On Saturday, September 30th, I had the thrill of seeing a true opera superstar at the Auditorium, here in Chicago. The five-time Grammy Award winner, Kathleen Battle has sung all of the great Operas and reigned supreme at the Metropolitan Opera House, in the 80’s and early 90’s. Reviewers have long rhapsodized about the quality of her voice. One of opera’s premier lyric and coloratura sopranos, the Washington Post said of Battle “…without qualification, one of the very few most beautiful in the world”; from The New York Times “cream from a miraculous, bottomless pitcher”.
Singing “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra
Her current tour is called Kathleen Battle – Underground Railroad: A Spiritual Journey While not an opera program, per se, Battle’s training and background come through. Presented recital style with only a single piano for accompaniment and backed by a 30 voice chorus including The Chicago Freedom Singers. The show also incorporates the Reverend Dr. Otis Moss III and Jackie Taylor as Narrators who educate the audience about the history of the Underground Railroad. There are quotes from Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, who both used the Underground Railroad to escape to their own freedom and in the case of Tubman, she then helped many other slaves find freedom through the Underground Railroad.
Kathleen Battle’s stage presence was amazing and her voice as beautiful and pure as ever it was, considering she is now in her late 60’s, that’s impressive. She also showed great generosity in giving showcasing solos to several of the other singers. The repertoire contained such well known gems as “Swing Low Sweet Chariot”, “All Night, All Day” and “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah (Come Out the Wilderness)”. The presentation was interesting and uplifting, leaving one with the sense of not only having enjoyed an evening of beautiful and unique music, but of also having learned a great deal.
I for one, look forward to future concerts presented by Ms. Battle and having the opportunity to enjoy her beautiful voice once again.
We’ve had a great time covering Iceland Airwaves and discovering and reporting on Icelandic culture. Here’s an Icelandic cultural interview culled from our time there. Be sure to stay tuned for our final radio documentary, which will air on WCRX-FM 88.1. Visit our Iceland Airwaves blog to read/hear more from our time in Iceland.
Check out my story on Viking culture and the presence it has in today’s Icelandic culture. I interviewed Sverrir Jakobsson a midieval history professor at the University of Iceland and Jon Pall Bjornsson a historian from the Viking settlement exhibit in Reykjavík.
We’re less than three weeks away from the start of Iceland Airwaves 2012, which brings artists from several musical backgrounds in one place to share and perform their work. Historically, Iceland’s music was known for their poems mixed with melodic tone. Dr. Kristín Jónína Taylor is the Associate Professor of Music in Piano at Waldorf College and a renowned Iceland-American pianist. She says early on there were two styles.
These two early styles were all Iceland had for centuries. Looked down upon as a third world country by the Danish crown, the isolation Iceland received kept the music from developing further.
The fact that Iceland was on a musical lockdown for five centuries makes it hard to believe that over the last 90 years this country has established itself within the world music market, with bands like Sigur Rós and Of Monsters and Men hailing from Iceland. Dr. Taylor says the country’s culture accelerated greatly after the formation of a republic in 1944.
The different directions that these Icelandic artists go help make Icelandic music diverse and Iceland Airwaves Music Festival so unique. They study the world, learning music from all sorts of cultures and then bring it back home for the rest of their country to enjoy.