Senior Sarah Navy performs "Herz an der Wand" by Robert Lee Owens III third on her program. Photo by Alana Melvin.
Soprano soloist Sarah E. Navy’s senior recital, “La fleur épanouie,” opened on Sunday, May 15 in Memorial Chapel. It featured a blend of classical European opera and works by African American composers centered around themes of growth and hope.
Looking regal in a stunning emerald-green gown, Navy took the stage alone and opened with an ethereal rendition of “The Lord’s Prayer.” Amidst the grandeur of the chapel, her majestic, unaccompanied voice invoked the divine with simple yet breathtaking grace. Although this piece was not originally scheduled as part of Navy’s recital, she added it as a tribute to her mother.
A few minutes later, Navy returned with her accompanist, Sarah Wheeler, to perform “Tornami a vagheggiar” from George Friedrich Handel’s “Alcina.” The aria is traditionally sung by the sorceress Morgana as she claims her own power and pursues love. With her flawless high notes and exquisite vocal flexibility, Navy cast a magic of her own over the audience.
“Trois Poèmes de Louise Lalanne,” three short selections by Francis Poulenc, showcased Navy’s diverse strengths. Complimented by Wheeler’s rapid accompaniment, she channeled infectious joy and energy into the first two selections, “Le present” and “Chanson.” In the third and final selection, “Hier,” she tenderly reflected upon the past, finding peace before turning her face to the future.
Navy then spoke of the importance of African American representation in opera, and her next two pieces paid homage to African American composers Robert Owens and Jacqueline Hairston. Owens was born in Texas, but he spent much of his life in Germany, where he combined European opera and American poetry. “Herz an der Wand” places the works of Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes in a classic German operatic arrangement. The work’s five sections — Herz, Erinnerung, Mädchen, Havanna-Träume and Für tote Pantomimen — told the tragic yet hopeful story of Pierrot and Pierrette, who live for the moment, love passionately and revel in the simple beauty of life.
Her next piece, Hairston’s “On Consciousness Streams,” was an uplifting three-part spiritual composition. The first urged the audience to seize the day and reach for a bright future, while the second section, “Thou Alone Canst Inspire,” praised God. The third section, “The Season of Remembrance,” focused on the rebirth and resilience of the human soul in the face of fear. For Navy, this piece reflects her journey of turning dreams into reality and learning to believe in herself during her time at Lawrence. “I match the darts of my despair with the treasure of my dreams,” Navy sang. As her high notes soared against the chapel’s arched ceiling, she lifted the audience with her.
Navy paused her performance to thank God, her family, friends and mentors who had supported her along her journey. She also expressed no shortage of gratitude to Lawrence’s newly inaugurated President Laurie Carter, who was in attendance. Navy, who formerly served as president of Black Student Union and has held positions in several diversity organizations, performed at Carter’s inauguration last Friday and stated that Carter inspires her as the university’s first Black female president.
“Seeing Dr. Carter as president of our institution really matters,” said Navy. “I think she’s a gift to this campus. I simply adore her.”
Navy closed the show with a heavenly performance of “Steal Away,” a traditional African American hymnal that unites her pride in her Black heritage and her deep faith. Written by former slave Wallace Willis, it urged enslaved Africans to “steal away to Jesus” and find strength in spirituality despite their suffering, but it was also used as a code between runaway slaves as they risked their lives for freedom. For Navy, it honored the perseverance and faith that helped her overcome adversity. Her final line, “I ain’t got long to stay here,” signified a joyful close to her time at Lawrence as she climbs to the next stage of her life. And when Navy reached the glorious final note of her last recital at Lawrence, the crowd sprang to its feet in a standing ovation.
When asked what advice she wishes to pass to the next generation of Lawrentians, Navy offered these words of encouragement:
“Never stop dreaming, never stop being, never stop growing, never stop wanting to know more. Don’t feel bad about taking every opportunity you can, because once it’s gone, it’s gone. Stay humble. Be intentional, be present in the space with the people you have around you. Never stop believing.”
While her Lawrence experience is drawing to a close, this recital is hardly the end of Navy’s musical career. Following graduation, she will attend graduate school at Southern Methodist University, where she will pursue a master’s degree in music. She will also work with the Dallas Opera in education outreach.