Baritone Jubilant Sykes defied categorization Monday at Ambassador Auditorium, wending his way through a short program that offered only snippets of both the serious repertory and lighter weight material.
What the Gold Medal recitalist made abundantly clear, however, is that singing, for him, is acting--not producing beautiful tones for their own sonic sake. Nor did he seem bound to tradition in how he handled his various assignments.
The voice itself, mid-sized and capable of being pushed and pulled to fit all sorts of challenges, was, on command, resonant and full in the lower register, but tended toward breathiness at higher range--almost without any attempt to be otherwise.
A purist Sykes is not.
In the opening Baroque group, for instance, he seemed not only unfazed by his all too apparent hoarseness, but used the condition--along with an Italianate cry and extreme word pointing--to create characterization, while an aria from Handel's "Joshua" luxuriated in rolled r's and plangent tones.
But if his metier remains indistinct what attracts him is clearly drama. Thus the Schubert offerings were remarkable: His utterance, as Death's voice, of the phrase starting with "schlafen" in "Der Tod und das Madchen" was chilling. And for Wolf's "Mausfallenspruchlein," he actually squealed like a mouse.
Even throughout the postludes he indicated physical interpretations. Every note, every rest bore his imprint and delivered the music, along with Armen Guzelimian's expert accompaniments, to his capacity audience.
The program's second half--Ives and other moderns--showed Sykes as the cabaret or small-club singer. High head tones and husky Sprechgesang were his specialty. The question is: Where does he go from here?