The art of the song is as old as music itself — as a form of storytelling; expression of love; even preserving the historical record and a way of life.
You will be able to hear examples of all three this Friday evening as Cal State Bakersfield music professor Soo-Yeon Park presents an evening of art songs and opera arias in the Dore Theatre.
Tenor Robert Chafin will join Park as guest performer for the concert, which will include art songs by late-Romantic German composer Richard Strauss; French art songs, including “Chanson perpetuelle” by Ernest Chausson; a set of American folk songs; and a selection of Italian opera arias.
“This summer, we worked together in an opera production in Pittsburgh,” Park wrote in an email. “Which prompted me to invite him to present a concert together at CSUB and give a masterclass for our opera students.”
As part of the CSUB music faculty, Park oversees the department’s piano studies program, co-directs the chamber music program and directs the opera program. As a distinguished pianist and collaborative artist — the term preferred to “accompanist” — she also performs at music festivals with opera companies in the United States and abroad.
Chafin has enjoyed a successful performing career in the United States and Europe. He also serves as the Young Artist Program Director for the Pittsburgh Festival Opera and is an assistant professor of voice and opera at West Virginia University.
While solo singing is an ancient art, the “art song” gained its biggest popularity in the 19th century. A hallmark of the Romantic era, composers such as Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, Felix Mendelssohn, Hugo Wolf, Claude Debussy, Johannes Brahms, as well as Strauss, Chausson and many others, set the great poetic works of their time to music; in some cases, composing hundreds of solo songs for male and female voices.
The piano was the reigning instrument of the Romantic period and turned out to be a perfect companion to the solo voice. A self-contained orchestra, the piano’s role was nevertheless not merely to create a harmonic accompaniment for the vocal part — the role of the pianist was to add emotional subtext and even enter the story telling as a character or creator of musical sound effects. Vocalist and pianist were collaborative partners in the performance of this extensive repertoire.
Especially for the Italians, opera arias are the magic moments when the story stops and individual characters share their deepest thoughts and desires. Essentially sung monologues, many arias are often the most famous parts of most operas, and for many nations, especially Italy, became the most popular songs outside of opera as well. Tenor arias, such as “Una furtiva lagrima” from Donizetti’s “The Elixir of Love,” or “La donna è mobile” from Verdi’s “Rigoletto” are still universally famous.
Joining Park and Chafin for the performance of the Chausson song are violinists Julia Lawson Haney and Donna Fraser; violist Paulette Shires and cellist Alex Wilson.