The guests were Condoleeza Rice and Aretha Franklin. I don't know who would make such a connection between the two, but someone did.
Miss Rice, Condie came the shouts from around us, was elegant and played the most simple part of the most simple piano concerto that exists. She did not play as a professional, and might rather have played in someone's living room, but backed as she was by a major orchestra, performed competently, and made no big fuss. She had a large contingent of strident fans in the audience.
Miss Franklin sailed onto the stage as an ocean liner, her giant silver satin dress and coat breaking the non- existant waves before her. She looked as beautiful as she ever could. She was easy and made jokes for the crowd. She moves with grace, and large sweeping arm gestures.
Behind us were some women who were students and singers classically trained. They were excited to see the concert, and said so. There was plenty of time before the concert, and surrounding us were a lot of people, maybe 100 or so, all sitting on blankets on the lawn. It was almost cool,and no insects annoyed us. People were serving picnic dinners that ranged in complexity from full course meals, to wine, to water and a large bag of cherries. Everyone was excited but relaxed.
It was an unfortunate choice, but Aretha, instead of simply hiring back up singers, brought with her, a piano player, a synthesizer guy, and two women dressed in black and dangerously wielding tambourines. It seemed that there was also an electric bass and a guitar who were not part of the orchestra. There were still a good lot of the orchestra on stage, but against their will, the orchestra had to put up with sometimes playing with a CD in the background that added all the funky bits and backup singers.
What was left of the orchestra were stuck on the stage not playing for the better part of an hour.
I ask you; you get a world class orchestra to play behind you, and you make them sit still while you play a CD of the Blues Brothers ? Why not let them leave the stage? Why pretend? I will tell you, the orchestra members were really peeved. They are not old fuddy duddies, they like Aretha, the crowd loved Aretha, but that music switch was a major mistake.
And then... she tried to sing opera. Yes SHE DID! Oh baby, it was not good at all. Her voice is strong but failing in the slightest way, and several times she dropped her voice by an octave, just to get on with it.
By the end, we all felt badly for her. She was making those ear splitting sounds mostly related to Patti LaBelle, but not in key, and we were in misery. People in the audience were howling like dogs. I only hope that she did not hear them.
One of the women behind us crawled to speak into my ear, "I am classically trained, and this is not good!"
No, I replied. It is not good. The lawn crowd was dashing for the exits. The singer behind me left even though she needed to use a cane to do so, and she split so fast I did not even see it.
Then Aretha invited one of the Isley Brothers onstage. He was in his mid to late sixties, wearing a white suit. It was hard to tell if he came from backstage or the audience, and he was either not a fan of Streisand, or just did not know "They way we were", or could not get a note in. It was an odd choice, but we felt like she had a connection to this man in the past. People cheered wildly, ignoring the quality of the singing.
It was out of respect mostly.
THEN she announced that she would sing the National Anthem and we all stood up. And instead, she sang Our Country 'tis of Thee, and we all sat back down.
We waited by the stage entrance for our neighbor who was driving. The Orchestra members rushed out, clutching their instruments to their chests, lips tight, ears ringing.
We did the breakdown in the car, describing what we heard, and what she heard at the back of the stage behind the percussion instruments. By the end of the ride we were laughing a lot, enjoying the night, and the company.
We had a really good time.