February 3, 1990
The "Bird" In Flight
By Joseph McClellan
Washington Post Staff Writer
BALTIMORE-"I have been married for 33 years' " sings the only character in the opera "A Water Bird Talk-"~-a middle-aged man who makes this statement sound as tragic as any sentence in opera.
The man called simply the Lecturer is giving a talk to the members of his wife's club. It is supposed to be a 'talk about the water birds of North America, but in the colorful lives and habits of the Roseate Tern, the Atlantic Puffin and the Pied-Billed Grebe, he keeps finding reflections of his own henpecked existence.
This curiously comic and tragic half-hour opera was the final and best work in an evening at the Peabody Conservatory dedicated to the music of one of its most distinguished alumni, Dominick.Argento, whose opera "The Aspern Papers" is the hit of the Washington Opera season. Last night's program, featuring mostly members of the Peabody -faculty, focused on the vocal works that are Argento's primary claim to attention. With performers of the caliber of soprano Phyllis Bryn-julson, tenor Stanley Cornett and baritone Donald Collup, it was an evening of varied and deep musical satisfaction.
It opened with Argento's thoughtful and evocative cycle 'Peter Quince -at the Clavier," set to texts of Wallace Stevens and expertly performed by the 28 voices of the Concert Artists of Baltimore, with Edward Polochick conducting and Clinton Adams playing the piano part, which is more a commentary than an accompaniment.
In five of the seven songs from Argento's "Letters From Composers" with Barteld Bosma accompanying on guitar, Cornett showed Chopin in a calm, reflective mood, Mozart indignant at the injustices of the Austrian nobility, Schubert in despair but expressing that despair with one of his best-loved melodies, Bach in a business-like mood trying to collect fees and Puccini in Paris suffering intense homesickness.
Bryn-julson was on target musically and stylistically in the "Six Elizabethan Songs" that were the highlight of the evening until the "Water Bird" monodrama blew everything else away.
Collup, accompanied by the Peabody Camerata, Gene Young conducting, presented an entire life in a half-hour segment. Although the narrator's wife never appeared on stage, being represented only by the sound of a slamming door as she stalked out indignantly, she became a vivid presence through her husband's attitudes and description., Collup's performance was brilliant, though it would have been even more brilliant if all the words had come across clearly, and the whole evening was a well-deserved tribute to one of the finest craftsmen now setting English words to music.
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