La Bohème Puccini Directed by Mario Bellanova
The Flour Shed, Harts Mill Complex Port Adelaide 8-10 December
Co-Opera Intermezzo Series
This is the fourth opera in Co-Opera’s Intermezzo series, and it does them proud. For this production the singers were prepared, over the course of a year, by Mario Bellanova, and they benefited from his many years experience singing and directing opera in Europe. I have seldom heard Italian sung by non-Italians with such clear diction and obvious deep knowledge of the libretto. Puccini’s music matches every word, every syllable in fact, so while the orchestra and voices are important, equally so are the words.
Being a means to train young singers on the cusp of a professional career the roles were alternated. On the night I was there Grace Bawden sang the role of Mimi, Branko Lovrinov sang Rodolfo and Alexandra Scott sang Musetta, and Daniel Smerdon sang Marcello. Schaunard was sung by James Moffatt, Colline by Daniel Goodburn and the hapless roles of Benoit and Alcindoro were sung by Peter Deane.
The Flour Shed is what is says, a shed, so the production was arranged on a makeshift stage, with the orchestra to one side, and the chorus seated next to them. Co-Opera is well used to performing under such conditions, and the opera lost nothing by being in a theatrically limited venue. The attic where the Bohemians lived and worked, froze in winter, and often went hungry was created with a minimum of props, but they used their space well. Having seen many performances of this opera it was the first time I was not irritated by the antics that begin the final act, and for this I think Mario Bellanova should take a bow.
Norbert Hohl, who was also to sing the tenor role fell ill, and one can imagine how frustrating and disappointing that must have been. Branko Lovrinov took the challenge of extra performances, and apart from some strain in his voice towards the end, he sang with a fine tenor voice, robust and strong, especially in the upper register. He is a singer who has developed wonderfully over the last few years. Grace Bawden seemed slightly tentative at first but soon warmed to the role as Mimi. Her singing of Donde Lieta was outstanding. Alexandra Scott sang and acted Musetta with style, but I would have liked less vibrato. Daniel Smerdon as Marcello completed this quartet of lovers. He created a strong presence on stage, matching the bravado of Rodolfo, as well as reacting to the provocations served by Musetta.
While the first two acts are obviously important they also lay the foundation for the drama and pathos of the final two acts where emotion is heightened, and brought to a climax in the final few bars as Mimi dies, and Rodolfo cries out his despair, augmented by the orchestra. Puccini knew exactly what he was doing. These final two acts were strong and effective. There may have been a dry eye in the audience, but there are many teary ones as well.
All other roles were well served. The small orchestra, conducted by Brian Chatterton, was excellent, and offered great support to the singers. Without any government assistance Co-Opera continues to give singers these opportunities, and to give audiences much pleasure. More strength to their arm!
The Conspirators by Vaclav Havel
Red Phoenix Theatre – Holden Street Theatres November 2-11
Politics is a variation on the theme of the Theatre of the Absurd, as The Conspirators amply demonstrates. Czech writer Vaclav Havel wrote this play at a time when his country was desperate to free itself from the yoke of Soviet Russia. Havel was a key player in the 1989 Velvet Revolution and eventually became president of Czechoslavakia in 1993. The Conspirators was written in 1971, while he was in prison, long before the revolution against Soviet occupation succeeded. It is important to realise this when watching the first act of the play where Machiavellian machinations vie with farce, and the audience is left wondering where it will all lead. During the second act it becomes clear – or does it? The clever twist in the ending surprises, as all the pieces fall into place.
This is the final of a series of political plays produced by Red Phoenix this season. Having seen them all but one of them I was struck by the revelation that in any period of history or any country, politics is reduced to plots, sub plots, betrayal and self-interest between those involved in government or in positions of power. So, who did we have embroiled in plots in The Conspirators? The power struggle was between Head of Joint Chiefs of Staff,Major Offir (Adrian Barnes) State Prosecutor, Dykl (Tony Busch) and the Chief of Police Intelligence, Colonel Moher (Brant Eustice), although all three were cleverly played off against each other by Helga (Emily Branford) who had her own agenda. All of these actors were magnificent, although I’d like to give an extra star to both Brant Eustice and Emily Branford who shone in major roles. There were no weak links in the acting however, even among the smaller roles.
Michael Eustice, as director, made clever use of what is not an easy stage area. The graffiti chalked on the walls, the martial music, the contrasting bright costumes blend to highlight the period in which the action takes place, yet allow colour and light to highlight the satirical nature of much of the text. The Colonel’s two bodyguards were a type of Greek chorus, the maid and secretary (both played by Anna Bampton) moved from flighty, as the maid, to the secretary who hid her role as spy under a bland cloak of efficiency. It was these seemingly small touches which provided the necessary light and shade.
The Conspirators is not an easy work, either for cast or audience, for it has sprung from a chilling reality. As does all worthwhile drama, however, it challenges the audience to ponder, long after the actors have given their final bow.
