I’d never been to a classical concert before – even at my age. I’m firmly fixed in the funk, jazz and soul corner. I have of course dipped in and out of the Last Night of the Proms on the BBC, but generally the last time I saw a harp played in anger was in the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup. However, when the chance to go and see Katherine Jenkins came along, I took it to see what all the fuss was about. I was accompanied on this occasion by the long suffering Mrs Aitch.…( mainly for costume advice!)
The performance would be in the glorious Hall One at Sage Gateshead. It was a sell-out, all three tiers packed with concert goers of all ages.
A harpist was gently playing stage left while the audience took their seats. The members of the National Philharmonic Orchestra took their places one by one in front of the golden ruched curtain to great applause, and finally conductor Andrew Inglis, in tails and red bow tie took up his baton. As a non-classical follower, I immediately recognised the opening piece as the Sony Brava TV advert, or Rossini’s Thieving Magpie Overture (research!). The incomparable acoustics of Hall One certainly got my full attention.
After ten minutes or so, it was time for the lady herself, Katherine Jenkins, to enter the fray. (Dressed in full length silver ball gown with ostrich feathers – Mrs Aitch) She started with Beethoven’s Ode to Joy taken from her current album Home Sweet Home. This was followed by Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah which featured on her album “Sacred Arias”, although the lyrics to this aren’t really that sacred! These two tunes demonstrated admirably what an incredible vocal range mezzo-soprano Ms Jenkins has. The evening would consist of a mixture of tracks spanning her ten year recording career but obviously with the emphasis on the latest album, her tenth in ten years.
Katherine has a very warm personable style with her audience, telling us how happy she is in both her personal and professional life.
Anthem from the musical Chess followed before she left the stage to make way for her “special guest”, West End musical theatre actor and singer John Owen-Jones, star of Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera. Now, if there’s something I’m not at all keen on its West End musical theatre and Lloyd Webber’s Music of the Night didn’t change my opinion. Don’t get me wrong, John has a helluva voice which resonated through the grand hall, and the audience absolutely loved it. Then, something I didn’t expect. A humorous heckler, although he wasn’t humorous for long. I didn’t hear what he said but I think he made a few comments to the fact that this was the theatre star’s first visit to Gateshead . John side-stepped this rather well and carried on….with a version of Thunderball in a not dissimilar style to his fellow Welshman Tom Jones, with white spotlights circulating around the hall James Bond stylee. I liked this one, and the whole thing was orchestrated beautifully. Owen-Jones would return in the second half.
Katherine returned to the stage (this time in another fetching gown with a prominent Welsh Red Dragon motif – Mrs Aitch) to sing the Welsh National Anthem Land of My Fathers prompting one audience member to stand up and pay his respects. She proceeded to tell us that she was a 23 year old teacher when she signed her first record contract, and her first “job” was to sing the National Anthem at the Wales versus England rugby match at the Millennium Stadium. She went from an audience of 200 to 74,000 in an instant and hasn’t looked back I suppose. England won that one by the way.
After an hour, the first half was brought to a close with the haunting “Dreaming of the Days” and “Time to Say Goodbye”….but only for twenty minutes.
There was a box at the front of the stage in which you were invited to scribble a question down and pop it in. Katherine would choose a few to respond to in the second half. I had a question, (more of an offer really) but Mrs Aitch wouldn’t allow it.
The second half commenced with an orchestral medley of Songs from the Shows before the star of the night returned (in another fitted full length fishtail gown – Mrs Aitch) As promised, she selected a few questions, gave a wave and a hello to a lady celebrating her 99th birthday, disclosed her most embarrassing moment on stage, gave tips to a girl starting out as an opera singer, and politely turned down a request to perform at a wedding in a few days time. All delivered in a most endearing way which has helped to make her the biggest classical cross-over artist today.
Elgar’s Nimrod came next, with added vocals for a tune re-named “Sanctus” A highlight of the evening for me was her duet with John Owen-Jones of the Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballe chart-buster “Barcelona”. This was a version so powerful, that the microphones weren’t really necessary, and the whole thing powered by Anthony Inglis and his NJO.
Katherine left us once more, which gave Mr Owen-Jones a chance to sing his new single “Rise Like A Phoenix” – yes, that Eurovision one, and an extremely moving performance of “Bring Him Home” from he aforementioned Les Miserables which brought emotional gasps from some areas of the audience and brought the fella to tears.
Ms Jenkins finally returned to the stage (in what appeared to be a full length grey silk gown – Mrs Aitch) with a rendition of the “Theme from The Godfather”, a song which must have been written to be played in an auditorium such as this. Classic.
A few more questions were answered – a close up of the engagement ring for one lady at the front, a wedding song recommendation, a request to borrow one of her frocks for a wedding, and a flash of some nice shoes from under the latest gown – bringing a loud gasp from the ladies and Mrs Aitch in particular. A recap of her “amazing 2014” – engaged, married, a tenth album and an OBE. Not bad I suppose, and then her penultimate song for her best friend who passed away at a very early age “In the Arms of an Angel.” After thanking her conductor and orchestra, who will continue with her on the tour, she finished the night with another anthem “World in Union”
After a standing ovation and an encore of “We are the Champions” where she hit notes Freddie Mercury wouldn’t have known existed, it all came to a close. I started by saying that this usually isn’t my kind of thing. It still isn’t, but both me and Mrs Aitch really enjoyed it, and from the chatter on the way out, we certainly weren’t alone. This Friday I’m reviewing Soul/Mod band Stone Foundation at The Cluny. Normality is resumed.
Reviewer and Photographer: Les Aitch (& Mrs Aitch)