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Kate Lindsey

3 April 2009 (Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium)

Last Friday night, Kate Lindsey paused on her way to the top of the opera world to give a recital at Grace Rainey Rogers. Mezzo-sopranos have come a long way since I was a youngster — in the looks department, that is. I suffer small fits of cognitive dissonance whenever svelte beauties like Ms Lindsey open up and fill the hall with the kind of huge, rich sound that Anna Russell used to poke such great fun at. I do hope that today's singers, who appear to have traded in their rich diets for gym workouts, enjoy something of the self-indulgence that used to make divas so alluring. Come to think of it, though, Ms Lindsey is plenty alluring as it is.

Kate Lindsey is a very good singer. She has great taste, and the technique to deploy it. Take that little moment in "Anzoleta dopo la regata," the third of Rossini's delicious Venetian songs for mezzo-soprano solo, where the the word "ciapa," repeated in descending arpeggios, yields to a rising comeback. Ms Lindsey tied the two bits together beautifully. Or take the vocal thinning that she applied to the lament of Berlioz's La mort d'Ophélie. Take the all-but-snarled grumbling at the beginning of Schoenberg's "Mahnung" (one of the Brettl Lieder, written for cabaret, that venture into expressionism without leaving tonality behind). Take, most of all, the perfect grace with which Ms Lindsey sang her one encore, "Cantique," by Nadia Boulanger. Always dramatic but always musical, Ms Lindsey displayed a range of styles that stretched from the soubrette to the sublime.

Between the Rossini and the Berlioz, she sang the three songs of Debussy's not-very-festive Fêtes Galantes II and a clutch of songs by Brahms. Ms Lindsey's spooky understatement with the Debussy took me to one of my favorite places, the world of The Turn of the Screw as landscaped (in my mind only, I'm afraid) by Edward Gorey. Among the Brahms numbers was one of his loveliest, "Wir wandelten." Aided by Ken Noda's always superior but here quite standout accompaniment, Ms Lindsey's wrought a small scena of "Unbewegte laue Luft."

In addition to being an accomplished singer, Ms Lindsey is a talented actress, and I had no difficulty imagining triumphs from Carmen to Der Rosenkavalier. But her inclination to supplement singing with dramatic gestures discomfited me; such displays suggest a lack of trust in the vocal material. The big difference between opera and song is that the often overpowering drama of the latter is wrapped entirely within the music. Superfluous theatricality tends to give even the most somber songs a comical edge. This is a more than a notional quibble, because I'm not sure that, if I'd closed my eyes, I'd never have known. I hope that Ms Lindsey learns sooner rather than later not to sing down to her audiences; she's really far too gifted.

My only complaint with Mr Noda was that I'd have liked a bit more flash in Berlioz's very showy "Zaide." Accompanists have come a long way, too, since my youth; they're collaborators now. Ms Lindsey had a winning way of regarding Mr Noda as one. (4 April 2009)

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