Saturday, August 04, 2007

Russell Braun (Review)

I fell in love with the lyric baritone of Russell Braun after hearing his Papageno in the Magic Flute at Opera Atelier in Toronto. That was in the early '90s. Soon after he moved on to the Canadian Opera Company and then to world opera stages, but he still holds recitals with his wife and accompanist, Carolyn Maule, in southern Ontario.

I have heard Braun sing recitals a few times and have always been bowled over. Tonight I heard him again in recital at the Elora Festival, singing with Noel Edison's Elora Festival Singers in the Gambrel Barn.

Braun is a master of technique, making sounds that sometimes seem impossible to make - impossible to do the breathing, impossible to have the range from light tenorish highs down down down to baritone, impossible to evoke the poignant tone, impossible to sing so softly, impossible to project so powerfully.

And yet the magic of his singing isn't really about technique - it's about the intelligence behind the words and the sensitivity of his phrasing. He brings lyrics to life in a way that most people just can't do. Tonight a highlight for me was his rendition of The Brown Girl (also a highlight of Carolyn Maule's beautiful piano playing). Here are the words that I found online, and I'm not sure that they're exactly what Braun sang. The sad regret in the last verse permeated his rendition.

The Brown Girl

When first to this country I came as a stranger
I placed my affection on a handsome young girl
She being young and tender, her waist slim and slender
She appeared like an angel or some gypsy queen.

On the banks of the river where first I beheld her
She appeared like an angel or some Grecian queen.
Her eyes shone like diamonds, her hair gently waving
Her cheeks bloomed like roses or blood on the snow.

It was your cruel father who caused this disturbance
He said you were of a higher degree.
But I am determined now all for to gain you
Though he says I belong to a low family.

She cries "Charming Johnny, don't be melancholy
There is never no other my favor will gain
There's no other creature will e'er gain my favor
On the banks of the Burborne, I'll wander with thee."

Since I have gained you, my bride I will make you
I'll put rings on your fingers and drops in your ears.
With diamonds and pearls I'll deck my brown girl
With all sorts of grandeur, I'll deck you my dear.

My name is Delaney, no blemish can shame me
I might have had riches had I stayed at home.
But drinking and gambling, night walking and courting
Was the cause of my ruin and absence from home.


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