On a rainy Saturday night, Buckley Recital Hall was transformed from a mere college music hall into a concert hall of the grandest sort. At 8:05 p.m., two men in tuxedos were followed by the evening’s star, who more than looked the part in her flowing skirt, sparkling blouse and glittering burgundy hair. In her senior voice recital, her debut at Amherst, Victoria Salem ’02 performed before a crowd of family, friends and music-lovers, reminding the audience why lyric soprano’s embody the true definition of diva.
Salem’s vocal performance featured works from some of opera’s most well known and adored composers. From the baroque intricacies of Handel and Vivaldi to modern works by Ives and Poulenc, Salem’s repertoire spanned over 200 years of musical innovation and change. Accompanied on the harpsichord and piano by Larry Schipull and on the viola da gamba by Robert Eisenstein, Salem carried the audience on a musical voyage of depth and honesty.
Singing in French, German, Italian and English, Salem reminded her audience of the power and beauty of the voice and of its ability to communicate raw emotion. The different languages each pose their own difficulties for the singer: German’s consonants and guttural tones stand in stark contrast to French’s long vowels and treacherous phrasing. Salem transcended these obstacles and rendered the subtleties of each language’s unique sensibilities.
When asked their favorite pieces, almost every member of the audience offered different opinions. Many loved Salem’s virtuosic rendition of Mozart’s Baroque Ridente la Calma, while others pointed to the richness of Mahler’s tradition.
However, two sets of music seemed unanimous crowd favorites. Her treatment of Fauré’s “Mandoline” with its sensuous tones and her deft treatment of the French lyrics underscored the versatility of Salem’s talent; especially in comparison to the often raucous, joyous sounds of Ive’s compositions “Greatest Man” and “Circus Band.” Both pieces place the performer in the role of a young boy in awe of his father and the circus parade, respectively. When Salem sings of “the lady in pink” with the sounds of the circus echoing from the piano, it is a transformative moment.
For the reviewer, Salem’s sensitive and tender performance of “La Courte Paille” by Poulenc stood out from the other amazing works. A collection of seven poems by French poet Maurice Carême, “La Courte Paille” was originally crafted for Denise Duval’s young son. In her performance notes, Salem cites Poulenc’s assessment of his work, “These melancholy and impish sketches are without pretension. They should be sung with tenderness. That is the most certain way to touch a child’s heart.” Indeed, Salem’s performance embodied that very treatment that Poulenc desired.
While Salem is not Amherst’s only trained operatic singer, a senior voice recital is a relative rarity in the music department, usually dominated by composition theses. Perhaps it is this very rarity that marked the night with such excitement. Her performance was the culmination of years of training, both in the United States and France.
During the fall of her junior year, Salem ventured across “the pond” to France and trained with Mme. Peggy Bouveret, who Salem cites as having first inspired her “to dare to try this whole ‘singing thing.'” Salem’s sensibilities and style are undeniably colored by French influence and renders her a unique, if somewhat unlikely, diva.
In recalling her experience at a vocal competition in Boston this past February, Salem recounts the competitiveness of the other singers. “There were all these girls with huge hair, too much make-up and huge gowns warming-up and in I walk with spiky red hair, a cape covering me and my backpack (very Au Revoir Les Enfants) and they did not know how to take me,” she said. “I was warming up and the girls would walk by my room, glaring and just being nasty. � I just don’t understand that mentality.”
Salem is unquestionably better for not understanding that mentality and her audience on Saturday benefited from her sensibility, one that, combined with her talent and quiet confidence, will surely carry her to impressive heights.