Welcome To My World, Grammy Award-winning bass-baritone Mark Steven Doss’s debut recording for Cedille Records, is a solo vocal recital showcasing Doss’s extraordinary career and artistic versatility. The recording provides a rich and varied musical experience, reflecting Doss’s range as a performer.
Mark Steven Doss has graced the stages of over 60 major international opera companies in more than 100 operatic roles.
This album celebrates the success of the renowned Bel Canto Foundation, of whose annual competition Doss was the1985 Grand Prize Winner. With the support of the Foundation, Doss had the opportunity to study with legendary tenor Carlo Bergonzi and embark on a continuing major international operatic career that has already spanned four decades. Cedille Records continues and immortalizes the Bel Canto Foundation’s tradition of supporting Chicago vocal talent with this release.
Doss is joined by celebrated pianist Ken Smith, who has also made significant contributions to the Bel Canto Foundation, including playing for the Foundation’s annual competition and serving as the principal coach for its seminars.
The album begins with music inspired by Goethe’s Faust by Berlioz, Beethoven, Mussorgsky, Boito, and Gounod, followed by iconic opera arias from composers such as Bizet, Handel, Mozart, Rossini, and Giordano. The album further explores three popular Neapolitan songs — in which Doss is joined by accordionist Stas Venglevski — followed by selections from music dramas by Weill and Gruenberg, as well as songs of faith.
Doss pays tribute to trailblazing African American baritone Todd Duncan, who was one of the first Black singers to perform with a major opera company, notably originating the role of Porgy in Porgy and Bess. In an homage to Duncan, Doss performs three songs from Kurt Weill’s opera Lost in the Stars, for which Duncan had originated the lead role of Stephen Kumalo.
The album was produced by the Grammy-winning team of James Ginsburg and engineer Bill Maylone, and recorded on November 28–30, 2022 at the Sasha and Eugene Jarvis Opera Hall at DePaul University (Chicago, IL).
This album is made possible in part by the generous support of the Bel Canto Foundation and its patrons and is also supported by the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Fund for Vocal Recordings at Cedille Records.
HECTOR BERLIOZ (1803–1869)
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN (1770–1827)
MODEST MUSSORGSKY (1839–1881)
ARRIGO BOITO (1842–1918)
CHARLES GOUNOD (1893–1818)
GEORGES BIZET (1838–1875)
GEORGE FRIEDRIC HANDEL (1685–1759)
WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART (1756–1791)
GIOACCHINO ROSSINI (1792–1868)
UMBERTO GIORDANO (1867–1948)
EDUARDO DI CAPUA (1865–1917)
ERNESTO DE CURTIS (1875–1937)
KURT WEILL (1900–1950)
LOUIS GRUENBERG (1884–1964)
THOMAS A. DORSEY (1899–1993)
NICHOLAS BRODSZKY (1905–1958)
BRENDAN GRAHAM (b. 1945) & ROLF LOVLAND (b. 1955)
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What the Critics Are Saying
Mark Steven Doss’ characterizations of the antagonist in all five portraits are right on the money – the best realizations of this utterly fascinating figure since the heyday of the great Bulgarian basso Boris Christoff (1914-1993), right down to the mocking nasal snarl in the Mussorgsky song…
Other evidence that Doss is the latest figure in a great baritone tradition can be found in the selection of Neapolitan songs O sole mio (O my sunshine), Torno a Sorriento (Come back to Sorrento), and Non il scordar di me (do not forget about me), familiar old favorites that take on a new luster in Doss’ interpretations, which are ably seconded by the accompaniment of pianist Ken Smith and accordionist Stas Venglevski.
Audio Video Club, Atlanta
Program NotesDownload Album Booklet
Notes by The Bel Canto Foundation
It was an immense privilege for our family to have worked with the Board of Directors and patrons of the Bel Canto Foundation to further the careers of young operatic singers for 43 years. The annual Bel Canto Operatic Contest Evenings held at Monastero’s Ristorante promoted Italian Operatic Repertoire and generations of Chicago performers. We are proud that so many of our contestants are enjoying successful careers throughout the opera world. As we say “arrivederci” to the Bel Canto Foundation, a bittersweet decision after closing Monastero’s in 2017, we wanted to leave you with a memory of the times enjoyed together and a work that embodies all that was Bel Canto.
Thanks to Jim Ginsburg of Cedille Records, whose wife, Patrice Michaels, not only competed in the Bel Canto Contest Evenings but went on to send many of her students to participate in the contest, this final album has become a reality, and the work of Cedille continues the Bel Canto tradition of supporting Chicago’s young talent. May you continue to support your love of music and performers through Cedille’s incredible work.
This album embodies the Bel Canto spirit through the talents of two of its icons: Mark S. Doss (1985 Bel Canto Foundation Grand Prize Winner) and Maestro Kenneth Smith. Throughout his incredible career, Mark would regularly surprise us by returning “home” to entertain guests during competition evenings. For decades, Maestro Kenneth Smith was the “symphony orchestra” for Bel Canto, his artistic piano collaboration calming the nerves and supporting the voices of the young contestants. Mark and Ken’s partnership on this album is a true work of musical art.
May all enjoy each note of this glorious album and those of you who were with us think fondly of your time with Bel Canto!
