TWO AUSTRALASIAN SINGERS - Yvonne Kenny and Teddy Tahu Rhodes

The Best of Yvonne Kenny
Antonín DVORÁK (1841-1914)
Rusalka - Song to the Moon
Songs My Mother Taught Me
George Frederic HANDEL (1685-1759)
Rinaldo - Lascia ch'io pianga (Let me weep)
Alcina - Tornami a vagheggiar (Come back and gaze on me with longing)
Messiah - Rejoice Greatly
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Morgen! (Morning)
Four Last Songs - Frühling (Spring)
Rudolf SIECZYNSKI (1875-1952)
Wien, du Stadt meiner Traume (Vienna, city of my dreams)
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Gianni Schicchi - O mio babbino caro (dearest father)
Richard RODGERS (1902-1979)
The King and I - Something Wonderful
Franz LEHÁR (1870-1948)
Giuditta - Meine Lippen, sie kussen so hei? (My lips kiss with such fire)
The Merry Widow - Vilja
Love Unspoken (The Merry Widow Waltz)
Attr. Gottfried Heinrich STOLZEL (1690-1745)
Bist du bei mir (With you at my side) BWV 508
Joseph CANTELOUBE (1879-1957)
Songs of the Auvergne - Baďlero
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Clair de lune (Moonlight)
Richard HEUBERGER (1850-1914)
The Opera Ball - Im Chambre séparée (A private room)
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Silent Noon
Jerome KERN (1885-1945)
ShowBoat, Make Believe
TRAD. arr. Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)
Simple Gifts
Yvonne Kenny (soprano)
rec. 1994-2011
ABC CLASSICS 476 4620 [76:55]

The Best of Teddy Tahu Rhodes
George Frederic HANDEL (1685-1759)
Messiah - Why Do the Nations So Furiously Rage Together?
Attr. Gottfried Heinrich STOLZEL (1690-1749) Bist du bei mir (With you at my side)
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Mache dich, mein Herze, rein (Purify yourself, O my heart)
St Matthew Passion - Ich freue mich auf meinen Tod (I look forward to my death)
Cantata BWV82 - 'Ich habe genug' (It is enough)
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
The Marriage of Figaro - Non piu andrai (No more gallivanting for you)
Don Giovanni - Madamina, il catalogo e questo (Little lady, this is the catalogue)
The Magic Flute - Der Vogelfanger bin ich ja (I'm the birdcatcher)
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
An die Musik (To music)
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Faust - Avant de quitter ces lieux (Before I leave these parts)
Georges BIZET (1838-1870)
Au fond tu temple saint (In the depths of the holy temple) from The Pearl Fishers (David Hobson - tenor)
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Tannhauser - O du, mein holder Abendstern (Song of the Evening Star)
Detlev Glanert (b. 1960) after Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Four Preludes and Serious Songs, Denn es gehet dem Menschen
Roger QUILTER (1877-1953)
Three Shakespearean Songs - Come Away, Death
Trad arr. Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
O Waly, Waly
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Songs of Travel - The Vagabond
Richard RODGERS (1902-1979)
Carousel - You'll Never Walk Alone (David Hobson - tenor)
Fannie Rose HOWIE (1868-1916)
Hine e Hine
Paraire TOMOANA (c1875-1946)
Pokarekare Ana (So ruffled are the waters)
Teddy Tahu Rhodes (bass-baritone).
rec. 2003-2011
ABC CLASSICS 476 4619 [77:04]

I have used the term Australasian in its narrowest sense of referring to Australia and New Zealand. These two countries have been a rich source of opera singers since the days of the redoubtable Dame Nellie Melba (1861-1931). In more recent years the names of Dames Joan Sutherland and Kiri Te Kanawa immediately spring to mind as outstanding representatives of both countries. They have dominated the opera stages and recording studios of the world. If no male of the species has quite achieved the same fame that is not to say that they do not feature on the great opera stages of the world in leading roles. Both Covent Garden and English National Opera would have found casting more challenging without Australian men in particular.

As well as the Australasian connection these two singers share other characteristics. Both became professional singers having become professionally qualified in other disciplines first, she as a graduate in biochemistry and he in commerce, later qualifying as an accountant. Although separated by a decade or so, both came to study singing at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Whilst Yvonne Kenny had a major piece of fortune when on 11 October 1975, she replaced, with only four days' notice, the soprano scheduled to sing in an Opera Rara concert performance of Donizetti's Rosmonda d'Inghilterra at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. It was a triumph and the virtually unknown Kenny became an overnight star. Teddy Rhodes felt more secure back home as an accountant. He turned down a scholarship at The Guildhall and did not pursue his singing career for a number of years.

