Curtis Watson sings his thanksgiving
Michael Reckord, Gleaner Writer
Curtis Watson ... One day after the stroke, I woke up to find I couldn't talk ... couldn't sing. - Colin Hamilton/Freelance Photographer
Voice trembling with emotion, Curtis Watson said, "One day after the stroke, I woke up to find I couldn't talk … couldn't sing."
Watson, a musical director, conductor, music teacher, actor and opera singer - a man whose livelihood depends on his voice - was speaking to an audience at the Temple of Light Centre for Spiritual Living, Fairway Avenue, last Sunday.
He was in the closing minutes of his thanksgiving concert, a function serving both as an expression of gratitude for his continuing recovery from what he called "a devastating stroke" some 18 months ago and as a fund-raiser for his continuing treatment.
"This is an extremely special series of thanksgiving concerts, giving God thanks," he said. "They started in New York City last year. I'm leading a new life, really, after the stroke. I'm writing a book. Please continue to support the concerts. I'm going to continue them, for I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
He then launched into a touching rendition of his penultimate song, Dere's a Man Goin' Round Taking Names. Tears started to roll from his closed eyes and down his cheeks as, in the second verse, he revealed that the name-taking man was Death.
Poignancy was added to the moment when Watson's wife, Pauline, also an opera singer and teacher, joined him onstage and in the song.
The duet showed Watson as being open and vulnerable, but it did not show him as weak. Anyone who might have wondered if the singer was going to break down was quickly reassured by Watson's powerful, triumphant delivery of his closing song, the well-known spiritual Ride on King Jesus.
Like all the other songs in the concert, both songs were convincingly and sincerely performed, but the contrast in the strength of the singer in the two items had been evident earlier. On two occasions as Watson left the stage by means of a short staircase, he seemed to have a difficulty with one leg, and had to grip the banister tightly to make it up. Yet, on later occasions, he positively bounded up the stairs.
Further, while singing a rousing aria, Madamina, from Mozart's opera Don Giovanni, and clearly enjoying the amusing piece about the many loves of the nobleman, Watson experienced a memory failure and had to abandon the song.
"We got completely lost," he confessed to the audience.
This was a minor glitch in an otherwise excellent concert. It would not even have been noteworthy had the context not been a function of thanksgiving-for-recuperation.
Certainly, the concert began powerfully, with Watson's rich bass-baritone belting out "Why do the nations rage?" from the most famous oratorio in the world, Handel's Messiah. This was followed by two other items in the opening Oratorio Suite, Stradella's Pieta Signore (O Lord Have Mercy) and Allitsen's The Lord is My Light and My Salvation. The concert was divided into five other suites of songs, Opera Suite, Sacred Favourites Suite, Broadway Suite, Jamaican Folk Suite and Negro Spiritual Suite. It was a well-considered segmentation for it gave Watson an opportunity to show how versatile an artiste he is.
Apart from having the memory lapse ("These things happen in opera," he told the audience), Watson demonstrated, as he sang selections from Mozart, Verdi and Borodin, that he is a world-class opera singer. Of course, most of his audience would have known about his appearances on international stages and the many prizes he has won.
Having shown his worth with the operatic pieces, Watson surprised no one with the excellence of his delivery of easier items like The Lord's Prayer (Malotte) and The Holy City (Adams) as the two sacred favourites, or with popular Broadway songs like So In Love With You (Cole Porter) and Gershwin Bess' You is My Woman Now, which he sang with wife Pauline.
Watson noted that he would have wanted the two dozen red roses he usually distributed to the ladies in his audience as he sang one of his "war horses", the popular song Mona Lisa, but he was very effective without the flowers.
The three folk songs, Dry Weather House, Liza and Jamaica Farewell were real audience-pleasers - as the enthusiastic applause indicated. A standing ovation proved the concert as a whole was highly enjoyable. The excellence of the accompanists, Yanique Leiba-Ebanks and Clive Barber, added to the audience's pleasure.