Music Review: French soprano Emma Shapplin in Tel Aviv

It’s possible that Friday’s performance was just a warm-up for the weekend, as Shapplin played another sold out concert Saturday.

April 27, 2019 20:16
3 minute read.
Music Review: French soprano Emma Shapplin in Tel Aviv

Emma Shapplin. (photo credit: SIVAN FARAG)

French soprano, Emma Shapplin, has an undeniable talent, but unfortunately her Tel Aviv concert was more of a dress rehearsal. Her vocals sent chills down the spines of the audience, but a lack of coordination between herself and the conductor, lead guitarist and chorus was painful to be a part of.

Singing a unique genre, which blends opera with rock and pop notes, Shapplin performed a 90-minute set at Habima Friday afternoon, April 26 — for a packed house. There wasn’t a seat available, that is, until some concert-goers exited the auditorium mid-show after Israeli pop icon Idan Raichel finished his feature set.

At the onset of the show, Shapplin announced she would be trying new things; that was an understatement. After each song, Shapplin turned her back to the audience to confirm which would be the next. Was this her first time on stage? Or was it technical difficulties that had thrown cold water on her confidence? During the first few songs it seemed Shapplin was competing with her chorus to be heard through her microphone. The band was too loud — perhaps for the better. The instruments made the show an experience. A key factor was the drummer, who added flavor to every work.

The duets were a highlight: Shapplin and Raichel sang four pieces together, including Spent le Stelle, Mikol, The Hours on the Fields and Im Telech. Shapplin showed off her worldliness by performing songs with Raichel in Hebrew and English, but couldn’t help herself from making confused faces as she tripped over Hebrew words she didn’t recognize while reading off her lyrics sheet. Shapplin belted out songs mainly in Italian, but also performed in Latin and Spanish.

The best song was “Spente le Stelle,” performed with Raichel in front of a starry backdrop, which was appropriate, since the song transported the audience to another world. It was superb. The two singers complemented each other as they took us to a new place — that is if you could get over Shapplin’s twisted facial expressions that were amplified for the crowd on two screens mounted above the stage. Raichel seemed to be guiding Shapplin, at least in the beginning, offering her encouraging looks and head nods. By the end, however, the two gazed at each other lovingly as Raichel enthralled the venue with his heavenly singing voice and piano expertise.

Shapplin looked striking, wearing an edgy solitary long-hanging earring in one ear and a simple post in the other. She had two “quick changes,” which took ages. Both outfits were beautiful black gowns, that dropped down from her thin frame. But the costume switches and the long moments (or ten) between songs were inappropriate. One woman questioned “Ma akshav?” or “What now?” in Hebrew while we waited for Shapplin to return to the stage (on multiple occasions). Her chorus and band did their best to entertain in between. At one point, a random man in a black baseball cap seated himself at the piano and played a song that couldn’t seem to be found on the set list. The audience clapped for him out of pure discomfort.

The singer’s speaking voice was mousy and hushed, which served as a staunch surprise in comparison to her bold delivery. When she thanked the crowd in Hebrew, everyone clapped in excitement and she later stated that she is “always happy to come back to Tel Aviv and Israel” and that it was “a real pleasure.” That sentiment would have come across better had she rehearsed, instead of treating Tel Aviv like a run-through.

Shapplin officially ended the concert, somewhat abruptly with a lovely number called Cuor Senza Sangue, which she performed in Spanish. She only announced it was the last number after she finished, and then awkwardly back-stepped off the stage. The crowd clapped in unison, calling for an encore. After some time, she returned and asked what people wanted to hear for it. This was a dreadful experience. Audience members shouted out song suggestions, but she turned down three of them, promising to sing those ones next time. Finally, she performed a song she had already played during the set.

It’s possible that Friday’s performance was just a warm-up for the weekend, as Shapplin played another sold out concert Saturday and performed again Sunday. Shapplin returns to Israel for more May 12th.

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