Soprano Anna Feucht, Baritone Marshall Severin & Pianist Ruth Winters in Recital:
Liebe: Love Songs of Franz Schubert & Jake Heggie
Cantabile Project, Chandler Hall, November 12, 2017
Review by John Campbell and Steve Brockman

Music reflects the era in which it was written. Robert Schumann (1810-1856) Freuen liebe und leben (A Woman's Love and Life) from 1840 is a set of eight songs that tells of a young woman's experiences. She has outgrown her childhood interests. She now sees a male as desirable and he notices her and her self-doubt sets in as she dreams of life with him as her lover. No mortal man can live up to her expectations as she admires the ring on her finger. Other young women are all a-twitter as they dress her for the wedding. She cries with rapturous joy at being recently married. By the 6th song she is expecting a baby. In the next song she experiences the love a mother has for her child. In the last song she sings of her grief at the death of her husband. The woman in the Schumann song cycle is lucky to have only one child. Robert's wife Clara had given birth to eight children by the time Robert died in an asylum at age 46.

Marshall Severin, who had been recruited to fill in for the scheduled baritone six days before the recital, gave us seven masterfully performed songs by Schumann from his Dichterliebe (Poet's Love). The cycle, also from 1840, has 16 songs set to poems by Heinrich Heine. Beginning with a song on the joys of the month of May, he is soon overcome by tears because he has fallen in love. For him, she has become the rose, the lily, the dove, the sun. Overwrought by his total infatuation, he cries bitterly. He continues in this fashion for the next two songs. Only the last selection sets us straight—his girl marries a man who is financially well off and he suffers true heartbreak.

After intermission we heard music by contemporary composer Jake Heggie (b. 1961). As we heard in Animal Passion from Mr. Heggie's cycle Natural Selection, life choices for women have changed. Here Ms. Feucht sang a young woman's assertion of her right to sexual adventures in hotel rooms and afternoon apartments. She roars, exclaiming her right to be the opposite of a Schumann era domestic cat. The text of the poem by Gini Savage can be found online at: (The texts and translations for the Schumann songs were provided.)

Though listed on the program as the final selection, Jake Heggie's duet, Robert Schumann (2008) (text Mary Oliver, 2003), followed. Clara, as an old woman, looks back and remembers the day she met Robert and recalls “his long road down through madness toward death.” This 21st century duet is in stark contrast to the Romantic era. Baritone Marshall Severin hums to open the song just as Robert does in the poem. Soprano Anna Feucht offers the text of the poem with their voices weaving together, ending in a humming duet.

This song Robert Schumann is the key to understanding the theme of the concert and would have made the natural pivot point. Unfortunately the song was neither introduced or explained before it was sung. And though it was sung in English, the words were largely indecipherable. The text was not included in the program, so the meaning only became clear to us after we found the poem online.

Mr. Severin then sang Heggie's Thoughts Unspoken (text John Hall) which has the realism of daily life. It opens with A Learning Experience Over Coffee. The struggle of practicality versus being in love in You Enter My Thoughts focused on the world as it is now. He sings of being taught how to argue and stand-up in a fight. What he wasn't taught was how to speak of love. The third song, To Speak of Love brought tears when it concluded with: I love you, need you . . . you are the song I sing.” Owing much to a Sondheim patter song but with no repetitions, the cycle closes with Unspoken Thoughts at Bedtime. She sleeps. Seeing her relaxed vulnerability in sleep, he can make a promise to her of his true feelings.

Both Ms. Feucht and Mr. Severin are talented young singers who gave insightful performances and pianist Ruth Winters showed us once again what a excellent accompanist she is. The program will repeat in February, 2018. Details can be found on the AU Calendar in the new year.

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