Posted by: operatheaterink | March 15, 2011

Review: Kiri Te Kanawa Recital, Valley Performing Arts Center, March 15, 2011

An Operatic Legend Brings Beauty to a New Venue.

Dame Kiri Te Kanawa

Photo: John Swannell

SEEN MARCH 12, 2011

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

The San Fernando Valley — a vast residential and commercial area in Los Angeles with many separately-named communities — has always had the reputation of being a cultural wasteland, even though many highly artistic and intellectual Angelenos reside within its borders. Valley residents have never had a major theater to call their own and have always been forced to travel long distances to attend plays or hear opera. Although the artistic environment has improved with the advent of many small theaters, the community has still lacked a major venue.

All that has changed now. On Jan. 29, the 1,700-seat multipurpose hall in the Valley Performing Arts Center had a star-studded opening night on the campus of California State University, Northridge.

It has taken 10 years; 4,000 tons of steel (the weight of about 866 adult African elephants); 11,000 cubic yards of concrete; 30,000 square feet of glass; 34,000 square feet of paneling for acoustical purposes; 6,000,000 individual stone tiles; 173 new trees; and $125 million of public and private funds and donations to complete the 166,000-square-foot center which houses the multipurpose concert hall and a 178-seat black box theater.

I was in awe as I stood inside the lobby on March 12 looking up and around at the four levels of glass that surrounded me while waiting for Dame Kiri Te Kanawa’s recital to begin. Designed by the architectural firm of founders Richard Hammel, Curt Green and Bruce Abrahamson (HGA), the exterior is just as phenomenal as the interior. Driving along Nordhoff Street, one cannot help but stop, ask questions, and stare at the new U-shaped cultural complex wrapped around a central exterior courtyard on the Cal State Northridge campus.

I remained in awe when listening to Te Kanawa’s purity of tone as she began her recital with one of my all-time favorites: “Lascia ch’io pianga” from Handel’s “Rinaldo.”

But before singing, she expressed her desire to personally aid those in Japan and in her own country, New Zealand, who have been victims of the recent earthquakes. She reached out to the audience for support and good will.

She sang music by Vivaldi and Franz Liszt, then moved forward with folk songs and ballads, including “O Waly, Waly,” “Oliver Cromwell” and the well-known “Scarborough Fair.” She concluded the set singing the poetry of Emily Dickinson: “Why did they shut Me out of Heaven? Did I sing – too loud?”

Looking above the stage at the wood paneling and the recessed lighting at intermission, I reflected on what I had heard. Te Kanawa looked elegant in a long magenta taffeta evening gown. At 67, there was no evidence that her voice has lost its luster or warmth. Her legato line flowed effortlessly into the hall. The pianissimos were awe-inspiring. But something was missing.

After intermission Te Kanawa sang Gabriel Fauré’s “Le Secret,” Reynaldo Hahn’s “A Chloris,” Henri Duparc’s “Chanson triste,” and Jules Massenet’s aria “Adieu, notre petite table” from “Manon.” She concluded the recital with Puccini’s “Morire?” and the Argentine Lieder of Carlos Guastavino and Alberto Ginastera.

After hearing “Adieu, notre petite table,” I realized what was wrong. Although Te Kanawa’s sound was pure; although her pianissimos made us listen in disbelief; although her interpretations were sensitive and artistic – there was no variety to the program. Every selection sounded alike except for the humorous song before intermission and the final piece, for which she added a bit of movement and facial expression. It seems that Te Kanawa chose music that would enable her to sing effortlessly without strain and without being called upon to sing above mezza voce. I played a DVD of Renée Fleming’s 2001 “Manon” at the Opéra National de Paris / Opéra Bastille when I returned home. Fleming sang “Adieu, notre petite table” with expression and passion. So I have concluded that the lack of variety in the program wasn’t because Te Kanawa’s selections were on the same plane. There was variety there, but Te Kanawa was singing every selection uniformly, possibly to preserve her voice. Whether a performer is 25 or 65, audience members want to hear and see passion on the stage. With every song or aria, the singer should communicate a story. Te Kanawa seemed afraid to move, to express, to even turn her head. But, yes, it all sounded beautiful.

She is lovely – what can I say? Plus I respect her for her humanitarian efforts. She has established the Kiri Te Kanawa Foundation to help talented young New Zealand singers and musicians succeed internationally. She is a tireless fundraiser and mentor.

She was gracious during her encores. One was sung without the chords and arpeggios from her superb collaborative pianist, Brian Zeger, who has played for Deborah Voigt, Susan Graham, Bryn Terfel, Joyce DiDonato and Thomas Hampson, among others. The ability to sing without an accompanist is not easy. At 67, Te Kanawa displayed perfect pitch, support, and technical mastery. A little more expressiveness to go with the resonant beauty would have made for an idyllic evening.

Valley Performing Arts Center

Valley Performing Arts Center