Before the holiday season gets too sugary, one concert stands out for a program of champagne clarity. Soprano Ruth Wilson-Francisco will give a recital tonight that may prove to be the sleeper of the season. It’s the second recital in the Unitarian Universalist series, performed in the beautiful prow-style sanctuary on San Juan Drive.
The program may be light on Christmas music but has many other delights. All in all, it will be a blessing before the onslaught of “Frosty the Snowman.”
Performing with pianist Nancy Thomas, Wilson-Francisco will open with a group of Scottish songs featuring the poetry of Robert Burns. She’ll follow with works by Mozart, Schubert and Handel. A set of five French songs by Fauré will be followed by works from two women composers, Liza Lehmann and Marian Bauer. Lightly brushing the surface of holiday music, Wilson-Francisco will conclude with “Judea,” “Star in the East,” and “Birth of Christ,” three works of early American Christmas music.
For a performer with an extensive cabaret background, this program leans toward Francisco’s classical side, with just a touch of astringency. My kind of concert.
If you’ve missed Wilson-Francisco’s occasional San Juan Symphony, Music in the Mountains, or Bach Festival appearances, here’s a chance to see and hear a fine recitalist.
Born in Cortez and brought up in Yellow Jacket on her parents’ farm, Ruth Wilson showed musical talent from an early age. She attended and graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder and immediately completed a master’s degree – both in vocal performance.
After a year of teaching in Cortez, she decided it was now or never to fulfill a childhood dream and pursue a professional career as a singer in New York. From the beginning, she said in an interview, her parents supported her dream and her decision.
“I spent six years in New York City,” she said. “I worked with a singing coach, auditioned, sang as a church soloist, auditioned more and hired out as a professional ringer in choral groups.”
Like every aspiring New York artist, Wilson worked small jobs, most often as an office temp. Sometimes the auditions paid off, and she turned up some serious singing jobs, like a cabaret gig at Judy’s. But they, too, were often temporary. Two gigs were noteworthy: performing in Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” and being the first American soprano to be invited to sing at the Academy of Music and Dance in Bratislava, Slovakia. But overall, she admitted, the odds were not great for something more substantial.
“One of my college professors, Bib Spillman, told us that for every 75 rejections, you might get one yes. It took me some time to realize that it was not the money and not the fame. It has always been the music.”
So Wilson decided to leave the city and return to the West. For a time, she taught at the University of Wisconsin in Green Bay and sang professionally, particularly in Denver. In October 2003, she married Michael Francisco, a childhood sweetheart, and returned permanently to Cortez.
In the last several years, Wilson-Francisco’s parents have passed on. Her first CD, “On My Way To You,” was dedicated to her father, Arthur August “Runt” Wilson. Her second CD is titled “Sometimes.” The Franciscos are remodeling the farmhouse in which she grew up.
Wilson-Francisco maintains a private voice and piano studio in Cortez and directs the Southwest Players/Singers. Pianist Nancy Tomas also lives and works in Cortez and serves as organist for various churches in the area.
The UU recital series also features a sumptuous reception following the concert in the newly refurbished Bowman Hall.
Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic. Reach her at email@example.com.