Life is Love: Opera News, March 1, 2019

Opera News

Nicole Cabell, Kate Aldrich, Nicholas Phan & Nmon Ford; Ted Sperling & MasterVoices

Alice Tully Hall

THE PREMIERE OF RICKY IAN GORDON’S Life is Love was the headline event of “Night Songs and Love Waltzes,” MasterVoices’ March 1 Alice Tully Hall concert under its artistic director Ted Sperling. The vocal suite is an assemblage of Gordon’s settings of Langston Hughes poems, arranged by the composer for the evening’s forces with one number, “GOD,” newly written. The selections demonstrated Gordon’s abundant melodic gifts, along with his skill at writing for singers. “Dream Variations” may have come from the composer’s trunk, but it fit Nicole Cabell’s lush lyric soprano as if it were bespoke. It had been easily a decade since I last heard Kate Aldrich; in the intervening years, her lyric mezzo-soprano has taken on power and richness, enough to make her a convincing surrogate for “GOD.” Nicholas Phan’s tenor penetrates rather than caresses; he suggested the sweetness of “Heaven” through vivid, exactly calibrated vocal gestures. Nmon Ford firm control of his lyric baritone let him impart a quiet calm to the beginning of “Prayer”—it indeed evoked the spiritual—while the song’s high ending offered him a chance to display his easy, ringing top.

Life is Love was the last piece on the program, which included songs and choruses by Brahms, Mendelssohn, Schubert and the Schumanns (Clara and Robert), along with a medley from Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. The music-making of the four soloists in the Gordon suite confirmed the fine impression they had already made. Joining them for the piece were two cellos and four horn players, all top-notch. The piano duo of Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe played the infectious Gordon boogie-woogie “Ring-A-Ding-Ding”; earlier on, they had offered morsels Brahms and Piazzolla, in their own dazzling arrangements.

– Fred Cohn