Songs about Love, Romantic and Sweet.
On August 25, 2020, The Grand Teton Music Festival’s online edition, “Music from the Mountains” presented a song recital performed by Jacquelyn Stucker, soprano, and Festival Music Director Donald Runnicles, piano. Stucker, currently a Jette Parker Young Artist at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, has already been hailed as a versatile new singing actress on Boston and Berlin stages. Runnicles also holds the posts of General Music Director of the Deutsche Oper Berlin, and Principal Guest Conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.
Wearing an ivory silk pants outfit cropped to just above the ankles, Stucker opened the recital with Robert Schumann’s Frauenliebe and Leben (A woman’s Life and Love), a song cycle that paints a woman’s life as it was in the nineteenth century. Although many of the images are dated, the basic desire of a young woman to find a mate and create a family has not changed. Stucker and Runnicles seemed to hold an audience in thrall as perhaps they caused viewers to remember falling in love with that one special person who changed their lives. Stucker reminds me somewhat of the young Frederica von Stade. Stucker does not have one of the great voices of this century, but what she does with the voice she has is exquisite.
Looking every bit the 21st century go-getter, Stucker sang of the joy true love can bring with a well-diversified palette of vocal colors and superb German. Runnicles followed her every nuance and kept the sound of his playing at a level that provided a pillow of music upon which her vocal line could comfortably rest. The picture of young women strewing flowers before the feet of a groom who is expected to marry one of their number is still a vivid picture before my eyes.
Stucker’s character speaks of the miracle of birth and that someday her husband will see his image in the face of their child. Clara Schumann presented Robert with eight offspring, a bit more than the “pair and a spare” the royals find necessary. The penultimate song, “An meinem Herzen” (“On my Heart”) is a delightfully intimate look at motherhood in any age. Stucker sang it with glinting silver top notes and plum velvet chest tones.
The final song in this cycle is sometimes omitted, for good reason. The husband’s sudden death is a tragedy and no one denies the wife the right to grieve. It is the line that indicates that her life ends because of his death that troubles the modern mind. Queen Victoria may have mourned for years, but her code of conduct has long since passed into history. In any case, Stucker and Runnicles rendered this song as a sudden, life-altering shock that provides a finale to the cycle.
Switching to French repertoire, Stucker and Runnicles performed Claude Debussy’s Chansons de Bilitis. Poet Pierre Louys, a friend of Debussy’s, claimed to have unearthed some rather sexy ancient Greek poetry, which he actually wrote himself. Without subtitles, Stucker and Runnicles painted musical images of young lovers playing home-made flutes as they themselves entwine their limbs. In “La chevelure,” they lie under her hair as they again intertwine, wondering if they are becoming each other. Stucker’s sunny tones brought the warmth of summer to these first two songs.
The third song is very different. It depicts a harsh winter that gives no respite and no allowance for making love in nature. A man tells the singer that all the nymphs and satyrs have been dead for many years, and the couple gaze at the cold sky through a piece of ice. For this song Stucker washed the colors from her tones and sang with icy severity.
Thank goodness Roger Quilter’s Elizabethan Lyrics brought back spring fountains and flowers to charm the wide spread audience. Human kind can never stop believing that spring will come back and we will enjoy the beauties of nature again. The fountains must weep no more and Stucker’s bright sound made that clear. Her character’s love has arrived and her song radiates an aura of contentment. She looks on as her sweet-sounding character admires beautiful ladies and tells of a monumentally brief love affair.
Again we hear of running water, joy is lost and spring flowers loose their vitality when newly melted ice floods the mountain path. Quilter ends on a pleasant note, however. Stucker sings of the Fair House of Joy where she and Runnicles serve music lovingly with their hearts. The concert from a town in the middle of one of the United States’ most beautiful national parks, Grand Teton National Park, was a complete delight. Readers who did not see the original performance can still see it online for a limited time.
Photo of Ms. Stucker by Jonathan Nesteruk.
Photo of Mo. Runnicles by nRobert Kusel.