Sergio A. Mims writes:
If Le Poisson Rouge is cool and Roulette is edgy among New York's alternative venues, where does that put the crypt at the Church of the Intercession at 155th Street and Broadway? Slightly underground, with a performance area framed by discreet stained glass, dramatically vaulted ceiling and intimate seating capacity for 100, in the inaugural season of The Crypt Sessions.
In an hour-long recital of songs and spirituals, Metropolitan Opera star Lawrence Brownlee said he wasn't performing so much as "sharing" in the tradition of the African-American church. But the singing wasn't all that different from his Tuesday dress rehearsal for the Met's revival of "La Donna del Lago" (which opens Dec. 11). High notes and gospel improvisations aren't even vocalized differently than the coloratura cadenzas that regularly challenge leading tenors in Rossini operas.
Though informal — with Brownlee in jeans, sport jacket and seated on a stool — the evening wasn't a lightweight sing, partly because the arrangements of spirituals by pianist Damen Sneed sometimes embraced bebop jazz at its most adventurous.
"The ashes of the parishioners are buried in the crypt," said Brownlee. "You can't help but feel the solemnity." Nor could the listeners resist soaking up the gothic atmosphere during its processional from a pre-concert wine-and-cheese reception, past the adjoining Trinity Church Cemetery, to the crypt itself.