Hampton Court Palace Festival 2004
19th June 2004

POSTED: 18:50 p.m. June 26th, 2004

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Hampton Court Festival Finale

I am still buzzing after a great evening's entertainment at the finale of the Hampton Court Festival in London. Hayley joined one of the UK's leading Orchestras and conductors as *the* solo singer and she superbly overcame the cool and breezy open-air conditions.

Held in the magnificent former home of English Kings, a few thousand of us packed a large enclosed courtyard, seated opposite the specially built stage open on three sides. The concert featured the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Royal Choral Society - and Hayley!

After arriving early, with a brass Band playing and picnics on the Palace lawns, we threaded our way through the length of this huge Palace into what is known as the Base Court Theatre. It is a large courtyard enclosed on all sides but open to the sky. The weather was breezy and cool, with temperatures falling steadily from 15 degrees C (60F) to 11 (52F) by the end. But fortunately, it did stay dry.

Just after 7:30pm the Orchestra burst into life with Wagner's overture "Die Meistersinger" - this was a full-scale orchestral concert of popular classical music and Hayley was the star turn! I looked across to the entrance arches on my right and noticed Hayley's father Gerald, standing there watchfully. Aha, Hayley could not be far away. Next was a beautiful orchestral piece by the English composer Delius then, at last, Hayley appeared at the side of the courtyard. She started the long walk out to centre stage, accompanied by increasing applause as more people caught sight of her.

All fell silent as the conductor Owain Arwel Hughes raised the baton. Hayley stood there, poised, in her beautiful pink designer dress and then, she sang Pokarekare Ana. I soon noticed a slightly richer tone to her voice in places, compared to how I'd heard her sing earlier in the year. At once, I realised she has taken yet another step up in the quality of her singing voice, which sounded better than ever! You lucky Americans who have tickets to Joes Pub next week are in for a real treat.

The concert continued with music by Handel, Elgar and Walton and in between, Hayley delighted us with "In Trutina". A tricky one this, given the conditions and light orchestral accompaniment. But she carried it off perfectly, with lots of enthusiastic applause at the end.

At the start of the long interval, three of my companions headed for the picnic area but I stayed behind for a few minutes with my youngest daughter, to look for Keith and Roger whom I had seen briefly before the concert started. Alas, they were nowhere to be seen but as I turned to leave, who should I see near Hayley's "entrance" archway but Gerald and a small crowd of perhaps a dozen people. We wandered across and there was Hayley, now dressed casually in jeans, signing a few autographs, chatting and posing for photos. My daughter was delighted to see her and I was pretty pleased, too. First we chatted to Gerald and soon we were able to meet Hayley . In no time at all, my daughter had had a cuddle and a kiss from Hayley, and we had a photo with her, too (thanks to a friendly "organised" couple and their camera!). Not to mention autographs! It was nice, too, to be remembered from the Royal Albert Hall last month. The Westenras really are such helpful, friendly people.

An hour later, we'd had our picnic (part 2), viewed some of the magnificent Palace Staterooms and were back in our seats for the second half of the concert. We heard orchestral music by Vaughan Williams, Parry, Mascagni and Borodin. And in between, there was Hayley. First was River of Dreams and as she made the long walk to the stage, the audience gasped as it caught sight of her blue, full length, off-the-shoulder dress, glittering with sequins and flowing in the breeze. It was full and reminiscent of a beautiful ball gown - and she looked stunning! Then as the applause died away, Hayley stood for a moment in the cold air, with her long hair blowing back in the breeze. We waited in anticipation, our coats now fastened against the chilly conditions and I was concerned that it might upset Hayley's singing. But I need not have worried. As always the true professional, she was again superb, leaving the stage to loud applause that continued until the conductor raised his baton for the next piece.

Then, according to the programme, Hayley concluded with Hine e Hine and once again, she sung it so well. After she left the stage and the applause died down I thought to myself "Oh well, that's that. No more Hayley". And after some "Prince Igor", it was time for the three patriotic British songs that are heard every September at the Last Night of the Proms. First, "Jerusalem" - and the audience responded, joining in to sing at last - flag waving, too!

Next it was time for "Rule, Britannia (Britannia Rules the Waves)". And suddenly, Hayley appeared, striding purposefully towards centre stage accompanied by roars of approval from all of us. "Isn't she from NZ?" I heard someone mutter (as if it mattered!) "It's OK, NZ has the same Queen as us!" came the reply from a chuckling lady nearby.

And Hayley sang it... boy how she sang it! Over the years, I've heard dozens of the World's best Opera stars sing "Rule Britannia" at the Last Night of the Proms. But none has given me greater pleasure and enjoyment than THIS performance. Hayley beckoned for us all to join in the choruses and she sung it really well - there was more flag waving and it gave me a warm glow inside. Then, enthusiastic applause and bouquets... and she was gone. Or so I thought!

The final piece in the programme was next - "Land of Hope and Glory". It was played superbly by the orchestra, with the usual patriotic fervour and flag waving from the audience when it was our turn to join in. But the final piece? We would have none of it. After much foot stamping and applause the conductor soon returned for an orchestral encore whose name escapes me and when this finished, we wouldn't let 'em escape. "Hayley" I heard someone yell through the applause and the foot stamping was louder than before. Soon, we got our wish... back came Hayley for HER encore and all fell silent. She was still wearing her off-the-shoulder dress with no shawl and I was again concerned about the cold conditions. Silly me!

Hayley then started singing one of the most beautiful renditions of Schubert's "Ave Maria" I have ever heard. One of my party, who had never heard Hayley sing before last night, told me her eyes filled with tears as Hayley sang it. Many others would have felt the same as it was simply wonderful. This "Ave Maria" would be hard to match - let alone better - by anyone, anywhere. The audience broke into rapturous applause as Hayley finished what for me, was the the highlight of the evening. And we continued until she left the stage with more flowers. But then, it really was all over.

Except, that is, for a spectacular aerial fireworks display to end a wonderful evening's entertainment, one of the best I've ever had. It had started around 6pm with picnics and br@ss band music and ended well over five hours later with fireworks. Well done Hayley, and all who took part!

Review by Dave Ludlow


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