The Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, London played host to the newest outdoor concert series to hit the UK recently. ‘Greenwich Music Time’ took place from the 20th to the 23rd of August and featured such headline acts as The Australian Pink Floyd, Goldfrapp, Jules Holland and the concert I attended; Russell Watson with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, as their “Proms on the Thames” show.
The Old Royal Naval College is the architectural centrepiece of Maritime Greenwich. The venue itself was used in smash-hit movies such as Les Miserable and, most recently, in Thor 2: The Dark World. The stage backed onto the River Thames and gave a spectacular view of the central London skyline. This idyllic setting was perfect for a night of top quality music and, on Friday the 22nd of August, that is precisely what we received.
The Concert: ‘Proms on the Thames’ – Russell Watson & Guests
Robert Emery helmed the impressive 32-piece orchestra courtesy of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. He strutted onto the stage with confidence and a certain arrogance that you become accustomed to from a world-class conductor. He warmed up both the crowd and the musicians alike, before welcoming the star attraction to the stage, Mr Russell Watson. ‘The People’s Tenor’, as he has been dubbed, arrived on stage with a bang to kick-start our night of classical music; songs from the musicals and the standards. From the opening notes of West Side Story’s seminal classic, “Somewhere (There’s a Place for Us)”, we knew what was in store. The man’s voice was nothing short of phenomenal.
Following this up with “Ave Maria”, the audience was hooked. You could hear a pin drop – and unfortunately, every late comer arrive. The New York Times described Watson as a singer ‘who sings like Pavarotti and entertains like Sinatra’ and it is a spot-on description. His wit and down to earth demeanour shine through in his interactions with the audience. This is a man who is grateful for every fan and he makes sure that he shows that appreciation to every audience member in attendance. He regaled us with many funny anecdotes but none as entertaining as his journey that day from this previous show in Scotland. As a result of a cacophony of errors (building site outside his hotel and a major accident on the M25), Russell had no sleep and arrived to the venue just in time to walk out on stage. This meant that he had no sound check with the orchestra, which makes his voice and the cohesion he had with all the musicians that bit more spectacular. Credit for this feat has to land with composer, Robert Emery, who controlled the orchestra like the proverbial maestro. Whilst at all times he was checking for Russell’s cues, not one note was dropped throughout. After an amazing instrumental rendition of ‘Phantom of the Opera’ it was time for the first of the two special guests; X-Factor alumni, Rhydian.
The first thing you notice from this Welsh Baritone is his minuscule size which contrasts greatly against his immense voice. Rhydian was on stage sporadically all throughout the night, never staying for more than a song at a time. He performed a blistering rendition of ‘Toreador’ from Carmen, with the speed, diction and power of someone well past his years. The stage presence of this man is something to behold, dragging your attention away from the orchestra whilst stamping around the stage like a Shetland pony. The undoubted highlight of Rhydian’s performance was his duet with Russell – performing the Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé song ‘Barcelona’. An incredible rendition of an incredible song made even more impressive by the fact that this was their first time ever singing the song together (as a direct result of the aforementioned delays). Again, not a note was dropped and their voices suited each other perfectly, which is strange for a song usually performed with a soprano.
The second of Russell’s special guests came in the form of the exceptionally talented, West-End superstar Kerry Ellis. After playing the character Meat in Ben Elton’s We Will Rock You, Kerry’s career has gone from strength to strength. A multi-award winner for her portrayal of Elphaba in both the West-End and Broadway iterations of Wicked, she has also appeared in Les Miserable and RENT. She is currently on tour with Brian May of Queen fame. Kerry is able to transition from being softly spoken to projevcting a powerful roar at the drop of a hat. Her vocal range is something to behold and her rendition of the Queen classic ‘No One But You’ (the tribute song to late lead singer Freddie Mercury) was nothing short of breathtaking. It could bring a tear to a grown man’s eye and was the undoubted highlight of the night.
It was clear that Russell Watson was having the time of his life on that stage but there was no bigger glint in his eye when he got to perform some songs from Les Miserable. As discussed, the Old Royal Naval College was used as a few settings for the movie version of this world-famous musical and has always been a firm favourite of Mr Watson. Russell actually recorded a new album in 2013 with Les Mis composer Claude Michel Schonberg and lyricist Alain Boublil, so naturally, his love for the source material completely shone through in his performance.
“I have always loved Les Miserable, so it was a dream come true to be working with Claude and Alain on my last album. Now to be able to perform their music as part of this amazing evening on the bank of the Thames, especially where scenes from the hit film was recorded is a huge privilege. I am also delighted to have two great voices Kerry and Rhydian sharing the stage with me.”
The night was drawn to a close with the usual pomp and circumstance one would expect at ‘Proms’ concerts – mini Union Jacks at the ready as everyone blasts out a rendition of ‘Rule Britannia’ and ‘God Save the Queen’
The talent on display this night, from the conductor to the orchestra to the singers on stage was colossal. A thoroughly enjoyable night, set in an incredibly impressive venue with a spectacular backdrop.