Classical Boikanyo finds her voice in the art song

Boikanyo finds her voice in the art song

This year’s Standard Bank Young Artist for Music, Kelebogile Boikanyo’s recital traversed a wide selection of works mostly from the well trodden operatic bonbon repertory. However, it was in the art song offerings of Rimsky-Korsakov, Cui, and De Falla that Boikanyo found her true realm of artistic expression.

Here her vocal placing was more settled and focused, the melodic line projected with untrammelled ease, and vibrato stylishly applied and controlled. The high level of musical control and artistic surety evidenced in these songs confirms that, at this stage of her career, the art song genre is Boikanyo’s true performance métier.

Boikanyo effectively captured the mood in Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Swift Parade of Clouds, conveying the text with conviction and integrity. This feeling for artistic reliability was continued in a compelling performance of Cui’s Here the Lilac Blossom Fades, where Boikanyo’s rapt concentration produced an evocative, perfect blend between text and music. Two canciones by De Falla received professional treatment, with each vocal inflection stylishly colouring the Spanish idiom. Accompanist Paul Ferreira’s characterisation of the score allowed the fiendish piano parts to narrate dramatically, sensually, and imaginatively.

Throughout the recital, Ferreira’s colouring of harmonic shifts and detailing of the ever-changing dramatic landscape richly added to a complete appreciation of each work. His sumptuous, creamy cantabile blended seamlessly with the vocal line. Equally impressive was his excellent timing, with the singer’s vowel sounds allowing the singer time to breathe and prepare each phrase effortlessly.

The operatic arias performed during the first part of the programme were an unfortunate inclusion, as Boikanyo’s over-use of chest voice and obvious throat tension resulted in unease and a thinness of sound when swooping into the upper register. Uncontrolled vibrato that blurred the pitch, particularly noticeable at cadence points, detracted from complete appreciation in the opening aria, Piangeró la sorte mia, by Handel.

In general, the operatic repertoire’s sustained legato melodic lines were rendered with a forced, unnatural tone with intermittent glottal shocks that detracted from pure bel canto delivery. Being able to milk the top B in Quando men vo or the high A-flat in O mio babbino caro might win easy applause, but does not conceal limitations in cantabile projection – a drawback that strangely evaporates when Boikanyo sings the art song repertory.

A talent worth watching

Thembisile Twala joined Boikanyo in three duets, and immediately impressed with her silky, full-bodied sound and even distribution of tone across registers. This is an impressive performer, whose interpretative command and convincing presentation was of a thoroughly professional standard.

Boikanyo is certainly a talent worth watching, but this award is, in my opinion, a little premature given the lustre and prestige of this award on the national stage. In short, her repertoire needs more grooming, while her professional experience – when compared to previous winners – needs to develop substance. Boikanyo’s repertoire needs to expand beyond an assortment of well-known arias from a pot-pourri of operas, interspersed with individual song items.

I would love to hear her explore the French chanson repertory of Duparc and Debussy. Moreover, I look forward to hearing her engage and sustain a range of operatic roles and develop expertise in a variety of vocal genres.

-Jeff Brukman-



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