Over the past 19 years spring has been heralded in the North East not just by daffodils but by a musical Cornish contingent flying in.
Suzanne Manuell’s spring concert in the Banqueting Hall is a spin-off from the George Walker Last Night of the Proms, the cancer charity fundraiser organised by Rosalynde Walker at the City Hall.
This is a more intimate affair – just the engaging soprano, her brilliant accompanist Anthony Seddon and a guest.
The guests are always good but Saturday saw Darren Jeffrey’s first Newcastle appearance and he was a revelation. The bass-baritone – not Cornish but based there – apparently made his professional debut, straight out of college, with a small role alongside Pavarotti at Covent Garden. He was too modest to share that with the audience but the others let it slip at the end.
A wonderful, resonant voice matched with an expressive face and a genial manner suggested a real star. The programme confirmed this, informing us he has performed over 15 roles with the Royal Opera, is well known for major roles at English National Opera and has received two Grammy awards for recordings of Falstaff and Billy Budd.
He and Suzanne made a wonderful on-stage couple, performing sprightly duets from opera and musical theatre.
But alone they also shone. Jeffrey sang Ol’ Man River and a couple of songs by John Ireland, including the evergreen Sea-Fever, while Suzanne gave us a taste of Verdi’s Aida. She has the title role in Dorset Opera Festival’s 40th anniversary production coming up in July. At 50 (and I’m letting no secrets slip there since she announced it to all present), the voice is better than it has ever been. Indeed, this is the best of these concerts I can remember and that is saying something.
Meanwhile tickets are also on sale for other concerts to raise money for the charity Nepac (North East Promenaders Against Cancer).
Violinist Bradley Creswick and friends will entertain at the Excelsior Social Club, Westehope, on June 20 (Tickets: 0191 286 0759). Then what appears to be the last – and will certainly be the 25th – Last Night of the Proms will raise the City Hall roof on October 18 (0191 277 8030).