Lady of the Lake Album Acclaim

Tiina Kiik, The Whole Note

Whole Note Magazine (Vol. 23, No. 1, September 2017):

Canadian soprano Maureen Batt performs with clear diction and memorable musical nuances in this fascinating release of two contrasting song cycle versions of Sir Walter Scott’s 19th-century epic poem Lady of the Lake.

Franz Schubert’s song cycle is rooted in the familiar German Romantic style. Mostly scored for voice and piano, it is a treat to listen to the complete version here. The Halifax Camerata Singers conducted by Jeff Joudrey with pianist Lynette Wahlstrom create luscious harmonies in a tight ensemble performance of Coronach, Op. 52, No. 4, while the TTBB version of Bootgesang Op.52, No.3 is rollicking. Bass-baritone Jon-Paul Décosse sings with colour, while Batt’s soaring rendition of the original German- language version of the familiar Ave Maria is great. Pianist Simon Docking supports the voices with rhythmic drive and melodic excitement.

Canadian composer Fiona Ryan writes in the liner notes that she composed her Lady of the Lake in a more operatic/theatrical fashion. The folk-song flavoured A Warrior’s Farewell features a perfect rendition and closing a capella section by Décosse. The three recurring Battle Cries sections are driven by dramatic sung lines, spoken word sections, bent pitches and driving contrapuntal piano writing. The highlight is the more new-music flavoured closing Reconciliation/Mémoire. Batt and Décosse sing the dramatic tricky vocal lines with precision and emotion.

Both Lady of the Lake cycles are well composed and held together by Batt’s shining voice.

Frédéric Cardin, Ici Musique

Le talent vocal canadien est tel qu’on a du mal à connaître tous les artistes de qualité qui émergent en ce moment sur la scène lyrique nationale. Faisons donc ici un peu de rattrapage et parlons de la soprano Maureen Batt et de la basse Jon-Paul Décosse, qui viennent de sortir l’album Lady of the Lake, sur lequel ils chantent Schubert ainsi qu’une jeune compositrice canadienne, à découvrir absolument, Fiona Ryan.

Maureen Batt a une voix riche avec des assises solides dans les graves, ce qui la rapproche du registre mezzo. Elle est également dotée d’aigus lumineux.

C’est dans la musique de la jeune Canadienne Fiona Ryan, originaire de Halifax, que l’instrument de Maureen Batt exprime toute sa beauté.

La musique de Fiona Ryan est agréablement mélodique et drapée de mystère, enveloppée dans une aura aux couleurs vaguement celtiques, principalement dans le cycle Lady of the Lake, qui donne son titre à l’album.

Jon-Paul Décosse possède une basse profonde impressionnante et d’une amplitude imposante. Lui aussi chante du Schubert (un alerte mais viril Normans Gesang D 846, entre autres) et quelques pièces de Ryan (le particulièrement touchant The Prisoner’s Lament).

La nouvelle maison de disques Leaf Music cherche à diriger les projecteurs vers les artistes originaires des provinces maritimes. C’est chose faite ici, et avec succès. Les artistes (Décosse et Batt, mais aussi Simon Docking au piano et les Halifax Camerata Singers, présents pour deux pièces chorales de Schubert) feront maintenant partie de mes références, et Fiona Ryan a durablement attiré mon attention en tant que compositrice canadienne à surveiller en nouvelle musique.

John Gilks, Opera Ramblings

This is an interesting CD. It couples the rather rarely performed Schubert cycle to texts by Sir Walter Scott with a new Fiona Ryan cycle on the same theme. The reason the Schubert is a bit of a rarity is that, besides high and low voice and piano, one number requires a female chorus and another a TTBB quartet. In fact here those two pieces were recorded separately in different locations but I don’t think it’s apparent listening to the disc. The Schubert also includes the well known Ave Maria, the sixth song in the cycle, given here in the German originally used by Schubert rather than the Latin version usually heard. It’s a very decent performance. Maureen Batt is the soprano (and the evil genius behind the whole enterprise). Her voice is light and clear and her diction is excellent. Even a piece like the Ave Maria sounds fresh. Jon-Paul Décosse is the baritone. It’s a firm, confident voice, again with every word clearly audible. Simon Docking provides excellent accompaniment. The Bootgesang is performed by Leander Mendoza and Justin Simard; tenors with Robert O’Quinn and James Levesque; baritones, again with Docking at the piano. This might be the most fun piece of the cycle. For the elegiac Coronach we get The Halifax Camerata Singers conducted by Jeff Joudrey with Lynette Wahlstrom at the piano. They sound very pleasant.

