Celebrated mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges, known for her “calmly commanding stage presence” (The New Yorker) and “rich, dark, exciting sound” (Opera News), will launch the 2023 Great Artists Series at Washington University in St. Louis with a performance Jan. 29.
The intimate recital will span classic lieder by Johannes Brahms, beloved song cycles by Maurice Ravel and Manuel de Falla, and a rare gem by St. Louis-born composer John Carter.
The program will open with Brahms’ “Dein blaues Auge (Your Blue Eyes)” (1870-1873), a tumultuous plea for romantic restoration. Next will be Brahms’ “Die Mainacht (May Night)” (1857–1864), which paints a scene of enchanted moonlight, followed by “Von ewiger Liebe (Of Eternal Love)” (1857), which grapples with true love’s strength and insecurities.
The performance will continue with Ravel’s “Shéhérazade” (1903), a three-song cycle inspired by the heroine and narrator of “The Arabian Nights,” the influential collection of Middle Eastern folk tales first translated into French in the early 18th century. Next will be de Falla’s “Siete canciones populares españolas” (1914-15), a resetting of seven traditional Spanish folk songs.
Concluding the evening will be Carter’s “Cantata for voice and piano” (1964). Born in St. Louis in 1932, Carter was raised in Tallahassee, Fla., where he learned piano from his father and, at age 15, began studying with Johnnie V. Lee at Florida A&M University. In 1954, Carter left the Oberlin Conservatory of Music to join the U.S. Army, just one semester before earning his degree in piano and composition. He later served as artist-in-residence with the Washington National Symphony and taught at Federal City College (now the University of the District of Columbia).
The Jan. 29 program will highlight “Cantata for voice and piano” (1964), Carter’s most famous work, and the only one published during his lifetime. It comprises five movements, a prelude followed by four sections based on African American spirituals: “Rondo (Peter Go Ring Dem Bells),” “Recitative (Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child),” “Air (Let Us Break Bread Together)” and “Toccata (Ride on King Jesus).” Notably, an earlier version premiered in 1959, in a performance by opera legend, and Carter’s good friend, Leontyne Price. It debuted at Carnegie Hall in 1981, just a few months before Carter’s death, at age 49.
Tickets and related events
Sponsored by the Department of Music in Arts & Sciences, the performance will begin at 7 p.m. in WashU’s E. Desmond Lee Concert Hall. Tickets are $40, or $32 for WashU faculty and staff, and $15 for students and children. The E. Desmond Lee Concert Hall is located in the 560 Music Center, 560 Trinity Ave., at the intersection with Delmar Boulevard. Tickets are available through the Edison Theatre Box Office, 314-935-6543, or at edison.wustl.edu.
In addition, on Friday, Jan. 27, the music department and WashU’s Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity & Equity (CRE2) will host an evening of conversation and cocktails with Bridges in the 560 Music Center’s Pillsbury Theatre. The free event will begin at 5 p.m. For more information, visit music.wustl.edu.
About J’Nai Bridges
Praised as “a rising star” (Los Angeles Times) and “plush-voiced mezzo-soprano” (New York Times), Bridges has graced many of the world’s top opera and concert stages. Recent highlights include appearances with the Washington National Opera, the National Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the San Francisco Symphony.
In 2019, Bridges made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Nefertiti in Philip Glass’ “Akhnaten,” a production that won the 2022 Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording. Bridges also was featured in Richard Danielpour’s oratorio “The Passion of Yeshua” with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, which won the 2021 Grammy for Best Choral Performance. Other recent highlights include a sold-out Carnegie Hall Recital debut; the role of Kasturbai in Glass’ “Satyagraha” at LA Opera; and debuts at the Dutch National Opera and the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona.
Accompanying Bridges will be pianist Mark Markham.
Read their full bios here.
About the Great Artists Series
The Great Artists Series hosts intimate recitals with some of the brightest stars on the contemporary concert stage. Following Bridges, the 2023 series will continue March 4 with England’s legendary Academy of St Martin in the Fields, joined by cellist Gary Hoffman. Celebrated pianist Emanuel Ax will perform March 26. Virtuoso violinist Augustin Hadelich will conclude the series April 16.