New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
In a stage setting reminiscent of a Romantic tableau vivant, with vases of flowers on pedestals and mezzo soprano Kirsten Kane in Grecian costume and hair design, a musical program produced around the seldom performed dramatic song cycle, “Sappho, Nine Fragments for Contralto”, by Sir Granville Bantock (1868-1964) with Sapphic texts in English by Helen Bantock, his wife, had the feel of an intimate recital drenched in the Classical yet contemporary in Sappho’s ageless observations of everything that comes with loving another.
The concert, of which there have been several in various cities, was inspired by and was a launch for Duban’s acclaimed new book published by Clairview Books, “The Lesbian Lyre: Reclaiming Sappho for the 21st Century”, on Sappho and the Greek lyric and epic song from which Western literature takes its start. The concert was presented by Duban’s non-profit foundation, Aegean Arts, and Silver Thread Productions. The book, says Duban, “is also a corrective to the mistranslation of Sappho, and to certain erroneous scholarly tendencies of the past fifty years and more”. He is also the author of “Antiquity’s Poetess and Ours”
Originally scored for orchestra, the song cycle, “Sappho, Nine Fragments for Contralto” in a rare piano transcription by an anonymous author, was played by Eri Nakamura at Lincoln Center’s Bruno Walter Auditorium on June 8. The concert was punctuated throughout by Duban’s recitation of Sappho’s poetry in its original Aeolic dialect. Duban is a classicist, classical philologist, and attorney.
Kirsten Kane embodied the changing emotions—many heart wrenching—of the lovelorn Sappho in the nine songs of the cycle,. The first song performed in the concert, and Sappho’s only extant complete poem, was “Hymn to Aphrodite”, in which Sappho requests the help of the goddess of love. There is a near-complete second poem, and a succession of fragments of one or two lines surviving as quotations in the works of others dating centuries or a millennium or more after Sappho. Helen Bantock strung together unrelated fragments from Henry Thornton Wharton’s English translation, “Sappho” (1885, 1887, and 1895) (a memoir, Greek text, literal translation, selected renderings, and bibliography), changed word orders and added transitional phrases of her own to shape nine narratively and emotionally integrated poems, “making the thrust and meaning of the works uniquely hers,” Duban writes, stating that the inspiration of her ancient Greek mentor, Sappho, is nonetheless apparent.
The concert was a true homage to Sappho, born over 2,600 years ago on the Greek island of Lesbos (7th– 6th centuries BC). Held to be antiquity’s greatest lyric poet from only rare fragments of her poetry, Sappho was hailed by Plato as the “Tenth Muse” of ancient Greek poetry, and she is “shrouded in mystery”, Duban writes, “There can be no other great reputation sustained by so small a body of surviving work than that of the poetess Sappho”. He quotes the English poet and literary critic, John Addington Symonds, who wrote, “The world has suffered no greater literary loss than the loss of Sappho’s poems. So perfect are the smallest fragments preserved … of all the poets of the world, of all the illustrious artists of all literature, Sappho is the one, whose every word has a peculiar and unmistakable perfume, a seal of absolute perfection and illimitable grace.”
Kirsten Kane is a recitalist and opera singer who has been praised as “a consummate artist with a vividly expressive voice and superb musical imagination. Her beautiful singing, her intelligence, and her keen sense of dramatic focus and pacing are a world-class combination”, said David Gordon, Adams Vocal master Class Director, Carmel Bach Festival. She has performed at the New York Philharmonic (her debut, in Janacek’s The Cunning Little Vixen), the role of Badessa in Suor Angelica at Weill Recital Hall (New York Lyric Opera), One World Symphony, NY Continuo Collective, Hellenic Music Foundation, The New York City opera, Mostly Mozart Festival, Bard Summerscape opera, New York City Ballet, Vienna Philharmonic, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Royal Concertgebouw, New York Choral Artists, Kyrenia Opera, Teatro Grattacielo, and others. At the 2005 New York International Fringe Festival, she originated the role of Kathleen in the world premiere of Susan Stoderl’s contemporary opera A.F.R.A.I.D.
Eri Nakamura has performed extensively throughout the United States, Canada, Italy, and Japan. Noted for her exquisite playing, she is equally at home as soloist and collaborator. She was first prize winner of the Yale School of Music Chamber Music Competition, the Miyazawa Piano Competition in Japan, and recipient of the Distinguished Musician Award at the IBLA Grand Prize International Piano Competition, Ragusa, Italy.