Mezzo-soprano Nan Wagner opened the St. Mark's 2009-10 Recital Series last Friday with instructions to musicians:
Strike the viol, touch the lute, wake the harp, inspire the flute." Singing from Henry Purcell's little birthday gift
to the Duke of Gloucester in the late 17th century, Wagner also smilingly reminded performers not to forget who pays
the bills: Sing your patronesse's praise, sing in cheerful and harmonious Lays."
By the end of her one hour recital, every audience member seemed grateful to be sitting even in the hard pews of St.
Mark's Episcopal Church.
If anything, Wagner's vocal performance has become richer with a recent life transition.
Returning to Durango from Portland, Ore., where she and husband Brian Wagner, former executive director of the
Durango Arts Center, have moved, Nan Wagner thanked everyone for coming and presented a program full of variety and
Throughout the evening, she displayed her expansive range with a voice as warm as firelight. Wagner can float
shimmering high notes from a soprano's register as easily as a contralto's lowest tones. All those colors glanced by
in her opening song, Purcell's Strike the Viol," with flutist Rochelle Mann and pianist C. Scott Hagler. If you
haven't heard it, go to YouTube and listen to arrangements written for instruments plus soprano, mezzo, or
countertenor, for which the piece no doubt was originally composed. Based on a medieval tune, the work is short, deliberate, and inviting - a perfect beginning for any concert.
The voice-flute-piano trio followed with a moving contemporary interpretation of Ave Maria," by Vladimir Vavilov.
With its close harmonies and almost whispered delivery, the song had the quality of prayer. Then, the trio shifted
into a high voltage interpretation of Bach's Laudamus Te," from the B minor Mass. This joyous baroque banner
unfurled as two voices" praised God with elaborate flourishes, twisting and turning above the steady pulse of the
For the middle section, Wagner presented two substantial contemporary works marked by a narrative structure and
alternating moods. Appearing as the Virgin Mary wearing a black shawl, Wagner sang Part I of Robert Fleming's The
The first-person song cycle takes Mary through a mother's tender love, joy, watchfulness, worry and grief in eight
sections. At the end, Mary returns to the opening refrain, O my boy, Jesus, my first and only son." Throughout, Wagner brought intense maternal warmth to this sad and beautiful work.
Joseph Canteloube's Chants de France" came next, a collection of pieces based on folk tunes. The mixture of laments
with lighthearted songs gave Wagner another chance to display her musical and emotional range. The fifth and final
song was particularly effective as Wagner portrayed a saucy, young girl who will be fooled by anyone.
In a tribute to her husband, Wagner closed the program with three works from the Great American Songbook. Singing
under stage designer Dan White's spectacular ceiling-to-floor curtain and theater lights, Wagner could have been in a
posh New York piano bar as she sang the Gershwin brothers' Someone to Watch Over Me," Cy Coleman's The Best is Yet
to Come," and Harry Warren's At Last." Come back again, Nan.
Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic. Reach her at "mailto:Jud_reyn@yahoo.com">Jud_reyn@yahoo.com.