Arbroath Male Voice Choir celebrated the first day of Spring and the solar eclipse with a wonderful concert with the help of guest soprano soloist Melanie Gowie.
The choir were again under the direction of musical director Sheena Guthrie, aided by accompanist Brian Hirst and accompanist to Ms Gowie, Walter Blair.
The well-filled Webster Theatre audience waited with anticipation for curtain up on the choir’s 81st annual concert and no one could have been disappointed with the outcome as time after time loud applause soared through the theatre not only for the choir’s guest but also for the choir. The choir rose to the occasion with confidence and responded well to the fine direction by Ms Guthrie.
The gentlemen invited the audience to listen to a good old fashioned chorus which included several well-known ballads such as John Peel and several mentions that they were indeed the Arbroath Male Voice Choir, This was a good start to the evening. Sullivan’s ’Pirates of Penzance’ quirky ‘With cat-like tread’ chorus of pirates and policemen featured tenor soloist Douglas Cant who confidently sang the role of the Pirate Lieutenant Samuel who provides the pirates with their crowbars etc. Well done to all - the tan-tar-as were excellent. The lovely ‘Younger than springtime’ from ‘South Pacific’ was well controlled and there were lovely tonal qualities in the choir’s signing. Then the men turned their thoughts to ‘Standing on the corner watching all the girls go by’. Were they happy? Not too sure!
Melanie Gowie, who originally hails from Carnoustie, is fast becoming the next Angus Diva and we will certainly be hearing more of her in the future. Her programme was varied and ranged from grand opera to Scottish folk songs and songs from the shows. Melanie’s first choice was the famous aria sung by the Countess from ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ – ‘Porgi Amor’ in which she laments her husband’s infidelity, was sung with intensity and tenderness; ‘The Jewel’ song from Gounod’s ‘Faust’ is a masterpiece and Melanie captured every moment of Marguerite’s joy as she tries on all the jewels which make her feel beautiful. We could imagine every moment as she looked at herself in the mirror. A song unknown to the writer ‘Solitary Hotel’ by Barber was sung with an exceptional interpretation of the loneliness the young lady was feeling. This was a beautiful art song which should be heard more often. The bubbling ‘Love’s Philosophy’ by Quilter showed Melanie’s wonderful coloratura qualities and closed her first part of the programme.
The choir and Melanie joined in the dramatic aria from Bellini’s ‘Norma’ ‘Casta Diva’. One of the most famous arias in the world, Norma prays to the moon goddess for peace while the druids chant, in the background, asking her to declare war on the romans. The aria has been sung by divas from all parts of the world. Melanie and gentlemen - we were very honoured to hear such an tremendous performance.
Just before the interval there was a surprise appearance by Liberace (alias Brian Hirst). Dressed in an outfit similar to the entertainer and a candelabra on stage Brian went on to wow us with his interpretation of ‘These foolish things remind me of you’ and the famous ‘Tea for two’. The piano tinkled, the cadenzas rippled and the style was just fabulous. A highlight of the evening! The choir are very fortunate to have found such a fine musician to join them as their accompanist. Throughout the evening he provided superb support to the gentlemen.
Suitably refreshed we returned to our seats and the buzz of the enjoyment of the first part of the concert was evident. The choir then treated us to a selection of folk songs including ‘The Bonnie Earl o’ Moray’; ‘Blow away the morning dew’; Iona Boat song’ ‘Men of Harlech (arranged by Brian Hirst); and ‘I have a bonnet trimmed with blue’ which featured Roger Brunton as the cocky ‘lady’ soloist. The men were in good voice for all four songs and it was great to hear the rich sound of the choir in ‘Men of Harlech’, a male voice choir favourite.
Melanie opened her second spot with the fascinating ‘Nella fantasia’ (‘In My Fantasy’) by Morrone. Sung in Italian the song is based on the theme ‘Gabriel’s Oboe’ from the film The Mission and Sara Brightman is credited with having asked Morrone to turn it in to a song. He did and the result is amazing and fast became a favourite of sopranos throughout the world. The rendition by Melanie was quite haunting and beautifully interpreted.
Two Scottish songs ‘Charlie is my darling’ and ‘Ye banks and braes’ let us hear another side of the singer’s ability as did her lovely rendition of ‘Can’t help loving that man of mine’ from ‘Showboat’. The arrangement by Walter Blair featured a solo spot played by him in his own inimitable style.
In 2007 Melanie appeared on the West End stage playing the role of Carlotta in Webber’s ‘Phantom of the Opera’ She remained in the role until 2010 and returned in 2011 to take part in the 25th anniversary gala performance at the Royal Albert Hall. She wowed us with her performance of ‘Wishing you were somehow here again’ before continuing with, as she told us, the song which got her, her role, ‘Art is calling for you’ (The prima Donna Song) from ‘The Enchantress’. We were thrilled with Melanie’s portrayal of the singer who wants to be a diva – the vocal challenges and actions were perfect and we were left in no doubt she is well on her way to becoming one of the finest sopranos in the United Kingdom. Another highlight!
All too soon we came to the final three songs by the choir. ‘The Lullaby of Broadway; ‘September Song’ with a lovely opening verse by tenor Jonathan Milne; and the finale ‘Bye, bye blackbird which brought to a close a wonderful evening of music from all concerned.
We now look forward to the 82nd concert by the choir next spring. Gifts were presented to Ms Guthrie, Miss Gowie, Mr Blair and Mr Hirst by choir members.
Choir members this season are: Willie Arbuckle, Jan Birse, Roger Brunton, Douglas Cant, Graeme Cant, Steve Cargill, Brian Cummings, Campbell Dinning, Alan Esslemont, Mike Fairweather, Jay Ferrier, Ross Henderson, Colin Hunter, Duncan Hunter, Richard Irvine, Charles Jarvis, Brian Kelly, Gordon Law, acting president, Dickie Lawes, Willie Lawrie, Ken Lownie, Danny Martin, Graeme May, Flint McCullough, Mike Mechan, Jonathan Milne, Des Nicoll, Bill Reid, Bruce Simpson, Alan Smith, Syd Smith, Ian Stewart, Tom Swan, Ron Watson, Dave Whitton, Alan Whyte, Campbell Wilbourn, George Wishart and Murray Wood.