By Ted AYALA
In the days leading up to the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, it was hard to cope with the panoply of gore and destruction the media served up on a resplendent silver platter for its audience. Masquerading as commemoration and dignified remembrance were lurid images and reminiscences that barely concealed the media’s glee in its ability to exploit the tragedy to the hilt for the sake of ratings. What occurred indeed was a horrific tragedy, but it would behoove us all to remember the event by reaffirming those qualities and values that are our society’s most noble fruits. Not to wallow in shock-image sentimentality.
Did Charles Gounod ever dream that his songs would be seen in some distant future as a testament to the endless invention and eloquence of the human spirit? After all, this is a composer whose most famous opera, Faust, is to this day performed under an alternate name in Germany. Gounod’s frothy lyricism and rhythmic bounce struck Teutonic ears as positively frivolous; unworthy of bringing to life the words of Germany’s most revered writer. Yet in the delivery of celebrated counter-tenor Brian Asawa and mezzo soprano Diana Tash – a sparkling aperitif that led off their Sept. 10 recital at the Colburn School’s Thayer Hall in Los Angeles – Gounod’s charming lyric duet was a reminder that even in death, life blossoms and thrives.
So it was in the powerful operatic scene by Rossini depicting the life of Joan of Arc, sung with the fervor of a Christian convert by Diana Tash. A work written for the salon, Rossini composed the work for the woman that eventually became his wife after the death of his first one. Composed during Rossini’s period of retirement following the composition of William Tell, it shows the composer’s powers in full flight. Diana Tash sang this music of intense power and deliciously carnal colors with matchless fire and warmth.
But the most delightful moments in the recital came from the gratefully civilized muse of Felix Mendelssohn. Asawa’s and Tash’s voices blended snugly in this limpid music shot through with grace and love for life. Their honeyed legato and crisp diction lent these little duets, musical entertainments meant for home use, ample charm and joy.
Another delight was a set of Shakespearean songs set by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Composed for Shakespeare productions directed by Max Reinhardt, the set of songs brimmed with elegant humor and beauty. Closer to Vienna than to Elizabethan London, the songs were a luxuriously rich treat, sung with burnished tone by Tash.
Even here, Sept. 11 reared its head by way of the greatest tune that Aaron Copland never wrote, his deathless arrangement of the Shaker hymn, “Simple Gifts.” A more apt tribute, however, was paid by Asawa earlier in the program in a set of Schubert songs that were sung with intelligence and fine word painting. The heart of this selection was Schubert’s heartfelt hymn of gratitude for life to his Creator, Im Abendrot. “O, how beautiful is your world, Father, when she shines with golden beams!” sung with rapt beauty by Asawa. The manner which he lovingly caressed the song’s final lines left, with an artlessness that seemed to stop time, made one grateful for Schubert’s art and for life itself. And what more eloquent manner to commemorate those that have left us and transcend the pain their absence leaves in our heart than by clutching ever tighter the beauty and wonder of life?