George & Nora London Foundation 2022-23 Review: Raehann Bryce-Davis
American Mezzo Gives Recital at The Morgan Library & MuseumBy Jennifer Pyron
Mezzo-soprano Raehann Bryce-Davis is a soulful voice of triumph, transformation, and timeless wisdom. With notable house and role debuts, including the Met Opera, as Baba the Turk in Stravinsky’s “The Rake’s Progress,” she is a 2018 recipient of the prestigious George London Award at the George London Competition. Her recital on Sunday, October 2nd, 2022 at The Morgan Library & Museum in New York City highlighted her award-winning voice as a legacy that must be heard by all, right now.
Her selections for this recital highlighted collaborations, and personal awakenings meant to enliven listeners on a greater path of awareness and inclusivity. Bryce-Davis is also a co-founder of the Black Opera Alliance and is an advocate for social justice in opera. She uses her voice to create change within and without, so that audiences are inspired to garner a broader understanding through her art and music.
“Three Browning Songs, op. 44” by Amy Beach was Bryce-Davis’ first selection that opened the Gilder Lehrman Hall stage, with pianist Jeanne-Minette Cilliers. All three songs, “The Year’s at the Spring,” “Ah, Love, but a day!,” and “I send my heart up to thee!” were like a bright and colorful bouquet of notes that carried sweet impressions of renewed hope. The audience visibly shared excitement as Bryce-Davis and Cilliers celebrated their collaboration in a refreshing and uplifting tone of inspiration.
“Wesendonck Lieder” by Richard Wagner, focused on Bryce-Davis’ technical skills and vocal agility. “Der Engel,” “Stehe Still!,” and “Schmerzen” required the stamina that she naturally has and is becoming even more well-known for through her vocal repertoire. Her smiling face glowed from the stage. A powerful woman singing about the ways of love.
Richard Strauss’ “Heimliche Aufforderung” and Johannes Brahms’ “Von ewiger Liebe,” both flourished and unfurled more of Bryce-Davis’ voice as she culminated an abundant and aligned tone. She sang with ease and carefreeness. Gearing up for her very exciting second half.
“Come, My Tan-Faced Children” by Melissa Dunphy and text by Walt Whitman was premiered in 2019 by Bryce-Davis. This piece was written specifically for her voice by Dunphy, who studied multiple recordings and crafted a composition to honor her essence. Before she sang, Bryce-Davis said, “In these times, it is so important to be inclusive and to tell wondrous and unifying experiences that are different from what we’ve been seeing. I hope you enjoy this adventure.”
“Come, My Tan-Faced Children” began from within Bryce-Davis, as she raised her voice up and called out. One might have sensed the ease in which she knew her voice. A soulful calling that elicited intimate wondering and response. This was the call we had been longing to hear, to find, to feel. It was at this moment in her recital that Bryce-Davis flipped a switch and tuned into the core of her soul’s legacy. She radiated strength, wisdom, and an infinite vastness that circumvented boundaries. Bryce-Davis was all-inclusive.
“Birth,” by Margaret Bonds and text by Langston Hughes, illuminated Bryce-Davis’ gift of uplifting her audience. She created a landscape, using her voice, that warmly welcomed wanderers. She brought life to the imagination. Langston Hughes’ text feels familiar and fresh at the same time, while she sang:
“Oh, fields of wonder out of which stars are born and moon and sun and me as well
Like streak of lightning in the night some mark to make some word to tell.”
Bryce-Davis’ voice during “The Crescent Moon” by Florence Price and text by Louise C. Wallace, was like how a full-bodied sky full of stars would sound. Her eyes glistened. This was a precious moment to share with her, as the audience gently swayed in their seats.
The World Premiere of “The Beauty in my Blackness” by Maria Thompson Corley was very much an anticipated part of this recital. Having first composed for Bryce-Davis with “I’m Not an Angry Black Woman,” Dr. Corley was in the audience as an honored addition to this special evening.
Dr. Corley is well-known as an accomplished pianist, composer, educator, award-winning poet, and voice actor. She is also a dedicated educator that values her students’ diversity. Her philosophy is founded upon encouraging and enriching the individual. She says, “My teaching philosophy grows out of the view that students are individuals with different abilities and learning styles, shaped by varying backgrounds and experiences. The challenge of dealing with these differences can be met by presenting material in diverse ways. This is achieved not only through demonstration and commentary but by encouraging critical thinking on the student’s part.”
“The Beauty in my Blackness” brought to the hearts and minds of all, a gift of presence. This piece was a union of two extraordinary women making a major difference in the lives of many through the power of their work. “The Beauty in my Blackness” opens a pathway for one to explore what beauty is, and most importantly, what beauty can be. Bryce-Davis released a full palette of sound through her voice in this moment that painted an array of richness to feed the soul. This World Premiere was an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime moment that audience members will forever treasure.
As Dr. Corley’s text says best:
“The beauty of my blackness isn’t open to debate.”
“I’m Not an Angry Black Woman” was originally debuted in 2019 by Bryce-Davis. In this piece, her voice transmuted many emotions into an otherworldly quality that was truly magical. She was like the furious ebb and flow of a storm that transformed what was into what can be. Audience members were awestruck and amazed.
The final selection of works were by Peter Ashbourne. She told a story about how she traveled to Jamaica by herself upon graduating school. This was her chance to discover art and music, as a bridge for her to better realize herself. “Fi Mi Love Have Lion Heart” by Peter Ashbourne, includes “No. 3: Banyan Tree,” “No. 4: Fi Mi Love Have Lion Heart,” and “No. 5: Nobody’s Business.” Raehann was playful and vibrant as she danced and carried on the traditional light-hearted essence of these works. Full of life!
After several rounds of applause, Bryce-Davis sang a special encore of Jacqueline Hairston’s “I Don’t Feel No Ways Tired.” This was the perfect close to an extraordinary evening that encouraged listeners to better understand life as a way to better come together.