Noel Jan Tyl, one of the world's notable singers, has been living in McLean in recent years, retired from a distinguished international operatic career and directing his own public relations and advertising firm, Tyl Associates. Last night in a ballroom of the new McLean Hilton, he gave his first solo recital in 12 years at a level of quality that might make you wonder why he ever retired.
Tyl's biography in the program notes says simply that he "withdrew from the music world for personal and business reasons." Intermission rumors indicated that he might have been having vocal problems in the late '70s. If so, his long rest has obviously restored much of what was lost, though he did show signs of serious fatigue near the end of a very taxing program.
Tyl was lured out of retirement to give a benefit performance for the McLean Choral Society, whose new director, baritone and composer Thomas Beveridge, has been a friend since their student days at Harvard. Apparently, Tyl's preparations for this program have launched him back into an active singing career; he is now scheduled to perform in a German television production of an opera by Kurt Weill, and next spring he will sing with the McLean Symphony in a performance of Bartok's opera "Bluebeard's Castle."
On the evidence of last night's program, Tyl is a capable recital singer but his greatest strength is in opera. His entire program was unusual and fascinating, including the first performances of two of his own compositions, seldom heard works by Parry, Tchaikovsky, Lully and Handel, a fascinating unpublished song by an otherwise unknown composer named Jules Bouval that was retrieved from Ezio Pinza's private collection and such charming novelties as a setting of Poe's "Annabel Lee."
But the evening's climactic moments came in two major operatic selections: the "Wahn" monologue of Hans Sachs from "Die Meistersinger" and the witty, desperation-tinged drinking song "Quand la Flamme de l'Amour" from Bizet's "La Jolie Fille de Perth." The first of these vividly reminded the audience that a major part of Tyl's career had been based on the deep-voiced Wagner roles, including the Flying Dutchman, Sachs and, above all, Wotan. Tyl's singing took on a variety of color that had not been nearly so evident in the first few songs on the program. His voice moved easily and with perfect control through a wide range of pitch and dynamics, and he was transformed -- suddenly, the man on stage was no longer simply a very tall, deep-voiced singer in formal evening wear; he was a genial cobbler and poet from 16th-century Nuremberg, dismayed at the folly of his fellow men.
Throughout the evening, even when his tone became hard to control near the end, Tyl's performance was notable for the power and clarity of his diction. Not a syllable was blurred, and every word was given dramatic point and impact. This was particularly true in the Wagner and Bizet selections. In the Bizet, he showed a prowess with French texts as impressive as his command of German or English -- and, again, he slipped totally into the character and dramatic moment implied in the music.
His own works, while hardly comparable to the Wagner or Bizet items, were effectively composed and fit comfortably into the context of the total program. His nostalgic setting of Longfellow's "The Children's Hour" was slight but charming. There was considerably more substance in "A Rudhyar Suite: Sunset; Truth; Rebirth; Awareness," set to texts by the late astrologer, composer, poet and mystic Dane Rudhyar. Neoromantic in style, deeply reflective and often impassioned, these songs caught and enhanced the shifting moods of the words effectively and they were beautifully performed.