It may have been one of the year’s coldest nights outside, but inside the Canberra Theatre the audience couldn’t have been more warm and welcoming to the artist touted as being “one of the most outstanding singers to emerge from Australia in recent years”.
Nicole Car has been receiving rapturous reviews for her performances in major opera houses around the world, including the Metropolitan Opera, the Paris Opera and the Royal Opera House Covent Garden, and her Canberra concert had been eagerly anticipated.
Adding icing to the cake, Car is partnered for this tour by her handsome French Canadian husband, internationally acclaimed baritone, Etienne Dupuis with whom she has shared the stage for her role debut as Violetta in Opera Australia’s 2018 production of La Traviata.
An additional attraction was their accompanist, Australian-British concert pianist, Jayson Gillham, also being lauded as “one of the finest pianists of his generation”. As it turned out, all three artists lived up to their reputations, delivering a superbly balanced, artfully executed recital which could only be described as exquisite.
Showing off a figure many fashion models would envy, Nicole Car made her entrance wearing a stunning black velvet gown that revealed a shapely leg through the hip high diamanté trimmed split in the skirt.
She commenced with an exquisite rendering of the soft, slowly moving melody of Duparc’s L’invitation au voyage, setting a serene tone which Etienne Dupuis echoed singing two more songs by Henri Duparc, Chanson triste’ and Le manoir de Rosemonde’, both displaying his masterful control of breath and tone. Then addressing the audience in a short, charming introduction, he varied the mood slightly with Faure’s Chansons du pecheurs’, which he warned was “another song about death and grief”.
The art songs continued with two lustrous items from Car, Faure’s lovely Automne and a devastatingly beautiful rendition of Massenet’s Elegie, which were followed by the first of two exquisitely detailed and heavily romantic piano solos from Jayson Gillham, L’isle Joyeuse’ by Debussy, which Gillham described as a bitter sweet love letter, and later Granados’ The Lover and The Nightingale’. As with his solos, Gillham impressed with his exquisite voicings and detailing, nowhere more on display than during his perfectly judged accompaniments for Car’s beguiling interpretation of Hahn’s L’heure exquise’.
The first half of the recital ended with an intriguing duet, written especially for Car and Dupuis by Kevin March entitled La Noche Oscura. This setting of a 15th century poem depicting a surreptitious meeting of lovers the work required Car to sing in English and Dupuis in French before finally coming together in Spanish. It was as delightful as it was unusual.
The second half of the program began in a light hearted mood with Car taking the stage in a cheeky black jumpsuit to give an equally cheeky rendition of Massenet’s Nuit d’Espagne, which she followed by a thrilling rendition of the Delibes party piece Les Filles de Cadix’.
Not to be outdone, Dupuis, in operatic mode, removed his jacket to follow with an exhilarating, full-throated version of a rarely heard trio of songs by Ravel entitled trois chansons de Don Quichotte a Dulcinee’.
In an un-programmed highlight, Car joined Dupuis for a ravishing rendition of the duet, Ah! Dite alle giovine from Verdi’s La Traviata in which, without any verbal explanation, both immediately established the fraught dramatic context, provide the audience with a glimpse of Car’s moving interpretation of Violetta’s heartbreak, and Germont’s patriarchal anguish.
Dupuis continued with a stirring account of Per me giunto’ from Verdi’s Don Carlo, following which, after a long dramatic piano introduction by Jayson Gillham, Car made a stunning entrance dressed in a stunning red Valentino gown with hooded cloak to offer a ravishing rendition of the dramatic aria forever associated with Maria Callas, Tu che le vanita’ from the last act of Verdi’s Don Carlo.
After acknowledging the tumultuous applause the three artists again delighted the audience with two surprising encores…the romantic pop song, Non ti scordar mai di me (Never Forget About Me), and then finally, the even more romantic, Love Unspoken from The Merry Widow, ending a recital to cherish.
Nicole Car & Etienne Dupuis in recital with Jayson Gillham
Canberra Theatre – Canberra Theatre Centre, London Circuit, Canberra
Performance: Friday 9 August 2019
Image: Nicole Car – photo by Georges Antoni
Review: Bill Stephens OAM