Tuesday, December 8, 2009

An Evening With Kathleen Battle

Some of you may recall how I ruined my partner's Solstice present for me, one she had planned for some time, back in September. I had gotten a flyer from the Charleston Concert Series in the mail, and behold, my favorite opera singer, Kathleen Battle was coming to Charleston. Turns out, my partner had already gotten tickets, and had been intercepting those flyers all along!

Anyway, the performance was Monday night. Let me set the stage for you: there was a music stand, a grand piano (Yamaha, for those of you keeping score), and a piano bench. That was it. No special effects, mo microphone, nothing else. Ms. Battle came out in a beautiful spaghetti strap black dress with a small train, and a fuchsia wrap. Her pianist was Cyrus Chestnut, who is an extremely talented jazz pianist. Ms. Battle performed a range of music from classical to spirituals to traditional Christmas carols. (Okay, "Santa Baby" is not exactly traditional, but it was REALLY fun!) She sang a number of pieces A Capella. She was, simply put, mesmerizing.

Not only was she stunning in her appearance, but so were a number of audience members, dressed in tuxedos, even some men in kilts, and women dressed to the Nines. It was an event.

Ms. Battle began the evening with "Ave Maria," though imagine it being just her and her jazz pianist, putting his unique spin on it (and if the video and the picture being out of sync makes you nuts, just close your eyes and enjoy it):

The one downside to the evening came while Ms. Battle was in the midst of singing one of my all time favorite hymns, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," an ancient hymn with a stirring tune (possibly Gregorian). Even as a non-Christian, there is just something about Gregorian chant that really moves me. Anyway, again, just her and her pianist, and Ms. Battle is in almost a meditative space. Mr. Chestnut is playing an interlude, and Ms. Battle is trying desperately to get someone to stop videotaping her with their cellphone. Everyone had been warned - no photography, no cell phones, no video-taping her with cell phones, and it was written in the program as well. The person was only a couple of rows away from her, and it distracted her from the piece. It was also the only time she actually spoke the entire night, when she told them that they had been asked not to tape her. She stopped the song in the middle, and left the stage, Mr. Chestnut following her. The people around the offender, as well as the rest of us, were not amused. After a few minutes, she came back on stage, and re-did the two songs of that set.

Perhaps because of the pieces she was performing, but it seemed like prayer, thus the intrusion that much more egregious. We were not mad at HER for leaving the stage - we were mad at the person who failed to honor her performance.

One of the spirituals she did was this one, "Rise Up Shepherd":

Another Spiritual she did was "Wade In The Water." It was fun to see how much she got into it, especially the chorus. I couldn't help but chuckle to myself, thinking of other concerts I attended in which the audience is encouraged to sing - this was no Indigo Girls concert, and we would NOT be joining in on the chorus. It was much more formal than that.

Another thing that amused us was her attempts, sometimes, failed, to rein in her pianist when he would go off on his interludes. She would be trying to get his attention so she could continue singing, and he'd just be playing along. I am sure she wanted to say to him, "Whose photo is on the front of the program, yours or mine? That's right, mine - so when I'm ready to start singing again, you need to be ready!" Don't get me wrong - he was outstanding, and she very much seemed to be enjoying his creativity and talent, but at some point, she needed to finish the piece.

And then it was over - people standing and cheering, "Brava, Brava!" until she came out for her encore. And this was it, the classic from "Porgy and Bess," "Summertime":

Wow. What a night. I never dreamed I'd be able to see her again on stage after leaving New York City, but indeed, I had that wonderful opportunity here. We had great seats, to, I might add - row O, dead center. I had an unobstructed view of Ms. Battle, looking at her on eye level - amazing! What an incredible gift, one I will long cherish.

So, that was my departure from all the crazy politics going on right now - Health Care, Obama's plummeting poll numbers (47% now - the lowest of any president at this time in the first year), or the possibility of the U.S. losing its Moody's Triple A rating for the first time in generations (and yes, that's with an "s" at the end).

I hope this was a nice departure for you, too. You can talk about whatever is on your mind, though. This is an open thread.


Mary Ellen said...

Thanks for those videos!

The Ave Maria fit right in with our Catholic Holy Day, today--the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Today I used Pavarotti,but this would have been equally as good!

O Come O Come Emmanuel is also one of my favs. We pretty much sing that at our church all during Advent. I swear, every time I get out of church I'm humming that song the rest of the day.

It sounds like you and your partner had a wonderful evening to remember, I'm so happy for you.

Also...it's too bad that Michelle Obama doesn't take a few lessons on dress from Ms. Battle. In every concert, she looks stunning! She has amazing taste, a classic beauty to be sure.

Oh, and I almost forgot...the guy video-taping should have been thrown out of the theater. When it is specifically stated that it is not allowed, they should be told to leave. I don't blame her for being angry.

Rabble Rouser Reverend Amy said...

Hey, Mary Ellen -

That is great that the "Ave Maria" fit in with today's holy day! Perfect!

There is just something abt that hymn, "O Come, O Come..." So haunting and beautiful...

No kidding - Kathleen Battle has a great sense of style, but it's also the manner in which she carries herself. She is very poised, and moves with a lot of grace.

You know, when she spoke to the person who was videotaping her, she didn't yell at him, but she did say that people were requested not to do it because "it is a great distraction." It really seemed to yank her out of a different realm almost, you know? It's like she gets transported when she sings...

You are right, though - the person should have been removed.

nazareth priest said...

Kathleen Battle rocks!
We sing Gregorian chant almost every day here...there is nothing quite like it; so simple, yet profound. So soothing, yet sometimes very demanding...the tradition of our Church has held this to be the ultimate in praise of God. And we try to do it as best we can.
Great post, Rev. Amy!

Rabble Rouser Reverend Amy said...

Thanks, Nazareth Priest!

Indeed, there is something so ancient about it, isn't there? It's as if it reaches down to the very core...I love it - and yes, it can also be demanding. But so, so beautiful.

You know, Nazareth Priest, when one is in that space, where the music is so pure, it cannot help but touch you. That was the impression I had of Kathleen Battle, hence why the videographer was so disruptive. It really did seem to yank her out of a meditative place.

But she marshaled, and was able to get centered again, lucky for us, especially since she sang again the pieces that had been disrupted.

Yep, she rocks! :-)