Duo Rosa Return World Tour
Duo Rosa: Stephany Ortega, soprano, and Léna Kollmeier, piano
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
April 8, 2017
An amazing surprise awaited me Saturday evening in the form of a recital by soprano Stephany Ortega and pianist Léna Kollmeier, collectively known as “Duo Rosa.” I had not heard of either of these musicians, but I expect that the world will be hearing much more from them. The recital was part of a promotional tour for their new CD entitled “Return” recently released on the Et’cetera label (“Return” CD), and if the CD is anything close to the level of their live performance, one can bet it is a knockout.
The title “Return” refers to the life journey so far of Ms. Ortega, who ten years ago left her home country, the Dominican Republic, to pursue voice, piano, and conducting studies in Luxembourg (where she now holds dual citizenship), and at the Brussels Royal Conservatory, where she first met Belgian pianist, Léna Kollmeier, leading to a warm musical friendship. They have since collaborated in music from Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Spain, and Latin America. The program was structured so that nearly all of the second half was Latin American, hence the title, “Return.”
There were several factors that made this recital so stunning. First of all, obviously, there are the talents of the performers. Ms. Ortega is an extremely gifted coloratura soprano with a warm, powerful, and flexible sound, very true intonation with seemingly little effort, and an immediacy of expressiveness that engaged the listener every moment. Ms. Kollmeier provided unfailing support with a sensitive ear and excellent timing.
Secondly, there were the repertoire choices, simply delicious, carefully alternating the meditative, fiery, lush, quiet and dance-like qualities of music. From the well-named chill-inducing Extase of Henri Duparc, to the playful Guitares et Mandolines of Camille Saint-Saëns, France was handsomely represented. Le lilas of Claude Debussy was so breathtakingly beautiful that one could practically inhale the fragrance of the lilacs. Sombrero of Cécile Chaminade was delightfully cheeky, and the Sérénade Toscane of Gabriel Fauré was perfectly lilting. Les filles de Cadix of Leo Delibes, a specialty of the late great Victoria de los Angeles, was flirtatious and brilliant, even at the rather treacherous final high notes.
Spain was represented not only in music that was “French with a Spanish heart” to paraphrase Ms. Ortega, but also by music from Spain itself. There were folk-like and meditative selections from Joaquín Rodrigo’s Doce canciones españolas – “De Ronda,” “Adela,” and “En Jerez de la Frontera” – all done to a tee. It was quite clear how much these two musicians love this repertoire, and the feeling was contagious. From the dreamy “Descúbrase el pensamiento” from Canciones amatorias of Enrique Granados to the energizing “El Tumba y lé” from Canciones clásicas españolas of Fernando Obradors, the journey was a joy. We enjoyed more of Obradors – the Chiquitita la novia- on the second half. If there were minor glitches here and there, they simply did not matter. The spirit carried the day. No Spanish group would be complete without Manuel de Falla, and we heard his Olas gigantes in an expansive and soulful rendition. A piano solo rounded out the set, his Ritual Fire Dance from El Amor Brujo, affording Ms. Kollmeier a chance to command the stage, to explore pianistic colors, and to exercise some of the demonstrative forearm technique that Artur Rubinstein made famous in this piece. She gave the piece a good ride, despite a slight mix-up with page-turner before she began. Perhaps it was Ms. Ortega’s kind introduction of the solo, full of affection and admiration, that distracted the page-turner, who started to leave as well, requiring the pianist to corral him back.
That last sentence brings us to the next factor in this duo’s success. It is so clear that there is camaraderie and respect between the two musicians, even from the way Ms. Ortega truly listens to every piano solo and intro, turning towards the pianist without any semblance of waiting, as one sadly sees in the less musical divas (there was no pacing, no playing with fingers, no looks that say, “are you done yet” – yes, I’ve seen it). Related to this appreciation for the piano parts may be Ms. Ortega’s own piano background, as she holds a Premier Prix in piano from the Royal Conservatory of Brussels along with her singing degrees. Undoubtedly these piano studies are part of her sensitivity to harmonic nuance and exceptional overall understanding.
The Latin American component of the program offered some favorites along with some lesser-known gems. From Argentina, we heard Piazzolla’s Oblivion, a piece many have heard in various arrangements, but which was exquisite in its vocal form. From Brazil, we heard Samba clássico of Heitor Villa-Lobos, and from Mexico, we heard Juramé by Mariá Grever, who, as we learned from the introductory remarks, studied with Debussy. Incidentally, without a whit of pretense, the duo made the evening an educational as well as artistic experience. The program ended a delightful Cuban song, Ernesto Lecuona’s El Dulcero, livened up with maracas, as were several other songs.
The balance of the program was music from Ms. Ortega’s home country, the Dominican Republic (and as the reader has surely guessed, this review is not going in the order of the program, which was crafted with particular regard to flow and variety). We heard Luis Rivera’s Serenata en La-b, Asi es mi amor by José de las Mercedes Garcia, Pajarito cantador by Julio Alberto Hernandez, and Ven by Manuel Sánchez Acosta. The warmth and light of the Caribbean flooded the room with these heartfelt pieces. One could only marvel at how this music simultaneously tugs at the heartstrings and makes one want to dance. Rafael Solano’s Por Amor, sung with passion, was followed by Ms. Ortega’s introduction of her “Amor” (in the audience), after his trip from Europe that day – a moving moment. Ms. Kollmeier resumed the party at this point with another solo, Rafael “Bullumba” Landestoy’s Danza Loca, a fun and jazzy piece. Mr. Landestoy, whom I had to research, is currently in his nineties, and is known, despite his humility and low profile, as a leading Dominican composer.
One must not omit the opening of the program, a work entitled “Aller-Retour” commissioned by the duo from composer Camille Kerger (b. 1957, Luxembourg). It was ethereal and otherworldly, in a way a fitting point of departure for this journey of the musical imagination. As this piece began, one wished for printed text in the program, as, even with the best diction in the world and a reasonably fluent listener, one misses some meaning without it. None of the songs, in fact, had texts provided, and to include them would have enhanced the experience. One would make a bigger issue of it, but it happened that the musical delivery, complete with theatrical gestures and facial expressions, so often compensated. These young performers provide the musical equivalent of supertitles.
A large, appreciative audience gave a standing ovation, earning an encore of Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm.” It was a joy, and a nice doff of the hat to New York. In the words of the Gershwin song, itself, “who could ask for anything more?”