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Performances

Christopher Cano and Jennifer Johnson Cano. [Photo by Lisa Mazzucco]
21 Jan 2018

Tucson Desert Song Festival Presents Artists from the Met and Arizona Opera

The Tucson Desert Song Festival consists of three weekends of vocal music in orchestral, chamber, choral, and solo formats along with related lectures and master classes.

Tucson Desert Song Festival

A recital by Jennifer Johnson Cano, mezzo-soprano, and Christopher Cano, piano

Above: Christopher Cano and Jennifer Johnson Cano. [Photo by Lisa Mazzucco]

 

Held at the University of Arizona, artists and patrons also enjoy in the warm Sonoran Desert climate where flowers bloom in January and February. The festival’s sixth year features a celebration of the life and music of Leonard Bernstein who would have been one hundred years old in 2018.

On January 17, the festival presented a recital by Metropolitan Opera mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano and collaborative pianist Christopher Cano who is Head of Music and Director of the Marion Roose Pullin Opera Studio at Arizona Opera. Upon entering, the audience was greeted with a wonderfully well organized program that included song texts in the original languages and excellent English translations by the singer herself. Also the lights were never too low for members of the audience to read translations as Jennifer Cano sang them.

The Canos opened their program with three selections from Joseph Canteloube’s Chants d’Auvergne: “L’Antouéno” (“Anthony”), “La delaïssádo” (The Deserted Girl”), and “Lou Coucut” (“The Cuckoo”). Cantaloube’s collection is made up folk songs from the Auvergne region of France that he arranged for voice and orchestra between 1923 and 1930. The songs are sung in Occitan, (also known as Provençal or Languedoc). Occitan speakers communicate officially in French, but they still use the dialect for local purposes.

Clad in black silk trimmed with lace, in the first song, russet haired Jennifer Cano charmed “Anthony” into taking her to the fair. She sings of getting a cow but will only let him have its horns. Then she made us commiserate with the sad young girl whose lover never comes to meet her. The evening star finds “The Deserted Girl” in a place so many of us have been, alone in the dark of night. “The Cuckoo” drew us out of the sad mood with its cheery song, however, even though we had to imagine him singing in the cooler forests of France. Christopher Cano’s virtuosity had been evident during each of these pieces. He brought out sonorities not always heard in a piano accompaniment and his articulation was comparable to many of the finest solo pianists. This was one of the rare vocal recitals where it was important to sit on the keyboard side of the house.

For their second group the Canos’ performed Antonín Dvořák’s Ziguenerlieder (“Gypsy Songs”), a set of seven songs set to texts by Czech poet Adolph Heyduk. Heyduk translated some of his poems into German so Dvořák could set them to music for popular Vienna Opera tenor Gustav Walter. For many people of European extraction, these songs bring back memories of childhood. "Als die alte Mutter" (“Songs My Mother Taught Me”) could frequently be heard not only in Prague and Vienna but in many American cities during the years following World War II. It was a treat to hear it sung by members of a new generation who carefully detailed all its hidden meanings.

The Canos’ idiomatic rendition of Manuel de Falla’s 1914 composition, Siete Canciones Populares Españolas (“Seven Popular Spanish Songs”) concluded the first half of the program. De Falla composed some songs in styles representing particular areas of Spain such as Murcia and Asturias. Other songs tell of the vagaries of love. The Canos presented each piece as a precious jewel in an individual setting. I particularly loved the beautifully expressed meanings, both sung and unsung, in the “Jota,” a dance from Aragon.

After the intermission, the Canos presented songs in English by Samuel Barber, Leonard Bernstein and Jonathan Dove. In 1935, when Barber won the Prix de Rome, he composed music for three poems about love and lovers from James Joyce’s 1907 Chamber Music. In each, Barber allows his music to follow the poetic speech pattern. The first and last songs of the low voice edition are in the key of A minor while the middle song is a minor third lower. Sung and played by the Canos, they dazzled listeners with a kaleidoscope of gorgeous sound colors.

Three Songs from West Side Story with texts by Stephen Sondheim have increased meaning when we contemplate them as a memorial to a great composer. With “One Hand One Heart” the artists spoke of unity. Onstage there was complete unity of singer and pianist during the entire evening. Christopher and Jennifer Cano seemed to breathe together and each was able to anticipate the other’s moves. In “Somewhere” they expressed common longing for a place that could appreciate people who care and create. In the less familiar “I Have a Love” they spoke of love as the most important aspect of life.

London born Jonathan Dove has composed opera, choral works, plays, films, chamber and orchestral music. Over the years he has arranged a number of operas for British companies. Three Tennyson Songs is a short song cycle composed in 2011 for Canadian baritone Philippe Sly. In it the poet first sends a swallow to tell his lady of his love. Day breaks upon a still wakeful lover and “The Sailor-Boy” obeys his unquenchable desire to spend his life riding the high seas.

Although the nearest bay is a hundred miles away, the Canos brought its beauty and its thrill to the desert with their ability to project musical images into the minds of their audience. When they finished presenting these songs, there was a great thunder of applause from this excellent audience, which only applauded at the end of each group. After several forays before the curtain they gave their single encore: John Jacob Niles’ "Go 'Way From My Window," and the audience departed slowly with tunes from this excellent recital still running around in their brains.

Maria Nockin


Program:

Joseph Cantaloube, Selections from Chants d’Auvergne; Antonín Dvořák, Gypsy Songs; Manuel deFalla, Siete Canciones Populares Españolas; Samuel Barber, Three Songs, Op 10; Leonard Bernstein, Three Songs from West Side Story; Jonathan Dove, Three Tennyson Songs.

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