MEETING POINTS Australian Art Orchestra
OzAsia Festival Space Theatre Saturday 29 September
Featuring new music by Mindy Meng Wang (China), Bae Il Dong (South Korea),Daniel Wilfred (Arnhem Land) Keiichiro Shibuya (Japan),
Where but the OzAsia Festival would you hear a p’ansori singer from South Korea, an aboriginal singer from the stone spear group and a skat singer from Melbourne combine in an extraordinary display of sound colour, improvisation and a marriage of cultures? Bae Il Dong from South Korea, one of the few exponents of the art of p’ansori was a towering figure in his blue kimono and with a voice to match, while Daniel Wilfred from Arnhem Land singing with clarity and a beautiful sound brought thoughts of Gurrumul and the vast outback to mind. Jenny Barnes’s skat complemented the voices of the two men, in Seoul Meets Arnhem Land.
This was the second of three music performances. The first was Cocoon, showcasing the music of Mindy Meng Wang, a Chinese woman now living in Australia, who is an exponent of guzheng,(Chinese Zither) The guzheng is plucked with plectra attached to four fingers of one or both hands. Traditional playing styles use the right hand to pluck notes and the left hand to change the pitch and produce vibrato by pressing the strings. With this distinctly Chinese sound the arrangement and orchestration of Jem Savage brought music reminiscent at times of Chicago Jazz, and at other times medieval town bands. Again, an example of the blending of cultures.
The final piece in this trilogy was Scary Beauty where three songs were performed by Skeleton, an android, with the Australian Art Orchestra. The android, whose face was a neutral mask, was a compelling figure, especially with the lighting of Takayuki Fujimoto. The music combined tape loops, percussion, a string quartet, trumpet, saxophone and bass trombone, with the composer Kelichero Shibuya (Japan) conducting from the piano. This was an example not only of shared culture, but of sharing traditional instruments with electronic sound and technical innovation.
Meeting Points as a whole was curated by Peter Knight, drawing on his background as a composer, performer and a creator of sound installations.
Maestro 3 THE PLANETS
AdYO Sunday 24 September 2017 3.00pm
Adelaide Town Hall
Musical Director and Conductor Keith Crellin set a challenging program and the musicians rose to that challenge with verve, enthusiasm and skill. Beginning with Earth Cry by Peter Sculthorpe, the orchestra was joined by William Barton on the Didgeridoo and the combined sound of this ancient instrument and the orchestra was a reminder of how much we can gain by an equal sharing of cultures.
The second composition by Don Banks, Nexus for Symphony Orchestra and Jazz Quintet brought forth a new partnership, and it worked wonderfully. There, the blend of styles, with the large orchestra, and the more intimate jazz sound in what Don Banks called ‘Third Stream’ Music, resulted in a exciting, provocative perfomance. Brass, woodwind and percussion came into their own!After interval the orchestra played Holst’s The Planets, a well known work which calls for a large orchestra, and instruments ranging from tubular bells to the contrabassoon. Two harps, piano, great opportunities for the wooodwind, brass and percussion to shine all over again, and the final movement augmented by a female choir (Aurora) whose ethereal singing led us from Neptune and the sea to the great beyond.
As the program notes state: Concert repertoire is chosen to provide exhilarating programs for audiences whilst allowing our students to be challenged and given the most rewardng learning and performing experience possible. This was amply demonstrated in this performance. Note should be made, also, of the totally professional and disciplined way in which AdYO presents itself.
Fairweather Space Theatre 23 September 2017
Fairweather presents an skilfully woven performance, in which images, music and narration combine to portray the essence of the painter, Ian Fairweather and his life – a life which he says he would not have chosen. A reclusive man and austere, he was determinedly unrestrained by a society which neither fully accepted nor understood him. His painting, an ‘inner compulsion’, was self-consuming.
The performance of Fairweather as a sum of its parts, demonstrates the strength that comes through combining various theatrical, musical, artistic and technical elements.
Ian Fairweather’s story is written and narrated by Rodney Hall. The text leads us to some understanding of the inner torments and difficulties that the artist endured, from the days of his early childhood, when he was given away by his parents to other members of his family, his travels, his travails, up to his last days on Bribie Island, living as a recluse in the bush, as he painted his best work.
Erik Griswold composed the music, which was played by Zephyr Quartet. They could be called the unofficial resident quartet at Festival Theatre as they often feature in dramatic presentations, and innovative music. Their musicianship and ability to lend themselves to a variety of musical styles is undoubted. The music, reflecting through layers of rhythm, textures and sound, supported the story that was unfolding. Satsuki Odamura joined the Zephyr Quartet playing both the Koto and Bass Koto, giving rhythmic energy and oriental colour. Placing these two elements, text and music, against the wonderful moving images of Glen Henderson, the essence of Ian Fairweather was brought into focus. Henderson is an established artist who can also make excellent use of video and computer techniques. The sometimes beautiful, sometimes stark images enhanced and highlighted the narration and the music.
