Rachel Fenlon is aa unusual talent. She’s equally skilled as a soprano and as a pianist and she has combined those talents to create an evolving show called Fenlon and Fenlon where she sings (mostly) art song while accompanying herself on piano. I saw a very early version of the show in Toronto back in 2016. Last night there was a chance to see Rachel again; streamed from Berlin by Against the Grain as part of the Opera Pub series.
It was quite different from the thematically linked Schubert show of four years ago. It kicked off with Debussy and excerpts from Ariettes oubliées then moved on to John Cage’s Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs drawn from Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake. The accompaniment here is all extended piano technique which takes the F^2 concept to a whole new level!
There was (of course) Schubert; the Liebesbotschaft with some interpolated Lisztiness, a fascinating Who is Silvia? (auf Englisch) and the fiendish Zuleika I which is a challenge to sing or play, let alone both. There was also an aria from Puccini’s La Rondine.
It’s a fun way to experience the music. Rachel is a very decent singer and a really good pianist and above all a thoughtful and creative musician. Last night was full of little “I thought I might just try this” moments that were great fun and very valid ways of exploring the songs.
The music was interspersed with conversation between David Eliakis and Rachel. I found the most interesting bit her observations on how polarising her approach is in Germany.. Apparently the “modern stuff” is quite well received but there’s a section of the audience that regards her approach to the 19th century art song giants as entirely stake worthy. I like my traditional Liederabend as much as most folks but if someone is going to try to be different I’m much more attracted to what Rachel does than to slipping in some Rodgers and Hammerstein or Leonard Cohen. Chacun à son gout!
The whole show is available for your viewing pleasure on AtG’s Youtube channel.