The odd-couple pairing between the elderly man of 88 whom Frank Sinatra described as “the best singer in the business” and the young woman of 29 who once described herself as “the queen of the universe” isn’t as odd as it seems.
Both Anthony Benedetto and Stefani Germanotta are Italian-Americans from New York. If you scrunched up your eyes at the Royal Albert Hall — so that you couldn’t make out that Germanotta, aka Lady Gaga, was wearing a see-through scarlet dress with big knickers and burlesque nipple pasties — you might have been watching nonno and granddaughter singing together at a lavish family gathering.
Gaga’s translucent dress plus feathery stole, the most outré of her multiple costume changes, appeared for a brassy version of the 1928 standard “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby”, a big-band track from her and Bennett’s duets album Cheek to Cheek. The style couldn’t have been further from the ill-disciplined dance-pop of her usual music. But at the Albert Hall, in the pair’s first joint UK concert, a charity gala for WellChild, Gaga more than held her own with the last of the great crooners.
The twosome sang together and separately in a two-hour, 32-song set. Bennett was backed by his touring band for his solo numbers, while Gaga had her own musicians for hers. An orchestra also accompanied them.
Bennett, who performs on autopilot these days, cannibalised the routines and patter of his live show for his solo segments. But the ovation he received at the end of “How Do You Keep the Music Playing?” wasn’t merely sentimental. His voice was in extraordinarily good shape, luxuriously smooth in timbre, with deceptively casual phrasing and subtle changes in emphasis.
The duets were diverting, bookended by “Anything Goes” and “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)”, although the pair tended to sing alongside one another rather than as a dialogue. Gaga belted ’em out merrily but could twinkle-toe around the higher notes too. Her solo spots stole the show.
“Men are not a new sensation,” she sang in the Broadway showtune “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered”, punctuating the line with a wild trill of laughter and a sotto voce ad lib, “So unprofessional”, while eyeing up the Hammond organ player with a man-eater’s glare. On stage in the past she has come across as a stellar performer in need of decent songs. With the help of an ancestral elder, Tony Bennett, she has found them in the Great American Songbook.