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Joanna Harries

by on 1 April 2021

Easeful Tourist of the Voice

Joanna Harries and Ashley Beauchamp

Opera Live At Home, On-line from 30th March

Review by Heather Moulson

It was full of anticipation that I approached my first visit to Opera Live at Home, Helen Astrid’s successful current on-line series of recitals.   I was eased in gently to this rich experience, and greeted with a gorgeous aria from The Marriage of Figaro, from gifted mezzo-soprano, Joanna Harries.  Accompanied by the talented Ashley Beauchamp on the piano, this piece was Cherubino’s aria Voi che sapete, and it enfolded the audience with its warmth and enthusiasm.  Personally I embraced it with joy, as this is my favourite Mozart opera.  

Set in St Michaels and All Angels in Chiswick, a venue I know well, the pair drew us in and introduced themselves.  Former opera singer, Helen Astrid was the slick and natural presenter, whose intelligence and knowledge of this art form rang clear.   Ashley shared with us the taster that these arias were on his dream list.  

We had an enticing programme before us of six arias, starting off with Mozart. Joanna Harries, having the advantage of being an extraordinarily versatile mezzo-soprano, explained to us she had her ‘trousers on’ to sing the first two arias, these being male characters.   

There was a strong and respectful rapport between Joanna and Ashley and their talents complimented each other.  They were warm and receptive.  With Helen’s presentation, they were truly a tight team.

Joanna sang the second aria Se Romeo t’uccise un figlio – from I  Capuleti e I Montecchi  by Bellini, which is an appeal to the Capulets not to start a war with the Montagues.  It was passionate and pleading but ultimately a failed mission.  The singer put this across succinctly. 

We were then introduced to the joys of Johann Strauss Jnr with an aria from Die Fledermaus, Ich lade gern mir Gäste ein, where Prince Orlovsky expresses contempt for his own parties.  (Hence its name, Chacun à son goût.)  Sung here in German, the pair presented a lively and animated piece, making this predicament believable.  Once again, Joanna and Ashley’s strong workmanship shone through.

Joanna then cleverly switched to a female role for Charlotte’s aria Va! Laissez couleur mes larmes from Massenet’s Werther, a moving piece from the French composer expressing heartbreak and loss, and sheer regret.  The tone was reflective and tragic, a truly beautiful performance.

William Walton’s aria was sung in English with biting but humorous words by Yelena.  I was a Constant, Faithful Wife from The Bear.  Yelena rued her faithfulness as she uncovered that her husband wasn’t what he seemed.  However, a taste of revenge was around the corner.  Ashley explained that this was one of his favourite pieces and was based on the Chekhov play, and that Walton was better known for his songs, rather than his operas. 

Handel’s Theodora was a fitting climax with Irene’s aria As with Rosy Steps.  Joanna explained to us how she fell in love with this aria and its background of a very theatrical and human story.  Sung in English, Joanna gave it full justice and the tenderness was palpable.

The talented couple treated us an encore with a cabaret song Toothbrush Time  – music by American William Bolcom and lyrics by Arnold Weinstein.   A poignant and amusing piece about the dreaded morning after.  Great words and performance and a very slick finish to a joyous evening.

Helen then introduced a Q&A session and among the questions raised was the interesting point of how Joanna’s voice could reach both high and low notes.  Joanna explained that as a half soprano, she saw herself as a tourist that visited all registers of the voice.  Plus the fundamental point of doing an awful lot of practice. 

Joanna’s vocal range is a true talent and asset, and she is set to appear at Longborough Opera Festival this year in a circus tent.  Having seen wonderful things like the Underbelly Festival in a tent, it is really a magical experience, and try to see this magical opera singer if you can.

Helen Astrid presents another superb programme on 14th May, featuring baritone Germán E. Alcántara accompanied by Knut Jacques, live from the Munch Conservatoire in Paris.  This is sure to be a treat not to be missed.

Heather Moulson, March 2021

Photography courtesy of Helen Astrid

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