Adelaide Festival Theatre – 11 October to 18 November
Presented by Michael Copel, Louise Withers & Linda Bewik
HERE WE GO AGAIN
The musical, Mamma Mia! opened twenty years ago in London, and has been playing somewhere in the world ever since. With a story line that stretches credulity the longevity of this production must rest with the music, the setting and the overall production.
To start with the music – it is a cornucopia of ABBA songs, some well known numbers and others written by Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus for the stage musical, together with some songs by Sting. There is lots of music and this keeps the show moving along with sound, colour, and movement from the incredibly energetic dancers and singers.
The setting is the forecourt of a taverna on a Greek Island, with the balcony doors and windows of the taverna, and stairs from the upper floor, allowing for imaginative comings and goings by the leads and the ensemble. One can imagine a languid holiday there, sipping cocktails and watching the sun go down.
The three ‘older’ women, Natalie O’Donnell (Donna Sheridan) Alicia Gardiner (Rosie) and Jayde Westaby (Tanya) are given the best songs and scenes, and they certainly made the most of them. Reminiscing back to the days when they were the DYNAMOS they sing, dance, clown as though they were still twenty years younger.
The twenty years is an important number as Sophie Morrison (Sophie Sheridan) on the eve of her wedding, seeks to find out who her father is. When the penny finally drops as to why they have been invited to this wedding, the three potential Dads, Ian Stenlake (Sam Carmichael) Phillip Lowe (Harry Bright) and Josef Ber (Bill Austin), prove themselves one and three, to be perfect gentlemen and exemplary parents. Ian Stenlake, in particlar, is in fine voice.
The ensemble is uniformly marvellous. I loved the dance with the flippers – worth going just for that! Sam Hooper ( Pepper) shows extraordinary skill in standing somersaults, backwards and forwards and Alex Gibson-Girogio (Eddie) manifests as the typical Latin lover.
The young about to be newly-weds Sarah Morrison (Sophie Sheridan) and Stephen Mahy (Sky) provide the tenderer moments in the show and the two bridesmaids Monique Salle (Ali) and Jessica Di Costa (Lisa) are convincing as supportive girlfriends.
The band, under the baton of Michael Azzopardi, is comprised of Keyboard, Guitars, Drums and Percussion. It is the music that, in the end, steals the show.
As they sing: ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again!’
DIDO AND AENEAS by Henry Purcell
State Opera South Australia in collaboration with The Elder Conservatorium of Music, University of Adelaide
2,4 & 7 October Plant 4, 5 Third Street Bowden
Baroque goes war-torn Modern
I’ve heard of operas being performed in railway stations, city squares, and even a public toilet. So why not stage a baroque opera in a converted factory and set it, not in the time of Virgil’s Aeneid, but in modern times of displacement and civil strife. Aeneas was, after all, a refugee, albeit a highly born prince of Troy, and Dido had to flee her own country to escape a murdering and rapacious brother, so why not place these two star-crossed lovers in our own time, or even in the future? This was the thinking behind Nicholas Cannon’s direction of the opera Dido and Aeneas, and given the performance at Plant 4 it was good thinking.
This was a production in which State Opera combined with students from the Elder Conservatorium. The young singers provided the chorus and minor roles. The orchestra was made up instrumental students from the Conservatorium. All were under the very capable baton of Dr Luke Dollman. He deserves high praise.
Producing an opera in what is basically a very large room is no straightforward task. A stage, placed in the centre of the room and the audience placed at tables and chairs around it, presents challenges. The orchestra was behind the stage to one side, with small tv screens discreetly placed so that singers could see the conductor. While the lack of tiered seats did create some sighting problems for the audience they were compensated by the fact that the singers could move about the whole space, bringing the opera, literally, to the masses. Director Nicholas Cannon made very good use of the whole area, sending singers up to the higher platforms, and using these areas to symbolically unfurl and furl the sails of the retreating Aeneas. For retreat he did, his sailors singing a jaunty ditty of farewell to their ‘nymphs on the shore’, while Dido is left distraught, betrayed and driven to suicide.
Which brings us to the singers; the role of Dido is pivotal to the success of the opera. In Bethany Hill we have a fine Dido, no longer Queen of Carthage, but a commanding officer, comforting refugees and buoying up the troops. She portrayed, both vocally and physically, a woman who is at first reluctant to love, then totally and ecstatically committed only to be deserted. Dido’s Lament was both convincingly and beautifully sung. Her ‘second in command’ Belinda was sung by Kate Macfarlane, also in fine voice. Changing this character from handmaiden to a highly place official gave her the chance to sing with complete authority while showing support and empathy towards Dido. Elizabeth Campbell makes much of the role of the Sorceress, singing strongly and striding about the stage with evil intent. Aeneas has a less sympathetic role than Dido – he is the man who let her down after all, but Raphael Wong who has a strong resonant voice, convinces in his role. Mention must also be made of Sara Lambert’s excellent performance as Second Woman, and I did like Callum Mcging as the Sailor.
From their first notes the chorus particularly impressed. It is a lovely sound, balanced and fresh. This is a chorus where each person has an identity, and they fill their roles convincingly, giving authenticity to the modern setting of this opera. Erin Holmes and Lucy Stoddart are suitably ‘witchy’ as First and Second Witches and Ruby Washington is a delightful Spirit.
On opening night the heavens opened and the thunder crashed, lightning flashed, rain cascaded down, not just in the storm scene, but for real so that the singers had to compete with nature. That they won the battle is all credit to them.
This new setting in an unconventional performance space is a foretaste of things to come in 2019. SA State Opera has launched its program with some very innovative productions. It should make opera seem less an elite sport and more something to be enjoyed by a wider audience.
MORE GUILTY THAN THE POET
Adelaide Festival Centre and SA Circus Space Theatre August 24-25 August
Directed by Robert Macfarlane
Franz Schubert lived with the knowledge that he would die a young man. Tenor Robert Macfarlane claims that this gives his songs a visceral, heartbreaking poignancy. So he has combined the melodrama of Schubert’s lieder with the movement of bodies that can twist, turn and balance. He uses the expression of emotion through both the physical and the music which he and the pianist Michael Ierace perform.
Many singers approach lieder with such a sense of reverence it is as though they are painting a musical picture using water colours. Robert Macfarlane is not one of those. His musical painting uses oils and bold brush strokes. With a mastery of the German language, a firm technique and a voice which can move from sustained piano to robust vigour, he is more than equipped to bring the full gamut of emotions portrayed in these songs. This was especially evident in Erlkönig and Der Doppelgänger. In all songs Michael Ierace was a sensitive and masterful partner.