So, the Schubert is fine and it’s great to have a recording of a rarity but the real reason to buy this disk is for Fiona Ryan’s fascinating nine song cycle. The forces are again Batt, Décosse and Docking. The texts are mostly Scott again, though occasionally translated into French. The music is really interesting and varied. It draws on Scottish traditional influences to a certain extent but it’s quite modern with judicious use of chromaticism and extended techniques for both voice and piano. Overall it plays very well to the mood of Scott’s tale of Highland derring do without even a hint of 19th century sentimentality. It’s a piece I really look forward to listening to again soon. Impeccable performances again.

The recording is nicely engineered. Despite the use of three different Nova Scotia churches there is no obvious change in the acoustic. It’s clear and a bit dry which, I think, suits art song. There’s a generous booklet with full texts, bios and an interesting essay by Ryan.

Halifax is rather off my musical radar (good fish and chips though) but it’s really nice to see some of the folks, once seen in Toronto, who’ve moved out that way produce such an intriguing and worthwhile recording.

Further Acclaim

Daphna Levit for Opera Canada (Raum) 2016

“Soprano Maureen Batt, as Mary McGuire – later to become Sister Francis and then Mother Francis – filled the church with her rich, warm sound and masterful acting.”

~Mary McGuire, Sister Francis, Mother Francis, Time of Trouble by Elizabeth Raum and Rex Deverell with Maritime Concert Opera

Daphna Levit for Opera Canada (Pearce and Pergolesi) 2015

“The original score, with some Nova Scotian folk music interspersed through it, is attractive, and Batt brought a warm and very pleasing voice to her performance.” ~ Aunt Helen (Helen), by Monica Pearce with Opera Nova Scotia

“The music was enjoyable and the singers quite impressive.” ~ Maid Mistress (Serpina), Pergolesi, with Jon-Paul Decosse, with Opera Nova Scotia.

Classical Concerts NS: (Crossing Borders: Realities Blurred) 2016

Maureen Batt, Soprano and Cheryl Duvall, Piano
Saturday, August 6, 2016 The Music Room, Halifax

[Batt] has a great sense of both comic and dramatic timing. Little Miss Muffet is a Hipster (“who wears a hoop skirt these days?”) was tragi-comic with tongue firmly in check (or maybe that was a chicken nugget – you had to be there). These songs must be tricky and they are all virtuosic – Batt makes them sound easy, singing them expertly and with a great deal of confidence…And I love her diction – it is such a treat to attend a concert where you don’t have to strain to understand the text – thank you.

Arts East (Crossing Borders: A Celebration of New Music from New Mexico to Nova Scotia recital) 2015

Batt exemplified the versatility demanded of an opera singer and musical theatre artist alike—vocal chops, beautiful counterbalanced with raw emotional sounds, character-driven facial expression and movement, effectual timing. Duvall’s palpable expertise and mutual fervour for music’s intricacies, made for an ideal partner. Their chemistry was most obvious during the performance of “For broken and tired am I” (Matthew Emery & Archibald Lampman), a moving piece for both the artists and audience alike.

Those sitting in watch Saturday night witnessed songs performed in Canada for the very first time; they observed shoes flying, eyes speaking, laughter singing…animals almost hopping across a piano…a transfixing, multi-layered montage created by a looper pedal and Batt’s gorgeous voice…Crossing Borders was well worth venturing out on a dark and dreary night.

Stephen Pedersen (Pearce)

“And the concert ended in the sunshine and innocence of Aunt Helen by Monica Pearce, based on Helen Creighton’s autobiography My Life in Folklore, sung with easy confidence by Toronto’s Maureen Batt, and including Farewell to Nova Scotia.”

Leslie Barcza (Händel)

“Soprano Maureen Batt gave us a Morgana blending comedy and poignancy, sung with tenderness.”

