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Two Opera Stars Bring the “Art of the Song” to San Miguel

By Fredric Dannen

For Robert Schumann, 1840 was an annus mirabilis—miraculous year—and also something of an annus horribilis. The German composer wanted to marry Clara Wieck, one of the leading pianists of the 19th century, but her father, Friedrich, was violently opposed. Friedrich had dragged Schumann to court, claiming his prospective son-in-law was a drunk, a liar, and a social misfit. The court gave Friedrich time to prove the charge of habitual drunkenness, putting the marriage on hold. In February 1840, Clara went on a concert tour, leaving Schumann to brood over his misfortunes, and in the meantime, working at a pace he himself called “downright uncanny,” to compose songs. By year-end, Schumann had won his court case and married Clara and had set over 125 German poems to music. In nine astonishing days, he had composed one of the greatest treasures of the Romantic era in music, Dichterliebe (A Poet’s Love), a musical setting of 16 poems by Heinrich Heine for voice and piano.

Art of the Song
By Michael Sylvester and Jane Dutton
Wed, Aug 10, 7pm
Teatro Ángela Peralta

Dichterliebe will be performed in its entirety at the Teatro Angela Peralta on Wednesday, August 10, along with songs by Maurice Ravel, Richard Wagner, and the American composer Stephen Mark Kohn, as part of the San Miguel International Music Festival, now in its 38th season. (For more information, visit The concert, called The Art of the Song, features opera stars Michael Sylvester (singing Schumann and Kohn) and Jane Dutton (singing Ravel and Wagner), with accompaniment by the noted pianist Ted Taylor.

Indiana-born tenor Michael Sylvester has performed leading roles at many of the world’s great opera houses, including the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala, and the Paris Opera. At the Met, he sang the title role in Don Carlos, Radames in Aida, Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly, and Calaf in Turandot. Sylvester says he has been singing Dichterliebe ever since his graduate recital. “Over the years, I keep coming back to it, and every time I sing it, I dig deeper and find more in it.”

Praised by the New York Times for her “vibrant voice and volatile intensity,” soprano Jane Dutton has also sung leading roles at the Metropolitan Opera, along with the Gran Teatre del Liceu and the San Francisco Opera. She recently performed the demanding part of Kundry in Wagner’s Parsifal at the English National Opera, winning acclaim from the Financial Times for her “gleaming vocalism and histrionic magnetism.” Dutton will be singing Ravel’s song cycle Shéhérazade and Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder.

To round out the concert, Sylvester will conclude with five American folk songs, arranged by Stephen Mark Kohn. Composed between 2000 and 2006, Kohn’s folk song settings have become concert favorites. Kohn pored over hundreds of American folk tunes before settling on the 15 he ultimately set to music, none of them overly familiar. He says the songs he chose “had to have melodic interest, a strong story, and some sort of dramatic weight or humor.”


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