While Dawn Upshaw never lets you forget her academic background or operatic heritage, neither does she sound overtrained: an opera singer for the rest of us. Her utterly natural phrasing pierces the stuffy staginess of her predecessors in much the way Billie Holiday rescued jazz and popular-music singing from the overtly theatrical conventions of the 1920s. Upshaw became a household name–at least in households that knew Beethoven as something other than the canine film star–in 1992, when the London Sinfonietta’s recording of Gorecki’s Third Symphony, with her as vocal soloist, became one of the decade’s best-selling classical discs. But she’s hardly a one-hit wonder. Upshaw deserves her reputation as one of the busiest and most versatile vocalists in the world; a recent search on Tower Records’ computer found about 170 albums on which she’s appeared, indicating the demand that modern conductors and composers place upon her clarion soprano. She has recorded works by composers from Purcell to Villa-Lobos to George Crumb; in fact, she covered all those bases on a single album, the imaginatively programmed White Moon (Nonesuch), her 1996 collection of songs about sleep. She occasionally spins tales from the American Popular Songbook: her last album explored the music of Rodgers and Hart, and on World So Wide, due out in May, she concentrates on Copland and Bernstein, whose works have enlivened several of the two dozen other albums under her name. Upshaw has also commissioned several pieces by modern composers, earning a reputation as an open-minded artist supportive of her contemporaries. At this Chicago recital, part of the tour she makes annually with longtime collaborator Richard Goode on piano, Upshaw will stake her 20th-century expertise on works by Ives and Debussy, while Schubert and Schumann provide the Romantic ballast. Friday, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Deborah Feingold.