Did the acrobatic artists add to the drama? For many in the audience their movements may well have complemented the drama and yearning found in the music of Schubert. The Director invites us to follow either narrative strand.The music questions the connections between life and death, while the acrobats blur the lines between reality and fantasy. This is a fascinating concept, and blurs the divisions between physical, musical and visual artistry.
PRISCILLA Queen of the Desert
AdelaideFestival Theatre August 23 to September 2
Produced by Michael Cassel Garry MCQuinn Michael Hamlyn
Directed by Simon Phillips
The show that brought a smile to Adelaide
If you saw the film Priscilla Queen of the Desert, and thought there was no need to go to the stage show, think again. What you will discover when you wend your way to Festival Theatre is spectacular, fun filled show, with a cast of incredible dancers with beautiful bodies and a well balanced and paced production. The costumes alone are worth the ticket price and the speed in which they are changed defies gravity. From the moment the curtain opens revealing a stunning Sydney Harbour bridge in lights, with the three Divas (Angelique Cassimatis, Samm Hagen and Cale Morgan) descending from the heavens in full song, the audience is hooked.
The three main characters Bernadette (Tony Sheldon) Tick (David Harris) and Felicia (Euan Doidge) win hearts within seconds, and when Bob (Robert Grubb) an unlikely saving angel appears, we love him as well. They are all terrific.
Then there are the minor characters, with special mention going to Shirley (Emma Powell) Miss Understanding (Blake Appelquist) and the brief but enchanting part played by Benji (William Fleming). There are no weak links in this show which is high energy, high camp but with the necessary down moments to prevent it from becoming vacuus and saccharine.
Music, under the direction of Stephen ‘Spud’ Murphy, includes numbers such as It’s Raining Men, Say a Little Prayer, Shake your Groove Thing, A Fine Romance and Girls Just Wanna have Fun .
The standing ovation was well deserved. Further proof of success was the sight of the audience filing out of the theatre, smiles on all faces, laughter, and that great buzz one hears when an audience had a fantastic time. Some had dressed for the occasion, with wigs, sparkles and sequins galore, and ridiculous shoes. It all added to the enjoyment. On a day of drama and chaos in our political system Priscilla lifted our spirits and sent us home with a smile.
THE MAN FROM EARTH
Red Phoenix Theatre Directed by Robert Kimber
Holden Street Theatres August 16-25
A man claims that he has lived for fourteen thousand years, and consequently has experienced momentous changes. This is an intriguing concept, and one that could never be true. Or could it? This is the question facing the friends of John Oldman who has retired from a secure position as a history professor and plans to move on. As his academic friends meet for an impromptu farewell party John Oldman presents them with the explanation of his leaving and of his never appearing to age. He is fourteen thousand years old.
Obviously this claim leads to amusement, and then questions. As tempers rise and emotions flow John’s fellow professors attempt to poke holes in his story. It is a story that cannot be verified or disproved given that John has an explanation for every objection put to him, but his knowledge could have come from his studies and books, rather than his longevity. The play does move to a very dramatic climax but not until the question of the truth of John’s claim has been discussed at length and from the angles of biology, anthropology, religion and science.
Written by Jerome Bixby, the play has been adapted from the film of the same name. It is a cerebral play, reminiscent of the work of Samuel Beckett in as far as not very much happens and the interest lies in the interaction between the characters and the strength of the script. Bixby is not Beckett, but he poses the question of whether a man who had begun life as a caveman, had been a friend of Vincent van Gogh, met Bhudda and survived thousands years observing the world, could ever exist. If he could, what would his memories be? What observations would he make about the contemporary world?
Directed by Robert Kimber a cast of Red Phoenix regulars and a some new faces tackle these issues. Fahad Farooque played the role of John Oldman with matter of fact understatement which gave credence to the idea that he had ‘been there and done that’ several times over, and acted as a foil to the varying responses of the others. Brant Eustice as the academic psychiatrist Will Gruber was strong in his portrayal of a troubled soul and Lyn Wilson gave intensity to her role. Eliza Bampton played Linda, a young student having what will become her #MeToo moment to perfection.
The cluttered set created some problems for the actors who were at times blocked. But once again Red Phoenix have brought a play to Adelaide which has not been seen before, and given the cult status of the film from which the play was adapted, it was a worthwhile project.
GUITAR FESTIVAL SYMPHONY GALA
Festival Theatre Friday 10 August
Adelaide Symphony Orchestra conducted by Benjamin Northey
The Guitar Festival, under the direction of Slava Grigoryan brings a series of performances to Adelaide covering a wide range of guitar music styles, guitarists and other musicians. It also offers ample opportunity for local musicians to experience valuable activities and master classes. One of the highlights of this festival is the Symphony Gala which usually includes an original work along with established favourites. This year the Gala was no exception. It began with the cheerful and lively Three Cornered Hat: Suite No 1. Benjamin Northey told the story portrayed in this music and the orchestra then played, the instruments dancing and singing with cheerful aplomb.
The final piece was the Concierto madrigal by Rodrigo which featured the Beijing Guitar Duo as soloists. This was again a piece of life and colour and the two young women who began their lives and careers in China, but who now perform all over the world, were a sheer delight, calling forth sounds and themes from their guitars in perfect harmony, and never allowing the orchestra to overshadow them. Their encore, a composition by a Chinese composer, was delicate and evocative of falling water and flower petals.
The piece before interval which followed de Falla was DACCORD by Cathy Milliken, who is the ASO Composer in Association. She introduced her work, explaining that it was an intimate combination of two solo voices (guitar and voice) while the orchestra interacted and supported the musical dialogue between the two. The guitarist was Vladimir Gorbach and the soprano Jessica Aszodi, and while there was no suggestion that the guitar accompanied the singer it was, perforce, an uneven dialogue. Jessica Aszodi displayed a formidable technique and fine voice in music that called for control and variety within a large range. Vladimir Gorbach showed why he is internationally acclaimed playing, with authority and skill. It is difficult to judge a new work on first hearing, and DACCORD may well become a firm favourite in the orchestra’s repertoire. Certainly Benjamin Northey said that the orchestra had great fun playing it.
Albert Lee & The Turner Brown Band
This homage to the guitar kicked off with a blinding set from The Turner Brown Band, left.
This blues / gospel based band centers on the phenomenon of US lap steel guitarist Nikki Brown and former Backslider Dom Turner. In their albeit too brief a set, they ramped up “Amazing Grace” among a number of new tunes. It is the sheer power of her playing, ably supported by Turner, that sets this band apart. This is not gospel for the faint hearted, it’s powerful stuff.
For the main act British born now US resident, Albert Lee, above left, and his regular LA band took to the stage and delivered a masterclass with his rockabilly, country and blues. Drawing on a very long career, he was guitarist with the Everly Brothers in 1962, he delivered in spades.
