Wednesday, July 2, 1997
Matassa and Weill: musical chameleons
by Misha Berson, Seattle Times theater critic
Last evening the International Music Festival of Seattle departed from its regular fare of Vivaldi and Beethoven, Handel and Stravinsky to offer a tour through the songs of composer Kurt Weill, with versatile Seattle singer Greta Matassa as guide. Held at the Seattle Art Museum in the After Work series, the satisfying concert drew a nearly full house.
Weill was a musical chameleon, so any holistic tribute to him would rightly include songs from his fruitful Berlin partnership with playwright Bertolt Brecht, his operatic works and the musical comedies he scored for Broadway.
Matassas program bypassed the opera, but smoothly cruised Weills greatest hits from Berlin and Broadway. Keeping patter to the minimum, the black-clad singer got right down to business and stayed there.
Known primarily as a jazz vocalist, Matassa did not adopt the world-weary, Weimar Cabaret-style delivery of Weill interpreters such as Ute Lemper and Marianne Faithfull. Nor did she put a show-biz varnish on the material, as some popular Weill revues have. And she elected not to swing and scat the smoky, sinuous melodies, though equipped to.
Instead, with support from pianist Joe Baque, Matassa steers a comfortable middle course, dispatching Mack the Knife, Speak Low, September Song and nine other numbers with winning clarity, zest and conviction.
A vocal chameleon herself, Matassa can sound husky or crisp, ebullient or wailing, girlish or jaded. She recalls Billie Holiday in one phrase, Cleo Laine in the next. Breathy at the top of her range, she also packs a warbling vibrato.
Somehow Matassa binds these disparate elements skillfully. Apart from the trace of a German accent adopted for a lusty Alabama Song, her renditions of the masterful Brecht-Weill songsespecially Surabaya Johnny, The Solomon Song, and Tango Balladcame through with acidic bite intact, and little affectation.
Moving on to Weills Broadway years, Matassa issued a tender My Ship, clarifying every word of the lavish Ira Gershwin lyric. Weill-Gershwins Ballad of Jenny" and Im a Stranger Here Myself (lyrics by Ogden Nash) came out smart and sassy, with a touch of roadhouse growl. And her caressing way with the more obscure This is New almost made up for the exclusion of Thats Him.
Matassa may not be the first singer one thinks of in connection with Weills music, but shes got it covered. And last nights program certainly bears repeating.
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