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Concert Review:
Mariza at Carnegie Hall

With her outsized voice and fanciful gowns, it would seem that the Portuguese singer Mariza was pretty much born to be on stage, particularly the one at the large, gilded Carnegie Hall.

On November 21st, Mariza and a couple of guest musicians brought the old, traditional style of fado to life for several thousand audience members at Carnegie's Stern Auditorium. Mariza's particular gift is to be able to make the dramatic, often-melancholy fado accessible and even celebratory for a new generation of fans. Watching her perform, one got the sense that Mariza is as enthralled as the audience to be experiencing the poetry and deep emotion of the songs.

One thing that is immediately apparent at a Mariza concert is the contrast between the person and the persona. Between songs, Mariza talked to the audience - some explanation of the songs, some chit-chat - but she did so in a soft, humble tone, all the more surprising given her roof-rattling voice and super-diva costuming. While not all of her songs are sad, she inevitably lightens the ambience with her stage patter, even kidding audience members.

Still, the highlights of the concert are her almost-operatic flourishes and the stunning control she has of her vocal instrument. She regularly stuns at key moments with power belting, but she can also be just as compelling when she reins in her voice and sustains a word or phrase in a whisper.

Breaking up the roster of fado songs, Mariza sung a couple of Portuguese folk songs as well as "Beijo de Saudade," a Cape Verdean song from her latest album, "Terra."

In what seemed like an unlikely matchup, Afro-Peruvian singer Eva Ayllon appeared with Mariza, first doing a duet and then singing "Gracias A La Vida," which is associated with the recently deceased folk legend Mercedes Sosa.

In a slightly longer set, Mariza performed with Cuban jazz pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba. And, of course, what would a Portuguese singer and a Cuban pianist perform but three English-language standards? She performed the Charlie Chaplin-penned "Smile" (a bonus cut on the North American version of "Terra"), as well as a Spanish version of George Gershwin's "The Man I Love." They ended their set with the most unlikely, an austere remake of The Beatles' "Yesterday," with both performers exploring the inner workings and possibilities of the melody.

For her encore, Mariza performed without "these modern things" - microphones - standing next to three unmiked members of her band, singing a fado tune such as one might hear in an intimate Lisbon fado taverna, like the one in which she grew up.

After listening to a night filled with songs of lost love and nostalgic longing, one somewhat surprisingly felt uplifted, a tribute to Mariza's ability to engage listeners with the power of her voice and charismatic presence. - Marty Lipp

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