St Georges Hall
6th April 2017
Reviewed by Joe Coventry
On Ladies Day at the Grand National, the grand lady of English opera and popular music was also in town for the last night of her current national tour. Lesley Garrett had come to the iconic Concert Room venue to regale her fans with memories of her life and career and to sing some of the songs that have made her a household name.
She sashayed onto the stage wearing a full length blue gown shimmering in diamante splendour at her neck and waist to join immaculately dressed Andrew West at the piano. First though there would be some Q&A once the hand mic got sorted out. She sat at a little delicately draped side table which was straight out of My Fair Lady or Come Into The Garden Maude. What followed could have been mawkish but as soon as she opened her mouth you knew the Doncaster Diva’s working class roots, verve and lively personality would never take it there.
Proud of coming from a council house home and going to Thorn Grammar, she managed to get into the Royal Academy of Music. As a gritty Yorkshire girl in her late teens she was like a fish out of water but persevered just wanting to sing.
After leaving she was encouraged by Wexford Opera and Opera North as she got on the bottom rung: some music then; a Cho-Cho San aria from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly and Dvorak’s Songs My Mother Taught Me enabled this audience to judge her voice three decades and more on, in a venue she described as every bit as good as that in Vienna.
Lesley followed up with a few comments on the mechanics of sound and how the larynx operates ‘like a ping-pong ball bouncing on water’, meaning she still go through her vocal exercise routines every week. Proof of the pudding came with O Ma Babbino Caro from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi and an audience voted on Habanera from Bizet’s Carmen, to effortlessly finish the operatic half of the programme.
After the interval, and dressed for the part in stunning pink, her career in popular music came into focus as a wider world encouraged the soprano to participate in it’s musical spectrum. She had appeared with the likes of Bryn Terfel and Renee Fleming; now Tom Jones and Kathryn Jenkins, ( who joined her in front of 90,000 at the Cup Final) and Italian star Andrea Boccelli ‘what a kisser!’, were de rigueur.
After meeting husband Peter Christian on the set of Prokofiev’s satirical Love of Three Oranges she was now reaping the opprobrium of critics, one of whom called her ‘The John Lewis of opera’, but with great gusto she sang Some Enchanted Evening from South Pacific to celebrate the match with her perfect man.
As the ‘Dark Side’ advanced, as well as looking after the kids, TV work and collaborations with the likes of Lily Savage and Linda Quirk, the opera world spurned her, as less and less roles became available for this particular elder woman. Salvation came in her memorable soprano lead as Val, the toilet cleaner in Liverpool’s own Mark Simpson’s Pleasure, a dangerous world of forbidden fruit and lack of trust, set in a gay nightclub. Her daughter pulled her up on this one for not cleaning under the rim of the toilet properly!
Lesley did not sing from this work, which might have missed a trick, but most here had come for the singer’s ‘crossover’ comfort zone music from their own earlier days. She ended by thanking her pianist and the sound man before launching into Baillero from Canteloube’s Songs of the Auvergne and I Could Have Danced All Night from My Fair Lady. In her element, Moon River and a medley from The Sound of Music followed; Eidelweiss, My Favourite Things and, on another show of hands, Climb Every Mountain, which ended proceedings, her voice still holding up after the continuous onslaught on the tonsils.
Perhaps a bit to much talk, but it’s no nonsense and humorous content kept everyone involved. It was billed as an audience with the diva and tonight will have done nothing to diminish the 62-year-old’s star in the firmament.