On Friday evening, May 14, the Carmel Music Society presented soprano Devon Guthrie, the Grand Prize Winner of the Society’s 2009 Vocal Competition. Guthrie is a young soprano from New York whose training includes a Bachelor of Music degree from the Manhattan School of Music and a Master of Music degree from Juilliard, where she studied voice with Marlena Malas. Presenting a selection of songs spanning several centuries and languages, her lovely voice and fine vocal technique gave us an evening full of expressive and dramatic moments. It was exciting to hear a young singer who has the potential for a significant career. Guthrie was accompanied by pianist Nathan Brandwein who is presently a C.V. Starr Doctoral Fellow in Collaborative Piano at The Juilliard School, and he played brilliantly throughout the entire concert.
In her first set of songs by Respighi, Guthrie easily convinced us of her innate talent and musical sensitivity. With an impressive stage presence focusing on transmitting musical meanings in each song, she demonstrated a fine control of dynamics, interpretation and Italian phrasing. The second set of songs by Strauss showcased Guthrie’s ability to demonstrate her lovely control of dynamics, which were always musically convincing, and her German diction was very precise as well.
Ricky Ian Gordon’s songs were especially expressive. The Blessings of the Boats was particularly lovely in its phrasing and understanding of the melodic lines. Her dramatic nuances were heartfelt and easily accentuated the composer’s use of dissonance and consonance.
There was something quite refreshing about Guthrie’s Mozart in the second half as she brought to the phrasing a unique sound by connecting words and emotions in a distinctive and energetic way. Her legato line emphasized specific words yet maintained the long flowing quality of Mozart’s melodic lines. Not only did she possess a clear understanding of the phrasing of classical repertoire, but with each set of songs from different centuries or different cultures, she was careful to reveal the subtleties of each composer’s uniqueness. Her intelligent musical delivery was consistent throughout the program.
Songs by Debussy ended the program, and this was some of the best singing of the evening, for her voice turned out to be well suited to the colorful long French phrases. Trois Chansons de Bilitis easily captured the sheer beauty of her voice as well as her instinctive musicianship, while Mr. Brandwein’s collaboration enhanced Ms. Guthrie’s expressive performance. Clearly the audience could sense that we will be hearing more from this wonderful soprano. The Carmel Music Society has once again given us an outstanding evening of music.
Robin McKee Williams has directed musical theater at the Forest Theater, Carmel Ballet Academy has been the youth musical director at Western Stage. She presently teaches voice privately in Pacific Grove, Santa Catalina, Stevenson School and Hartnell College. She is credentialed from the McClosky Institute of Boston as a voice specialist.