I've been acquainted with mezzo-soprano Yumi Thomas for some time now but before tonight I've never had the opportunity to hear her perform. Tonight's performance at the intimate Red Poppy Art House in the Mission was a terrific way to experience hearing her for the first time, as she essentially turned the room into a gathering of friends old and new, charming everyone present with her warm and open presence.
Announcing the evening was going to feature only songs about "evenings" and the love frequently found, lost and expressed during the darkened hours of night (I'm wildly paraphrasing here), she began with two Mozart songs, before moving on to three of the five poems by Baudelaire set to music by Debussy. Thomas read translations of the poems beforehand, commenting on their passion and letting the audience know why she's interested in these particular, infrequently performed songs.
Thomas then sang three Monrovian folk songs by Janacek, and this was the point where her deeply alluring mezzo really grabbed hold of me and didn't let go. There's something in her voice I can only describe as smoky, which I know is an odd adjective to use for an opera/lieder singer but there you have it. She reminds me of a chanteuse. Perhaps it was the red dress and the lighting, perhaps the feeling in the room. It's probably because she sings with a minimum of vibrato, just emitting one clean notes after another. Nice. The English translations of the Janacek songs names are "Constancy," "What is that Sound," and "Little Posy." These were simply beautiful and especially nice to hear since Janacek is on the mind of many people because of The Makropulos Case over at San Francisco Opera has been reminding us how fantastic a composer he was.
She then sang a Sephardic lament in Ladino (yes, you can start counting the languages now- this was the fourth), which was again perfectly suited to her voice, filling the room with a deeply personal interpretation that quite moving, as were the final four songs by Rachmaninoff (Russian being the fifth language she sang during the performance- and very well I might add). There was no encore, though the audience would have liked one.
She recently began splitting her time between the Bay Area and New York- keep an eye out and go hear her the next time she has a performance scheduled. I'll list future performances on the Coming Up page as I learn of them.