On Saturday 28th November, 2020, Queen’s Hall reopened their doors to patrons in Glorious form. Walking through the familiar doors, being greeted by the warm staff and having a personal guide to my seat felt so foreign, yet touchingly familiar. The nostalgia from being in the auditorium and seeing the beautiful set, which occupied the entire stage and was designed by Daniella Walcott, sparked excitement, anticipation, and curiosity. The house announcements were met with a small cheer from the audience, an outward representation of our inner excitement to be back at home. Now on to the review.
When listening to classical music, there are three major things to take into consideration:
- Quality of voice
- Clarity of text
- Effective emoting and expressing
I dare to say that Piocaplat did a more than adequate job in meeting these criteria.
Picoplat’s All Star cast presented a varied and appropriate programme. The first half was filled with local music and new interpretations of old classics. The charming setting of The Virgin Mary juxtaposed to the hauntingly beautiful arrangement of Oh Holy Night balanced the show perfectly. When the latter began, I could not identify the song because of its unusual setting. However the unstable harmonies and its almost bitonal setting was gripping and exciting. Even at the expected resolution, the cadences were extended, keeping the listener engaged. A simply wonderful arrangement and flawless delivery.
Anneliese Kelly charmed us with the African American Spiritual classic Go tell it on the mountain; however her performance lacked conviction to me. Because of the long history associated with African American Spirituals, the genre should be treated with the respect that it deserves. The pedestrian performance left nothing to the audience’s imagination. Every chorus gave the same combinations of gestures and convulsive movements which were too “on the nose” to be effective. There is power subtlety. There is power in simplicity. The performance would have been more much more captivating if movement balanced with stillness, if she took a moment, stood with authority and told us “Go!” This is not to say that you should not enjoy your performance, but you need to go beyond skin deep.
Baritone Krisson Joseph gifted us in voice and guitar with his original calypso, If We Ever Needed Christmas, which was reminiscent of the chantuelle history of the genre. He wooed us with his witty lyrics and charisma. It was also quite fun to see conductor June Nathaniel accompany Mr. Joseph on percussion. However, he fumbled on the guitar which distracted from the performance. It very much seemed that he was playing his composition “by ear”. In other words, practice the chords for the piece. The attempt to have the audience join in on the chorus did not land well either. If you wish to have the audience sing along, especially to an original composition, it is always wise to have the onstage ensemble lead the charge. This will ensure that the desired vocal support is present and will be more encouraging for the audience to join in. Nonetheless, to Mr. Joseph, I say well done.
The rest of the first half was sublime. Natalia Dopwell graced us with Amid the Roses with a gorgeous melodic line and effortless expression. She took a simple carol melody and captivated with her vibrant and consistent vocal timbre and dynamic variety. Dr. Edward Cumberbatch failed to disappoint with a rich and full sound we have come to love and expect. The story of The Three Kings was delivered tenderly as if to soothe a child. The first half concluded with Deborah Aboud singing the classic Sussex Carol with a beautiful warmth. However, there was not much there. Her expressions were difficult to read and her interpretation left much to be desired.
The Impresario, Mozart’s one act comedic opera, opened the second half. The biggest of compliments to the pianist, Ms. Eunmi Choi, whose interpretation of Mozart’s style was accurate and impressive. Even the use of the pedal had purpose and intent. Much kudos to you.
Buffo was done by Krisson Joseph. Mr. Joseph being a huge personality on stage is his greatest strength, but also his Achilles Heel. His charisma grabs you instantly on stage but when he falls, it takes far too long for him to recover. This is what happened in Se vuol ballare. Apart from the stumble with the lyrics at the crescendo to the climax, I am not convinced that he knew the context of the song, the meaning of the Italian text, and why it was funny that it was added into The Impresario. (The short version is that Mozart released The Marriage of Figaro within a year of The Impresario). Figaro performs Se vuol ballare as a threat to the Count Almaviva. Figaro is engaged to Susana and Count Almaviva wishes to take her purity from her before the union. Figaro learns of this and sings the aria which roughly translates to, “If you want to dance, I’ll play the music.” If Buffo was simulating an audition, this context should have been present. And even without the audition, a convincing performance was still expected.
Mrs. Cantwell, as played by Ms. Dopwell, simply left me in awe. While she was occasionally betrayed by her “tell” when she forgets her lyrics, and her lower notes are obviously in her chest voice, the consistency throughout the performance was still stunning. Her effortless coloratura and upper register did well to introduce and solidify her character – and herself – as a consummate diva.
She was then challenged by another diva soprano, Miss Honeywell, portrayed by Ms. Kelly. I could not focus throughout her singing because something bothered me. Her timbre was clear, her diction and pronunciation was good, but something was not right. Then it hit me! Her breathing! Her sound was not supported which has several repercussions; her tone was not consistent and her phrases always ended with a gasp. Because of such, she was not a convincing competitor to Ms. Dopwell’s character. Anneliese Kelly is a superb talent with great potential; however, do not fall in love with potential. Imbue it with energy and let it grow. I look forward to hearing how she improves.
Deborah Aboud, playing Mrs. Borghesa, charged on stage, making herself known as the mezzo-soprano of the show. She sang well but it was not memorable. There was also a moment where she was standing still behind the piano and I had no idea why. Overall, she gave a fair performance.
Playing the titular character, Dr. Cumberbatch was hilarious with exquisite comedic timing. His facial expressions were visible and his charisma was infectious. While he did not have much singing, he still delivered with his usual standard. I was caught off-guard with the accent he chose, however. The Impresario is Italian, but speaks with a French accent? Unless we are going to speak about the migration patterns during the mid to late 1700s, the accent was completely unnecessary. Since this adaptation of the libretto is set in the Caribbean, it is more than acceptable to use our natural voices.
Picoplat’s goal is to facilitate the development of classical music in Trinidad and Tobago and I can say that it is definitely opening the doors. Their choice of repertoire and use of established professionals is an important asset. Glorious served as a fairly strong re-opening to the Queen’s Hall and the calibre of this performance indicates that their mission to present classical music still rings true.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael Hudlin has lived as a musician and performer for the majority of his life. From his roots in Calypso music, Michael has evolved into the classical musician he is today, holding a Certificate in Music from the University of the West Indies, a Bachelors from the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, and currently pursuing his Masters in Choral Conducting at the Eastman School of Music. Michael has directed both classical ensembles as well as musical theatre and currently serves as the Musical Director at Chandelier Productions.