American soprano Christine Brewer takes on her newest challenge on July 17 at the hallowed Hollywood Bowl, debuting in the iconic title role of Puccini’s Turandot in a concert performance with the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Gustavo Dudamel. The performance not only marks the first time Brewer will have sung Puccini’s Chinese princess; it also marks Dudamel’s first time conducting a Puccini opera. The Grammy Award-winning soprano’s summer also includes Beethoven’s Missa solemnis in San Francisco with Michael Tilson Thomas, as well as recitals of early American songs, including numbers from her most recent celebrated Hyperion recording (Echoes of Nightingales), in New York state. At the Toronto Summer Music Festival on August 4, Brewer and frequent collaborator Roger Vignoles give a recital of her signature Wagner and Strauss, along with rarely-heard English-language songs from Echoes of Nightingales.
Brewer’s cast-mates for the Hollywood Bowl Turandot include tenor Francesco Hong as Calaf, soprano Hei-Kyung Hong as Liú, and bass Alexander Vinogradov as Timur, with Dudamel also leading the Los Angeles Master Chorale and Los Angeles Children’s Chorus.
For her Toronto Summer Music Festival recital with Vignoles, Brewer will sing songs by Strauss alongside Wagner’s moving Wesendonck Lieder. Of her way with Strauss and Wagner, London’s Sunday Times reports that Brewer “brings a soaring opulence” to the music. The recital will also include songs from Echoes of Nightingales. After a recent Brewer Echoes of Nightingales-themed recital in the Bay Area, the San Francisco Classical Voice noted:
“The American song repertoire is often overlooked in vocal recitals, though it wasn’t always thus; as Christine Brewer observed in her splendid recital Sunday afternoon at Hertz Hall, sopranos including Eileen Farrell, Kirsten Flagstad, Eleanor Steber, and Helen Traubel used regularly to include English-language songs in their programs. Citing those artists as primary influences, Brewer made a selection of those now-neglected songs the dazzling centerpiece of her program, making them sound eminently worthy all over again. … Throughout the afternoon, Brewer’s strengths – a phenomenally outsized instrument marked by lustrous tone, rich coloration, and laser-like precision – were on magnificent display.”
Flagstad, Traubel, and Steber were, like Brewer, leading Wagnerian sopranos of their day. For them, as for Brewer, the English-language miniatures heard on Echoes of Nightingales offered a welcome opportunity to explore a different, less formal aspect of their voices and stage personae. As the late critic John Steane put it in his liner-note essay, “At best, encore time turns a recital into a party.” Referencing Brewer’s great predecessors, the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper enthused over the album, which was released in March:
“Brewer, in tremendous voice, carves out a niche as their successor, partly because the majestic quality of her delivery equals theirs, but more importantly because she, like they, has the ability to make this repertoire live and breathe without sounding mawkish. The high points – there are many – include Frank La Forge’s ‘Hills’ and ‘Sweetheart’ from Sigmund Romberg’s Maytime.”