting afternoon, for how often does one have a chance to hear a fine opera singer from a vantage point so near the vocal cords? It was a little like watching a McEnroe tennis match from the net cord judge's seat.
At that distance, one is particularly aware of concentration, of the degree of involvement needed to project the drama of the Mozart recitative, the resonance of the low opening lines of the Donizetti and the clarity of the language. Holmes has remarkable control over her concentration, and the extent of this control was, perhaps, most evident at the ends of phrases that were beautifully shaped and carefully calculated.
In a more intimate scale, Holmes used her flair for language to create a convincing French landscape for a set of songs by Faure', Debussy, Satie and Duparc. Here she seemed most committed to Duparc's "Chanson Triste" and to its quiet legato movement.
A truly original and extremely effective group of spirituals was well sung, and a set of Schubert Lieder that Holmes never really warmed up to completed the program.
At the piano, Marvin Mills was supportive if a little square.