Portrait concert Andrew OWENS – Kammeroper, Vienna on 22 May 2013
Christian Koch, Andrew Owens. Foto: I. Adamiker
You will agree with me: Vienna is easily connected with classic music:It’s the place of birth or living for several great composers, stage for phenomenal singers, directors and orchestras; Viennese audience is renowned for its enthusiasm and if you have to choose which performance to see, you will be overwhelmed by a rich offer of all kind of operas and concerts in a long list of concert halls, open air venues and opera houses.
Well, one of the more hidden gems of Viennese opera houses is celebrating its revival since last September, when the Theater an der Wien (another fine house) took over the tiny Kammeroper am Fleischmarkt, in front of the main post office, a few steps away from the main square in the heart of the city. The Kammeroper’s ensemble is made of seven young artists who can enlarge their repertoire, improve stage presence and grow to become ready for the big wild world of opera.
Through the year, each of the singers is presented to the audience in a portrait concert.
I now will tell you more of the most recent one, starring American tenor Andrew Owens:
Philadelphia born Owens studied with Dominic Cossa, Enrico di Giuseppe and GioachinoLauro Li Vigni. Winner of many prizes, including one at the Mario Lanza competition, he was part of the Opernstudio of the BayerischeStaatsoper and of the Young Singer Project at the SalzburgerFestspiele. Since season start 2012, Owens performed at the Kammeroper as Edoardo in Rossini’s La cambiale del matrimonio and as Rodolfo in La Bohème, he sang at the Theater an der Wien among others in Il Tabarro, Le Comte Ory and Fidelio.
For Andrew Owens’ portrait concert on last Wednesday, 22 May, the not more than 300 seats at the tiny Kammeroper got quickly filled with a very mixed audience: young, more casual students, couples, mature generations in elegant eveningwear, all very curious about the tenor and his first soloist concert in Vienna.
Accompanied by Klagenfurt born director and pianist Christian Koch, Andrew Owens took quite a challenge, trying something like a double-edged sword: he selected Schumann’s “Dichterliebe” for the first part of his recital.
Right for the current season, the Lieder cycle started with “ImwunderschönenMonat Mai”. Like a azure blue cloud the sound descended down from the stage into our ears. Bright coloured flowers followed, moved by Owens fresh voice. The words spreadeasily and perfectly pronounced, not revealing at all the tenor’s American origins. The tenor continued nicely balanced and very credible up to the superb “Ichgrollenicht”, one of my favourite tunes, masterly performed with a deeply touching ending. Meanwhile the audience melted into just one breath, one single being, yet without making the quietest noise. “Und wüßten’s die Blumen, die kleinen” sprinkled then towards us, enchanting us definitively.
For God’s sake, Schumann kept 16 of the original 20 songs, so still more of these delicate music and attentive interpretation was waiting for us!
Filled with well-balanced expression, intelligent dramatic points, Owens took us all through until towards the bitter ending where it wasquite difficult to hold back the tears, tears AND joy about such a fine performance.
The interval was long enough to recover from all these emotions, written by Heinrich Heine with such a gifted plume, melted so perfectly into music by Robert Schumann and now performed so brilliantly by Andrew Owens.
The second part of the recital started with Donizetti’s aria of Roberto “Ed amor la tremendaporta” of Roberto Devereux, an opera written in a very unhappy period of the composer’s life, who lost his wife and a child before the oeuvre’s completion. Owens added to this aria that features a desperate Roberto imprisoned in the tower of London, such an amazing portion of Schmelz, dolcipiani, mature yet creamy sound, full expression and long breath, gently carried by the soft piano touch of Christian Koch that the audience boosted into a frenetic applause. Could it really be true that Italian opera still touches a bit deeper than German romanticism? Sighing so beautifully, Owens gave us pure belcanto, in its literal sense, with high grace.
Let’s now go further: Owens had chosen to continue with “Dicitencellovuje”, a song of 1930 by Rodolfo Falvo, the very productive songwriter of Naples who had such a moved and tragic history himself that it would be worth for an entire opera. Everyone knows this beautiful song about a man talking to a friend of his beloved lady and then revealing that his true love is actually not the beloved lady yet her friend right standing in front of him; it was performed by great opera singers such as Di Stefano, Del Monaco, Carreras, Pavarotti and Domingo and inspired pop singers and even Italian cantautoreLucioDalla, who citeed parts of Falvo’s“Dicitencellovuje” in his song “Caruso”.