While Fairweather gave the audience insights into the soul of a very unconventional artist it could have given more indication of his success. He has been exhibited in the Redfern Gallery and Tate in London, National Gallery, Victoria, the National Art Gallery, Canberra and was granted a solo exhibition in the Macquarie Gallery, Sydney in 1949. Sadly, much of his work was destroyed in a fire, but what remains has established him as an important artist. That said, the performance of Fairweather could claim to reflect the character of his paintings.
Australian String Quartet concert
August 15th 2017 Adelaide Town Hall
This latest formation of the ASQ is only about one year old, but one feels that they have always played together! Their tonal blend, ensemble, interpretation and execution are as a unity and this is an exciting experience for the listener. Obviously the wonderful quartet of Guadagnini instruments they play is a help, but a lot of intense work and thought must have brought the quartet to this point.
Benjamin Britten’s first String Quartet was an arresting start to their program; full of virtuosity, contrasts of dynamics and mood and complex structures it absorbed the listener. The opening Andante marked “ppp” quickly builds up to an Allegro Vivo at “ff” and the players achieved this dramatic crescendo perfectly. Britten wrote this work at the age of thirtyeight and was already an established composer, so he had the wherewithal to re-examine the perimeters of string quartet writing. He certainly changed them! The startling opening with the three upper strings holding high notes a tone apart as the cello goes its own way with a pizzicato theme is a window into a new world. This juxtaposition of the upper strings with an independent cello part happens frequently and is a technical challenge that was expertly mastered. Throughout the work we (and they!) were being challenged – and this is composed back in 1941! A wonderfully convincing performance of a complex work.
So the next work did not actually seem much more modern although it is sixty years younger! Paul Stanhope’s Quartet no.2 also opens with an ethereal mood, this time a haunting Hebrew melody with plaintive semitone intervals so prevalent in the Jewish music tradition. Stanhope dedicated this quartet to the Pavel Haas Quartet which is named after the Czech composer who died in Auschwitz. Each movement commemorates some aspect of this – Prelude, Flight, Dirge and Scherzo – the last picturing the new hope and optimism of those who could escape to a new life elsewhere. The movements flow into each other, so it was like being on a journey and the players with their intimate knowledge of the piece, led us convincingly.
After the interval there was an expectation of a more straightforward Dvorak quartet, but written at the age of fiftyfour after three years in New York, his composing skills had matured vastly since his first quartet written as he was twentyone years old! Again the complexity of the structure, use of the instruments and harmonic sophistication kept one awake! The Czech folk song inspirations were still there and even birdsong and echoes of nature are apparent. The framework of four contrasting movements contains the unusual techniques and harmonies that continually captivate. There were moments that suspended time and passages that precipitated one into a joyous race! A most interesting composition!
The violist, Stephen King, had many special moments and often had important rhythmic figures. It featured also in the first two works with some beautiful melodies. The cellist, Sharon Grigoryan, often played a distinct role (as in the two preceding works) and made the most of the lyrical solos it was assigned. The second violinist, Francesca Hiew, played perfectly parallel to the first violin in so many passages and prominent enough in the occasional solo parts. The virtuosic playing and natural phrasing of the first violinist, Dale Barltrop, was wonderful and the tone in the really high registers was beautiful. The audience applauded loudly and long and this polished, inspiring performance certainly earned it. One had the feeling that the quartet felt and appreciated the enthusiasm and considering the hefty program, can be excused from not giving an encore!
The White House Murder Case
Red Phoenix Theatre
Holden Street Theatres August 10-19
Satire too close to the Bone
This latest production by Red Phoenix Theatre is one of the plays on a political theme, and, as is their policy, a first for South Australia. One wonders why we had to wait so long for this gem by Jules Feiffer, and much credit goes both to Michael Eustice for choosing it, and Eddy Knight for his polished direction.
Written in the 1970s, and influenced by the Richard Nixon presidency and the Vietnam War, The White House Murder Case is as relevant as ever. While the President and his advisors seek to cover up an atrocity perpetrated by the US troops during a war with Brazil, the soldiers on the front line seek to justify their situation by glorifying war, and the number of ‘kills’ that can make them a ‘real man’. The one honest person is the President’s wife, who allies herself with the protestors, earning the hatred of the President’s men, and alienation from her husband.
The first night audience found much humour in the first act, and the sight of men planning to hoodwink the nation for the good of the country, to say nothing of their own skins, can be funny in a disturbing way, even when it felt very close to reality. In the second act the efforts of the President’s men are directed towards covering up a murder, and the cynicism and pragmatice approach to this problem again demonstrates the hypocrisy of modern political and public life. The soldiers, on the other hand, drift in to a sort of Zen like acceptance of inevitable death, with stoic humour. In the end it is the soliders who find a more acceptable view of the world.
