wed 24/07/2024

A Celebration of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Royal Albert Hall | reviews, news & interviews

A Celebration of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Royal Albert Hall

A Celebration of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Royal Albert Hall

A classic feel-good Prom makes for some enchanted afternoon

The real stars of the afternoon: Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein themselves

It may have been the glossy, Labrador-like abandon of John Wilson and his fabulous orchestra, but barely two bars of the Oklahoma! overture had passed before I caught myself grinning and drifting into critical neutral. Richard Rodgers’ scores are built for a symphony orchestra, and the massed forces of over 50 strings, swollen brass and percussion sections, brought out their sweeping, sparkling best.

There have been major international orchestras this season that have failed to muster half the energy and commitment Wilson drew from his players; the overtures and instrumental interludes (in some deliciously imaginative arrangements) alone would have made for a glorious afternoon.

The choice of songs throughout was deliberately quirky

But singing there was aplenty, with sets from favourites such as South Pacific and The King and I, as well as the darker Carousel and less familiar Flower Drum Song. A team of five soloists joined the Maida Vale Singers, with the youthful pairing of Julian Ovenden and Sierra Boggess tackling the pastoral romancing of Oklahoma’s Curly and Laurey. Far from the edgy, issue-driven themes that crept into later collaborations, this show’s joy is its simplicity. Camping up a storm with his American affectations, Ovenden kicked off proceedings with a sunny (if at times slightly woolly) “O, What a Beautiful Morning”, before he was joined by Boggess for the oblique love-duet, “People Will Say We’re in Love”. This archest of love songs is pure Hammerstein – a playful variant of more typical declarations, its delicate subtext beautifully handled here.

With Carousel we had the first opportunity to hear the full forces of orchestra and chorus for the rambunctious “June is Bustin’ Out all Over”. Led by Kim Criswell, the Maida Vale Singers gave it their all in one of the most extended vocal arrangements of the afternoon. Miking was a bit of an issue throughout, and I would have loved to have heard the chorus more clearly; stuck in a corner behind the enormous band they didn’t stand much of a chance in the general balance, showcased only frustratingly briefly in the opening unaccompanied nun’s chorus from The Sound of Music. Stand-out soloists from the choir however did have a chance to shine, taking the lead in South Pacific’s “There is Nothing Like a Dame” to great effect.

Shifting from the psychological realism of Carousel and its “Soliloquy” (movingly handled by Ovenden), the wry “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa my Hair” was welcome comedy. Anna-Jane Casey (unquestionably the star of the night) radiated Broadway glamour, her powerful vocals achieving a focus none of the others quite managed in this difficult space. Rod Gilfry was an obvious choice for the role of South Pacific's French love-interest Emile (originally written for Ezio Pinza, retired bass from the Metropolitan Opera), and brought caressing operatic force to bear with great effect, making up for the Flower Drum Song dud, “You Are Beautiful” he was later saddled with.

The choice of songs throughout was deliberately quirky. Stalwart favourites such as Oklahoma’s “I Can’t Say No”, “Getting To Know You” from The King and I, and “Do, Re, Mi” were left out, in favour of less beloved numbers, some of which (The Sound of Music duet “Something Good”) gained a rare and well-deserved concert airing.

Apart from one spectacular vocal misfire in the form of Kim Criswell’s “Climb Ev’ry Mountain”, this was a slick and perfectly judged afternoon, showcasing the joy of light music performed as though it were the heaviest of the heavyweight. Though the orchestra and dynamic John Wilson himself came close, the real stars of the afternoon were the swooning melodies of Rodgers and the witty lyrics of Hammerstein. Which is exactly as it should be.

The joy of light music performed as though it were the heaviest of the heavyweight

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Rather astounded at the omissions in this crit. I can only assume the person writing it, has little or no, vocal training or expertise. The comments on the singers were lacking in enthusiasm, with the exception of Anna-Jane Casey. She WAS a bright star, but by no means over-shadowed her excellent co-performers. Sierra Boggess was barely mentioned, yet her vocal excellence had US captivated, and am willing to bet we weren't alone. We also did not consider that Kim Criswell was given her dues, for the excellent and versatile singer she undoubtedly is. In conclusion, I am concerned that the listings describe Anna-Jane Casey as a soprano and Sierra Boggess as a vocalist. This the strangest classification and perhaps the greatest slight to the latter. If we are talking quirky, this is definitely it.

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