Mulligan fully engaged with the audience, dishing up the macabre patter with focused, burnished tone, crisp diction, and unfettered glee...Opera News
“ON MARCH 14 at Baruch Performing Arts Center, powerhouse baritone Brian Mulligan and the elegant pianist Timothy Long presented two song cycles based on texts by famous diarists: the New York premiere of Walden, Gregory Spears’s setting of excerpts from Thoreau’s solitary reflections during his retreat from the world, and From the Diary of Virginia Woolf, which Dominick Argento wrote for mezzo-soprano Janet Baker and which won the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for Music.
Setting prose is a tricky business. Without metrical or musical signposts, the listener can easily be lost in a relentless sea of meandering verbiage or a wash of forward-moving music intent on getting to the end of the paragraph. Librettists of set pieces in through-composed operas build in repetition and verbal cues, and keep their arias short. Thoreau and Woolf were deep thinkers, wry observers, and lovers of language, but like most diarists, never intended their words to be set to music. Thoreau’s sentences, though effectively punctuated, tend to run on, and Spears chose overlong excerpts. Although he occasionally pulled out dramatic moments, mostly he captured the contemplative prose with a contemporary feel, letting the text spool out, uninflected, over rippling triads in the piano, rendered with soothing wateriness by Long.
Mulligan deserves credit for delivering this cavalcade of words and notes from memory, and he seized on active phrases and rhythmic variations whenever possible. He imbued the words, “I was reminded of the lapse of time” with a cry of pain and regret, and when he sang, “he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours,” he breathed “success” with a fearful hush of wonder, as if uttering the word might make it disappear … The coda, a well-chosen, bite-sized excerpt detailing a parade of possibly imaginary lost animals, was the most compelling. Here, Mulligan effectively traced Thoreau’s longing to capture the ephemeral, and he seemed to find the answer inside himself with a final, quiet, personal “oooh.”
… As often happens in recital, the singer was at his most comfortable in his encore, a nigh-perfect rendition of “The Green-Eyed Dragon” by Wolseley Charles. Mulligan fully engaged with the audience, dishing up the macabre patter with focused, burnished tone, crisp diction, and unfettered glee…”
—Joanne Sydney Lessner, Opera News