Most Memorable Debut for Coloratura From Claremont
Night clubs are not the natural habitat of this rather square musicaI chronicler. Not, for that matter, are singers who specialize in non-classics his customary objects of evaluation.
Every once in a while, however, an event takes place that transcends normal restrictions. Such an event was the local stage debut of a remarkable coIoratura from Claremont named Elva Miller. That debut took place Friday night amid 265 acres of tropical plants, 40 acres of artificial lakes, and a modest but obviously enthralled gathering of the devout, at the Royal Tahitian in Ontario. It was a memorable occasion.
The Royal Tahitian has a charming outdoor theater which complements its quasi-Polynesian restaurant (good chicken stuffed with almonds and apples) and quasi-exotic bar (I recommend a sneaky green concoction called "Vicious Virgin"). On Friday night it housed endless preliminary ceremonies to wet the appetite for Mrs. Miller's appearance: an appealing septet of non-hipsters called the Youngfolk; a loud, bedraggled and hairy collection of terrorists called The Black Sheep; a pleasantly rancid corn salesman named Pat Buttram, and a rather hysterical pair of gyrators who enjoy being overpowered by all-to-electric guitars. The latter were labeled Dick and Dee Dee or give the kind of pleasure.
A highly reputed vocalist named Mel Carter also set foot on the tribal-hut stage of the Concert Gardens. But none of the attractions could eclipse the glory of the evening and my raison d'etre for attending: Mrs. Miller. Few artists of any age have at their disposal the ability to give the kind of pleasure she does.
The Miller style is difficult to describe. It combines elements of both classical and avant-garde interpretation in a unique, often genial manner. The soprano's technique is impeccable, and, in this repertory, more than equal to the inherant demands.
Her range is ample, her sense of phrase never less than apt, her rhythmic impulse invariably vital, her variety of tone color arresting, her linear flexibility extraordinary, her command of intonation masterly. Still, to speak of Mrs. Miller in terms of mechanical analysis insults the essence of her communicative flair.
The important - and most ingratiating - aspect of her art is her devotion to it. How many performers, in this or any medium, display such infectious pride in their work? Actually, work is the wrong word here. Mission is more like it. Mrs. Miller eschews the frills essential to less resourceful performers. No fancy costumes or high-faluting production numbers for her. Instead, she concentrates (intensely) on the challenge at hand, and surmounts all obstacles with the charm and determination of a defensive Valkyrie.
Although the soprano had the good sense to buck modern trends and bring along her own conductor, there still were a few mishaps in Friday's concert. She and the chivalrous Youngfolk parted company for one precarious moment in an agitated arioso passage ("These Boots Are Made for Walking").
The combination of nocturnal breezes and lingering sniffles threatened to ruffle tonal purity in the lyric ecstasy of "Lover's Concerto." But professionalism, artistry, and dedication triumphed.
The prima donna assoluta of her field received a standing ovation at the end of the performance. It had been a severe test, both psychologically and artistically, but, except for a tiny blemish in the whistled obbligato to "Downtown," there had been no traces of the customary debut nerves. Mrs. Miller deserved every decibel of her ovation.