Resonance series features opera singer Karen Slack
“If you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready,” says Karen Slack. It is wisdom that has served her well in a career as an opera singer. Perhaps never so much so as when she made her Metropolitan Opera debut 13 years ago.
The soprano will be featured in the National Music Festival’s next Resonance concert, Sunday, March 24, 3 p.m., at St. Paul’s Church, 7579 Sandy Bottom Rd., Chestertown. She’ll be accompanied by pianist Joseph Mechavich.
Just two years before Slack’s debut at the storied Metropolitan Opera House in New York, she had been a finalist in the Met’s National Council Auditions but hadn’t won. Still, a New York Times critic described her voice as “warmly expressive, especially in her vibrant top range.”
After she didn’t make the top-three cut, she figured her “career was over.” “But little did I know that God had another plan for me to step in on stage,”she said by phone recently from her home in Philadelphia.
That plan would play out two years later, in March 2006, when — as an understudy — she stepped into the spotlight after one marquee-name soprano failed to show up for rehearsals, and a second veteran singer bowed out due to illness.
Slack made her Met debut singing the title role is Giuseppe Verdi’s opera “Luisa Miller” in a performance that was broadcast live to an international radio audience. It’s an experience she recalls as “stressful” and “challenging, and yet “amazing” and “incredible.”Since then, her roles have included Serena in “Porgy and Bess,” the title role of Puccini’s “Tosca” and Sister Rose in contemporary composer Jake Heggie’s “Dead Man Walking.”
For her Chestertown recital, the soprano will perform songs and arias in English, French, German and Italian as well as traditional spirituals. The first half of her program will include music by Richard Strauss — one of her favorite composers —including “Morgen!” (Tomorrow) set to the words of a German love poem. In French, she’ll sing Maurice Ravel’s “Deux Chansons Hébraïques” (Two Hebrew Songs).
A song in English, by Heggie, has a particular connection to Slack and the tradition of recitals by classically trained singers. “Eleanor Roosevelt: Marian Anderson’s Mink Coat” is from a set of four songs called “Iconic Legacies: First Ladies at the Smithsonian.” Inspired by a museum artifact, it imagines Roosevelt’s reaction upon seeing the mink coat Anderson wore when she sang on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939, after being barred from performing at a segregated concert hall.
The spirituals Slack will sing at the end of her program are in part a tribute to Anderson — and singers like Leontyne Price after her — and a tradition for African-American opera singers’ recitals.
“I feel that the spiritual is America’s first music,” Slack said. “It’s before jazz; it’s the folk song of America, and I want everyone to know that this is our music as Americans, no matter what the color.
“I think to hear the spiritual in a concert performance with the grandness of the classically trained voice, and also being … of the black experience, I think that I have to share that with as many people as I can,” she added.
Tickets are $20 for adults and $5 for students with ID and children under 14. NMF 2019 Combination Pass holders are guaranteed admission to this and the final Resonance concert of the season, cellist Gwen Krosnick, April 28, at the same venue — and all ticketed events of the 2019 National Music Festival, June 2-15 (including more than 35 concerts ranging from small ensembles to symphony orchestra with chorus, plus 200 free open rehearsals).
For more information about the National Music Festival and Resonance, visit www.nationalmusic.us. Click here to purchase tickets for Ms. Slack's recital.
RES·O·NANCE /ˈrezənəns/ Noun: the quality in a sound of being deep, full, and reverberating … a quality of richness or variety.