Measha Brueggergosman is a fascinating young woman with a publicist and a biographical film produced by the CBC in her native Canada. She appeared on Sunday afternoon at Hertz Hall on the Cal Berkeley Campus in a Cal Performances concert in a huge 'fro and a long red dress that puddled on the floor around her feet. Her bare feet. She says her shoes pinch, so she doesn't wear them. I was going to suggest that there are probably Converse All Stars in her size.
However, we were interested in the singing, and were drawn to the fact that she had programmed Ravel's Schéhérazade in a piano reduction. This is a huge piece to bite off. Could she do it?
And the answer is yes. The piece makes a much better impression in its orchestrated form--after all, Ravel is a master of orchestration as well as beautiful writing for the voice. But in Measha's voice it is perfection. She is a lyric soprano with a gorgeous tone and an exquisite legato. Kiri's legato was not better than this.
The entire program was designed to show off this carefully crafted legato: Hahn, Ravel, Wolf, Montsalvatge and Bolcom, all from about 1890-1945. I cannot think that I have heard a more beautiful legato.
What is the path forward for such a gifted young woman? She complains that in opera there are too many variables. I suppose it's possible to have a concert only career, but even Cecilia Bartoli occasionally appears in opera.
This style of legato, what I have elsewhere called a Strauss legato, is most prominently found in the operas of Richard Strauss. Why so carefully create a Strauss technique when you have no intention of ever appearing in his operas? (I do recall a bare-footed Elektra.) She has already done Schéhérazade and The Four Last Songs--this I would like to hear--so what is left?
I find her work, this sample of it at least, inadequate in another way. Her languages are also carefully crafted (she did French, German, Spanish and English) and well produced, but yet again I see another native English speaker who only comes to life in English. Hahn, Ravel and Wolf have souls as well. Her phrasing is excellent and very beautiful, but where is her heart? When Regine Crespin sings Schéhérazade, it is overflowing with her very French emotions. Measha, where is your heart? I want passion and not merely beauty. Create the music in your heart, too.
The last group was a set of cabaret songs by William Bolcom. I overheard someone comparing her to Audra McDonald. They were OK, I guess. I especially liked the line "tears fell into the cognac."
She and her accompanist, J.J. Penna, were well coordinated. He was with her all the way.