I have always loved the idea of a late night cabaret show. Going to a small, classy bar with low lighting and candles on the tables; sitting and listening to a talented singer perform some of her most well-known songs, maybe a guest performance or two. There is something endearing about seeing a performer when they aren’t on a large West End stage, belting out well-known songs at the top of their lungs. The performer seems more human, stripped back and easier to relate to. Despite rising to musical fame as the unforgettable Eva Peron in Evita, Madalena Alberto seemed grounded and humble, which made this showcase all the more special.
Alberto’s set was well-structured between herself and musical director Alfonso Casado. The first half contained a combination of musical numbers that have shaped Alberto’s career to date, contrasted with some jazz standards that seem to have inspired Alberto and shaped her past. Opening a cappella with ‘Blues in the Night’ was a brave move and showcased the softer side of her voice. With some jazz slides and an occasional at the wink at the audience, it transformed me straightaway into the late night jazz cafés that I initially envisaged. From blues to Sondheim, ‘The Girls of Summer’ was breathy and sultry, with a trade-off between vocal technique and the passion behind the song.
After the softer blues tones of Alberto’s voice the performance moved to a back catalogue of some of her more typically musical numbers. In ‘Someone Like You’, taken from Jekyll and Hyde, Alberto proved that she can perform a tune and put power behind her words, but sometimes a bit too much. ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ also opened a cappella with heart and soul behind Alberto’s lyrics – being such a well-known musical though meant the smallest of mistakes were more exposed. Alberto powered through but lost some of the emotion in the latter half of the song, regaining it many times over in ‘On My Own.’
The medley from Evita was well arranged by Casado, with the up tempo ‘Buenos Aires’ transitioning seamlessly into the tender ‘I’d Be Surprisingly Good For You.’ Alberto added a human touch to medley when she compared the opening to ‘High Flying Adored’ to ‘Clocks’ by Coldplay. The return to ‘Buenos Aires’ brought the whole medley full circle and received rapturous applause.
My personal highlight of the first half was when Alberto was joined on stage by Ceili O’Connor and Sophie Evans for the first of the evening’s performances. All three singers had a beautiful blend of harmonies for ‘I Wish I May’, the song that closes the first half of The Witches of Eastwick. As one of my favourite songs, seeing it performed live was a special moment – smooth vocals filled with innocence and passion that didn’t overpower each other but created something much greater overall.
The second half of Alberto’s showcase was altogether more stripped back, more acoustic and more contemporary. Joined on stage by saxophonist Ed Parry, accordion player Zivorad Nikolic and percussionist Danny Rico, Alberto herself took the guitar and shared some original compositions with an eager audience. Her songs were varied in style – Spanish acoustic strumming mingled with Romani folk music; the lyrics were singer-songwriter in construction.
Some came over better than others – ‘Windbreaker’ was simple, honest and pure, whereas ‘Hispanic Feeling’ was intense, angry and highly rhythmical. The performance about love being a medical condition was overly soppy for my tastes; even Parry on sax seemed uncomfortable as he swayed along to the music. The piano arrangement if anything detracted from the lyrics here, which weren’t as inspired as some of her other compositions.
Then Alberto invited fellow thespian Jade Anouka on stage to translate a song she sang in her mother tongue of Portuguese and the whole audience fell silent. Alberto poured her heart and soul into the words as she sang about love and family, whilst Anouka translated with honesty, truth and a tone that was completely spellbinding. I won’t forget that moment for a long time; there was something truly special about those few minutes.
To end her performance Alberto performed her pièce de résistance, ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.’ She may have implored for her listeners not to shed a tear, but I decided to let my emotions run free here and dissolved into a puddle in my chair. Passionate, stoic, a vocal performance that put others to shame, she was nothing other than magnificent. Whilst there were some questionable moments, all in all Alberto delivered the performance that all knew she would – relaxed in person, not intense and wonderful in song.
For more information on upcoming performance by Madalena, see the Madalena Alberto website.. Photo by MadTear Productions.