Daniel Okulitch: The New American Art Song

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Daniel Okulitch: The New American Art Song. Daniel Okulitch, baritone; Ricky Ian Gordon, Jake Heggie, Lowell Liebermann, Glen Roven, piano. (GPR Records GPRB004SKJZ0Y; 70:48)

Ricky Ian Gordon: Quiet Lives: "Bus Stop," "Three Floors," "The Crazy Woman," "Virginia Woolf," "Interior," "As Planned," "Kid in the Park," "Lullaby." Jake Heggie: Of Gods and Cats: "In the Beginning," "Once Upon a Universe." Glen Hoven: Songs from the Underground "He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven," "Ozymandias," "The Expulsion from Eden," "Like a Beacon," "Composed upon Westminister Bridge," "Teeth," "This is Just to Say," "What am I After All," "Song," "London Airport," "The Leader," "Knightsbridge Ballade," "Come to the Edge," "London Airport, reprise," "In My Craft or Sullen Art." Lowell Liebermann: Night Songs. "Good Night," "She Tells Her Love While Half Asleep," "A Variation on 'To Say To Go To Sleep'."

This release may be the most exciting and impressive art song recording of the last decade, thanks to the superlative calibre of songs it contains and the marvelous singer who brings them thrillingly to life. Baritone Daniel Okulitch is among the most highly regarded artists of his generation, with an impressive resumé that includes the role of Schaunard in Baz Luhrmann's groundbreaking Broadway production of La bohème from a decade ago. Although the charismatic Okulitch has won great acclaim in such mainstream roles as Don Giovanni and Figaro, his greatest headlines thus far came as the star of Howard Shore's science fiction opera The Fly, in which he appeared completely naked in one critical scene. The baring of his powerful physique may have attracted some extra attention to the L.A. Opera's production, but what garnered the most meaningful praise for Okulitch was his heart-rending portrayal of the tragic scientist Seth Brundle, while contending with a difficult and largely ungrateful musical score. It was the kind of accomplishment that an ordinary artist could not have hoped to achieve, and one can only hope-and, if there is any justice in this world, expect-that many more such opportunities will be his.

Most singers resist comparisons with colleagues and counterparts, no matter how illustrious, but one hopes that Okulitch would not mind being compared to the superb American baritone Walter Cassel. His long and distinguished career included impressive stints at both the Metropolitan Opera and New York City Opera, roles in several Hollywood musicals, and a plethora of performances in live music theater. That thorough blending of genres surely helped Cassel hone a singing style that combined operatic grandeur with down-to-earth humanity, a style that served him especially well in creating the role of Horace Tabor in The Ballad of Baby Doe. His artistic assets included a glorious voice, authentic expressiveness, and diction that was beyond reproach. Okulitch's work here, while uniquely his own, is sometimes eerily reminiscent of his highly regarded predecessor, and one anticipates that Okulitch will ultimately enjoy success of similar dimensions. He is certainly already on his way.

Thus far this discussion has been limited to the singer headlining this project, but it is the dazzling quartet of composers at hand that most dramatically distinguishes this recital from the run of the mill. Ricky Ian Gordon and Jake Heggie scarcely require a word of introduction for anyone conversant in modern opera and art song; they are the cream of the crop. Lowell Liebermann is a more familiar name in instrumental circles, with a host of highly acclaimed works to his credit, but the success of his opera The Picture of Dorian Gray leads one to hope that many more vocal works are in his future. The fourth composer, Glen Roven, may be the least familiar to JOS readers, but his resumé includes two presidential inaugural gala concerts, the one-woman shows of Liza Minnellli and Patti LuPone, the final televised appearances of Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. …