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Keeping score limits young soprano's impact

September 24, 2003|Chris Pasles | Times Staff Writer

Ana Maria Martinez was a 1995 winner in the Placido Domingo International Voice Competition, Operalia II, and her career has had a steady rise since then. She won a 2001 Latin Grammy Award for the premiere recording of Albeniz's opera "Merlin" (opposite Domingo) and landed a lead role in the Houston Opera 2001 revival and subsequent recording of Daniel Catan's "Florencia en el Amazonas," presented by L.A. Opera in 1996.

Catan was in the audience Monday at the Cerritos Center to applaud warmly after Martinez sang "Donde estas Cristobal?" from "Florencia" in a six-part recital. That's a potent endorsement, but not everyone in the audience was so happy with her singing.

She has a lovely, lyric and dark-toned soprano, but it was prone to a wide vibrato. And at this point, her dramatic gifts appear limited.

That might come from being text-bound. Martinez sang half the recital -- the Catan piece, a set of three Schubert lieder and Rodrigo's "Cuatro Madrigales Amatorios" -- from score, although she had memorized four songs by Mozart, two of four songs by Faure, and Falla's "Siete canciones populares Espanolas."

Since Schubert's "Die Forelle," "An die Musik" and "Gretchen am Spinnrade" are some of the most well-known and beloved songs in the literature, this reliance on the scores was most disconcerting. A sameness of interpretation set in, whereas Martinez showed greater freedom of characterization when she was off book. She was best in Falla's seven popular songs.

Like many young artists, Martinez was rather correct and formal in the recital and much freer in her encores -- a sexy song from a Chapi zarzuela and a popular song from her native Puerto Rico. It would make a great difference if she would bring such vivid characterization to her concert singing.

Pianist Jennifer Bowman was the too-self-effacing accompanist.

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