anna and madeleine pierard

Phanomen

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HBAF'19 / 
Blyth Performing Arts Centre / 
21 October / 
By Ian Thomas

Despite the festival director’s description, this isn’t opera. This is a recital by some of our country’s finest operatic voices, accompanied by some of our finest classical musicians. Phänomen is the artists’ appreciation of a beloved composer. Anna Pierard introduces the show by explaining the pleasure garnered by the performers from the intricacies and opportunities offered by Brahms’ works. It’s a showcase of Brahms the pianist and composer; a celebration of his high regard for the human voice as an instrument.

Thankfully the Pierards are Hawke’s Bay folk. It’s hard to imagine that tonight’s stellar cast could or would be assembled if that were not the case. Palpable pleasure and anticipation radiates from the stage and the stalls.

The works are sung exclusively in German with English surtitles projected above the stage. The lieder are all fairly short so applause is saved for the end of each section of music. The style of lyrics are of an era: simple, with clear meaning. Indeed the recital as a whole is of the nineteenth century. Evocative of wing-back chairs, of plush parlours, of fine, flowing dresses, and of well-groomed gentlemen with hirsute faces and fob watches.

Madeleine and Anna open the performance with two duets accompanied on piano by David Harper. Contrary to opera in which the singers play a character, this form of recital is a more demure affair, although, coloratura soprano Madeleine’s movements in her wonderful full-length, Persian-blue sequined dress express every sung emotion. Anna, soprano/mezzo-soprano, combines beautifully with her sister. This is what the crowd are here for. The sisters alternate sections, as do pianists Michael Houstoun CNZM, and David Harper. Cellist Cameron Stuart accompanies Anna for two songs.

The final section of eighteen songs sees Emmanuel Fonoti Fuimaono (tenor, PPV graduate) and James Harrison (baritone) join with Anna and Madeleine to sing Liebeslieder waltzes while Houstoun and Harper play four-handed piano.

Many of the audience are Project Prima Volta supporters delighting in hearing Emmanuel among the professionals this evening.  The full house is delighted, and proud to witness their own, so beautifully accompanied. If ever an audience was enraptured it was this one. 

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