Michelle Areyzaga & Jamie Shaak Reviews
Perfect storm of harmonies from Lake Forest Symphony
By DOROTHY ANDRIES Classical Music Critic May 25, 2011 6:48PM
Conductor Alan Heatherington combined his Chicago Master Singers and Lake Forest Symphony Friday May 20 in the James Lumber Center for the Performing Arts in Grayslake, and the results were stellar.
The featured work of the evening was Mendelsson’s Symphony No. 2 (“Lobgesang”) or “Hymn of Praise,” with sopranos Michelle Areyzaga and Tricia Melzer-Swaydrak, and tenor Kurt R. Hansen as soloists..
The composer is credited with reviving interest in the choral works of J. S. Bach, and there is homage to that great Baroque composer in this lengthy choral symphony, as well as to Beethoven’s Ninth.
But the work is quintessential Mendelssohn, with rich Romantic melodies and lines. After three lengthy symphonic movements, the singing begins, but unlike the Ninth, which has but one extended song, this piece gives us nine. It is a deeply religious work, with passages from the Psalms and New Testament Epistles, displaying Mendelssohn’s devotion to his Lutheran faith. His chorale, sung a cappella, is the familiar “Now thank we all our God.”
“Lobgesang” was sung in its original German, with a translation in the program. The singers’ spirited entrance, after the three orchestral movements, was stunning, filling the acoustically fine theater with glorious song.
The first was for chorus and soprano. Areyzaga has a gleaming voice, expertly pitched and she sang with great heart. Even with the orchestral’s full force behind her, she sailed through, her tone suffused with light.
She had two duets with tenor Hansen, and their voices blended beautifully. In the fourth songs Miller-Swaydrak, who has been with CMS since 1995 and is a soprano section leader, stepped from the chorus to join Areyzaga in a double soprano duet and their synergy was delightful.
Make no mistake, this showcase of choral splendor is reverent, but it is muscular as well. That should be no surprise. Many of the Psalms are attributed to King David, who, after all, brought down Goliath!
The work ended as it began, with brass blazing and drums rolling. A hymn of praise indeed.
Heatherington opened the program, which was repeated the following night, with the two completed movements of Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 (“Unfinished). Despite its beautiful melodies — and what a melodist Schubert is — the work is fierce, stormy, even disturbing in its rich orchestration. The Lake Forest Symphony gave a strong performance, its cellos and basses floating about the buzzing violins and violas, its reeds cutting brilliantly through the strings’ curtain of sound.
It seemed a perfect storm of harmonies, with the Lake Forest brass, especially the French horns, more mellow than I have ever heard them. And then, suddenly, the symphony was over, fading away — unfinished.
Chorus musters honorable effort on behalf of Bach's towering B minor Mass
June 13, 2011|John von Rhein | Classical music critic
The North Shore Choral Society enjoys the distinction of being the oldest choral organization on Chicago's North Shore. Its longevity is exceeded only by that of the Apollo Chorus of Chicago, the oldest musical organization in the city, which was founded in 1872, 64 years before its rival community chorus came into being. Each has its own honorable part to play in the cultural life of the metropolitan area.
The NSCS concluded its 75th anniversary season Sunday at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall in Evanston with a major undertaking appropriate to that remarkable milestone, J.S. Bach's Mass in B minor. A nearly full house was on hand to join in the celebration.
Of course, Bach's last and arguably greatest sacred masterpiece presents stiff challenges to even the most illustrious choruses, orchestras and soloists. Sunday's roster under Julia Davids, who has served as the choral society's music director since 2009, met them directly, even if the results did not convey as profound a picture of the work's spiritual dimensions as one would expect from groups of fully professional credentials. A firm sense of structural unity prevailed, founded on judicious pacing that allowed the music to breathe and build naturally.
Bach left much to the taste and discretion of the conductor. Davids used a professional modern instruments orchestra of 32 players, balanced against a chorus of about 100, drawn from the full roster of 140. She also employed a quintet of young singers (all winners of the Donald Chen Young Artist Award) along with the four principal vocal soloists. She took care to achieve a choral sound that was full and weighty enough for such fugal sections as the "Gratias agimus tibi" and "Cum Sancto Spiritu" but that also could be light on its rhythmic feet, as in the exultant "Et resurrexit."
