Teen soprano Westenra is a talented
work in progress
Richard Dyer, Globe Staff
Church seems to have vanished somewhere into
the Bermuda Triangle among the personas of teen angel,
teen vixen, and young adult. So Hayley Westenra
has come along in the nick of time.
The 17-year-old soprano is a year younger than Church
and still securely on the teen-angel side of the triangle.
She started recording in her native New Zealand at 13;
a couple of years ago she signed a $2 million contract
with Decca, and her first international album, "Pure,"
has sold more than2 million copies so far.
She's breaking into the American market
with TV appearances, a filmed concert being aired this
month during PBS pledge periods, and appearances with
the Boston Pops. On Thursday afternoon, she was in Symphony
Hall for a concert that was being taped for next year's
Holiday Pops television show.
Westenra is still a bud, not a blossom.
She doesn't know what to do with her hands and body yet,
but this contributes to her appeal -- she seems more natural
and sincere than most of the "American Idol"
finalists who've absorbed mannerisms not their own (or
for that matter, little Jesse Goldberg, 10, who sang "I
Wonder as I Wander" on the same program quite nicely
but with the self-assurance of a Vegas headliner like
Westenra's tone is sweet, true, and unspoiled,
and she sings with a strong musical instinct, like a folk
singer; think young Joan Baez. Westenra's voice is still
a work in progress, and she knows it, so she doesn't push
her luck by imitating Church in programming big opera
arias she doesn't have the technique to sing.
Her chief technical liability at the moment
is very shallow (and noisy) breathing, which makes it
difficult for her to create or shape longer phrases. Also
because the breath isn't in place early enough, there
is often a little hitch or glitch before the tone actually
appears. For the most part, though, Westenra is smart
enough to stay within a modest vocal range and sing in
The one exception was the Bach-Gounod
"Ave Maria" on Thursday. She sang this in a
low key so she could avoid having to scream high notes,
but this deposited her on some low notes that aren't in
her voice yet, so she vanished out of earshot. She also
sang this in a ghastly arrangement that pretty much disposed
of the Bach portion of the equation. The first prelude
from "The Well-Tempered Clavier" over which
Gounod spun his beloved melody remained mostly as a harmonic
She was much more effective in her other
two solos, "Do You Hear What I Hear?" and "Have
Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," which she delivered
with charm and feeling. She indulged in some quiet banter
with conductor Keith Lockhart ("You make me feel
old," he said) and returned toward the end for a
pretty duet on "Away in a Manger" with the program's
other vocalist, country singer Collin Raye.
In his set, Raye proved an affable personality
and an honest singer, although "O Holy Night"
is a pretty steep challenge for him. He introduced a new
Christmas song, "It Could Happen Again," based
on a story of how soldiers on both sides in World War
I suspended battle for Christmas and joined in exchanging
cigarettes and songs.
Seven Hills Show Choir from Worcester, performers even
younger than Westenra, sang their hearts out in "Light
the Candles All Around the World" and joined Lockhart,
the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, the audience, and Santa
Claus in the Christmas sing-along; the Tanglewood chorus
delivered "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" in
located by Roger Mansbridge
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