Yvonne Kenny: A Touch of Venus
UPDATE, AUGUST 17, APPENDED
I would sacrifice my first-born to avoid seeing -- or rather hearing -- Kiri Te Kanawa feeling pretty. Or Sumi Jo glittering and being gay. Opera singers shouldn’t slum it. Show tunes and divas don’t mix. Period. No exceptions. So it was with a touch of trepidation that I lined up some tickets to see a variety show program featuring superstar Australian soprano Yvonne Kenny.
Now, I’m a Kenny groupie. I have five of her CDs, one signed and dedicated. But I don’t really want to hear her singing anything more recent than Puccini’s beloved daddy... unless it’s a Britten or a Canteloube or a Copland arrangement of a traditional song.
And this program -- more or less the same as the one she performed at Wigmore Hall in May -- had Weill, Sondheim, Coward, Gershwin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Rich Rodgers. Even one of William Bolcom’s Cabaret Songs. And the 20th century “mod squad” composers far outnumbered the Schumann, Handel and Purcell.
But Yvonne Kenny, above all else, is an artist of intelligence and taste. And the choices she made in this program -- with just one or two jarring exceptions -- suited her laser-bright voice, her acting skills and that knowing, severe, beautiful brow of hers.
(Yvonne Kenny, photograph by Paul Henderson-Kelly)
The emphasis throughout the night was on poetry: a Purcell setting of some Dryden, a Frank Bridge setting of some Matthew Arnold, Kurt Weill of Ogden Nash and so on. And Kenny’s voice -- accompanied only by the Steinway -- gave those verses wings.
She tossed a tassled, tequila sunrise-coloured shawl over her shoulders and sang “no stain shall blemish this constant heart” as if she were daring fate to seduce her. Iain Burnside’s piano trills, here, were precise, delicate, brilliant. Seductive.
Then Kenny trumped it with an exquisite rendition of Jerome Kern’s ‘All the things you are’... clear, soft and emotional.
Linking the songs were extracts from an old book of etiquette and some wry little quotations about boorish men and inconstant love from Dorothy Parker, Ivana Trump, Zsa Zsa Gabor... you can see where this is heading, right?
The best and the worst came in the encores. Brilliantly, Kenny led with Tom Lehrer’s ‘Masochism Tango’. And this, I’ve got to say, was the highlight of the night: dramatic, fun, black. As unexpected and shocking as a cigarette burn in a ball gown.
But from black coal we went to glass-cutting diamonds... of the “girl’s best friend” variety. At the final hurdle, we stumbled. Talk about ending on a brittle note.
Sandwiched between the Lehrer and the Leo Robin/Jule Styne tune from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was a pretty little song by Reynaldo Hahn: ‘Si mes vers avaien des ailes’ (If my verses had wings). In this company, alas, it was invisible. Too sweet and too frail.
3MBS FM recorded this concert for delayed broadcast.
An edited version of this review appeared in the Herald Sun, last week.
See also Sarah Noble’s passionate review of the same concert, here.
She writes, in part:
This is an incredible programme, so full of Yvonne, of what she does so beautifully and what’s so beautiful about her — and also eerily full of me. Music I learnt from her and have only ever heard her sing; music I’ve known for years and have never heard her sing, but now it too belongs to her. I could catalogue at length the universe of resonances and associations and delights at work for me in this programme but perhaps I’ll just select a few.And ends her review thus:
In my life I’ve encountered few people so extraordinary. Her grace, her passion and her generosity inspire and uplift me always. She floors me, and I adore her.