Classic Response: Tsunami Benefit, Royal Albert Hall, London

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

The opera Babes could often be seen belting out Lakme in the bear-pit at Covent Garden's piazza when they were two unknowns, so it was nice to find them doing it again as the opener at the Royal Albert Hall.

The opera Babes could often be seen belting out Lakme in the bear-pit at Covent Garden's piazza when they were two unknowns, so it was nice to find them doing it again as the opener at the Royal Albert Hall. Bare midriffs and glittering décolleté apart, nothing had changed: Rebecca Knight and Karen England had survived their dizzy trip to stardom with their freshness intact.

Indeed, that was the subtext to the evening, from the moment the co-host Aled Jones stepped on stage until the closing appeal for funds by Russell Watson. For here were the Celtic Tenors (signed up for stardom after an impromptu audition), Duel (spotted by the pop svengali Pete Waterman as they busked in the street) and the caravan-kid Keedie (discovered singing in a bingo hall). Story after story had the same happy ending: topping the charts, tours, trips to Hollywood and serenades for Bill Clinton, Kofi Annan and the Pope.

Since the concert was to be "the cream of crossover" - Classic FM writ large - the heart did sink in advance, but it was good to see the clarinettist Emma Johnson, backed by the English Chamber Orchestra, follow the Opera Babes with an effective piece of Mozart. The Celtic Tenors, on the other hand, were as cheesy as one feared, their close-harmony rendition of "Danny Boy" (in Clinton's view, the tops) turning into an orgy of winsomeness.

Keedie was interesting. Boldly tackling an aria that was one of Callas's favourites, she didn't have what that took, and her hand-ballet made her look like a puppet on a string, but she does have a voice that, with training, could take her to places beyond the pop charts. The string quartet Bond reminded us that they were not merely a bunch of houris in coloured rags - they really could play. Rather more effectively, in fact, than Julian Lloyd Webber's bossa-nova band, whose percussion-free numbers were, frankly, stodgy. Jones acquitted himself well with a "Did you not hear my lady" that showed that his light tenor is just as good as his infant treble once was.

Then came three acts that were musically first rate. Duel are two young classical violinists in the Kennedy mould, who have simply got bored with the strait-laced classical world; Rosey Chan and Cassie Yukawa are a virtuoso piano duo who can tackle anything; and the four young opera singers who make up G4 - led by a tenor-falsettist of arresting power and range - were electrifying. Watson - a bit let down by his ferrety eyes - did at least manage "Nessun Dorma" without cracking a high note.

The best came last, in the form of the 13-year-old treble Harry Sever, who brought real artistry to a difficult song. Here was a singer who really inhabited the music he sang, making everything that had gone before seem like painting by numbers.

Comments