When Sagar Rao ’22 began studying voice at 14, he was drawn to the work of Franz Schubert. An appreciation of the composer’s style led Rao to sing a piece from Winterreise, a 24-song cycle, for his high school senior recital.
“What has always connected me to this piece is the poetry and story of the cycle, and the challenge of singing it,” says Rao, a philosophy and biology major from Palo Alto, Calif.
This Friday, Rao will attain a goal many years in the making by performing the song cycle in its entirety at Swarthmore, for his senior voice recital — just the latest in a robust and wide-ranging program of recitals performed by nine students at the College this academic year.
Winterreise is a setting of 24 poems by Wilhelm Müller. Rao describes it as a tale of “unrequited love giving way to utter despair.” The narrator is a heartbroken man who leaves home and strikes out into the darkness of a winter night. Alone amid the elements, he calls for death, but nature denies him an escape from his pain.
“The cycle is actually a kind of sung dramatic monologue,” told from the perspective of a single character, explains Rao.
Rao, whose favorite piece to perform is Der greise Kopf (no. 14), calls Winterreise an is “an emotional trial, as a singer or as a listener," and thus a challenge for any performer; the song cycle requires “physical and emotional stamina.” Maintaining proper vocal technique is essential for a vocalist to persevere through all 24 pieces.
Ordinarily, the song cycle is performed without breaks, over approximately 90 minutes. But singing the entire cycle without breaks is too daunting for Rao; he will be performing with two intermissions of 10 minutes, one after the first eight songs and another after the second eight.
“Perhaps one day when I'm older, I'll be able to perform the cycle well without intermissions,” says Rao, a baritone who primarily sings German and Italian art songs as well as songs in other languages and genres.
A critical element of Rao’s preparation has been his work with Lara Nie, his current voice teacher, and Debra Scurto-Davis, his vocal coach. Both guided his technique in terms of language, diction, and style.
Rao’s performance is part of the most eclectic mix of recitals presented by The Department of Music and Dance in recent years. The Music Program is offering eight senior recitals this semester, following one in the fall.It’s a robust return to recitals in front of live audiences, after the cancellation of recitals in the spring 2020 and virtual presentations in spring 2021 as a result of COVID-19.
Last weekend, Yasmin Aguillon ’22 presented an oboe recital, Maxwell Gong ’22 a self-created sound distortion program with video, and Emma Novak ’22 an honors voice recital.
Earlier this year, Hannah Sobel '22 presented her senior recital, which included her singing of pieces by Italian composer Gian Carlo Menotti and American composer Aaron Copland as well as other student singers performing all original works by Sobel herself. This all came following a busy fall for Sobel, which included the fully staged production of her original comedy musical, The Kai's the Limit! on the LPAC Mainstage as well as the staged reading of her operetta Speed Dating.
Sobel’s opera Brooklyn Bound L will be performed on April 8 and 9 at 6 p.m. in the amphitheater, presented by the Swarthmore student-led Drama Board. She will continue to compose after she graduates in May, having already lined up a commission to write for a string quartet.
Still to come are a voice recital from Maya Plotnick ’22 on April 9, a heavy metal performance from Peter Wu ’22 and his band, Scintilla!, on April 17, and an honors piano recital from Leo Posel ’22 accompanied by Noah Jarrett on bass and Douglas Hirlinger on drums on April 22.
Each of these recitals will be livestreamed online. Please check Music’s calendar of events for the most up-to-date concert information. For Rao’s recital, set for Friday, April 1 at 8 p.m. attendees are encouraged to visit the upper lobby of Lang Music Building at 7:15 for a special opening act. Please note that the College requires individuals to wear masks for performances at the Lang Music Building.