This is a play that might have descended into farce, had not the acting been uniformly superb. Tim Williams as President Hale shows steely determination to find the truth until it becomes evident that the truth will hurt him. Wayne Anthony is a ponderous Secretary of Defense, Tony Busch a blustering Attorney General, Gary George, stiff upper-lipped in spite of his injuries, bristling patriotism, Brant Eustice a sneering and dangerous Postmaster General, and Joshua Caldwell the scientist who struggles slightly with the realisation that his research into weapons of mass destruction may, in fact, do serious damage to large numbers of the population. The two soldiers, Robert Bell and Matt Houston reach a dreamy acceptance as their bodies leave them, bit by bit. Anita Zamberlan Canala gives a cool and determined portrayal of a woman who is not to be forced into playing by the boys’ rules. Hers is the voice of humanity.
An exemplary production, in which an excellent group of actors respond to the demands and strengths of a well-written play. Highly recommended.
Split Second Heroes
Space 27 July
Photo: Chris Herzfeld, Camlight Productions
The dancers enter the stage, marked by a circle of lights, representing the performance space and commence to run around several times in what appears to be a race. So begins Gabrielle Nankivell’s adventurous dance.
In the center of the space is a box as can be seen in the photo, above. The performers space is thus defined. In this work the three dancers take on three characters, Gabrielle, Black; Luke Smiles portrays White and also wrote the modern soundtrack and finally Vincent Crowley is Grey. Unusually, this work also utilises spoken word, mostly by Grey as narrator with the aid of many props or rather, toys and cameras, extracted from the box. By moving the toys on the box he sometimes “controls” the dancers, a bit like a mouse.
The effect is enthralling and gives a context to the dance and the tale being told. With influences spanning the 80’s through to future space travel, this is a journey in dance and theatre and just a bit magical.
Nankivell’s choreography is excellent throughout, not only visually but in adding to the drama and meaning of the work.
A great world premier and a performance that should be seen.
Enoch Arden – Epic Poem by Alfred Tennyson and Music by Richard Strauss
with John Bell and Simon Tedeschi
15 July Space Theatre
* * * * *
Some of us, of a certain age, will remember school concerts or family gatherings where the musical items were interspersed with recitations. Hilaire Belloc vied with The Man from Snowy River. Enoch Arden is nothing like that. It is a poignant story in verse, and the telling of it by two masters of their art, is compelling.
To set the mood Simon Tedeschi plays the lyrical Schubert Impromptu op 90 no 4, and then Intermezzo op 117 no 3 by Brahms, which segue perfectly into the music by Richard Strauss.
Enter John Bell.
On a stark stage, with a only a piano, a table and a chair, two men, dressed as fisherfolk might dress after a day at sea, begin to weave a tale of love, loss and sacrifice. Enoch Arden returning to his home after a such a long period of time that he has been presumed dead, finds his wife now remarried and happy with a new child. What are his choices? In deciding not to reveal himself he allows his wife and children to live securely and happily, while he remains, a lonely figure, still lost to them, until his story can be revealed after his death.
John Bell calls on his skill honed by years of playing Shakespearean roles. He invites us to a small fishing village, to watch three children at play; we hear the bells ring out joyfully when two of those children, Annie and Enoch, now adults, are joined in marriage. We share the grief and heartbreak of the the third, Phillip, who also loves Annie. Bell then draws us in to share the rise and fall of the fortunes of Enoch, and Annie’s fears as her husband sails away seeking to restore their prosperity. Enoch, shipwrecked for ten years, returns, only to find Annie, now married to Phillip. The church bells had rung once more, but this time they would have brought Enoch no joy. Yet the final cry of Enoch ‘I am saved’ as he is released from his earthly misery and loneliness bring to mind the words of one academic that in his poetry Tennyson could, above all, offer the possibility of hope emerging from grief.
Richard Strauss composed a musical score that threads through the narrative, serving to underly and accentuate the dramatic and rich imagery of the text. Simon Tedeschi plays with sensitivity and assurance, completely in accord with the spoken words. Although this music was composed for a German translation it transposes effectively back to the English original. (I am not sure how well it works with the Italian version recorded in 2004 by Laura Marinoni and Pietro De Luigi.)
Enoch Arden has been recorded with various artists over the years. John Bell and Simon Tedeschi have recorded the latest version this year with ABC Classics. If you missed their performance obtain the cd. If you heard them live, then the cd would allow you to revisit a superb perfomance of a work whose themes are as relevant today as they were in the time of Tennyson.
Maestro 2 Pines of Rome
Adelaide Youth Orchestra conducted by Keith Crellin OAM
Sunday 2 July Elder Hall
The Adelaide Youth Orchestra presented a concert which was both very pleasing to the audience and one which demonstrated the young players’ considerable technical expertisse. From the Roman Carnival Overture (Berlioz)to the final Pines of Rome (Resphigi) the music flowed with sparkle, joie de vivre and accomplished musicianship. Much credit must go to Keith Crellin who works with these young musicians to inspire, goad and cajole the orchestra to reach such a high level. I wanted to write that the strings sounded particularly good, but then so did the brass, the wind instruments and the percussion, so one needs to say tutti bravi.
