David Nice, The Arts Desk
Glorious abandonment and perfect technique from one of the world’s great mezzos
To catch the searing desolation of a lover scorned, you need to be the complete artist, with temperament and technique in perfect equilibrium. Mezzo Christine Rice has taken us from Berlioz’s Marguerite and Mozart’s Donna Elvira at English National Opera via Birtwistle’s Ariadne to Haydn’s, and – most taxing of all – the end of an affair by telephone in Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine. The abandoned heroines of Haydn and Poulenc found themselves in the most exposed surroundings possible, the intimacy of a song recital in the giving acoustics of Middle Temple Hall, with only a superlative pianist, Julius Drake, as lethal accomplice.
Of our three great British mezzos, Rice is poised somewhere between the refinement, sometimes verging on the chilly, of Sarah Connolly and the go-for-broke intensity of Alice Coote. This was a programme of supreme daring. The two monologues, in effect one-act operas, were separated by Ravel songs in five languages – Spanish, French, Italian, Yiddish and Hebrew – in what could have been an intermezzo but ended up in equal intensity: Rice’s vivid characterisation of the dialogue between inquiring Jewish father and his piously rapturous son segued straight into what in effect became the boy’s hymn of praise, a Kaddish of mesmerising power. The flashing power of Cancion española suggested that a whole evening of Falla, Obradors and Mompou from this chameleonic artist and her pianist would be utterly beguiling and idiomatic.