Mezzo-soprano Lucille Beer connects emotionally to the music

Mezzo-soprano Lucille Beer has become a fixture in the Capital Region in the past decade whenever an

Mezzo-soprano Lucille Beer has become a fixture in the Capital Region in the past decade whenever an orchestra, chorus or chamber music group has needed a stellar soloist to grace its program.

While many knew that she had sung at the Metropolitan Opera, few had heard her in an opera until this past summer, when she sang the role of the Prioress in Poulenc’s “Dialogues of the Carmelites” as part of the Resonanz Albany Summer Festival.

Her brilliance in the part revealed a vast experience that began with an internship in the Met’s two-year intensive Young Artist Program and her subsequent Met debut in the 1970s.

A successful international career followed that included working with Leonard Bernstein in his “Songfest” (1977) on two continents and a live broadcast on PBS; appearances at the NYC Opera, Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center, the New York Philharmonic and the orchestras of Houston, St. Louis and Washington, D.C.; and song cycles at Carnegie Hall and Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center.

Lucille Beer in concert

Oct. 6: 7:30 p.m. at Schenectady County Community College with pianist Mark Evans and clarinetist Brett Wery. Free.

Oct. 13: 7:30 p.m. Picotte Recital Hall, Massry Center for the Arts, The College of Saint Rose. Repeat concert. Free.

Nov. 14: 3 p.m. Jewish Community Center, Balltown Road, Niskayuna with pianist Michael Clement. Free.

Her last Met performance was in 1999 in Strauss’ “Elektra” under James Levine.

Beer will give recitals on Wednesday at Schenectady County Community College; Oct. 13 at The College of St. Rose; and Nov. 14 in the Schenectady Jewish Community Center’s Music at the J series, and she will sing the Verdi Requiem on Jan. 22 with the Albany Symphony Orchestra. The two October concerts celebrate the release of her first disc of art songs ($15).

Q: What was it like this summer to sing opera after so long?

A: The last opera I sang was “The Marriage of Figaro” in Evansville (Ind.) about five years ago. So it’s not so long. But it was thrilling to be interpreting such a deep character (as the Prioress) and physically to be out there in costume and makeup and working with a stage director.

Q: What was it like at the Met?

A: It was a dream come true . . . to be working with the crème de la crème. It was an honor to be associated with such a list of artists. On stage, I sang with Renata Scotto and Sherrill Milnes. I’d see Placido Domingo or Luciano Pavarotti backstage. It’s much less glamorous. Opera lends itself to that grandiose, godlike figure. But they are human beings, they are mortal.

They all shaped my views on what it takes to be in the profession and what it takes to make it work. (Beer had attended the Juilliard School’s pre-college division at 15, got her bachelor of music degree from Mannes College of Music and her master of music from the Juilliard School.)

I never had to decline a role — they were all suited to my voice and range. I dove in to get as much exposure in the supporting roles and experience in staging and rehearsals or covering roles as an understudy. I did a lot of that. And I did a lot of acting in the workshops. It was a stepping-off point.

Q: You’ve become known for the way you inhabit each song you sing. Where did you learn how to do that? And does the repertoire for your recitals reflect this skill?

A: That came naturally . . . to feel emotionally connected to the music and to all the repertoire I do. I love delving into the technicalities and creating emotional connections. I’ve always done a lot of concert material, but interpretation is only a piece of the puzzle.

You also need the technique and what timbres and colors you use. Because my voice has a darker quality, a darker color, and a lower range than most mezzos, some people call me a contralto. But a contralto is a special category with limited roles and I’ve been fighting this my whole life . . . to cross over. My heroes are mezzos Christa Ludwig and Janet Baker. They do all roles.

The repertoire I chose for my CD I have felt close to over the years and selected a nice combination. That includes art songs by Schubert and Faure, three of Brahms’ songs with viola and an aria from Mozart’s “La Clemenza di Tito” with clarinet. At my recital, I’ll sing some of the Schubert and Faure, some Brahms and Spohr’s “Wiegenlied” with clarinetist Brett Wery. For the Music at the J concert, I’ll sing songs by Mahler, Copland, Milhaud and Bernstein.

Q: Do you have a favorite composer?

A: I love Mahler — his creation of the emotions and the way he puts them through the music. His songs have a personal nature, they’re very intimate. My voice with its darker quality seems suited to them. (Beer has performed all of Mahler’s vocal music to international acclaim.)

Q: Is there any musician that has most impressed you?

A: Leonard Bernstein. Working with him on his Songfest was a marvelous experience. He was the most charismatic, incredible musician I’ve ever worked with. [Beer performed his Songfest in Rome, Chicago, New York, and Washington, D.C.] I even did musical evenings at his home. It was terrible when he died in 1990.

Q: How did you end up in the Capital Region?

A: I’m from New York City. In 1993, my parents retired to the Albany area — they died nine years ago. I had two small children, a daughter, 6, and a son who was 9, so we moved up. My daughter is now a violinist and just graduated from Ithaca College and is getting her master’s at Cincinnati Conservatory.

I miss New York City and the concerts and being around that world. But I do go in for lessons with my teacher.

Q: You teach at The College of Saint Rose and Schenectady County Community College. Is there any advice you give your students?

A: I have 18 students at Saint Rose and eight at SCCC. I tell them that the choice of repertoire is the most important aspect to keeping mature vocal health — that, and staying in good physical shape. They must also keep their voices flexible, limber and fresh by doing vocalises [scales]. On performance days, they should not talk loudly but keep it low-key; and to not be too tired and push themselves to sing. And always to rest after the concert. I’m not too particular or too neurotic about diet. . . . Just be sensible.

Q: Any plans for the future?

A: I think the Poulenc opened up some doors for me as to what I can be doing. Maybe more mature roles. I’d also like to sing more nationally.

Categories: Life and Arts

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