Congress Center, Haifa
'A disgraceful performance!" shouted a man in the front row as Emma Shapplin closed her Thursday night performance in Haifa's Congress Center. The murmuring of other disappointed audience members during the long hike to the parking lot confirmed it: The well-hyped, expensive follow-up to Shapplin's "magical" 2003 Israel tour was a huge flop.
Back in October Shapplin told The Jerusalem Post that singing is "like breathing" for her. If that is the case, on Thursday she suffered an enormous asthma attack. Aside from obvious technical difficulties with microphones, etc., Shapplin was confused, forgetting words and musical phrases, once to the point of restarting a number twice and waving away the accompanist who was playing "a different arrangement."
Audience members expecting Shapplin's trademark gothic/operatic/pop sound - and that would be the majority of the median 50-year-old largely Russian group - were in for a shock. Shapplin's gone back to her "roots" and is now trying to market herself as a Frenchpopstar, sans opera, on her upcoming album Macadam Flower. However, numbers such as the thrice-played "Jealously yours" offer a standard rock band (guitar, bass, drums, keyboards), two black back-up singers (who wore an outfit reminiscent of the playing cards in Alice in Wonderland) and a morose dancer with an Andy Warhol wig. Solid, but utterly uninteresting.
The question is why? Why would Shapplin abandon her successful formula? And though she did perform tepid renditions of several of her past hits, why did she not perform the audience favorite, "La Notte Etterna"? And finally, why did Shapplin decide to perform a series of classical soprano arias when she was obviously under-prepared?
The answer to the last question eludes me, but I suspect Shapplin is simply not in vocal form and doesn't have enough technique to maintain her high coloratura soprano gimmick. "I don't take care of my voice in any major precautionary way," said Shapplin in October. "It's a part of my body, a part of myself. I try to know what I want and need to do with it in order to be able to perform."
In returning to more mundane pop, perhaps at 35, Mme. Shapplin is realizing she is not after all the next Maria Callas.