Audra McDonald

Concert Hall, November 5

Audra res
Photo supplied.

Despite all the evidence to the contrary the art of singing is not quite dead. Audra McDonald was the very embodiment of it, her work as finely nuanced and sophisticated as that of a great instrumentalist. So much was right: her apparent effortlessness, the absence of false emotion, her purity of tone and the evenness of it across her impressive range. Every choice she made, whether of dynamics, phrasing, timbre or breath control, was exquisite, and entirely in the service of making the songs touch her audience.

This collaboration with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra was called Audra McDonald Sings Broadway, and, as superb as it was, to hear her run the fuller gamut of her capabilities, from opera to jazz – from Francis Poulenc to Billie Holiday – would have been even better.

That may have spared us the likes of Climb Ev’ry Mountain and Moon River, although even then the American soprano made the former explosively potent and lent the latter a distinctive voluptuousness that prevented the river in question choking on its own hackneyed schmaltz.

She sang Summertime without a microphone, allowing us to relish her vocal splendour and the perfect balance she struck between the song’s operatic and idiomatic demands. Other highlights included Sondheim’s The Glamorous Life (with an exceptional orchestral arrangement), a larger-than-life Maybe This Time (Kander and Ebb) and her astonishing enunciation of Loesser’s machinegun lyrics to I Can’t Stop Talking About Him.

In one of its most successful cross-genre collaborations the SSO was conducted by McDonald’s music director, Andy Einhorn, and joined by pianist Brian Hertz, bassist Mark Vanderpoel and drummer Gene Lewin.

Charming and amusing, McDonald had the audience singing I Could Have Danced All Night to quite startling effect and, with a large number of school-excursion teenagers present, brought the house down with Kate Miller-Heidke’s The Facebook Song. I can’t imagine a better role model for would-be singers to hear. The established ones could learn a thing or two, as well.