Intentionally or not, the Free for All series at Town Hall celebrated Gay Pride (or, in my case, just another weekend of profound ambivalence) with an appearance by out homosexual lesbian female dyke-arino Sharon Isbin and friend-to-the-community Susanne Menzter. Or I kind of assume she is, anyway...she used to put on benefits for Bonaventure House, an HIV related social service agency in Chicago. The funny gay footnote--and as you know, I'm a footnote fetishist--is that as Isbin gave a little biographical sketch of Garcia Lorca, one of the composers on the program, she omitted the fact that one source of trouble for the poet under Franco was his gay homosexual faggotry, though she did focus on his death, and that of about six other people she talked about. Really, it was like an evening with Edward Gorey. Oh the other funny thing is I had happened to watch the episode of The L Word on which she had a totally gratuitous cameo the night before. Shut up, it's totally great.
In any case, Isbin and Mentzer put on an enjoyable and at times gripping show focusing largely on Espana. If you'd like to teach me to type a tilde on blogger, you're more than welcome to. Very little of this was rep tailored to Mentzer's particular areas of wonderfulness, if you ask me, though she did shine in the last two or three of the Seven Popular Songs of Falla. And though there were so many of them as to appear at times gratuitous, each floaty pianissimo was a master class, a very very quiet master class. The first time I remember hearing someone sing pianissimi you could magically hear throughout the house was Michel Senechal as M. Triquet in the Met's Onegin. It's a trick I'll sure as hell never figure out, but thankfully for all of us, I do not sing in front of the public. Mentzer's Spanish is attentively produced with a "ceta" in regionally appropriate songs and just the right muting of certain consonants so as not to sound like a language lab tape.
For the record, my pissyness about Mentzer being long absent at the Met turns out to be pure paranoia. The decision, as we found out during an intermission interview, was Mentzer's--she largely took time off from opera to deal with having (how sharper than a serpent's tooth!) a teenage son. And now that he's packed safely off to college, I hope she'll be back for more than just the Tan Dun next year. My loopy fantasy is that she's covering for LHL in next year's run of Orfeos, which the L seems at this point almost certain to cancel. [Later edit: News had just spread that Lieberson had canceled the remainder of her engagements for 2006 when I wrote this. In light of the next entry, this comes off as callous to say the least, but I didn't know, and this is what I wrote.] I don't think Mentzer has sung the role but it seems like it would work out and for my money she's about the only one of the large flock of excellent mezzos we have who matches Hunt Lieberson in raw sincerity of expression.
Isbin performed several solo numbers between the song sets, including one written for her by Leo Brouwer that I found melodically rather plodding. Casting my lot with the lowbrows, I was more delighted with her performance of a number of chestnuts of the rep we know as Spanish guitar music, though it's all arranged I guess. Isbin's readings of these very familiar pieces were dynamically nuanced almost to the point of being fussy, with the overall effect I think of coming off with less swagger than we're used to, but having instead a heightened introversion. Asturias sounded less likely than usual to result in string breakage and was the more fascinating for it. Recuerdos de la Alhambra was fine grained and sentimental, in an extremely appealing way.
So anyway, thought I'd poke my head out from the cave where I'm hibernating until Caramoor. (Where "me"=Maury, anyway. The man behind the name unfortunately has to work for a living--no rest for the wicked, I think they say.)