Dawn Upshaw, presented by CAMA. At the Lobero Theatre,
Wednesday, February 14.
Reviewed by James Hanley Donelan
Last week, Dawn Upshaw took the stage at the Lobero, but her
lovely hair did not. In her first tour — and second concert — after
being treated for cancer, she was as warm and charming as ever, but
her change in hairstyle reminded us how short our time on this
earth can be, and how rare an evening of excellent music really is.
The tail end of a bad cold forced Upshaw to cut some songs from the
program, but no one seemed to mind. The privilege of hearing one of
the world’s great voices was more than enough to make us happy.
She began with a few numbers from Stephen Foster, including “If
You’ve Only Got a Moustache,” which, under the circumstances, was
deeply funny, and sounded easy, comfortable, and rich. After a
joyous, but brief visit to the German Lieder with
Schumann’s “Er ist’s!,” Upshaw sang some of her favorite selections
from Mussorgsky’s The Nursery, where she played, in turn,
a nanny scolding, a child praying, and a hobby-horse neighing. No
translation from the Russian was necessary — we understood it all,
and loved every note.
After the intermission, pianist Molly Morkoski played an excerpt
from Charles Ives’s Sonata No. 2 for Piano: Concord, Mass.,
1840-1860, his tribute to the transcendentalists. This brief
performance left us wanting to hear the rest of this 45-minute
work, and more from Morkoski. In the movement we did get, “The
Alcotts,” you can hear the quiet of a snowy night in 19th-century
New England, the sonorities of a church choir, and subtle hints of
the chaos that would come with the Civil War.
When Upshaw returned she had only a few more songs for us, but
they were perfect. William Bolcom’s “Song of Black Max,” a wickedly
clever cabaret song, struck exactly the right note between funny
and eerie, while his “Amor” made for a brilliant finale. The song
takes the point of view of a woman so captivating that she causes
people to cry “Amor!” almost everywhere. Perhaps it was the
character’s voice that made everyone shout for joy — it seemed a
reasonable thing to do as Upshaw took her bows.