She opened with a galvanizing spiritual, “Every Time I Feel the Spirit,” which set an affirming tone. The opening phrases emerged from a smoky contralto register, and her middle voice, warm and velvety, pealed forth with immediacy. Her switch into an operatic style for her high notes felt prim, an imperfect melding of different vocal techniques. She followed with Carlos Simon’s setting of the Langston Hughes poem “Prayer”; in a performance seething with irony yet propelled by earnestness, she urged the audience to embrace “the sick, the depraved, the desperate, the tired,” whom she gathered up herself with a lavish, generous tone.
In the middle part of her program, Bridges sang Jimmy López Bellido’s “Airs for Mother,” a world premiere for voice and string quartet; an aria from López Bellido’s opera “Bel Canto,” which she has performed onstage in Chicago; and Manuel de Falla’s “Seven Popular Spanish Songs,” among the most well-known and beloved Spanish-language art songs.
Her voice bursting with color but sometimes flagging in the middle or end of phrases, Bridges overwhelmed the dimensions of “Airs for Mother” and the Falla songs but also didn’t consistently commit to her choices.
López Bellido wrote the text as well as the music of “Airs for Mother,” tracing a simple, impactful narrative from a child’s awe at her life to an adult’s devastation at her loss. Even though the piece felt quasi-operatic, with recitative, climactic high notes, dramatic flourishes and string tremolos, Bridges overwhelmed the quartet’s slender, glimmering sound with her plush, powerful singing.
Bridges performed the López and Falla selections with a music stand, making her seem earthbound. And Markham, a warm collaborator at the piano, was more supportive than secure in his parts.