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with Faye Tozer and Hayley Westenra
Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
Conductor: Michael Reed
Choirs: Viva Voce, The Chapman Tripp Opera Chorus,
Auckland Girls’ Choir, Auckland Boys’ Choir


The open-air concert took place in Auckland in February 2002 in front of an audience of 100,000; a figure which represents one person in every forty of the entire population of New Zealand! At the time, Hayley was still only 14. The material performed throughout the concert was an eclectic mixture of classical and pop. This format should suit Hayley’s future career very well as she has said that she doesn’t want to be limited to any one musical style.

Russell has a noticeably casual and relaxed manner on stage, not only with his fellow performers but also with his audience with whom he exchanges ad lib comments in between songs. His informal approach creates a real sense of fun and breaks down any barriers which may have existed between celebrity and audience in more traditional times. His popularity in New Zealand was evident in the enthusiasm of the huge crowd.

His first three songs were ‘Torna a Surriento’, Bach’s ‘Ave Maria’ and ‘Caruso’. He then introduced Faye Tozer (formerly of Steps) who initially sang ‘Someone Like You’ in duet with Russell, then performed her solo number, ‘If You Believe’. Russell then returned to sing ‘You’re So Beautiful’ which he dedicated to his little girl. This was followed by ‘Nella Fantasia’ and ‘E Lucevan Le Stelle’. He then explained that he had heard many beautiful voices in his life but that his next guest surely had one of the most beautiful and one of the finest and surely deserved the title “the voice of an angel”. He continued, “an incredible voice; a very gifted young lady, Hayley Westenra”.

Hayley’s first song was ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ from Les Miserables, which appears on her self-titled CD (only ever released in New Zealand). Having admired the CD version, it was wonderful to be able to see her perform it. She reached those low notes (down to A flat) with such ease and maintained her vocal richness throughout.
She looked quite at home in front of such a huge audience.

Hayley introduced Russell back onto the stage and explained that, although she had sung the next song many times, she had never sung it as a duet. Russell quipped that he had never sung it before! The orchestra began to play something which I could not recognise as an introduction to the song listed on the cover but it faded away to silence at which point Hayley’s voice rang out like a vocal equivalent of a shining beacon across the skies of Auckland. I don’t usually care for even a single verse being sung entirely unaccompanied but, if the voice is Hayley’s, I could listen to it forever. As soon as the first few notes of ‘Pokarekare Ana’ were heard, the audience broke into spontaneous applause. They clearly associated the song with Hayley long before the immense popularity of Pure would make those two Maori words almost a household name.

When Hayley had sung the first verse, Russell sang the second to orchestra backing and it was probably hearing him singing the Maori lyric that caused the audience to erupt into further applause at this point. The final verse saw Russell singing a counter-melody to Hayley’s main theme until we reached the very last line. Here, Hayley’s amazing vocal range was demonstrated as she soared high to a top G which she held for an incredible fourteen seconds. Powerful yet majestic, this was an inspired performance.

Russell presented Hayley with a huge bouquet of flowers and, as she left the stage, he said as though addressing all the people of New Zealand, “How lucky you are to have produced a voice like that”. And so say all of us.

Russell continued the programme with renditions of ‘O Sole Mio’, ‘Volare’, ‘Somewhere’ from Bernstein’s West Side Story, ‘Where My Heart Will Take Me, ‘Catch The Tears’, ‘La Mattinata’ and finally, ‘Nessun Dorma’. As this last song ended, there was a spectacular firework display which the audience could see in the distance behind the stage. Somehow it seemed a very fitting way to bring this superb concert to a close. But, of course, it was not quite over yet.

Russell brought Hayley and Faye back onto the stage for the last song, ‘Now Is The Hour’. The orchestral introduction was accompanied by videos of New Zealand’s spectacular scenic beauty and impressive city skylines. Hayley, Russell and Faye sang a verse each and the line “soon I’ll be sailing far across the sea” was backed by video footage of the New Zealand and GBR teams in the America’s Cup. This received another burst of applause from 100,000 very happy people.
And so the concert ended. If you are quick, you may notice that the closing credits include thanks to the Westenra family. I would like to add my personal thanks to that. Thank you so much Gerald and Jill for giving us the most wonderful singer that the world has ever known.


Roger Mansbridge



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