SAN DIEGO — Swathed in sequins and sporting outrageous chapeaux , chanteuse Carol Channing brought her routine to the San Diego Symphony Friday night. Saving her signature tunes, "Hello, Dolly" and "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend," for the program's finale, Channing ambled through half a dozen musical vignettes, each punctuated by a costume change in specially constructed booths at either edge of the Symphony Hall stage.
She even conducted the orchestra in a slender excerpt from Jacques Offenbach's "Orpheus in the Underworld," adding her name to the symphony's already lengthy list of guest conductors this season. And proving that at this stage of the game, nearly anyone can ascend that podium and elicit a reasonable response from the intrepid players.
Channing's tremulous, raspy voice has not been ravaged over the years by too much singing. Her vocal instrument simply started out in that peculiar condition, but it's part and parcel of what her loyal following finds endearing. Her changes of ensemble--from pastel flapper outfits to conductor's black formal to slinky silver evening gown--kept the focus on her other trademark, that comfortably garish caricature of feminine style which remains the envy of the most accomplished female impersonators.
Fortunately, Channing is the first to joke about her cosmetic excesses. At one point in her monologue, she explained to the audience that after applying several layers of false eyelashes, she adds ample mascara--"To get that \o7 natural\f7 look."
Although the large audience was ready to embrace Channing simply for being there, her performance did not exactly ignite her fans. She had neither the presence nor the energy of Cab Calloway, the star of the previous SuperPops program. Channing's leisurely pace is more suited to television. She needed a laugh track and a few well-placed commercial breaks.
For the concert's opening half, departing resident conductor Fabio Mechetti led the orchestra in three back-to-back opera overtures by Rossini. (Where does the symphony management get such clever programming ideas?) The Overture to "Semiramide" sounded quite spiffy, clean and energetic, not unlike Mechetti's baton style. If the orchestra's straightforward reading of the "William Tell" Overture was unremarkable, it provided an opportunity for the audience to giggle when the "Lone Ranger" theme sounded.
Friday's program was the last of the winter season's SuperPops series, although the orchestra member's white dinner jackets reminded the audience--as did symphony executive director Wesley Brustad in his pre-concert speech--that summer pops programming at Hospitality Point is only a couple of months away. As a symphony member once confided, "It's the sort of thing we have to do to support our (classical music) habit."