Having seen footage from the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, I had a sense of what to expect in this undeniably British celebration.
The evening was divided into two sections, the first act was a mixture of classical and traditional tunes encompassing English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish flavours as well as, what can now be described as, an ironic a sprinkle of Bizet and Mozart that the British have assimilated into their culture over the years.
Yes even this the most British of cultural events wasn’t able to escape the shroud of Brexit, a fact that conductor Peter Thomas was able to make light of during this fun and entertaining two hour imperial music history lesson.
The audience was in high spirits from the beginning with a rousing rendition of God Save The Queen, to which everyone sung along with the aid of the screen prompts. But something felt strange, as the english anthem concluded my companion for the evening turned to me and said “Did that feel strange?” to which I replied “YES, Yes it did”. You see neither of us had actually, seriously sung God Save The Queen and we are both NZ born with Polynesian ancestry, literally everyone else in the audience was, well, white! For a brief moment we felt like two Daniels in the lions den.
Now before you think I'm about to go off on some anti colonial rant, hold your horses, pour a cup of Earl Grey and listen, because I'm thinking quite the opposite. You see thats what works for this event, its not just old traditional songs mixed with a few contemporary hits to give British ex pats a stiffy for Queen and Country. As I touched on earlier it's a musical history lesson, an experience of what made Brits who they are in a musical, imperial and even religious way. Now keep calm and I'll carry on.
The performances were as expected, wonderful. The Auckland Symphony Orchestra were in fine form and the soloists were superb. My only small complaint would be the Stellar Singers, at times they were loose and and lacking definitive harmony between parts but that can also be attributed to choral orchestration.
The first soloist was mezzo soprano Kayla Collingwood who performed Habanera from Carmen. Her control was solid and her range superb, what she perhaps lacked in power she made up for in every other area and with maturity will come strength and this girl from Napier is going places. She would return a couple more times in the evening including the crowd favourite Rule Britannia.
The second soloist was Sarah Spence, this beautiful and talented cellist never missed a beat and was a joy to watch in action. Elgar’s Finale from Concerto for Cello never sounded or looked so good.
After the interval the second act turned more contemporary with orchestral arrangements of Bowie, Queen, and Sam Smith so understandably the performances weren’t as tight as the first half. But before we waltzed down the road of orchestral pop there was an all singing rendition of God Defend New Zealand to whip us all into a frenzy.
At the end of the night we were treated to recognised Prom anthems such as Pomp & Circumstance, Jerusalem and the Liverpudlian tear jerker You’ll Never Walk Alone. The words were on screen and the audience was in fine voice, everyone seemed to be belting out every line. Streamers, balloons, a real imperialist party atmosphere. It was impossible not to join in and strain those vocal folds. Singing is therapy and this is the perfect place to get your dose of hearty musical medicine.
In summary, this is a great night out for lovers of tradition and tongue in cheek British rivalry. Yes, some of the songs and lyrics will have Hone Heke rolling in his grave, but its a chance to watch or take part in an entertaining night of everything that once was or still is wonderfully British.
Last Night of the Proms will also be performed in Auckland City Sunday 3 July, 5.30pm at the Great Hall, Auckland Town Hall
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