Monday, July 3, 2023

New Stephen Powell CD Shows Inspiring Musical Journey


Stephen Powell; Nashville Sinfonia, Steven White, Conductor
Lexicon Classics


“ARCHETYPE is somewhat autobiographical in that most of the selections on this album I have sung numerous times onstage within the opera or oratorio from which they were composed,” says star baritone Stephen Powell of his just-released CD of the same name.

And what an autobiography. Every piece he sings on this extraordinary recording is iconic in the opera and oratorio repertoire of note for his vocal range, when it comes to technique, style, language, and every other requirement: a delicious sampler of baritone challenges. Of these, Powell defines technique as the single most important key to longevity, success, and consistency as a singer. When it comes to technique, he remains as impressive as ever, having last proved his mettle in the CD Why Do the Nations (Sept 2021).

Though Powell’s voice sounds glorious in every style and language, Italian shows it at its most glorious. His tone, powerful yet velvety, fills every syllable of this most operatic language with vocal beauty. Each exquisite phrase leaves the listener eagerly anticipating the next phrase. Conductor Steven White and the Nashville Sinfonia provide a stable, steady accompaniment.

Steven White

Powell bravely begins the CD with the infamously difficult Si può? from Leoncavallo’s perennial favorite work, Pagliacci. With a combination of power and splendor, flexibility of line, and expressive intensity, Powell tells the audience what to expect in the story, emphasizing the connection between phrases and showing no strain whatsoever in the high notes, including the astonishingly demanding final one. 

Similarly, in Rigoletto’s monologue, Pari siamo, Powell’s voice is at its most potent, showing the conflicts of father and hunchback with heartrending emotion and stunning vocal proficiency, with high notes so beautiful as to defy description. His Deh, vieni all finestra from Mozart’s Don Giovanni is the embodiment of suaveness and dissolute persuasion.

Along with Rigoletto, Powell sings another Verdi de rigueur classic for baritone, Il balen del suo sorriso from Il Trovatore. Achingly beautiful phrases are stretched to the max. A high ‘A’? No problem. Powell also makes an especially elegant Figaro in Rossini’s ceaselessly popular winner from Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Largo al factotum. He works the ironic humor to great effect, adding to the comic element with tongue-in-cheek falsetto and high notes almost too numerous to count.

Italian notwithstanding, Powell’s French is impeccable, and in Voilà donc la terrible cité! from Massenet’s Thaïs, he stretches and molds the phrases, coaxing the loveliest sounds possible within this most romantic of languages. Powell’s lyrical voice also is superbly suited to the French bel canto in O Lisbonne from Donizetti’s rarely performed Dom Sebastien. In the brief but charming Lieben, Hassen, Hoffen, Zagen, from Richard Strauss’s Ariadne aux Naxos, Powell make the most of the sentimentality of the music. He performs the challenging tessitura of Estuans Interius from Orff’s Carmina Burana, with its gravity-defying high notes, with stupefying skill.

It was refreshing to hear Starbuck’s soliloquy from Jake Heggie’s formidable masterpiece, Moby Dick. Powell captured the mysterious atmosphere as well as the passion and agony of the character as he contemplates his uncertain future, at once stirring and poignant, and vocally striking.

Excerpts from Handel’s Messiah, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, and Bach’s Matthäus Passion represent the oratorio side of Powell’s versatility. Of these, “The Trumpet Shall Sound” exemplifies the ne plus ultra of a baritone’s capability, both in its length and its requirements. In his elegant rendering of this staple, the roundness and fullness of his voice is sheer pleasure to listen to. The ornamentation was both unusual and intriguing.

After such a tour-de-force performance of vocal numbers that display, a panoply of a baritone’s skill and musicality, the purity of Bach’s Mache dich, mein Herze Rein, serious yet sweetly affecting, ended the program on an inspiring note. The entire effort is a not-to-be-missed musical delight that will elicit the desire for repeated listenings.

Order Archetype at: 


Recording details: Lexicon Classics
Executive Producer, Gillian Riesen; Engineer, Nick Spezia

Photo credits: Gillian Riesen
Erica can be reached at: [email protected]

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