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Rave review for VDISC star, Tara Erraught, for her debut recital in Boston

CAMBRIDGE — On Wednesday night in Longy’s Pickman Hall, Boston opera fans finally had a chance to hear Tara Erraught performing live instead of only reading about her.

This young Irish mezzo-soprano found herself at the center of a controversy last year, after a group of male London critics took sharp issue with her performance of the role of Octavian (from Strauss’s “Der Rosenkavalier”) based on her physical appearance. Their comments sparked outraged charges of sexism from some quarters, and led to a grappling with the broader question: Even in the age of opera in high-definition, is it fair game to criticize a singer’s appearance?

One imagines Erraught as happy to put all of that attention behind her, and to continue earning notice for what actually matters in singing: the voice. She did so once again on Wednesday in a particularly fine and rewarding local debut recital, presented by the Celebrity Series of Boston.

The program was an impeccably prepared tour of her favorite song repertoire, with selections by Liszt, Delius, Brahms, Strauss, and Roger Quilter. From the opening poised account of Liszt’s “Enfant, si j’etais roi,” Erraught displayed a voice of supple warmth and glowing fullness. But what also distinguished this recital was the acuity of her dramatic instincts.

The format of the art song recital, beyond its vocal demands, asks that singers inhabit a parade of often wildly divergent characters. Some pull off this live-action version of the cinematic jump-cut more convincingly than others. Erraught, striking in her self-possession, showed she has a gift for the dramatic pivot. She was instantly in character at the start of each new song, and her performances artfully summoned not only the music itself but the distinctive expressive space around the notes.

So during her Liszt set, for instance, she went straight to the core of tranquillity in “Oh! Quand je dors” but proved equally adept at projecting the impetuosity and exuberance of “Jugendglück.” Delius’s “Twilight Fancies” was a thing of luxurious melancholy. And Quilter’s “Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal” was suffused with a tenderness that was almost tactile.

Throughout the night, one also appreciated Erraught’s attention to details, including those of diction. Closing consonants were enfolded in the line with relative naturalness, and without that exaggerated pop. And she scaled the dimensions of her voice with precision, bringing a sense of sonic plentitude without ever flooding the space. Beneath her singing throughout the night was the elegantly supportive pianism of Henning Ruhe, who, in selections such as Brahms’s “Meine Liebe ist grün” projected the music’s onrushing fervor with aplomb.

For the evening’s closing set of Strauss songs, Erraught did not shy away from beloved icons such as “Morgen!” rendered here with a touching gentleness and simplicity. As was proved once again, this is a song that can magically shrink a hall and transform an audience into an assemblage of private reveries. Encores were assuredly demanded and generously offered: a rarity by Irish composer Michael William Balfe (from his opera “Falstaff”) and, in case that wasn’t Irish enough — what else? — “Danny Boy.”

TARA ERRAUGHT

Presented by Celebrity Series of Boston

At Pickman Hall, Cambridge, Wednesday

Jeremy Eichler can be reached at jeichler@globe
.com.