The see a French singer at least once a month programme has been going on since October. It’s true sometimes (February) it was quite a stretch but in my defense I only saw one show (shudder! gasp!) that month – and sometimes (April) the French singer was spotted more than once a month whereas in December I was in France and saw a bunch of them in one go. Vive la brioche!
On Monday I went to see Gens with 4 hours of broken sleep (thanks for nothing, kitties) at the ungodly hour of 1pm (part of BBC3’s Lunchtime Concert and you can hear it too). I didn’t droop, mostly because Mme Gens, in spite of her tall frame, has a voice light as a feather and it lifts you up.
I first heard her in La clemenza di Tito from Brussels (the one I call the reality TV Tito) where she towered over Boni’s Sesto. She managed to stick in my memory due to her unusual skill at making herself appear smaller (as if taking refuge within herself) when Vitellia realises things are going down the drain (act I finale). That skill was apparent here as well, though in a slightly different manner.
Véronique Gens soprano
Susan Manoff piano
Reynaldo Hahn (1874-1947)
Néère (from Études latines)
Trois jours de vendange
Henri Duparc (1848-1933)
Romance de Mignon
Ernest Chausson (1855-1899)
Le charme Op. 2 No. 2
Les papillons Op. 2 No. 3
Hébé Op. 2 No. 6
Quand je fus pris au pavillon (from Rondels)
Le rossignol des lilas
La chanson bien douce Op. 34 No. 1
Le temps des lilas
Lydé | Tyndaris | Pholoé | Phyllis (from Études latines)
In nice contrast to Mattila, who joked with the crowd and kissed her accompanist on both cheeks after each section, Gens’ stage presence makes me imagine her all by herself, reading a book in a quiet coffee shop. In between songs she’s perfectly self effacing and even looks a bit uncomfortable with having a roomful of people watch her. When the songs start she gets animated.
Which brings to mind the oddness of performing. You’re there in front of people, who are all busy gauging your every move (well, the ones who don’t have their eyes glued to the programme). Pretty odd situation for a private person, which she seems to be.
If you enjoy singers who have a feel for and a deft command of piano and pianissimo, Gens is for you. I’m not sure how she sounded at the back of the room because, unusually, I had a seat at the front of the hall, but she employed some of the most delicate turns of phrase I have heard so far.
The repertoire was of the airiest kind and gave Manoff the opportunity to spin an impishly playful web beneath Gens’ feather-light sound. Their communication was clear and – for me – surprinsingly balanced: Manoff leading with more than a tinge of humour and Gens flawlessly picking up the sound and transforming it into diaphanous droplets. She can hit forte when needed and luckily there is no ping to her voice but the most interesting moments are those disarmingly soft touches, when the ends of phrases are left floating.