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Cliff Zammit Stevens

by on 30 January 2021

Purr-fect Pleasure

Cliff Zammit Stevens

Opera Live At Home, On-line from 26th January

Review by Suzanne Frost

Oscar Wild (the cat) is curled up in bed with me for our Opera Live at Home experience, the fourth such concert since Covid locked us all up in our homes.  This time, the young tenor Cliff Zammit Stevens is singing for us live from Malta, where he is joining the Zoom call from the living room of his accompanying pianist Maria-Elena Farrugia.  Meanwhile, our presenter, the founder of Opera Live at Home, Helen Astrid, is speaking from Richmond-upon-Thames. The programme they have put together for us is centred around the theme of longing – something that, with is prevalent in all of our lives at the moment, be it for love or connection, like in so many emotional opera arias, or for pleasures that used to be quite common in simpler times – travel, seeing friends and family, leaving the house, breathing freely … …

Cliff also is eager to add to the list of longing a yearning for the stage, since like all artists he hasn’t performed live in a theatre since before March 2020.  Another common thread for the programme could be “Best of”, since so many of the chosen arias are proper smash hits from the most popular operas around.  It is comforting, after a long day of digital work meetings, to hear the classics, songs that are easy on the ear and wrap you in a hug of familiarity.  We start off with Tamino from Mozart’s Magic Flute, hands down the most popular opera in the world, swiftly followed by Donizetti’s romantic una furtiva lagrima from L’elisir d’amore, a proper crowd pleaser in a rich, velvety minor key, which hits that sweet spot of sounding sad but rather snuggly.

Next up is one of my personal all-time favourites, the Lenski aria from Eugene Onegin, sung just before the fatal duel.  Russian is such a gorgeous guttural language for singing and Tchaikovsky is a composer who obviously knows a thing or two about longing – I don’t know anyone who expresses the entire range of sweet sorrow so simply and beautifully in those ever descending scales.  “Where have you gone, oh golden days of my spring?” Lenski wonders, and truly, we might all wonder the same after nearly a year of being locked up.

Macduff’s aria from Verdi’s Macbeth – longing for revenge – is followed by a very interesting aria from La tabernera del Puerto, a zarzuela by the Spanish composer Pablo Sorozábal.  Zarzuela is a Spanish genre of musical theatre that, with its high entertainment factor of dance, dialogue and popular music, sounds very much like an early version of the musical.  It is something never performed in the UK and my discovery of the evening.  It is full of Mediterranean passion, love and lust for live, which Cliff explains to us is exactly what he loves about singing – being carried away by the emotion of the music – the song certainly gets the most hand clap emoji, which is the digital version of applause; a lot less impactful and joyful but needs must.  I do hope the performers still get some sense of us being there appreciating them.

If a lot of the programme was popular arias, we end the evening with a bona fide smash hit: Granada, sung by anyone from Pavarotti to Frank Sinatra, definitely sounds like sunshine, sangria and summer holidays – a true antidote to a British January evening.  Unfortunately, in the middle of the joyful exuberant performance, Cliff and Maria experience broadband issues, one of the most annoying aspects of this new digital reality we live in.  Magic is hard to do when the internet cuts you off on your heigh-ho note.  But in the spirit of popular music, when connection is restored, our performers gladly give us an encore, Cliff as passionate as always, Maria wonderfully light and fleet-footed in her accompaniment.  The cat stretches out comfortably.  It already feels a little warmer in here.

 Suzanne Frost, January 2021

Photography by Claire Mifsud

From → On-Line, Opera, Recital

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