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If you're a Twin Cities classical music lover who didn't attend Wednesday evening's recital by South African soprano and budding international opera star Golda Schultz, I'm sure you had your reasons. And you weren't alone in choosing to pass, for St. Paul's Ordway Music Theater was less than half full.

But if Schultz suddenly skyrockets to stardom — and this concert gave every indication that she should — then you will likely regret that decision. For here is one of the most captivating storytellers in song I've encountered in recent years, a woman with a magnificent voice here employed in service to the works of women composers past and present.

Her Schubert Club International Artist Series recital with American pianist Jonathan Ware featured songs by women of three centuries: German romantic Clara Schumann, English modernist Rebecca Clarke and contemporary South African composer Kathleen Tagg. But men weren't entirely omitted, for some of the concert's most memorable moments came on songs by Franz Schubert and Richard Strauss.

Schultz and Ware made each song a deeply involving short story. It's clear why the soprano has become so celebrated in the opera world, for she creates a new and distinctive character with each song she sings. And she gives listeners the feeling that each piece of music is being newly discovered as she delivers it, a sense of wonder being transmitted from artist to audience.

This aura of spontaneity and immediacy was there from the evening's opening Schubert songs. With Ware producing layers of rippling, undulating waves beneath her pure, rich voice, listeners were soon afloat in a dreamscape before "Viola" summoned up a fantasy world of flowers finding and losing love, its multiple mood swings showing singer and pianist to be extraordinarily simpatico partners.

The ensuing Schumann songs also started in swirls of water, Ware evoking a turbulent sea that separates lovers and a river with a resident siren coaxing boaters toward destruction via some of Schultz's most dramatic vocal work. As Schumann was one of the great piano virtuosos of her era, it's no surprise that the songs also shone a bright and beautiful light on Ware's highly emotive playing.

The songs of Clarke brought out the evocative raconteur in Schultz, especially during the chilling campfire tale, "The Seal Man," and a setting of William Blake's "Tiger, Tiger" with an atmosphere of darkness and danger.

Strauss' "Vier Lieder" may have been the concert's most familiar repertoire, but it's seldom performed with the kind of passion and power accorded it Wednesday. Schultz threw herself into each of the four songs, conveying the joyous abandon of a dinner table seduction, the calming of a troubled heart, and the helplessness of one fairly bursting with love.

Yet most powerful was a song cycle by Tagg and lyricist Lila Palmer. "This Be Her Verse" is written from the perspective of three women — or perhaps one woman at three distinctly different places in her life — and it proved the culmination of the soprano's storytelling skills, her disarmingly honest presentation style given over to a bride's exasperation and a single woman declaring her independence as Ware reached inside the Schubert Club's new Steinway to create strums and thumps.

A tender and affectionate encore of American composer Amy Beach's "I Send My Heart Up to Thee" sounded like something of a credo for Schultz, a celebration of the transformative power of music. Those fortunate enough to have attended this concert certainly know something about that.

Rob Hubbard is a Twin Cities classical music writer. Reach him at