Soprano Gutierrez opens year on several high notes

By Lawrence A. Johnson

If the vocal recital ranks high on the endangered species list alongside polite applause and the daily newspaper, someone forgot to tell Eglise Gutierrez.

 The Cuban-American soprano led off 2009 with a wide-ranging program of songs and arias for Sunday Afternoons of Music, the charismatic singer’s vibrant vocalism and personality-plus artistry showing there’s still plenty of life in the solo recital when performed on this level.

 There was a decided familial feeling to Sunday’s  event at Gusman Concert Hall with Gutierrez’s mother and grandmother in attendance, and Miami’s Cuban community and many local singers out in force. The event attracted a sizeable audience, impressive considering a Dolphins playoff game was happening simultaneously.

 As striking as her luminous vocalism was this past November in her Florida Grand Opera debut in La Traviata,  the variety and intimacy of the recital platform really give Gutierrez a chance to shine. Her instrument remains a wonder, a high lyric soprano able to tackle the most complex coloratura runs and stratospheric bel canto flights.  Yet like a fine diamond, her voice has notable contrasts with crystalline purity on top and a dusky, multihued chest voice.

 As daunting as her ease and flexibility was Sunday in such soprano showpieces  as Proch’s variations, Gutierrez’s dramatic sensibility and expressive thrust invest her performances with qualities deeper and richer than mere canary-bird brilliance.  

 Gutierrez opened with a set of Russian songs.  She didn’t sound entirely warmed up in Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise—an odd choice for a lead-off item—but soon found her footing with a lovely rendering of the same composer’s Zdes’ Khorosho (How beautiful it is here). Gutierrez’s ability to blend technical gleam and heart-easing lyricism was most evident in Alexander Alabiev’s showpiece, The Nightingale. Even with repeated premature applause by unrestrained audience members, Gutierrez threw off some spectacular cadenzas while maintaining the intimacy of the setting and conveying an avian-like expression with radiant tone.

 She led off her Italian set with Lascia ch’io pianga from Handel’s Rinaldo,  tastefully ornamented and moving for its restraint, followed by a rapt Amarilli, mia bella of Caccini and a delightfully coquettish rendering of Paisello’s Nel cor piu non mi sento.

 The singer’s ability to inhabit a character dramatically was starkly displayed in Ophelie’s flamboyant mad scene (A vos jeux, mes amis) from Ambroise Thomas’s Hamlet. She sailed through the brilliant introductory section and affectingly conveyed the girls’ pleading heartbreak and unhinged state while, one brief moment apart, keeping scrupulous musical values.  Gutierrez’s artistry even lifted O mio babbino caro from Opera’s Greatest Hits familiarity to an expressive and desperate plea, radiantly sung with an effortlessly held extended note.

 Few singers can match Gutierrez in Latin song and zarzuela where her open-hearted emotion and innate sense of style serve to elevate this repertoire.  She did not disappoint her audience Sunday with captivating Lecuona—the obligatory Maria la O and Cancion del amor triste, the latter delivered with operatic intensity. Gutierrez also brought a delicious lilt and hip-swiveling sensuality to Emilio Grenet’s jaunty Quirino con su tres.

 The encores offered more Latin songs, and Summertime. Oddly, the Gershwin standard was  new to her and sung from a score, but the melancholy lullaby and long line fit the singer’s voice and personality like a glove, and received a beautifully sung, aching performance.

 Overemphatic fortes apart, Jorge Emilio Rodriguez provided attentive keyboard support as well as worthy solo playing in works by Piazzolla and Edgar Artemiev. Flutist Elena Olando offered alert obbligato flute playing in the Proch variations.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Soprano Gutierrez opens year on several high notes”

  1. Posted Jan 06, 2009 at 9:38 am by Will James

    I love your review and so glad to see you were as pleased as I was with Eglise’s performance. It was a great performance and a great reason to miss the Dolphin’s playoff. This was my most intimate exposure to Ms. Gutierrez (I’ve seen her in other venues), and convinced me more than ever that she is extremely talented. I went backstage afterwards and once the crowd died down a bit, she was extremely hospitable and friendly with me, a total stranger to her, and she chatted with me for several moments. Her version of ‘Summertime’ really bowled me over, as entire opera Porgy & Bess has a special meaning to me, and I do not remember hearing this song performed live by a legit opera star in many many years.
    Will James

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Mon Jan 5, 2009
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