Allison Cecilia Arends
Women's Musical Club of Winnipeg
Winnipeg Art Gallery
October 16th 2011
Reviewed by Paul R. McCulloch
The 2011-12 season of the Women’s Musical Club began on Sunday, Oct. 16th with a performance by coloratura soprano Allison Cecilia Arends. Accompanied by pianist Rachel Andrist, Arends opened the program with the aria “Dunque i lacci d’un volto… Ah, crudel!” from Handel’s opera Rinaldo. Captivating the audience with a voice as beautiful and stunning as her fresh-faced looks and pale blonde hair, both elegantly offset by her cornflower-blue gown, Arends fully embodied the piece’s multifaceted emotions. In her rendition of the aria, sung by Queen Armida, Arends was a riveting sight, crying out in anger one moment and in vulnerability the next. The aria set an exceptional standard for the afternoon’s program, a standard that remained constant throughout Arends’ compelling and evocative performance.
Taking to the podium after a dramatic interpretation of “Da tempeste” from Giulio Cesare – also by Handel – Arends proved an affable host, noting that, as “prairie girls," both she and Andrist were thrilled to be back in Western Canada. She further explained that the concert’s intended theme was “queens, martyrs and forsaken women”; appropriately, the pieces selected dealt with the struggle of women to comprehend their deep emotions and rise above the oft-oppressive nature of their intricate relationships. Arends’ interludes were a welcome addition to the concert: not only did they allow patrons breathing space between what were often emotionally involving pieces, they provided useful contextualization for works that, despite the handy translations included in the programme, still benefited from her charming commentary.
Rounding out the first half of the program were Schumann’s Mignon Lieder, Op. 98a, the story of a girl kidnapped by a circus troupe and caught in an unceasing conflict between earthly life and eternal salvation, and “Regnava nel silenzio” from Donizetti’s famous opera Lucia di Lammermoor. The artist skillfully captured the inner turmoil of Schumann’s Mignon, but it was her performance as Lucia that truly astonished, ending on a note so pure and expressive that it left all those attending breathless.
Arends displayed a remarkable emotional range in Strauss’ Madchenblumen Lieder, Op. 22, a work that illustrates women’s personalities as romantic flowers. The highlight of the piece was undoubtedly the fourth and final movement, in which Arends gave voice to a water lily: her warm, alluring tone deftly conjured up the glowing blooms and moonlit streams of Strauss’ piece, imagery that left many patrons visibly enchanted.
The enchantment continued with a trio of works linked by the common theme of Shakespeare character Ophelia’s struggle with her fate. La Mort d’Ophélie by Saint-Saëns had Arends relating an account of the character’s death so sorrowfully and powerfully that it was impossible not to turn away. Her delivery was similarly heartbreaking in Chausson’s Chanson d’Ophélie, a sorrow that Arends conveyed with gestures, and a voice, so laden with emotion that one felt at times consumed by the passion of the work.