"O look there in the treetop." With a quick gesture and a startled glance, a breathy little girl is looking upward, and she sees a bird. We see it, too.

Soprano Edith Wiens was at that moment the breathy little girl, who lived in a song from Mussorgsky's "The Nursery." In other Mussorgsky songs, Wiens was playing in the sand where she found a huge black beetle, or asking if we could come out to play tonight, or experiencing the quirks, terrors and exasperations of a child whose interior world is constantly jostled by fresh experience.

Good singers find a way to sell songs. In Wiens's recital at Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater on Monday evening of expressive songs by Schubert, Brahms, Rossini and Alexander von Zemlinsky, as well as Mussorgsky, she gave far more attention to limning their texts than to showing off her trills. In this critical sense, she established herself as a singing actress who takes the lid off songs and reveals their deep content. Although her vocal technique is highly intelligent and communicative, the voice itself could use more body, color and resonance. In difficult patches her tone is true and steady, but at increased volume there is an edge to it that resists flexible shading of line and text.

Wiens's persuasive musicianship found ways to work past these limitations, if at some cost to the purely vocal aspects of her presentation. Erika Switzer's deft contributions from the piano intensified the drama of Wiens's characterizations. The Vocal Arts Society presented the recital.

-- Ronald Broun