Cabaret filled with character and colour

"The Book of Love is long and boring," Patricia O'Callaghan sang with the KSO on the weekend, opening twin-concert performances that were anything but - with a quirky line from a Magnetic Fields number.

The Toronto-based soprano charmed audiences with music of the cabaret genre - music filled with pathos, passion and comic personality - easily moving between French, English and Spanish lyrics while incorporating songs of German influence as well.

O'Callaghan's varied repertoire brought such vivid colours to the stage that she could have been randomly plucking characters from some great novel.

With her vocal dynamism and aplomb, audiences might not have realized that the guest artist's program for orchestra is relatively new. Many of the songs, however, are classics and familiar to the ear - Tom Waits' lover's lament, The Briar and the Rose, Edith Piaf's La Vie en Rose and Leonard Cohen's I'm Your Man.

"It's nice to have an orchestra behind you," she said, being more accustomed to just piano and bass accompaniment.

A mid-sized group of 33 instrumentalists backed her and performed on its own three orchestral selections from the Brideshead Revisited score.

The singer let her own personality flow with the music, changing outfits to reflect her themes and returning to the stage barefoot for the second half of the show.

She also shared the true-to-life romance behind her sole original composition in the program, simply called Love Song, Fall, 2001. O'Callaghan first met her future husband, an Australian, that year. The day after he returned Down Under, 9/11 exploded. They called each other in mutual support and never put the phone down.

The final orchestral number of the night was as exotic as some of O'Callaghan's selections. Ocho por Radio (meaning "eight for radio") was written in 1933 by the Silvestre Revueltas, the "Mexican Stravinsky," explained music director Bruce Dunn. A chamber ensemble of eight musicians performed the piece, which moves back and forth between Mexican folk and European styles.

O'Callaghan capped the evening with a classical rendition of Cohen's Hallelujah, which brought a standing ovation but, alas, no encore.

A wonderfully moving and tender closing, true to the form, but Mon Manege a moi (another song popularized by Piaf), performed earlier in the program, would have lent more spring, less winter to the parting mood.

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