Given that Davids' primary concern evidently was to keep Bach's long lines flowing in a smooth, buoyant manner, her having the singers pronounce the final syllable of "Kyrie" as "eh," rather than the conventional "ay," seemed a curious affectation. Otherwise her direction was non-interventionist, even at those times when a bit more expressive tweaking of rhythm and tempo would have been welcome. The chorus rose from pages of intonational fuzziness and insecure ensemble in Part 1 to firm, confident singing in Part 2, climaxing in a splendid "Sanctus."
Too bad the dry auditorium acoustics deprived the big final cadences of the choral-orchestral resonance Bach built into the music and the director worked to convey.
The most consistently impressive work came from the stylish orchestra (with its non-vibrato string playing) and the strong obbligato players, including concertmaster Martin Davids, violin; Anita Rieder, flute; Anne Bach, oboe d'amore; and Craig Trompeter, cello. Sharon Rich Peterson played organ as part of the continuo group.
Of the vocal soloists, the most impressive singing came from the ever-dependable soprano Michelle Areyzaga in a radiant and fluent "Laudamus te," as well as in her "Christe eleison" duet with mezzo-soprano Sarah Ponder. The latter also sang well, although others have proved themselves more affecting in the "Agnus dei." Completing the quartet were Kurt R. Hansen, tenor, and Kevin McMillan, baritone. Both stalwarts of the stage and the vocal studio sang musically even though time has taken its toll on the freshness and liquidity of their sound. Tenor Chris Albanese was the clear standout among the uneven solo vocal quintet; I look forward to hearing more from this promising young singer.
Sunny soprano shines in 2006
By Dorothy Andries – Classical Music Critic
Artist of the Year
Soprano Michelle Areyzaga sings like an angel, and every time she performs she sounds better than the last time. When she sang with the Lake Forest Symphony in Grayslake in late October, it seemed that Mozart’s “Exsultate, jubilate” had been written just for her.
Areyzaga has been singing in the Chicago area since the late 1990’s but she seemed to burst onto the North Shore music scene in 2004, when she sang the enchanting “Les Nuit d’ ete by Berlioz with the Ars Viva Orchestra at the North Shore Center for the performing arts in Skokie.
She was engaged the following year to sing Benjamin Britten’s “Les Illuminations”.
Last June she appeared with the North Shore Choral Society, under the direction of Donald Chen, for it’s big 70th anniversary concert at Pick Staiger Concert Hall in Evanston. The work was Robert Schumann’s massive “Paradise and the Peri”. Areyzaga sang the Peri to tumultuous applause and critical acclaim.
In November she was a soloist with the Alan Heatherington’s Chicago Master Singers and his Ars Viva Orchestra in the Mozart “Requiem” in Techny’s Divine Word Chapel.
The sunny soprano, who lives in Aurora, holds a degree in voice performance from the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University and has become a favorite with area conductors. Not only has she been taped by Heatherington, but she has come to the attention of Stephen Alltop of Northwestern University, conductor of the Apollo Chorus in Chicago and director of programs at Alice Millar Chapel in Evanston.
“She is so flexible and so easy to work with”, Alltop said, “in addition to that radiantly lovely voice”. He has engaged her to sing in the Apollo Chorus Presentation of Handel’s “Solomon” the afternoon of March 4 at the Harris Theater in Chicago.
Areyzaga has also worked extensively with conductor Francesco Milioto, director of programs at the Chicago Cultural Center and assistant conductor of the Highland Park Strings. She sang Pamina in his production of “The Magic Flute” last summer and is scheduled to sing Samuel Barber’s powerful “Knoxville: Summer of 1915” with his New Millennium Orchestra Jan 26 at the Cultural Center.
“Michelle sang Zerlina in the first opera I did back in Chicago back in 1998 or 99”, said Milioto, who hails from Canada. “She has such grace and poise. The audience falls in love with her instantly. There is usually a barrier between a singer and an audience – she doesn’t have one. In addition to her fantastic singing voice, she has this wonderful gift of making the audience feel she is singing just for them”.
