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MUSINGS OF A MEANDERING MIND #22 (article first published : 2006-09-12)

As I write this it’s almost the beginning of September, supposedly the beginning of Spring, but you wouldn’t believe it from the chilly gale blowing in Durban this morning!

Had to pop along to my nearest shopping mall for a quick mid-week stock-up and was delighted to hear the strains of Rustle of Spring as I stepped onto the elevator – a sure sign that dear old Barry Carbis was tickling the ivories of the grand piano as he does each Wednesday and Friday morning at Windermere Centre. I first espied this lovable old-fashioned gent about a year ago, on which occasion I went up to whisper in his ear, “Do you know Rustle of Spring? My dad always played it when I was a child” – and ever since, each time he spots me bustling about with my shopping bags he bursts into this gorgeous piece of music, and it never fails tomake my day.

But THESE days my heart pounds with joy at the sounds of a Russell of a different ilk – and that’s the extremely talented British tenor, Russell Watson. I first became aware of his emergence onto the musical scene when dear Uncle Frank over there in London sent me one of those marvellous little freebies that are evidently inserted into the Sunday newspapers from time to time – on this occasion a CD containing a medley of favourite classics, one of which was Panis Angelicus, which I had learned in the choir in High School. The voice was that of Russell Watson and I sat up and thought to myself, Hello! This fellow’s really good! In my next letter to Uncle Frank, in which I thanked him for the delightful surprise, I sang the praises of this tenor, and the next A5 envelope to hit my letter-box from London contained several newspaper clippings extolling the man’s talent and how he came to be discovered.

Born in 1974, Russell Watson became an opera singer by a freak occurrence. This young man from Salford, North West England, was once just a kid charged with putting nuts and bolts in a machine in a factory but is now singing with the likes of the Royal Philharmonic. He’s the singer of whom one newspaper critic wrote he’d never be successful until he received formal classical musical training – and THAT notice appeared in print the same day his first album went double platinum!

It was while he was regularly singing in bars and clubs in the Manchester and London suburbs that an owner of one such venue told Watson he thought his voice was better suited for opera, and requested that he learn Puccini’s Nessun Dorma, which he did, and promptly added it to his set. Watson eventually signed with Decca Records, issuing his debut album, The Voice, in April 2001.

Nicknamed The People’s Tenor (since he likes to chat with and seek feedback from his fans), Watson seems poised to convert more than a few opera naysayers as he covers, in addition to many standards, such contemporary compositions as Freddie Mercury’s Barcelona (Friends Until The End), Ultravox’s Vienna, and Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water.

It is written that Watson’s voice coach, William Hayward, does not hesitate to call this man’s voice unique and with no qualifying adjectives! It’s worth noting that Watson has performed on the same stage as his idol, Pavarotti, and in front of the 43rd President of the United States.

While doing a lot of singing in Italy, essentially the home of opera, he also did a lot of TV, and the first show he did was, he says, “the equivalent of the National Lottery in the UK, except for the fact there were about 500 people sat in an amphitheatre. I felt like Spartacus going into the arena.” He continues, “I was singing Nessun Dorma and was thinking, I hope I get the words right, but at the first high section the audience started applauding and cheering. I finished the piece and the whole place was on their feet. I felt like I had conquered Italy – Veni, vidi, vici.”

Ironically, I’ve only very recently acquired his first album, The Voice, after already getting my hands on its follow-up, The Voice – Encore, and then Amore Musica, and I’d be hard pressed to say which of the three is my favourite – but all three are superb vehicles to showcase the man’s versatility and range.

The first time I put Amore Musica into the CD player I was instantly transported to a totally different stratosphere from the opening bars of the title track, and an even greater delight was Track 2, which I discovered was an Italian version (Magia Sara) of a number performed by my hero, Greek tenor Mario Frangoulis, which he simply calls Dance.

Russell also gives a stirring rendition of the Lovland/Graham piece popularised by Josh Groban, You Raise Me Up. Then there’s a superb duet with Lara Fabian titled The Alchemist, a superb blending of voices with contemporary singer, Lionel Richie, called The Magic Of Love, also a beautiful interpretation of that well-known Mario Lanza standard, I’ll Walk With God from The Student Prince. He does a fine job, too, with various beautiful movie theme songs as well as old favourites such as O Sole Mio and Volare.

So there really is something for every age and every taste of any music lover on each of these three albums, and I cannot WAIT for further albums to reach these shores by this talented singer to add to my collection. - Bev Pule




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