OPERA NEWS REVIEW: GODS & MONSTERS

OPERA NEWS

Nicholas Phan and Myra Huang offer musical storytelling at its finest in a new recital of legends, tales and horror stories drawn from the nineteenth-century German Lieder repertoire. In addition to superb narrative skills and dramatic conviction, Phan possesses enough musical imagination and vocal daring to bring each story and character vividly to life, and Huang matches the tenor with pianistic arsenal of colors and attacks, controlled by her astonishing technique.

Huang sets a humorous tone for Schubert’s homoerotic “Ganymede” with cheeky staccatos and a deliberately held-back tempo, but she supports Phan as he shapes the song’s structure to its ecstatic, classical conclusion. She suggests the galloping steed of the same composer’s “Der Musensohn” with an excitement that never turns bumpy or breathless, and Phan’s long-lined approach keeps the delivery elegant. “Der Sänger” is a charming depiction of a minstrel’s arrival at court, with his actual song performance delivered by the piano. In recitative and arioso sections Schubert depicts the awe-struck minstrel and the king’s praise. Gently turning aside the offer of costly rewards, the singer wants only a glass of wine in thanks. This is just the sort of episodic material Phan and Huang relish, and they travel through each moment with imagination and clarity...

Among many high points of the recital is Mahler’s Wunderhorn song, “Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen,” with its ghostly soldier returning to the beloved’s house. Both artists sustain the magical nocturnal atmosphere, with generous phrasing and restrained dynamics in a sophisticated, beautifully felt and expressed performance.

But long-lined lyricism is only part of Phan’s vocal arsenal. His voice is hefty, with enough beef in the low range to make much of “Der Zwerg,” Schubert’s creepy song about a queen and her dwarf. Varying vocal weight and colorings for different characters comes easy to Phan, and he brings life to Mahler’s fish tale, “Rheinlegenchen” as well as Schumann’s menacing “Waldesgespräch.” He’s not afraid of the wild shouts of Wolf’s mythical “Feuerreiter” or the skeleton at its eerie ending, and finds a touch of menace in Schumann’s subtle “Der Sandman.” Full-out horror characterizes Wolf’s Pied Piper tale, “Der Rattenfänger,” while Phan’s dark vocal tone and Huang’s unrelenting pounding bring chills to Mendelssohn’s “Hexenlied.”