A beautiful, resonant voice

Being Human Together
Anna Leese
Marama Hall
Wednesday, March 6

Dunedin is renowned for producing world-class musicians, especially singers, with many continuing to achieve notable success overseas. Soprano Anna Leese graduated from the University of Otago in 2003 with a bachelor of music with first-class honours, and went on to be widely recognised and respected internationally.

At 43, she is at present a teaching fellow at the University of Waikato, inspiring new generations of classical singers while completing her doctorate of musical arts (DMA). Yesterday at Marama Hall, Leese presented her final vocal DMA recital entitled Being Human Together.

International accompanist Prof Terence Dennis and musicians Tessa Peterson and Sam Merton (violin), Katrina Sharples (viola) and Heleen du Plessis (cello) accompanied. They began with two songs from Christchurch-based poet Ruby Solly’s Six Years (2024), set by Leese and Gillian Whitehead for soprano with string accompaniment. Incident (2024), a poem by Ursula Bethell, was set by Leese and Shamus Baker. These songs were very contemporary in style, and I personally found the accompaniments somewhat fragmented, although truly stylistic and particularly relevant to the text. Dennis, who played a big part in tutoring Leese (and indeed many others), interpreted the accompaniments with perfection.

Song cycle with piano accompaniment, Paper Wings (1997/2000) was the product of collaboration between Jake Heggie and Frederica von Stade.

Humour in the story-telling for Bedtime Story, Paper Wings, Mitten Smitten and A Route to the Ski was excellent, and as with all Leese’s deliveries, clarity of diction was paramount.

Embroidery Aria is a technically challenging masterpiece for lyric sopranos from the opera Peter Grimes by Benjamin Britten. Soaring phrases were conquered with impressive onsets, passion and conviction.

The final scene from Capriccio Op. 85 (1942) by Richard Strauss set in a chateau near Paris, continued to showcase Leese’s ability to convey emotion, although a detailed programme provided storyline. Such a beautiful, resonant voice, with seemingly effortless immaculate control and delivery.

Review by Elizabeth Bouman