The Trumpet Concerto in E-flat major (Haydn) allowed Owen Morris, a young musician but now a fully fledged professional with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, to show his virtuosity. The cadenza at the end of the first movement shone like a jewel. To have such a player as their soloist gave the members of the orchestra an idea of the standard required to pursue a career in music. Not all the members will do so, but all will have an enhanced appreciation of music for the rest of their lives.
Danse Macabre (Resphigi) gave another young musician the chance to shine. Paris Williams, leader of the orchestra, played the solo section very effectively. I imagine we will hear more of this young lady in the future.
All in all a very satisfying concert, which sent the audience out in to the cool winter evening buzzing with enjoyment and surely planning to attend the next concert by the AdYO on the 24 September.
In the Dome Room (at 2 o’clock)
State Opera of South Australia and Prospect Production.
The Madrigal Room, State Opera Marion Road Netley June 30 and July 1
In the Dome with book and lyrics by Rob George and music by Dale Ringland is a combination of musical theatre, light opera, and spectacle. Hereby lies its strength and weakness. The music flows, the dialogue is witty and acerbic and the performers sing and act with total professionalism. But how to judge it overall? At times I was reminded of Gilbert and Sullivan, at others of pantomime. Some of the music, especially that sung by Joanne McWaters as Lily Brayton, could have been from a Menotti opera. Rodney Kirk’s final number, which brought down the house, could have been from an earlier American musical; the chorus numbers, with snappy choreography and good cheer, from very light opera.
The story traces the peak and fall of Oscar Asche, including the break down of his marriage to his leading lady, Lily Brayton. Joshua Rowe, as Oscar was in fine voice, yet he lacked the charisma which I would have expected from a famous Shakesperian actor. Maybe this was the secret of his downfall, which resembled that of a Shakeperean tragic hero, portraying a great man destroyed by his own hubris. Joanne McWaters as his wife Lily, demonstrated a woman of dignity and integrity, who failed to curb the excesses of her husband.
In the Dome highlights the depth of talent in SA State Opera, as so many ‘bit-players’ were given the chance to shine. Outstanding were Naomi Hede as Queenie, Andrew Turner as Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree and Norbert Hohl as Joey, but in singling out these I would stress that there were no poor performances from any members of the cast.
The music, composed by Dale Ringland, was always enjoyable, lively and rhythmical, combining perfectly with the lyrics by Rob George. It was difficult to know which music came from Chu Chin Chow and which was original – and this is a tribute to the composer Dale Ringland, who, with Andrew Georg, also provided support for the singers.
All in all a worthwhile production which amuses and entertains. It showcases the life of an Australian who was once very famous, but who fell from grace so swiftly that he is virtually forgotten. It raises deeper considerations, despite the flimflammery and glitter, and surely this is the role of all theatre.
Catherine Alcorn – Cathartic
Alcorn certainly has one very powerful voice. in this show she used it to full effect in presenting songs mainly from the 80’s and 90’s. With the Space in club mode, small tables crammed together and the bar in full swing, the atmosphere was complete.
Alcorn was backed by an unusual band for mostly rock songs, all acoustic, guitar, percussion (no drum kit) and piano. All credit to them, however, as they managed to make one hell of a racket and render the need for electric instruments redundant. All thanks here to the wonderful guitar and arrangements from musical director, Glenn Moorhouse.
After a few 80’s songs, including the intro “Maneater”, infused with Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”, Alcorn settled into her prime territory, the 90’s. Whilst it is hard to agree with her that this is the era that will always be remembered, she delivered the songs with seriously powerful and emotional vocals, even managing Coolio’s “Gangster’s Paradise”.
But she didn’t rest there with a show stopping highlight of the Waif’s “Flesh And Blood”, complete with dazzling work from Moorhouse and pianist Michael Dench. Somehow, she even managed to do a great version of a song made famous by Frank Sinatra, “New York, New York”
Alcorn, the very pregnant Alcorn, interspersed every song, in true cabaret style, with some great banter, including a few digs at the audience, great fun.
Michael Feinstein – Sinatra and Friends
Her Majesty’s Theatre
There’s is one particular aspect of Festivals that makes shows that much better, the ability to bring a complete act. In this case, Feinstein’s complete 17 piece band and what a band!
Feinstein did not try to copy Sinatra, something that is not really possible, but he brought the legendary singer back to life with emotionally charged vocals and the personal stories between numbers, including his meeting the man himself.
As you would expect, the show was littered with songs made famous by The Voice, “Witchcraft”, Night And Day”, “That’s Life”, “Summerwind”, “Come Fly With Me” and so on. Magic.
But he also paid tribute to others of the era, most notably Sammy Davis Jr, complete with great story of meeting the man himself.
