Icelandic soprano Larusdottir rises to challenge at Kimmel

Posted: April 03, 2006

Opera, like nature, abhors a vacuum.

That's what created a domino effect beginning with Metropolitan Opera performances of Luisa Miller a few weeks back, and carrying over into Friday's Astral Artistic Services concert at the Kimmel Center's Perelman Theater.

When soprano Karen Slack was tapped to step in for two ill divas at the Met, her Philadelphia showcase presented by this career-development organization became an opportunity for Astral's latest roster addition, Icelandic soprano Disella Larusdottir.

The program was a tall order - the world premiere of Andrea Clearfield's song cycle The Rim of Love, plus Samuel Barber's great, nostalgic soliloquy Knoxville: Summer of 1915.

Clearly thrilled to be here, Larusdottir encompassed the works with comprehension and conviction, though the music is as well suited to her as Miller is to Slack, which is to say, "reasonably so" (six on a one-to-10 scale).

Larusdottir has a well-honed, tightly wound voice that becomes wiry in the upper register where the music prefers the tone to bloom. Still, she knew what the piece was saying at these points, and found other, more calculated ways to make these moments happen.

The Clearfield piece is based on four poems by Manfred Fischbeck, and typically, the composer took a whatever-is-necessary approach to projecting their meaning, employing a wide range of techniques, letting cohesion take care of itself (or not).

These meditations on the onset of love suggest the condition isn't always pleasurable or asked for. One song, titled "Canyon," is invitingly nocturnal, but another, titled "Edge," had romantic expectation on the verge of hysteria.

Vocal lines are often full of jagged chromaticism, suggesting Alexander Zemlinsky or even the less harmonically stable Alphons Diepenbrock. The piece may be as fine as any Clearfield has written, which is fine indeed, though less-provisional reactions must wait for a better prepared performance.

The Haddonfield Symphony Chamber Orchestra under Rossen Milanov had much music to digest in this concert of soloist showcases for three Astral artists, and was at its most fallible. You noticed less when Spanish clarinetist Jose Franch-Ballester began Aaron Copland's Clarinet Concerto with so much serenity you could have mistaken it for new age zoning-out music. The animated cadenza took care of that, his tone morphing in ever more inviting, eloquent ways though without the harsh overtones that even the most accomplished clarinetists don't avoid.

Also a major talent with a robust tone is flutist Jasmine Choi, who infused Mercadante's Flute Concerto in E, Op. 57 with the kind of energy that made the piece's commonplace ingredients a point of release for her considerable personality, even with latecomers barging into the theater - not between movements, but during them.

Contact music critic David Patrick Stearns at 215-854-4907 or Read his recent work at

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