CELENA SHAFER, SOPRANO, Libby Gardner Concert Hall, University of Utah, Tuesday.
In the years since soprano Celena Shafer graduated from the University of Utah, she has sung locally on numerous occasions. Audiences have had the opportunity of enjoying her crystalline voice in roles at the Utah Opera and with the Utah Symphony. But she had yet to give a major recital here.
That changed Tuesday, when Shafer returned to the U. and performed a program that showed her remarkable vocal talents and amazing versatility.
Shafer's Salt Lake recital debut was a triumph by any standard. She dazzled the near-capacity audience in Libby Gardner Concert Hall with her sparkling stage presence and vocal pyrotechnics and mesmerized them with a well-chosen program that underscored her artistry.
It's not too frequent that a talent such as hers graces the city's stages, so those in attendance Tuesday should consider themselves fortunate.
Shafer possesses a powerful voice — at times the hall seemed too small to contain it — yet it is also remarkably lyrical, fluid and delightfully intimate. A dynamic performer, Shafer brings a wealth of emotions and expressions to her singing.
And she obviously savored performing for a hometown crowd. After her first selection, she thanked the audience for their support over the years, saying, "I wouldn't be up here if not for you out there," and adding that the concert "comes to you from my heart."
Shafer opened her recital with "Biancheggia in mar lo scoglio," from Mozart's early "Il Sogno di Scipione." She polished off the long, florid coloratura lines of the aria with ease, her voice fairly floating out over the hall.
There were two other arias from early Mozart operas interspersed throughout the program. Shafer also sang "Tu sai per chi m'accese" from "Mitridate, Re di Ponto," and "Ah se il crudel periglio" from "Lucio Silla." The three are showcase arias, and in each instance the young soprano exhibited an extraordinary naturalness in the vocal fireworks.
Changing mood and tempo drastically from these, Shafer sang Roger Quilter's "Four Child Songs," op. 5, capturing the charming innocence of each with simple elegance.
Arnold Schoenberg's "Vier Lieder," op. 2, rounded out the first half. Written before the composer rejected tonality, these are intensely expressive and lushly late romantic songs. Shafer gave beautifully defined readings that were filled with passion and feeling.
Claude Debussy's "Ariettes oubliees" began the second half. Shafer brought a languid sensuality to these captivating songs with her luminous singing.
Shafer ended the evening with three songs by George Gershwin ("Blah, Blah, Blah," "By Strauss!" and "Someone to Watch Over Me"), and an encore — a heartfelt rendition of "Simple Song" from Leonard Bernstein's Mass.
U. faculty member Jeffrey Price, an exceptional pianist, accompanied Shafer. Price complemented Shafer's singing with his sensitive and insightful accompaniment.