Throughout the show the band brought the songs to life and provided the perfect backdrop to Feinstein’s superb vocals. Like the man himself, Feinstein is the consummate performer.
More than this, the sound was excellent, making it possible to pick out every note and nuance of the excellent bassist, Tim Bowen.
This outstanding show come to a great climax with an almost over the top rendition of “New York, New York”, ending with Feinstein standing on top of the Steinway, arms outstretched, belting out the words, brilliant!!
Great show, lapped up by the enthusiastic audience.
Promise and Promiscuity
A New Musical by Jane Austen and Penny Ashton
Artspace June 17 and 18
The esteemed writer, singer and dancer, Miss Penny Ashton, has produced a fable whererin both sense and sensibility prevail and pride and prejudice are vanquished. The Slowtree sisters, Elspeth and Cordelia are in need of a husband to avoid the unmentionable fate of spinsterhood, but as their mother, a woman of mean understanding, little information and uncertain temper opines, a large income is the best recipe for happiness. A man of sufficient means is required, and men do not appreciate a woman with pretensions to intellect.
Money may certainly provide carroway seeds for cakes and ribbons for bonnets aplenty. But will that suffice? Certainly not for Elspeth who is not silly and ignorant as are other young women. Under a male pseudonym she is a successful writer. Her sister, Cordelia, while having no such claim to accomplishments, looks for a man who is as passionately fond of music and dancing as is she. Her excessive good fortune was to find such a man sitting at a front table in the audience.
Elspeth had the excessive misfortune to be assailed by a proposal of marriage from her dyspeptic Cousin Horatio, assuring her, in the most animated language, of the violence of his affections; an outburst of emotion somewhat sullied by the effects of his poor digestion.
So the story unfolds as the Slowtree family suffer the vicissitudes and arrows of cruel fortune, all in the hands, feet and voice of the versatile Miss Penny Ashton, aided by her ukelele, and music arranged by Robbie Ellis.
The audience left the ArtSpace exhibiting every sign of satisfaction, and hastened to avail themselves of the opportunity to purchase a fridge magnet as a fitting remembrance of an thoroughly enjoyable evening. All that remained was to wish Miss Penny Ashton a felicitous and succesful sojourn to foreign climes as she transports the charming Slowtree ladies, their ardent suitors and their prejudiced neighbours to bring delight and merriment to fresh audiences.
Idea of North with Kaichairo Kitamura – Groove Sessions
An almost packed Playhouse welcomed the so-called “Groove Sessions”, presumably named because on the inclusion of Japanese vocal percussionist Kaichairo Kitamura. There is no doubt that his inclusion added a welcome depth and rhythm to the a cappella ensemble. It had little to do with the “groove” usually referred to in the nation’s clubs, however.
Although the Adelaide born bass vocalist has been with the group for only three months (not that one could tell) the group displayed vocal skills that can only come from long experience singing together and supported by many of alto Naomi Crellin’s clever arrangements.
There is no doubt that this is on the lighter side of music, with an opening medley including a Michael Jackson song, but did include the jazzier “Embraceable You”. Kitamura skill is unquestionable, his ability to sound like a complete drumkit is uncanny and his input added a great deal, without him the music may have become less interesting.
The performance seemed, however, to lack cohesion after a promising first half. Kitamura did a solo segment that went on too long, a German “folk” song (it was not folk, but a not very good novelty piece) an audience member conducting the group and so on. More emphasis on their real skills would have raised the quality of the show.
A great arrangement of Cold Chisel’s “Flame Trees” and an encore of the Joni Mitchell classic “Big Yellow Taxi” did bring the show to a fine conclusion.
Peter Coleman-Wright & Nexas Quartet
Coleman-Wright was encouraged to present this tribute to the great German composers of the Weimar Republic by none other than Barry Humphries. Thank heavens for that!
His classically trained voice lends itself beautifully to these wonderful arrangements, underpinned by the technically perfect and simply brilliant saxophones of the Nexas Quartet. The period clothes and powerful images of the era appearing on a large screen above the musicians set the ambiance necessary to transport the audience back to 20’s Germany and beyond.
Each of the five musicians (Coleman-Wright doubling on piano) adopted the persona of a composer and provided background to the songs and the composer’s life. The composers included Kurt Weill, Hanns Eisler, Robert Gilbert and Erich Korngold. The spectre of the Nazi’s loomed large and led to their exile, mainly to the US, where their songs were appreciated by a much larger audience.
And then there is the music, mostly sung in German, as they were written. Coleman-Wright sang with passion and conviction that brought out his love of these songs. The saxophones breathed life into the songs with gorgeous interplay and sensuous lines. “September Song”, “The Girls Of Bordeaux”, “The Rose And The Lilac” and the wonderful encore of “Mack The Knife” were just a few of the highlights.
A very fine show. The CD of the show’s music, “Ballads Of The Pleasant Life” is available on ABC Classics.