As a member of the audience, this critic has been immediately bewitched by her dazzling smile, then grandly entertained by her ever-more glowing soprano. And it was apparent that even as we enjoyed hearing her sing, she enjoyed singing for us just as much. Compelling reasons to spotlight Michelle Areyzaga as our Artist of the Year for 2006.
Aurora soprano brings down the opera house
“Good news! DuPage Opera Theatre, under the baton of Kurt Muspratt, has come up with just the right singers and musicians to make La Bohème crackle with excitement. Finding just the right Mimì helped.
“Michelle Areyzaga learned the role of Mimì in a very short span of time for this production. She did know the opera since she is often cast as the sexy Musetta in La Bohème.
“Areyzaga is one fine Mimì. She was able to give us just the right sounds. She discovers love in a darkened studio searching for a lost key with a young poet named Rudolfo, who runs with a wild and crazy group of Parisian young men. Areyzaga never strains her beautiful clear voice nor attempts to battle Musetta in high note duels. She is at her best breathing life into softer passages often raced over by other sopranos. Her death scene in Act IV was especially tender and realistic.
“The death of Mimì in Act IV was not overplayed by Areyzaga, who kept her voice devoid of gimmicks, leaving the final swirl of loud and dramatic notes to Muspratt and the inspired playing of the DuPage Opera Theatre Orchestra.
“At curtain call time, Muspratt and La Tour joined the cast on stage to enthusiastic applause but it was Michelle Areyzaga, the "Mimì of the Moment" who got the standing ovation.”
JIM EDWARDS SPECIAL TO THE BEACON NEWS - JULY 26, 2007
American Record Guide
Walker: Songs Michelle Areyzaga, s; Jamie Shaak, p Proteus 15 – 55 minutes
These are agreeable songs in a neoromantic style based on poems by Cummings, Swenson, Rummi, and the composer Gweneth Walker. Walker’s idiom lies somewhere between Edward MacDowell and Broadway Ballade. This album’s appeal owes much to the singing of Michelle Areyzaga, who has sweet, unaffected voice and meticulous diction just right for these slight but appealing tunes. Jamie Shaak offers clear, sensitive accompaniment and plays two of Walker’s solo pieces.
Gwyneth Walker - The Sun Is Love
Michelle Areyzaga, Soprano; Jamie Shaak, Piano
Proteus Entertainment 0015
by John Crossett
I don’t know how often it is that one gets to review new music by one’s neighbor, but I’ve been given that opportunity. Gwyneth Walker -- composer, Brown University and Hartt School of Music grad, and now Vermont dairy farmer -- lives less than an hour away from me, so I was looking forward to hearing contemporary classical songs from one of my home state’s adopted daughters.
The song cycles on this CD are based on carefully chosen poems by e.e. cummings, Ms. Walker, May Swenson, and Jelaluddin Rumi (translated by Coleman Barks), and are performed by soprano Michelle Areyzaga and pianist Jamie Shaak. This disc features musical numbers that have the feel of classical arias and a folksong influence that, when mixed together, create something that's quite intoxicating.
Ms. Areyzaga’s voice floats above the piano, weaving in and out of the songs/poems, always drawing the listener in. Ms. Shaak’s piano accompaniment is superbly rendered -- there when needed, yet still a part of the proceedings when allowing the singer space.
The recording of this Proteus Entertainment CD was handled well. The piano sounds real, with good tone and size. The voice is rendered properly, but it lacks that final bit of three-dimensionality (that SACD does so easily) to be totally believable as anything but a recording.
North Shore Diversions - 09-30-04
Acclaimed lyric soprano sings Berlioz song cycle
BY DOROTHY ANDRIES
CLASSICAL MUSIC CRITIC
Lyric soprano Michelle Areyzaga will perform Hector Berlioz's enchanting song cycle "Les nuits d'été" by with the Ars Viva Symphony Orchestra Sunday in Skokie.
"The Berlioz cycle is something I have been wishing to do for a long time," said maestro Alan Heatherington of Libertyville, founder and music director of Ars Viva.
