Review: Christine Goerke at Tucson Desert Song Festival

2014-02-13T23:58:00Z 2014-02-15T01:15:05Z Review: Christine Goerke at Tucson Desert Song FestivalCathalena E. Burch Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 13, 2014 11:58 pm  • 

Christine Goerke waved her hands for pianist Kathleen Kelly to stop playing.

A verse or two into the second movement of Poulenc's "La Courte Paille" and she realized she and Kelly were out of sync.

"Sorry. I'm going to start that again," the dramatic soprano told the audience loosely filling Crowder Hall Thursday night, adding that singing fast in French could be tricky if you weren't ready.

She started again. She stopped.

"Sorry," she said, then giggled as the audience laughed while she stomped a few feet away from the piano to be closer to the stage's edge.

Third time was a charm.

Some singers might be embarrassed or flustered by the miscues. But Goerke, who has won a Grammy and sang with some of the world's best operas — New York Metropolitan, Santa Fe, Los Angeles San Francisco, Lyric Opera of Chicago and London's coveted Covent Garden and Royal Opera House — never lost her composure or sense of humor.

And neither did the audience. Goerke's flub made her all the more human in our eyes, dispelling any notions that we had that singers of her pedigree had to be perfect and spot-on 100 percent of the time.

Frankly, she was perfect. She hit the impossibly high notes of Gluck's "Divinités du Styx" from "Alceste" and you noticed the hair standing up on your arms and your toes curled in anticipation. Her French diction was impeccable and even if you didn't understand a word she sang, you appreciated the impact. She looked out into the hall with a sense of anxiety, as if she was searching for someone in particular. We could tell she was singing about the cruelty of love.

And when she choked up after a moving turn at Gershwin's "My Man's Gone Now" from "Porgy and Bess," we wished we had known the man for whom she and her longtime friend/accompanist Kelly had dedicated it. (She said he had left the Houston Grand Opera, where he worked with Goerke and Kelly, and was studying voice at the University of Arizona when he died of cancer late last year.)

To be honest, Goerke could have been singing "Mary Had A Little Lamb" over and over again and we would have sat rapt, hanging on her ever word. She has a voice that demands your attention and a warm, personable stage presence that will leave you feeling like you wished you could be her friend.

Goerke's program was a seamless blend of classical and contemporary including a set of Stephen Sondheim songs — "Children will listen” from "Into the Woods"; and “Not a day goes by” from "Merrily We Roll Along" among them — and the Poulenc seven-movement piece about the trials and tribulations of parenting.

"I started singing this when I was 22," she told the audience. "But I never understood it until I had kids."

She also dipped into what she called unchartered territory for an opera singer: John Carter's "Cantata," which borrows five Negro spirituals including the triumphant finale “Ride On, King Jesus.” If you've never heard these songs sung by a classically trained vocalist, you might be disappointed. They lacked the rough-hewn edge that brings them to life.

But Goerke sang them with a sultry blues hue and such sincerity and depth that they felt like new songs. 

"Ride On" also showcased Kelly's immense talent. She played with an intuition that showed the depths of her history with and respect for Goerke.

Goerke's recital was UApresents' contribution to the Second Annual Tucson Desert Song Festival, which continues tonight with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra's performance of Berlioz's famed oratorio "The Damnation of Faust."

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