· By Nicholas Stevens

Recitations & Recitalists: Stephanie Lamprea Sings Aperghis

Multi-hyphenate soprano Stephanie Lamprea made her recorded debut with a project of breathtaking scope: a multi-volume anthology of over 50 solo works—all commissioned, learned, recorded, and released within 14 months after COVID-19 arrived in the Americas.

Since the final instalment in the project, Lamprea has kept recording, making a formal solo debut record and, in 2023, an album devoted to Georges Aperghis's 14 Récitations, both on New Focus Recordings. We caught up with this "architect of new sounds and expressions" as the latter release hit the internet and—in a first for the artist—physical record shops as well.


ArkivMusic: You have been performing the 14 Récitations, a landmark set of short pieces for solo voice from 1977-78, for years now. How did you know it was time to record them?

Stephanie Lamprea: When I started my doctorate at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in 2021, one of my chosen projects was to create a multidisciplinary performance of the Récitations with staging and dance choreography. I had the opportunity to spend a long time with the work and to massively reinterpret it, and so I thought, “why not work the piece from the inside out?” Since my doctoral performance was to be a staged production, I spent time first interpreting the work in a purely sonic format to find ways in which the voice alone could communicate. In the meantime, I was beginning to train in Nadine George Voice Work (a voice method for actors), and my doctoral research was leaning towards feminist new materialism, and particularly feminist methods of vocal performance.
This point in my life felt like a uniquely transformative moment with the Récitations, and so I felt I wanted to document that moment with this album. I wanted my artistic transformation to be the motivation behind the making of the album, as opposed to the making of the album being the motivation to artistically transform.

AM: Your Unaccompanied series was released independently and digital-only. How did you come to work with New Focus on your previous (also digital-only) record Quaking Aspen, and how does it feel to now have this second album, with a physical CD as a product of your ongoing work with them?

SL: I have always been a huge fan of New Focusthe artists involved and the amazing albums released on their catalogand the label’s mission to release “contemporary creative music of many stripes” resonated very deeply with my artistic practice and my own mission to work with emerging and established composers.
Even though 14 Récitations was released on the same label [as my first album], having a physical plus digital release felt very different. I was only featuring one composer on the album, and so the collaboration came from not only the label, but my production team as well. The focus was really homed into my voice as a representation of our collaboration, especially since the voice in this album is completely unaccompanied.
Second, since the Récitations is an established opus with only two complete recordings, creating my disc felt like I was entering a line of history, so to speak. And so to hold the physical CD in my hand, and to be able to offer the physical CD to a wider community feels like an immense privilege.

AM: We hear a wide spectrum of vocalizations in these performances, from the screams and growls of no. 5 to the sustained pitches of no. 6 to the rapid declamation of no. 8. How did you prepare to make this record, in terms of practice and vocal upkeep?

SL: I had four recording sessions at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland to record the opus. Each was 90 minutes, and I’m much happier having several shorter sessions, as opposed to one long session. When I perform the work live, my preparation of the work is much more about the long journey and endurance aspect, and it really depends on how I’m feeling that day. It’s an approach that perhaps is more forgiving, in case my voice is not feeling greatbut it’s also an approach that can be more spontaneous, as I make musical choices on stage based on how I am feeling. That isn’t to say my interpretation live is completely improvised; I decide on several key musical choices before walking on stage, but those choices can change based on how my body is feeling in the moment.
With this recording, I wanted to retain a sense of spontaneity, but I needed to be more specific on musical choices so that the whole work sounded musically and sonically coherent. Additionally, my interpretation was audio-only (many of Aperghis’ works are theater-oriented and use a combination of musical and stage elements), and so the timbres I used (as well as transitions between timbres) had to sound very specific and very intentional. Even the way a breath sounded needed to be in adherence to the musical thought.
With that in mind, I sketched out my overall arc of the work, and then divided the sessions into categories of similar technical demands (such as high notes, or low notes, or extended techniques). In this way, I could cross-train my voice to be sure that, say, one session I would have at least 3 dozen high Cs to give with ease, and another session I could work with darker tones without fear of not having high notes later. Certain special noises like screams were taken in separate takes.

AM: Some of the tracks have a distinct sense of space and resonancefor instance, the pivotal no. 9, which gives an impression of enclosure.

SL: For the recording, we had a close up mic and a room mic. The room we recorded in was very tall, though not that big in area. So, there was some ambience that we could play with. Eric Chasalow also was able to add really amazing and specific ambience in post, in order to get a sense of a large performance space. Because of the wide dynamic range of the work, I played with microphone technique quite a bit. For example, the last movement is completely whispered, and so I was very close to the microphone, in contrast with some of the more operatic singing previously for which I step back from the microphone.
With regards to post-production, Récitation 9 was the most difficult movement to capture. The voice goes back and forth between soft whispers and very loud vocalises. Additionally, the space we recorded in wasn’t completely silent - sometimes you hear a rolling cart in the background from an opera that was taking place in the building that afternoon! Eric and I decided on a completely different acoustic for Récitation 9 from the rest of the work. It's one of two movements with an actual translation; with that juxtaposed with the different varieties of vocal expression, one can question, who is saying what? Is this the singer, or are these voices in her head?
And so, we used different settings of echos and reverb to enhance the mystery of where these voices were coming from. I find the approach very jarring (in a good way!), and since I take the movement quite slowly, it’s eerily persistent.
Stephanie Lamprea
Stephanie Lamprea. Photo by Anne Kjær

AM: In the Récitations, as in so many landmark works for solo voice from the past few decades, the soloist necessarily steps in as a co-creator, in dialogue with the score. What moments might you point to where your feminist interpretation of the pieces guided audible musical decisions?

SL: I think the movements in which my feminist interpretation really lights things up are 5, 7, 9, 11, 12, and 14. All of these movements, though sounding quite different, offer space for multiplicity of the voice, and changes of perspective within the repetition of phrases. They also highlight sounds that are quite rough and grotesque to the more conservative ear, especially those who expect female sounds to be “beautiful” in the conventional classical sense. In my interpretation, I really wanted to challenge the traditional notion of what it means for a woman to make a beautiful or un-beautiful sound. By embodying all of the different sounds composed in the Récitations, I strive to present a woman speaking with all aspects of her voice, and thus, expressing all of her truth.
There are a lot of moments of duality in this work which I really appreciate, such as Récitation 7 which has low moaning sounds along with high nasal mutterings. To me, it reflects an inner and outer life at odds with each other, and to perform an art piece like this reveals to me how much conflict the mind can take. There are also movements like Recitation 12, which has one type of vocal sound (a sort of virtuosic bel canto singing with lots of melodic jumps and turns), but the kinetic energy that builds throughout the movement really affects the sound and my feelings as a performer. It becomes wild and desperate in a way that feels completely organic.

AM: Please tell us about the Récitations in Motion program! Can people see your work live anywhere soon?

SL: Récitations in Motion is my multidisciplinary performance of this piece! The production includes acoustic voice, recorded voice, elements of dance and theatre, integrated use of props, and British Sign Language. These elements are paired variously throughout the performance to showcase the different responses voice and body can have to each other, as well as to reveal the female voicedisembodied from language and societal standardsas an entity that craves to be fully heard and understood. I co-choreographed and co-performed it with dance artist Penny Chivas at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.
At the moment, we’re looking for a residency situation to further develop the work, and then we hope to tour it in 2024/25. In the meantime, we have video excerpts of the work available to watch on YouTube.

Buy your copy of Stephanie Lamprea's Aperghis: 14 Récitations
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