The talented Will Liverman
Will Liverman has a huge voice and an amazing range of talents. He is definitely on his way!
Liverman has appeared in the universe of vocal music like a shooting star. A graduate of the Juilliard School, he started winning a spate of prizes in 2015, the latest of which is the 2022 Beverly Sills Artist Award. Among his many operatic performances was the first-ever Black Papageno in the Metropolitan Opera’s 2019 production of The Magic Flute. He opened the Met’s 2021-2022 season as Charles in Terence Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones, and in the fall of 2023 he will star in Anthony Davis’ X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X.
As if this isn’t enough, Liverman also composes! He will star in his own opera, The Factotum, which will be premiered by Chicago’s Lyric Opera this coming February. Based on a present-day version of the Barber of Seville, his opera will blend traditional operatic singing with gospel, R&B, funk, and hip hop. (Sounds like fun!)
For those who missed his recital or just want to hear more Liverman, he has released two recordings, both to critical acclaim: Dreams of a New Day: Songs by Black Composers, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Traditional Classical chart in 2021, and Whither Must I Wander in 2020.
Big voice in a small hall
Portland was invited to hear Will Liverman’s rich and complex voice in PSU’s recital hall, below the main concert hall, on December 12. Despite warm bodies in winter clothes nearly filling the hall, Liverman’s powerful baritone was almost overwhelming at times. Especially with the early pieces, it seemed as though he had difficulty calibrating his voice to the intimate dimensions of the hall. This effect seemed less prominent as the concert progressed — or perhaps our ears adjusted to his vocal level.
Liverman sang the spiritual Steal Away with passion, and even tender songs by Florence Price were rendered forte throughout, until a lovely soft ending to the line, “The wearied Day” showed us the considerable flexibility of his voice. Next he sang three lively pieces from Maurice Ravel’s Don Quichotte à Dulcimée, M. 84, No.1, set to poems by Paul Morand. Once again, the tender endings of each song contrasted with the vigor in which he sang the text. Especially moving was the delicate falsetto “Amen” in Chanson épique to his “Madonna robed in blue.”
The operatic Liverman
Liverman’s demeanor became less serious in the Chanson à boire, when his body language reflected the ode to drunken joy, with vigorous accompaniment by Chien. The operatic actor was clear to see, and the audience responded enthusiastically.
Liverman’s relish of drama was evident in his forceful presentation of Carl Loewe’s Selections from 3 Balladen, Op. 1. The first, composed to Goethe’s Erlkönig, featured the plaintive entreaties of the young child, vigorous reassurances by the father, and evil bribes from the devil, amid the incessant galloping of hooves. Even more grim was another ballad set to a poem by Johan Gottfried Herder, in which the subject, Edward, confesses to a string of murders. After that came Odins Meeresritt, Loewe’s Op. 118, set to a poem by Aloys Wilhelm Schreiber. The ballad tells the story of Oluf, the blacksmith who shoes Odin’s horse in preparation for battle. Liverman’s voice and demeanor seemed perfectly suited to the excitement, even the violence, of these old German stories.
The mellow Vaughan Williams
Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel, Irv.77 came as a welcome relief from the angst of the German ballads, and Liverman’s rich baritone came into full flower. The melodious lines from poet Robert Louis Stevenson provided Liverman’s voice with the clarity and fullness for which he is rightfully praised. In Youth and Love, he sang each final line in a whispered pianissimo, repeating the word “gone” in the last stanza. Vaughan Williams’ influence on Liverman is obvious by the singer’s choice of title for his first album, and he rendered the eponymous song with great tenderness.
For the final part of the program, Liverman sat down at the piano and presented what he called a mash-up of show tunes, including Charlie Chaplin’s Smile, Lerner and Loewe’s If Ever I Would Leave You, and Kern and Hammerstein’s All the Things You Are. His presentation was so relaxed and cheerful, his improvisations so smooth, it felt like being in a nightclub.
Liverman and Chien
Except for the songs where Liverman was his own accompanist, Gloria Chien proved to be an exceptionally sensitive and skillful partner. The complete concert can be streamed at CMNW’s website, and will be available online through January 9th.