After her highly impressive Juliet in the Buxton Festival staging of Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi, Sarah-Jane Brandon’s involvement in an already appealing recital, White Camelia, had a greater sense of ‘must be there’!
A joint affair with baritone Gareth Brynmor John and pianist Audrey Hyland, it carried the subtitle The Story of a Courtesan and consisted of 16 songs punctuated, though not always by readings from an unspecified source.
Hazarding a guess, from Alexandre Dumas’s La Dame aux Camélias – The Lady of the Camillias, the play (the basis of Verdi’s La Traviata), not the novel as the readings (in English) were in the first person?
The well-chosen songs, reflecting the situation when Armand’s (Verdi’s Afredo) father turns up to drive a wedge into the bliss he has found with Marguerite (Violetta), were generally familiar but not always.
An early Rachmaninov song, Ah, forsake me not! was powerfully sung (in Russian) by Brynmor John. In contrast, he also offered a beautifully sung account of Quilter’s Music, when soft voices die.
The often heard Morgen by Richard Strauss, fabulously sung by Brandon without affectation, was offset with a lesser-known song by him, Ach lieb, ich muss nun scheiden (Alas, my love, I must part from you).
The soprano also delivered idiomatic accounts of a contrasting pair of de Falla’s Seven Spanish Folksongs, Asturiana and Polo, while turning in a spectacular rendering of the Gavotte from Massenet’s Manon.
A couple of joint items that can hardly be described as regularly heard were a charming duet by Schumann, Ich bin dein Baum (I am your tree) and a melodrama by Schubert, Abschied von der Erde, actually for one voice but here spoken by two.
Translated, albeit not literally, as Farewell to the World it was a fitting ending to the recital at which Audrey Hyland covered herself in glory playing a stylistically wide range of piano accompaniments.