Saturday, June 14, 2014

Satsuki Nagatome's 'May Breezes' in Review

Satsuki Nagatome's concert May Breezes saw a performer's strong desire to impress and largely succeeded in doing so. The programme read like the track listing of a Golden Age diva's greatest hits CD: a wide ranging programme including top tunes by Gounod, Mozart, Mascagni, Early Verdi, the odd rarity in Spanish composer Manuel de Falla and of course, that most Japanese of composers, Puccini.

While the event was billed as a solo recital, it was really a gala opera scenes presentation save for an orchestra. Satsuki was the star of a large cast, with solo and duet numbers from her students, a cameo by baritone Brent Allcock, a flamenco troupe (Flemenco Sin Fronteras), a mandolin player (Dominic Wan) and a small chorus assembled by Laura Abello. Caroline Martin directed the many scenes. Vincent Chen is a most accommodating and lively accompanist. The whole look of it was extremely glamorous, with lots of bling and miles of satin custom-made into gowns, costumes and stage furniture coverings.

The evening got off a charming start when three girls opened the evening with a beautifully sung and acted rendition of When at Night I Go to Sleep, the prayer from Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel. The marquee artist herself showed up for the second number in a frilly, strapless turquoise gown and decked out heavily in costume bling for the Jewel Song in Faust. The voice was strongly projected, well controlled with a bright sheen on top. Pronunciation could be unclear at times, while low notes at this point tend to get hoarse and swallowed up. The tone showed just a bit of tiredness, probably a result of long rehearsals, but the big voice never wavered throughout the evening and actually got stronger. Climatic high notes can be a little tentative but always spot on. Dramatically she strove hard to be in the moment, fleshing out her characters with honest emotion. 

The two low points in a concert otherwise full of treasures are the opening Jewel Song, sung at such a slow pace as to make nothing out of the fioritura, and Donna Elvira's aria Mi Tradi from Don Giovanni, which saw her labour under the aria's relentlessly high passages, occasionally dropping notes from florid passages for gasps of air. It was also strange how she frequently mispronounced the oft repeated phrase of 'O Dio' (Oh God). However, Un bel di was beautifully on form, not just beautifully sung but so convincingly lived in that she brought us into Butterfly's house just through her gestures and expression. I thought it was strange that she would sing Lippen Schweigen alone given that there's already a fine baritone in the house but loved her rapport with the extremely slim male dancer (Toshi Konno), and enjoyed her rendition of Tacea la notte from Verdi's Il Trovatore.

The number that impressed me most was Abilgaille's two part scene that opens act two of Nabucco. That anyone would programme this demanding piece in a recital is amazing enough; accompanied and egged on by Brent and her 3 male chorus members, Satsuki launched into the cabaletta with thrilling speed, chewing into those wide leaps and tossing off the coloratura with aplomb. Low notes that were muted earlier came through with full effect. I was slightly disappointed that she chose not to repeat the opening verse, but that was forgiven when she capped off the aria with a stunning high note.

The scene from Falla's opera La vide breve was interesting, as my exposure to his operas till now is nil. The scene is a heartfelt one in the verismo style, where village girl Salud speaks of her pain of being cheated on and climaxing on a big high note.

Of the student soloists, I shall sum up by saying that there's still lots more technical and diction work to be done, but its clear that they have put in the required work and are well prepared. Serenade Lim and Mina Shoji especially showed plenty of joy at the opportunity to perform.

The grand finale was the prayer from Cavalleria rusticana, featuring the full chorus strolling on stage in their Sunday best, while their Maestra interspersed their harmonies with her solo lines. After an extended curtain call not unlike that of a full opera production, the diva gave an encore of May Breezes, a Japanese song specially commissioned for this concert. Taken as a whole, this was a fine studio opera performance, no doubt a triumph of great satisfaction for the large cast of performers. I fully recommend everyone to check out their future performances.

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