Jessica Pratt at Wigmore Hall (19 May 2015)
This recital went to extremes: a resounding brava when it came to musical qualities but ouch & oi in regards to volume. Dear JP, have mercy on our delicate ears! I was sat 5 rows from the back and this far from a headache. The sound volume curve of the performance went like this:
beginning: wild oscillations between loud/soft
middle: nicely balanced
end: loud abandon in perfectly aced high note & voice-swing land
Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868)
La fioraia fiorentina
Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848)
Preghiera (Una lagrima)
Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835)
Per pietà, bell’idol mio
Malinconia, ninfa gentile
Act 2 Aria: Qui la voce…Vien, diletto
I think we can all agree that bel canto is a great deal about fireworks and emoting. You need to be able to juggle the notes, you need to make the audience feel and then feel some more. And god knows bel canto audiences go apeshit every time a singer rises above B flat. So the singers get above B flat a lot – where they emote and juggle the notes. Gods help us if they, like JP, are in possession of a sizeable voice.
But what a voice! It’s reassuring to find a singer of the younger generation (wiki tells us JP was born in 1979) who makes you feel like bel canto is alive and kicking. I first noticed JP in one of those obscure Rossini operas the Pesaro Festival likes to stage (Adelaide di Borgogna). I could immediately tell she was very good and had personality too so I was delighted when I later saw she was coming to Wigmore Hall.
The great thing about JP is that her voice is very agile but has body to it, somewhat akin to Gruberova’s in nature if not in sound. On top of that I happen to like her tone a lot – youthful sounding but not plaintive, perhaps a bit cheerful even. That came through later during the red dress1(French side).
The black dress (Italian side). To begin with she needed a bit of time to suss out the size of the room and perhaps get over some nerves. Thus the first song felt quite unbalanced volume-wise and her top was a tad fluttery. I overheard someone commenting that starting with such a difficult song might not have been the wisest choice. Things improved a lot and by the time she finished La zingara the audience was firmly on her side. I also liked the quiet manner she sang Preghiera. For all the loud’n’acrobatic pizzazz she threw most of the night there she did a great job with the floated pianissime. How about some more of that stuff next time?
Of course pretty much everybody was waiting for the big showpiece that is Qui la voce…/Vien diletto… One of my favourite bel canto arias, I was waiting (with bated breath) for it as well. Will she cope? Having heard what she could do before I was pretty sure she would. It was breathtakingly sung and what a mofo of a mad scene it is. It’s got everything – a bit of uncertainty, a lot of delirious joy, properly mad coloratura – loud and high. Well, everything was in place. I would’ve like a bit more deliriousness (the kind Sumi Jo pulls off) but, come on, it was smooth. By this time the flutter at the top had disappeared and every note was aced and rang clear and strong. I wasn’t quite as taken with the piano accompaniment. I thought the tempo was a tad too fast and I would’ve liked more feeling in the playing.
Jules Massenet (1842-1912)
No. 3 Ouvre tes yeux bleus, ma mignonne
Charles Gounod (1818-1893)
Alfred Bachelet (1864-1944)
Eva Dell’Acqua (1856-1930)
Léo Delibes (1836-1891)
Les filles de Cadix
Ambroise Thomas (1811-1896)
Act 4 A vos jeux, mes amis
Donizetti (Linda di Chamonix)
O luce di quest’anima
Glitter and be gay
The red dress (French side). Surprisingly, I think she was a bit better at this. It’s perhaps something to do with her personality, which I think has the kind of chutzpah French music needs. To see if I’m talking bollocks I put her to the Dessay test (when I think French I think Dessay and Petibon). Listening to Dessay’s take on Les filles de Cadix I conclued that, though Dessay was (naturally) more French, JP had more Cadix about her (not quite Diana Damrau yet but getting close). By this time it felt like all the nerves had cleared and she could have gone on for another couple of hours, so her mood most likely contributed to its success.
For Glitter and be gay she put on a hilarious show to the great delight (unabashed laughs through the performance! She vanquished the stiff upper lip). In fact, it was quite clear during the evening that she’s a natural actress who can go where the moment takes her and do it in style. I’m wondering if her natural affinity for Rossini plus this French feel doesn’t mean she should sing Adele in Le comte Ory sometime soon? Or stuff along the same lines. Whatever it is, she should return to ROH in something fun (and possibly French).
- A much tamer red dress than the one that short-circuited my brain two weeks ago, alas. ↩