I should have known my luck would run out sometime. Front row seats are always a gamble. They're not considered the best seats in the house, so they're never the most expensive. But I like to be close. Usually it pays off - my second row seat for Don Giovanni was perfect - but Saturday night was different. As you may or may not have picked up, I headed off early yesterday morning for Timeless Land, a concert of contemporary New Zealand orchestral music, including Anthony Ritchie's piece of the same name. Not something I'd generally travel for but this one had three special words in its favour: "Soprano - Patricia Wright." Right then, have to see that. Except I couldn't. Her solo came in the third movement of 'Timeless Land' itself. There was a flash of black velvet as she entered and exited, but that was all - the soloist here is very much just another orchestral voice, and so she stood among the orchestra and was invisible to me.
But in fact she wasn't precisely invisible - the piece has a film component, which included Grahame Sydney paintings, film of the Maniototo and - thank god - the performers themselves, including soprano soloist. So most of the time when she was singing, I could see her - or at least, the two thirds of the screen not obscured by the conductor. From my front and smack-bang-centre position, though, the woman herself was entirely invisible. All I knew was which side of the stage she was on, and that only from where the sound was coming from. It was a slightly surreal experience, sitting there and realising it was quite possible that I would have come to Christchurch, and seen one of my favourite sopranos in the world perform live - and yet leave without really seeing her at all. Thankfully, however, at the end of the piece she took her bow at the front of stage, and so I did see the woman herself after all. And my front row seat did have its advantages in the end - ample legroom for one thing - and it's good once in while to have a chance to pay tribute literally at the feet of the goddess.
However in any case, it's not really about seeing one's adored soprano, is it. Is it. No. Voce, voce, voce. Dio, che voce. The richness and expressiveness which make Patricia so desperately gorgeous in opera and art song, are just what make the voice so ideal for music without a text as well. Take a beautiful but boring voice, give it this solo, and all you have left is meaningless sound, a vocalise and nothing more. But sung by a soprano such as this - are there any others such as this? - it's a different matter entirely. The voice is warm, sweet, radiantly beautiful. And it's a natural beauty too - nothing forced here, nothing artificial, just pure and lovely singing which, even pianissimo, enfolds and entrances its audience. When Patricia joins with the orchestra, she is the perfect soloist, gorgeous and distinctive yet still blended divinely as an instrument. An absolute knockout.
Which is why I (though others disagree) don't think I was out of my mind to make the trip. The fact is, hearing Patricia's solo was not actually the only thing I did in my day in Christchurch. But even if it had been - it was worth that much, and more. Not very long, no, but length is far from everything. A thing of beauty needn't last for hours and hours. Besides which, why on earth should I consider denying myself a chance to hear one of the singers I love best performing a piece I may never hear her sing again? Unlike with other sopranos, I can't fill my life with a thousand recordings - I have seven Patricia Wright recordings and so far that's almost all there is (all I need is the Bridge Songs which are nowhere). I need to see her live and for once I live in the right country, so that doing so is not only possible but easy as well. What's a trip to Christchurch, really? Nothing at all, especially considering the payoff.
It gets even better at the end of the month, though. Another trip to Christchurch, more Patricia, but this time a full-blown concert. Canteloube (sigh) and Golijov (bigger sigh). And sitting a few rows further back, too. Oh, the bliss which awaits me.