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WORLD MUSIC REVIEW

A narrow view of 'Celtic Woman' singers

The vocals are first-rate, but the styles are too much alike during a Greek Theatre concert.

October 08, 2005|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

"Celtic Woman," at the Greek Theatre on Thursday, might more accurately have been titled "Celtic Women," since the concert served as a starring vehicle for five talented Irish performers. Four were singers: Deirdre Shannon, Lisa Kelly, Chloe Agnew and Orla Fallon. The fifth was a dynamite fiddler, Mairead Nesbitt.

There was, of course, a broader implication in the title, suggesting that the five beautifully garbed vocalists, collectively, symbolized the essence of Celtic femininity. And, to the extent that Celtic women are lovely creatures with amazing hair, that was surely true.

But on the downside, the similarities in the singers' voices and styles also suggested that Celtic singing takes place within a very narrow interpretive range, which is most definitely not the case.

"Celtic Woman" began as a television special, seen in the U.S. on PBS, followed by a CD that has sold about 250,000 copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan. The production is now in the early stages of a 25-city tour.

Its appeal follows in the path blazed by "Riverdance," though the dance aspects of "Celtic Woman" are minimal.

And, with the exception of Nesbitt's fiery set pieces, in which she bounded and skipped around the stage, sawing away at her fiddle, whipping out jigs and reels, with her skirts and hair streaming, the performances -- unlike "Riverdance" -- had a packaged quality, largely lacking in both spirit and enthusiasm. The apparent use of prerecorded orchestral tracks on some of the numbers added to the weight of the sound, further boxing the singers into preset musical formulas.

That said, the singing -- despite the narrow range -- was generally first-rate.

At 16, Agnew displayed a remarkably mature sound and substance; Fallon sang warmly and played a lovely feature number as a harpist; Shannon and Kelly each exhibited a combination of powerful voices and cool demeanors.

The elaborate production, with a chorus of singer-dancers and a six-piece ensemble led by music director David Downes, flowed with precise elegance across a stage centered around an oval backdrop of clouds and stars.

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