By JON PARELESFEB. 3, 2014
The Brazilian singer Maria Rita’s exquisite concert on Sunday night at City Winery was daringly exposed in more ways than one.
Her only accompaniment came from the pianist Tiago Costa, whose arrangements never offered her voice any concealment. They were, more often than not, sparsely chorded and discreetly played, a skeletal rhythm here, a glimpse of counterpoint there. One, a gorgeously slow version of the Brazilian standard “Manhã de Carnaval,” began with him simply playing one bass note and tapping another inside the piano, damping the string, like a distant carnival drum.
Maria Rita’s voice carried everything else the music needed. It’s a gentle, lustrous soprano with elegant depths and minutely detailed phrasing: long-breathed and sustained or darting and syncopated, vulnerable or teasing, limpid or bluesy. In “Não Vale a Pena” (“It’s Not Worth It”), a mercurial breakup song, she moved easily amid composure, anger and torchy intensity. Her version of the Cuban bolero “Dos Gardenias,” which she sang in Spanish, was all smoldering and yearning.
Seated on a stool, she was an actress, too: coquettish with a hand on a hip or wide-eyed and confessional.
In this concert, Maria Rita also exposed herself to history. All Brazilian pop singers, especially women, have been influenced by Elis Regina, whose gentle, artfully naturalistic voice held marvels of timing and emotion and drew leading bossa nova songwriters. She died in 1982, when she was only 36.
Maria Rita, now 36, is Elis Regina’s daughter, and as she built her career in Brazil she refused to trade on her mother’s repertoire. That only changed in 2012, 30 years after her mother’s death, when Maria Rita was persuaded to perform and record songs her mother had sung, on the album “Redescobrir” (“Rediscovering”) (Facil Brasil).
She finished her City Winery set with some of those songs, reworking them and melding them with her own kind of warmth. Many of the Brazilians in the audience sang along to songs that have never fallen out of pop consciousness.
In her handful of Elis Regina songs, Maria Rita paid tribute to the breadth of her mother’s catalog. She gave the ballads “Mucuripe” and “Romaria” the gravity of lieder; she skipped through the melodic leaps of “Madalena” with playful exuberance.
But Maria Rita wasn’t imitating Elis Regina. With a poised and tender voice of her own, she was claiming songs that are part of her shared heritage as a Brazilian musician, as much as they might be a daughter’s inheritance.