The December Rosenblatt Recital featured Slovenian soprano Sabina Cvilak performing a recital of diverse music, from little known Slovenian Lieder through Puccini and Strauss, to Stolz and Lehár. In her recent performances of Britten’s War Requiem, she received rave reviews, such as from Classical Source who described her voice as “floating effortlessly above [the chorus] as she sang”, and the New York Times who said that “Cvilak brought a lustrous soprano voice and guileless sincerity to her singing.” Indeed, it was the dual qualities of an effortless, floating upper register and sincere, idiomatic characterisation which defined her performance.
The Recital started with pianist Iain Burnside announcing a change in the performance order: the first three songs, all in the Slovene language, were to be performed in reverse order. Thus, the concert started with the haunting Nocoj pa, ah, nocoj by Marijan Lipovšek. Cvilak’s mesmeric performance captured perfectly the forlorn lament of a girl whose lover is to be lost to the army, her gently lilting dynamics interplaying languidly with the accompaniment. Next was Franz Seraphin Vilhar’s Nezakonska mati, a deeply emotional song about a mother and her illegitimate child, abandoned by her family. Finally we had the more upbeat Ciciban, by Ciril Pregelj, set to a piece of Slovenian children’s poetry.
The five songs of the Hölderlin Leider, performed without interruption, comprised of poems by German lyric poet Fredrich Hölderlin set to music by Josef Matthias Hauer. The second song, Hyperions Schicksalsleid, contained some tragically beautiful music, and Cvilak’s superbly supported pianissimo in the high register was astonishing. Vanini, the fourth of the songs, was a powerful ode to Lucilio Vanini, a heretic who was condemned to death by the Inquisition. Cvilak performed the song with a fiery intensity, encapsulating the anger and indignation of the poem in her fierce delivery. In stark contrast wasLebenslauf, the last of the songs, which had Cvilak at her most ethereal, her voice tender yet strong, like a gossamer thread.
One of the benefits of attending multiple concerts in a recital series is that one is more than likely to hear Lieder from Richard Strauss: Cvilak was not one to buck the trend! The first, Allerseelen, was gracefully performed by Cvilak, with the beautiful melody stunningly sung. Cvilak’s performance was truly moving, and without a doubt one of the best interpretations of this song I have heard. In Zueignung, Cvilak gave a commanding performance, with a stunning fortissimo A5 towards the end. Her beautiful phrasing inMorgen was a delight to hear, her voice seeming to float effortlessly on the breath.
The second half opened with two big hitters from Puccini: “Sì, mi chiamano Mimi” from La Bohème, and “Senza mamma” from Suor Angelica. Being one of the defining arias of a Lyric soprano, “Sì, mi chiamano Mimi” can be rather difficult to listen to without automatically comparing with past giants of the opera world. From the onset, however, Cvilak made the aria her own. Her undulating dynamics and flawlessly executed phrasing, combined with her own unassuming character, gave the aria a new life which it can sometimes lack, being so regularly performed. In the Suor Angelica aria, Cvilak’s opening phrase, “Senza mamma, bimbo, tu sei morto”, was chilling in its desperation, and her pianissimo A5 at the end of the phrase “Parlami, amore, amore, amor!” was electric.
Of the three songs by Robert Stolz, it was the final “Spiel auf deiner Geige” from Venus in Seide which most caught my attention. The aria was a vehicle for Cvilak to showcase her dark, smoky chest register juxtaposed against the bright, powerful phrases placed high in the voice. With the “Vilya Lied” from Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow, Cvilak returned to the mystical world in which she started the recital. The gentle inflections of the music, and her idiomatic grasp of the text, made the aria all the more alluring, yet delicate also. The traditionally interpolated pianissimo B5 was like a tinkling bell, bright and clear. Her two encores were “Ecco: Respiro Appena” from Adriana Lecouvreur and “O mio babbino caro” from Gianni Schicchi. Both were beautifully performed, and very well received.
Not only was I impressed by Cvilak's elegant and refined performance, but also by her humility and graciousness, reflected in her advice to aspiring young singers in her recent “in conversation with…” interview with Rosenblatt Recitals: “[B]e sincere and hard working. Don't chase results - they will come from effort and personality. Sometimes failure means happiness and better opportunities later on. Just don't stop trying.” Cvilak will be performing Strauss’ Four Last Songs in Turkey this December, and will be performing across the globe in 2012. I think this is definitely a singer to watch.