Interview with Soprano Lesley Garrett ahead of Some Enchanted Evening
English Soprano Lesley Garrett is one of the UK's most loved classical cross-over musicians whose career has spanned countless opera productions, musicals and concert appearances. Having previously starred in the West End revivals of The Sound of Music at the London Palladium and Carousel at the Savoy Theatre, she is about to return to the work of composer Richard Rodgers in a new concert production at Cadogan Hall, Some Enchanted Evening: A Musical Celebration of the Hits of Broadway Legend Richard Rodgers, alongside musical theatre favourites Ruthie Henshall, Micahel Xavier and Gary Wilmot.
Accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra and ArtsEd Ensemble, under conductor Richard Balcombe, the concert will feature songs from Richard Rodgers' long and varied career with songs such as "The Lady is a Tramp", "My Funny Valentine", "Climb Every Mountain", "You’ll Never Walk Alone", "Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’", "Edelweiss", "Shall We Dance?", "There is Nothing Like a Dame", "Do-Re-Mi" and "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered".
We caught up with Ms Garrett during rehearsals for the production to find out more about what audiences can expect from this special concert.
Dom O'Hanlon: Leslie, it's a pleasure to meet you. Let's start by telling me about your involvement with Some Enchanted Evening?
Leslie Garrett: I'm going to be comparing the whole evening as well as singing, so I'll be very busy! As you know, we've got a wonderful set of singers who I'm very excited about performing with. Ruthie Henshall who I've performed with many times before, Gary Wilmot who I've never performed with before – he has a beautiful voice, we had a rehearsal the other day and I was bowled over by his voice. And then Michael Xavier who also has a beautiful voice, so I'm very excited about both the singing and the program. It's not necessarily the most famous songs from the Richard Rodgers songbook but I think it's good to surprise the audience and introduce them to some music and even a show that they've not heard before.
DOH: And you'll be accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic!
LG: The RPCO and I have worked together many times before, we've had wonderful tours together in the nineties and the noughties! Richard Balcome the conductor and I have worked together many times also, so I'm just looking forward to it immensely. I think Richard has curated it, he's been responsible for putting the repertoire together. The blend of voice means we can do fuller ensemble songs – we've got the Arts Ed choir - so much of Rodgers music which is choral, so we're going to explore all that as well.
DOH: You're no stranger to the work of Richard Rodgers, why do you think his music continues to have mass appeal?
LG: I've championed his music always, and I think it's because it's so incredibly well written. I've had the great privilege of performing both Carousel and The Sound of Music and so I've sung many songs and arias from much of the repertoire. Those two particular works are almost operatic in their construction actually, but it's the quality of the writing which is why they've lasted so long. I think when you get a good composer with a good lyricist that really helps, whether it's Mozart, Rodgers or Strauss, whenever you get a really good pairing those works will continue to resonate for generation after generation. I think the story-lines and the characters and the experiences they have, the emotional journeys they go on, are timeless. These kind of emotional dilemmas that everyone faces, who fails to be moved by “Climb Ev'ry Mountain” or “You'll Never Walk Alone?”, these are epic songs, they really touch everybody. I'd do a run of another Rodgers and Hammerstein in a heartbeat. They're epic pieces and are outstanding in their understanding of the human condition.
DOH: As a performer do you find differences between his older work with Lorenz Hart and his later material with Oscar Hammerstein?
LG: Oh yes – most definitely, he progressed and developed as most composers will. I'm actually performing one of my favourite Rodgers and Hart songs, “Lover” from Love Me Tonight. His work became more sophisticated, I guess it became more classical. It's the scale of what he does, it's the way that his work builds – think of "Climb Ev'ry Mountain", it comes at the end of the first act at the apex or high point of the show, it's fascinating. In Carousel, the way that he put a ballet in the middle of that work, it was so brave, it's operatic in structure. It shows a level of development from his early work with Hart, clearly there is some development, it's very sophisticated, I never tire listening to it, it's quite extraordinary.
DOH: What's the difference between performing these songs isolated in concert and performing them in context, for example "You'll Never Walk Alone?"
LG: Well of course in the musical it's quite short – it's once through. I always used to feel quite short changed! When you do it in concert you do the amalgamation of the solo and the choral version from the end of the show. The choral version that closes the show is immensely powerful, when Nettie sings it as a solo to Julie after Billy has died it's much more prayerful and spiritual. That didn't come home to me until I'd done the show – I'd always performed the song in concerts, and it always ended on a high. In the show it's much less of a community song. It's amazing that it can be interpreted in more than one way- it's about a woman's solidarity in a very intimate personal way, at the end it's about binding together a whole community and that's why it has become an anthem, because his work has magic.
DOH: Are there any particular songs that you're excited about performing, maybe ones you haven't done before?
LG: I'm going to be reprising “June is Bustin' Out All Over”, which I'm very excited about. I'm also doing a couple of numbers from The King and I, ones I haven't done before and that's quite exciting. “Shall We Dance” with Gary – I'm looking forward to that very much. And there's going to be some dancing as well! We have a choreographer so they'll be movement and staging too, so I think the audience will go away happy.
DOH: Rodgers' music suits the classical style that obviously matches your voice, do you think that's important in their delivery?
LG: When Rodgers was composing the voices were classically trained, in those days there wasn't a separate technique for musicals, everyone was trained in the same way and trained to not use microphones and to project. That's why his music is so comfortable to me as it requires the technique that I already have. Think of Mother Abbess, it definitely needs the type of training I've had as a soprano – another reason why I think Rodgers is so well respected across the board. All singers I know, whether they are classically trained or musical theatre trained, it's highly respected high-end music.
DOH: I know you've already played two great roles from the repertoire, are there any other in the canon that you'd like to perform?
LG: I've done the two that suit my voice the best! I'd have loved to have played Julie when I was younger, certainly. I actually had a go at "Something Wonderful" but it's very much for a mezzo, lots of the notes resolve downwards, you need a weighty bottom than I have! Maybe I should try it now because my voice has got a bit richer... I really hope Rodgers' music continues to be represented in the West End.
Lesley stars in ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ alongside Ruthie Henshall, Michael Xavier and Gary Wilmot at Cadogan Hall 18-20 August, www.cadoganhall.com.