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Middlebury composer premieres operatic works

MIDDLEBURY — The Opera Company of Middlebury and Town Hall Theater present a special concert featuring Cuban-American composer and Middlebury resident Jorge Martín. Martin will perform his works with tenor Brian Downen and mezzo-soprano Cherry Duke (pictured below) on Saturday, Feb. 23.
Downen commissioned and will perform four new songs on the poetry of Mexican poet Amado Nervo. Downen premiered the songs with Martín on the piano in September of 2018 at the University of Texas at El Paso.
“I was very excited when Jorge agreed to write these songs for me,” Downen said. “The deeply moving poetry of Nervo — one of the most important Mexican poets of the 19th century — was ideal for a world premiere on the border.”
“En Paz,” one of Nervo’s most famous poems, is the title for this new song collection, which adds to the impressive canon of modern art song in Spanish.
Cherry Duke will perform Martín’s 2011 song cycle, “So Beautiful.” Featured on the 2014 album “Plundered Hearts,” “So Beautiful” explores ecstatic poetry by Turkish writer Orhan Veli Kanik. The cycle is launched by recognition of the poet’s being caught by that “writing disease.” From there a series of poems increasingly frustrated by “faulty” words that cannot capture the wonder of creation culminates in the final song, in which syntax breaks down completely, and all that’s left is a set of sensual impressions.
In addition to these two regional premieres, Downen and Duke will each perform a set of operatic arias, including works from bel canto, verismo and modern operas.
Martín will be the pianist for this concert; he and the singers will be joined by violinist Sofia Hirsch for the final piece, “City of Orgies,” based on Walt Whitman’s poem of the same name. A reception will follow the performance.
Tickets for this show on Saturday, Feb. 23, at 7:30 p.m., are $20-$40 and may be purchased at townhallteater.org, by calling (802) 382-9222, at the THT box office (Monday-Saturday, 12-5 p.m.) or at the door, if available.
About the artists
Martín writes in all major genres: opera, orchestral, chamber, choral, vocal and solo works. Concert Artists Guild, Close Encounters with Music and the Vermont Contemporary Music Ensemble have been among those commissioning his music. In 2019 the Cecilia Chorus of NY is featuring his “One Hour to Madness and Joy” to celebrate the Whitman bicentennial, and the Center for Contemporary Opera will present the world premiere of the staged version of The Glass Hammer. He won the 2003 Vermont Music Teachers commission award; in 2001 he was one of the featured composers in New York City Opera’s “Vox: Showcasing American Composers.”
Hailed as a “radiant and confident” performer, American mezzo-soprano Cherry Duke “is a singer who communicates both the music and the text impeccably.” Opera Company of Middlebury audiences may recognize Cherry Duke for her portrayal of the sexy and hilarious title character in “The Italian Girl in Algiers.”
Highly regarded for his performances of the bel canto operatic repertoire, Brian Downen made his Metropolitan Opera debut in the spring of 2016 as Lord Cecil in Donizetti’s “Roberto Devereux.” He has sung leading roles in more than 60 productions for opera houses in the U.S., Europe and Canada.

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