Emalie Savoy: A Portrait

Here we have the first CD to be released in the series. It features the
American soprano Emalie Savoy, first-prize winner in the vocal category during
the 2015 competition. Over the course of the CD, Savoy demonstrates great vocal
artistry and an ability to handle a wide range of roles and song literature,
both with orchestra and with piano. The CD is a bit short (53 minutes), but the
five pieces that it includes are undoubtedly meaty: Ravel’s
Shéhérazade; one aria each from Tchaikovsky’s
Iolanta, Dvo?ak’s Rusalka, and Weber’s Der
; and a complete performance of Barber’s Hermit
, a cycle of ten short but trenchant settings, for voice and piano,
of poems by medieval Irish monks. (Click here to hear Savoy sing
the famous “Song to the Moon,” from Rusalka.)

Savoy, from Schenectady NY, has a full and generally firm voice which is
lustrous when soft and becomes exciting, yet not edgy, on full-throttle high
notes. She was well trained at Juilliard (Bachelor’s and Master’s)
and has completed the Lindemann Young Artists Program at the Met. I am
impressed that a large voice can handle the melismatic passages in the Weber
cabaletta so well. In that same cabaletta, Savoy also shows that she is well
informed about how to resolve appoggiaturas. (Click here to hear her do the
Weber aria.)

Savoy has sung secondary roles at major houses such as the Met and the
renowned Grand Théâtre in Geneva, Switzerland (e.g., Sylviane in
The Merry Widow and the First Lady in Die Zauberflöte),
and leading roles at Juilliard and regional venues (e.g., Mozart’s
Countess at the Castleton Festival in Virginia). From what I hear on this CD,
her voice would easily fill a big hall. Savoy sings with evident understanding
in all the selections. (Click here for the first song in
the Ravel.)
The Brandenburg State Orchestra plays wonderfully here, as does
pianist Jonathan Ware in the Barber songs. (The orchestra’s home is in
Frankfurt an der Oder—a smallish city about 300km to the southeast of Berlin, just across
the river from Poland.)

I must also report some weaknesses. Though Savoy rarely if ever
mispronounces words in any of the five languages on display here (or at least
in the three languages that I know well enough to judge), she does not always
enunciate clearly. I had trouble catching about half of the text in the Barber,
even in certain songs that I have heard many times before. Perhaps the very
richness of Savoy’s voice is an impediment. Some long notes also show a
slow vibrato that, at least at this point in her development, is not wide but
might become an obtrusive wobble over time. I hope I am wrong.

The orchestra is sometimes recorded too far in the background, making the
singer an almost overbearing presence. A few times I had to replay a passage in
order to hear fully what the orchestra had just contributed. There is at times,
in the Weber, a loud and long echo that can compete with the singer’s
next notes. In the Hermit Songs, the cavernous echo makes the piano
clattery. (Click here for
the third song from the cycle, “St. Ita’s Vision.”)
the 1954 studio recording of that cycle with Leontyne Price and the composer
(monophonic, still available on Sony), voice and piano are perfectly balanced,
and Price conveys the words beautifully. Alas, the RCA Victor recording that
preserves the work’s premiere performance at the Library of Congress
(likewise with Price and Barber) was recorded wanly, though I have read that
its re-release on Bridge is somewhat improved. (That world-premiere performance
by Price and the composer can be sampled by clicking here: again, Song no. 3:
“St. Ita’s Vision.”)

In short, this is an excellent introduction to a gifted new singer, who
could potentially be singing major roles at major houses. She reminds me of
another big-voiced soprano, Angela Meade, who jumped, directly and
successfully, from the Met Auditions to singing the main female role in
Verdi’s Ernani at the Met. Savoy handles well very different
kinds of music from across the nineteenth century and into the mid-twentieth.
The CD gave me much pleasure, though, almost inevitably, from a
collector’s point of view, many of the items on it are performed at least
as well elsewhere. I would not want to live without Régine
Crespin’s classic recording of Shéhérazade
(conducted by Ernest Ansermet).

Full texts in the original languages and in English. The program notes interestingly point out how the five works here all treat the theme of
loneliness. Unfortunately, the English translations throughout the booklet are
sometimes unidiomatic or even wrong: “principal” becomes
“principle,” and the song title
“L’Indifférent” gets translated as “The
Different One” instead of “The Indifferent One.”

Ralph P. Locke

The above review is a lightly revised version of one that first appeared in
American Record
and appears here by kind permission.

Ralph P.
is emeritus professor of musicology at the University of
Rochester’s Eastman School of Music. His most recent two books are
Exoticism: Images and Reflections
and Music
and the Exotic from the Renaissance to Mozart
(both Cambridge
University Press). Six of his articles have won the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award
for excellence in writing about music. He edits Eastman Studies in
, a book series published by University of
Rochester Press


image_description=Emalie Savoy: A Portrait
product_title=Emalie Savoy: A Portrait
product_by=Emalie Savoy, Sopran; Brandenburgisches Staatsorchester Frankfurt; Matthias Foremny, Dirigent; Jonathan Ware, Klavier.
product_id=GEN 16436 [CD]