Love, Sex & Death
State Opera SA Opera Studios, Netley 14,15 and 16 June 2017
This Cabaret Performance by State Opera could have added Power to the title, as, while Sex and Death featured strongly, Love less so, there was a manifestation of lust for power, or we could say, lustful power. The Macbeths plotted the death of Duncan and their own rise to the throne, Scarpia, being the most powerful man in Rome, forced himself upon a hapless Tosca while Carmen scorned a miserable Josè.
Love came, if sadly, with Madama Butterfly, but we all know how that ended. West Side Story was another beautiful love story, but how did that end? Lovers sacrificed to the power of family and tradition! More cynically, there were extracts from Cabaret and Chicago. Something different ‘but not as you remember it’ as the publicity told us.
Unfortunately, while the Madrigal Room, with small tables, candles, and a drinks bar, looked the right sort of cabaret scene, the ability to see the singers was limited. Had they had even a small raised stage it would have made a word of difference. The singers in the upper part of the scaffolding used that space to effect, especially Jeremy Tatchell, as the Devil, welcoming his victims to hell. Those who were at floor level, especially when they sat down, were invisible except to the people at the front tables.
Desiree Frahn’s Carmen was terrific, especially when she danced with Aidan Kain Munn. She toyed with Josè, while he suffered, pleaded, whined and wheedled.
The songs from Cabaret and Chigago were performed with energy and style. What dod you have to do nowadays to be a successful opera star?
The more dramatic opera scenes suffered because of the setting, but were sung with authenticity. Maybe Madama Butterfly was not so authentic, but to reveal why that was so would to be a spoiler.
Dale Ringland led a small ensemble whose playing was a feature of the evening.
Hats off to SA Opera for pushing the boundaries to show opera in a different light. In another setting it may have worked well.
One of the planet’s finest jazz guitarists came to the Cabaret Festival to celebrate the songs that he grew up with in his show “When You Wish Upon A Star”, following on from the album of the same name.
And what a show.
He was supported by a band of A listers it couldn’t help but impress and amaze. There’s drummer extraordinaire Rudy Royston whose imagination and skill raised percussion to a new level, double bassist Thomas Morgan who couldn’t be ordinary if he tried and Petra Haden, triplet daughter of one of the jazz greats, bassist Charlie Haden, whose understated vocals were simply sublime. And then there’s Bill himself, not flashy but simply brilliant.
The songs were from his past, although and as you would expect from Frisell, from barely recognisable to an outright celebration. With “Farewell to Cheyenne”, Haden did her best to cajole the inherently reserved Adelaide audience to sing along, there were two Bacharach / David tunes, “Alfie” and “What The World Needs Now Is Love” sort of straight and gorgeously sung by Haden. Then there was the extended wonder of “To Kill A Mockingbird”, not to mention two James Bond themes!
Mention has been made of Royston and Thomas above, they were simply on another level, their solos inspired and captivating.
The show’s outstanding success can be measured by the very prolonged ovation at the conclusion, leading to not one but two encores, concluding with the American chestnut, “Oh Shenandoah” which Frisell recorded in 2005 on “EastWest”.
Adelaide Cabaret Festival
ALAN CUMMING Sings Sappy Songs Her Majesty’s Theatre June 11
He Came He Sang He Conquered
So great was the enthusiasm for Alan Cumming that the audience almost gave him a standing ovation as he entered the stage. He did not disappoint. With that rare gift of making every person in the audience feel that he is talking just to them, he recounted events from his life and sang songs that relate to these events and so meant something special. A consummate performer – he must have done this show hundreds of times, yet it came over as freshly as though it were the first time.
On a bare stage with musical director and Pianist Lance Horne, Cellist Eleanor Norton and Drummer Chris Jago, he took us through the beginnings of Club Cumming, which was the genesis of this show; through his times in theatre and television – remember Eli Gold in the The Good Wife – to show business stories, and stories of his childhood and difficult relationship with his father.
Then there were the stories of passions lost, lasered from his groin, and found again in friendship, (only Alan can tell that story) and between the anecdotes the songs came, full of emotion.
The musicians gave him wonderful support, which he duly acknowledged. An hilarious evening, yet heart warming and moving. He spoke of feeling initially afraid to take on a show where he played himself, but he had no need to worry. The Alan Cumming he played was a person who captured his audience, who spoke of significant personal events, was cheeky and provocative and entirely convincing. The standing ovation did come at the end of the show, and was richly deserved.
Lady Beatle (Naomi Price)
One sure way to attract a crowd is to do a Beatle show, far and away the most important pop/rock group on the 20th Century. But it’s totally another thing to be able to be original and do the Beatles justice.
With “Lady Beatle” Naomi Price has done just that.
Price joined the songs together with dialogue from the perspective of a Liverpudlian, very familiar with the band. There was mystery as it was clear that we should know who this person was, but just who was not revealed until near the end.
