kevin murphy

Michelle DeYoung review: Heavy going

Wagnerian mezzo soprano attacks subtle song repertoire with a blunt instrument

by KATIE TAYLOR

After hearing Grammy-winning mezzo soprano Michelle DeYoung’s art song recital last Sunday, I was frankly baffled by her success.

A video of her singing the “Liebestod” (Love Death) from Richard Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde shed some helpful light. I’ve sung this aria myself, and was struck by how completely personally obliterating it is. You feel like you’ve been hooked up to an industrial milking machine that won’t stop until 40 gallons have been withdrawn. You can bring nothing to it as an artist or an interpreter — it’s an unyielding, merciless force that molds itself around you and forms you into The Thing That Sings “Liebestod.” DeYoung does a fantastic job with it. But the same strengths that make her a great Isolde make her a terrible art song interpreter.

Friends of Chamber Music brought DeYoung and Murphy to Portland. Photo: John Green

Friends of Chamber Music brought DeYoung and Murphy to Portland. Photo:

A song recital, even in a larger hall, is a very intimate and nuanced experience— the polar opposite of a Wagner opera, with its beast of an orchestra, god-scale sets and costumes and performers whose entire will and energy is taken up with handling the vocal demands of the music. DeYoung approached her March 6 recital at Portland State University’s Lincoln Performance Hall like a Wagnerian singer, and without all the trappings of a Wagnerian opera, it was distracting at best.

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