On Friday evening, soprano Julia Bullock presented an appealing and intelligently crafted recital in Zankel Hall. She took the time in between groupings of songs to address the audience and provide insights into the pieces and her relationship with them. The two themes of transformation and transcendence defined the versatile program in content as well as in form. Bullock’s voice and interpretations transformed with chameleonic grace and transcended boundaries between musical genres.
Julia Bullock and Bretton Brown (Photo: Maria-Cristina Necula)
Bullock is a mesmerizing storyteller and an exquisite painter of moods and atmospheres. There is much to love about her voice: the shimmery and vaulted warmth of her middle notes, the sultry earthiness of her low register, the penetrating high notes, and all around them a liquid legato that could flow on for days and never lose its caressing spellbinding effect. Her program consisted of many musical gems: songs by Samuel Barber, Kurt Weill, Francis Poulenc, Richard Strauss’ Drei Lieder der Ophelia, Alban Berg’s Altenberg Lieder, also songs by Connie Converse, Elizabeth Cotten, Charles Austin Miles, Bob Dylan, the introduction to Marian Anderson’s Jus’ Keep On Singin’, selections from The Sound of Music and South Pacific, the spiritual “Deep River”, and more. From Barber’s whimsical songs, like Nuvoletta and The Daisies, to the sparkling feminist statement of Poulenc’s “Non, Monsieur mon mari” from Les mamelles de Tirésias to the complex emotional storms of Berg’s Lieder to Weill’s Berlin cabaret vibe to Bob Dylan’s heart-shredding lyrics and Converse’s “How Sad, How Lovely”, Bullock’s voice took on a myriad of colors and expressions that turned each piece into a profound universe of imagery and feeling. She could switch from classical to jazzy to cabaret with perfect naturalness and flexibility. Her diction was impeccable in all the languages she sang in; notably, the German thoroughly impressed through its authentic sonority.
The spiritual “Deep River” stopped time in a soulful delivery that revealed additional rounded depths of tone and resonance in Bullock’s voice. She endowed the selections from The Sound of Music and South Pacific with a classical elegance that highlighted melodies and lyrics uniquely, as opposed to the usual Broadway renditions. And, like in the Poulenc feminist piece, Bullock’s sense of humor sparkled also in Mary Rogers’ “Happily Ever After.” The soprano’s intelligence and control in dynamics and phrasing were revealed impressively throughout the program, and her engaging stage presence and commentary moved and dazzled. In pianist Bretton Brown, Bullock had a perceptive, responsive musical partner who adapted to the different styles and the vocal colors she summoned with grace and ease. This was a beautiful, thoughtful program that spanned a remarkable diversity of musical genres and styles, and proved at once enchanting, educational, and inspiring.
Top photo by Allison Michael Orenstein