Russell Watson, Brighton Centre, April 27
by Mike Howard
They came in their thousands to pack the Brighton Centre and applaud their hero, the new master of middle-of- the-road singing, Russell Watson.
Every song and utterance brought cheers and clapping and there was something like a standing ovation at the end.
Watson is the Salford bolt-cutter raised to super-stardom in just a year.
He is the working-men's club hero who has sung for presidents and the Pope and whose first two albums topped the charts in quick succession.
As I say, the audience loved him. Unfortunately, I didn't.
His reputation is based on a version of the football anthem Nessun Dorma from Puccini's opera Turandot.
The story is, the chairman of Manchester United heard him singing the piece one night in 1999 and asked him to repeat it at Old Trafford before the last game of the season.
His first album, a compilation of arias, topped the charts for 52 weeks and was only ousted by his second release, which included some of the more popular Neapolitan songs.
On television, Melvyn Bragg referred to the "Russell Watson phenomenon".
Well, there is something phenomenal about him: How does he get so many people to pay big money to hear him? The programmes alone were £7.
Sure, he is an industrial-strength tenor and his voice is unashamedly untrained but his industrial strength has a raw edge: He doesn't so much hit the high C as batter it.
He is not an opera singer, he just uses opera's best tunes. His idea of subtlety appears to be to sing a little more quietly and, when he does sing an operatic aria, he doesn't seem to have any idea of the character he should be singing or the situation.
Halfway through his version of E Luceven estelle - a poignant moment from Tosca immediately before the character is to be executed - I would have cheerfully given the signal for the firing squad to shoot.
Similarly, he reduced Ave Maria to almost a bar-room ballad and gave O Sole Mio a full ice-cream outing.
True, at times he has something of the voice of Rod Stewart about him but do we want Rod Stewart to sing West Side Story?
That whirring sound you hear must be Freddie Mercury spinning in his grave at Watson's Barcelona.
He does opera no favours since fans who move on to the real thing could well be disappointed.
It was just as well there were two giant video screens at the side of the stage as Watson has very little stage presence and was otherwise lost amid the orchestra, hugging his microphone and muttering his introductions.
And he wasn't helped by long, tedious video inserts of his meeting with the Pope, his welcome in New Zealand, his boxing and exercise regime and his asinine comment that you don't have to be fat to be an opera singer.
I think this was the Russell "I Love Me" Watson concert.
His guests didn't help either. One, a 13-year-old Maori girl, whispered through You'll Never Walk Alone, making Charlotte Church sound a true diva.
And Faye Tozer, formerly of the pop band Steps, showed just why her band has split up.
And shame on shame, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, an orchestra I usually respect, seemed to be sliding around all over the place. It seemed never to be able to hit a crisp note.
draw a veil over the antics of the
Guildford Philharmonic Choir and
the St Winifrid's Convent School
Choir but Watson has found his audience
and they were delighted by every
single second of the show.
to Keith S., for sending in this
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