Jose Carreras with Hayley Westenra



Any review should be unbiased so straight away I have a problem. How can I possibly be unbiased when it comes to Hayley. Oh well, here goes....

For those of you who are unaware, the concert featured Jose Carreras, The Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra conducted by Enrique Ricci and the City of London Choir and, of course, our Hayley.

I took my seat in the Arena about twenty minutes prior to the scheduled start time. I flipped through the programme in search of the section on Hayley. As I glanced around I could see many people doing the same. I could hear comments all around me such as, "she's only 16", "she's amazing" and "she's lovely". It seems that I was not the only one who was there only for Hayley.

The concert began with an orchestral piece, 'Farandole from L'Arlesienne Suite No 2' by Bizet; a rousing and triumphant prelude to what was eagerly anticipated by the near capacity audience.

Jose Carreras took the stage. The applause seemed to be given in awe rather than being merely rapturous. He opened with 'Adeste fidelis' (that is O Come, all ye faithful in Latin) with choir and orchestra, followed by Schubert's 'Mille cherubini in coro' which translates to 'a thousand angels singing'.... and we only came to hear one!

The applause faded, then instantly erupted again as Hayley walked on to the stage. Clearly, she was already well known and well loved by many. The orchestra began to play and seconds before the vocal entrance I noticed Jose gave Hayley an encouraging and almost paternal wink. It was very discrete but I just caught it. He came across throughout the concert as though he genuinely cared for Hayley and he was going to look after her - not that she needed it.

Together, they gave us Schubert's 'Ave Maria' and their two voices - the strength and maturity of his and the beauty and purity of hers - complimented each other perfectly. Although I had seen Hayley in Trafalgar Square just four days earlier, this was the first time I had seen her in a full concert environment in a major venue. Right from the first note, she was truly magnificent. As ever, she looked like a princess and sounded like an angel.

Hayley left the stage to Jose Carreras who performed two more songs. I trust that Senor Carreras will forgive me if I move swiftly on. I have great respect for him but this is a Hayley web site after all!

Hayley returned to the stage for her first solo, 'Amazing Grace' - two words that could have been invented for her. Oh, that voice. Every note rang through with perfect clarity; always strong, always confident and utterly gorgeous. The approximately 80-strong choir backed her in the second verse but she was never in any danger of being overshadowed by them. I will not dwell on this, but Hayley then seemed to make a mistake by commencing the final verse a little too late but the way she resolved it was magnificent, inspired and thoroughly professional. She seemed totally unflustered by it and carried on as though nothing had happened. Awesome.

Hayley left the stage as Jose Carreras returned for the remainder of the first half. This culminated in a superb rendition of 'The Lord's Prayer'. The power and the passion of his presentation was tremendous.

Part 2 began with a solo spot for Hayley who delivered three songs, the first and third of which were 'O Holy Night' and 'Mary, Did You Know'. The melodies of both sounded complex and technically very difficult but, naturally, Hayley sang them beautifully and with ease. Both were quite beautiful. But for me, the highlight of the evening was a song that I have come to love since I have known Hayley. She introduced 'Pokarekare Ana' by saying that it was a song from her home country, New Zealand. (Hayley, you have a second home country now, you know.) She then explained the meaning of the words. Although the song is traditional, it is really becoming 'her song'. When she started to sing, I just melted. The tempo seemed very slightly slower than the version on 'Pure' and some of the dramatic impact as the key changes was lacking but that is no criticism of Hayley. She looked and sounded wonderful and the audience loved it.

Jose Carreras then joined Hayley for a rendition of 'The Little Drummer Boy' and again their voices combined beautifully.

Jose, the orchestra and choir then performed five more songs, all of which were marvellous and collectively would have made a perfect conclusion to a perfect evening. But, of course, it didn't end there. There were six encores for Jose Carreras in all, the third and sixth of which were in duet with Hayley. These were 'All I Ask Of You' from Phantom of the Opera which was inspirational and Silent Night which was heavenly.

Hayley was quite wonderful throughout as I knew she would be. This, up to a point, shouldn't matter so it is just an added bonus that, in a pink dress in the first half and a white one in the second, both with sequins, and with the lights shining in her beautiful hair, she looked absolutely stunning.

And so they took their final bow to tumultuous applause and Jose, Hayley and the conductor, Enrique Ricci were each presented with bouquets of flowers. Somehow it felt not like the final bow of three world class performers but a cheerful farewell from three friends.

As I walked down the corridor from the auditorium to the exit, I overheard a snippet of conversation between two elderly ladies who were walking behind me. One said to the other, "I came here tonight to see Jose Carreras but I am going home to tell everyone that I saw Hayley Westenra". I think that says it all

Roger Mansbridge

11 /12/03


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