A Touch of Venus 2006

Hamer Hall, Melbourne (Musica Viva)


Yvonne Kenny, soprano, Iain Burnside, piano

Professional production

(Editor’s note: Renowned Brisbane soprano Lyn Moorfoot was about to join the stagediary.com team as music reviewer when she had to transfer to Melbourne for professional reasons. As she was able to see Yvonne Kenny’s concert before the Brisbane recital, we are running her review of the Melbourne performance to tempt concert-goers even more. AC.)

August in Melbourne is the time to beat the winter blues and go out to the theatre. So it was that this Brisbane girl, newly arrived in Melbourne, was at Hamer Hall for a winter treat with the renowned Australian-born soprano, Yvonne Kenny, partnered on piano by her friend, Scottish pianist and BBC broadcaster, Iain Burnside.

Kenny and Burnside are touring Australia in association with Musica Viva in an intimate evening of song and poetry chronicling a woman’s life and love in a cabaret style which crosses genres and generations. It is rare for an acclaimed opera singer to tackle such a wide ranging program that includes Broadway greats like Sondheim, Kern, Weill, Porter and Coward, interspersed with gems of the classical lieder and opera repertoire – Handel, Hahn and Schumann. But not only do Kenny and Burnside accomplish this with panache, they maintain the integrity of each genre, whether it be ‘legit’ music theatre or da capo arias with baroque ornamentation.

The stage is set with an impressive floral installation, grand piano and a high stool for singer – a typical cabaret set. Kenny graces the stage in a shapely black sequined evening gown, complemented with a dash of colour from her collection of shawls which match the moods of young love, abandonment, parting, rapprochement and a chutzpah finale. Burnside is an equal partner in this venture, contributing to the elegant patter. On piano, he can conjure up, in one moment, the lush orchestral instrumentation of a Canteloube song from the Auvergne and immediately follow it with the plaintive economy of a Benjamin Britten folksong setting.

In capable hands and voice, we are taken on an emotional journey through some of the most sublime songs from the opera, chamber music and Broadway repertoire. We see the irrepressible joy of new love in Schumann’s Seit ich ihn gesehen ; the pre-adolescent agony of an eleven year old in Victoria Woods ‘ Crush , set at a Sydney bus stop; the wry truth of the morning after in William Bolcom’s Toothbrush Time ; the cynicism and co-dependence of Sondheim’s Could I leave you? ; and the pain of betrayal in Handel’s O Sleep ’. The contained longing of the Jerome Kern standard All the things you are will linger with me for many years. The second half has some demanding singing culminating in the Satie tribute to vaudeville queen Paulette Darty in La Diva de l’Empire where we glimpse Kenny’s playful tease. All those performances as Cleopatra have stood her in good stead!

Vocally, Kenny is in fine voice. The carefully crafted program shows off her trademark legato line, rich ‘chest voice’ and consistent tone through all vocal registers. Her diction is a joy and she toys with consonants with relish (you’ll get every word).

Although she is ever gracious in her acknowledgement of Burnside’s contribution, it’s Kenny herself who is the real star. At evening’s end there is yet more: three encores, including a riotous Tom Lehrer romp – Masochism Tango , followed by a tribute to a misunderstood screen icon of the 50’s that I’m not going to give away.

This is a rare treat for song enthusiasts of all genres. Try not to miss it.

Yvonne Kenny will give one recital in Brisbane at the Concert Hall, on Wednesday 9 August 2006

Duration: 1 hour 45 minutes, with one interval

— Lyn Moorfoot
(Performance seen: Tue 1st August 2006)