Review for La traviata with Hawaii Opera Theatre
Blaisdell Center for the Performing Arts
Honolulu Star-Adviser
May 19, 2019
by Steven Mark


"Soprano Danielle Talamantes gave a tour-de-force performance as the “fallen woman” Violetta, with her clear, penetrating and rangy voice sustaining the character throughout. She was fresh and open in the opening party scene, rolling off her “r’s” with a juicy vivaciousness and lending delight and grace to the playful “Sempre Libera” aria.

It seemed that even the stage props were enchanted — at one point, a vase of flowers tilted over as she was belting out a big note.

By Act 2, Talamantes’ Violetta became passionate and vulnerable when she first meets her destiny, and by Act 3, when she is dying of consumption, Talamantes reduced her voice to a trembling vibrato that still permeated the hall with clarity and feeling.

She also had terrific chemistry with tenor Pene Pati as Alfredo, as the two engaged in some serious lip-locking that put the “hot” in HOT."

Review for Verdi Requiem with the National Philharmonic
Music Center at Strathmore
The Zebra
April 14, 2019
Sara Dudley Brown

"I have heard Ms. Talamantes in her Metropolitan Opera role of Frasquita in “Carmen” and was not at all surprised at her consistent performance with an entirely unforced but totally focused voice which soared over the 300 or so choristers and orchestra members to the back of the hall. Her gleaming top and floating pianissimos in the Libera me left me breathless!"

Review for Beethoven Symphony No. 9 at Carnegie Call with DCINY
New York Concert Review, Inc.
December 10, 2018
Rorianne Schrade

"Soprano, Danielle Talamantes, who is for this listener a new discovery and navigated the perilous high registers easily right up to the final “flügel Weilt” before the prestissimo “last hurrah” of the work."

Review for Bernstein Choral Celebration with the National Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorale
MD Theatre Guide
November 21, 2018
Elle Marie Sullivan

"The evening started with selections from Bernstein’s ‘Mass,’ which was commissioned by Jacqueline Kennedy in 1971. The piece is inspired by the Tentacdetine mass, but includes English and was intended to be a theatrical performance. The music ebbs and flows beautifully from traditional Latin mass melodies to jazz. It swells with joy. The Strathmore Children’s Chorus joined the National Philharmonic Chorale and soloists Danielle Talamantes and Brian Cheney. 

The music of “West Side Story” shaped American musical theatre composers for generations The National Philharmonic performed such iconic numbers as “Tonight,” “I Feel Pretty,” and “America,” among many others. The evening ended with two beautiful pieces from “Candide:” “The Best of All Possible Worlds” and the hopeful victorious anthem “Make Our Garden Grow.”

Talamantes’ beautiful soprano soared throughout the Music Center, especially shining during “Tonight” and “Make Our Garden Grow.” Her nimble vocal dexterity was also demonstrated in “Devotions Before Mass” from ‘Mass.’"

Review for Heaven and Earth - A Duke Ellington Songbook
Jan/Feb 2018
Colin Clarke

"Danelle Talamantes’s debut recording, Canciones españolas, was positively reviewed by my colleague Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold in Fanfare 38:6. There, Talamantes’s voice was described as “velvety and dark-hued.” Quite rightly, too, as Talamantes’s voice is perfect for Ellington’s miniature masterpieces. It’s good to see Ellington getting the recognition he deserves. Readers on the other side of the Atlantic from him, or ones who vacationed in the United Kingdom during the summer, perhaps caught some Ellington in the Prom concert entitled “Ella and Dizzy: A Centenary Tribute”; Harlem and Caravan both appeared.  

The present album features arrangements by four musicians: the pianist Henry Dahlinger (pianist on this album), Larry Ham, Caren Levine, and Marvin Mills. To group them as concisely as possible, the listing in the title does not reflect the playing order of songs.  

First up, though, is in fact Come Sunday—an Ellington favorite, clearly, as the song crops up in Ellington’s symphony, Black, Brown and Beige. The recording by gospel singer Mahalia Jackson is itself a classic, her voice likewise smoky in the hence rather confusingly titled 1958 album Black, Brown and Beige. The booklet notes by Scott Parish on this MSR release are full of superlatives, as one might perhaps expect, but for once they are absolutely justified. Dehlinger’s arrangement is superbly judged, from the lyricism through to the stride. Once could easily miss Talamates’s textbook but never his studied diction.  

