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How many sopranos does it take to change a lightbulb? One. She sips her Coke (Diet, of course) and yells (legato, of course) to the accompanist to do it.

Well, Joanne D’Mello (soprano) and Andrea Fernandes managed to light up the Kala Academy for the near- capacity audience who came in on a wet August evening on Friday. And they didn’t need diet coke. A goblet of water did the trick just fine.

Joanne had clearly thought the concert through like a strategist. She wove a narrative through the programme that connected all the arias. Much like the Mamma Mia musical stringing together the Abba hits. But it’s an unfair comparison of course. Joanne’s plotline was much more real, and far less zany. And the ‘hits’ Joanne sang were not only from different geographical locations and soundworlds, but from different timespans and in six different languages (okay, eight if you include the encores).

The concert was entitled Love and Loss.” But there were other Ls too: Limbo, Lust, Lament. And it didn’t help that the narrative was beginning with a lied (“Er ist’s”) by a composer named Wolf. Big And Bad sprang to mind. This isn’t going to end well. But seriously, although the aria is literally about spring, it is believed to be filled with erotic and sexual metaphors, with the text and music both pointing to the realization, or climax.

It becomes difficult to offer a blow-by-blow account in limited column space. So perhaps a few general thoughts then:

Andrea chose early on in her career to be an accompanist rather than a soloist, as she felt herself better suited to this. But at the concert, one would not have guessed this. Her solo pieces were meant to give respite to Joanne, but they stood up respectably to scrutiny, from the heart-wrenching Schumann-Liszt Widmung to Albeniz’ flamboyant Asturias, to Liszt’s sometimes dreamy, sometimes stormy Un Sospiro. The work by Portuguese composer Luiz Costa was a novelty to this listener.

Joanne had us by the palm of her hand right through. She delivered about an hours’ worth of music from memory, in several languages and styles with a technique spectrum that did as much justice to Dvořák’s ravishingly beautiful Rusalka’s Song to the Moon, to the bel canto brilliance of Bellini’s Eccomi in lieta vesta.

My spine literally tingled when Joanne began to sing Vedrai Carino. Just days before, I had wandered into a Panjim bookstore, and happened upon a book on Mozart. And in the foreword, composer Sir John Tavener says about this very aria: “Zerlina’s unbearably beautiful Vedrai Carino in Mozart’s Don Giovanni invokes in me all the longing, and all the beauty and all the truth that I know: Zerlina by offering her beating heart to Masetto becomes the heartbeat of God seen through the eyes of a child…. If you change one single note of it, it falls to pieces. The spacing of every simple and divine chord is so perfectly heard that it seems to belong to a celestial harmony.”

And reflect upon this too. John Tavener considers Patricia Rozario his muse, and she in turn was not only in the audience but taught Joanne! Talk about degrees of separation! Mozart-Tavener-Patricia-Joanne. We had three out of four with us that evening.

The instruction to refrain from applause did seem counter-productive though. Applause is expected after arias even in their original setting, and one could sense that the audience wanted to show their appreciation during the concert. The pauses therefore became a little sterile.

Also, it was a little difficult keeping up with the thread of Joanne’s unrequited love of her imaginary man. At some points, one couldn’t help looking around for convenient places to lynch ‘him’ had he dared to show up.

Joanne’s stage presence gets better and better with each appearance. She walks upon it as if she owns it, and she does.

Nowhere was this more evident than in her encore “I want to be a prima donna” (yeah, we kinda guessed, Joanne, wink wink), music by Victor Herbert and Harry B. Smith. This witty, cheeky gem is Last Night of the Proms material and delivered with great aplomb. You’ll get there yet Joanne, just you see!

(An edited version of this article appeared in the Navhind times Goa India on 7 August 2013)

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