Last weekend, mezzo-soprano Chrystal E. Williams performed a solo recital at the Chandler Recital Hall in the Diehn Center for the Performing Arts. Williams is a native of Portsmouth, and has presented recitals in Hampton Roads for the last fifteen years to support her performing arts scholarship for graduating high school seniors. Williams boasts an impressive performance resume, with stints with Opera Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Orchestra, OperaDelaware, and more. The mezzo-soprano studied at Carnegie Mellon University, Yale University, and most recently, the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia.

Williams opened the concert with a set of Spanish songs by famed poet Federico García Lorca. Reminiscent of works by beloved composer Manuel de Falla, the songs are rhythmic, easy to listen to, and melodic. Williams performed with confidence and presence from the beginning, equipped with excellent Spanish diction. The song Sevillanas del Siglo XVIII showcased lively interactions between Williams and pianist Oksana Lutsyshyn, who accompanied Williams for the majority of the evening. Another favorite, Zorongo, was fiery, expressive, and called on the singer to clap brazenly with the accompaniment.

Meu Brasil de Cristal (Chrystal), the piece that followed, was composed for voice and accordion by Felipe Hostins, who joined Williams on accordion. Premiered in February of 2018, the work incorporates elements of classical and traditional Brazilian folk music in a genre dubbed “Forrópera.” South American rhythms are blended with soaring bel canto vocal lines to craft a striking musical experience meant to represent emotional endurance through hardship. Williams rounded out the first half of the evening with an eloquent performance of songs by Ravel, demonstrating her vast vocal range in the bold Aoua! with its unexpected and glorious high notes.

In the second half of the evening, Williams spoke of the importance of faith and community in her musical career. Composer Margaret Bonds’s setting of Langston Hughes’s poem, The Negro Speaks of Rivers, was a powerful vehicle for Williams’s vocals. She also sang selections from H. Leslie Adams’s Nightsongs, a jazz and folk-inspired song cycle based on texts from five famous African American poets. Her interpretation was sincere and musical, with a clear awareness of the meanings behind the texts.

Closing out the evening were arrangements of several classic spirituals. Williams’s dramatic dynamics and smooth, warm humming during Fix Me, Jesus led into the triumphant and vocally majestic Ride On, King Jesus! Williams sang an encore arrangement for voice and accordion of Every Time I Feel the Spirit and Amazing Grace, with palpable chemistry and musical connection with skilled accordion player, Felipe Hostins.

Williams noted the beauty of music is when a superb poet, composer, and performer unite. Unfortunately, less than 30 people were in attendance last weekend to witness Williams’s carefully curated program. This could have been due to the remote venue on ODU’s campus. Nevertheless, the small crowd had the rare treat to hear 20th-century works sung with integrity by one of our region’s top talents, as well as support arts education for the next generation of vocal performers.

This year two graduating seniors were offered prizes. Alex Pouloutides was awarded the Chrystal E. Williams Scholarship and will be studying musical theatre at Elon University. Shannon Crowley was given the inaugural Chrystal E. Williams Scholarship - Outstanding Service Through the Arts and will be majoring in vocal performance at Michigan State University.

An Evening with Chrystal E. is an annual event in Hampton Roads. Follow the page on Facebook for more information and updates on the next concert.