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
"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:
CentralJersey.com Theatre Review
June 22nd, 2017
"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
"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
"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
"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..."
March 6, 2017
Review for Finale Concert in the Northwest Bach Festival
"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."
March 5, 2017
Review of Solo Recital for the Northwest Bach Festival
"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."
Review of Heaven and Earth - A Duke Ellington Songbook
"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."
September 16th, 2016
Review of Heaven and Earth - A Duke Ellington Songbook
"Just to double check, I sought out my review of Danielle Talamantes’s debut album from 2014 on MSR Classics called Canciones espanolas. Here is what I said: “From the very first second of the very first track, Metropolitan Opera and Carnegie Hall soloist soprano Danielle Talamantes rips into a recital of some of Spain’s greatest composers with such daring and furiously emotive singing that you hold your breath at the exuberance and seat-of-your-pants vocal dexterity coming from the speakers. Usually it takes a while for recordings to begin to make their mark, but not in this case; Talamantes besieges us with such exquisite and excitingly idiomatic vocalizing that you leave the listening session in awe.”
I hate to be repetitive and verbose, but substitute “some of Spain’s greatest composers” with “Duke Ellington”, and the paragraph retains all of its truthfulness transferred to this new release. These are, of course arrangements—Ellington left few of his piano pieces completely intact for one medium, he simple didn’t work like that. But they are stunningly superb, each and every one. In fact, I detect a couple of mistakes in regards to this new release. One is the number of reviewers’ intent on calling this a “crossover album”. MSR doesn’t help the situation much by putting this on its “Jazz” label either. Ellington would certainly have not appreciated the classification as he steadfastly resisted such categorizations.
Why does this matter? Because this is certainly, and in my mind unquestioningly, a full-fledged art song recording of one of the major art song composers in American history. It doesn’t sound like jazz, even the more familiar songs like In a Sentimental Mood and Don’t get around much anymore. Instead, these are well-executed, highly stylized renderings tinged with Ellington’s trademark harmonies and inventive melodies, sung with virtuoso perfection by one of our up-and-coming stars. I am convinced that Danielle Talamantes had to make no more stylistic transitions than she would for any other composer; Ellington is an American original like Copland, Barber, Gershwin, and Bernstein—just to list a few of our great song composers—and the care and intellect given to him demonstrates that his importance stretches far beyond the rather narrow confines of “jazz”. Indeed, his “band” music is so unlike any of the orchestras playing in his day as to defy any sort of categories. Henry Dehlinger, the accompanist—if such a major role can be reduced to this comparatively mundane descriptor—returns from his first outing with Talamantes to do her even finer justice here. Talamantes is simply brilliant in this music, giving it a knock-your-socks-off performance that leaves you hankering for much, much more. I am quite certain that I will return to this disc quite often, perhaps playing it in sequence with the Hermit Songs and the Twelve Songs on Poems of Emily Dickinson for contrast. Sounds like a great couple of hours to me. Formidably essential listening!"
DC Metro Theater Arts
June 9th, 2016
Review of album Heaven & Earth - A Duke Ellington Songbook
"Danielle Talamantes doesn’t see why an opera singer shouldn’t sing Duke Ellington, and I bet Duke Ellington wouldn’t either. He considered himself simply an American composer who was secure enough to design his writing for the skills of his musicians, and who let many of his compositions acquire their now-iconic lyrics years after the music was set down.
For Danielle, who now sings lead soprano roles in several regional opera companies around the U.S. and supporting roles at the Metropolitan Opera, the achievement of placing her sophomore album on the MSR Jazz label is significant. For the listener, the new interpretive experience of hearing these “jazz standards” is distinctive, and not necessarily in the ways you might expect.
At the risk of stating a technicality of the physics of sound, Danielle’s note placement is exemplary, and creates magnificent overtones in the acoustic of Vienna Presbyterian Church, where Heaven and Earth was recorded. Jazz singers are great at “blue notes” but may sing the main verses and melodies in a pedestrian, piano-imitative way. By contrast, Danielle’s leading tones cozy right up to their target notes all across the spectrum, with just the right amount of time-spacing to grab your ears and not let go.
A chromatic opening to “Prelude to a Kiss,” leading all the way to a high, beautifully meandering vocal ending with every note a new surprise, highlights this concept. Less than a minute and a half into the album, with “Come Sunday,” Danielle situates the start of the last syllable of the phrase “God above” right above where it really belongs, drops down to sing the target note – and then changes her mind, returning to the higher pitch and lingering there for a delicious extra second before going back down to the right note. It’s a shimmering effect.
In extensive liner notes, Danielle’s commentator Scott Parrish is at pains for you to know where this classically trained soprano uses a restrained rather than full vibrato. But Danielle has many variations on this theme. In one approach she leaps to a high note and begins it with a bit of graininess, then pulls the note together into a straight tone and teases you before widening into her vibrato. Listen to her sing “In a Sentimental Mood” early in the CD and you’ll recognize the effect several times later on.
Certainly some listeners may miss other facets of jazz singing that they’re used to. The songs are pitched higher than their classic recordings with singers such as Mahalia Jackson and Ella Fitzgerald, or Tony Bennett for that matter, and Danielle typically substitutes prettiness for smokiness in her lower tones. A slightly less rhetorical approach than other interpreters gives her a more Latinate “ah” sound and sometimes a special, wider take on ordinarily hard or swallowed American English vowels in words like “Gershwin” and “eternity.”
But the CD is also a stage for originality in arrangement and collaborative piano work. Danielle’s pianist, Henry Dehlinger, arranged half of the tracks on the CD, and his piano work is often delightfully cliché-free, with his “Sophisticated Lady” particularly notable. Danielle also called on other innovative new arrangers, and Caren Levine delivers big-time on “In My Solitude.” If you want to hear a fusion of jazz with contemporary “serious music” modalities, listen to Mr. Dehlinger play Ms. Levine’s twisting and climbing chords and snaking counter-lines while Danielle sings long, languid notes, and prepare to be mesmerized. Then enjoy Mr. Dehlinger’s substantial piano cadenza before Danielle returns for a virtuoso vocal conclusion."
Danielle closes with three of Ellington’s lesser-known religiously themed works from his 1968 Second Sacred Concert at New York’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine. With the civil rights-inflected positive spirituality of “Come Sunday” having opened Danielle’s disk, these selections provide an apt finish to a truly innovative recording.
Naples Daily News
April 25th, 2016
Review of Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore with Gulfshore Opera
"Soprano Danielle Talamantes was the blessing of the evening as the headstrong, independent heroine Adina. If this, as Talamantes has said, is her first Donizetti opera, we can’t wait for her second.Vaulting every coloratura device, including colorful runs, with ease and impeccable phrasing, Talamantes’ silvery voice created an Adina to be aspired to. The vocal sparring between her and Musa Ngqungwana on “Lo son ricco e tu sei bella (I am rich and you are beautiful)” is a textbook model on how to sing the village square battle of wits between self-appointed emcee Dulcamara and Adina."