Review: Boston Celebrity Series Recital
This past Saturday, February 4, Susanna Phillips and Myra Huang (piano) offered a program of “Women’s Lives and Loves” at Jordan Hall as part of The Boston Celebrity Series. Selections included “Die Männer sind méchant,” “Gretchen am Spinnrade,” and “Viola” by Schubert; Schumann’s Frauenliebe und leben, the Mignon Lieder by Wolf, and Libby Larsen’s Try Me Good King.
“Phillips’ performances of these works showed why she stands as one of the most acclaimed singer-actors on the scene today. Since winning the Beverly Sills Award with the Metropolitan Opera in 2010, Phillips’ star has continued to rise. Her performances of lyric roles have won acclaim by critics, and she has recently starred in the Met’s production of Saariaho’s L’Amour de Loin (only the second opera by a woman to have ever graced the company’s stage). The singer’s voice is full and bright with a hint of silver, and she is capable of coloring her instrument for dramatic effect. Phillips had a simpatico partner in the remarkable pianist Myra Huang, who conjured an ocean of images and emotions in each song.
The Frauenliebe und –leben cycle remains a popular concert item. Its subject matter for many though is dated. We witness Schumann’s woman become enraptured by the man she loves, and follow her story through engagement, marriage, motherhood, and, eventually, widowhood.
Phillips found the searching humanity of the character. Performances of this cycle tend to overstate the woman’s emotions. Instead, Phillips sang these songs with a hushed intensity. “Er, der Herrlichste von allen,” where the woman is enthralled by her soon-to-be-fiancé, had just the right touch of Victorian restraint. The singer’s breathy phrases in “Ich kann’s nicht fassen, nicht glauben” gave a sense of heightened anticipation. “Der Ring an meinem Finger” was cast in quiet reverence, as if the woman was lost in thought. Phillips saved the greatest drama for the final song, “Nun hast du mir ersten Schmerz getan,” where the woman is heartbroken over the death of her husband. Phillips’ phrases were full of anguish and her final line, “Du meine Welt,” quivered on the edge of breaking.”
(Aaron Keebaugh, Boston Classical Review, Feb 2017)