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Soprano Majeski a young, powerful presence

The intimate space of Lutkin Hall on Northwestern University’s Evanston campus could hardly contain the sound and focused intensity of soprano Amanda Majeski Sunday night.

What a prelude the experience must have been for the Gurnee native, who she makes her New York recital debut at Carnegie Hall’s own chamber size Weill Recital Hall on Feb. 7.

And a few days after that she’ll start rehearsals as co-star with reigning bel canto mezzo Joyce DiDonato and another Chicago-area native with a big career, tenor Matthew Polenzani, in Mozart’s “La clemenza di Tito,” running March 5-23 at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

If that wasn’t enough, Lyric general director Anthony Freud announced on Monday that he had cast Majeski, 29, in the lead role in Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s recently rediscovered 1968 Modernist Holocaust-related opera “The Passenger,” expected to be a highlight of the 2014-2015 Lyric season.

Sunday’s recital was the first chance to see the singer in a full solo recital since her student and apprentice days and the growth, accomplishment and composure were all impressive.

Working with piano partner Alan Darling, who had been one of her teachers and coaches as an undergraduate at Northwestern’s Bienen School of Music and later at Lyric’s Ryan Center, Majeski devised a program that challenged and rewarded her and her audience in equal measure. Ranging from a Haydn “scena” to diamond-sharp poem settings by the Second Viennese School’s Alban Berg, a 25-minute Schumann song cycle to rarely performed folk settings by Percy Grainger, and Benjamin Britten and W.H. Auden’s “Cabaret Songs,” this was a showcase for a young artist in full.

Haydn’s 10-minute “Scena di Berenice” is a miniature opera of mad love, and Majeski navigated the wide vocal and dramatic range with great command and confidence. The Schumann “A Woman’s Love and Life” tells an entire story over a more elongated course of eight songs. Just as the work does in its keen emotional insights, so a singer grows with the piece over a career, but Majeski was already there in most ways.

Berg’s “Seven Early Songs (1905-08)” were the centerpiece of the program thematically and vocally and showed the effect of Majeski’s experience in European opera houses and halls over the last few years. The Grainger and Britten settings let the singer show off her unusually clear English-language diction and acting chops, both in sorrowful and hilariously comic turns. Darling was expert and idiomatic in all of the repertoire.

An encore of the early Richard Strauss song “Caecilie” once again had Majeski rattling the rafters with strong and beautiful sound. New York debuts are always chancy, but with the program notes indicating future contracts with a dozen other international companies and festivals, the sky could very well be her only limit.



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