Inspired by the beginning of “a little rock-and-roll tune” by band leader Gerald Wilson, Ellington along with Billy Strayhorn produced what Scott Parrish’s notes memorably refer to as a “wallflower’s lament.” Interestingly, Dehlinger’s arrangement of this late work mixes in references to Ellington’s Black Beauty (1929) and C-Jam Blues (1942), in effect uniting various decades of Ellington’s creative output. Talamantes’s swooping soprano tells the story of the wait for an invitation to dance. As her line gets ever more impassioned, the piano becomes ever more active; the final gestures include a free-floating melisma from Talamantes. The arrangement is a world away from Ella Fitzgerald’s bold-as-brass account with Ellington himself and his orchestra on the 1965 album Ella at Duke’s Palace (no preternaturally high screaming trumpet on MSR, even in piano imitation). The arrangements on this disc are terrifically imaginative, wide-ranging but absolutely in the spirit of Ellington.  

The three arrangements by Larry Ham begin with the jazz standard In a Sentimental Mood. Apparently improvised in North Carolina one evening in 1935. Readers may recognize Ham’s name from Renée Fleming’s 1999 Decca album Prelude to a Kiss, where this arrangement was first recorded. The higher reaches of Talamantes’s soprano voice at a medium dynamic level add real emotional punch to the work’s close. Whatever the undeniable beauty of her voice, Fleming’s diction is just that bit too studied, and she does sound like an opera singer singing Ellington (which, after all, is what she is); Talamantes is more spontaneous sounding, and sounds more on home turf. And despite Fleming’s excellent sense of pitch, Talamantes’s is still more developed and, frankly, offers a greater source of joy.  

The light touch of Dehlinger’s arrangement of Don’t get around much anymore is delightful; Dehlinger the pianist reveals his virtuoso side here. The move from big band hit to solo vocal/piano intimacy is a large one, but possibly not as large as the gap between those and the version by the Ink Spots (interestingly, this song held the No. 1 spot in the R& B charts in 1943 in both the Ellington and the Ink Spots’ versions).  

The whispered confession of Sophisticated Lady in this performance is most touching. There is an easy to Talamantes’s way with the vocal line that melds perfectly with Dehlinger’s quasi-improvised accompaniment. The pepped-up arrangement of I’m beginning to see the light is by Caren Levine. The piano is gifted with what amounts to a cadenza, mirrored at the end by a passage of open vocal freedom. There is huge competition here, of course, in the form of Ella and Ellington (not to mention the even more upbeat Louis Armstrong); yet Talamantes has a voice all of her own. The 1934 ballad Solitude is heard in a Levine arrangement specifically targeted at the Talamantes/Dehlinger duo. There is the impression that time stops here.  

The solo piano Meditation in Dehlinger’s own arrangement expands the envelope of the original to a more intense experience than Ellington himself provided before we meet the only arrangement on the album by Marvin Mills, again written specifically for Talamantes and Dehlinger: Heaven. This is one of the lesser-recorded Ellington pieces, because for its awkward intervals (softened in effect here, perhaps, in comparison with the performance by Ellington’s own octet). Mills also, inventively, replaces the original bossa nova beat later in the song with swing. Finally (and pardon the pun) an almighty outburst opens Almighty God has those Angels like a piano reduction from a film score, before the voice slowly unfolds the melody over a more rapid piano contribution. Talamantes’s voice later swoops like a bird in its higher regions.  

It’s a nice idea to top and tail the recital with pieces from Ellington’s Sacred Concerts; one has to acknowledge, too, the excellence of Alice Babs in the original of Almighty God. But this is a simply superb album, stunningly recorded, that deserves every success."

Reviews for the Princeton Festival Opera's production as Marzelline in Beethoven's Fidelio: Theatre Review
June 22nd, 2017
Bob Brown
"In the first of the opera’s most-affecting arias, Marzelline sings of her love for Fidelio, imagining their life as a married couple. Talamantes’s performance is thrilling, with power and emotion to spare."

Town Topics - a Princeton Community Newspaper
June 21st, 2017
Nancy Plum
"Borrowing from the Singspiel tradition, the more humorous side of Fidelio came out as Marzelline, daughter of the head jailor, declared her love for Leonore’s alter-ego Fidelio, which Leonore went along with to gain further access to the prison and possibly Florestan. Sopranos Marcy Stonikas (Leonore) and Danielle Talamantes (Marzelline) were perfectly matched in vocal timbre, playing their characters as formidable and determined women unafraid of anything. Duets between the two were always clean, and the vocal spin on their collective sound was consistently uniform. Ms. Talamantes possessed a rich mezzo voice with strong coloratura technique and a solid foundation to the sound. She delivered her Act I aria proclaiming her love for Fidelio with delicacy and innocence, and along with her fellow principals, delivered the German dialog crisply."

Broad Street Review
June 19th, 2017
Linda Holt
"In a pert sexy dress and high heels with attitude to spare, Talamantes looks like one of the sassy stars of the TV series Devious Maids. Her soprano voice is youthful but full of intense feeling, expressing both great longing and frustration regarding her thwarted advances. Her duets with Stonikas are a marvel to hear..."

