Subscribers of the Great Performer’s 2014 Concert Series on Wednesday evening March 19th at the Melbourne Recital Centre witnessed something truly wonderful as much-celebrated Russian soprano Julia Lezhneva in an Australian debut performance dazzled Melbourne with the voice of an angel.
Her trio of songs from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Exsultate jubilate K154 ending with a glorious Alleluia, proved she was an angel sent from heaven to bewitch us all.
She performed a superbly conceived and flawlessly delivered program of truly beautiful songs, sensitively accompanied on the Steinway Grand by the highly skilled pianist Mikhail Antonenko, who is also her manager.
It was a bravura display from Julia, who combine vocal splendour with an innate and finely drawn sense of taste and style.
She was understated in every way, including how she looked.
Simply dressed in a deep blue lavender gown during the first half, with only a hint of glitter from her earrings, Julia glided sparingly onto the stage and proceeded to take us all apart emotionally with works chosen from the golden age of the Italian Baroque.
It was a startling drama filled virtuosic performance.
She most especially wowed everyone with her opening number Antonio Vivaldi’s famous ‘Agitata da duo venti’ from the opera Griselda.
What a song to toss off with such effortless and sparing brilliance.
Her presentation was utterly flawless and she sang so clearly and cleanly that we were all bowled over by her highly accomplished technique to say the least. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.
Truly I did not ever think I would hear anyone sing this piece as superbly as Cecilia Bartoli, although it was very different and not to be compared, one that stood alone; elegantly subtle.
With just the piano to accompany her Julia was both enchanting and completely mesmerizing as she glided easily through its difficult phrases, revealing not only the stunning nature of the vocal technique that has made her world famous at 24 years of age, but also her wondrous maturity as a performer.
It’s truly hard to describe how really superb it was. Wonderfully rich and round and fully developed in one way and yet in another completely austere, revealing a maturity of performance that certainly belied her years.
What a stunning partnership she and Antonenko are. His long elegant fingers caressed the keys sweetly not only as he sensitively accompanied his lovely charge, but also when he delivered his own stunningly sensitive and sweet solo performance of Franz Schubert’s Impromptu in G-flat, Op 90, No 3.
So dearly love works by Schubert.
Mikhail Antonenko also shares Julia’s innate sense for the art of musical beauty, so its easy to see why they are an inspired pairing. Julia Lezhneva’s ‘O nox Dulcis’ from the Motet Saeviat tellus inter rigores, HMV 240 by George Frideric Handel was breathtakingly brilliant.
Where the agitata had wound us all up this song basically took us rocketing back down to earth in a hurry and into a place where it was hard to breathe without being conscious of the sound disturbing the glorious music she was delivering with such simplicity of style. It had ‘carefully shaded nuances’ that sparkled as she sang.
The lesser known ‘Care deus cordi amanti’ from the Motet: In caelo stele clare by composer Nicola Porpora was all sheer delight, light, luscious and charming and the foyer was buzzing with excitement by interval.
Just off a plane from Sydney literally to catch the show I had to sit quietly to regain my own equilibrium, to catch my breath and to enjoy the moment, savouring the sweet sounds still ringing in my ears.
After interval we all charged eagerly back for the next dazzling dose. Julia swept back onto the stage confidently, wearing a bright orange chiffon gown over a peachy pink underskirt with again only those glittering dazzling earrings to offset her sweet face.
Then Julia launched into taking us directly to a scene from the north of Italy and back to heaven.
Via Gioachino Rossini we landed at Venice during the Regatta and what a colourful trio of sweet short songs she sang as we all celebrated her presence in Melbourne together.
Then came the heart rendering beautiful Sei Ariette No 6, ‘Ma rendi pur contento’, which translates as ‘but even if you make happy’ during which the whole recital hall sat completely still, and we were all quite undone.
It was after this song that Mikhail Antonenko delivered his stunning performance of the Schubert, a perfect piece and the perfect place for us to all pause and fully take on board what we had just heard and witnessed for posterity.
Then Julia came back to win us all over yet again with her delicious rendition of ‘Tanti affeti’ from La Donna del Lago composed by Rossini and designed as a showcase for bel canto virtuosity, which it most certainly was.
To thunderous applause, shouts of brava and more, Julia obliged with two short but succinct pieces as an encore that only had us all begging for yet more.
What a night we are going to witness in Hobart soon when Julia lands to take that state completely apart with her charm, her modest ways and her truly angelic voice during the Hobart Baroque festival.
I for one just can’t wait to be there.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2014.