We went to hear Heidi Melton. What were you doing?

Heidi Melton. Photo by Kristin Hoebermann, source Columbia Artists Management Inc.

Where was everybody? I was half expecting Heidi Melton's recital at Old First Church to sell out or come close to it, so imagine my surprise to find a very thin crowd on hand for an opportunity to see and hear a singer destined to become one of the leading performers of the German operatic repertoire. Melton's already landing leading roles in major houses in Europe, debuted at the Met and will sing Sieglinde here in June during SFO's Ring cycle. She gave many memorable performances during her time here an Adler Fellow including an especially impressive Schwabacher Debut Recital and last minute replacement for Patricia Racette in Verdi's Requiem. So why were there less than 100 people there? Beats me, but they missed a fantastic performance.

Accompanied by John Parr (Head of San Francisco Opera's Music Staff) on piano, Melton started off with Samuel Barber's Three Songs, Op. 45 and each word was sung with beautiful clarity. She then moved on to Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder, written while he was composing Die Walkure. The songs are set to poems by Mathilde Wesendonck and Melton said she sees this cycle differently than she has in the past, now believing the poems are about the composer. Her interpretation was flawless.

After the intermission she sang seven early songs by Berg, again brilliantly, with "Traumgekront" being especially moving. Next were four Strauss songs. Hearing her sing Berg and Strauss made me want to see her as the Marschallin, which as it turns out she's going to be singing in Europe sometime in the next year. As she sang "Und Klagelaut die luft erfullt, Adonis, Adonis" at the end of "Frulingsfeier (Spring Celebration)"  her voice became a physical presence which I could feel move through my body as I sat in the third row pew. Melton's voice is a huge, powerful force that feels like a lush warm wind blowing through a room. She looks like she's never forcing anything, and gives the appearance that it's completely effortless. As I told her after the show, she's fantastic.

There were two encores, the first was Weill's "My Ship" which was very tenderly sung. I don't know what the last piece was. Among the few others in the audience were Patrick and Axel, who was espied seated dead center in the first row of the balcony. They both declined our invitations for post performance drinks and conversation, so Penelope and I made our own way into the warm fog of a summer evening to figure out the meaning of life. Or something like that.