Malinda Haslett is a soprano with talent but she’s had the stuff to make her relatively small, sometimes fluttery-sounding voice into one that’s so interesting and exciting, it beats out singers with 10 times her natural gift.
On her recital last week on The Artist Series of Sarasota at the Historic Asolo, the soprano demonstrated charm, wit and poise. After a slightly shaky start in the beautiful “Standchen” by Richard Strauss (played with great sensitivity and beauty by Lee Dougherty Ross), Haslett’s versatility and real talents began to shine so that by the time she got to her second group — all in French — she was positively radiant. Of course, it must be said that Haslett seems particularly at home in French repertoire and her beautiful phrasing, insouciant styling and nonchalant ease set just the right tone for the delightful Satie and the exquisite Poulenc.
I usually don’t like combining operatic excerpts with Lieder and art songs on a recital program, but Haslett’s grouping of well-known arias, from Massenet’s “ Manon,” Puccini’s “La Boheme” and Verdi’s “Traviata,” worked well in this instance for three reasons. She sang them well; she had a pianist who sounded like a full orchestra; and she tied them together with an overall concept within the recital, thus making the arias seem like songs that were related to her own, personal story.
The second half of the program began and concluded with sparkling songs by Victor Herbert, which Haslett tossed off with exceptional skill and the kind of warmth that draws an audience onto the stage. In between were songs by Harold Arlen, including a lovingly rendered version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and the endearing cycle, “I Hate Music,” by Leonard Bernstein. These songs, originally written for Jennie Tourel, depict a little girl’s view of the universe — from a look at the planets to the way babies are born (in bottles). Done with even a little bit of “cutesy,” it can be cloying. Haslett played it straight and was all the better for her choice.
In fact, I’d suggest singers study Haslett’s style. Without mannerisms or unnecessary movements, she sells every song. And that’s what it’s all about.