John Terauds (Händel)

“Based on what I saw in rehearsal today, these talented singers would do any fine opera house proud.”

Brian Hay (Händel)

“As ‘Morgana’, Maureen quickly displayed immense range, strong dramatic skills and exceptional comic ability with a dazzling performance of ”O s’apre al riso’. Her crystalline bell-like tones soared through the space of the Steinmann Mennonite Church as she subtly passed the fun she was having to audience and set the tone for the evening. Her portrayal defined the character as the centrepiece who actually starts most of the trouble the rest of the characters get into.”

Leslie Barcza (Massenet)

“As Nina, Chérubin’s true love, Maureen Batt was the other outstanding vocal portrayal, treading a fine line between pathos and comedy, particularly when she seemed bound for a convent in the last act.”

John Terauds (Opera Scenesters)

“I popped by a rehearsal last night to see what Opera Scenesters is all about, and came away with a big, happy smile on my face. The three opera scenes I saw displayed cleverness and craft from both the composers and librettists. The singers — soprano Maureen Batt, mezzo Marta Herman and baritone Jeremy Ludwig — are excellent.”

Margaret Lam (Opera Scenesters)

“Mezzo-Soprano Marta Herman and Soprano Maureen Batt were a dynamic duo offering both individually and collaboratively an expressive range of vocal colours and emotions.

“Batt was equally comfortable playing a sly, sexy con-artist based on the real life story of Kari Ferrell in Denburg’s ‘The Hipster Grifter’, and an innocent youth serving as the captain on an imaginary ship with Marta as her second mate in Thornborrow’s “Hannah and Paige and the Zombie Pirates”.

Daphna Levit for Opera Canada (MCO’s Don Giovanni)

“The young and lovely Maureen Batt (Zerlina) handled her role with charm, humor and a captivating soprano.”

Stephen Pederson for the Chronicle Herald (Dal Opera Workshop’s La Serva Padrona)

“Enthusiastically at home on the stage, Batt’s interpretation is animated and endlessly energetic.”

Russ Hunt (Theatre St. Thomas Productions)

Berlin to Broadway (Kurt Weill)

“…Because — as is often the case in Theatre St. Thomas productions — what’s important is the ensemble rather than the individual, it’s not very much use to pick out specific people as particularly effective: all ten are strong singers, focused actors, and disciplined ensemble members. There are moments that stick out in memory: the change in Maureen Batt’s face as she goes from desolation that her boyfriend has enlisted, to joy that he’s enlisted, in the space between two bars of music…”

The Caucasian Chalk Circle (Bertolt Brecht, with original music composed by Michael Doherty)

“…The music, performed by Doherty, along with sensitive and responsive piano and clarinet by Jane Bowden and Doug Vipond, shapes and colours the action, sets our responses, and occasionally comes to the fore, as the remarkable ‘chorus’ of Maureen Batt and Sarah Jeffries sings — with impeccable and effective musicality — Doherty’s original music to tell us, for instance, ‘what the girl thinks but doesn’t say’ as she faces the apparently corrupt judge, Azdak. The musicians play from under and behind a platform from which the narrator and the chorus observe and control the action, and the timing and sensitivity of the music is therefore seen, and felt, as part of the story-telling, and subtly shapes our responses to it… I’m sure Brecht would have liked this production. And when does the CD of the original cast recording of that wonderful music come out?”

Oh, What a Lovely War (Joan Littlewood)

“…This show remains an anomalous musical because so many of the musical moments are fragmentary or appear as part of something else, and fade — like the parody hymns or the snatches of trench songs — instead of being full-fledged ‘numbers.’ But we were more likely to be moved or amused by Maureen Batt’s ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning’ or Kyla Wright’s ‘Sister Susie’s Sewing Shirts’ because we expected the snatches of song to relate in significant ways to what we’d heard and seen before, and what we were about to hear and see…”

Ilkay Silk, Department of English, St. Thomas University

“Maureen was in several Theatre St. Thomas productions and she stood out in many ways with her: lovely soprano voice; intelligence; ability to work very hard and always give it her best shot; sense of humour; (and) company spirit. Maureen knows the meaning of hard work and what sets her apart, in many ways, from other vocalists is her talent as an actor.”