If one needs to have been in love to truly sing about it, then Daniil Shtoda must have fallen quite a few times. The young Russian tenor put on a heartfelt concert of music from his homeland as a grand finale to Cornell’s Stravinksy Project — a successful, interdepartmental series of lectures and exhibitions as homage to the great 20th-century composer. In this concert, ironically, Stravinsky was not one of the eight composers whose music Shtoda performed. Instead, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff were mostly highlighted. Surely his performance was purposefully designed to be completely Russian, as part of the festival, but a little more variety in the repertoire would have been enjoyable. Of the many songs, three themes persisted — nature, death, and, of course, love. He sang of love unrequited, sometimes lost, and other times blossoming. Noticeably, the context in which love was expressed was often through lyrics about nature. The elements were often central themes, with lyrics like, “a lake’s blue chasm,” “the river blazes like fire,” and “the whole earth damp and dark.” Every season was at some point made the focus, and “the heart” got more than its share of mention.
Like a dream, the concert began with Nimfa (The Nymph) — a spellbinding piece about the enchantment of these mythological maidens. The gentle lull of the piano preceded the tenor’s sincere singing. Shtoda’s voice floated atop a current of major and minor key fluctuations, capturing the audience in reverie. It was a cavatina from The Snow Maiden, obviously a favorite from his early days with the Kirov Opera.
The mood changed little with the introduction of a set of eight works by Tchaikovsky. The first was sung with strength and clearly demonstrated his control of dynamics. Other somber ballads had him singing of loneliness — intense and sorrowful. In Strashnaja Minuta (That Fearful Moment) Shtoda sang as if he were truly waiting for love, or otherwise awaiting death. Perhaps due to the intensity of the music, he didn’t let loose until Lensky’s aria from Eugene Onegin. As he became more animated, so did accompanist Larissa Gergieva. Her long piano postlude, at the end of the next piece, was exceptional, as was most of her playing. Occasionally, though, she played so fervently as to overbalance the soloist. State Theatre has a great deal of space to fill, but for the most part, Shtoda did so effortlessly, especially when finishing some songs with a long, luxurious high note, like at the close of the first half in the exciting Ispanskaya Pyensya (Spanish Song). That was one of two passionate works by Balakirev.
Returning from intermission, Shtoda was much more relaxed. He sung higher in his range throughout yet another collection of short, sweet ballads, this time by Sergei Rachmaninoff. In his more comfortable state, the tenor very successfully purveyed the emotion of the music. After Ostrovok (The Isle), in which the flow of surrounding ocean waves could seemingly be heard, there came a song of fear and uneasiness, followed by one of peace and delight. Later in the program, Shtoda was at his best. With his sound, he truly pleaded, “Ne poy, krasavitsa (Sing not to me, fair maiden)” and reached out to listeners, both physically and vocally. Perhaps it’s that anyone who has been in several operas is adept at acting, or maybe he was truly enveloped by the music.
Toward the end of the concert, things came alive with works by several other Russian composers. Machavariani’s was appropriately performed following the Rachmaninoff set, seeing as it was particularly remnant of Rachmaninoff’s sound. Perhaps the best selection of the half was a piece by Moskvin, Ja Vstretil Vas (I Met You), but Shtoda would not end on such a solemn note. He formally ended the concert with an energetic race to the finish, Troika. The crowd graciously extended their thanks and managed to elicit an encore out of what must have been a rather exhausted Shtoda. In light of that, he returned to melancholy, building evenly, over the span of the piece, with vigor and intensity. Finally, in a double encore presentation, he let it all out. The aria showed that the tenor had saved his best for last, as he ended on a magnificent crescendo up to his highest note in the concert.
Throughout, Shtoda’s musicianship more than compensated for the rare pitch troubles he encountered. His choice in music was sometimes gloomy, but never lifeless. Few singers might venture so incessantly into the realm of love, as Daniil Shtoda did, but with the dainty days of Spring nearly upon us, why not help oneself to such splendid renditions of the perils and pleasures to come.
Archived article by Jonathon Hampton