While in Seattle last summer for the last go-round of their latest "Ring," I wasn't the only critic who nurtured fond memories of the cycle many of us had heard in 1987. And particularly the Bruennhilde, Salt Lake soprano Linda Kelm.
"Where has she been?" one of my colleagues asked. And I really couldn't tell him. After being bumped from the 1991 cycle, she seemed to disappear from view, popping up with decreasing frequency locally and, as far as I could determine, internationally.Well, Saturday she returned, this time under the auspices of the Salt Lake Masonic Temple, to present a benefit recital for the International Order of Job's Daughters. And, I am pleased to report, it is still a voice of authentic Wagnerian brilliance and heft, capable of filling even this room with sound, if not a full complement of listeners.
But as she admitted at the outset, right now it appears to be a voice "in flux. Or as she added with remarkable candor, "We may not get all the high notes, but we'll do what we can."
Thus we were denied the climactic ascent of her opening aria, "Dich, teure Halle" from Wagner's "Tannhaueser," along with the kind of evenness and security of pitch that made her Seattle Bruennhilde so exciting. Even more surprisingly, pianist Alexander Coburn was able to do what the Seattle Opera orchestra hadn't, namely drown her out on occasion.
Things were better after that, beginning with two Brahms songs, "Wie Melodien zieht es mir" and "Von ewiger Liebe." It still seems to me a biggish voice for Lieder, but that was not a problem in the latter, with its mounting power and brilliance (a thrilling climax as the maiden vows undying love), even if she did tend to hit a couple of notes from the side.
It also seems more suited to Salome than the Marschallin, which cost her two Strauss songs ("Allerseelen" and "Zueignung") something in ravishment. Nonetheless Coburn's accompaniments were more agreeably scaled and Kelm's Traubel-like underlining of "habe Dank" (in "Zueignung") was not to be denied.
Nor was the dramatic power of her "Erlkoenig," a Valkyrie-like projection of the Schubert song whose starkness and terror were unforgettable. Whether father, son or the Erlking himself, each was vividly acted and sung, the voice gleaming like burnished steel, even in the coldly spoken declaration of death at the end.
After intermission came a French set, not without some roughness in Gounod's "Venise" (though Coburn did well by the barcarolle-like accompaniment) or Franck's "Nocturne" (arguably the genesis of "Psyche"). Still, one admired Kelm's canny use of her chest register in evoking the wintry darkness of "Heure Vecue" (Massenet) as well as the Flagstad-like strength she brought to the repeated invocations of "Divinites du Styx" from Gluck's "Alceste."
Similarly both weaknesses and strengths were present in the Beethoven concert aria "Ah, Perfido," from the dramatically riveting recitative (in which the anguish seemed torn from her innards) to the less firmly sustained aria proper.
Encores ranged from "Clouds" to "Danny Boy," each affectionately sung, to a broadly comic "Lime Jello, Marshmallow, Cottage Cheese Surprise." For this the soprano donned a flowered hat and garden-club manner. But I kept thinking how real the strengths still are and, if the "flux" can be ironed out, how much we need her out there. Because at this point there still aren't that many Valkyries' rocks in Utah.