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POLISH DAILY NEWS (August) 2013/English


                                       A BOUQUET  FOR MARCELLA SEMBRICH

                                                                                               by  CharlesKellis

              The Marcella Sembrich Museum has finally returned to its roots.

A performance of entirely Polish music finally appeared, dedicated to the celebrated Polish soprano, Marcella Sembrich Kochanska ---one of the great reigning divas of the Italian Golden Age of opera. Appropriately, this concert took place at her former studio in Bolton Landing, Lake George  which has now become "The Marcella Sembrich Museum". This Opera museum was born after her death in 1935 -And was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.

             After numerous very interesting concerts and performances through the years, this event became significant because it was the very first concert  to be entirely devoted to the music of Poland with particular emphasis on the choice of vocal material designed to favor most of the songs and arias that she herself loved to sing.

                                    HER MUSEUM! HER SONGS!

               Organized as a tastefully inviting exposition of Polish music, it also included insightful introductions to each of the songs that Ms. Sembrich loved to sing. After a somewhat tenuous beginning, it became increasingly apparent that the soprano  Malgorzata Kellis was in command. A singing actress whose graceful delivery and nuanced vocal commitment highlighted the songs and arias that Marcella used to sing in her concerts.

            Are you thinking this may be inappropriate? Yes, you guessed it. She happens to be my lovely wife. And, yes, It could easily be assumed that I cannot be objective and my judgement may be somewhat impaired by trying to avoid an uncomfortable night at home.

            The audience, however, said it all. Unqualified success!!

It may be certainly unusual and even a little brave to actually write a review about your own wife, but since this was very obviously a fine performance, I feel completely comfortable with my unbiased criticism. I will try, however, not to applaud her too much and to withhold some excessively favorable praise. It would have been entirely honest---  but might have risked being misunderstood as being prejudiced. This event,

nonetheless, should somehow be recognized because it helps to bring out an important part of the Polish character of this historically important Museum.

              Since Sembrich and Jan Gall were both students of Lamperti, in Italy,

the program began appropriately with the three songs by Gall that were dedicated to Marcella, introducing an Italianate flavor with lyrical twists of cantabile simplicity.                                                                           Zygmunt Stojowski is an example of a Polish composer who has been somehow  neglected. He should be inclusively recognized as one of Poland's good song composers. . With these three songs:  "Niechaj jej niebo świeci błękitne; Ou va ton reve; Gdybyś ty była szklanym jeziorem", he stretches a flavor going beyond the obvious. An undercurrent of patriotism could be detected, weaving its way around the movement of the water into a flowing river ---yearning for the hopeful return of his beloved Poland.

               The accomplished pianist, Marc Peloquin, was the eloquent collaborator, who captured the spirit of the Polish flavor of this concert. They both seemed to be inspiring each other into the kind of communication -- that elevates the art of sensitively transmitting emotions- into a coherent expression of each selection. Chopin's "maiden's wish" with its Mazurka flavor, was aptly brought out by both performers. It is a song that gave many famous sopranos, past and present, the welcome  opportunity to display their particular interpretation of this very simple, characteristically Polish sentimental melody.

               It was in the Padarewski, "Nad woda wielka" that Malgorzata displayed unbridled emotional engagement. This was one of the songs that Marcella was thought to have sung with the composer at the piano. It seemed as though Ms. Kellis became inspired in trying to channel the spirit of what must have been a great performance of this particular song which proved to be a rather strong aria of operatic proportions. Ms. Sembrich most probably had actually been singing some of those very songs herself, right there in that museum sometime in the early 1900's.

                 Following was an individual song that says, "It's only Between us" --really, "nothing is going on between us". A comical rapid commentary; a theme with a number of variations on an oft repeated ---"Nothing much". It's charm was in the tongue twisting tradition that became a challenge for Malgorzata's rapid speech capacity that could  have been a little more gracefully articulated. A patter song in German, (oops, there goes the Polish theme). But wait, It was produced  by a Polish composer, Alex Zarzycki, who happened to be one of Marcella's favorites and whose works she always happily performed.

               The next two Moniuszko songs continue to show the mastery of this perhaps greatest of all Polish Song composers. In his arsenal can be found at least 300--individual songs that led to the distinction of his being honored with the very popular "Moniuszko International Vocal Competition" that has become instrumental in helping to jump start many new young operatic careers. And then came the final "coup d'état". Two arias from Moniuszko's most famous operas. "Hrabina" with its childlike wonder and cheerful charm, contrasting with the most tragically dramatic, "Halka" that brought out a flair of robust, raw emotion. It is with these two arias that Ms. Kellis displayed the kind of artistry of expression that made this concert dedicated to Sembrich a winning tribute to the honor of that most revered and celebrated singer who sang with the great Caruso and also most of the other great singers and conductors of the Italian golden age.

             The notion that an operatic aria, in this age of specialization should be compartmentalized, allowing only a particular voice category to sing particular roles, is understandable ---but this should depend on the fullness of the orchestration and on the conductor's sensitivity to the singer. The role of "Halka", expresses her initial wide eyed innocence and naivety, the torment of unrequited love, leading to the death of her illegitimate child and her final suicide. It is commonly assumed that this operatic role should remain within the domain of a spinto or dramatic soprano. Malgorzata who is a lyric soprano proved, however, that when given the requisite dramatic impetus surrounding the aria of that confused, almost schizophrenic "Halka", the result can be equally impressive. Let us go back to the age of Sembrich. She and most of her contemporaries sang any role they felt comfortable singing. Sembrich sang Dramatic and lyric roles interchangeably, interpolating incredibly supernatural stratospheric coloratura embellishments. There was no specialization in those days.

              Although it was an obviously popular rendition, displaying some broadway type abilities, I did not agree with Malgorzata's choice of one of the "encores, "I got rhythm". I felt it was not appropriate for this occasion. Since it was a bouquet for Marcella, it should have remained within the confines of the rest of the program. It could have comfortably maintained the previously created atmosphere by just including another one of those poetically clever Moniuczko Songs.

            She, nevertheless, rose to the importance of this occasion, not only with her warm voice and refined expression in a varied delivery of each piece, but also, equally important were her insightful and scholarly verbal explanations of both the musical as well as historical aspects of each selection. These are all verifiable facts.

                                                Just ask anyone in the audience.