SIR Willard White, one of the world’s great bass baritone singers, performed at two concerts in Doha recently. While he gave a performance on Wednesday evening in concert with the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra (QPO) at the Ladies Club at Aspire, he was on stage at Qatar Academy’s auditorium on Thursday in A Gala Evening of Songs.
The Thursday concert was the first in the new series sponsored by Qatar Shell in association with Qatar Foundation. Shell has been sponsoring these concerts, which provide audiences in Qatar with the opportunity to hear highly-acclaimed artists from all over the world, since 2005.
Sir Willard, 57, was on his second visit to Qatar. His first appearance in Doha was in 2006 when his recital in the National Theatre met with a rapturous reception from a packed audience.
Clad in an informal Asian-style loose shirt and baggy trousers, he strode on to the stage and immediately launched into the opening number, a traditional American ‘Boatman’s Dance’ arranged by Aaron Copland.
The selection for the evening ranged through traditional songs from America and England, operatic items by Mozart and Tchaikovsky, musical numbers from Rogers & Hammerstein and Loesser, to a final selection from the folk opera Porgy and Bess by George Gershwin.
Sir Willard’s personal interpretation of the role of Porgy has been recognised as one of his most notable achievements through his eminent stage and recording career.
Sir Willard introduced each number with amusing dry comments and anecdotes in his usual charismatic style, creating a bond with his delighted audience. He was accompanied on the piano by Steve Griffiths.
Griffiths’ daughter, the actress and singer Jane G Langford, who is in Doha to assist with a forthcoming production at Qatar Academy, joined Sir Willard in the duet ‘Sue Me’ from Loesser’s Guys and Dolls and again, after the interval, in ‘A Whole New World’ from Disney’s Aladdin.
Sir Willard sings regularly with the world’s major orchestras. An exceptionally versatile performer, he is also a talented actor, remembered especially for his starring role in Othello by the Royal Shakespeare Company and as Mephistopheles in Faust.
Sir Willard White lives in London. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 2004.
At the Ladies Club at Aspire, also appearing with the QPO was soprano Sabina Cvilak, a native of Slovenia born in 1977 whose worldwide professional career has met with great success.
The QPO, conducted by Andreas Webber, was at its polished best, performing at the standard which Doha concert audiences have come to expect.
The overture from Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute opened the evening’s entertainment, marvellous music and as popular now as when it was written. Sir Willard was next, with the famous aria ‘Within these hallowed halls’ from the same opera. His tremendously impressive baritone filled the hall with no need of amplification.
More Mozart was to follow, with the overture from Don Giovanni by the QPO and Willard and Cvilak in an impeccable duet in the entrancing ‘Give me your hand my darling’ sung as the arch seducer Giovanni is wooing his latest conquest Zerlina.
And so it went on, trundling doggedly through Schmidt, Gounod and Berlioz and after the interval Rossini, Pucchini, Mascagni and Verdi, to be followed, bizarrely at the end, by a wildly improbable item from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. No one could complain about lack of value for money.
The organisers evidently believed that as the sheet music for the final item on the programme, Bernstein’s Candide had failed to arrive in time, they were obliged to shove in a substitute. But Porgy and Bess?
Applause throughout the evening was polite rather than wildly enthusiastic, a marked contrast to the last QPO performance on January 31 when, together with guest conductor Gerd Albrecht, the orchestra worked rare magic.
The fact that a fair number of the audience did not trouble to stay after the interval spoke for itself. It was not the fault of the QPO: their performance was well up to their high standards.
Sir Willard White and Sabina Cvilak are both widely renowned singers, and both are leaders in their profession. The evening ought to have been an outstanding success.
That fact that it was somewhat lacklustre was due to the organisers, who supposed that trotting opera singers on and off stage to perform, complete with their formal and stylised actions which are quite meaningless outside the context of the opera, occasional songs in German and Italian with no explanation of their context, would be acceptable to a Doha audience.
White appeared just five times during the entire evening, Cvilak four, and this included their two duets, sparsely scattered among the full orchestral performances. It just doesn’t work, and those who arrange these concerts need to reconsider.
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