Here at NPR Music, we don’t impose an awful lot of limits when it comes to hosting musicians and their instruments behind (and occasionally on top of) Bob Boilen’s desk. We’ve shoehorned in concert organs and 11-piece go-go bands, and hosted harp players, pipa virtuosos and jazz brass combos, but never opera singers — until now.
Soprano Joyce El-Khoury and tenor Brian Jagde are young, fresh-faced opera singers at the dawn of promising careers. El-Khoury has already appeared at New York’s Metropolitan Opera, while Jagde has sung roles in smaller houses here and in Europe.
When they agreed to bring a little Puccini to the NPR Music offices, El-Khoury and Jagde were both singing at the Castleton Festival, a three-week summertime music showcase and training ground for young musicians. It’s run by the venerable conductor Lorin Maazel and set on his massive estate in the rolling hills of Rappahannock County, Va., about an hour’s drive south of Washington, D.C. Miloš Repickný joined the two singers at our trusty electric piano.
The festival has been strong on Puccini, thanks partly to El-Khoury, whom I saw sing brilliantly in Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi two seasons ago. For this Tiny Desk performance, she reprises her role of Lauretta in the latter opera by singing the hit aria “O mio babbino caro,” in which she pleads with her father to let her marry her boyfriend. Listen for El-Khoury’s immaculate control of dynamics. Her soft, pianissimo notes are silvery and well-supported by the breath.
Jagde steps up next for a number from Puccini’s Tosca — the opening tenor aria, “Recondita armonia” — in which he muses about Tosca, his “dark-eyed mistress.” It takes a lot of work to sing it right, and Jagde produces the requisite drama and decibels.
The two hard-working singers close with the deliciously romantic duet which closes act one of Puccini’s La Bohème. “We’ve just fallen in love,” Jagde notes. “It happens really quickly in the opera.” As their two powerful, love-struck voices intertwine, the sounds of Puccini reverberate off the walls of the entire fifth floor — a good day in the office.
- Puccini: “O mio babbino caro” (from Gianni Schicchi)
- Puccini:” Recondita armonia” (from Tosca)
- Puccini: “O soave fanciulla” (from La Bohème)
- Joyce El-Khoury, soprano
- Brian Jagde, tenor
- Miloš Repický, piano
Producer: Tom Huizenga; Editor: Michael Katzif; Videographers: Michael Katzif and Tucker Walsh; Audio Engineer: Kevin Wait; photo by Emily Bogle/NPR