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MUSIC REVIEW : Mezzo Horne in UCLA Recital

December 05, 1987|DONNA PERLMUTTER

If she wanted to, Marilyn Horne could probably reduce her stage persona to a single specialty: the heavily ornamented music of the 18th Century. Chances are that no other coloratura mezzo can offer the whole battery of bel-canto feats, and to such dazzling effect, as she.

But Horne is also an artist. Apparently she's not content with glittery vocal acrobatics, despite her virtuosity. Apparently she does not choose to turn away from the wealth of literature that the art-song embodies. And, from a practical point of view, she already is type-cast on the opera stage, singing the florid antiques that companies exhume one after another.

So her recital Thursday at Royce Hall, UCLA, permitted only one short and one extended item celebrating the coloratura terrain. All together, Horne's generous program was a connoisseur's delight--covering vocal history from the pre-Baroque period to the lieder of Beethoven and Wolf to the 20th-Century Catalan-styled songs of Xavier Montsalvatge.

The format was familiar, different selections notwithstanding. As he has for 21 years, Martin Katz accompanied--superbly.

Since her appearance last year, Horne has become a blond and gained back much of the weight she had shed. Also, her manner seemed more businesslike and detached than in Pasadena. Basically, however, the vocal apparatus remains the same, give or take some exaggerated reediness at the opening of her recital.

The Horne sound has always been unmistakable, and reediness is part of it, along with dark, growly chest tones that she often chooses to emphasize. Hers is not a voluptuous voice--rather, it's like a machine she can deploy with dead-target aim.

These traits describe her way with the opening group of early Italian esoterica. And even the Beethoven songs, which followed, went without a sense of cantabile, although there was much interpretive depth to admire.

But, by the time Horne confronted the Wolf lieder, she was ready to let the voice turn lighter, more lyric, lilting and lovely--as in "Auf einer Wanderung." Here was the evening's first gorgeous singing. And she did dramatic justice as well, surveying the contrasting moods that ranged from innocent reverie to full-scale desolation.

For fioritura fanciers, the singer chose, from Rossini's cantata, "Giovanna d'Arco," the big aria, "O, mia madre"--complete with recitatives and cabalettas. She let out the big guns: rippling roulades and chiseled trills, all issued on an impressive dynamic scale controlled to the micro-decibel.

For contrast she turned to the sensual-to-volatile expression of the West Indies, courtesy of Montsalvatge's "Cinco canciones negras" and powerfully hurled the bitter "Yes" at the end of the first song as though from spontaneous impulse. Three hard-won encores brought the justifiably ecstatic audience to its feet.

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