A Recital of Arias for Baritone Demonstrated a Maestro’s Skill, Artistry, and Passion.
Recital Review by Vincent Trauth
I recently had the pleasure of attending a socially distanced voice recital featuring baritone Dr. Euigun Lee accompanied at the piano by Dr. Borah Kang. The event took place Tuesday, August 31, 2021, at 7:00 p.m. at the Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church in Urbana, Illinois.
Dr. Lee is a versatile vocal artist who has won critical acclaim for his performances in opera, concerts, and recitals. He is a graduate of The Catholic University of Korea, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign from which he most recently earned his doctorate.
Dr. Kang is an accomplished pianist and teacher who earned Piano Performance degrees from Mokwon University, Daejeon, Korea, (Bachelor’s), the Cleveland Institute of Music (Masters), and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Doctorate).
The program consisted of nine arias for baritone voice from operas by Mozart, Rossini, Verdi, Korngold, and Giordano. Dr. Lee sang with authority, control, and ease in these challenging musical selections. Whether one knew the language of the lyrics or not, we in the audience understood the emotional content of the arias by the way he conveyed them to us via the changes in dynamics and vocal timbres.
We first heard three arias by Mozart starting with the Count’s aria “Hai già vinta la causa!” (“We’ve won our case”) from “The Marriage of Figaro” followed by two arias from Don Giovanni “Fin ch’han dal vino” (“For a carousel”) and “Deh, vieni alla finestra” (“Oh, come to the window”).
As I listened, I jotted down phrases that were meant to help me recall the performance including these remarks about the first aria: “such clarity immediately”, “clear emotion in the sounds”, “easily shifted from minor to major and back again”, “he easily fills the hall (volume)”, “great crescendo in that verse”, ”stellar ability to shift volumes/diction/moods”, “a gentle natural vibrato on the longer notes”, “an amazing move from loud to suddenly soft”, and “well-executed melisma on the last phrase”.
In his 1965 biography of Mozart author Otto Erich Deutsch quotes a review of the premiere of “The Marriage of Figaro” from the 11 July 1786 Wiener Realzeitung in which that author offered up that the connoisseurs understood the work, but the public did not “owing to the difficulties of the composition.” One would never have known those difficulties listening to Dr. Lee. The performance sounded effortless.
The character of the two arias from Don Giovanni are contrasting. “For a carousel” had a much quicker tempo than the previous aria, and I found such clear diction at the presto tempo. In the aria “Oh, come to the window” the tempo is much slower owing to the nature of the wooing in the lyrics. There was such sweetness at the word ‘miele’ (honey) and it had a very sweet pianissimo ending.
After the three arias by Mozart, we heard one of the most famous baritone arias of all time, the “Largo al factotum” (“I’m the factotum of all the town, make way!”) from Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville”. In the original opera, Figaro enters from offstage vocally warming up as he enters. Dr. Lee did the same here. There was perfection in the vocal leaps with a beautifully executed high note and melisma. Within the aria there is a leap upwards to falsetto (tenor range) at the phrase “Figaro, Figaro, Figaro” handled with dexterity. I found great humor in the singing. As the aria proceeds, the tempo quickens, and the delivery of the words comes at a breakneck speed. It reminded me of Gilbert and Sullivan patter song. By the end of the aria I had goosebumps and was left with these phrases in mind “Bravo” and “What fun”!
In contrast to the humor of the previous aria Dr. Lee next sang Malatesta’s aria “Bella siccome un angelo” (Beautiful as an angel”) from Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale”. There was such a beautiful vibrato on the longer notes, with a smooth melisma and changes of volume during the cadenza-like segment of the selection.
Next came two arias by Verdi: “Pari siamo” (“We are alike”) from “Rigoletto” and “È Sogno” (“Is it a dream?”) from “Falstaff”. These are clearly from the verismo style of opera given the ‘darkness’ of the accompaniment which starts the selection. We heard a deep, beautiful baritone timbre at “Questo padrone mio” (“This master of mine”), and a sly change of character in the last verse. The aria ends on a typical long-held high note that descends from dominant to tonic.
“È Sogno” (“Is it a dream?”) is quicker in tempo than the previous aria with mysterious sounding ascending and descending augmented and diminished chords. In the middle part of this ABA form aria the tempo slows as Dr. Lee captured the character of the lyrics. Upon return to the A section, the work turns to the major mode, the pace quickens, then the volume diminishes presenting the singer with quite the challenge. Dr. Lee’s singing grew stronger and stronger to the top of his range. Both Verdi arias were an exceptional vocal workout exhibited in the stops, starts, tempo and volume changes which were all magnificently handled by Dr. Lee.
The program came to a close with two arias that could not be more different than each other, “Mein Sehnen, mein Wähnen” (“My yearning, my obsession” from Korngold’s “Die Tote Stadt” (“The Dead City”) and “Nemico della patria?” (“Enemy of the fatherland”) from Giordano’s “Andrea Chenier”. There was such melancholy in the Korngold selection, with Dr. Lee making a beautiful switch in timbre to his falsetto. There was so much vocal control in the soft volume passages. That’s not easy to do. During the selection there was a very Tristan-like chord, which made me raise an eyebrow (“what was that”?) and, though overall a sad song, Korngold ends in the major key, much like a Picardy third from the Baroque era. It was such a beautiful, soft, heartfelt ending, so much so that I forgot that we were at a voice recital and not looking in on someone’s private song to a beloved. In the aria by Giordano, Dr. Lee delivered the words with clear diction & pitch at the low volume and the long loud held notes were accurate. I say that because those can be the kind of passages where other singers come up short. Dr. Lee did not disappoint.
We were treated to “Amazing Grace” as an encore. In this particular arrangement each verse shifted to a new key which was nimbly handled by Dr. Lee. Those key changes permitted the Maestro to once again demonstrate his ability, agility, and full volume. There was strong applause from the few of us in attendance. We left the recital feeling as if we had dined at a fine restaurant and had been served the finest food and drink. It was a “delicious’ event.