The Locally Owned Voice of the Capital Region

Diva does it all

By Leslie Kandell
Friday, August 29, 2014
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The first time I ever paid attention to Stephanie Blythe (reigning mezzo-soprano diva at the Metropolitan Opera) was when she stopped the show at a Tanglewood students’ cabaret night about 20 years ago.

It had occurred to Robert Spano (now music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra) and Dennis Helmrich (then head of the vocal program) that young people no longer know the last generation’s popular songs. We think everyone can sing “People Will Say We’re In Love” and “Don’t Fence Me In,” but Helmrich found that the students just couldn’t find their groove with that idiom.

So Spano and a couple of student pianists took turns accompanying these young people as they delicately tripped through songs older people knew and they didn’t.

Until suddenly, out barrels this hefty girl who uses her hands like flippers and powers out a couple of the old songs, and foom! the place lights up. The rest is history: the next summer she came back to the Phyllis Curtin group as a star, and she’s now not only at the Met -- with all the prestige and recitals that connote s-- but on Tanglewood's vocal faculty.

What the average Joe-the-Plumber (and yours truly) might call the highlight of Tanglewood on Parade was Blythe and her students, in an afternoon singalong of best-known American songs like “Always,” “April Showers,” “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” and a dozen more. The young soloists were astonished when they began the refrain and the entire audience came roaring in with every word. Like performing Harbison or Sessions, it was a learning experience for the students, and the audience went home singing.

Pictured: Stephanie Blythe and Friends in Ozawa Hall in a 2011 performance. (Photo by Hilary Scott)

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