Kendra Preston Leonard

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IAWM Review of Speaking Her Truth

Elizabeth R. Austin reviewed Speaking Her Truth in Hartford for the IAWM Journal:

Speaking Her Truth: Three Vocal Works by Jessica Rudman

ELIZABETH R. AUSTIN

On April 28 at Christ Church Cathedral in Hartford, CT, The Hartford Opera Theater sponsored a concert of music by Jessica Rudman, including a pre-show lecture by the composer and her librettist, Kendra Preston Leonard.

The first premiere of the evening, Four Songs for Lady Macbeth, commissioned and sung by Charity Clark, mezzo- soprano, and members of The Hartford Independent Chamber Orchestra, Daniel D’Addio, conductor, began with two songs which commend Lady Macbeth on her way to her death. This historical figure was colored in dark, dour musical timbres, with clangorous color from the cello. A jazzy clarinet set the sly, grim style of the next song, the narrative text of which Ms. Leonard drew from Shakespeare’s character. After the final lullaby, laced with a nostalgic ritornello, the sizable audience responded with warm applause.

Next on the program was a dramatic monologue, accompanied by acerbic yet apt piano commentary, Trigger, sung by Jennifer Sgroe, soprano. Here sits a victim of domestic assault, reading a current newspaper story about sexual harassment, as she unravels her own experience. Ms. Sgroe rose to the occasion, with a powerful interpretation of the maligned woman, having been disparaged by the investigating policeman who had asked, “But did she deserve to get hit?” Ms. Rudman’s penchant for describing such distress in melodic bends, curves, and cries was most effective, with the unrelenting pianistic undercurrent doubling the intensity.

The second premiere was operatic: Marie Curie Learns to Swim finds us on a beach with the famous Marie Curie (Susan Yankee) and her daughter Irene (Claudia Rosenthal), who listens to her mother’s words, hoping that she will have at least a few days’ respite from the laboratory. The brilliant metaphor of “Marie learning to swim [and] pulling herself through the water,” deepens with her recollections. Marie describes her incessant drive to work in the lab against the currents of illness and depression.

In a series of flashbacks, we are introduced to the young Marie, vividly sung by Elizabeth Hayes, and the man she is to marry, Pierre Curie (Mark Womack). The striking leitmotif, which signifies “radium,” the subject of the experimentation leading to two Nobel Prizes, acts as a unifying device in this episode. Ms. Leonard’s libretto is both emotive and well-crafted to enhance Ms. Rudman’s striking harmonies. One realizes that Jessica has found her voice, as the evening’s theme, “Speaking Her Truth,” seems to emphasize. Her style employs unwavering ostinato patterns, which underpin sturdy and expressive vocal lines. This style might be enhanced in the future by allowing for a little more contrast in the tempi of arias and recitativo passages.

The stage director, Kristy Chambrelli, as well as the dramaturg and set/ costume designers, provided the responsive listeners with a well-rehearsed and thought-provoking evening.

Journal of the IAWM (International Alliance for Women in Music) 24 (1): 31.