Divadom is a complex, curiously unfocused business these days. Tuesday evening at El Camino College, however, Kiri Te Kanawa reminded an almost full house in Marsee Auditorium of the joys of simply singing, and singing simply.
Still, at least three Te Kanawas--a song interpreter, a music-hall queen and a classic diva--seemed to appear, though she made no gown changes and offered little crossover schlock.
By far the most satisfying was the restrained, elegant song artist of the first half. Te Kanawa sounded a little dry at the beginning, but she warmed up to easy, fluent radiance.
Her selection of songs by Mozart, Faure, Duparc and Richard Strauss was limited mostly to variations on love raptures, and she glossed sweetly over the few darker, doubting intimations. But she also brought a sensuous, half-voice sort of reverie to the French songs, brightened wonderfully in the Strauss, and sang throughout with unaffected clarity.
For the devoted divaphiles--who seemed remarkably restrained, waiting demurely for accompaniments to end before clapping and shouting only a few mis-gendered "bravos"--the New Zealand soprano closed the printed program with arias. Charpentier's "Depuis le jour," Cilea's "Io so l'umile ancella," and Gounod's "Ah! je ris" did little to broaden the emotional or topical scope of the recital, but Te Kanawa sang them with grace and charm.
She began the second half with a set of popular arrangements, including "Danny Boy" and Gershwin's "Summertime." In these, Te Kanawa sounded constricted at times, and her style became increasingly mannered, through a brassy, arch "Come to the Fair" to an exaggerated "Summertime" that seemed almost pure parody.
With such a familiar program, capping the encores with Victor Herbert's "I Want to Be a Prima Donna" was taking the risk of singing her own review. But there the broad music-hall humor was quite appropriate and sounded completely unaffected, sending more than a few of Te Kanawa's audience out the doors singing the chorus themselves.
The sensitive, pertinent accompaniment of pianist Roger Vignoles supported Te Kanawa handsomely. Something in the way he released the damper pedal, however, often created an odd, offbeat thumping obbligato. But he provided alert nuance and well-coordinated, consistently poised frameworks.