Guest soprano will warm your winter souls

It wasn’t long ago that soprano Veronica Turner, 30, dismissed Puccini.

“When I started college,” Turner said “I didn’t like his music at all.”

At the turn of the millennium, Turner was a vocal performance major at the University of Denver.

That was then, this is now. By the time she graduated magna cum laude in 2005, her tune had changed. When she completed her master’s at the University of Montana, she had shifted her opinion of Puccini’s music even further.

Now she’s completing her doctoral degree in vocal performance at the University of Nebraska – not only is she writing her dissertation on Puccini’s opera “Suor Angelica,” (Sister Angelica, from the trilogy “Il Trittico), she has also sung the lead in this one-act tragedy three times.

On Feb. 28, Turner will sing “Senza mamma,” the beautiful prayer that brings the opera to its remarkable ending. This will be her first solo recital in the area, and it’s the third offering this season in the Unitarian Universalist Chamber Music Series.

“I needed to have opera on the program,” Turner said. For Puccini fans, she will also sing “Tu che di gel sei cinta” from the composer’s final masterpiece, “Turandot.”

The recital will open, however, in a lighter and more lyrical vein with “Pie Jesu” from Faure’s Requiem.

“It’s a simple and beautiful melody,” she said. “I wanted to start with a piece by itself. It’s very popular, and many people will recognize it. It’s been transcribed for any number of solo instruments.”

Arias from three different Handel oratorios will follow, and the centerpiece of the concert will be a 12-minute work by Franz Schubert for soprano, clarinet and piano.

“This is the one piece that Marilyn Garst requested,” Turner said.

Garst is music director at the Unitarian fellowship, organizer of the chamber series and an accomplished pianist, harpsichordist and soloist in her own right.

“Marilyn heard me perform this with my husband, Josh Mietz, and Linda Mack-Berven in a Fort Lewis faculty recital,” Turner said. “It’s a fairly famous chamber piece, and we’re happy to perform it again – this time with Marilyn at the piano.”

Four salon pieces will pick up the French thread again, she said.

“These are by Raynaldo Hahn, very simple, very beautiful and very French – if you know what I mean,” she said.

After the Puccini interlude, Turner will close with three light-hearted songs by the American musician Libby Larsen.

“She’s a living composer, and it’s logical for a Durango audience that I would close with these ‘Cowboy Songs,’” she said. “They have nice melodies and quirky accompaniment – very rangy for the voice, and by that, I mean they span well over two-and-a-half octaves.”

If you haven’t heard her sing, be prepared for her brilliant, shimmering lyric soprano voice.

“Many people are surprised that I have a low speaking voice when I have such a high singing voice,” she said. “But that’s true of a lot of sopranos.”

Tickets are $15 adults, $7 children and students. The Unitarian Fellowship is at 419 San Juan Drive and has a large parking lot. This is the seventh year of the chamber music festival, and patrons are always invited to a reception afterward to meet the musicians and enjoy food and wine. Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic.

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