PRESIDENT Clinton sent regards. Luciano Pavarotti sat in the audience. And on stage, Marilyn Horne threw herself a 60th birthday party with help from a few of her friends.
Vocal stars both new and familiar joined the festivities at Carnegie Hall on Jan. 16 to honor Miss Horne, whose booming yet flexible mezzo-soprano voice has been a potent force on concert stages for more than 30 years.
In a four-hour succession of songs both sublime and silly, ranging from Henry Purcell to Duke Ellington, the performers made a persuasive case for the vocal recital as a viable form of entertainment.
It's a cause dear to Horne's heart. In an age when it seems to take big-name soloists and group attractions to draw crowds, she worries that recitals - nothing more imposing than one singer and one accompanist - may become a lost art. So she has established the Marilyn Horne Foundation to help underwrite performances by promising singers in the United States.
Among the veterans joining her were sopranos Montserrat Caballe and Helen Donath and mezzo Frederica von Stade. Representing a younger generation were sopranos Renee Fleming and Ruth Ann Swenson. Bass Samuel Ramey made a surprise appearance (he sang a rousing ``Old Man River'' accompanied by Metropolitan Opera conductor James Levine), and Horne introduced a new prot, Icelandic tenor Olafur Bjarnason, who displayed a robust tenor in two operatic excerpts.
Highlights? Certainly Fleming's ravishing ``In a Sentimental Mood'' by Ellington; Donath bringing delicate but sturdy artistry to songs of Richard Strauss; Swenson showing off her spectacular high register in Rachmaninoff's ``Vocalise,'' and Von Stade singing just about anything.