The LA-based pianist, conductor, and composer André Previn called Susan Wadsworth, who founded Young Concert Artists (YCA) in 1961, last week to tell her how much he loved soprano Jeanine de Bique's singing of his cycle, Honey and Rue. When I received an invitation to cover her upcoming recital in New York's Merkin Hall at Kaufman Center, I knew it was one that should not be missed.
This recital was in the 52nd Young Concert Artists Series, which always presents the most astounding musical discoveries. Renowned musicians including pianist Emanuel Ax, violinist Pinchas Zukerman, and soprano Dawn Upshaw, as well as numerous others, were all presented in this same series.
As the soprano entered stage left, stunning in her sequined silver gown -- she stood beside the Steinway concert grand exuding confidence and elegance. I was taken by the supreme control she had over her gifts - voice, presence, and charm.
Jeanine loves the human narrative, the art of story telling - and she is brilliant at it. In her first selection, The Blessed Virgin's Expostulation (Henry Purcell and Benjamin Britten), she conveyed the passion in this dramatic scene.
Jeanine de Bique performing at the International Viotti Competition 2012.
Photo courtesy of the artist.
Presented by the Barbara Forester Austin Fund for Art Song, soprano Jeanine de Bique's recital was comprised an interesting and varied program of songs in English, German, French - and Spanish. Expressing a gamut of emotions throughout her recital, the gifted young performer sang with exceptional expressiveness, breathing the same life and rich tone into the deep notes of her lower register as the high, soaring fortissimo moments. She captivated her audience with seemingly effortless vocal flexibility, commanding stage presence, and sensitive interpretation of each selection on the program.
Next on the program with the excellent pianist Christopher Cano, was Ophelia-Lieder: Three Songs after Shakespeare (Richard Strauss), songs which Jeanine introduced as Ophelia's "Mad Scene." Stauss' three pieces were among my favorites. Known as his "lunatic" songs, taken from Hamlet following the scene in which Hamlet rejects her and suggests she should enter a nunnery, and has slain her father the King, De Bique conveyed her confusion and distress with powerful vocalism.
In the French group, Au bord de l'eau, Automne, Notre amour, Mandoline, and Adieu (Gabriel Faure) she poured out smooth lyrical phrases that illuminated the French poems. The lively group of Italian songs was Al amor, Corazon porque pasais, El Vito, and Chiquitita la novia (Fernando Obradors). Here she acted with style that ranged from coquettish flair to intense passion.
The second half of the program was devoted to Andre Previn's Honey and Rue (poetry by Toni Morrison). Here she told from the stage the compelling sense of the poems that describe the feelings of the African slaves who were first brought to America. Her expressive face and compelling presence brought these songs to life tellingly. The last song, Take my Mother Home, ended the program on a high pianissimo note that floated on and on poignantly.
The singer performed in Barbados to benefit a local learning center. " I have never met a more amazing group of children. We must continue to encourage children in the arts as it expands their minds for a greater future," she says. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Jeanine told me that singing is about the exposure and sharing of one's soul with the rest of the world and feeling that you are created to be a part of this magnificent cosmos. She also said that she wanted to be able to work for humanity and hopes to help one day in her native Trinidad.
Jeanine at the after-concert reception at Café Fiorello told me about her childhood memories in Trinidad of performing The Little Mermaid for her family and listening to her sister's cassettes of Barbara Streisand and Phantom of the Opera. Jeanine fell in love with singing and performing and knew as a young girl it would be her future. She moved to New York City a decade ago to pursue that dream, studying at the Manhattan School of Music.
Jeanine began this season with her debut as Barbarina in Le Nozze di Figaro with L'Opera et Orchestre de Montpellier in France. Last season, Ms. De Bique was a member of the Vienna State Opera House Ensemble where she appeared as Gianetta in L'Elisir d'Amore, Kate Pinkerton in Madame Butterfly, "Eine Modistin" in Der Rosenkavalier, and Ada in Wagner's Die Feen. She has toured with the Russian Philharmonic as Clara in Gershwin's Porgy and Bess in Russia, Poland, and Greece.
At the end of the concert she addressed the audience and gave special thanks to Young Concert Artists for three years "that have changed my life."
The singer relaxes between concerts in Milano, Milan 2011. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Responding to a standing ovation and cries for an encore, Jeanine played Bill from Showboat with great merriment. "I am in awe that everyone took time off to come see me perform," she confided to her audience. Later, she told me how much pride she feels in the close connection between herself and those who come to watch her.
I sat with several conservancy professors including Paul Sperry after Jeanine's performance. They explained to me how recitals are a special platform that brings us into our own world, reflecting on our own highs and lows, with great versatility, language and color. The unpredictable. The beauty of a recital, they reminded me, was to take risks with no conductor present - to follow the singer's true un-directed feelings.
Jeanine de Bique, with her unique voice, unflappable stage presence, and authentic personality makes her the perfect candidate to become an ambassador of culture. The journey she took us on last week through various style and cultures, emotional highs and lows, made it possible for us to feel something in our own lives.
See Stories by Jim Luce on:
The James Jay Dudley Luce Foundation (www.lucefoundation.org) is the umbrella organization under which The International University Center Haiti (Uni Haiti) and Orphans International Worldwide (OIWW) are organized. If supporting young global leadership is important to you, subscribe to J. Luce Foundation updates here.