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  • Jonathan Widran

DANAE XANTHE VLASSE, A Concert & Celebration of Mythologies at Skirball Cultural Center

As part of her artistic mission statement that must be cited in any insightful profile or review of a recording or live performance, Award winning new age/classical composer and soprano Danae Xanthe Vlasse has long made it her goal to use the transcendent eloquence of her music to bring beauty, truth and elevation to her listeners and the world.

Though not as prominently expressed, the other powerful attribute she’s mastered is the joyful art of collaboration and sharing the creative spotlight with those she entrusts to manifest her ever-expansive vision. Testament to this is the fact that at the check in for her highly anticipated October 21 concert celebration of her epic latest work Mythologies at the Skirball Cultral Center, there were attending signs reading, “Sangeeta Kaur Concert and Reception” and “Birthday Concert In Honor of Hai Nguyen,” Sangeeta’s husband and collaborator.

Fans of Danae and her fellow soprano Sangeeta know that the two are true musical soul sisters and deeply dynamic collaborators – and of course, Sangeeta was on the roster of performers for the live event in the center’s Ahmanson Ballroom that would also include their fellow soprano Hila Plitmann, pianist Robert Thies, cellist Charles Tyler, violinist Filip Pogády and violist Virginie d'Avezac de Castéra.

Some in the check in line may have been confused by the posted signs, but this is clearly how Danae rolls. In an industry where so many artists put ego first, her graciousness in celebrating the talents and special occasions of those loved ones sin her circle is a wonderful thing to behold.

Danae’s spirit of generosity extended to the unique hour long multi-media and live presentation of the music of Mythologies, which began with her acknowledgement about how grand it is to have the opportunity to gather and be “in communion with music” after so many months of lockdown and no or limited public performances. The French born vocalist then briefly mentioned that the project was inspired by her half-Greek heritage and the way the mythology of that ancient culture still inspires our storytelling. “They gave us superheroes, and the battle between fate and free will,” she said.

Before the musicians took the stage, Danae treated everyone to the stunning, truly immersive (in more ways than one) experience of a five years in the making, visually stunning 12 minute art film created around “Sirens,” the dramatic, ethereal piece that opens the album. Now available to view on YouTube (but quite spectacular to see on a large screen!), it features the gorgeous solo and often harmonically entwined operatic voices of Danae and Sangeeta with simple piano accompaniment as soundtrack to a seafaring adventure that’s generally gentle and soothing (as we follow the curiosities of a brightly colored mermaid, a small boat on a sunlit sea and the excitement of an approaching horizon), yet at times stormy and intense. The two singers appear in tandem, and sometimes Danae is shown at the piano, within the undulating confines of the sunlit sea.

The soulful, inviting and visually stunning video was the perfect way to set the mood for the live show, a showcase for four of the other main pieces on Mythology featuring vibrant solo and dual vocal segments by Sangeeta and Hila, Thies’ alternately lilting/elegant/haunting and then suddenly (to suit the shifting, sometimes jarring narratives), explosive piano, and the well-placed solos and harmonic accompaniment of the individual string players. On Danae’s landmark “Poseidon & Odysseus,” the fiery storm and enduring calm afterward are musically “visualized” by a haunting operatic vocal evolving into an intensified single vocal line, and subtle piano becoming more frenetic and combining with Tyler’s long cello notes.

The next piece, “Penelope” was featured in Sangeeta’s recent PBS special as a vocal trio by Sangeeta, Hila and Danae. At the Skirball, Sangeeta and Hila took the emotional reins as the music fluctuated to reflect the original story’s protagonist’s slow, meticulous work, and then more emphatic affirmations as she takes control over her life choices. The interweaving of the two sopranos shared the character’s movement from hope and despair, enhanced by the beautiful whimsy of Pogady’s violin. The ensemble followed this with the world premiere of the intimate and contemplative, “sorrow turns to triumph” all-instrumental piece “Nepenthe,” performed by the trio of Thies, Tyler and Pogády.

Danae’s introduction to the dynamics-filled final piece “Euterpe’s Lament” applied our collective contemporary zeitgeist to a sonic world she conceived based on an enduring story from long ago. She composed it during a time when she and the world needed the kind of musical solace it offers. Ending the tune in C major was her way of emphasizing her belief that no matter what else happens in our lives, music and the arts will survive. The performance centers on the hypnotic soaring dual voices of Sangeeta and Hila, highlighted by a fascinating moment where Hila engaged in a solo vocal with Tyler’s dark and ominous cello.

Interestingly, throughout the evening Danae seemed quite content to play host, sharing anecdotes about each piece before joining us in awe as her friends gracefully and sometimes rapturously infused their own unique muses into her adventurous sonic visions. But on this last number, she pulled out her exotic stringed instrument (the lyra) and duetted sweetly and slyly with Thies for a time before the other strings began swirling around them.

After the rousing applause for the main show, as one of those signs promised, everyone in the enthralled audience stayed to sing “Happy Birthday” to Hai Hguyen as part of the larger social affair surrounding what Danae and just about every attendee posting later on Facebook called “a monumental night.” Next time around, however, it would be even more splendid if Danae could take center stage and regal us with her vocal and ivory brilliance.


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