American tenor Russell Thomas, currently singing Don José in the COC’s Carmen, gave the lunchtime recital in the RBA yesterday. The main item on the program was Schumann’s Dichterliebe; a setting of sixteen poems by Heinrich Heine and one of the great test pieces of the classic German lieder repertoire. It was a red-blooded, operatic account. Purists might think too much so but I enjoyed the sheer power and beauty of it, even at the expense of the (incredibly wonderful) text not getting the sort of attention it might get from someone like Ian Bostridge. There was plenty of variation of tone and colour, some real virtuosity and even some humour in, for example, Ein Jüngling liebt ein Mädchen but the the most impressive and striking thing was the ability to effortlessly project a lot of rather beautiful sound. Liz Upchurch’s accompaniment was very much in synch emotionally and musically.
The program was rounded out by three Italian songs, which showcased different aspects of the voice and suggested that this was Russell’s real comfort zone. He started with a very lyrical take on Donaudy’s O del mio amato and showed some real verismo chops in Mascagni’s Risveglio. Operating on the “leave the best until last” principle Russell finished up with Verdi’s very operatic L’esule. With its repeated phrasing and climactic ending it sounded just like a showpiece aria from one of the operas and Russell made the most of the opportunity to belt out genuinely Italianate tenor high notes.
Photocredit: Karen E. Reeves