The Roanoke Times
April 29th, 2017
Review for Opera Roanoke's production of Floyd's Susannah
Gordon Marsh
"Soprano Danielle Talamantes gives a thrilling and memorable performance as Susannah Polk. Talamantes’ instrument commands the full scope of expression and blend (not to mention range) demanded by the role, and her acting is riveting. Her Susannah delivers the girlish innocence, impassioned desperation and bitter resignation the evening demands."

The Washington Post
March 20, 2017
Review for the Brahms Requiem and Leshnoff Zohar with the National Philharmonic
Charles T Downey
"Soprano Danielle Talamantes was the highlight of the Brahms, a warm, consoling presence in the fifth movement..."

The Spokesman-Review
March 6, 2017
Review for Finale Concert in the Northwest Bach Festival
Larry Lapidus

"For Sunday’s finale of the 2017 classics concert series, the Northwest Bach Festival exchanged the geniality of Barrister Winery, which served so well for concerts of chamber music, to the grandeur of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. This allowed for not only more players, but for a different class of music, intended for performance in a larger acoustical space. 

Returning after an immensely successful appearance at last year’s Bach festival was conductor Piotr Gajewski to conduct four works for chamber orchestra: the Serenade No. 13 in G major, K. 525, “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” of W.A. Mozart; Cantata BWV 51, “Jauchzet Gott in Allen Landen,” by J.S. Bach; The “Serenade in E minor” Op. 20 by Sir Edward Elgar; and Mozart’s Motet K. 165, “Exsultate, Jubilate.”

The soprano soloist in both the Bach cantata and the Mozart motet was Danielle Talamantes, whose voice displayed not only beauty and power, but the dazzling agility required to negotiate the torrents of embellishment, or “coloratura,” demanded in both works. As remarkable as these performances were in themselves, Talamantes’ achievement was all the more impressive to those who had attended her solo song recital at Barrister Winery just the night before, and heard her mastery of repertoire that made totally different demands on the performer. For a soprano voice of such size and power as we heard on Saturday, in songs of Turina, Granados and Ellington, also to possess such nimbleness and agility is a very rare phenomenon, indeed. The ovation she received made plain that everyone felt fortunate to have witnessed it."

The Spokesman-Review
March 5, 2017
Review of Solo Recital for the Northwest Bach Festival
Larry Lapidus

"Over the course of six concerts, the 2017 Northwest Bach Festival presented a wide range of music employing a variety of instruments. Only one instrument was notably missing: the human voice. That gap was filled on Saturday night, as Barrister Winery was filled with song by soprano Danielle Talamantes, partnered by Ivana Cojbasic, pianist. 

Talamantes selected a program of art songs, i.e. brief poems set to music, by Claude Debussy, Enrique Granados, and Joaquin Turina. She concluded the program with three songs by Duke Ellington, arranged in a manner to show how much they have in common with the art-song tradition.

Talamantes intended that the audience be given translations of all the songs on her program, but a glitch in transmission prevented that. Instead, she spoke with the audience, reading some translations in their entirety and summarizing others. By doing this, she immediately created a bond of intimacy that embraced everyone in the room, and that continued unbroken throughout the evening. In chatting with us, she displayed other attributes that proved fundamental to her character as a musician: superbly clear and beautiful diction, an attractive, well-supported voice, extensive understanding of the background and meaning of the music, and, perhaps most important, an earnest desire to seize the deepest feelings of her audience, and never let them go.

Accordingly, when she began to sing Debussy’s “Chansons de Bilitis,” one felt an unbroken link with what had gone before. The voice was just as lovely, natural and relaxed, and the diction just as clear and pure, always an important quality, but especially in the performance of French song. What we had not heard before, of course, was the playing of Cojbasic, which proved to be more than worthy to accompany Talamantes’ singing. All of the composers on the program were pianists who contributed much excellent music to the repertoire, but none had so radical an impact on the history of writing for the piano as Debussy, who reinvented piano technique and re-imagined what could be accomplished on the instrument. It is no mean praise to say, then, that Cojbasic showed herself to possess complete mastery of Debussy’s challenging writing, and to be an artist capable of unlocking his unique tone-world to an interested listener. On this occasion, the listeners were not merely interested, but spellbound.

The ensuing works on the program allowed Talamantes much wider scope in which to deploy her considerable vocal resources than did the delicately tinted Debussy. Her soprano voice possesses considerable power throughout its wide range. It is the sort of voice capable of taking on the most demanding roles of Giuseppe Verdi and of operatic composers of the “verismo” school, such as Pietro Mascagni (“Cavalleria Rusticana”), Ruggero Leoncavallo (“I Pagliacci”) and Umberto Giordano (“Andrea Chenier”). It was thrilling to hear a voice of this range and caliber interpreting art-song, and, in truth, there was plenty of passion and suffering portrayed in the songs of Granados and Turina that justified an operatic scale of performance. There were, however, a few points at which Talamantes unleashed the full force of her voice that pushed the envelope so far that it threatened to tear.

