“The Dream Gallery” Soloists: An Appreciation

Fans of my CD “The Dream Gallery” invariably comment on the high quality of the work’s seven soloists, and the disarming and persuasive manner in which they took on the musical identities of their characters. In a recent interview, I described these singers as “an impressive bunch who sing the hell out of these pieces.” I think I’ll stick with that. But I’d like to add a few words about each one of them individually.

Soprano Mary Jaeb is a wonderfully expressive singer well suited to the wide emotional terrain “Helen” encompasses. Her ability to delve into layers of meaning in a lyric through a palette of highly musical vocal techniques makes her a superb interpreter of art songs. Mary is one of the most thoughtful singers I’ve ever encountered, and she can be counted upon in recording situations to offer a wide variety of creative interpretations from which to choose. This is not often the case, I and many other composers can attest.

Baritone David Marshman gives a powerful and nuanced performance of “Todd” that matches the piece’s stark subject matter — the bleak oil lands surrounding the small city of Taft. The vocal part calls for the expression of stoicism, anger and, at times, disgust. But a wistful tenderness is also part of the mix, as David shows in the suspended, floating section beginning with “Shadows of late afternoon … .” And he does not fail to convey that Taft, despite a long run of ill luck, will always be close to his character’s heart.

Mezzo soprano Janelle DeStefano is blessed with a voice of great depth and richness, which has made her a sought-after soloist in the Southern California concert world. Oddly enough, the “formalist” qualities of the sound she produces are ideal for the satirical depiction of “Naomi,” who views herself as being on a higher, more perfect rung of the evolutionary ladder. Janelle was asked to sound supremely confident and on the cool side, clearly removed from the nasty realities of “the flatlands” lying below the Berkeley hills. She did just that!

Young mezzo Delaney Gibson has spent much of her career in the pop/rock arena, which calls for its own distinct brand of extroversion. I wanted to tap that energy to bring to life the loathsome “Carol,” who would never for a minute tolerate classical music. Delaney instinctively understood this and turned in an utterly convincing performance that fully captures the character’s swagger and arrogance. She possesses fine technique and is a marvel of efficiency in the recording realm. “Carol” is not an easy piece, but it posed no problems for her.

Bass Carver Cossey’s heartfelt rendition of “Lonnie” reaches deeply into the complexities of personality and social milieu, spanning emotions that range from despair and world-weariness to warmth and the inextinguishability of hope. Carver has sung just about every type of music – with great feeling and finesse. While opportunities for extended solos with orchestra are all too rare, he embraced the dramatic arc and historical underpinnings of “Lonnie” and infused the character with all the humanity I could have asked for.

Alto Martha Jane Weaver has amassed years of experience and acclaim singing solo symphonic, choral repertoire, opera, gospel – even Gilbert and Sullivan. Her mission in “Luz” was somewhat off the beaten track, singing in a manner that sometimes borders on “rough,” in keeping with her character’s peasant roots. Martha Jane not only succeeded but contributed majestic moments that trace the long road traveled and endured. I had never written for an alto before, but will happily do so again after working with her.

Tenor Tom Zohar is a singer of great energy and high aspirations, making him a fine match for the propulsive role of “Adam.” The piece has numerous (and sometimes abrupt) shifts in focus that depict moments of rebellion, resolve, indecision, regret and elation. Tom managed to convey all of these while keeping a long-unfolding narrative on track. “Adam” also poses some stiff technical challenges that Tom proved himself equal to; a very impressive first recorded performance.

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