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Review: Davone Tines channels Paul Robeson

Review: Davone Tines channels Paul Robeson
Review: Davone Tines channels Paul Robeson

Review by Susan Hall:

Davone Tines, a premier bass-baritone, channels a hero, Paul Robeson, at the Little Island Amphitheater in New York. Robeson had a rich, sonorous bass. Tines defines his own voice as a basso cantante, a bass with a high upper extension, like a falsetto, balanced by a very low booming register.  We heard the high and low expression.

Hanging over the Hudson River in New York, Little Island is perched on tulip-like structures created by Heathehrwicke of London. Tines opens his concert stepping into Robeson’s spats for a recreation of a 1958 concert by Robseon at Carnegie Hall. He starts singing in a very low bass, capturing the spirit of his hero in Joe Hill, an anthem for labor rights, justice, and solidarity; the Volga Boat song with its ‘Ey, ukhnyem!’ and then Bach’s Todesbanden.

Robeson had been banned from US performance for eight years after spending time in Soviet Russia. His failure to support a system whose military effort against fascism he had actively backed during World War II by recruiting troops and then entertaining at military installations and in defense plants, was interpreted as treasonable. 

As the evening progresses, Tines figuratively slips off Robeson’s shoes and becomes himself, a black man who aspires to his own agency. He performs Otello’s final speech as Robeson did, with added emphasis “I kiss’d thee ‘ere I killed thee.”

Zack Winokur, a frequent collaborator, directs. Together they create not a concert, but a unified piece of work. We are sitting over the Hudson River for the finale, Ole Man River, a favorite of Robeson’s and of Tine’s too.  He uses new words to match his feeling of optimism, except when he sings  “get a little grit”  (it’s “drunk” in the original) “and they put you in jail.”  

Robeson said, “I am a Negro with every drop of my blood and with every stir of my soul…I suppose I am the only black man in the world who does not want to be white.”

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