Areyzaga had been recommended to him by conductors and friends in vocal performance, but he was most impressed by the enthusiasm that Maria Lagios, Areyzaga's teacher, and Richard Boldrey, who has been her vocal coach, expressed about her.
"Maria told me how much I would appreciate her artistry," Heatherington said, "and Richard has attested both to her musical excellence and her special personality both on and off stage. They both thought Michelle would be perfect for our Berlioz."
Areyzaga (pronounced A-REY-zaga) is one of the busiest singers in the Chicago area -- appearing during a daytime program July 18 on the stage of the Frank Gehry-designed Pritzker Pavilion as part of the week-long opening of Millennium Park. She also sang in the Music in the Loft series in February in a retrospective of the work of composer Lita Grier of Chicago.
"Michelle has a lovely clear, bright voice," Grier said. "She's a wonderful musician and did a splendid job with my songs. It suffused me with pleasure to hear her sing."
"I'm in love with her voice," added Marla Forbes of Highland Park, founder and artistic director of Opera Theatre North, formerly Opera Theatre Highland Park. "She was Susanna in our 'A Marriage of Figaro,' and Pamina in our 'Magic Flute.' She is an outstanding singer. Her voice quality and artistry are really superb."
"I love variety," said Areyzaga, when reached by telephone at her home in Aurora. "I sang 'Glitter and Be Gay' from 'Candide' at the Millennium Park festivities. Once you learn that difficult song, you might as well sing it everywhere."
The soprano enrolled in the Steans Institute of American Artists during the summer of 2001 and sang in the Ravinia Festival's Martin Theatre with other Steans singers the following June, during the national tour of the green Steinway piano designed by glass artist Dale Chihuly.
She also appeared in a program conducted by Erich Kunzel during the 2001 Ravinia Festival. "It was a tribute to Americana," the soprano said. "I sang 'The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy' with two other female vocalists. It was so exhilarating, being on that stage."
Ravinia's president and CEO Welz Kauffman, himself a pianist, is a great supporter of the Steans students and alums.
"Michelle is one terrific singer," he declared. "She is admired for the purity and quality of her tone."
He has invited Areyzaga to represent the Ravinia Festival the evening of Oct. 15 during a dinner at the Palmer House, when the 100th anniversary of Ravinia Park will be honored by the Illinois Historical Society. She will sing Rachmaninoff's "Vocalese" and the Luna Negra Dance Company will take part.
"Welz is doing the accompaniment," Areyzaga said, "and he's wonderful. His heart is in the music."
During her undergraduate years at Roosevelt University, the soprano imagined that her career would lead her to New York City.
"But it hasn't turned out that way," she said. "I have a husband -- who is not a singer -- and a little boy. I couldn't be any busier. One day I'm doing a baroque program, and two days later I'm doing a thorny world premiere.
"Now I'm doing the wonderful Berlioz songs for the first time. I've performed at the North Shore Center and the acoustics are marvelous. I can't think of a better place to sing them."
The Ars Viva Symphony Orchestra performs at 7:30 p.m. Sunday in the North Shore Performing Arts Center, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie. The program also includes Prokofiev's Symphony No. 1 ("Classical") and Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 ("Eroica"). For information, call (847) 615-1811.
AREYZAGA-SHAAK CONCERT DISPLAYS VOCAL CHARMS OF SPAIN, AMERICA
A Review of the November 15, 2000 Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concert
By Dan Tucker
You might guess from her name that soprano Michelle Areyzaga would have
an affinity for Spanish music. The guess would be right, but hardly
adequate. In her recital titled "Songs of Spain and America," Areyzaga
clearly reveled in the songs of four Spanish composers. She not only
sang them well but seemed to embrace them, words and music. Not that
she is limited to Spain; half the concert was devoted to 20th Century
American composers. All ten of these songs showed musical imagination,
charm and personality--which are also specialties of this singer--and
made you want to hear more from the composers.
Areyzaga's full, bright voice, expressive face and gestures, and
nuanced phrasing made the most of it -- And pianist Jamie Shaak's
finely textured playing was a pleasure to hear.