Joseph Monastero, President
Joseph S. Monastero, Treasurer
Elizabeth Monastero, Artistic Director
Martha Monastero, Contest Coordinator
Notes by Mark Steven Doss
It is with the greatest feelings of love, respect, and admiration that I add to this CD recording my profound thanks to the Monasteros and the Bel Canto Foundation for all they have done for me and for so many young, aspiring singers over a span of five decades. Without the help of the Foundation and the Monasteros, I can easily envision my career being half, if even that, as successful as it has been with their generous help. When my MET contract took away more than half of the time I was scheduled to spend in Busseto, Italy (as the Foundation’s Grand Prize Winner) studying with the great Carlo Bergonzi, the Monasteros offered to send me there for whatever time I had available and then, with the remainder of the funds, they sent me back to Busseto to compete in the International Verdi Competition, where I was able to win First Prize.
To Martha, Joe, Salvy, Eliabeth, and Gina I owe more than my life. There have been so many triumphs and celebrations I have shared with them, as well as some low moments in my life; but in those dark times, they always found ways to Raise Me Up from my despair. From Elijah’s “Cast thy burdens” to Messiah’s “Surely, He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows,” I add the most precious gift I received from Martha and Joe: a framed picture of the poem/verse, “Footprints.” I have passed it on to many others, but I truly came to know the Good News of being carried through one’s trials and tribulations from them.
Notes by Henry Fogel
This recital serves to encapsulate the remarkably broad career of Mark S. Doss, a bass-baritone born in Cleveland, Ohio to Earl and Dorothy Doss. With a career that spans over 30 years, he has refused to be pigeon-holed. Having started his career on the roster of the Metropolitan Opera, he has subsequently performed with La Scala, Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Vienna State Opera, and many others throughout the world. His roles have ranged from Wagner through Verdi, Boito and Mascagni, and Mozart and Beethoven. He has also sung a great deal of new music and has always had a special relationship with Spirituals and songs of faith. His versatility, and the strong theatrical presence he brings to everything he sings, is on full display here.
The CD begins with a wonderful combination of “Devil” songs, including three classic settings of the sardonic song about a king and his flea. We begin as Berlioz’s Mephistopheles responds to a student’s song ironically paying tribute to a rat with his own song about a flea loved by a king but which brings its entire family to infest the court. The text is based on a scene from Goethe’s Faust, and that same scene inspired Beethoven and Mussorgsky. Doss manages to characterize these three songs differently through the specificity of his inflection and vocal coloring. He also sings them in their original languages, French, German, and Russian. After that, we hear from two of grand opera’s most well-known devils, those created for very different takes on the Faust legend by Arrigo Boito and Charles Gounod. In both operas the character of Mephistopheles is given music of great power and authority, music that requires a large dramatic presence from the singer.
From that opening group of devilish songs and arias, we slide into a broader range of operatic characters, again designed to demonstrate the singer’s versatility and comfort with a wide range of musical idioms. Most impressive in this group are the two extensive runs in “Sibillar gli angui d’Aletto,” Argante’s aria from Handel’s Rinaldo. The run in the first verse lasts 19 seconds and the one in the second 20 seconds, both sung without a breath. It is the rare singer who can comfortably encompass the stylistic and dramatic range called upon by Bizet, Handel, Mozart, Rossini, and Giordano with the naturalness displayed by Doss. After the swagger of Bizet’s bullfighter and the power of Handel’s Argante, Alidoro’s aria from Rossini’s Cenerentola must convey the character’s nobility and warmth of spirit. Also, after the flexibility (including a real trill) displayed in the Handel and Rossini arias, one might be surprised at the intensity and raw power heard in Carlo Gérard’s big aria from Andrea Chénier. In the middle of this group of arias, Doss sings “Non più andrai,” Figaro’s teasing of Cherubino as to what might await him in the army.
The next group consists of three of the most popular Neapolitan songs ever written, here appropriately accompanied with simplicity by accordion, rather than the often-heard souped up orchestration with lush strings.
Following that, Doss pays tribute to one of the first African-American baritones to build a career at a time when racial prejudice was still the norm, Todd Duncan (1903–1998). Duncan, Gershwin’s choice as the first Porgy, also created the role of Stephen Kumalo in the Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson music drama, Lost in the Stars. Doss brings his vocal and dramatic skills to bear on searing versions of three songs from that classic, a deeply moving setting of Alan Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country.
Following Weill is an aria from the opera The Emperor Jones, by Louis Gruenberg. The opera, based on a play by Eugene O’Neill, premiered in 1933 at the Metropolitan, with Lawrence Tibbett performing in blackface. (Ironically Paul Robeson played the title role in the play, but this was more than two decades before the Met would hire an African-American singer). Tibbett and George London have both left recordings of this aria, but it is sadly under-represented on disc. As with the Weill songs, this calls on the singer’s dramatic skills and specificity of articulation to make its effect.
The four songs that conclude the disc are songs of faith. Thomas A. Dorsey (1899–1993) was a major figure in Chicago, as a pianist and composer of jazz, blues, and gospel, as well as a Christian evangelist. Two of his most popular gospel songs are Peace in the Valley and Take My Hand, Precious Lord. I’ll Walk with God was composed for the movie version of The Student Prince. It was not written for the 1924 operetta by Sigmund Romberg, but 30 years later by Nicholas Brodsky, specifically for Mario Lanza to sing. You Raise Me Up was written in 2001 by Brendan Graham and Rolf Lovland as a statement of the profound spiritual connection between one soul and another. In all four of these, it is this spiritual fervor that must be communicated in performance.
Henry Fogel is Dean Emeritus of the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University, and former President of the League of American Orchestras and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
STEINWAY PIANO TECHNICIAN
RECORDED NOVEMBER 28–30, 2022
Sasha and Eugene Jarvis Opera Hall
DePaul University (Chicago, IL)