At the heart of Gemma Kavanagh's recital Sunday at St. Mark's Episcopal Church, the soprano sang a tender little song
of comfort. With violinist Kasia Sokol and pianist Scott Hagler, Kavanagh turned Gounod's Sérénade" into spun gold. In
a perfect world, everyone would be soothed by Kavanagh's love song masquerading as a lullaby - especially the citizens
of Haiti to whom she dedicated the concert.
Durango's muse gave a matching pair of recitals last weekend that wrapped two appreciative audiences in virtual
blankets. The original concert, scheduled for Friday night, took place for an audience of about 60. In spite of last
week's three big snow storms, the musicians decided to go ahead but also schedule a second performance Sunday afternoon
for those who couldn't make it Friday.
Surprising her most loyal fans, Kavanagh presented an entirely new program save for Mozart's Alleluia." This exuberant
work has served Kavanagh well as an opener in the past. But Sunday she began with an unusual setting of the Ave Maria.
Adapted to, not from, Mascagni's Intermezzo from his opera Cavalleria Rusticana," the work normally is played by a
full orchestra - no singers in sight.
During a conversation after the recital, Kavanagh said she found this unusual version for soprano, violin and organ on
YouTube. Let me tell you, the new" Mascagni Ave Maria was as haunting as the symphonic rendition. Sokol's violin stood
for all the strings and Hagler's organ for woodwinds and brass.
The mysterious Ave Maria gave way to Mozart's triumphant Alleluia" then four billowing romantic songs by Richard
Strauss. Kavanagh's operatic experience gave full expression to Strauss's shifting moods - from a languid song of day
dawning to a big, rollicking love song full of anxious moments and burning kisses.
Leaving such bracing German repertoire behind, Kavanagh meandered into a field of French songs by Chausson,Saint-Saëns, and Gounod - the serenade-lullaby mentioned above and Ou voulez-vous aller?" The first coaxed sleep, and
Where do you wish to go?" invited a dream of imaginary voyages.
Kavanagh rendered another dreamy song, this time in English, Franz Lehár's familiar Vilia" from The Merry Widow." And
then she unveiled another rarity: Mozart's L'amerò, sarò costante," from Il Re Pastore." It's about the constancy of
love and is traditionally sung by a male soprano with a promise to be a good husband. In a conversation after the
performance, Kavanagh said she found it while trawling YouTube for new material. The work, new to most of the audience,no doubt, held a secret toward the end - a spellbinding cadenza. Kavanagh let the full force of her operatic persona
loose in a tumultuous cascade of sound. She was joined by Sokol in what became an electrical duet that charged the
What to sing after that? Kavanagh closed with a youthful love song from Verdi's Ernani." Trading playful staccato
passages with Hagler and Sokol, Kavanagh became Elvira, a young girl full of hope and high C's.
An encore, O mio bambino caro," gave Kavanagh fans that touch of Puccini for which she is famous.
Here is a very short aria from a very short opera," Kavanagh said, and in three minutes the meltingly beautiful
daughter's plea from Gianni Schicchi" spread final comfort throughout St. Mark's Church.
Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic. Reach her at "mailto:Jud_reyn@yahoo.com">Jud_reyn@yahoo.com.