What to say about Andrew Owens’ interpretation? It was simply perfect and transported the entire Kammeroper into a Neapolitan concert hall warmed up by sweet clouds of romantic love tunes, scents of dramatic passion flowering in the air.
Right behind the corner, the next hit song by Francesco Paolo Tosti, “‘A Vucchella”, thefamous song on words written towards the end of the 20th century by Gabriele d’Annunzio as answer of a bet launched by song writer Ferdinando Russo, who challenged the poet with the task to write in Neapolitan dialect to get the word set into music some years later by Tosti.
Nu pocopucurilloappassuliatella… make me think immediately of one of the first scenes of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer picture ‘The Great Caruso’, where Mario Lanza played the young poor Caruso who had to sing for pennies in a trattoria enchanting the audience (not his girlfriend’s father, hélas) with these sweet tunes.
Indeed, Owens has several things in common with Mario Lanza: round sound, clear phrasing, great passion for such a short song, round dark colored finals, bravo Owens!
We remained in Naples: Next song was Ernesto Tagliaferri’s“’Na sera ‚e Maggio”. Ernesto, a barber’s son, worked together with other writes such as Nicola Valente, and Gaetano Lama (La Bottegadei 4), and LiberoBovio, sorting out one hit after the other.
Let me just add that I don’t blame Owens for this program: such a recital just gives a short portrait of the artist. A switch from Schumann to Donizetti and then to Neapolitan classic hits is a good choice: in fact, after showing his ability of diction and perfect interpretation, Owens showed us now his capacity of creating passionate moments in short time with these strong little tunes – this choice was accepted with great enthusiasm by the audience, the same was true for next song, “Passione”, one other catchy tune by Ernesto Tagliaferri and LiberoBovio.
“Passione”, a deeply touching song, accompanied by piano pearls of Christian Koch, ended up with powerful desperation and a clear final followed by strong applause and increasing bravos.
The concert continued, Owens greatly performed “Without a song” by Vincent Yourmans, a theatre composer and Broadway producer who was born and worked in New York and who died before reaching his 48th birthday leaving compositions that could fill theatres for several future generations.
To see what great song composers do, I suggest you check out the score of Nicholas Brodzsky’s famous song “Beloved” (next on Owens’s program) somewhere on the Web.
Owens enriched this song with beautiful pianos and well-roundedfortis before donating us another big Brodzsky hit: “Because you’re mine”. The Odessa born Brodzsky lived and worked in Rome, Berlin, Budapest and Vienna (thereto often for operettas), Richard Tauberstarred in Brodzsky’s first picture and, once emigrated to the USA, Brodzsky’swrote film scores for many musical films with Mario Lanza.
Also the composer of “Thine Alone”, the last song in Owens’ program, had worked in Vienna: Victor Herbert, Irish born violoncellist and gifted composer, worked also under contract of the MET and had an orchestra featuring his own name, the Victor Herbert Orchestra.
Owens gave such a passion into his performance that the public boosted into frenetic applause, filling the Kammeroper with Bravis and Bravos, clapping and trampling on the floor, opening the evening to a short serie of ‘bis’:
“Torna a Surriento” is one of my absolute favourite song by the De Curtis brothers. Did you know that the English translation “Come Back to Sorrento” has been rearranged later for Elvis Presley’s “Surrender”? Well, I hardly could keep my mouth shut and wanted to join Owens for the last lines…. Probably it was the same for many other in the audience.
Nicholas Brodszky’s“Be my love” was the 2nd ‘bis’, the audience gloomed… Owens continued without any sign of tiredness, result of a perfect vocal technique, keeping the voice in perfect balance and strong finale. For the last ‘bis’ which was actually not foreseen, Owens repeated “Passione” and finished with the entire Kammeroper audience in his pocket. Long applause and finally standing ovation (I remember I jumped up very early myself), all deserved by Andrew Owens, a young, very promising artist, a gifted tenor with all what is needed for a great future. Vienna’s Kammeroper and Theater an der Wien are lucky to be able to count on Owens in the near future, and so are we.