Review: kd wows NAC Gala audience with trip down memory lang

kd lang. Photo: Jeff Heiden

The album Ingénue was released 25 years ago. The artist whose vision created the record, kd lang, emerged onto the world stage as a fully fledged star with its release.

The woman from Consort, Alberta, who defined what became known as cow punk, had stomped onto the Canadian music scene in the mid-1980s as a comic force of nature. She was, after all, the gal who wore a bridal gown to a JUNO awards show in 1985 where she won most promising young artist. The dress was on display in the NAC lobby Saturday night where lang was performing during the annual NAC Gala. The channeling of Patsy Cline and the out-sized persona aside, it was also evident immediately that her mezzo-soprano voice was something special.

That voice was on full display in Southam Hall during a bravura performance at the annual NAC Gala. It’s a little wiser, smokier perhaps, but full of range and power and the emotional content that is really her signature.

kd lang in Southam Hall. Photo: Ernesto di Stefano

Lang is older and more worldly. She even self-deprecatingly referred to herself as a senior citizen (not quite, she’s 55), but she has, in no way, lost her sense of fun on stage, striding onto the black floor of the Southam stage in a black suit, open collar white shirt and bare feet.

Lang is currently touring Canada for the first time in more than a decade and her show features the music of Ingénue, which has held up as well as Lang’s voice. The songs remain intelligent, musically complex and interesting and the biggest hits Constant Craving and Miss Chatelaine have a lock on a place in the Great Canadian Songbook. These latter two songs were two of the night’s real highlights.

She will perform again Sunday night in the same hall.

The evening ended, save an encore, with three amazing interpretations of tunes by three great Canadian songwriters. She sang Joni Mitchell’s Help Me, Neil Young’s Helpless and, of course, a version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, a song, now very much associated with her and that she sang during the opening ceremony of the Vancouver Olympics.

This tour is very much of a very public tip of the cap to Canada by lang, who quipped at one point about everybody wanting to be Canadian in this year of The Donald.

The annual Gala also features a performance by the NAC Orchestra and they delivered with their usual professionalism. They played bits from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro and the Allegro from Dvorak’s New World Symphony, which was a set piece during this past spring’s tour of Atlantic Canada.

Alexander Shelley conducts NACO while Kalolin Johnson sings. Photo: Ernesto di Stefano

Another performer from that tour was Kalolin Johnson, a young singer from the Eskasoni First Nation, the home of the Mi’kmaw poet laureate Rita Joe, who sang the We Shall Remain, written for the tour.

Rita Joe’s I Lost My Talk was the inspiration for a new piece of Canadian music by John Estacio and  commissioned by the NAC and was part of the Life Reflected series of compositions that the orchestra will take to Western Canada this October. I Lost My Talk also features choreography by Santee Smith and a film by Barbara Willis-Sweete.

Saturday night’s Gala raised $747,000 for the National Youth and Education Trust which supports NAC arts and education programs across the country. Over the past 21 years, the Gala has raised more than $13 million. The Trust also supports masterclasses, online activities and youth programming for dance and theatre and donates tickets to children who can’t afford to attend performances at the NAC.

The Gala’s honorary chair is Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau who put in an appearance at the podium Saturday night. She is the fourth prime minister’s wife to serve in the position after Laureen Harper, Sheila Martin and Aline Chrétien.

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.