It was a pleasure to listen last night to Jessica Rivera, Paulina Villareal, Bill Willits and Marie France Lefebvre make musical magic at the Willis Gallery’s intimate recital hall in Cincinnati.
It was the opening concert of the 2018-2019 season of Sam Martin’s brainchild: Cincinnati Song Initiative, and a grateful audience filled up the gallery to capacity, while during the space of one hour the artists shared with us the songs of Lorca, Mompou, Granados, Rodrigo, Falla and Obradors.
Paulina Villareal is a recent graduate of CCM already well on her way in a career that next takes her to the Sarasota Opera to join their Young Artists Roster. This listener has followed the young mezzo- soprano’s journey from her arrival a few years ago and her first efforts as a first-year Master’s student in CCM’s opera productions on to what now is a fully-formed young artist. Villareal is an expressive vocalist and she infuses her singing with individuality and a terrific way with words. Hers is a bright voice, with an easy upper register and, when needed, a dark-hued solid chest register ideally suited to so much of the music she essayed in the program.
Jessica Rivera’s career has spanned Opera and concert work, and her two decades of experience in the world of music have equipped her with a complete command of the recital stage. In tonight’s concert she moved with ease from the post-Romantic world of Enrique Granados’ The Maja and the Nightingale to Federico Mompou’s songs from The Combat of Dreams, which she sang in flawless Catalan, to a set of Obradors highlighted by an exquisitely sung Del Cabello Mas Sutil. I remember Rivera’s impressive appearances in various contemporary operas here and elsewhere, but I was not prepared to hear how her lovely lyric soprano voice has blossomed, all the better to serve much of the material she sang.
Bill Willits provided idiomatically excellent support accompanying Villareal in the Lorca and Rodrigo songs and later in the Siete Canciones Populares of Manuel de Falla. The superb Marie France Lefebvre reminded us once again of what a great collaborative pianist she is, as she lovingly accompanied Rivera in the Obradors, Mompou and Granados songs.
Samuel Martin has set off on what may seem a fool’s mission to the naysayers, but those who know better and admire this young visionary are augmenting his growing following with gratitude, which I share 100%.
Rafael de Acha