The concept of Yvonne Kenny’s “A touch of Venus” is to give a context to a wide variety of different songs. The context is Dorothy Parker’s very modern, always witty and sometimes jaundiced view of love, and the songs are selected with this theme in mind and are interspersed with readings from Ms Parker. The questions raised by this idea are:
Does it work?
Are the songs enhanced through this treatment?
Has Yvonne Kenny gone mad?
It is very daring to program classical songs and arias side by side with popular songs. Even Eileen Farrell would not have tried it. It is also daring to offer it at Wigmore Hall, a traditional venue. There is apparently nothing Ms Kenny will not take on, and her musical and theatrical personality definitely includes all this disparate material. The closest thing to it that I've experienced is Bebe Neuwirth's "Here lies Jenny."
Surprisingly, the composer most enhanced by this context is George Frederick Handel. “O sleep” becomes ourselves lying awake at night worrying about a lover. It was like a light bulb going on.
I’m going to give her advice now, so switch off if you don’t want to hear this. I only give advice to people I think capable of receiving and benefiting from it. Classical and pop singing use different techniques, and I think she would be happier with the condition of her voice at the end of this program if she raised the pitch of some of the pop songs a bit and didn’t push the chest so much, something Eileen Farrell, the queen of crossover, never did. Yvonne Kenny is a soprano, and it doesn’t detract from the music if she remains one here.
My second piece of advice will probably happen of its own accord with repetition. Memorization must be more complete. She didn’t come out like Véronique Gens with a pile of scores she could have been sight reading out of, but she did have a crib sheet which she referred to occasionally. She needs to get past this. Complete contact with the audience cannot be achieved without looking at them, and if she wants her idea to work, this is essential. I was fine with reading Dorothy Parker from a book. In those cases it is Ms Parker who is speaking.
Iain Burnside was the marvelous accompanist, and he talks!! A talking accompanist is simply not heard of. He handled both playing and talking wonderfully well.
I’m open to madness, to the idea of opera singer as cabaret singer, but if she is to succeed to the extent that she wishes, that she obviously can, she needs to step it up a notch. Perhaps Wigmore Hall isn't the perfect venue either. Dim lighting and drinks, I'm thinking.