Kiri shows she still has the lovely voice and great artistry at Ravinia

Wed Aug 15, 2012 at 2:19 pm

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Kiri te Kanawa performed a recital Tuesday night at Ravinia’s Martin Theatre.

The vocal recital is practically extinct in downtown Chicago, but give the Ravinia Festival credit for keeping the flame alight for this important art form. The Highland Park festival presented Gerald Finley in an acclaimed recital last week, and Tuesday night brought the return of Kiri te Kanawa to the Martin Theatre.

The celebrated soprano was a regular visitor to Chicago throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, frequently collaborating with Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. (The recorded fruits on Decca are many, including a Mahler Fourth, Messiah and St. Matthew Passion, all of which hold up quite well today.)

The New Zealand singer has clearly held up quite well herself. Resplendent in a high-collared peach gown, te Kanawa still cuts a glamorous and elegant figure at 68. More importantly, she showed she can still deliver the vocal goods, with an enjoyable, often beautifully sung recital that showcased her lovely voice and artistry.

The march of time was fitfully evident with her soprano more slender and dry of tone, compared to the rich luxuriance of te Kanawa’s plush instrument in her prime. She ventured few high notes in her program, passing on the climactic top note of Strauss’s Cäcilie completely.

But what was surprising is how much of her voice remains intact and Tuesday’s recital was far from an evening of empty nostalgia. Rather, te Kanawa provided a virtual seminar in intelligently adapting to the maturing of one’s voice in an intimate recital of taste and style.

Her opening set of Italian Baroque arias provided a prelude of sorts. The flanking Vivaldi arias were gracefully assayed yet in Sposa so disperezza from Giacomelli’s Bazajet, she brought an affecting plaintive expression showing nimble agility in the vocalise-like cadenza.

Te Kanawa’s refined voice was always well suited to music of Richard Strauss. If Cäcilie lacked the surging romantic vitality and brilliance on top, Ständchen showed that inimitable vocal gleam and nuanced expressive poise with pianist Kevin Murphy equally evocative in his cascading brook-like figuration. Best of the Strauss set was Morgen!, with te Kanawa’s soulful, introspective rendering suffused with longing and regret.

If three selections from Berlioz’s Les nuits d’ete proved a bit anodyne—though the coda of Le spectre de la rose was hauntingly done—te Kanawa seemed most comfortable, surprisingly, in two songs by Liszt. The Petrarch setting, Pace non trovo was a highlight of the evening, sung with shaded expression and refined melancholy. So too, Liszt’s Oh! quand je dors, vies aupres de ma couche was sensitively done, with a delicately floated pianissimo at the coda.

If her song performances centered largely on a reflective intimacy, that made the degree of dramatic intensity te Kanawa brought to the operatic items all the more striking.

Manon’s Adieu, notre petite table proved overreticent and Korngold’s Gluck, das mir verblied too rushed, yet the soprano was at her finest in two short scenes by Barber and Heggie. She delivered Vanessa’s desperate Act 1 outburst (Do Not Utter a Word) with alarming intensity, and showed a welcome ease in the American sprechstimme of Heggie’s Master Class, bringing off a finely judged mix of spoken acting, singing and humor with just the right light touch in the Final Monologue.

Murphy, currently in his first year as director of the singer’s program at Ravinia’s Steans Institute was an attentive, first-class accompanist, even contributing Anatol’s spoken line in the Barber aria. But why did the pianist have to turn his pages with such aggressive vehemence? The repeated loud noise was distracting.

Te Kanawa’s recording of O mio babbino caro did as much to launch that brief Puccini aria into mass-market orbit as Luciano Pavarotti’s efforts did for Nessun dorma. Her sole encore, sung with tender simplicity, made the perfect coda to a wonderful evening.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Kiri shows she still has the lovely voice and great artistry at Ravinia”

  1. Posted Aug 16, 2012 at 4:03 pm by Evalon Lucien

    I followed Dame Kiri Te Kanawa from Florida and enjoyed her flawless expertise in vocals. I came to learn from the best and was not disappointed

    I would like to know when her next vocal competition will be so I can submit my entry??

    I look forward to seeing her at the Phil on Naples again

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