JOE'S PUB II - Hayley's Second Appearance

POSTED: Saturday, August 7th 2004 8:46 PM

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Hayley Westenra
Hayley Westenra



As you may know, I saw Hayley in her NY debut at Joe's Pub in June, as well as in Bryant Park when she performed with the New York Pops. I briefly debated returning for her second appearance at Joe's Pub, and almost debated too long, but I snagged, no joke, the very last ticket available. In fact, it turns out, they had oversold tickets and the pub was full to the brim and then some that night. If this is any precedent for the future, when they say Hayley's coming to your area, you better reserve your tickets immediately.

The day of the performance I was in the office, so it was relatively easy to slip out at 4:30 and slip across the Holland Tunnel into the city without battling too much traffic. I was well-equipped with camera, pictures previously taken, a CD or two, black Sharpie, and small presents for Hayley. Parking in a nearby garage, I walked up to Joe's Pub, but of course they didn't open till 6. A few folks were standing outside talking through the bars to Steve Abbott, Hayley's manager, who I briefly said hello to. He said there might be some slightly different pieces on the program that evening, and confirmed that Welsh mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins, who I had heard rumors would also be present, in fact would be present.

In due time the doors opened and I took my seat, with a perfect view of the stage, unfortunately somewhat distant from my friends Alena and Josh. Also disappointing, I heard through the grapevine that Hayley was planning to depart immediately afterwards. Nevertheless, I ordered my meal (chicken with arugala and parmesan), and chatted for a while with Alena when she came over to me. Gerald Westenra walked by soon after that, and we pulled him aside and talked to him for awhile. I congratulated him on Hayley's being invited to sing with the Boston Pops, and remarked how this would give her and me something in common, since I had also sung with that orchestra, though as a chorister, not as a soloist. He said there would be several area appearances. After Alena returned to her seat, I asked how this had been set up, as I had visions of Hayley having to go in front of Keith Lockhart and Dennis Alves and other Pops officers and sing accompanied only by piano. Apparently this was not the case, though, it was done by Steve Abbott submitting the appropriate demo and pressing till Keith Lockhart said yes. I was impressed, and said I thought it was quite an accomplishment considering Lockhart had refused to hear a certain other singer of the same age group. I also said that I knew they had to be off afterwards, but I did have some things I would like to give to Hayley. He said if I came backstage afterwards they might still be around for about 15 minutes. I thanked him and said I'd talk to him later, then slipped over to Alena and whispered what I'd been told to her, warning her in the stern tones I use when I want no mistake to be made not to blab and to be discreet afterward. Returning to my seat I found myself next to Brian Lane, a British promoter from Universal, and another Universal person whose name I did not catch, and we chatted about Hayley and about Katherine Jenkins and a bit about politics till it was showtime.

The show began with Hayley's pianist and violinist (whose names I did catch as Ian and Fiona this time) playing an alternatively lyrical and lively prelude. Good players as they are, though, it was clear we all were waiting for Hayley. To loud applause she entered, wearing jeans, a sleeveless pale green satin top, and flat iridescent green sandals, greeted the audience, and began Pokarekare Ana, her signature piece. I knew she had sung last night in the Garden State Arts Center with a full orchestra, but obviously it had not tired her voice out one bit, it was as clear and ethereal as ever, with not one wrong note. After applause, Hayley explained the significance of the song, and said how much she loved being in New York over the past few weeks; she'd be departing Friday for home to shoot a PBS special. She then moved into "River of Dreams," based, as she explained, on a Vivaldi melody from the Four Seasons. This was followed by one of her personal favorites, "Beat of Your Heart." Both of these songs were well-received by the audience. She then sang "Mary, Did you Know?" another favorite of hers. Her voice went especially warm on this one, and it was evident that, whatever else she might believe, she believed what she was singing here. This too drew great applause. Hayley then addressed the audience, saying she was happy to be in New York, and also happy to introduce an artist who had toured with her in the UK: the lovely Katherine Jenkins.

Also greeted by applause, Katherine Jenkins entered. I had seen many images of her on the internet, but I was absolutely bowled over by her appearance in the flesh, impossibly beautiful in a white dress covered with fuschia flowers, white stockings, and matching fuschia heels. She began Schubert's "Ave Maria," and did certainly as good a job with it as Hayley did in June at this same venue, though of course her voice was darker and richer in tone than Hayley's simply by virtue of her being a mezzo and Hayley being a soprano. After loud applause she greeted the audience and remarked on how far she'd come from a year ago being a schoolteacher in Wales. She had four goals, one being to sing at the local opera house, which she'd accomplished, two to hit number one on the British classical charts, which she had accomplished with "Premiere" although that hasn't hit these shores yet, three to sing at the Royal Albert Hall, which she'd accomplished, and four, to be here at this venue. After applause mixed with laughter she said she'd like to be "a bit of a naughty girl" with her next piece, which essentially says "if I love you, watch out!" With that she began Bizet's "Habanera" from "Carmen," complete with some very believable hip sways and hand movements, though not enough to be distracting. Her French was impeccable, and the sultriness in her voice palpable. I feel no qualms in saying she would have no trouble at all carrying off the whole role of Carmen at Covent Garden. After applause, she welcomed Hayley back to the stage.

Hayley began her second suite with what I think is becoming her "signature" original piece: "Who Painted the Moon Black?" It received the largest applause of all the pieces in June and no less applause this time around. She then sang Carl Orff's "In Trutina" from "Carmina Burana," which was also well-received, as it should have been, for it was completely perfect.

