Friends of New Zealand Opera: a Winter Concert
Arias and duets from opera and musicals
Kristin Darragh (contralto), Barbara Graham (soprano), Kate Lineham (soprano) Warwick Fyfe (baritone), Bruce Greenfield (piano)
Hunter Council Chamber, Victoria University
Sunday, 21 June 2015, 4pm
Approximately 120 people came to hear a star-studded line-up of opera singers present a delightful programme of mainly well-known arias and duets. Unfortunately, Australian baritone Warwick Fyfe was suffering from a severe throat infection (after travelling here from Australia on Qantas – how often I have heard about this happening to people!), and thus his contribution was limited. For example, the first three items were to be from Lohengrin, but these had to be cut. However, Kristin Darragh sang Erde’s aria ‘Weiche Wotan’ from Das Rheingold with great dignity, spirit and sonority. Warwick Fyfe managed Wotan’s interjections; despite illness, his voice sounded strong, rich and very
Kristin Darragh’s voice is so resonant that you could think it was amplified – which it certainly wasn’t. She has an apparently easy delivery and a relaxed pose. Despite all the carpet, the Hunter Council Chamber proved to be a good space for singers – an oblong box with a high, wooden ceiling. I have heard many concerts there, but seldom vocalists, so it was quite an ear-opener.
Stuart Maunder’s introductions were brief and to the point. The somewhat slimmed-down programme was given some additional substance by Maunder’s brief interviews with Warwick Fyfe and Kristin Darragh, the former introducing a considerable amount of humour.
Next up was Barbara Graham, singing Dvořák’s ‘Song to the Moon’ from Rusalka. This simple yet gorgeous aria was sung beautifully. I don’t know the Czech language, but it sounded pretty good, and clearly enunciated. Barbara Graham has plenty of power when required. This thought led me to notice that the piano lid was up for the singers, i.e. on the long stick. This is not possible in some venues or for some voices.
Warwick Fyfe explained that with his ‘bug’ he was more comfortable in the lower register, that he less often used these days. Therefore he sang the wonderful ‘O Isis and Osiris’ from The Magic
Flute. The deep notes were full of tone, and if the singer had a little difficulty with breathing, it did not
seriously detract from Sarastro’s firm and satisfying aria.
Kate Lineham was on next, presenting ‘Porgi Amor’, as the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro. She projected the lady’s sadness at the philandering of her husband, in both her voice and her interpretation, involving a little acting. Her voice has more vibrato than some, but mostly it was well under control although it did threaten to send some top notes off pitch.
Warwick Fyfe then surprised the audience by singing Papageno’s duet with Papagena: ‘Pa, pa, pa’. This was in a higher register than his earlier aria, but he managed it well. Barbara Graham acted out the role delightfully, not neglecting to sing it splendidly.
Throughout, that one-man orchestra, Bruce Greenfield, played the accompaniments with flair and dexterity, amply contributing to the mood and atmosphere of each piece.
Puccini was represented by the ‘Flower duet’ from Madama Butterfly, sung by Darragh and Lineham. The two strong voices were well matched. The former continued with the ‘Seguidilla’ from Carmen. She seemed right at home in this spirited aria, and sang powerfully, with much varying of tone to give expression to the mood and words.
Another change from the printed programme took us into the world of the musical, beginning with My Fair Lady, from which Kate Lineham sang ‘Words, words! I’m so sick of words’. This was an apt rendition, with rich top notes. This was followed by a song written for the musical Thoroughly Modern Millie, but excised from the show: ‘The girl in [flat] 14G’. Barbara Graham sang and gestured with great spirit and glee a song that included a spoof on opera (heard from the flat below) and on Ella Fitzgerald popular numbers (heard from the flat above). This was a very demanding item, and Barbara Graham produced great acting and singing.
Then Warwick Fyfe sang Australian Jack O’Hagan’s ‘Road to ‘Gundagai’, followed by Kristin Darragh’s ‘Maybe this time’, from Cabaret. Liza Minelli she ain’t, but it was a good performance. However, it does upset me little to hear a fine operatic voice used so brashly.
‘Chanson Espagnole’ by Debussy, based on a Delibes song, was the penultimate offering, from Kate and Barbara. The latter’s flexible and versatile acting and singing of this florid song was most commendable, and she matched well with Kate’s admirable performance.
Finally, from Saint-Saëns’s Samson and Delilah, Kristin Darragh sang with lovely, rich contralto tone a stirring aria in which Delilah prays for John the Baptist to fall in love with her.
This brought to a conclusion an excellent late afternoon’s entertainment, which despite difficulties, show-cased splendidly the artistry of two international opera singers, two fine local singers and one outstanding accompanist.