Rather than play originals he centered on songs dear to him and others and by former employers including Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, the aforementioned Everly Brothers along with Carl Perkins, Ray Charles, John Stewart, Jimmy Webb and appropriately, Richard Thompson. Thus so as throughout his performance he reminded this reviewer of the great British guitarist and his rendition of Thompson’s “Tear Stained Letter” was a treat.
To be fair, Lee is not the best vocalist, but the sheer class and invention in his guitar playing made this performance. Although backed by a very classy band, it was Lee that stole the show with sublime solo after sublime solo. It’s not often that one gets to hear a legend whose skills have not diminished with the years.
Perfect for a Guitar Festival. Oh, and event director Slava, was bopping away, thoroughly enjoying the show from the back stalls!
Two great fingerstyle guitarists dazzled the audience with two different styles.
This was a concert in 2 halves, firstly Richard Smith (below) demonstrated why he is so widely praised for his technique and musicality, not to mention his humor. Although English born, this now Nashville resident has delved deep into American music, more particularly Chet Atkins, Jerry Reed and Merle Haggard. To say the least this was a stunning display of virtuosity as he trawled through the above guitarists before embarking on a travelogue, taking us all over the world, even including a version of the 1963 Japanese hit “Sukiyaki” with new humorous lyrics and a rendition of the 78 version of “Tennessee Waltz” complete with record jumps and scratches!
Tony McManus, Scottish born and now Canadian, followed and brought a different approach. With a Scottish background, McManus has distinct celtic leanings, opening with a brilliant reel, showcasing his outstanding steel string credentials. That said, his arrangement of Erik Satie’s Gnossienne #1 was just brilliant with its understated simplicity. While the focus was, as it should be in a Guitar Festival, on his fingerstyle guitar, he added vocals to a few tunes but it was his sublime skills on the guitar that stood out.
To round out the show, Smith joined McManus for a celtic encore at breakneck speed.
The Mastersingers of Nuremberg Act III
4 August 2018 Adelaide Festival Theatre
SA State Opera and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra
Conductor Nicholas Braithwaite
Director Andrew Sinclair
As Wagner’s only comic opera The Mastersingers of Nuremberg is very different to the stories of Nordic gods or medieval legends we normally associate with his work. In this opera we are given a story that touches on the lives of ordinary people, while at the same time, reflecting on deeper issues. Although only Act III was sung, the whole opera being very long, this Act reflects all that has gone before, culminating in the dramatic finish.
Wagner based his main character, Hans Sachs, on a man of that same name who was born in Nuremberg in 1494, and after completing his apprenticeship as a cobbler, and time as a journeyman, returned to that city where he lived and worked until he died. He wrote over four thousand songs, and plays, and was immensely popular as a force for good and an upholder of the value of the arts and tradition. Wagner has reached back to portray what may have seemed to him, a better time, and given credence to ordinary citizens. Contrast the character of Hans Sachs a cobbler, with that of Walther Von Stolzing, a Franconian Knight. The former is wise and benevolent; the latter is petulant in defeat and arrogant in victory. Then there is the contrast between David, the apprentice to Sachs, a cheery simple soul, and Sixtus Beckmesser, the town clerk, who is small minded, conceited and unethical.
Wagner has enhanced the simplicity of his characters with majestic and melodic music which allows for the deeper sentiments, extolled in particular by Hans Sachs in his soliloquy, and the poetry, inspired by Walther’s dream. At last night’s performance I was struck anew by the beauty of Wagner’s music especially the orchestration, and the wonderful way this was played by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. All credit to them.
As the overture begins, the minimal set still darkly lit, we discern the figure of Hans Sachs (Shane Lowrencev) sitting, despondent and thoughtful.Then lights brighten to reveal the cobbler’s shop and the apprentice, David (Sam Saaker) enters, full of bright chatter. Walther ( Bradley Daley) enters, not full of bright chatter, but deflated and defeated. Sachs sets aside his own disappointments and concerns to help Walther prepare a poem to be sung in the competition. Beckmesser (Andrew Shore) comes to complain about the way he has been treated, and leaves with the poem which he purloins for his own use in the competition. Eva (Kat Ladner) enters to complain that her shoe is too tight/ too loose/ too something, but really looking to Sachs for comfort and reassurance. So the final pieces are placed ready for the denouement. In the second half there is movement, action, dancing and preparation for the final competition. Beckmesser is totally destroyed and the Walther triumphant. But to claim victory he has first to accept the force of Hans Sachs’s final words:
Beware! Evil tricks threaten us; if the German people and kingdom should one day decay, under a false, foreign rule….soon no prince would understand his people; and what is German and true none would know, if it did not live in the honour of German masters. Therefore I say to you: honour your German masters then you will conjure up good spirits! And if you favour their endeavours, even if the Holy Roman Empire should dissolve in mist, for us there would yet remain holy German Art!
The singers represented, with one exception, Australians who began their training in Australia and are either now singing with opera companies overseas, or with Australian Opera. Andrew Shore (Beckmesser) is from England with the English National Opera, but Australians, Shane Lowrencev is now a full-time principal with Australian opera while both Bradley Daley, and Sam Saaker are based overseas, where they are noted as Wagnerian Helden tenors. Kate Ladner is well known to Adelaide audiences, but she has now established her base and career in Europe. It should be a source of pride that Australia can produce such fine singers who extend their training and experience overseas yet return to sing in the country where they began. Shane Lowrencev was especially impressive, and Bradley Daley sang his final aria with power and conviction. Andrew Shore was a marvellous Beckmesser, making it a true buffo role. Kate Ladner was a prize worth singing for, and the members of the chorus were excellent as always, which is not surprising when you read through their names.
This production was ‘semi-staged’ but lacked little for that. Donn Byrnes designed the lighting to maximum effect. Under the direction of Andrew Sinclair, assisted by Nicholas Cannon and Brock Roberts, the singers made full use of the stage area. The scene of the final contest was framed by banners, dignitaries and audience to create the requisite sense of colour and drama. Judging by the enthusiastic applause from a near capacity audience State Opera can claim that the celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the first performance of the Ring Cycle in Adelaide was a worthy tribute.
Limosani Projekts and Al Seed Productions
SPACE THEATRE 11-13 July
In Greek mythology the Moirai controlled the mother thread of life of every mortal from birth to death. They were independent, at the helm of necessity, directed fate, and watched that the fate assigned to every being by eternal laws was fulfilled.
Lina Limosani and Al Seed have turned this myth into a dance element that allows the audience many possible interpretations. In a visually compelling contemporary dance form the three dancers, Lina Limosani, Kialea Nadine Williams and Tara Jade Samaya reside over the lives of all humanity. At times they are in harmony, as they spin and cut the thread according to their rules; at other times, and herein lies the drama and tension, they are in conflict.
