Michael Spyres at the Park Avenue Armory: big voice in an intimate roomReview
Michael Spyres’ recent recital in the Board of Officers Room at the Park Avenue Armory marked his New York solo recital debut. It left no doubt that this powerhouse tenor, when taking on Mozart’s Idomeneo at the MET later this month, will fill the sprawling house with burnished sound and buoyant theatricality.
The room is intimate, the voice spectacularly large. And not until Listz’s “Tre sonette del Petrarch” and the encores that followed, did he and the room finally coalesce. This is not to say that there weren’t moments of impressive sensitivity and vocal agility before taking on Liszt’s Italianate sonnets and two encores, including Beethoven’s somber “In questa tomba obscura” and the romantic if obsessive “Enfant, si j’étais roi” by Liszt, all neatly attuned to his surroundings.
Spyres began with “Les nuits d été” by Berlioz, followed by Beethoven’s “An de ferne Geliebte” and finally Liszt’s Petrarch sonnets sung, respectively, in French, German and, most comfortably, Italian. Before the Berlioz, Spyres reminded us that while this moody work is commonly associated with sopranos, the composer actually had the tenor voice in mind. I was reminded of the memorable 2006 performance of the cycle by Ian Bostridge and the New York Philharmonic in which the lush orchestral accompaniment and Bostridge’s crystalline tenor gave the work a sadly mystical air.
So it was genuinely startling to witness Spyres’ roughhewn take on the opening song, “Villanelle,” bringing to the fore the joy of its robust natural imagery. Here was a hearty character charting a journey between resistance and resignation. One might take issue with a few transitions but it was an heroic interpretation, convincing and deeply felt. Spyres provided fresh energy to the luxuriant irony of “I’île inconnue: barcarolle” bringing the work to dramatic conclusion.
Perhaps Mathieu Podrov’s lovely solo turn, Liszt’s “L’idée fixe” based on Berlioz’s theme of longing from “Symphonie Fantastique,” would have served as a better introduction to Beethoven’s songs. Podrov supported Spyres admirably, though especially in the Beethoven and likely in contrast to the tenor’s imposing voice, sounded intermittently detached. Beethoven is expressing longing for a distant love. The anger, and at moments ear-splitting rage, that Spyres offered did not set well on the cycle or the room.
But the sun broke through any lingering clouds from the Beethoven when Spyres embarked upon Liszt’s Petrarch sonnets. Having refined the sonnet, Petrarca made the form ripe for composers. Liszt was drawn to these poems and in turn the bel canto style of Bellini. Spyres was at home, in his element and began the downsizing process to serenade us with exquisite high notes that seemed to come out of nowhere only to blossom as the poet found his balance with love and the universe. The tenor adopted a more personal, animated and thoroughly charming troubadour mode.
The Board of Officers Room promises to be a perfect fit for Emily D’Angelo. The Canadian mezzo-soprano appears with pianist Sophia Muñoz in a program on September 16 and 18 featuring works by Missy Mazzoli and Hildegard von Bingen from enargeia, her debut recording on Deutsche Grammophon. D’Angelo will also perform songs by other noted female composers plus excerpts from Copland’s Twelve Poems by Emily Dickinson and two songs by Schöenberg.
Bostridge, by the way, presented a program entitled Songs of World War I in this room in 2015, singing works by Mahler, Britten, Weill and others, a profound recital in a perfect setting.