We keep trying to expand our musical taste beyond opera and lieder; we have been only minimally successful in our attempt to relate to contemporary opera and song. So we did not have great expectation prior to our Saturday night venture--a cabaret performance at Joe's Pub, a very comfortable venue at the Public Theater. We did not even glance at the publicity. We believe art should speak for itself.
Well, we have nothing but admiration for an artists who can entrance us for an hour and a half by virtue of vocal and linguistic ability as well as stage presence. Berlin artist Katharine Mehrling richly deserved the standing ovation she got from her fans, an ovation which produced a second encore--"La Vie en Rose".
Let us begin with her stage presence. Ms. Mehrling illustrated the metaphor of "holding someone in the palm of her hand", but in this case it was the entire audience. It seemed to be an act of magic to unite all those people into a single unit, even getting people to sing along with her. Whatever she did seemed right in the moment, whether it was offering her wine to a lone man sitting ringside, tousling the hair of her pianist, blowing through a kazoo shaped like a mini-saxophone, or dancing around the stage.
The voice has an incredibly appealing quality, in spite of being amplified. She exhibited all the qualities we admire in an operatic recitalist, using phrasing and dynamics as well as gesture to get the song across. Our favorite moment occurred toward the end of the show, right in the middle of "Je regrette rien", when she put down the microphone for one enormously touching verse. We couldn't help wondering why the rest of the show was amplified. Her natural voice filled the room with beauty.
It seems to us that nowadays people have become accustomed to amplified sound--the louder the better. We noticed that the applause was the loudest when she sang like a pop star. We felt like a dinosaur because we treasured the quietest most intimate moments.
As far as linguistic ability, Ms. Mehrling sang in perfect French, superb Spanish, and barely accented English, as well as her native German. Regular readers have probably already guessed our preferences. When verses were performed in English translation next to the original language, it was always the latter which we felt on a deeper level. Diction was so good in every language that there was no problem understanding every word.
The programming had enough variety to suit everyone. She opened with the Brecht/Weill "That Old Bilbao Moon" in German and, whether she actually forgot the English lyrics or pretended to, it seemed to bring the audience together.
There was a sprinkling of engaging anecdotes about her hometown Berlin, especially about the Kit Kat Club, and climate change demonstrations. She mentioned that it is the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and that is surely something to celebrate.
She spoke about Marlena Dietrich and Edith Piaf, singing some of the songs they made famous like "I'm in Love Again...I Can't Help It". Please forgive us if we are not as familiar with these songs as we probably should be, but we certainly did enjoy hearing them.
We are familiar with "Padam, padam, padam" through our friend Kim David Smith who introduced us to cabaret several years ago.
There was a cute story about her admission to the USA as a "German alien with extraordinary abilities", one of which was her ability to yodel; the anecdote was followed by a yodeling song that left us speechless. Now that's one technique that opera singers don't have.
Ms. Mehrling is not only a cabaret artist but an actress as well, and also a composer and recording artist. She told us how she grew up in a room over her parents' musical saloon where she was exposed to all kinds of music; indeed one could hear strains of jazz and bebop in her eclectic performance.
A great recital often results in our pursuing knowledge of something and one of the songs Ms. Mehrling performed in Spanish was "Gracias a la Vida"; how could we not know that this was one of the most recorded songs in Latin America? It was written by renowned Chilean singer/songwriter Violeta Parra in 1966 as a charity single, recorded by Voces Unidas por Chile; Ms. Parra committed suicide a year later. We dare you to read the lyrics online without being moved to tears.
Ms. Mehrling received superb support from her pianist and bassist who were not mentioned in the press release, nor on her website. It's a pity because they added greatly to the performance
© meche kroop