By Patrick Dillon
New York correspondent for Opera Canada (Toronto) and Scherzo (Madrid)
Regular contributor to Opera News
It’s always a treat to encounter young artists who just can’t contain the pleasure they take in performing. It spills right off the stage and into the audience, who feed it right back to them. The young Pennsylvania-born baritone Gregory Feldmann is a performer like that. Still a degree candidate at Juilliard, he was the winner of the 2019 International Song Competition sponsored by the aptly named, art-song-championing Joy in Singing, which on February 27 provided a very classy showcase for his talents at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall. He and his gifted, immensely simpatico pianist, Nathaniel LaNasa, had assembled an ambitious program of “Degenerate Music”: varied songs by seven composers whose work was proscribed by Germany’s National Socialist regime. Of these, one (Franz Schreker) had died before the ban; four (Kurt Weill, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Alexander von Zemlinsky, and Hanns Eisler) escaped to the United States; and two (Viktor Ullmann and Pavel Haas) were sent to the “model camp” of Theresienstadt before a final, fatal trip to Auschwitz.
The music was all wonderfully (if often sadly) worth hearing, and singer and pianist did it fine justice. Feldmann is what would be called (invoking the mostly German repertory he offered) a Spielbariton—a lightish-voiced singer who on the opera stage would be playing Harlekin in Ariadne auf Naxos and maybe, one day, graduating to Tannhäuser’s Wolfram. But he’s got more heft and color than such baritones often do, and when he let his handsome voice loose in the intimate (268-seat) confines of Weill Hall, it rang out impressively. The technique is admirable, if not yet fully honed: top notes could sound a little raw or, at low volume, a little less than ideally supported. His German seemed well-studied rather than off-the-tongue fluent—that is, freely inflected and colored the way a gifted native could deliver the texts. (I can’t vouch for his Czech, in the Haas; but his English, heard briefly in the Eisler, was clear and easy, without the stilted diction that affects so many Americans singing their own language.) And I do wish he, and LaNasa, hadn’t depended on cue cards to get them through their informative introductions to each set—likely a symptom of an understandable case of pre-debut nerves. (The two were charming, all the same, and kindly supplied valuable background that the program notes didn’t.) But Feldmann deserves enormous credit for delivering his anything-but-standard-rep bill of fare totally off book—no music stand stood between him and his audience. And that’s a large part of what, I think, marks him as potentially a very special recitalist: his palpable urge—a need, even—to communicate. Right now he’s not a “perfect” singer—he’s still in school, after all—but he’s got something rarer and even more cherishable going for him: that need to sing, to make his voice heard, and through his own, the voices of the songful poets and composers he so wholeheartedly champions. Nice work, Mr. Feldmann.