Meagan Miller in Recital in Norfolk Virginia
by John Campbell with Karen Scott Hoy
Soprano Meagan Miller was presented by the Marilyn
Horne Foundation as part of the Virginia
Arts Festival on May 8, 2001. Miss Miller had done an educational
presentation with a group of 4th -6th grade Girl Scouts, who just happened
to sit in the row behind us at the recital. They clapped at the end
of each song by Wolf and Barber. As many of you know, this is one of
my pet peeves! At intermission I had a very gentle, friendly chat with
their teachers, who asked me to talk with the girls. I explained to
them why we only clap at the end of each group of songs. Once the children
stopped clapping, so did the adults in the row in front of us! Although
one of our party suggested it was fear of being beheaded like the wives
of Henry VIII from the last set by Libby Larsen.
From the Virginia Arts Festival brochure: "We've found a
rising star in Juilliard-trained soprano Meagan Miller, winner of
the 1999 Metropolitan Opera's National Council Auditions awards.
Gracing the stages of opera companies, Ms. Miller is also a gifted
recitalist, appearing at Alice Tully Hall and the Barns of Wolf
Trap. From guest appearances with the National Symphony Orchestra
to singing at the Hollywood Bowl, her versatility and thrilling
coloratura make Meagan a soprano worth watching."
Soprano Meagan Miller and pianist Steven Samuel Beck gave the recital at the Chrysler Museum Theatre on May 8, 2001. This challenging program included eight selections by Hugo Wolf (1860-1903), a cycle of songs by Samuel Barber, Ariettes Oubliées by Claude Debussy (1862-1918) and a new work by Libby Larsen. In the selections from Hugo Wolf's Italienisches Liederbuch she effectively created the moods and emotions of each song, changing vocal color to capture the meaning of the words.
The title song, Despite and Still from a cycle by Samuel Barber (1910-1981), on poetry by Robert Graves, was most impressive. This outstanding performance strongly projected in dark, steady tones. Her Solitary Hotel, with its insinuating rhythms, was deftly handled, conveying the humor and irony of James Joyce's lyrics.
We don't usually associate such a voluptuous voice with singers of French art song, but her Debussy demonstrated a wonderful sense of style in songs that require a very lyrical, free, almost uninvolved tone with great underlying intensity. Her performance was very convincing.
Ms. Miller closed her program with a stunning new work by Libby Larsen (b.1950): Try Me Good King, Last Words of the Wives of Henry VIII. The text for the Henry VIII piece is drawn from actual written documents, set by Ms. Larsen. The range of expression is wide; the demands on the singer are great, from timid pleading to fiery defiance, with a wide vocal range and intense expression. At the piano Mr. Beck did fine work here, as he had throughout the program, creating a setting for the vocal pyrotechnics.
We subsequently learned from Barbara Hocher, Executive Director of the Marilyn Horne Foundation, that the foundation had commissioned this piece for Meagan because "the song repertoire for dramatic coloratura sopranos is somewhat limited. Strauss and Debussy did write some pieces for higher female voices, but that repertory is generally more appropriate for coloraturas, not dramatic coloraturas. At any rate, we think the Larsen piece is an important addition to the art song repertory, and provides a wonderfully challenging and glorious showcase for Meagan's vocal category." Ms. Miller's highest note of the evening, an Eb, was effective and secure.
The audience's warm reception was rewarded with an encore: Barber's Sure on this Shining Night. This youthful, beautiful singer is an excellent musician with a glorious voice and a natural sense of style. As the brochure says, a soprano worth watching.