In traditional ‘classical’ music concerts, direct engagement between performers and audience is still quite rare – though performers are learning slowly that, for generations younger than me, it is going to be essential if live music making is to survive.
But there has always been the occasional moment, precious just because it is so rare. Let me tell you about my moment.
Felicity Lott – Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, no less, but known across the musical world as Flott – is a tall, striking, stunningly beautiful woman, now later on in her career but still thrilling audiences. She always did. She has charm, sparkle and a creamy soprano voice. Furthermore, as a graduate in French she is that great rarity among singers – a native English speaker who can sing idiomatically in French. Unsurprisingly, she is very popular indeed over there.
A few years back she was singing in London’s Cadogan Hall: Berlioz’s great song cycle Les Nuits d’Été. It’s a challenge for any singer – six songs with widely different moods, stretching the voice beyond normal limits, a single singer required to command the stage for over half an hour.
Well, for me the highlight is the quietest of the songs, Le spectre de la rose – hushed, simple and a glorious melody, requiring the singer to maintain a faultless legato in little more than a whisper. When it’s sung well, you can hear a pin drop. And Flott sang it well that night.
So there was I, sitting dead centre three rows from the front – in effect, directly below the Dame herself on the platform. It’s a wistful song (text below if you enjoy wrestling with the French language), and ends in a mood that you might call silent ecstasy: pure ‘tingle factor’.
She finished, holding the final note until it drifted into eternity. She was standing stock still, head slightly inclined in a Damely kind of way, eyes closed, and held the pose. When she opened her eyes she was looking straight into mine. It was a reflex action to smile straight at her – and she broke into a smile straight back. It was just a moment, but a moment of communion, performer with audience member. She had four more songs to sing, moved on and the mood changed, as it had to.
It was the kind of magic live music exists for. At a rock concert, or in a jazz club, that sort of engagement may be ubiquitous. At classical concerts it is rare indeed. But if you have such a moment, please share it with me.
In one sense I have never met Flott, and probably never will. But in a more important sense I met her that night, and floated home.
Le spectre de la rose
Soulève ta paupière close
Qu’effleure un songe virginal.
Je suis le spectre d’une rose
Que tu portais hier au bal.
Tu me pris encor emperlée
Des pleurs d’argent de l’arrosoir,
Et parmi la fête étoilée
Tu me promenas tout le soir.
Ô toi, qui de ma mort fut cause,
Sans que tu puisses le chasser,
Toutes les nuits mon spectre rose
A ton chevet viendra danser.
Mais ne crains rien, je ne réclame
Ni messe ni De Profundis,
Ce léger parfum est mon âme
Et j’arrive du Paradis.
Mon destin fut digne d’envie,
Et pour avoir un sort si beau
Plus d’un aurait donné sa vie.
Car sur ton sein j’ai mon tombeau,
Et sur l’albâtre où je repose
Un poète avec un baiser
Écrivit : “Ci-gît une rose
Que tous les rois vont jalouser”.