The Spinners grew out of a three year creative collaboration between Lina Limosani and Al Seed, joined by the sound artist Guy Veale whose music and sound drives and forms the narrative. The set, a curtain of threads which parts to allow the dancers to view their work, the cauldron, reminiscent of the three witches in Macbeth, and the stunning lighting by Nigel Levings culminate in a narrative where the athleticism and vitality of the dancers balance the historic story of the Moirai.
There are futuristic elements in the sounds, as though this narrative stretched into the future rather than reaching out to the past. At times the three dancers combine to form what could be a six armed creature, reminiscent of primeval times. Underlying the dance narrative is the theme of life and death, and how choices are made which control our lives. From Adelaide The Spinners is going to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and then a planned tour of Europe. Adelaide is fortunate to have seen it first.
ARCHIE ROACH AND THE TIDDAS
Dunstan Playhouse Cabaret Festival 22 and 23 June
DANCING WITH MY SPIRIT
It was an evening of celebration and nostalgia. The final performance of Dancing with my Spirit, a show compiled from music that had been recorded as demos some years before but not brought into the public domain. Archie Roach, a living national treasure, if ever there was one, entered to tumultuous applause before he had sung a note. He proceeded to open his heart to the audience, who took him to theirs with a sense of collective warmth, respect and appreciation.
Each song that followed, such as River Song, and F Troop, had a story to be told. They were not protest songs as such, but they were his songs and in that sense they were a protest against stereotyping and prejudice.
The three Tiddas, Amy Saunders Lou Bennett and Sally Dastey, had not sung together professionally for eighteen years. As supporters for Archie Roach, and then in a solo segment, where they brought down the house with Don’t sing me your Anthem, they were in terrific form, as was the band playing an impressive array of instruments.
In a time when we talk of reconciliation and a new understanding of the history of Australia it was an enriching experience to see Archie Roach and the Tiddas on stage presenting their music and stories. The Dancing with my Spirit tour may have come to an end for now, but it would be wonderful if they dance together again sometime in the future.
CAKE JOHANNA ALLEN
Cabaret Festival Space Theatre 20-21 June
LET THEM EAT CAKE
The title of this show is a reference to the remark, attributed to Marie Antoinette, that those who have no bread should eat cake, as well as the more sinister connotation of ‘cake’. Johanna Allen romps through a musical and literary dissection of the many addictions and obsessions which may afflict us. With an outrageous hair style, and a gold flecked jumper suit she steps out from behind a shower curtain to sing I’m Addicted to You. Backed by a fantastic group of musicians the stage was set for an hilarious dissection of human foibles. Thus the audience vicariously experienced addiction to food, lust, obsessive love, money alcohol, gossip and narcissism.
Johanna Allen is a singer blessed with a powerful voice, dynamic and emotional range, as Cole Porter’s So in Love, among the best numbers in the show, revealed. At times she reminded me of Liza Minelli but with greater versatility, in numbers such as Food Glorious Food and Let’s Do It Whether it’s popular music, classic ballads or musical theatre, she can deliver. Give her an operatic aria and she’d do that as well. The final Waiting for my Real Life to Begin (Colin Hay) brought us all back to normality, as did the change to normal clothes minus wig.
With great stage presence and a delicious sense of comedy she engages the audience, defining each addiction with a pithy quote from Emily Bronte, Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Lewis Carroll, Agatha Christie et al. before launching into a clever melding of melodies.
The only drawback to a great cabaret show was the difficulties in the sound system, either due to technical problems or an overly enthusiastic operator of the sound panel. At times the volume was so loud that Johanna’s diction and vocal quality was distorted as she made herself heard through the music from the band with difficulty. This detracted from an otherwise great performance. It is hoped that all technical difficulties will be sorted for the second performance.
Emma Pask, Adam Page, Jamie MacDowell & Tom Thum
Festival Theatre Stage
17 June ****
This is all Cabaret Director Ali Mcgregor’s idea, get four musicians from very different musical backgrounds, stick them in a room and see what happens. This is the result.
Pask is an excellent jazz vocalist, Page has a definite jazz background, plus a seemingly endless ability on numerous instruments. In this show Page played tenor sax, moog, electric piano, bass, electronic percussion, loops and didgeridoo. Tom Thum is a human beatbox and a very good one with an ability to use technology to expand his sonic range. Finally, Jamie MacDowell, essentially a guitarist, singer-songwriter with no jazz at all.
So how do these very different musicians combine? Pretty bloody well, as it happens, on a variety of songs, from jazz to “I Can’t Help It “, a Stevie Wonder tune made famous by Michael Jackson, a beautiful original, “Brother”, by MacDowell, some Bill Withers, James Brown, Curtis Mayfield and Soundgarden.
Despite never having performed together before the four disparate musicians combined very well indeed. What made the show a little more interesting was not only the use of technology but the explanation and demonstration of the various electronic enhancements. Oh, and most of all, they enjoyed themselves and presenting their music to the audience.
Just maybe, this experiment will blossom in to something more permanent than these Cabaret Festival performances.
Danian Paul & Callinan Calleja
17 June ***1/2
Not many wine events start with an impromptu dance with an audience member, but then this is not an ordinary wine event. The Wine Bluffs came to entertain and play on the wine snob that resides in so many of us.
As one would expect with seasoned wine wankers (their term), there was rubbish talk about wine, but very funny rubbish. From the special wines they were growing somewhere in the middle of the Northern Territory to the fallout flowing from some debacle when they, as wine judges, became embroiled in controversy at the fruit wine awards in some far flung town, they kept the gathered in stitches.
Politics was not immune from their verbal attack in the form of their own wines called Turnbull, a white called Hanson that falls apart when next to anything but white wine and of course, the Barnaby. I’ll leave that one for the reader to speculate.
There were also some very helpful hints, for example, how to spot a bogan in a wine store and what not to do when tasting at the cellar door, complete with silly dance!
There is, however, one correction that needs to made in respect of this performance. The New Zealand sauvignon blanc loving audience participant wanted none of the Oyster Bay version, but rather her favourite NZ tipple, Bay Of Fires. Have to correct her here, unless, of course, Tasmania has joined New Zealand!!
Blue: The Songs Of Joni Mitchell
16 June ****
Make no mistake, Joni Mitchell is one of the greatest songwriters of the last 75 years. No argument! It is therefore very fitting that Queenie Van De Zandt brings this tribute to the Cabaret Festival.
The show gives some background to her early years, from a child to success, concentrating, though not exclusively, on her pre-jazz influence era. With voice overs quoting her mother, father plus others from her past and Van De Zandt as Joni, the songs slotted in beautifully to the narrative and what songs they are. Her epochal album, “Blue” provided the title track, “All I Want”, “River”, “My Old Man”, “Little Green” and “A Case Of You”, not to mention a beautiful off mike rendering of “For Free” from “Ladies Of The Canyon”
Variety came from a rather uptempo “Woodstock”, “Big Yellow Taxi” and the deranged “Twisted”.
