2012 CMS Vocal Competition Winner Clarissa Lyons


Bretton Brown & Clarissa Lyons

Launching the Carmel Music Society’s “Competition Weekend,” soprano Clarissa Lyons appeared in recital at Sunset Center last night as the returning Grand Prize winner of the Carmel Music Society’s 2012 Vocal Competition. Pianist Bretton Brown assisted Ms. Lyons in this recital.

A popular choice in the 2012 Vocal Competition, Lyons reinforced the impression she made in her 30-minute program last year and topped it by presenting a widely varied and interesting program that covered the gamut from Franz Schubert to Benjamin Britten and William Bolcom. In her opening group of three Schubert Lieder, Lyons impressed us with her ability to slightly alter her vocal timbre in Heidenröslein to suggest the song’s two personas  — the wanton boy destroying the rose and the protesting rose itself. In Gretchen am Spinnrade Lyons made us feel the pain of Gretchen’s yearning in a moving and dramatic performance.

In the next group of songs by Claude Debussy and Jean Sibelius we heard much more of the artistry of pianist Bretton Brown in which he added color and swirls of expressive sound that provided a startling contrast to the preceding Schubert songs. In the Debussy we also heard a darker range of sound from Lyons, who when visiting her lower tessitura sometimes sounded like a mezzo. We heard beautiful blending of voice and piano that created a powerful impression. Not having heard the Sibelius songs before, I was surprised how effective they were in expressing youthful longing and frustration.

After intermission in groups of songs by Benjamin Britten and William Bolcom sung in English, and it was nice to hear our native language without having to resort to translations. Lyons was amusing and saucy against the jazzy piano accompaniment of Britten’s “The Brisk Young Widow,” but nothing prepared me for Britten’s extraordinary setting of “The Last Rose of Summer” with its metaphoric images of the last rose’s withering making us aware of the brevity of live and what awaits us in our declining years. With its hushed simply stated ending, Lyons and Brown made a powerful effect.

It is always a delight to hear some of William Bolcom’s cabaret songs. Lyons & Brown gave us amusing renditions of “Toothbrush Time,” “At the Last Lousy Moments of Love” and “Over the Piano.” Lyons managed to exude a variety of different personas in these songs, and she topped them off with a great performance of “Amour.”

Opera finally had its place in this program with an ending group of arias, “Song to the Moon” from Rusalka by Dvorák, Donde lieta usci from La Bohème by Puccini, and a rousing final performance of the evening of Csardas from Die Fledermaus by Johann Straus, Jr.

Clarissa Lyons succeeded on several levels in her recital – she put together an excellent program, she demonstrated her mastery of several styles (Lieder, Opera, & Cabaret), and most importantly of all, she managed all of this with considerable charm and charisma. And, we have to applaud the fine artistry of Bretton Brown whose contribution added much to the evening’s success.


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