Sadly, due to the Ganesh Chathurthi public holiday, it was not possible to accommodate Joanne D’Mello’s concert either at the Kala Academy or at Menezes Braganza. Rudi Kammermeier therefore deserves all praise for stepping in at very short notice and saving the day by hosting her concert at his Art Chamber, Calangute.
The programme presented by Joanne D’Mello (soprano) and Sung-Ah Park (piano) had Lieder in its first half, and songs and arias in its second. There were several unifying strands running throughout, weaving a rich and colourful tapestry: three poems of the German Romantic poet Eduard Mörike set to music by Hugo Wolf (Mörike Lieder); two Lieder inspired by characters (Philine and Mignon) from the great German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s novel ‘Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre’ (Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship) and set to music by Robert Schumann and Franz Schubert; the poems of W.H. (Wystan Hugh) Auden providing the muse to Benjamin Britten.
The poetry of Friedrich Rückert (the much-loved ‘Widmung’ or Dedication) and Julius Moser (‘Der Nußbaum’, The Walnut Tree) also featured among the Schumann Lieder on offer. Were fish also on the menu? Two Schubert Lieder (the famous Trout ‘Die Forelle’, D 550; and ‘Liebhaber in allen Gestalten’, Lover in all forms D 558) and one Mörike Lied (‘Nixe Binsefuß’, The Mermaid Rushfoot) had a distinct piscine aroma. Another notable marriage of poetry and music on the programme was George Crumb’s first song ‘The Night in Silence under Many a Star’ from ‘Apparition’, with its text extracted from Walt Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloomed”, part of a set of poems grouped under the title ‘Memories of President Lincoln’, written by the poet just weeks after Lincoln’s assassination.
With the Kurt Weill selection, we got a chanson (‘Je ne t’aime pas’ ‘I don’t love you’, lyrics by Maurice Magre) and the ultimate tango habanera, ‘Youkali’. And for good measure, two arias, one each from an opera and an operetta (or ‘musikalische Komödie’, musical comedy, to be precise). ‘O mio babbino caro’ from Giacomo Puccini’s one-act opera ‘Gianni Schicchi’ has become Joanne’s signature aria, her calling card, and justifiably so. And the soprano aria “Meine Lippen, sie küssen so heiß”(‘My lips they kiss like fire’, or more literally, ‘so hot’) is the highlight of Franz Lehár’s ‘Giuditta’.
Joanne’s star is in the ascendant right now. After her BMus (Bachelor of Music) at the Royal College of Music London where she studied with Patricia Rozario OBE, and took masterclasses with some of the greatest singers of our time, notably Ann Murray, Sir Thomas Allen, Matthias Goerne and Ian Bostridge, she attended the Flanders Operastudio in Ghent, Belgium. She went on to sing at the opera houses in Antwerp, Brussels and Bruges as well.
Joanne has blossomed further at her current location in Leipzig, Germany, where she has been since 2013 after winning a DAAD Artist Scholarship with Professor Regina Werner-Dietrich at the Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy Hochschule für Musik und Theater.
In July this year, she was chosen to play the role of Susanna in Mozart’s comic opera ‘Die Hochzeit des Figaro’ (The Marriage of Figaro) at the Junge Oper Schloss Weikersheim, the only Indian in the multi-national cast that also featured soloists from Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Hungary, Croatia, China, South Korea and Australia. Her performance obviously seems to have impressed the right people, because she has been invited to reprise the role at the Leipzig Oper later this year.
This should come as no surprise to those of us present at her recital in Calangute on 18 September. Clad in a sari reminiscent of her mentor Patricia Rozario, Joanne cut a formidable figure. Her enunciation of the German text in the Lieder was truly impeccable, and she displayed a deep sensitivity to the musical character, and the spirit and the meaning of the words. We felt with her the agitation in ‘Nun wer die Sehnsucht kennt’ (‘Only one who knows longing’), and shared her delight in the darting of the Trout. We revelled in the beauty of her tone, its many colours, and her commendable control of phrasing.
The choice of programme allowed us to experience the gamut of emotion from the tragic to the comic, and Joanne displays an innate ‘feel’ for the stage as she ‘treads the boards.’ There was split-second timing required for the delivery in the Lehár, for example (and in the encores), and she completely went with the flow, thus allowing the extraneous circumstances to enhance rather than mar the moment. The sound of fireworks due to the Ganesh festivities nearby may at first have intruded, but they actually became ‘part’ of the performance, a sort of Proms-in-Hyde-Park experience. Indeed, some of us could actually witness the explosions through the Art Chamber’s glass dome and windows, a visual complement to the aural pyrotechnics we were enjoying indoors.
The encores were Benjamin Britten’s setting of W. H. Auden’s poem ‘O Tell Me The Truth About Love’, and Victor Herbert’s bring-the-house-down ‘Art is Calling for Me’ from his operetta ‘The Enchantress’, both of which were delivered with panache. As the song goes, Art is certainly Calling (and a Calling) for you, Joanne. You already ‘shine upon the stage’!
Joanne couldn’t have asked for a better collaborator than Sung-Ah Park, a pianist of superlative sensitivity and artistry, and a remarkable ability to conjure atmosphere in her playing. She has an instinct for detail, moulding her playing around the vocal lines and brilliantly conveying the nuances of the piano writing. One is much more than an ‘accompanist’ in so much of the repertoire, certainly in the piano parts of the Lieder of the pianist-composers Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn and Wolf, as also the works of Weill and Britten that featured on the programme. The pianist is in effect another ‘actor’ (albeit an often unobtrusive one) upon the concert stage, and deserving of as much applause as the ‘soloist’ being ‘accompanied.’ It was wonderful to hear that Park has been offered a teaching post at the Leipzig Conservatory.
Both these young musicians are in their prime, and have the world at their feet. We wish them every success, and hope to hear them again here very soon!
(An edited version of this article was published on 27 September 2015 in my weekend column ‘On the Upbeat’ in the Panorama section of the Navhind Times Goa India)