Van De Zandt didn’t try to copy Mitchell’s classics, rather she added her own spin assisted ably by her excellent band, Roger Lock on guitar and Hugh Fraser on bass plus musical Director and show co-write Max Lambert’s piano.
Performing a show of songs composed and performed by one of the best is no doubt a daunting task and this tribute could have been a big let down. But not here. Van De Zandt presented a thoughtful and very well presented show highlighting the genius that is Joni Mitchell
Make no mistake, Cat Empire have a loyal and rather large following and that was very evident at this performance before a capacity audience at the Festival Theatre. This is despite that they were in unfamiliar territory, that is a seated audience.
Darlings of Womad, where they draw thousands of dancing devotees, here the gathered remained seated until near the end, so unlike their normal show. That, however had no impact on their music and their energy.
With a lineup that is devoid of a guitar and a distinct emphasis on Latin influences, the band, featuring a three piece brass section, gave an almighty performance. It was however, marred from this reviewer’s perspective by the addition of novelty acts from other parts of the Cabaret Festival. What a dancer, a hula hoop devotee, a half naked man with a expertise in playing with hats and a contortionist jumping on bins added to the music is, frankly, beyond this reviewer.
Despite these diversions, there is no doubt that Cat Empire and their music was the star of this performance, as it should be. There was, however, a touch of sadness as it was announced that many of the songs, despite being very known by the fans are, about to be retired to make way for new material and a new album.
One great Australian band and one great show.
She entered the stage with no fanfare, catching many of the audience by surprise and then launched into a medley in English and French, a reflection of hre duel upbringing in New York and Paris. She did so seated and thus she remained throughout this performance.
Subsequently her band entered, Aram Bajakian on guitar, drums by Graham Hawthorne, Andy Ezrin on keys and bassist Paul Frazier. Particularly impressive was Bajakian who sounded very much like Marc Ribot, angular and jagged chords adding a real punch to the songs.
For some reason this was a subdued audience and Peyroux could not help but comment. Maybe it was the rather cold setting for this type of music, perhaps a club setting may have provided more audience spark. That said as the show progressed they became more responsive, particularly as Peyroux tossed in some well known Leonard Cohen tunes and then some upbeat songs, such as “Everything I Do Gohn Be Funky (From Now On)”.
There were also a number on new songs from her forthcoming album “Anthem” which, on the basis of this show will be another fine collection.
Peyroux was all class throughout, her fine vocals backed by her guitar and ukulele, confirming her status in the music parthenon.
Bosom Buddies – Nancy Hayes and Todd McKenney
Cabaret Festival Don Dunstan Theatre
June 10 and 11
Stars in their Constellations
It was an afternoon of nostalgia. Two well established stars of the musical theatre reminiscing about their lives on the stage through film footage, anecdotes, song and dance. The audience who had turned up very early and filled the foyer of the Playhouse in a buzz of anticipation, packed the theatre then clapped, whistled and hollered their appreciation almost from the get-go. Nancye Hayes and Todd McKenney have the star power, stage craft and wealth of stories, dance and song to hold an audience in the proverbial palms of their hands, and that is what they did.
Bosom Buddies was devised by Peter J. Adams and directed by Jason Langley. What they have created is a cleverly scripted show. Nancy and Todd, who could probably keep you amused by reading from the phone book draw on the experience of years of high quality performances. We were reminded of the shows in which they starred, and the songs and dance routines they had executed with much aplomb. Linked with moments of pathos, such as Todd’s story of the death of his grandmother, and the good luck necessary in any career, such as the noted theatrical agent Betty Pounder backing Nancye to take the lead in Sweet Charity, the songs and dance routines kept coming. The sign language segment was hilarious and the conglomerate musical numbers a real buzz.
The performers were aided by an excellent band, lighting, and their exquisite sense of timing. A show to take to your bosom as you revisit some of the great musicals.
Conducted by Karl Geiger
Elder Hall, University of Adelaide
Saturday May 19 2018
Reviewed by Peter Bleby
George Frederic Handel’s Dixit Dominus is a challenge for any choir and orchestra, and when set next to Antonio Vivaldi’s Gloria, together they make a splendid program. The Graduate Singers with an orchestra of fine local players, conducted by Karl Geiger, tackled this wonderful pair of works with enthusiasm and determination, before an audience of supporters who recognised the value of a live performance of these great choral favourites over a much vaunted televised ceremony taking place on the other side of the world at the same time.
This concert provided some very fine moments, particularly from the orchestra and the soloists. The overall impression, however, was one of a competent but somewhat lacklustre performance by a choir from which one has come to expect rather more dynamism and excitement, especially in works of the calibre of the two treasures programmed.
Opening the concert with the Vivaldi, Geiger set a cracking pace which proved a bit much for the unfortunately exposed trumpeter in the opening bars. All was forgiven as the choir and orchestra took over the exuberant first movement with notable immediacy, and which was then contrasted nicely with Et in terra pax hominibus with the choir’s legato, against the gently pulsing strings.
The two soprano soloists, Alexandra Bollard and Brooke Window, were beautifully matched in their Laudamus te… duet, as they were in their ethereal duet (De torrente in via bibet) in the Handel work, making it plain that they are used to singing together. They were equally matched by the lovely voice of mezzo soprano Charlotte Kelso in both works, particularly in Domine Deus…, (Vivaldi) in which she was exquisitely accompanied by the sensitive and expert playing of cellist Jacqui Finlay, and Peter Kelsall at the organ. She showed she is an agile singer, who will be worth keeping an eye on. Tenor David Hamer also acquitted himself well, and it would be good to hear more of Bass soloist Lachlan Scott, who had a small but finely expressed part in this concert.
One thing missing in both works – and this is not an issue unique to this choir – was precision in diction, particularly in terminal consonants. This is perhaps an expression of a fashion in choral singing of late – as if in reaction to what could be seen has “over spitting” of consonants in some cathedral style singing in the past. Nevertheless, to underplay diction is to disrespect the composer’s choice to set his fine music to words, which are then an integral part of the whole.
When the Handel work started after the interval, again the Geiger adrenalin was evident, and the breakneck speed meant that we lost some of the lower notes as they flashed by in the arpeggiotic phrases of the dramatic orchestral opening. It is a credit to the fine orchestra (led by Sarah Wozniak) and the soloists that they kept up so well. Somewhat lacking in other sections of the work, the choir demonstrated some nicely controlled dynamics in this magnificent movement.