Yvonne Kenny (b. 1950) made her debut at the Royal Opera House the year after her Donizetti performance. She made many appearances there in her specialities of Handel operas, Semele, Alcina, Giulio Cesare, and as a Mozart specialist singing in productions of Idomeneo, Mitridate, re di Ponto, La clemenza di Tito, The Abduction from the Seraglio and The Magic Flute. She also sang at Glyndebourne and English National Opera and made recordings with Opera Rara notably in Donizetti's Ugo, conte di Parigi (OR 1, 1977) and Emilia di Liverpool, (OR 8, 1986 see review), Meyerbeer's Il crociato in Egitto (ORC 10 1992), and Johann Simon Mayr's Medea in Corinto (ORR 215. 1997) with the spinto Jane Eaglen in the title role. In all these appearances her clear silvery tone, vocal flexibility and capacity for expression even when singing complex coloratura marked her out.

Most of the recordings in this collection were made after Yvonne Kenny’s halcyon days in London and when she spent more time in her own country at the Sydney Opera House. Her Handel singing in its ringing flexibility belies the advancing years to which she has added the warmer tones of vocal maturity heard in her singing of Vilja led from Lehár’s The Merry Widow and the Song to the Moon from Antonín Dvorák’s Rusalka. Add the enjoyments to be had from her singing of the lighter musicals such as Show Boat, and The King and I alongside Richard Strauss’s Fruhling, from his Four Last Songs, and the expressive and plaintive Baďlero from Canteloube’s Songs of the Auvergne to realise that a properly schooled voice, that has not been overstretched in inappropriate repertoire, can last well into a singer’s sixth decade and beyond. This is collection of many vocal riches from a much loved and admired artist. Recognition in her own country was marked by the award of the insignia of the Order of Australia (AM) in the 1989 Queen's Birthday Honours List for Services to opera. In June 1999 she was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Music by the University of Sydney.

Teddy Tahu Rhodes was born in Christchurch, New Zealand, on 30 August 1966 to a British mother and a New Zealand father. The Maori word Tahu which means to set on fire, was added to the family name soon after they settled in New Zealand. In his final year of secondary school, Christ's College, Canterbury, Rhodes was selected for the New Zealand Youth Choir where his musical potential was first identified. He won the 1986 Dame Sister Mary Leo Scholarship competition. He pursued his vocal studies privately whilst an undergraduate the University of Canterbury in Christchurch. There he was awarded a Bachelor of Commerce degree, subsequently qualifying as an accountant.

In 1991 Rhodes won the Mobil Song Quest, the major competition of its type in New Zealand. This secured funding to study at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. He turned down an offer by the Guildhall of a scholarship for two years of further study, returning to New Zealand where he worked as an accountant for some years. While doing so, Rhodes maintained an association with Canterbury Opera. In 1998 he made his international debut in an acclaimed performance as Dandini in La Cenerentola for Opera Australia and represented New Zealand in the 1999 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition. Since that time Rhodes has pursued his singing career with greater application appearing at many prestigious opera addresses including major American venues as well as the Metropolitan Opera, Opera Australia, Hamburg State Opera, the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris and the Theater an der Wien. In Britain he has sung with both Welsh National Opera and Scottish Opera.

Rhodes’ varied repertoire in this selection perhaps mirrors his early experiences. There’s fine tonal variation and articulation in the oratorio repertoire of Handel and Bach. In the opera house his Mozart roles have included Count Almaviva, Guglielmo, Papageno and Don Giovanni. His choices in this collection perhaps highlight the dilemma of a singer of his voice type; rather too heavy for Figaro and Papageno, better suited to Leporello in the Catalogue Aria. His vocal range is lower than the ideal baritone for Valentine’s aria Avant de quitter ces lieux from Faust. That’s true even in the Toreador’s song from Carmen where his tone whitens at the top. At the other end of the scale he has to thicken his tone for the lowest notes. Nonetheless the variety, particularly in the lied and song repertoire, is impressive whilst his Song of the evening star from Tannhauser points a direction for him although I gather he has also had significant success in Britten’s operas. Now entering his sixth decade, I wonder if that scholarship at The Guildhall might not have given him the basis for a more illustrious singing career. As it is I cannot help feeling that his is a first division voice rather than a premier division one. He is unlikely to scale the heights of his Australian colleague.

Robert J Farr

Interesting collections from the contrasting careers of two Australasian singers.