Of course, the music is the vital part of the show and Price and her band did the Beatles proud. Somehow they managed to cover about 24 songs (on my count) in whole or in part.
There’s a temptation by most Beatle tributes to try faithful reproductions of the original. Thankfully, here the songs were stretched and rearranged enough to bring something new whilst retaining the magic of the originals. It would have been easy to miss this balance, but “Lady Beatle” achieves this, blending the songs into the narrative almost flawlessly.
Not for one moment did this reviewer think about the fact that a female singer was embracing songs sung originally by four males. After all, women have sung them before, from Tina Turner to Ella Fitzgerald. What did catch my attention was Price’s great voice. She sang with passion and power, giving depth, grace and respect to the songs. She also engaged the gathered, moving amongst us, even ushering some latecomers to their seat and topping up another’s empty red wine glass!
Her band also deserves credit for a fine performance.
Quibbles? Only one comes to mind, “Got To Get You Into My Life” suffered a bit from the missing brass section, so essential to the original.
However, there were some nice touches, the Vox amp and the Ludwig drums, championed by Ringo.
Go see the show, fabulous fun! You only needed to look around at the audience, bopping, dancing and generally having a great time to confirm this.
SPOOKY MEN’S CHORALE
ADELAIDE TOWN HALL May 19 2017
It was all about timing and anticipation! The music and the theatricals complemented each other and even though the non-musical aspects were quite simple – it was the timing!
This was the first concert of the Spooky Men in Adelaide although they did appear at Womad last year. It was certainly an entertaining evening and because a large proportion of the audience were devoted fans already, Stephen Taberner, the conductor, and his ‘Men’s Group’ were carried along on their enthusiasm. I’m sure they will feel like returning!
Fairly complex 3-part harmonies were blended with confidence, the timbre of the soft passages was beautiful, the raw energy of the loud parts was commanding and the ensemble excellent. The diction was mainly clear and it was important to hear the words of the songs as they were thoughtful, meaningful and funny. Most of the songs were written by Stephen and he sometimes asks the ensemble for ideas. ‘The Affirmation of St Kevin’ was a joint effort and the chant-like melody and harmonies were reminiscent of the Swingle Singers! There was variety in the subject matter and the treatment, though maybe too many “bom, bom” bass lines! The two Georgian folk songs were very powerful and it was interesting to hear the different tone of the voices in the second song without microphones. I was surprised to see microphones anyway; their voices are resonant enough without them.
Even with the microphone Stephen’s soliloquies were not always clear, but he has that talent of creating suspense by just standing there! His rapport with and control of the group was excellent and their antics so coordinated; there is a lot of routine there! The singers ranged from about twenty to sixty years old, but the blend was very homogenous. Their special blend of disciplined choral work and larrikin humour makes The Spooky Men a very original group.
It was a long concert, a bit too much talking and maybe a few too many songs but the final items were memorable. The massed choir was arresting; after a few hours workshop on the previous day, Stephen inspired about sixty diverse people to sing together in harmony and with such passion. Very impressive. And right at the end of the evening everyone joined in, singing and dancing, which created a great atmosphere. I am still smiling when I think about it!
Holden Street Theatres 18-27 May 7.30pm Matinee 21 May
Wrtten by Hannie Rayson
Produced by Red Phoenix Theatre
Directed by Robert Kimber
Two Brothers is a hard hitting and challenging drama, peeling back the veneer of public personna, as the conflict between two brothers unfolds. Written by the highly successful playwright, Hannie Rayson, it was first produced in 2005, but is as relevant today as it was then. Eggs Benedict is a wily, ambitious and ruthless politican. His brother Tom is a human rights activist, representing asylum seekers, looking to help refugees find a peaceful life in Australia. While a comparison with Peter and Tim Costello may spring to mind, the characters are not based on them. Instead they are archetypes of any number of people in public life. Their sibling relationship, even rivalry, brings into sharp focus the motivation of men and women who claim to serve society in one form or another, while seeking to serve themselves. Much praise must be given to the director, Bob Kimber, for his staging of this play. There are a number of short scenes, sometimes overlapping, yet the changes and the movement of the actors was seamless and not distracting. The two brothers were played by brothers, Brant Eustice (James ‘Eggs’ Benedict) and Michael Eustice (Tom Benedict). Both roles were played with subtlety and strength, this being essential if the play is going to work. Other members of the cast also gave fine performances, especially Lyn Wilson, Tracey Walker and Fahad Faroque.
The opposing points of view expressed in this play were put strongly, allowing no room for grey – only black and white. The same could not be said about the machinations and tactics displayed by characters whose wellbeing or reputation was threatened. There were no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ guys when it came to self preservation. And then there was the question of family relationships, loyalty and protection of one’s own.Lightened by humour and clever dialogue, the issues are hardhitting but not unremitting, although the issues are serious and the solutions far from straightforward. Two Brothers is a play that stimulates thought and discussion, as all good drama will.