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PREVIEW: Anne Sofie van Otter at the Schubert Club

Mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie van Otter. Photo by Ewa-Marie Rundquist.

Say “Swedish Nightingale” to an American on the street a century ago, and one name would come instantly to music listeners’ lips: Jenny Lind. Say the name to an opera fan today, however, and a different singer comes up: the Swedish mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter. This celebrated singer will appear in a pair of recitals at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts on November 1 and 3, as part of the Schubert Club’s International Artists Series.

Much like her musical forebear, von Otter and her collaborative pianist Kristian Bezuidenhout will perform a mixture of pieces both new and familiar. The program will begin with a quartet of lieder (German art songs) by Franz Schubert, including the famous “Death and the Maiden”. Following a performance of Mozart’s piano Rondo in A Minor (K511), von Otter will return to the stage for a quintet of songs by the 19th-century Swedish composer Adolf Frederik Lindblad, who penned many of his two hundred songs for Jenny Lind.

Pianist Kristian Bezuidenhout is a noted interpreter of 18th- and 19th-century song.

Following an intermission, the artists will return to Schubert with a trio of songs from the composer’s Songs from Wilhelm Meister, following Goethe’s famous character through the force of Romantic longing. Bezuidenhout, a noted interpreter of Schubert’s songs, brings a special touch to the repertoire, having recorded many Schubert works using a replica of the composer’s Graf piano.

The latter quarter of the program provides a survey of many of Schubert’s most beautiful pieces. Bezuidenhout will play the Moment Musicale in A-flat Major, followed by the pair performing “The Full Moon Shines on Mountaintops” (a romance written for the play Rosamunde) and “An den monde” (To the moon). Bezuidenhout will then alternate with Schubert’s Impromptu in G-flat major (D. 899, No. 3) and Nocturne (D. 672) before the pair take the stage together for “The Pigeon Post”. Fittingly, for an ending, this song (“Die Taubenpost” in the original German) was the last song that Schubert wrote, published only after his death:

I have a carrier pigeon in my pay;
it is devoted and true.
She never stops short of her goal,
and never flies too far.
Each day, I send her out
a thousand times to reconnoiter,
past many a beloved spot,
to my sweetheart’s house.
There, she peeps – furtively – in the window,
observing her every look and step,
conveys my greeting like a breeze,
and brings hers back to me.
I no longer need to write a note,
I can give her my very tears;
she will never deliver them badly,
so eagerly does she serve me.
Day or night, awake or dreaming,
it is all the same to her;
as long as she can roam,
she is richly content.
She never grows tired, nor faint;
the route is always fresh to her.
She needs no enticement, or reward,
so true is this pigeon to me.
I cherish her as truly in my heart,
certain of the fairest prize.
Her name is “Longing!” Do you know her?
The dependable, constant messenger.
Anne Sofie on Otter and Kristian Bezuidenhout perform at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in Saint Paul, MN, on Nov. 1 and Nov. 3.
Basil Considine