Voices of women through the centuries 

By Staff Writer Meg Sullivan

Kristen Murdaugh, a vocal pedagogue and performer of opera, oratorio, and art song, and her piano accompanist, Miles Fellenberg, starred in the afternoon concert series Thursday, the 26th. Murdaugh showcased Voices of Women Through the Centuries, singing operatic tunes from female composers and opera singers going all the way from 1098 to present. She is a beautiful opera singer that displayed her talent in a feminist manner. 

Murdaugh started her set in the order of oldest pieces to most modern. Her first piece was the dramatic ballad, De Sancta Maria, Antiphon No. 9 by Hildegard von Bingen, a groundbreaking female composer of the Medieval era. It was a shorter piece that sounded dissonant and with minimal piano accompaniment. Murdaugh unveiled her talent quite nicely with that first number. She was holding a music binder, but that did not distract from expressing a beautiful dark tonality in her classically trained singing voice. 

The next piece is a famous one by Henry Purcell called When I am Laid in Earth, from Dido and Aeneas. This song is expressed in a way where the scene in the opera is the queen had just taken poison, and these are her final words before her death. Murdaugh had theatrical expressions, as if she was portraying this queen, and her vocalizing consisted of nice swells, solid vibrato, and clear diction. Her air could have been more supported on her higher notes, but it also could have been a stylistic choice to go softer on the higher notes. 

Se Florindo e Fedele, from La donna ancora e Fedele by Alessandro Scarlatti came next, which was simply described a female’s perspective from this opera. It was a more upbeat Italian piece which meant very exciting facial and gestural expressions from Murdaugh. For the rest of the concert, she had a music stand set up for reference to her songs, but were mostly memorized. By this piece, I thought her voice was so pretty and pleasing to listen to. 

Another Italian opera lament piece, Priva son d’ogni conforto from Giulio Cesare in Egitto by G.F. Handel was performed with a reflective aura, portraying another female character in this show. This number favored Murdaugh’s talent for telling a story with minimal, but solid acting and crisp words to make the audience understand. As an audience member, I noticed she liked to sway back and forth lightly as a fidget, but it was barely noticeable.  

Of course, the famous W.A. Mozart had to make an appearance at least once in this classical program with his composition of Voi, che sapete, from Le Nozze di Figaro. Interestingly enough, a woman is playing a man in this show, and this pre-pubescent boyhood was portrayed in Murdaugh’s performance with a woe-is-me appearance and purposely giddy. It was a bright and fun piece, famously Mozart’s style, and the upbeat tempo complimented her vocal control 

Escalating into the Romantic Period of music, a Robert Shumann piece came next called Gedichte der Konigin Maria Stuart, Op. 135 with movements Abschied von Frankreich and An die Konigin Elisabeth. Murdaugh claimed that German is her second language, and singing in German was her favorite language to sing in. These songs were a very intimate expression of a woman refugee story that created a dark and intense piece. I personally wish Murdaugh gave the higher notes some more oomph, but overall, she sounded great in this piece. 

If you aren’t much of an opera fan, you still must have heard of the opera Carmen. Murdaugh’s next piece was Pres des remparts de Seville by Georges Bizet. Carmen is a very fierce woman in this show, and it greatly showed in Murdaugh’s portrayal of her. It was another short piece, but it was cute and flirtatious; a very confident woman with some real sass. Murdaugh’s story telling abilities were greatly complimented once again in this piece. 

The rest of Murdaugh’s set delved into more modern artists of the twentieth century with pieces from Lili Boulanger, Edward Elgar, Dominick Argento, Ned Rorem, and Liz Peterson. Several of these pieces delved into the expression of anxiety through poetic lyrics, romantic love songs directed to a partner, and marital fighting in He Says and She Says. Murdaugh had a really solid set list coming into CVPA 153, and showed real operatic talent. Fellenberg was also a fantastic accompanist, and the two had great chemistry together.  


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