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Just Enough Cooke: Sasha Cooke Dazzles at the Austrian Embassy

By Joe Banno, The Washington Post

 Those who attended mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke’s Austrian Embassy recital on Monday hoping to hear a healthy dose of opera doubtless left quite satisfied. This poised and lovely singer – who made a big impression on audiences in the Met’s recent production (and telecast) of John Adams’ “Doctor Atomic” – programmed an operatic second half to her recital that sampled Mozart’s “La Clemenza di Tito,” Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin” and Strauss’s “Der Rosenkavalier,” and concluded with Verdi’s operatically scaled art song “L’Esule.”

Cooke lent expressive immediacy to all of this music, divining the right emotional temperature for the character singing each aria. Clearly a creature of the stage, she proved a naturally expressive actor, her economic gestures reading as spontaneous, her eyes alive to the quicksilver changes in the music – not just while singing, but during every note of pianist Pei-Yao Wang’s equally  expressive, text-specific playing. (continue reading after the jump)

But one did not have to wait for the operatic portion of the evening to appreciate Cooke’s rare vocal gifts. A set of Schubert songs, a Bach cantata aria, Ravel’s “Sheherazade” and Sondheim’s “Losing My Mind” were all treated to glowing columns of amber tone, shimmering and keenly focused high notes and a smooth-as-silk chest register, along with Cooke’s unfailingly intelligent and personal phrasing. I can’t remember the last time I heard such a gorgeous mezzo voice singing Schubert, and the Ravel and Sondheim simply took the breath away.

Bad weather thinned the audience on Monday. Those who missed this captivating singer are urged not to make that mistake twice.