The pace kept up, mostly with good effect, in spite of some close calls in the challenging and contrapuntal chorus …secundum ordinem Melchisedech, but Geiger’s strict discipline prevailed in the fugal Judicabit in nationibus, which demands considerable virtuosity from choir and orchestra alike, and all came through unscathed.
Fugues can notoriously get messy for choirs, but discipline reigned again and the magnificent final chorus …et in saecula saeculorum, Amen was managed well by these forces, delivering a rousing end to this enjoyable concert: a satisfactory and rewarding alternative to that competing event on the telly.
This is an extraordinary play which requires an actor of extraordinary abilities to fulfil the role of Caligula. Robert Bell as the young Caligula, with a face as innocent as an angel and a mind as tortured as any devil, fills the role to perfection. As Emperor of Rome he has total dominion. He recognises no limits, respects no person, acknowledges neither the power of truth nor of love. What he seeks is a nebulous freedom and what he finds, inevitably, is destruction.
Robert Bell’s performance is compelling, holding the audience in his thrall as closely as the supine Patricians who bend to his every whim, and grovel at his feet. Without naming every individual actor, it must be said that each gives a strong performance, although special mention should be given to Brant Eustice, Mark Mulders, Tracey Walker and Lyn Wilson.
It is suggested that Camus had Hitler in mind in his portrayal of Caligula. I would argue that Caligula is closer to Stalin who persecuted people in what seems like random selection. Can we even see resemblance to some leaders in today’s world? Can drama hold the mirror of history before an audience?
What Red Phoenix Theatre does in this play, as it has done in previous productions is to leave the audience questioning and reflecting. The company’s strength is in the choice of material and the quality of the acting, directing, and the work of the production team. Being committed to bringing plays never before performed in Adelaide it has provided the local theatre scene with stimulating and thought provoking drama. Caligula is the latest of a number of fine productions. Certainly it will not be the last.
VIVALDI & VENICE
Adelaide Baroque Orchestra May 19 2018
‘ In the Teatro San Angelo, Vivaldi played a free fantasy which astounded me. He put his fingers but a hair’s breadth from the bridge, on all four strings at such speed. His contemporaries called him the ‘Red Priest.’ If Davide Monti had had red hair, I might have thought I was seeing Vivaldi!
Monti, as guest director, led the newly formed Adelaide Baroque Orchestra in a whirlwind of Vivaldi’s music. Pauses for breath were provided by readings from historic sources and from Robert Desaix’s book, Night Letters read authoritatively by Charles Southwood. It was very well curated, the readings set the scene and sometimes the music crept in and sometimes it exploded. The intensity and contrasts kept one on the edge of the seat; Monti’s total immersion in and command of the music unified the whole ensemble. They felt the pauses together and attacked the openings as one.
There was variety in the program; even though Vivaldi is always recognisable he is inventive enough to surprise the listener. The concertos for different combinations changed the sonorities and brought players into the spotlight. The Violin Concerto Winter highlighted Davide’s natural improvisation talents; he and his violin are one. The background colour of the ensemble was brittle and clear like ice while Davide fluttered and danced above them.
Visiting cellist Anthony Albrecht made the virtuosic acrobatics of the G minor Cello Concerto sound effortless! His amazing bowing shaped the phrases and flew around the cello. The cunning accompaniments were sometimes only upper strings or just lower strings leaving the cello in the spotlight.
Even the bassoonist, Jackie Newcomb had her spectacular moments! The Concerto for Recorder, Oboe, Violin and Bassoon was demanding and showy for all instruments and was executed with drive and enthusiasm.
The Concerto ‘per l’Orchestra di Dresda’ involving two oboes, two recorders and two solo violins had blocks of colour as the instruments alternated that sounded like playing on three keyboards of an organ. The oboists Jane Downer and Doug Patterson performed on their simple Baroque oboes with such a mellow sound. Jayne Varnish and Lynton Rivers played as one with the melting tone of their recorders. The two violins, Davide Monti and Simone Slattery achieved a perfect virtuosic duet despite being at opposite ends of the platform.
As in all the Concertos, the accompanying instruments were balanced, sensitive and the continuo parts inventive and grounding. The violone, played by Robert Nairne gave that sonorous depth so important to Baroque music and partnered the cello in some nifty passages! The Italian harpsichord had a light,delicate sound that added a distinctive timbre especially to the strings. Either Anne Whelan or Katerina Brown were always playing! As were all the continuo players! The tutti players were synchronised, always aware and full of energy supporting the soloists. The whole concert given by the Adelaide Baroque Orchestra was a delight and rapturously received by the audience. Look out for their next appearance on November 24.
THE PEARL FISHERS by BIZET
State Opera South Australia Adelaide Festival Theatre 12,15,17,19 May
NOT A FISHERMAN IN SIGHT BUT A MYRIAD OF PEARLS
With a set that looked like a tropical paradise and a strong cast, State Opera returns to the Festival Theatre with an opera which is full of music to delight the senses. There is drama aplenty aligned with moments of strongly felt emotion and tenderness.
The chorus, more restrained than we have seen them in recent productions, sang very well. Divine Brahma, at the end of Act 2, rang out with conviction and passion, reminding one of Verdi at his most patriotic.
Much is made of the plot of this opera being implausible, but one could name a dozen operas of which that might be said with impunity. Such plots may present problems for the singers in their efforts to make their characters believable. In this production we have no difficulty in relating to Leila, Nadir and Zurga as they negotiate the torturous journey of love, friendship, loyalty and betrayal. The reality is found in the music itself, to which each of the principals responded.
Of the four principals. Nourabad (Pelham Andrews) has the least to sing and do but he does that well. Desiree Frahn who sings the role of Leila is a knockout. Looks beautiful, sings the huge role with seeming ease, develops her character from the slightly diffident priestess who is compelled to sing away the evil spirits and keep her face hidden, to become the fierce woman who pleads with Zurga for her lover’s life at first gently, and then with fury. Leila’s early aria, Me viola seul dans nuit…Comme autrefois demonstrated her virtuosity and she maintained that quality to the end of the opera with Rèves d’amour, Adieu, sung with Nadir and Zurga.
The showstopper is, of course, In the Depths of the Temple. This duet has been sung and recorded by some of the great tenors and baritones, yet Grant Doyle (Zurga) and Andrew Goodwin (Nadir) held their own. The audience waited for it, loved it, and applauded long and loudly. But The Pearl Fishers is not a one hit wonder. A cette voix, sung by Andrew Goodwin with a purity of tone, and wonderful control, reassured the audience that we were in for more. The duets between Leila and Nadir were highlights.
Grant Doyle as Zurga sang and acted strongly throughout the opera but his singing at the beginning of Act Three, where he is conflicted by feelings of jealousy and his sense of being betrayed by his friend, while his better self tells him that mercy rather than vengeance should prevail, was compelling. He has aa admirable vocal and dynamic range.
