Sir Willard White
NTU Hall, Nottingham
October 18 2022
Review: William Ruff
Willard White and his long-matured Christmas cake of a voice
Operatic voices don’t come much bigger, richer or deeper than Sir Willard White’s. And this is still true of a singer who has recently celebrated his 76th birthday. If there is any wear and tear after half a century of being at the top of his game, it certainly wasn’t visible or audible in the NTU Hall on Tuesday evening.
He started his programme with three opera arias. The first came from Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra, an opera notorious for having the most convoluted plot in the repertoire. Luckily Sir Willard didn’t attempt to explain it, concentrating instead on wringing every drop of emotion from Fiesco’s lament for his dead granddaughter, Maria. It’s a piece that starts fiercely but soon turns lyrical as he imagines her newly arrived in heaven and implores her to pray for him. It’s not music which can be attempted with anything less than full commitment – so it’s no wonder that Sir Willard mopped his brow and reached for his water supply afterwards.
The second aria (from Wagner’s Tannhäuser) carries a similar emotional punch and again needed the Willard White treatment to stop it becoming too sentimental (another woman has disappeared up a path to heaven…). After these two tear-jerking numbers Mephistopheles’ song from Berlioz’ The Damnation of Faust came as relatively light (albeit splendidly devilish) relief. And these were followed by the Schubert song which first set Sir Willard on the path to operatic success. He first sang ‘To Sylvia’ as a teenager at his school music festival, having been discovered by his keen-eared music teacher as a lad of promise. He hasn’t looked back.
The second half of his programme consisted of lighter numbers: Cole Porter’s ‘Blow Gabriel Blow’, ‘If I Were a Rich Man’ from Fiddler on the Roof as well as numbers from Carousel and South Pacific. He found room too for a very silly, animal-noises song by Aaron Copland (‘I Got Me a Cat’) before ending with two well-known numbers from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess.
Tim Lole was the highly responsive, almost telepathic piano accompanist throughout the evening. Tim was also the composer of a highly stirring setting of Walt Whitman’s Lincoln-inspired ‘O Captain! My Captain!’, skilfully paced, rising to a thrilling climax and perfectly moulded to Willard White’s voice.
The ovation which greeted the end of the recital was almost as heroic in scale as the performance had been. When an encore was demanded, Sir Willard and Tim Lole were only too happy to oblige. ‘My Way’ may sound like a musical cliché– but here as in everything else, Willard White’s sincerity, dramatic conviction and (above all) long-matured Christmas cake of a voice, made it the only possible way to end. The audience loved it.
Sir Willard White, bass-baritone
Tim Lole, piano