It was the longest day of the year and a very sunny one at that (shock horror, I know, Londoners) so it was imperative we had a good time during this recital as the all too rare warm day was passing by. And having a singer with a German surname, an English accent and actually of Spanish origin was a conundrum that she even joked, from the stage, about. This recital exuded sunshine in more than one ways, my companion exclaimed at the tanned physique of Simon Lepper only to wonder if it was fake tan and then the charming and overall winning demeanour of Sylvia Schwartz made for a sunny start. Also cannot remember the last time I’ve seen an opera singer wearing a three strand pearl necklace…a nice glamorous touch.
The programme of the recital was very promising but the first half was sadly disappointing. Despite the immense beauty of her timbre and her faultless projection she seemed to be pushing too much her upper register straining delivery and sometimes sounding shrill. The first two songs were very demure and some beautifully floated notes in Parisotti’s Se tu m’ami opened the recital with a relaxed and totally charming way, very akin to her wholesome stage presence.
The Gluck maybe not have been accompanied by the most sophisticated piano playing but O del mio dolce ardor was sang with tenderness and great beauty. Displaying a great understanding of the neo classical nature of the piece.
In total contrast her two Cleopatra arias from Giulio Cesare were too taxing and sang not in the appropriate manner. Having seen Sarah Tynan sing an amazing Cleopatra for Opera North earlier this year I’m afraid she set a high standard. Schwartz’s ornaments just seemed out of place and not in keeping with Handel’s writing, the coloratura passages were dispatched with such constraint that took away the sheer luxury of the sound he demands. This was possibly a choice of repertoire that needs her voice to fully flourish first in the coming years to give her the confidence and the right fuller texture.
Her Ah! non credea mirarti started with great affinity for the melancholic atmosphere of Bellini’s bel canto caper. But unfortunately her languid, gorgeous tone was not a substitute for a solid grasp of how to deploy portamento and legato. The different parts of the aria felt disjointed and some of the smoothness and attention to the linear structure of Bellini’s writing was lost. It was hugely disappointing as she surely has a very beautiful voice but again don’t think she was ready for the stylistic challenges it posed. The first half was meant to have finished with Una voce poco fa, but was announced after the second number that it didn’t fit in the programme, so it was removed.
The second half proved a much more even and thoroughly pleasurable part of the evening. She literally let her hair down and it showed. Her three Rossini songs were a great fit for her voice and her vocalise on the simple, reflective melodies was enchanting. The concluding La promessa was full of longing and childlike purity of spirit.
The following Six Castillian Songs by Guridi were the absolute highlight of the evening, proving once more how important it is for a recitalist to choose material in their native language. The interpretation aspect of them was mature and playful. The conclusion of the first song was soft and light Entra labrador si vienes a verme/Enter, farmer, if you come to see me was just warm and heartfelt. Her opening ¡Sereno!/Nightwatchman! was arresting and clamorous, changing the mood. Once more the piano accompaniment left a lot to be desired, with attacks sounding too agitated and unbalanced which unfortunately continued on to the next song which was delivered with a sense of drama and poise. Her exclamations mira que el torro te pilla, mira que el torro te coge/don’t let the bull seize you, don’t let the bull catch you filed the church with urgency. The pianissimi in No quiero tus avellanas were delivered with great focus and a sense of grief, reaching a wonderful moment when she spun the line to almost mimic the sound of water while describing it as crystal-clear. The last two songs were much more demure and melancholic bringing out once more the natural charm and ease of Schwartz. A masterly journey through a very picturesque set of songs and impeccable attention to the text, which was greeted with the loudest of cheers.
The final two programmed songs were almost a reminder of the Ailyz Perez recital at the same venue back in March, who sang the Luna song with great spark and girly abandon. Schwartz was animated and added an Iberian piquancy that was a great finale, shame that again the piano playing sounded unfocused. The three encores that followed were by Granados (La maja dolorosa No. 2), Down the Salley Gardens, Britten’s setting of Yeats’ poetry and Turina (Tu pupila es azul). They were beautifully delivered and gratefully received. Vienna State Opera is very lucky to have her and I am definitely looking forward to listening to her again in the near future.
Some Tweets from the evening