diva: Kiri Te Kanawa.
I Must Be Going
Theatre, Oct. 27
First she completely disarmed us. Regally striding onto the
stage, looking gorgeous in a full-length black sequined dress,
soprano Kiri Te Kanawa spoke to the Proctor’s audience before
her first number. In a friendly, intimate voice that nevertheless
filled the hall, she spoke briefly about this stop on her
farewell tour—“My first and last visit to Schenectady”—and
her desire to make this concert the best of them all.
then, just as serenely, she blew us away with a recital of
well-chosen songs, a repertory of lesser-heard numbers that
suited her voice magnificently.
A curiosity by Mozart opened the program. One of his final
works, it’s a brief cantata written for the Masons, which
he had recently joined. And it was a pleasant enough trifle,
an ecumenical celebration of life, giving the singer and pianist
Warren Jones plenty to do in seven or so minutes.
But it really served as a gateway to the masterworks that
followed: five songs by Richard Strauss, showing a more introspective
side of the composer best known for his orchestral bombast.
From the first one, “Ständchen,” which gave the vocal line
pleasant melodic leaps over a rippling piano arpeggio, Te
Kanawa showed her intense dynamic control, which was even
more effective in the next song, “Nacht,” a lullaby-like number.
She had a completely sympathetic pianist in Jones, whose presence,
although a bit muted for my taste, was supportive and transparent.
He’s a masterful player who knew exactly what each song required.
Not much survived the creative purges of madman Henri Duparc,
but his surviving songs are gems, and three of them closed
the first half. The sense of yearning informing his “La vie
antérieure” was matched by Te Kanawa’s sotto voce delivery
of the song’s climactic moment, an expressive richness
The transition to the second half of the program had consistency—more
French songs—and contrast: The songs were by Poulenc, who
was in a kind of Cole Porter mode when setting Apollinaire’s
tribute to Paris. By the time we got the three-quarter-time
“Les chemins de l’amour,” we had Poulenc in full cabaret mode.
It was an abrupt turn from there into diva mode, but Jake
Heggie’s “Monologue” celebrates that most extraordinary of
divas, Maria Callas, as portrayed in Terrence McNally’s Master
Class. Heggie, who wrote an opera based on Dead Man
Walking, among other projects, gives the text a beautiful,
spare setting, lyrical and rhythmically free.
I have seemed harsh,” the piece opens, “it is because I have
been harsh with myself.” Te Kanawa’s next career phase will
focus more on her foundation to support young singers, so
I wonder if we’re getting an autobiographical glimpse. “The
only thanks I ask,” Callas sums up, “is that you sing properly
Britten’s “Evening” paints a nocturne with vivid colors, the
melody skillfully climbing as it moves through the song. It’s
an uneasy triumph that led to Copland’s setting of Emily Dickinson’s
“Why Do They Shut Me Out of Heaven?,” a lively, lighthearted
number, but with a sardonic point of view that probably sits
quite deeply with Te Kanawa.
She skipped the next two numbers on the printed program to
go straight to Puccini. These Puccini songs are every bit
as melodic as the arias, but less familiar. “Sole e amore”
and “Morire?” are emotionally fraught miniatures, home territory
for the singer and pianist, and they capped the program with
an unannounced aria from Adriana Lecouvreur, bringing
the crowd to its feet.
This earned us a pair of encores. Ginastera’s “Canción al
arbol del olvido” got an amusingly seductive performance,
letting the up-till-now reserved Dame Kiri vamp a bit; then
she wrapped it all up with the kind of number everyone had
hoped to hear: Puccini’s “O mio babbino caro,” which was as
gorgeously rendered as you ever could hope to hear.
The whole evening offered the kind of magical performance
in which, although you’re sharing a hall with a thousand others,
you feel as if you and you alone were the beneficiary.