HER voice is unquestionably haunting, her lyrics often moving, the orchestration sweepingly sumptuous, so why wasn’t Mary Chapin Carpenter’s performance last night a spell-binding experience?
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Showcasing her latest album, Songs From the Movie, her first with a classical ensemble, MCC cuts a fragile figure on stage, hemmed in by the conductor’s dais, a music stand and a table with a vase of flowers like the kind of arrangement you see in an undertaker’s window.
As it turned out that wasn’t far off the mark.
The show opened strongly with a varied selection from the Elmer Bernstein score for To Kill a Mockingbird, but once Mary took the stage that was the end of variation, and indeed much joy, until the encore of her hit The Hard Way.
The pace and tone for the next hour rarely varied from funereal melancholy and an entire evening of almost unremitting gloom is hard to take for anyone but the most committed MCC fan. “I thought my tears wouldn’t stop but then I dried my eyes, And after all of this, the truth that holds me here, Is that this emptiness is something not to fear” she sang in Between here and Gone.
Then again six numbers later in Where Time Stands Still she’s not moved on: “And here we are with nothing, But this emptiness inside of us,” she reminds us. At one point she even tells the audience that “the next song takes off where the last one ended”. Too right it did, Mary. All of them.
Given the limitations of the material, Vince Mendoza has done a sterling job with the arrangements and the Festival Orchestra benefitted from his effortless conducting to produce very moving passages throughout.
MCC’s battle with depression is well-documented, but a handful of songs from the new album would have been enough to convey her feelings. The applause for the thankfully up-tempo encore proved the audience would have welcomed more from her extensive back catalogue to bring more light and shade to the night. Yes, Mary, your audience shared your pain.