It was gratifying to see three wonderful Ellington songs receive the respect and loving attention they did on Saturday night: “In a Sentimental Mood,” “Solitude” and “Come Sunday.” Talamantes proved herself to be a compelling and idiomatic interpreter of music in the popular idiom, something that cannot be said of all of her illustrious predecessors who attempted the journey from the opera house to the cabaret. It should be noted, however, that Ellington wrote the first two songs to be danced to, which would require a clear and regular beat. The arrangements of these numbers are so artfully worked, however, that the beat can get lost, and with it, some of the music’s power to touch the heart."

January, 2017
Review of Heaven and Earth - A Duke Ellington Songbook
James Poore
"Duke Ellington was one of the great American composers of any genre and is indisputably the most important composer in the history of jazz, especially in the big band idiom. It is significant that Ellington's preferred description for his work was 'American music'. He not only wrote songs especially for classically trained singers like Kay Davis, a coloratura soprano, but also became renowned for his forays into the realm of spiritual music. So, for instance, three live Sacred Concerts were performed between 1965 and 1973, the second of which, in 1968, featured three of the pieces to be found on this album, namely Meditation, Heaven and Almighty God Has Those Angels. Swedish soprano Alice Babs sang Heaven and Almighty God on that occasion. Ellington believed that the voice could serve as an instrument so there are passages in a number of his compositions which were wordless. From time to time they surface on the disc under review here. A multitude of jazz musicians have recorded Ellington's music, apart from the definitive versions that his own orchestras produced over a number of decades. Yet his songs continue also to be performed by artistes from the classical world. This recording brings together an international opera singer, in soprano Danielle Talamantes, and the classical pianist Henry Dehlinger. The couple have collaborated before, notably on the critically acclaimed Canciones españolas album. This is Dehlinger's debut as a jazz arranger. He is responsible for the arrangements on six of the twelve tracks. 

On listening to this disc, I was reminded of another soprano, Dawn Upshaw, and her album of Rodgers and Hart songs, recorded twenty years ago, with pianist Fred Hersch in support. It shares some of the same characteristics. A superlative voice and sensitive accompaniment, for instance, blessed by exceptional material on which to work. This is not to say that there are no reservations for the jazz lover. I'll return to these later. A couple of tracks struck me as particularly good. In A Sentimental Mood has Talamantes in fine form, displaying the requisite degree of tenderness as well as an appealing jazz inflection in her voice. Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me prompts the thought that Talamantes would work wonders with Ellington's I've Got It Bad And That Ain't Good, omitted from the choices on the album. She is well supported by the empathetic Dehlinger who, on his one solo track later, gives a satisfying interpretation of Meditation. Come Sunday, the opening track, one of Ellington's sacred songs, has a fascinating history, having made the journey from the Duke's 1943 jazz symphony, Black, Brown And Beige, to the pages of the hymnal of the United Methodist Church in the States. Ms. Talamantes reveals that she possesses a lovely voice and a powerful one, too. The arrangement works well also. Imagine My Frustration is a song for a wallflower. There is some real 'down-home' piano from Dehlinger and Danielle emotes passionately, confirming that she possesses one heck of a voice. 

Prelude To A Kiss is known as a challenging piece by performers and proves to be less suitable to Talamantes' voice than other material on the disc as well as being the least jazz-oriented. The lyrics, incidentally, were written by Irving Gordon, composer and lyricist of the Nat King Cole classic Unforgetable. Don't Get Around Much Any More is better with a distinct swing from both singer and pianist. Three Ellington standards follow, Sophisticated Lady, I'm Beginning To See The Light and Solitude, all of them acceptable without being particularly exciting (though Dehlinger's thoughtful piano does enhance Solitude). The last two tracks are of a different order. Heaven with its snatch of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot and an absolutely sublime moment from Danielle's voice lives up to its title. Almighty God Has Those Angels with oblique shades of St. James Infirmary on piano at one point, plus an intelligent vocal reading of the theme by Talamantes. 

Those who admire the work of the duo will, I am sure, appreciate this latest offering from them. There can be no doubting their quality. It is good, always, to hear Ellington's music, in whatever context, and to appreciate its beauty as well as its diversity. I suspect that anyone who is into 'crossover', that is, mixing or exploring different genres, will enjoy this CD. I wonder, however, whether that old cliché 'less is more' won't apply when it comes to listeners from the jazz community. Talamantes has a beguiling voice but also a powerful one. I found that her impact lessened somewhat when she gave that power free rein, especially when ascending to the upper register. Obviously you can take the girl out of the opera, but you can't take the opera out of the girl! Restraint can be a virtue when singing jazz. It certainly isn't missing from her repertoire as she shows us at other places on this interesting album."

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