Talise Traveigne At the Statue of Venus
Soprano Talise Trevigne’s debut album includes the World Premiere Recording of At The Statue Of Venus written by the American Opera mavericks, Jake Heggie and Terrance McNally. To be released on February 12, 2011 in conjunction with Ms. Trevigne’s performance in Heggie’s Moby-Dick in San Diego. Also on the album are Heggie’s song cycle, Natural Selection and Glen Roven’s The Santa Fe Songs.
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OPERAGASM EXCLUSIVE REVIEW: TALISE TREVIGNE, AT THE STATUE OF VENUS- A TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY DELIGHT
by Liz Mattox
If you are not familiar with the composer and pianist Jake Heggie, you should be. If you have never heard of four time Emmy award winner, conductor, lyricist, and composer Glen Roven, get acquainted. If the refined voice and artistry of soprano Talise Trevigne doesn’t ring a bell, drop everything and listen to the album “At the Statue of Venus,” which features her beautiful interpretation of two of Heggie’s song cycles “Natural Selection” with poetry by Gini Savage and “At the Statue of Venus,” with libretto by Terrence McNally and Roven’s settings of poems by various poets, accompanied by the composers themselves.
The first set of songs, “Natural Selection,” “trace a young woman’s search for her own identity.” The first notes of Heggie’s piano introduction in the song “Creation” paint a vivid image of a young woman opening her eyes for the first time to the idea of being an adult out from under the watchful eyes of her parents, with beautiful two note suspensions and resolutions leading into a soft entrance of the vocal line, managed exquisitely by Trevigne. The next song in the set describes a youthful evolvement of the character’s sexuality. Entitled “Animal Passion,” Heggie mimicks animal sounds in the piano accompaniment while the vocal line dips and soars in a wide range of melody that Trevigne handles with technical expertise and stellar musicianship.
The next two songs in this set “Alas! Alack!” and “Indian Summer” may be my two favorite in this cycle. The former’s poem compares the different men that the character dates to all sorts of heroes and villains from various well-known operas, like Tosca and The Magic Flute, which is perhaps my singer’s biased affinity coming forth. In “Indian Summer,” Heggie spices the music up with a jazz bass line in the piano while Trevigne adds some delicious, darker colors to her voice.
When listening to the next set of songs on this album, Roven’s “Santa Fe” songs, one word comes to mind and that is melancholy. In the liner notes of the CD, Roven explains the process out of which these songs came to be: During the summer of 2011 in the wake of a “monumental personal tragedy” he found himself in the city of Santa Fe where the town’s “mystical magic crept into [his] very marrow although [he] didn’t know it the time.” Attempting to come to terms with his loss he came upon a book of Santa Fe poems that he later evolved into this set of songs, ultimately aiding his healing process. The result is this beautiful, deeply personal and raw setting of emotions into his “Santa Fe Songs.”
The music in these songs requires the performers, both pianist and vocalist, to be masters of their craft. “Spring, 1948,” for example, has completely opposing piano and vocal lines where one does not lend itself to the other, meaning both musicians must know exactly what they are doing. Roven and Trevigne pull this off effortlessly, uniting the two lines into a duet that makes the words and music come together seamlessly but with the sad passion that which the composer wrote it.
Like Heggie, Roven also includes a jazz-infused song in this set called “Listening to jazz now.” This being one of the peppier tunes, the piano is a fun partner to a lighter tone in Trevigne’s vocal line, which add to the phrases in the poem such as “I’m happy, sun shining outside like it was my lifetime achievement award.”
Two of my other favorites from this set are “Signs and Portents”, in which Trevigne displays her marvelous breath control and musical understanding of the strikingly morbid words in the poem, and “Bowl,” where Roven writes some gorgeous melodies to a tender poem by Valerie Martinez.
The last set on the album, “At the Statue of Venus,” could be called a one-woman show, similar to “The Vagina Monologues,” only set to music. The libretto by Terrence McNally is a hilarious description of a woman named Rose waiting for a blind date at the Statue of Venus, a situation that all of us can relate to on some level, whether or not we’ve ever been set up on a blind date before or not. In his brief note on the set Heggie asks “To be willing to be judged by another person – does anything make us more vulnerable but human, too?” An excellent point and idea to keep in mind as one listens to his setting.
The first song’s title, “The Slacks Were a Mistake,” in and of itself made me LOL. In the piano introduction Heggie sets the stage as though Rose were nervously walking to her destination at the Statue, sits down or stops walking once she reaches it, and declares with a gripping interval that the slacks were indeed a mistake. The piano brilliantly accompanies the rest of the character’s monologue as if it were her thoughts, imitating and exaggerating the words she is saying.
One of the elements I appreciate in contemporary music, especially if the composer is alive and you are able to discuss with them their intent when they wrote their music, is that some rules are often thrown out. In classical singing, sliding notes together (a lazy glissando, if you will) might be frowned upon, but Trevigne and/or Heggie (I’m not sure whose decision it was) makes a splendid use of this ornament in the second song, “It Was a Sexy Voice.” When imitating the “sexy voice”, the singer appropriately uses the “lazy glissando” on words like “sexy” or the phrase “shall we” when the character’s date is speaking to her.
In several of the songs in the set “Rose” sings “la, la, la, la…” to a simple melody, depicting the character’s uneasy mind frame. I enjoy the fact that Trevigne held back in this part of the song and kept it uncomplicated. Each time it happens in the music she doesn’t turn it into a moment of operatic display: She keeps it simple, in tune with the character’s overall anxious sentiment.
Criticisms I have of this work are few but if I had one it would be that, as a singer, knowing how difficult English is to sing in and often understand (although Ms. Trevigne does an overall excellent job with her diction) it would have been nice if the CD came with the words printed in the jacket. However, GPRecords has conveniently made note that the texts are available on their web site, GPRecords.com.
If you consider yourself a champion of classical music, if you claim to know very little but would like to learn more about the composers of the twenty-first century, this album is an excellent place to start. Jake Heggie and Glen Roven are clearly some of today’s outstanding composers, pianists, and conductors, and Talise Trevigne puts a unique and enjoyable stamp on their compositions.
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