‘Singers to listen for’: “A long way to hear singing as good as this”

Rotary Club of Wellington and Kiri te Kanawa Foundation

‘Singers to listen for’, compèred by Rodney Macann

Jonathan Abernethy (tenor), Anna Dowsley (mezzo-soprano), Katherine McIndoe (soprano), Jarvis Dams (baritone), Terence Dennis (piano)

St. Andrew’s on The Terrace; 6.pm for 7.15pm

Friday, 26 August 2016

Advertised on RNZ Concert like any other concert, it was in fact not at all.  It was a fundraiser for Gillies McIndoe Research Institute (for cancer research) and the Kiri te Kanawa Foundation.  A similar event had been held last year.  The early part of the evening was taken up with chat, drinks and canapés, before the music started at 7.15pm.

Rodney Macann was a genial and knowledgeable MC, and Professor Terrence Dennis the incomparable accompanist.  Jonathan Abernethy and Katherine McIndoe are graduates of Victoria University and Jarvis Dams is still a student at Waikato University.  With the exception of an item by Berlioz and perhaps the Delibes aria, this was a ‘top of the classical chart’ concert, but none the worse for that; these items are popular because of their outstanding melodies, sentiments and sheer musical quality.

First up was Mozart’s Magic Flute; Tamino’s wonderful aria ‘Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön’.  Jonathan Abernethy has a rich, powerful, dramatic tenor voice, and he was fully up to not only the musical demands of the piece but also the emotional and expressive character.  Meanwhile Dennis impressed me with his astonishing ability to never be merely in the background of the performance, yet always allowing the singer to be in the foreground.  The piano lid was held on the short stick, appropriate for accompanying singers.  This was a glorious performance.

Jonathan’s partner, Australian Anna Dowsley, has not been to New Zealand before.  Like Jonathan, she is a singer with Opera Australia.  Staying with Mozart, she sang ‘Non so più’ from The Marriage of Figaro.  This was a fast, but assured performance, by a lovely voice.  She gave us the drama of the piece in full measure. Terence Dennis made the accompaniment more interesting than I’ve ever heard it on the piano.  In this and many of the other arias, the singers did not stand stock still as in a recital, but moved around the platform.

Back to The Magic Flute, for the duet between Pamina and Tamino: ‘Bei Männern’, from Katherine McIndoe and Jarvis Dams.  Katherine’s voice is placed well forward; Jarvis’s less so.  The soprano sang just a shade under the note occasionally, but this disappeared as the programme progressed.  Both have warm tone, and they made a lovely job of the duet.

Another Mozart favourite is the trio ‘Soave sia il vento’ from Così fan Tutte.  The two women’s and Jarvis Dams’s voices were well matched and they sang in perfect cohesion in this most beautiful trio.

Rossini’s popular comic opera Il barbiere di Siviglia gave us Anna singing Rosina’s aria ‘Una voce poco fa’, as the heroine thinks of her beloved Lindoro.  From the same opera Jarvis, as Figaro, sang ‘Largo al factotum’ in fine style.  Anna’s is a rich mezzo voice, but perfectly under control.  She floated it so agilely, it made for an astounding performance.  Jarvis began off-stage; his voice was well-coloured, and his production seemed effortless.  He made great use of the Italian words.  Sometimes he was a little too loud for this very lively acoustic.  His enunciation of the tongue-twister ending of the aria was phenomenal!

To a different mood; Gounod’s Faust was represented firstly by Jonathan singing a meltingly beautiful ‘Salut! demeure chaste et pure’.  His tenor voice is utterly right for this role.  He injected plenty of feeling into this intensely romantic aria, addressed to Marguerite by Faust, and his high note was glorious.  Katherine McIndoe put the required innocence into her well-characterised rendition of the ‘Jewel Song’.  She employed a range of dynamics to magnificent effect, and her French words were exceptionally clear.

Now to something less familiar: from Berlioz’s The Trojans.  ‘Nuit d’ivresse’ is a duet sung by Dido and Aeneas in Carthage; in this case, by Anna and Jonathan.  Together they sang, calling on their dramatic abilities to great effect, even though lacking set and costumes.  The accompaniment, as always, set the scene though the excellence of Terence Dennis’s representation of the orchestral score.  The singers both sustained beautiful tone marvellously well.  It was a splendid performance of a lesser-known duet.

Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers has one exceedingly popular number; before we got to that, though, we had the aria ‘L’orage s’est calmé’ sung by Jarvis as Zurga.  This was a mature and very fine interpretation, although the tone was just a little harsh at times.

We moved from the former Ceylon to India, with the opera Lakmé by Delibes.  Here was the famous duet for the two women (for some time a number of years ago it was used to sell cars) with its delicious interweaving harmonies.  Rodney Macann explained that these two singers had only met the previous day, yet they were so professional, it sounded as though they had sung together many times, such was their cohesion and matching tone; they gave a very fine, in fact almost immaculate performance, with exquisite phrasing.

To end the musical programme (well, not completely), the famous duet was sung: ‘Au fond du temple saint’.  There is nothing to say about it except that it was outstanding.  The two male singers were simply superb.  As Rodney Macann said more than once, the hearers would have to go a long way to hear singing as good as this.  Congratulations to all concerned!

A number of encores were performed, the first a light opera-style piece for soprano, by John Drummond, recently retired professor of music at the University of Otago.  I missed these, on account of another engagement.




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