Familiar faces welcome singer home

SONIA BEAL
Last updated 16:00 29/10/2012
James Rodgers
Derek Flynn
On tour: New York tenor James Rodgers and his wife and pianist, Jillian Zack have been enjoying the friendly atmosphere in Blenheim, where Rodgers grew up

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For New York-based tenor James Benjamin Rodgers, performing in front of a home crowd was hands-down "amazing".

Rodgers, 30, son of former Marlborough Boys' College principal John Rodgers, moved to New York in 2005 to further his singing career. He was in town to give a one-off concert tribute to composer Kurt Weill at St Andrew's Church in Blenheim on Friday night.

The performance was personal and uplifting, both because it was in his home town and it featured the works of the one composer he admired most, Rodgers said.

"Friday night was amazing - seeing people like Duncan Whiting, Brian McNamara and Con O'Brien, some of them who I've known since I was 10-years-old, and showing them what I've been up to.

"It was nice to see so many familiar faces and so many influential people who helped me get to where I am today."

Rodgers is nearing the end of a fleeting visit to New Zealand following performances in Blenheim, Wellington and Whanganui, accompanied by wife and pianist Jillian Zack, originally from Boston and a graduate of The Juilliard School in New York.

The couple were enjoying the laid back pace in New Zealand, which was somewhat of a change from the "crazy" pace of life in New York, Rodgers said.

"Essentially, you're dealing with about 8.5 million people. Everyone's an A-type personality there; everyone's trying to be the best - and there's just so many people.

"Everything takes longer, like buying a can of Coke. You come to Blenheim, and people are actually interested in you, they want to talk to you."

The concert, which Rodgers had spent the last year preparing for, interweaved renditions of Weill's music and stories from his life.

Part of Rodgers' affinity for Weill was due to his broad genre of musical arrangements, he said. Weill had been forced to flee Nazi Germany in 1933 and journeyed through Europe before settling in New York. He wrote music that fitted each place he lived, leaving him with a diverse repertoire of German, French, English and American musical compositions.

"When looking at genres, it's completely separate to what he started out doing - he started out doing Germanic operas, whereas later on he was doing Broadway musicals like Lady in the Park."

The musical was eventually turned into a film starring Ginger Rogers after Hollywood paid a then record sum for the rights.

Weill had also been incredibly adaptable and achieved greatness, despite having to uproot his life and start over time after time.

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- The Marlborough Express

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