To end the official part of the show, Hayley welcomed Katherine Jenkins back to the stage for a duet version of the Maori lullaby "Hine e Hine." Though it certainly sounds no less lovely when Hayley sings it by herself, there is no question that it gained immeasurably when Katherine added her voice in harmony as well as taking lead on a verse. The audience applauded wildly, and it is here that myself and Alena slipped from our seats over to the way backstage. As she had last time, though, Hayley returned to the stage, touched one note, and sang "Amazing Grace" without any accompaniment at all, again in her single bravest act of the evening. Bowing and smiling, she bade everyone goodnight and departed the stage.

Alena, myself, and a few other souls were waiting for her backstage, but she gave us a friendly hello, indicating she recognized us from the two other times we'd met her. Alena had her sign a few things, and then I said I knew she wanted to get going, but I had a thank-you gift or two for her. I gave her three enlargements I'd made from other pictures I'd taken, two simply of her waving, which I said she could do whatever she wanted with, and one of her posing with the NY fireman from Bryant Park, for, I said, whatever other landmark she posed next to in NY, this was the most important. I also gave her a teddy bear (smallish, because I know she travels with only two suitcases) with calico angel wings and a pillow in its paws that said "angel on duty," explaining to her that I did not know if she liked stuffed animals or not, but I got it for her because I thought the message fit. She responded that she did in fact like stuffed friends and that it was very cute. I had dashed off a thank-you card for her as well, recapping the three events I'd seen her at and telling her I knew she was a world-class singer, but that she was also a world-class person, which, surprisingly, she opened and read on the spot, thanking me warmly. In what I thought would be my final gesture of the evening, I asked her to sign one more copy of "Pure." Although I had already decided I was going to send a signed copy of that to a friend of mine in Ireland, I had yet to actually act on that (mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa), and since then she had suffered a death in the family. Thinking a personalized CD might be a good cheer-her-up gift, I told Hayley of Claire's loss and asked her to sign once more. Hayley gave a genuine expression of sorrow and gladly wrote "To Claire, all the best with your singing! Love, Hayley xxx" on the CD.

I was ready to dash at that point, but it seemed that the floodgates had opened, and the room was now full of 80 or more people looking to wish Hayley well and get things signed. As one might expect, a lot of these were return people from her June engagement at this venue, and had enlargements of pictures where she'd posed with them for her to sign. Surprisingly, a few people had even grabbed the table centerpieces that advertised her and were asking her to sign them. Steve MacDonald was among the group, though we had not spoken very much that evening, and this time he was prepared, with a full run of Hayley's CDs for her to sign, which she did without batting an eyelash. Hayley also signed for several young girls, who I am glad were not denied the chance to meet her. Katherine also came out and joined the fray, greeting all the new fans she'd made that night. Seeing all this, I decided it was too good to miss, took out my camera, and began to shoot away.

After a few shots, I got to talk to Katherine, congratulating her on her performance, telling her how wonderful she looked, and apologizing that I had nothing for her to sign. She was enchantingly pleasant and said that was not a problem. She said that she was working on her second album, titled "Second Nature" which would be coming out soon, and would be mostly popular classical tunes, but would include some music from films, including from "Saving Private Ryan." I told her that was great, especially the latter. She happily posed for a portrait shot, and then also for shots with Steve MacDonald and myself, and let me thank her with a kiss on the cheek. She also posed with Hayley, as that was going to be a shot people would inevitably want. I was awed when I found out that she had done all of this despite having eaten some bad sushi the night before which had made her VERY sick that day, and which she was still not feeling so great from. If she is this great with all her fans, and this much of a trooper going forward, she is going to build a big following here.

Things were still not over, as a man identifying himself as John G asked me if I was "Fusilier" from the internet. I said I was, and loaned him my Sharpie when it was his turn to meet Hayley. He had her sign probably four pictures, and gave her both a box of roses and some form of wrapped gift. I do not know what it was, for she did not open it on the spot. I continued to shoot away, but desisted when Hayley commented that her eyes were starting to hurt from all the flashes, for I was not the only one trying to get pictures. I was near the end of the roll anyway, and finished with two shots that did not involve her. I did ask her to sign another copy of the picture with her and the fireman, for the fireman had asked me to provide him with a copy. This she did graciously, and I told her and her father how, but for a chance phone call, I would not be here, since I had been scheduled to go to the WTC on that fateful September day, but had been sent somewhere else at the last minute. Both agreed that what had happened that day was horrible, and that those who fought it were heroes, and certainly this hero was deserving of this piece of memorabilia. In subsequent chatter Hayley remarked on how she'd been living it up eating-wise, and also on how she loved dark chocolate when she could get it. I said I'd have brought some if I'd known, but she said she'd actually not eaten any chocolate for two weeks at that point, and was kind of proud of herself for being good that way. Well she should have been too, for chocolate is not good for the vocal cords. It was starting to get late (it had been easily 30 minutes by now), and Gerald tapped Hayley on the shoulder to tell her that their car was outside. I shook hands with both, kissed Hayley on the cheek, and wished both of them a safe flight home, tellign them I'd see them at the Boston Pops. With that they said goodbye to the remaining people and left, leaving a lot of us out of breath, but well satisfied.

Alena, husband Josh, Steve MacDonald and myself, all still awed, walked across the street in the still-light evening to a nearby Starbucks, where we chewed over our experiences that evening and the previous two evenings we'd seen Hayley, as well as a few other things, over over-priced coffee drinks. All of us agreed that Hayley had certainly made us and many other people very happy, and has a great future ahead of her if she continues to follow her current path.

I suppose this brings me to the end of this trilogy of reviews, but I certainly hope to be writing again come Christmastime, when Hayley tours with the Boston Pops. I certainly thank Hayley, should you read this, for being so gracious so many times and bringing a lot of happiness to a lot of people. I also thank Katherine for the same, and for being so selfless as to give of yourself even when not feeling your best.

Steven Olivo

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