Ana Moura’s performance at the Royal Opera House Muscat was a masterclass in how to deliver songs from the heart, says Georgina Benison.
The passing of Leonard Cohen last week only reminds us of how songs that conjure the range of human emotion, performed with world-weary melancholy, continue to resonate with us.
And there are few better exponents of how to simultaneously beguile and empathise with the listener than Ana Moura, the Portuguese Fado singer.
Moura’s performance to a sold-out auditorium at the Royal Opera House Muscat showcased a unique talent, and also a fresh take on the Portuguese song genre.
Fado means destiny or fate and is an intensely emotional style of singing, which originated in the small bodegas or cafes in early 19th-century Lisbon.
It is Portugal’s answer to the Blues, bemoaning the perils of the sea for fishermen and the hopelessness of poverty. Traditional lyrics reflect an overriding feeling of longing, loss and irreparable damage.
For her show, Moura brought with her five of the best musicians from that small Iberian country, resulting in a rock fusion with electronic influences.
The show opened with a haunting lone synthesiser melody played by Joao Gomes on a darkened stage. The effect was arresting, and put the mood firmly into the 21st century.
As the lights gradually went up, four other men in black were revealed, joining in with clear Hispanic rhythms – but with no singer in sight.
Suddenly a huge filmic projection appeared behind the band, of butterflies flitting across Moura’s portrait. She slipped on from stage right with a casual wave to the audience, microphone in hand, threw her head back and began to sing.
She has a smoky, strong voice, perfectly placed and impossibly sensuous.
Ana Moura is a singer with a compelling demeanour and is a performer to keep an eye on. Her slight figure clad in a slinky, black, sequinned and tassled dress, with her long brunette tresses falling around her expressive face, simply accentuate the poignancy of her songs
Yet Ana Moura fuses the melancholy Fado genre with contemporary ideas, Brazilian rhythms and dancing. Her incredible drummer, Mario Costa, enables this crossover with amazing dexterity.
Her second, lively song was accompanied by distorted vintage visuals of legs and feet dancing in a bygone era.
And the third song similarly had the joy of South American Tango and Samba underpinning her impassioned vocals.
There were many Portuguese speakers in the house that night, but for most of us the language was unfamiliar.
For me, the evening’s highlight came when the stage darkened again and just Ana and her Portuguese guitarist (or guitarra Portuguesa, with 12 steel strings) Angelo Freire, remained alone in a pool of light, which conjured up the smoky intimacy of the old Fados (Fado houses).
Ana’s silhouette could be seen sipping from a tall glass during an extended, breathtaking virtuoso solo by Freire, and then she sang, plummeting to the depths of despair in this plaintive and desperate Fado ballad. The suspense and illusion remained for two songs, and then the rest of the band came on again.
She announced that the next song had been created during a project with Mick Jagger in 2007, and she sang No Expectations in English then Portuguese.
Next, an instrumental set allowed each musician a chance to solo and develop their contribution to the performance in a 21st-century medium. Pedro Soares, on Spanish classical guitar, is a professional soloist in his own right, and Andre Moreira excels on an unusual 5-string bass.
The concert ended with her signature song, Desfado, and the audience went out into the night, clapping along with echoes of Moura’s distinct and memorable elegance.