As a student of music and a fan of the works of Samuel Barber, the literature of James Agee, and the voice of Jami Rogers, I could not have been more appalled at Alan Sherrod’s words on the performance of Knoxville: Summer of 1915 after its performance on the KSO opening program. [“A Welcome Exhibition,” Classical Music, Oct. 1, 2009]
Sherrod claimed that Rogers’ performance became an unintelligible muddle. He noted her “luscious tone,” but claimed that her diction prevented him from understanding a word. Granted, I know the text and the score backwards and forwards—still, I find Mr. Sherrod’s words blaming the wrong person. Of particular note is that the theater was built to show movies and not to acoustically carry the voices of trained singers. But the greatest blame for any “unintelligible muddle” goes to the conductor. Lucas Richman has little if any regard to achieving a blend with vocalists and the orchestra. I personally have been a part of the chorus for works by Ravel, Berlioz, Beethoven, and Rodgers and Hammerstein under his direction. In all instances, I and the rest of the chorus felt as if we might as well have been in another room. He was certainly not helping Mrs. Rogers at all. It seems that he doesn’t understand that the human voice is vastly different than the instruments of the orchestra—there is only so much a vocalist can do to produce tone whereas a single trumpet can ring over a mass choir.
I was further appalled that Mrs. Rogers was not given a standing ovation for her work (with the exception of myself and a friend who was with me that evening—we stood and applauded the angel while everyone else remained in their seats). When the audience immediately rose to an ovation for Bill Williams (who, granted, reminds me of my grandfather and is a talented newsman in every right) I could not understand why they would be so taken by someone who read words from a page into a microphone but not someone who had accomplished so much in the mystical realm of singing just moments before.
Mrs. Rogers’ performance was incredible, and would have been all the more incredible had Lucas Richman been collaborating and not simply conducting.