Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Shelly Traverse Wraps Seattle Opera “Songs of Summer”

Sunny Martini

REVIEW: Shelly Traverse 

McCaw Hall, Seattle 

Seattle Opera’s innovative "Songs of Summer" recital series has been bringing some of the company’s most valued singers to an electronic stage via opera lovers’ cell phones, tablets, and computer screens. The series, which premiered in June with the illustrious Jamie Barton, will continue through July 13 with recitals available to stream on Seattle Opera’s website, as well as Facebook and YouTube, for two weeks from the premiere date.

As the company believes that the fight for racial justice touches all areas of society, the arts included, they are showing their commitment to this struggle by highlighting partner organizations that have been making an impact in Seattle communities.

On July 14, the company presented a recital featuring Shelly Traverse, soprano, accompanied by Beth Tankersley, piano. The partner organization for this program was Spectrum Dance Theater.

Traverse made a spectacular impression with her last-minute Seattle Opera mainstage debut as Hero in 2018’s Beatrice & Benedict. Attracting great acclaim in the media for her performance, Traverse literally stole the show vocally and dramatically.

She then charmed McCaw Hall audiences earlier this year as the music-loving Chan Parker in the much-praised Charlie Parker’s Yardbird. Traverse often performs as part of the company’s Programs & Partnerships initiatives, touring Washington state in a variety of family-friendly operatic productions.

Wendy Waltz
Spectrum Dance Theater, one of the Pacific Northwest's most esteemed dance companies, provides a valuable artistic service to a racially diverse community via performances, outreach, and school. Seattle Opera’s history with the company, and with TONY-nominated and Bessie-Award winning choreographer Donald Byrd, includes productions of Semele, Aida, Julius Caesar and Charlie Parker's Yardbird.

Traverse’s Songs of Summer program displayed her versatility in repertoire, with an array of French and American art songs, beloved opera arias by Mozart and Puccini, and selections by Broadway luminary Stephen Sondheim.

She showed her charming personality and engaging stage presence right from the start with an introductory speech in which she spoke of Seattle Opera’s commitment to the fight for racial justice, mentioning the artistic collaboration with Spectrum Dance Theater and the passion it displayed in the bold and powerful scene that choreographer Donald Byrd created for Charlie Parker's Yardbird. Then she launched into a nicely varied program. After hearing Traverse in a contemporary opera such as Charlie Parker it was lovely to hear her sing selections from the classical repertoire.

The soprano began the program with Despina’s lively aria, In Uomini, In Soldati from Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte. Traverse’s voice was well focused, and she showed a keen understanding of the character’s mischievous personality and cheeky humor.

The next selections, two art songs by Reynaldo Hahn, were the highlight of the program. A Chloris is perhaps the most well-known of Hahn’s Belle Époque repertoire for the female voice. Traverse captured the subtle charm of the piece and of the composer’s musical sensibilities, and melded the music beautifully with the text.

Her voice, which served her so well in Berlioz’ Beatrice and Benedict, showed that it was perfectly suited for French inflection in Le Rossignol des lilas as well. In this piece, which demonstrates the influence of Hahn’s teacher Massenet, Traverse’s voice floated in the air Impressionistically, yet with convincing, down-to-earth ardor.

Though Puccini’s O mio babbino caro has been somewhat oversung in recent times, Traverse sings with great sincerity, and her rendition of the perennial favorite had a youthfulness and freshness that was uplifting.

Traverse then stepped into Broadway musical territory with two Stephen Sondheim songs: “I remember” from Evening Primrose (text by Sondheim and James Goldman) and “On the steps of the Palace” from Into the Woods (text by Sondheim and James Lapine).

Musical theatre was the soprano’s first love, and it showed in her lively versions of these appealing works. Her voice is well-matched to this genre, and she showed powerful emotion, both comedic and dramatic, in her interpretations.

Evening Primrose was a made-for-TV musical about people who are not able to leave the place in which they live. Traverse, in a gesture adapted to the current crisis, dedicated “I remember” to those people who are self-sheltering. In “On the Steps of the Palace,” she winningly communicated the comic irony of Cinderella’s somewhat bemused soliloquy.

The program ended exquisitely with “Sure on this Shining Night” from Four Songs, Op. 13 by Samuel Barber (text by James Agee). Traverse sang with well-controlled legato and delicate phrasing. The song’s message also was appropriate for our present-day situation: May kindness watch for you…may all hearts be whole. Traverse’s charm, sincere manner and appealing voice conveyed the meaning to all who were fortunate enough to watch this finale to the Songs of Summer project. Pianist Beth Tankersley was an able accompanist and showed great sensitivity, especially in the Hahn and Barber pieces.

Sunny Martini


Photo credits: Wendy Waltz, Sunny Martini
Erica can be reached at: [email protected]

No comments: