Day 39: “People will never forget how you made them feel”

Tonight, the season’s first Vocal Colors concert comes to The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. I’m sure you’ll enjoy this guest post by soprano Alexandra Loutsion, one of the three artists featured in tonight’s performance!


As excited as I am to bring Cio-Cio San to Wolf Trap Opera audiences this summer, there has been a little gem of a project that equals (gasp!) my enthusiasm for Madama Butterfly.  That project is the Vocal Colors recital with which Kim and Lee Anne so graciously entrusted me, Joo Won Kang, and Joseph Li. This recital is a unique experience for us, as we have the opportunity to pair music with visual art, AND sing in the museum where the art is housed! I have always loved the artistic freedom that I have in programming a recital. It is a chance to become very intimate with your listener as it is just you, your pianist, and the music you choose that represents your musical tastes and poetic preferences. This project takes it one step further with the incorporation of a visual realization of your thoughts on the piece. Needless to say, I was over the moon when they gave me this assignment.

Immediately after Lee Anne sent me the artwork from which we would be choosing, I studied it closely to find ones that spoke to me, and transferred each picture into a word document so I could list pieces of music underneath. There were around 70 pieces of art, and I narrowed it down to about 40 I was interested in potentially using. (I knew ultimately this would be narrowed down to about 6-10 pieces for the actual recital.) The next step was to go through my large collection of music and previous recital programs to make a list of what I would be potentially interested in singing. Finally, I began to marry the two and see what would pair best together. Because I knew that I only had half of the recital, I wanted to use music that felt extremely personal to me, and I also wanted to push myself vocally and artistically, using music that would allow me to sing in different languages, styles, and (don’t laugh too hard) “vocal colors.”:)

The other thing I absolutely love about recitals is taking a vocal risk-because you don’t have to sing over an orchestra into a big hall, you can play with different sounds that you wouldn’t use in an operatic setting. I feel like a pianist who has been given a piano with fifty extra keys when I do a recital; the possibilities of expression feel virtually endless. I spent weeks looking at the art, listing suggestions of pieces underneath the art, changing my mind, driving myself nuts. Finally, I felt like I had a workable list of suggestions that I passed on to Lee Anne and Joseph (our pianist) when I arrived in Wolf Trap.

In my first coaching with Joseph, we played around with my “top” suggestions (I had listed the pieces in order of preference) and lucky for me, we agreed on almost all of them.

I love singing in English and German, so we chose three pieces of each in varied styles. We began with a song by Andre Previn (“The Town is Lit”) that was full of spice, pep and fun with some modern jazz influence, and paired it with cityscape photography.

Then a song by Franz Liszt (“Mignon’s Lied”) that was a storytelling song going between sparse, vulnerable moments and full on power, which we paired with a beautiful idyllic mountain/seaside painting.

Next, a piece by Joseph Marx (“Valse de Chopin”) influenced by Chopin, by far the fullest pianistic piece and the darkest both vocally and subject wise for me, paired with a white a black modern scrawly type painting.

A cabaret piece by Arnold Schoenberg (“Mahnung”) filled the next spot-textually satirical and silly, yet still musically complex and vocally fulfilling, including a little nod to Ute Lemper in the last verse. This we paired with a portrait of the head of a woman with lines drawn around her face as if someone is about to dissect her features.

For the last two songs we completely departed from classical song and first chose a silly musical theater piece by Stephen Sondheim and Mary Rodgers (“The Boy From…”). I heard it on a Faith Prince cabaret CD in high school and was determined to make it a staple of my recital and party piece repertoire. It is a parody on “The Girl from Ipanema” and gives me a chance to actually make an audience laugh! (With the operatic roles I play, I very rarely get to do this as I am always the dying heroine. :)) We paired this with an abstract painting of what looks like a man walking across the street in a tuxedo.

The last song we chose was the famous Cole Porter piece “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”. I had done it once before in a very over the top operatic and comical gag number in an opera cabaret a few years back. This time, Joseph and I decided to do something different. He is an extraordinary jazz pianist, and encouraged me to sit next to him at the keyboard and improvise along with him. The piece of art we chose made us both feel that we had to take the song in a somewhat melancholy direction (it is a spiraling of paper with words of love written on it), so we experimented and came up with a framework that would allow us to stay within a general idea, but the song would be realized differently each performance. This a VASTLY different experience for me coming from the perfection of opera, and a wonderful way to close out our half of the program.

I feel honored to present a program that I believe in so fiercely, that is an expression of my personal artistic truth and feels so authentic. My hope is that our audience will leave fulfilled with many questions, maybe talking on the car ride home of things they wouldn’t have otherwise addressed, or even just reflecting on an enjoyable time that they had in this unique recital setting.  In the words of Maya Angelou “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” This is always my goal, my JOB as an artist, and I am glad to have this amazing forum to try to realize it!

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