A Triumphant Return:  Legendary Soprano Kathleen Battle sings The Metropolitan Opera House into a frenzy!

In what many described as an ‘out of the blue’ appearance, the glamorous soprano proved that she still has star power, packing the 3850-seat house with the most ardent of fans.


by Patrick D. McCoy



It was definitely a unique time for this welcomed return by soprano Kathleen Battle for a second time in concert to The Metropolitan Opera House. The Sunday recital fell on Mother’s Day, but that did not stop several thousand people from flocking to NYC to witness history being made.  In fact, it was more reason to attend as there were many who were there with their mothers or as a joyous musical comfort in the absence of.  The hall bustled with so much excitement and was packed to the rafters!  This was beyond a concert; it was a reunion of sorts!  From the glitterati of the Black Classical Music scene, to the loyal NYC fan base it was clear that Ms. Battle remains a beloved and celebrated artist in spite of her critics. It was not just a localized event.  Many travelled as far as Germany, London, Vancouver, Philadelphia and Washington, DC to get a first-hand account of the legendary soprano.
As harpist Bridget Kibbey and guitarist Chico Pinheiro meandered on the strains of Purcell’s “Music for A While” Ms. Battle appeared.  Greeted by a prolonged, roaring standing ovation, she took it all end and when she was ready, her voice filled the house in her hallmark repertoire that still fits like a glove. “O, sleep, why dost thou leave me” from Handel’s secular oratorio ‘Semele’ for which she won a Grammy drew the listener in like honey, pouring at its own pace. Ms. Battle took her time in every way, from her entrances, the way in which she created a sense of rubato that brought not only a feeling with her collaborators, but also had the audience hanging on every note!  And there was her exquisite rendering of Schubert lieder that was simply out of this world, especially the “Nacht und Träume” in which her voice glistened and effortlessly floated with remarkable clarity.
The French melodie, ‘Mandolin’ by Fauré and ‘S’i mes vers avavient’ by Hahn rounded out the first half.   The pristine estate of Ms. Battle’s voice was a true wonder.  The hall roared like a lion!!!!   It must be repeated in regard how beautiful she is.  What would this review be without a bit of commentary on her attire?   Ms. Battle was elegant in a black multi layered lace dress with her signature wrap: the first was a hue of bluish green (or turquoise). After intermission, she returned swapping out the first wrap with a purple one. The hall ate it up!!!! She could do no wrong! Even how she draped and readjusted her wrap to full effect accorded her rapturous applause!  But the star of the second in this regard were her change into a stunning red heel.  “Yes for these shoes!” a loyal fan from Detroit expressed outwardly.
This part of the program gave way for her younger colleagues to shine, but not before the gloves truly came off in the ‘Aria’ from Bachianas Brasileras by Villa-Lobos. The vocal lines spun like silver and wrapped the room. Her final note was so magical that the audience erupted before she could come to her cadence!  Harpist Bridget Kibbey arranged Bach’s famous showpiece for organ the Toccata and Fugue in D minor. Most people associated this work often with Halloween because of its dark tonality, but Kibbey brought an unexpected introspective take on the organ showpiece that allowed her to shine. Ms. Battle returned for what I consider a nod to her album “So Many Stars” with Latin gems by Obradors, Rodrigo, Ovalle, Silva and Texeira. This section was a sheer delight because there was an infectious joy that exuded between all three musicians.
The spiritual “Ain’t a that Good News” certainly was a crowd favorite, but her final selection on the printed program “Heaven is One Beautiful Place” was a musical testimony in itself. Unadorned by accompaniment, Ms. Battle’s voice enraptured the listener from start to finish. Singing from the core of her emotion, one could feel the pathos of the hall as she sang the line ‘Heaven is a place…where tears no longer flow.’ For many, this closing selection affirmed the reason that the house was full.  It was an opportunity in many ways, for healing and forgiveness for a place that once was a source of pain- now serving as the vehicle of deserved joy!
For an encore, she offered the a cappella spiritual “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”  Her voice blossomed with each phrase and before it was all over summoned the band of angels with seraphic delight.  Accorded ovation after ovation, Ms. Battle not only expressed appreciation to her collaborators of the evening, she also recognized Robert Sadin, her long time colleague who conceived the evening’s program.
This return of Ms. Battle to the Met was in many ways a homecoming.  It was a statement beyond just attending a ticketed event.  The musical score may have a double bar line, but there is another force that determines when something is over or not!  Brava to an extraordinary artist who has again outstayed her critics!

Arts Journalist Patrick D. McCoy presents Legendary soprano Kathleen Battle a bouquet of roses at the end of her 2024 Metropolitan Opera Concert.

Video:  Laquita Mitchell