Bon voyage, Brigitte – a farewell recital

Vocal recital: Brigitte Heuser (mezzo-soprano)

with Catherine Norton (piano), Daniel O’Connor (baritone) and Aivale Cole (soprano)

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Brigitte Heuser arrived on the platform looking elegant and beautiful.  She began her programme with Mahler’s Lieder eine fahrenden gesellen.  These lovely and varied songs were sung very well; the fourth, ‘Die zwei blauen Augen’ particularly, was given a heartfelt rendition.  There was not, perhaps, sufficient variety of tone in the other songs.  One certainly misses the variety and subtlety of the orchestra, but Catherine Norton accompanied superbly.

It would have been good to have had printed translations of the songs; we are not all skilled in the German language as is Brigitte.  There is so much in the poems that cannot be rendered in the singing; we are not just listening to pleasant music.

I found the singer’s hand movements rather off-putting in lieder; they are fine in operatic excerpts, but detract from the value of the words and music in lieder.

Daniel O’Connor followed with Onegin’s aria from Eugene Onegin by Tchaikowsky.  This was a very assured and characterful performance.  O’Connor’s voice has a mellow quality, and is even through the range.  It was easy to mentally see him as Onegin, on stage.

Four excerpts from Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte were most enjoyable: the arias ‘Smanie implacabili’ and ‘E amore un ladroncello’, the duet ‘Il core vi dono’ (with Daniel O’Connor) and the lusciouis trio Soave sia il vento (with O’Connor and Aivale Cole).

All these were quite lovely.  The second aria was sung very brightly. In the duet the voices matched very well, making for a charming rendition.  The trio was absolutely splendid.  It was great to hear Aivale Cole again.  She stood quite still and just sang, with superb control, wonderful top notes, warmth, and expressive commitment.

Brigitte Heuser came on for the second half in another skirt and top in shades of dark red, beautifully toning with the carpet and hangings in the church.

Her ‘Jewel song’from Gounod’s Faust was rather fast, and her intonation became a little sharp in places, but was nevertheless effective.

The two women followed with the ‘Flower duet’ from Lakmé by Delibes.  The voices were beautifully together and blended, making for a gorgeous performance.

Then Aivale Cole sang ‘Vissi d’arte’ from Puccini’s Tosca.  She knows how to colour her big voice.  Her words were excellent, with generous vowels.  Her splendid performance reminded me of Maria Callas in her heyday.  It was met with huge applause from the good-sized audience.

Brigitte Heuser was next, with ‘Una voce poco fa’ from The Barber of Seville by Rossini.  This was well executed, and as with all her singing, showed promise.

‘Bella sicome un angelo’ from Don Pasquale by Donizetti was Daniel O’connor’s next offering, and again his assured singing and excellent words had one placing him in a performance of the opera.

Brigitte Heuser closed with two Kurt Weill songs, one in German and one in English.  Her singing was stylish and very accomplished;; she seemed at home in these songs.  As an encore she sang (and acted) a French cabaret song, which was most amusing.

Throughout, Catherine Norton’s accompaniments was very skilled and sympathetic; she made a good approximation of an orchestra.  Not only did Brigitte Heuser sing very well, with a attractive, mellow tone, she was fortunate to have such expert musical collaborators. This was an evening of very musical performances of lieder and arias.

Brigitte was offered and accepted a place at the International Academy of Voice in Cardiff, where Phillip Rhodes has recently completed a course.  However, unfortunately the British government has withdrawn funding for the Academy for this (northern) academic year, but she will be able to take up her place there next year.  She intends in the meantime to have lessons from the Aademy’s principal coach, Sir Dennis O’Neill, and from other teachers and coaches.

She should do well – she has a fine voice, stage presence, and a very musical approach to her singing.