Some things just are, and Yvonne Kenny is. Life was life, then there she was and life was different. All that she is to me she was in that first moment, a glitzy operetta entrance which in itself held no hint of all that lay ahead and yet it was all there somehow. I knew almost nothing of her before and hardly knew more at the end of that evening but still my fate was sealed then and there. Though I couldn’t have guessed then that things would be as they are now, there was never any chance they could be otherwise: no crossroads, no wavering, no doubt. Obviously much has changed and developed. But never has it been about being convinced, or reassured, or proved right. I haven’t needed it proved to me that the woman who captured me in such a flash had infinitely more in her than that gorgeous Hanna Glawari — that she was not just an Australian audience favourite with a lovely voice but an artist of rare intelligence, sensitivity and depth, and one with a musical Midas touch, leaving every piece of music she sings richer and more meaningful than before and in the process making it sound too breathtakingly beautiful to be believed. And every performance, every minute, every note, have proved just that — A Touch of Venus proves it beyond a doubt — but once again I say, I felt it all, if unconsciously, right from the start. The travelling, the countless recordings, the lengthy reviews and the lengthier outbursts of florid praise, the acts of devotion and divadienst: all that’s beside the point. This isn’t about merely a favourite voice — they’re easy enough to come by — or about mad fanaticism. It’s about an amazing human being whose existence brightens my own.
To the recital itself, A Touch of Venus. This is an incredible programme, so full of Yvonne, of what she does so beautifully and what’s so beautiful about her — and also eerily full of me. Music I learnt from her and have only ever heard her sing; music I’ve known for years and have never heard her sing, but now it too belongs to her. I could catalogue at length the universe of resonances and associations and delights at work for me in this programme but perhaps I’ll just select a few.
Hahn’s "A Chloris". When, many months ago, I accidentally discovered this was on the programme for A Touch of Venus, it was a song I’d never ever heard. After that it suddenly seemed to turn up all over the place — and the beauty of the song itself, coupled with the knowledge I’d eventually hear Yvonne sing it, have meant I’ve never once made it through dry-eyed. The first bars of the piano part begin and I’m gone. And being there tonight, at long last hearing her sing the song I’ve imagined in her voice all along, and exceeding every one of my imaginings, was a moment of utter bliss
Victoria Wood’s "Crush". I’ve long been a fan of Victoria Wood and especially her songs. I’d never heard "Crush" before however. The lyrics are here. Written with Victoria’s Northern accent in mind, Yvonne gives it instead a Sydney schoolgirl twang, a stroke of genius. But what makes it particularly striking is that she captures the emotion with such sweetness and such delicate perfection that the song is simultaneously hilarious and truly touching. A comedy song light years from her standard repertoire and yet it’s one of the most captivating moments of the evening. And what a treat to hear her for once with a rool Strine accent!
"O sleep, why dost thou leave me". Special for me in the first place as it comes from Semele, my first opera. Even more special because, juxtaposed with words on philandering from a nineteenth-century etiquette manual, she lifts it out of neoclassical mythology and creates a new and earthbound context, more personal and heartbreaking than anything your standard spoilt Semele could muster.
"La delaïssado" and "O waly waly", sung side by side with only the slightest pause between. If any one part of the programme stands on its own as a special creation in its own right, it’s this poignant scene. The shift from Occitan to English is barely noticeable and she sings with such exquisite beauty that Hamer Hall and everyone in it — indeed the whole world — fall away and there’s only her.
In honesty I could sit and write a paragraph (or several) about every single song I heard her sing tonight, and probably as much again about the texts interwoven with the music. But no, I’ll stop here. Enough now to say what I feel every day, what I write here often enough (too often perhaps) but which never stops being true and so bears repeating. In my life I’ve encountered few people so extraordinary. Her grace, her passion and her generosity inspire and uplift me always. She floors me, and I adore her.