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Tower Festival 2009




Dame Kiri Te Kanawa with the London Sinfonia



Musical Director and Conductor: Robin Stapleton


Tower of London


16 September 2009







A review by Barry Grantham for EXTRA! EXTRA!


My second visit to the Tower this week to sample the fare on offer at Continental Airlines Tower Festival – (Sunday, ‘The Yeomen of the Guard’) last night was ‘A Gala Night of Opera’ featuring Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. Both programmes offered the human voice as the main attraction and both gave us singing of equal excellence.

The visits prompted me to consider the nature of such vast events. (Both attracted an audience of around 4,000) and my present thinking is that a ‘concert’ format works better than an operatic/dramatic one, as countless Pop and Rock events testify, and the ‘The Three Tenors’  showed that it can apply to the field of classical music. It was for this reason I believe I was able to enjoy the ‘Gala Night’ more than the Gilbert and Sullivan, although my head tells me that the mounting of ‘The Yeoman of the Guard’ was the greater achievement.

But to concentrate on last night’s performance first, a mention of the remarkably good sound achieved and also, a word for the lighting team who provided a pleasant diversion for the eye to augment the auditory feast.  Then, all praise for conductor Robin Stapleton and The London Sinfonia, whose main requirement was to accompany the singers, a task they performed admirably. But I for one regretted that they only had two opportunities to express their élan in an orchestral piece - one a very lively ‘Danse Boheme’ from ‘Carmen’ and in the second half, an exciting number in a Latin American style which seemed familiar but was not detailed in the programme. It was played with such dash and gusto that it elicited perhaps the warmest reception of the evening.

And of course there was the elegant presence of Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, both singing enchantingly and looking so, in a creation of silk Eau de Nile, to be replaced in the second act by one of dazzling white. As the programme tells us, Dame Kiri now devotes much of her time and energy to working with the next generation of opera stars, and to this end she introduced three young singers of undoubted ability:  Lithuanian soprano, Lauryna Bendziunaite, Phillip Rhodes, baritone, from New Zealand and Roberto Gomez, tenor, from Mexico. In addition to great vocal dexterity all three showed acting and presentational ability which is still essential, even in a concert performance.

The repertoire was drawn largely from the great 19th century operas, and for me the forays into more recent works were less pleasing, although warmly welcomed by the audience. These included songs from Cats, Porgy and Bess, Carousel and West Side Story.   I was about to say that I feel that the skilled operatic voice is too controlled, too precise, for the freer, lighter touch needed to characterise these songs from the musicals   I was going to say..

And then I recall that I have a favourite recording of West Side Story conducted by Leonard Bernstein with Miss Kiri Te Kanawa as a most perfect Maria!



Wednesday 16 September at 7.30 pm

Tower of London


Tickets: £50 £45,£27.50 Subject to booking fee.

Box Office: 0844 847 2519 




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