High notes


Despite soaring vocals that brought a standing ovation from the Mandel Hall audience, Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman never let it go to her head. “I’m actually an alto,” she joked, preferring to take credit for “having the sense” to partner with British pianist Roger Vignoles. Last Friday Brueggergosman and Vignoles—who has accompanied singers such as Kathleen Battle and Susan Graham—graced an almost-full house with theatrical renditions of everything from Hector Berlioz’s six-song cycle Les Nuits d’ Été (“The Nights of Summer”) to African-American spirituals.

Dressed in black velvet, Brueggergosman kicked off the two-hour University of Chicago Presents program with numbers by Reynaldo Hahn and Hector Berlioz. Some audience members followed along with booklets of translated lyrics while others relied on the singer’s expressive performance. Be it voicing the agony of a discarded rose in Berlioz’s “Le spectre de la rose” (“The ghost of the rose”) or turning on the smiles for Hahn’s homage to spring “Les Fontaines” (“The Fountains”), Brueggergosman went beyond delivery of the notes as every song seeped through her body.

Part actress, part comedian, she surprised the audience with a post-intermission program change. “Now, it’ll be all Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith,” she said. Passing up an operatic rendition of “Stairway to Heaven,” she switched the Hugo Wolf and spirituals set. Blanking on the original order of the latter, Brueggergosman consulted the crowd. “What does the group consist of?” she laughed, accepting a copy of the program from a first-row spectator. With the sequence hashed out, she launched into a four-song selection of Wolf’s Spanisches Liederbuch (“Spanish Songbook”), followed by three songs from Strauss. The program’s high point, however, was the spirituals collection, and her haunting a cappella rendition of “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.”

Heeding cries for an encore, Brueggergosman returned to the stage. After confessing that she didn’t know it as well as she should, she capped off her recital with “Someone is Sending Me Flowers,” a tongue-in-cheek tale of a woman inundated with unsavory bouquets from a secret admirer. “The cactus corsage touched me deeply,” she sang. Minus the pain, the same could be said of Brueggergosman’s performance.


Photo: Soprano Measha Brueggergosman, courtesy University of Chicago Presents.

March 6, 2006