An Evening with the “3 Divas”

IndiaIndia 3 Divas – Recital: Patricia Rozario (soprano), Susanna Hurrell (soprano), Joanne D’Mello (soprano), Mark Troop (piano), National Centre for the Performing Arts, Tata Theatre, Mumbai, 9.1.2012 (JSM)

Picture courtesy NCPA Mumbai

Not all sopranos are created equal, and the concert of the “3 Divas – a virtuosic programme celebrating the female voice, Three Tenors – soprano style” at Mumbai’s Tata Theatre showcased three species in the genus.

The three ladies share a basic lyric fach and timbre, but one offers a shade of spinto (Joanne D’Mello), another the bright tone of a coloratura (Susanna Hurrell), and their teacher and mentor, Mumbai-born Patricia Rozario, occupies lyric middle-ground between the two.  Recently honored with an OBE, Ms. Rozario taught both, her compatriot Joanne D’Mello and Susanna Hurrell at the Royal College of Music’s International Opera School. The students joined their teacher in this program of familiar arias and duets and a few folk-songs.

However, the very first item on the program was decidedly unfamiliar: “Brilla nell’ alma” from Handel’s Alessandro, into which Ms. Hurrell launched con brio but lacking the laser-sharp focus of the true coloratura and with some approximation in the more florid passages. These traits, along with a few lapses in intonation and little evidence of a proper trill were also seen in two of the latter pieces, the Valse from Gounod’s “Romeo et Juliette” and Adele’s Laughing Song from “Die Fledermaus”. But impressive confidence above the stave made up for much, and she really came into her own during Manon’s “Adieu, notre petite table”, which was performed replete with preceding recitative, the singer relating convincingly to Manon’s predicament, whether to choose her lover or the high-life.

Joanne D’Mello has the makings of a fine lirico-spinto, but with a voice as yet unformed. It is a relatively small voice, with the timbre of a lyric mezzo in the lower register and free, ringing top notes. However, there is an occasionally noticeable beat in the voice, which is a little worrying to hear at such an early stage in her career. She is amazingly responsive to changes in color, differentiating clearly not only between operatic characters but also contrasting portions within the same aria–evident in Cleopatra’s lament from Handel’s Giulio Cesare. In Euridice’s “Che fiero momento” she showed great sensitivity to emotion and meaning of words; her Musetta was coquettish and playful. If her Despina was less convincing, she managed the mezzo parts of Dorabella and Mallika, in the duets respectively from “Così fan tutte” and “Lakmé”, with aplomb, both partnered by Ms. Hurrell.

She was also a charming Susanna in the duet “Canzonetta sull’ aria” from Le Nozze di Figaro in which she was joined by Patricia Rozario as the Contessa. From the start, it was evident that something was terribly wrong. Ms. Rozario seemed to be having an off day (courtesy the Mumbai smog?) for this was not the Patricia Indian audiences have come to know and love. Her usually impeccable legato was heavy and effortful here as in the subsequent arias from “The Pearl Fishers” and “Rusalka”, during which she had to clear her throat a couple of times and seemed to rely on sheer will-power to finish. For all the authority of her renditions, the inclusion in the program of the Queen of the Night’s ‘revenge’ aria was a mistake. Written for a dramatic-coloratura (which Ms Rozario definitely is not) it was painful to hear and perhaps to sing. Worries about the state of her voice turned out unfounded when she returned to give a stupendous, show-stopping account of “It’s my Wedding” from Jonathan Dove’s opera The Enchanted Pig.

Mark Troop’s sure-footed piano accompaniment (occasionally overpowering Ms D’Mello) provided solid musical support  throughout the evening, which ended with the three ladies singing, perfectly coordinated, Dvořák’s Three Gypsy Songs including the popular “Songs my mother taught me”. In keeping with Ms. Rozario’s and Ms. D’Mello’s roots, the encores were a couple of lilting folk-songs from Goa, sung in the native Konkani, which Ms. Hurrell mastered for the occasion.

Jiten S. Merchant