Bass-baritone James Longmire, one of our region's major success stories, gave a relatively brief recital on behalf of Arts Access, Inc., another of our region's major success stories. The singer, blind from birth, has completed his education to the doctoral level, traveled overseas, and developed an impressive performing and teaching career that has been pursued, for the most part, right here, in his hometown. It's good to be able to report that he is singing better now than ever.
Arts Access, the presenting organization, is unique among our state's cultural organizations in focusing its efforts on the enhancement of opportunities for persons with disabilities — disabilities of all kinds — to participate in the arts in our city, county, and region.
In Meredith College's Carswell Recital Hall, which is nearly accessible* in ADA terms, Arts Access pulled out all its many stops to demonstrate the range of services it provides. The recital was audio described and sign language interpreted. There were large-print and Braille programs. The most obvious provider of these services — the interpreter — was stationed to the right of the stage. Otherwise, with the exception of the fuller-than-usual program booklet, regular patrons of the venue, where the college presents many, many programs every year, would have found nothing at all "out of the ordinary" about the event, which drew a capacity crowd that greeted the introductory comments and the program itself with considerable enthusiasm. The program included texts of all selections, including those sung in English, plus translations of the works in foreign languages. (This is a "service" that should be de rigueur for all vocal programs!) It may be worth noting that Longmire's diction is superb, so in fact the printed words were rarely needed.
Things got underway with the da capo aria "Honor in arms" from Handel's oratorio Samson. Balance and rapport between the singer and accompanist Susan Timmons was good, although the results were somewhat mixed. Handel is so magnificent it seems a shame to use his great music for warming up, as seemed to be the case on this occasion. That Longmire can sing Handel handsomely was however clearly evident. A more substantial selection from his stage works would be most welcome on a future recital program.
Three Lieder by Strauss ("Die Nacht," "Traum durch die Dämmerung," and "Zueignung") allowed Longmire to demonstrate his winning way with words and his keen sense of projection. An aria ("Non più andrai") from Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro was brilliantly and stylishly delivered.
The rest of the program, which resumed after a brief intermission, was sung in English. There were three numbers from Copland's Old American Songs that made one wish the entire collection had been given. The Shaker tune "Simple Gifts" is of course one of our most beautiful native melodies; and "Long Time Ago" is a great heart-on-the-sleeve song that Copland had the good sense to leave pretty much alone. The wit and humor Longmire conveyed in "I Bought Me a Cat," aided and abetted by outstanding timing from his artistic partner, brought the house down.
Three songs from the African-American experience — "Honor, honor," "Dusty Road" (with a poem by Langston Hughes), and "Witness" — are part of Longmire's heart and soul, and his performances of them were memorable. So, too, was his delivery of two great Cole Porter songs and "If I were a rich man," from Fiddler on the Roof. The encore was Burleigh's arrangement of "Deep River," in which Longmire's deep voice again seemed something akin to a force of nature on its own merits. The audience rewarded the artists with fervent applause before adjourning to the lobby to greet them and enjoy a reception.
Readers who have yet to experience Longmire in concert have a treat in store, so check our calendar from time to time for listings of future performances. Arts Access' audio description and sign language interpretation services are routinely listed in our theatre openings page and other calendars. For more information, see the organization's comprehensive website at http://www.artsaccessinc.org/.
*The hall lacks an assistive listening system.