Sabine DeVieilhe • Weill Recital Hall • January 17 2019

She took the stage and my first thought was, my goodness, she is absolutely terrified.  I had seen youtube videos with her and understood why she was hailed as a big deal and upcoming superstar. She is young, pretty, and has an exceptional voice and technique. But here, wearing a a seemingly elegant but not really becoming shoulder-and strap-free black dress, she seemed frozen, as if under unsurmountable pressure. She came across like a coy teenage girl in her first big concert, locked into a shell. Each song, entirely French and on the precious side, made me feel as if she was pleading for mercy. Her body was tight and stiff, hands held close to the body, shy smiles.  She never let go, never broke the ice.  Even in her bows, receiving the well-meaning, encouraging applause, her body seemed to want to run offstage in a panic. I wanted to comfort her, telling her that she was a gift, that she should allow herself to enjoy the moment and let us share in her joy, that this was a pay-off for her hard work, and not a chore. Easy for me to say. Still, it was painful to witness this, especially with someone as talented and promising. It didn’t help that this was at Weill Recital Hall, one of the worst rooms for vocalists, the dry acoustics beings such that any vibration is swallowed by the heavy drapes and carpet runner. Why don’t they do something about it?  

            The material was very demanding for a NY audience. Who advised her on this? There was not one moment where she stepped out of her shell, not one attempt to let loose and make contact. And yet, there were so many opportunities to do so, as in a “country song” that had some very naughty undertones in the lyrics, virtually implying a sexual romp, but alas, but she shied away from indicating it, if only for a tiny wink with her eyes, so subtle that only a French-speaking audience would pick up on it.  One song had her sing long Arabic melisma vocalises. I wanted her to move, use the stage for once, wishing I could telepathically tell her to turn around and sing directly into the open grand piano to finally make the room vibrate via the strings, but no such luck.  Her whole body showed a huge sense of relief when it was over, and I was utterly distraught after the concert, despite the generosity of the NY audience, as always shy about French culture. But how different it would have been if she had, in addition to her vocal artistry, showed French charm and insouciance, humor and confidence. I am convinced it’s there and that she was not encouraged to let it show or had not considered it as an option. Who will help her find those tools that can help her in such situtations? Who wants to see a performer who is showing how hard she is working? And if I feel that I am getting an ulcer just from watching her, how must it feel for her…  As Leontyne Price said in her masterclasses (related to me by Filip, who used to attend them, lucky him), Where is the joy?