Mezzo-soprano Alta Dantzler returned to her alma mater of Skidmore College Friday night after an 11-year absence to give a recital at Zankel Music Center as the first artist in the new Alumni Concert Series.
She brought her husband, tenor Drake Dantzler, and their pianist Lois Kaarre.
The two singers split up the program with an unusual mix of art songs that are not often sung. Alta Dantzler began with four songs from Mahler’s song cycle, “Des Knaben Wunderhorn” (“The Youth’s Magic Horn”).
She impressed immediately with her excellent German diction and lustrous, big voice that was especially rich in the bottom and middle ranges. Her top notes were a little shaky and rarely during the evening did she stay long singing any.
Dantzler sang each song with good feeling and intent. Kaare played the spare accompaniment, which had all the quirky Mahler touches, with a wide range of colors. Balances even when Dantzler was at full resonant volume were never a problem.
Drake Dantzler sang “Three Shelley Songs” with texts by Percy Shelley and music by Frederick Delius. He told the small crowd that although Delius was English, he was heavily influenced by Wagner and used very chromatic harmonies. Tall and dressed in a tux, Dantzler cut a very elegant figure as he sang the love songs in good German. Although his voice was light with not a ringing top range, he inflected what he sang with much color and nuance. He often caressed the lyrics.
He understands the difference between singing art songs, when a singer can wear their heart on their sleeve and portray heavily nuanced characters, compared to the broader gestures needed in opera arias. Dantzler created drama and atmosphere. The songs were pretty but occasionally Kaarre was a bit too rambunctious with the volume.
Both singers sang a duet from Donizetti’s “La Favorita” — a romantic episode in which they did well together. Alta Dantzler had many shining moments. Later, she told the crowd, much to its amusement, that they rarely sing together and when they do, he’s usually the dashing prince and she’s the wicked witch from whom he’s fleeing. So this aria was a treat, she said.
Drake Dantzler then sang Gerald Finzi’s “A Young Man’s Exhortation” of 10 songs with texts by Thomas Hardy. Complex, wordy and somewhat melancholy, he sold each song with conviction and feeling.
Alta Dantzler sang four of Benjamin Britten’s “Cabaret Songs” with texts by W. H. Auden. She sang the humorous, ironic and sometimes dark-edged lyrics with excellent English diction and plummy tones. Only occasionally were the words lost.
The next concert in the series is Nov. 18 with oboist Ryan Klein.
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