Another ‘character’ in this opera is the orchestra, and under the command of Graham Abbott they played impeccably. Bizet’s skill is in orchestration; his use of flutes and harp and tambourine; his off stage chorus supporting the singers. These were features in themselves. At times, when the singers sang with a restrained, sustained vocal line, they were matched by the orchestra. The overall effect was music at its finest.
Mention should be made, too, of the lighting, designed by Matt Scott, as it added initially to the serenity of the evening, then to the drama of the storm and fire.The costumes and set were designed by Robert Kemp who resisted the temptation to be overly fussy. In this production, helped by the Director, Michael Gow’s decision to set the opera in the early 1860s, all the main male characters were dressed like colonial gentlemen, while Leila’s costume glittered and sparkled and the chorus was a splash of bright colour. Nothing jarred, although I did wonder what part the priest, resembling the Ancient Mariner, who tottered on from time to time, had to do with the story. But why worry about plot anomalies when the music was played and sung with such integrity and high standard?
WOLF LULLABY by Hilary Bell Oily Rag Theatre
Holden Street Theatres 3,4,5,10,11 12 May
Wolf Lullaby is a play which raises far more questions than it answers. Nine year old Lizzy is the prime suspect for the murder of a young child. Her parents Angela and Warren, now living separately, although this is not so obvious at first, are divided in their belief of Lizzy’s innocence or guilt. Their other concern is even if she were guilty should she be handed over to the justice system? They ponder the nature-nurture question and to what extent they would be held responsible by the wider community if Lizzy were to be found guilty of this horrendous crime. Despite their heart searching they fail to see that if Lizzy is a disturbed child it is due in some part to their parenting. Lizzy never really presents as a sweet innocent child. Rather, she has a sly look about her, a child who seeks attention, and a child who is terrified by a wolf which she feels is coming to devour her. We see rare glimpses of the child she is meant to be.
Wolf Lullaby is a difficult play to stage as it is in short vignettes which build on each other, like the building blocks on stage, to develop the tension and climax of the plot. This necessitates blacking the stage frequently, and although the chanting of the children’s songs do create a link the sense of continuity is tenuous.
Hilary Bell had asked that an adult play the role of Lizzy, and it would be hard to find one better than Shannon Gray. She was totally convincing. Her scenes with Ray Armstrong (Damien White) as the policeman are compelling, helped by his strong stage presence. The parents Angela (Heather Crawford) and Warren (Lyndon Cullen-Reid) were confronted with an appalling situation and while they were sucked into a maelstrom of anguish and disbelief, I feel that they could have made more of their conflict and even the ambiguity of their feelings for Lizzy which surface towards the end of the play. Oily Rag Theatre is to be congratulated for undertaking a play which stretches the audience and opens up so many lines of discussion. Good theatre should always achieve this.
78-Storey Treehouse cpd Theatre Productions
Space Theatre 24 April – 5 May
Emily Sutherland and Ripuri Rigney
When Andy Griffith and Terry Denton began writing their book about a Treehouse which grew by 13-storeys year after year, they may not have envisaged the success these zany stories and fabulously weird illustrations would achieve. Children loved them. Richard Tulloch took on the task of turning the Treehouse into a play, and that, in turn grew so that we now have the 78-Story Treehouse being shown at Space Theatre, having already toured in various parts of Australia.
To help review the Adelaide production I took Ripuri Rigney with me, as he knows most of the books almost by heart. If anyone could tell me if the stage version worked, he could.
Building a Treehouse on stage is no easy task considering it had so many storeys and has just added yet another 13 levels. It’s now got a Scribbletorium, a high-security potato chip storage facility (guarded by mousetraps, laser beams and one very angry duck) and even an open-air movie theatre, all of which are vital to the narrative. Ripuri thought that Andy and Terry acted like kids but they looked a bit older than he expected. He loved the part where Terry was thrown into the black hole and came out looking like spaghetti, and he loved the music and the action on stage.
As an adult, and therefore the sensible person, I would say that this a terrific show for children from 6 to whenever your inner child disintegrates. The story is simple and ridiculous. Who ever heard of spy cows making a moooovie? Mr Bigshot hadn’t, so he missed the fact that the cows were stealing all his ideas and scenes ready to upstage his film. Who would have thought that Andy would be told he was not wanted in the film, and would be replaced by Mel Gibbon? Who would have thought that Andy and Terry who had been BFFE would fall out so spectacularly that they ended up in outer space fighting? Who would have thought that even Jill, who is the voice of reason, would be seduced by the lure and glamour of the movies?
It’s a show with lots of energy, singing and dancing, sound effects, stage effects and fun. The cast, Tim Carroll, Teale Howie, Freya Pragt, and Samuel Welsh is uniformly good. Staging and lighting keep the show moving and Ripari loved the way the Intergalactic fight was shown, as though Andy and Terry really were in outer space.
A fabulous theatre experience for young people who love the Treehouse Storey books as well as for those who haven’t yet had the joy of reading them. The season in Adelaide is nearly sold out, so hurry if you have young people looking for something different to do during the school holidays. It would be a shame to miss out.
The 78 Storey Tree house Play is a terrifically awesomely amazing re-enactment of the book, with great lines such as ‘faster than a Ferrari riding on a bullet’. It’s set in a tree house when Andy and Terry are about to make a movie, directed by the famous Hollywood film director Mr Bigshot! Andy is disappointed when his friendship with Terry is broken because Andy is kicked out of the movie and left alone. The play teaches you to not be hard on your friend and to never trust a cow. The play has a mixture of emotions but is mostly humorous and silly. Although I would’ve liked to see some sort of platform for the tree house background, it would’ve been hard to make the other scenes up with platforms. It’s very clever how they made the play from the book. The actors are good singers and have a great dancing style (Andy was great at the floss move) and are very funny. Also Jill was my favourite actor. It’s a must see play for ages 6 to infinity and I rate this play 9.3 turbo tortoises out of 10.
This yearly event is always well attended and appeals to variety of music (and food!) lovers. The casual atmosphere, sitting around tables with a glass of wine or cup of coffee intends to emulate J.S.Bach’s Friday evening gatherings in the Leipzig café, where players and listeners were involved in new compositions and in discussions. We enjoyed the wonderful music and maybe next year the musicians could mingle and engage in conversation with the audience, too.
The Adelaide Baroque Orchestra is a relatively new addition to the Adelaide Ensembles and it was gratifying to see and hear so much local talent engaging with each other. During the concert, different formations meant each player was a soloist and yet they merged very well with each other as a group.
