This latter bit of information was a setup for one of the afternoon's more delightful moments. Graham sashayed in for her encore dangling a cigarette in one hand and a score in the other. "If Reynaldo Hahn can do it . . . ," she said, then sat down at the keyboard, tossed away the previous score, and accompanied herself in Édith Piaf's anthem "La vie en rose" (rolling the "r" in "r-r-r-rose"). Down came the house.

The "real" accompanist was pianist and Met assistant conductor Bradley Moore. Helpful and nimble (his best moment was accompanying Fleming's lively "Song from the Auvergne"), he didn't call much attention to himself, even in his one solo, a thoughtful if not quite moonlit "Clair de lune."

Christine_Ebersole_main
Christine Ebersole

Not every Celebrity Series vocalist sings opera. Broadway diva Christine Ebersole blew into town (Sanders Theatre, January 26) like a "Big Wind from Winnetka" — her home town and her opening number, in which she "voiced" a jazz band. And for 90 minutes, she never let up, never got tired, never belted a note (even in a high soprano register) that wasn't perfectly on pitch. She may not have the world's prettiest voice, but boy can she use it — singing breathlessly fast ("Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead") or achingly slowly ("Another Winter in a Summer Town" and "Drift Away," from her Tony-winning performance in the musical Grey Gardens) or with brassy élan ("On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe"). She transformed an old chestnut like "Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries" by feeling every syllable, and restored the immediate relevance of "Give It Back to the Indians," Rodgers and Hart's satirical ditty about the decadence of the Big Apple ("We've tried to run the city,/But the city ran away./And now, Peter Minuit,/We can't continue it!"). She even offered a tribute to the late Eartha Kitt, with a spot-on re-creation of Kitt's unmistakable purr ("Mink, Schmink").

Despite missing one cue, which Ebersole was momentarily thrown by, her energized band — led by the late Rosemary Clooney's former arranger, John Oddo, at the keyboard, with Mike Monaghan on reeds, Mike Rivard on bass, and Dave Ratajczak on drums — made a superb contribution.

Ebersole certainly had her audience pegged. The individual songs added up to a touching autobiography by someone just turning 60, still working the circuit but glamour beginning to fade, with kids growing up and an elderly mother losing her memories. Ebersole is probably younger than the median age of her audience, but they knew her territory because they'd been there too. And when near the end she got the audience to join her — uninhibitedly — in "Young at Heart" ("Fairy tales can come true,/It can happen to you"), there wasn't a shred of resistance.

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  Topics: Classical , Renee Fleming, Susan Graham, Christine Ebersole
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