The first concert of Atlanta’s fall classical season arrives early this year. New Trinity Baroque, viable despite the recession and cutbacks last spring, will perform a concert of Italian music Saturday, September 4 — mostly concertos by Corelli, Mandredini and Torelli, plus Antonio Vivaldi’s first masterpiece of sacred music, the Stabat Mater. Magdalena Wór, a promising mezzo-soprano, will sing the solo part.
Wór’s career is going international as she exits her 20s. She’s made substantive contributions to the local scene for a decade, first as a student at Georgia State University and later with countless local groups, from the Cobb Symphony in Mahler’s Second Symphony to the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in Handel’s “Messiah” (under Norman Mackenzie) and Bach’s Magnificat (under Robert Spano). She’ll return to the ASO in December with another “Messiah” and Vivaldi’s Gloria.
In that Magnificat review, from 2006, I wrote, “The standout voice belonged to mezzo-soprano Wór … she brought unexpected warmth to ‘Esurientes implevit bonis’ (‘The hungry he has filled with good’), a darling little aria accompanied by two flutes. She garbled a few words, but it was otherwise a pleasure to hear the plush textures and dark, chocolatey timbre of her voice.”
At 11, Wór’s family moved from the picturesque Polish spa town of Lądek Zdrój, near the Czech border, to the U.S. — her father is a physiotherapist — eventually settling in Duluth, a suburb north of Atlanta. She describes her family as somewhat musical, with a grandfather who was a professional accordionist and bandleader. An only child, she started piano lessons at 7 and was soon in the choir at a Polish-language Catholic church in Lawrenceville, where she served as cantor till 2006, when she won a coveted spot in the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists Program with the Washington National Opera.
Along the way, Wór made it to the finals of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in 2002 — having won the Southeastern regionals — which led to her covering a small role at the Met. She made her professional debut in November 2008, playing comically cruel stepsister Tisbe in “La Cenerentola” at the Atlanta Opera (photo below).
Now her repertoire is expanding in several directions. She was the “cover” for countertenor David Daniels in the Atlanta Opera’s “Orfeo ed Euridice” and in April 2010 sang her first Carmen with the Palm Beach Opera (with Rafael Davila as Don José, pictured below). A competition win at the Baltic Opera of Gdansk, Poland, will lead to concert performances and a lead role in an opera production in the city famous for the Solidarity workers’ protests a generation ago.
“Right now I’m a chameleon and people look at me quizzically,” Wór said. “They wonder how I can sing the Witch in ‘Hansel and Gretel’ and also Carmen and Dorabella [from ‘Cosí fan tutte’], which is a ‘second soprano’ voice. The hardest thing about being a young artist is patience. Everything is booked two or three years in advance, and I’m slowly finding my way.” She calls the baroque and classical repertoire especially suited to her voice and temperament, from Mozart “trouser” roles (Cherubino et al.) to the charismatic heroes premiered by castratos in the 18th century, including Handel’s Ariodante and Andronico.
Vivaldi’s Stabat Mater — the hymn of the Virgin Mary suffering at the Crucifixion — was composed in an era when women were barred from singing in churches. A castrato likely sang at the 1712 premiere, and the singer doesn’t impersonate Mary but reflects on her misery. “I find the music very spiritual. It’s my Catholic faith, but it’s one step removed as narrator,” said Wór. “Vivaldi recycles the music and it’s really very, very focused on the words.”
Indeed, the Stabat Mater shows Vivaldi’s genius of simplicity. Most of the music is in F minor, the orchestration is spare, the tunes from the beginning are repeated at the end, and the mood is steady and somber throughout.
Yet the line “Dum pendebat Filius,” in the opening movement, is one of many phrases that reach for the sublime, both sensuous and sorrowful. For all its pious expression, it’s music from a time when churches in and around Venice were competing for parishioners to boost donations and patronage. Sacred entertainments, like the Stabat Mater, hitched the intense emotions and lyricism of the opera house to Latin texts.
New Trinity Baroque and Wór will record this weekend’s Stabat Mater. Although most of her stuff remains in storage in Washington, she’s living with her parents in Duluth. “I’m homeless right now,” she offers with some resignation, adding that she plans one day to move back to D.C. “Living in Atlanta isn’t so bad. I can easily take lessons with my teacher [Georgia State’s Magdalena Moulson-Falewicz], and I take everything I’m preparing to her. There’s easy access to New York, to fly there for auditions. I can work with wonderful groups like New Trinity. And I can send out my press kit from anywhere.”