Singing the World

Soprano Christiana Serafin de Ocampo Performing 20th Century Art Songs from Europe and Beyond

Soprano Christiana Serafin de Ocampo has eclectic taste. Performing at Haus Hofmannsthal on Jan. 26, the Manila-born singer set off on “Paglalakbay sa Buong Mundo,” (A Trip Around the World), setting choice examples of the European 20th   century Lieder repertoire next to songs from far beyond Europe’s shores. And to the alert and responsive accompaniment of pianist Volker Nemmer, this vocal world-tour in the end brought the audience to its feet.

At its best, de Ocampo’s voice is strong and bright in the high registers with agility, best displayed in Ravel’s Shéhérazade. The lower range is also interesting, dark and more mysterious brought out nicely in the sensuality of Piazzolla’s Tango at the end of the concert.

But at Haus Hofmannsthal, the setting is also part of the event. Opened in 2002 and named for the Austrian stage director Hugo von Hofmannsthal (1874 – 1929), librettist for Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier, the hall in the Embassy Quarter of the third district is one of the newest Viennese cultural venues.  It is host to chamber concerts and readings of well-established Austrian-based performers or, as in the present case, emerging artists.

Overall, the music-making that evening was most charming at times when the drama, the facial expressions complemented the emotions of the music; however, it felt too serious in the folk song settings, as de Ocampo’s operatic voice was at times too powerful for the intimacy the venue.

The climax of the evening was Maurice Ravel’s Shéhérazade, a setting of three poems painting an exotic, vivid picture of Arabian Nights. Performers were well-coordinated, at times brilliant, and on the part of the singer, the demands of the work brought out the clarity of her top vocal range.

This was matched by the great agility of the pianist in this difficult work, a duet with the piano an equal musical partner to the voice.

Other works on the program included a cycle of Filipino folk songs, set as classical Lieder by composers from the Philippines. Though beautiful in setting and charmingly performed, the inherent simplicity of the music seemed lost. They felt more like arias, which however would have required more lyricism.

The enthusiastic audience demanded several encores, rounding up the world tour with a stop in Argentina, with a sensual tango by Astor Piazzolla (1921 – 1992), ending in Vienna with Franz Lehar’s “Meine Lippen, sie küssen so heiß.”

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