In a career spanning fifty years Dame Felicity Palmer has shared her gift with audiences across the globe. What an honour, therefore, to welcome her to The Abbey as she celebrates her life in music over the last five decades.
From the moment she swept into the Richards Hall Dame Felicity's commanding presence left us in no doubt that she is one of British opera's most celebrated mezzo sopranos. She and pianist Simon Lepper presented a uniquely personal programme comprising pieces that have had great meaning to her through her career. From the deceptively simple Caro Mio Ben - a staple of many young singers' repertoires but raised to new heights of subtlety and complexity by Dame Felicity's experience - to her flawless Tchaikovsky and dramatic exposition of Mendelssohn's Hexenlied, the first half of the programme demonstrated her virtuosity to breath-taking effect.
From the psychological unravelling of a tortured Lady Macbeth to Sondheim's heartrending 'losing my mind' Dame Felicity presented a tour de force of dramatic puissance in the second half of the programme. Opening with Horowitz's Lady Macbeth was a superb device, bringing the audience along for a psychological descent from deadly ambition to tortured guilt and insanity.
We were lifted from Lady Macbeth's introspection by a Britten folk song and then a treat: Dame Felicity's performance of her father's work "Das zerbrochene Ringelein". Janis Ian’s poignant “At Seventeen” toyed with our emotions yet again, before the programme concluded with two songs about love and devotion that were imbued with all the richness of Dame Felicity’s fifty years in music. Thunderous applause earned us a final “Good bye” courtesy of ‘Two little words’ by May H. Brahe as an encore.
The evening was an outstanding performance by two artists who seem to delight in working together. The Abbey’s Director of Music, Stephen Willis, is hugely appreciative of the opportunity that hearing Dame Felicity and Simon perform has afforded our musical community: “Listening to professional musicians is a crucial part of any young musician’s development and there is no substitute for hearing live music-making – but when the musicians involved are the best in the world it is an unparalleled opportunity. The whole school community were thrilled to witness such exceptional performances last Friday, with every note and word made utterly compelling. The huge ovation at the end of the recital was proof just how much the whole audience enjoyed the concert.”