Moving indoors after a jolly summer need not be melancholy; falling leaves do not mean lowered expectations.
On the contrary: Returning to the comforts and elegance of Ambassador Auditorium, for the beginning of a 19th season of concerts at the Pasadena showplace, one had to be optimistic. Much is promised, not only at Ambassador, but at most of our roofed-in musical locales, in the months ahead.
The first installment on these pleasures was James Morris’ exemplary performance of an old-fashioned opera-singer’s recital, Sunday afternoon. Accompanied by the self-effacing but reliable Warren Jones--the inoffensive tone emanating from one of the Hamburg Steinways resident in the hall proved either that the instrument is dull or that the pianist is--Morris offered arias by Verdi, Mozart and Handel, and songs by Richard Strauss, Jacques Ibert and John Duke.
The American singer’s celebrated operatic successes--mainly in Wagner, Verdi and Mozart roles--may have obscured the odd fact that he is neither a full-blown basso, profondo or cantante , nor a bona fide dramatic baritone. It hardly matters; whatever label may apply, the 46-year-old singing actor from Baltimore long ago proved his superiority in the vocal arena.
Sunday, he sang a varied program with a consistently handsome tone, musical stylishness and complete technical command of all his resources. Morris does not always make the warmest of sounds, nor does he often communicate directly with his listeners--he is a cool, rather than a gripping, performer--but he does engage his audience most of the time.
He did that best in the operatic excerpts, especially in programmed arias from Verdi’s “Macbeth” (“Come dal ciel precipita”) and “Don Carlo” (“Ella giammai m’amo”) and “I Vespri Siciliani” (“O tu Palermo”), sung as an encore. But he also did it cherishably, with seductive tone and intimate soft-singing, in the four “Don Quichotte” songs of Ibert.
In an afternoon of resonant and well-gauged high notes, admirable text-enunciation and repertorial versatility, the only disappointing group was the Strauss songs, which proved emotionally dry and finickety in details, due at least in part to some willful and strangely lugubrious tempos, resulting in a loss of both apprehendable linear movement and genuine legato singing.
The second and final encore was a medley of tunes from Mitch Leigh’s “Man of La Mancha.”