March 18, 2003

Ziavras masters the most difficult instrument
CONCERT REVIEW: Soprano Julie Ziavras wowed her Montgomery listeners with her versatile voice and the variety of her repertoire from opera to folk songs.

By Dr. James F. Cotter
For the Times Herald-Record

The human voice is the most satisfying musical instrument. It is also the most challenging and difficult to master because it is so intimate, delicate and individual.

It was the voice that dominated the program Sunday afternoon at Wesley Hall when the Grand Montgomery Chamber Music Series presented soprano Julie Ziavras as its featured artist. She was accompanied by pianist Joel Flowers, mandolin player Steve Bernstein, pianist-vocalist Paula Mlyn and guitarist-vocalist Kenneth DeAngelis. Franz Vezuli, a 15-year-old pianist, opened the program with a rousing rendition of the climactic third movement of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata," which he played with feeling and skill.

It was Ziavras, however, who highlighted the afternoon with her warm and compelling voice, appealing presence and wide range of repertoire.

Opera, art songs, lieder, contemporary music written especially for her, poetry and folk songs offered ample evidence of her dramatic sense of style and personable interpretations. She sang more than 20 songs in six languages and poured her full energy into each number with virtuosity and verve.

Starting with Henry Purcell's "Music for Awhile," Ziavras displayed a firm coloratura in her phrasing and treble. Flowers' arpeggios accompanied the next selection, Henri Duparc's "Chanson Triste," a sad lover's plea for his beloved's sympathy. In contrast, two poems by Walt Whitman, scored by Mlyn, set words to objective readings: a tuneful "Sing on in the Swamp" and a solemn "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd," an elegy on the death of Lincoln.

Three delightful songs by Gustav Mahler celebrated young love and fables. Ziavras mimicked a donkey's "hee-haw" and a cuckoo call with comic results. Her version of Puccini's "Song of Doretta" from "La Rondine" was beautiful and moving.

After intermission, Ziavras began with "Great Neck Farewell," a nostalgic ballad by her husband, DeAngelis. She accompanied herself on guitar, and was then joined by DeAngelis on guitar and Bernstein on mandolin in a set of songs written by DeAngelis. Singing together, the couple followed the rhythmic voyage of a ship in "The Dream," the glowing tones of a child's loss in "Timber Wolf," a love story through letters in "The Journal," and a playful dialogue of lovers in "Take Me for What I Am." The songs were effectively expressive of human emotions and experiences set to fresh music.

Ziavras has enjoyed great success as a singer of Greek folk songs.

The next set of five songs explored the melancholy strains of "A Bright Day for Us, Too," the patriotic plea of "Where Is God?," the traditional hospitality of "Bread Is on the Table," and the tender affection of "Road of Dreams" and "Your Name." High notes of pathos, lilting phrases and poetic imagery, marked by mandolin trills, captured the spirit of Greece in these works by Stavros Xarchakos, Manos Hajzidakis and Mikis Theodorakis.

Mlyn on the piano accompanied Ziavras in Mlyn's music for Lorca's "He Died at Dawn," a heartfelt lament that ends its resonant cry with a quiet coda. The program concluded with two songs by Xavier Montsalvatge celebrating black Cuban culture, one a lullaby to a slow Latin beat and the other a fast-paced rumba dance. Ziavras responded to the standing ovation with another DeAngelis ballad, "Falling Star," which he joined in singing with her.

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