BYBLOS: Renowned opera singer Barbara Hendricks performed an exceedingly polished concert on Sunday night, backed up by the Magnus Lindgren Jazz Quartet on a stage tucked into an old crusader castle in the port city of Byblos. The second of five concerts lined up for the Byblos International Festival, Hendricks' show sparkled like the stones of her elegant, bejeweled black evening gown.
Born in Arkansas and trained at the prestigious Juilliard School of Music in New York, Hendricks has developed an extensive operatic repertoire and has graced the stages of the Paris Opera, La Scala, Covent Garden and the Metropolitan Opera House.
On Sunday, however, she coursed methodically through a program of blues standards, including Billie Holiday's "Lady Sings the Blues," Louis Armstrong's "Basin Street Blues," Bessie Smith's "Down Hearted Blues," George Gershwin's "Summertime," and more.
Accompanied by Mathias Algotsson on piano, Fredrik Jonsson on bass, Jonas Holgersson on drums and bandleader Magnus Lindgren on saxophone, clarinet and flute, Hendricks tweaked each song with upwardly mobile arias, effectively pulling the blues up from the depths of the gut and into the middle regions of the chest and head.
The first words Hendricks sang on the Byblos stage Sunday were: "The blues ain't nothin' but a pain in your heart." As clean a concert as it was, the pain alluded to in those lyrics - originally made tangible by Billie Holiday's sultry, scratchy intonations - may be precisely what was missing from the music all night.
The Byblos Festival is to be credited for putting on such a smooth show. But there was a marked absence of edge or grit on Sunday, as if the lower, dirtier regions of the emotional register that is the blues had been wiped clean. To be sure, Hendricks performed beautifully. But singing the blues in an operatic style turns into a one-trick pony pretty quickly.