Leontyne ‘n’ Ella: two legends, one voice
Aivale Cole (soprano) and David Wickens (piano)
Town Hall, Thursday 16 July 2009
Winning the Lexus Song Quest propelled Aivale Cole towards a career in England, and the money will help. But it takes a lot more and so this concert was a ‘benefit concert’ in all but name (see www.aivale.com).
Eight big opera arias in the first half (Leontyne Price), and ten (including an encore) jazz and Broadway items in the second (Ella Fitzgerald).
Aivale made her dramatic entrance with the two arias that clinched the Song Quest: Rintorna vincitor from Aida with every ounce of anguish at the hideous dilemma she is presented with at the opera’s start, and Es gibt ein Reich from Ariadne auf Naxos, where Ariadne not just pines for but demands death, her voice leaping huge, spine-tingling intervals with pin-point accuracy, commanding the entire hall with her ferocious emotion.
So it continued, with a self-pitying Vissi d’arte (Tosca), a violence, suppressed with white-knuckled rage in Elvira’s Mi Tradi from Don Giovanni, and the fierce loyalty that Fiordiligi swears in Come scoglio (Cosi fan tutte) like I’ve never heard before. And the opera section ended, not with the usual pretty Summertime from Porgy and Bass, but the despairing My man’s gone now.
The second half began as she walked up an aisle, for a triumphant performance of what is little more than a ditty: A Trisket a tasket (though an Ella one, to be sure). It became a hilarious party piece, with the help of pianist Wickham. She threw herself into Cole Porter’s Too Darn Hot, rauchiness nothing daunted; I loved her voluptuous low notes in the Arlen/Mercer Come rain or come shine; the comic flair, brilliantly understated, in To keep my love alive and her relishing the verbal wit of It’s delovely – another Porter classic.
Her pianist David Wickham accompanied with a rare sympathy, his notes planted exquisitely, a fraction before or after Aivale’s. But it was surprising to realize that the odd resonance in the piano was the result of the quite unnecessary amplification.
It was more acceptable in the second half which was the province of Ella Fitzgerald’s repertoire, where Aivale too used a microphone, though it actually constricted and nasalized her vocal quality. The unthinking use of amplification for popular music of all kinds always seems to me a sad succumbing to the uncultivated tastes of the young and the unlettered: Aivale put it aside for I had myself a true love, her last song, and it was fine.
A great audience – the hall three-quarters full – celebrated her rise and vociferously wished her success.
(this review was printed, little changed, in The Dominion Post)