On Saturday night the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater was packed with opera fans who had come to enjoy a solo recital from aspiring American soprano Angela Meade. No wonder this one-time-only performance was a complete sell-out – there was no way that DC opera fans would pass up the opportunity to sneak-preview her performance, as she is up for the title role in Bellini’s Norma later this season.

Angela Meade © Dario Acosta
Angela Meade
© Dario Acosta

The program that Meade had chosen for her recital was anything but banal. Having neglected to include the usual assortment of chestnuts (a move used by most recitalists to instantly win their audience’s hearts), Meade decided to conquer us the hard way, by presenting a selection of rarely performed pieces that were of particular significance to her personally.

Accompanied on the piano by celebrated pianist and assistant director of the Metropolitan Opera Bradley Moore, the soprano performed a variety of German Lieder by Franz Liszt and Richard Strauss, occasionally spicing them up with opera arias by Mozart, Verdi and Bellini.

A solo recital is always a challenge for the performer. Not only does the artist have to deal with the pressure of being the only voice of the recital, but also it is desirable that the artist specifically adjust his/her voice to the peculiarities of the prospective recital venue.

Huge and steadily powerful, Angela Meade’s voice is known for its superb, majestic sound when she performs in large opera houses and concert halls. However, in an intimate environment of the Terrace Theater, it sounded way over the top. While Meade showed off her vast vocal arsenal, demonstrating a rich tonal spectrum and a wide range (with only a few occasional slips in between-the-registers transitions), at times it was not easy to enjoy her performance. Not only was Meade’s singing almost uncomfortably loud, but also the soprano’s vocal and dramatic treatment of different music showed little variety. Whether she sang Liszt’s idyllic and peaceful “Es lächelt der See”, his humorous “Comment, disaient-ils” or Mozart’s rebellious “Al destin che la minaccia”, Meade attacked all the pieces with the same intensity and the same forceful energy. As a result, the first half of the recital happened to be a little overwhelming, and Meade’s vocal potential was not as obvious as it would have been, had the artist performed with more vocal and dramatic variety.

Bradley Moore, on the other hand, offered a truly virtuosic performance and was a pleasure to hear, as he gave the audience a chance to embrace his deep and highly sensitive treatment of every number of the program. Coming across as a keen accompanist, catching every one of Meade’s gestures and moves, Moore offered a diverse, nuanced reading of the score and, most importantly, added a romantic aura to his performance of the Lieder. It was thanks to Moore’s subtle taste and sophisticated musicality that Liszt’s and Strauss’ music in particular sounded so emotional and so alive.

In the second half of the recital, things seemed to go a little smoother for Meade. While still not in full control of her sound, the artist succeeded in finding some tonal warmth in her rendition of Verdi’s “Non so le tetre immagini” as well as in adding some emotion to the portrayal of her heroine, locked up in a tower while awaiting for her beloved’s return.

However, it was not until the very last number of the program that the soprano managed to get true admiration from the audience with the rendition of her signature aria “Casta diva”. Having chosen to start the aria in the low register, the artist offered an intriguing interpretation of Bellini’s heroine. Portrayed in a variety of dark, mellow tones, Meade’s Norma resembled a sorceress, performing rituals in front of her idol, the Moon, rather than a Druid priestess, saying a prayer for the safety of her people. As the aria progressed, Meade’s tone became more luminous and sheer, while her vibratos, served up quite effortlessly, got some classic old-fashioned warmth.

Even though not every number of the program was smooth and easy on the ear, Meade’s “Casta diva” certainly made it worth staying until the end of the recital. This performance was the best proof of Meade being thoroughly in her element with bel canto, and the best evidence that coming to see this soprano as Norma later this season would be the right thing to do.