Like the prodigal son, rising vocal star Evan Hughes, bass-baritone, has returned to his hometown of Santa Barbara to sing in Hahn Hall at the Music Academy of the West this Friday, February 13, at 7:30 p.m. Hughes has had a number of stunning achievements lately, including recitals at Tanglewood and Carnegie Hall, but he says he’s glad to be back where he grew up. “I was fortunate to have the Music Academy and Santa Barbara as my backyard,” he said recently. “And it’ll be wonderful to do a recital there. I consider myself a recital singer who will do opera, as opposed to an opera singer who will do recitals, as many other baritones are. I prefer the intimacy and the direct communication with the audience that a recital provides, and there’s so much rich music in the song repertoire.”
Hughes has become particularly adept at performing challenging contemporary works, including David Bruce’s Piosenki and Elliott Carter’s Syringa. “Dawn Upshaw asked me to do Bruce’s Piosenki with her last summer at Tanglewood. It was a big turning point for me. The piece is based on some poems by a Polish poet, Julian Tuwim. I had never sung much in Polish before, and these are children’s poems meant to be read by adults, kind of like Edward Gorey’s drawings. I did a lot of research for the piece, exploring the gypsy and klezmer traditions, as well as some Romanian and Bulgarian music, in order to internalize the style. Working with Dawn was really wonderful; she’s the kind of artist I aspire to be. She’s very brave about her projects, and it gets you very excited.”
Hughes was very brave himself when he performed another work at Tanglewood: Carter’s Syringa. “It both changed and ruined my life for three weeks. Now that I’ve done it, I feel as if there’s nothing I can’t do. It’s a polyrhythmic, atonal work, with every instrument playing in a different key, and my voice kind of floats above it all, in yet another key. It takes an enormous amount of focus and mental stamina, but it’s a very organic and exciting experience, full of pyrotechnics.”
This recital singer has been invited back to Tanglewood-to do one of the most famous roles in opera: Leporello in Mozart’s Don Giovanni under the baton of James Levine. “I sang the title role at the Curtis Institute, and I enjoyed playing this narcissistic, arrogant character-it was an amazing challenge. But Leporello is an even more complex character. His relationship with Don Giovanni is at the core of the opera. He hates his master, but he wants to be him, too, and he interacts with every other character in the opera.” But the recital singer in him still comes to the fore. “I’m so excited to be performing here. This is my hometown, and the audience is one I know and love, and I’m excited to share this music with you.”
Baritone Evan Hughes and pianist Jerome Tan will be in recital at Hahn Hall at the Music Academy of the West (1070 Fairway Rd.) on Friday, February 13, at 7:30 p.m. Call 969-8787 or visit musicacademy.org.