The guest singer, Sally-Anne Russell, embodied her songs, illustrating the words with dramatic actions that brought the music to life. Zelenka’s expressive Italian arias were full of passion and Handel’s aria “Dopo Note” also showed the Italian style of the era. The final aria by Handel “Verdi Prati” was beautifully performed, with deep feeling and yet reserve.
The program was a good mix of colour. The Telemann pieces used the sonorous sound of the full orchestra, plus two recorder players, Jayne Varnish and Lynton Rivers, who played a lovely solo Musette. The two cellists, Anton Baba and Kate Morgan shone in the virtuoso Vivaldi Concerto for two cellos and the leader of the orchestra, Ben Dollman, gave a fluent, expressive performance of Bach’s Violin Concerto in A minor.
The Adelaide Baroque Orchestra is trying to establish a secure footing in the Adelaide music scene and their vision is to find sponsorship in the corporate world. Their confident, informed performances could be an asset to a culturally-minded organisation and the audience was asked to help them make contacts. So spread the word and if you didn’t hear the concert this year, look out for it next year!
They can be contacted through adelaidebaroque.com.au
The favourite of critics all over the globe and one of the talked about jazz vocalist for a long time came to Adelaide for her Australian debut and what a show it was.
Backed by her current band comprising wonderful pianist Aaron Diehl, bassist Kyle Poole and drummer Paul Sikivie, Salvant took us on a trawl through the American songbook with a few exceptions, notably Paul McCartney’s “And I Love Her”, performing largely from her excellent new double CD “Dreams And Daggers”, available through Planet Company , station sponsor.
Salvant’s very distinctive voice was clearly evident but more important was her impeccable delivery. Throughout the near two hour programme she sang with with great emotion and humor (for example, “Wild Women”), proving that all the hype surrounding her is justified. But it’s the ease and confidence in her singing that takes her to the highest levels of jazz vocals and made it a privilege to be in the audience
Dial did not follow the rule book on piano vocal accompaniment, using block chords, atonality and repetitive motifs to avoided clique and add greatly to the music. The rhythm section were more traditional but a perfect fit, with new bassist Kyle Poole outstanding.
Three encores establish that the audience agreed. The final was telling. Salvant sang solo, but most striking was the song, “Naomi Wise”. Clearly a murder ballad, its roots are in English traditional music and I suspect the song origins, though referring to the murder of an American bride to be in the early 19th century, can be found in songs such as “Pretty Saro” or “Pretty Polly”. The point is that Salvent is no one trick pony, is she wanted to she could just as well be a successful bluegrass or traditional vocalist.
Adelaide Town Hall
The brilliant animated film, a joint French, British, Belgium, and Canadian project, features a jazzy and wonderful score, composed by Benoit Charest. With little dialogue the setting is perfect for the score to be performed live to the film and so it was at this magical performance.
Led by the effervescent composer himself, the Le Terrible Orchestre de Belleville played the score to perfection with pin point timing, making the whole event a sheer joy. The music is very French, very jazzy and very good.
It can be difficult to maintain one’s focus in a performance such as this, there is the temptation to simply watch the animated film with its tale of a the young boy turned by his grandmother into a great cyclist and Tour De France rider only to be kidnapped by the French mafia and taken to Belleville for devious purposes and the subsequent efforts of his grandmother and the Triplets Of Belleville to secure his return from the mafia clutches.
On the other hand there was were the musicians, scattered in an arc on the stage below the screen, Charest on guitars directing the group which included sax, flute, vibes, accordion and, of course, a vacuum cleaner, bicycle spokes, paper and an odd instrument sounding a bit like tuning forks!
This was a totally captivating performance and and no doubt one of this year’s Festival’s triumphs.
Garden Of Unearthly Delights
Scottish traditional band, Breabach, returned to the Garden of Unearthly Delights following on from last years’ great show at the same venue. Touting their latest release, “Astar”, the band once again delighted the audience with their original take on the Scottish tradition.
The performance featured a number of original tunes from the band members which complimented the more traditional songs perfectly. After launching the show with a selection of reels, Megan Henderson displayed her fine vocal skills, complimenting her beautiful fiddle.
From there the versatility of the band was on show, with James Duncan Mackenzie on pipes and whistles and Calum MacCrimmon also playing pipes and whistles plus Bouzouki. The bagpipe was, of course, originally an instrument played in small groups, such as this, rather than the massed pipes of more popular music. Hence it was great to hear the pipes played in their original environment and the audience certainly appeared to agree.
As the show come to its conclusion, Henderson demonstrated that she’s a pretty good tap dancer as well, much to the delight of the gathered.
It’s a rare occasion that traditional music comes to Adelaide and the class of Breabach made the show all that more special.
Festival Of Arts
Adelaide Town Hall
Although a tad on the short side, 80 minutes, this was one show not to be missed. In a nutshell, stunning.
Led by Alexander Balanescu, with his trademark hat, the quartet trawled though a few of the leaders personal choices from their extensive catalogue.
First came “Luminitza Suite”, written in response to his first trip home to Romania in 1991 after a 22 year absence. Influenced by folk song, the suite also utilized backing tapes and spoken word to great effect. The following “Maria T Suite” celebrated the most famous Romanian singer, Maria Tanase, and over tapes of her voice the quartet performed a powerful work, including the haunting “The Young Conscript and the Moon”
As if to lighten the mood and as a complete contrast the show climaxed with a suite of Kraftwerk songs, bringing the 1970’s German bands electronica back to life in a new form, complete with the hit “Model”
Although a string quartet, they stretch the boundaries by adding several modern touches, backing tapes, a subdued light show and most significantly, amplification from plugged in instruments. This gave the performance for more power than the usual quartet and freed the performers from being seated. This was most evident during the last bracket when Balanescu pranced about the stage like a maniac.
Balanescu was not alone, of course, the quartet was brilliantly completed by James Shenton – Violin, Katie Wilkinson – Viola and Nick Holland – Cello
The audience was totally captivated by the performance as was this reviewer. I’ll say it again, stunning!
LOUISE AND SALLY ON TIN PAN ALLEY
The Lab, Queens Theatre 12, 14, 15 16 March
Fringe and Festival brings some wonderful musicians to Adelaide during March, but Sally Greenaway and Louise Page must be among the most accomplished. They combine to present numbers from the American Song Book, where the music of Tin Pan Alley joined forces with the Black American Jazz to create some of the most memorable music of that time.
So they began with two numbers from Porgy and Bess and concluded with ‘Can’t help lovin’ dat man’, from Showboat, but played with a Gershwin twist. In between were other favourites, such as ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ and a ragtime version of a Bach Invention. The commentary, where one or the other set the scene and put the music into context, added to intimate atmosphere, and sense of being invited guests rather than an audience.
Louise Page is a very successful opera singer. But she knows how to use her immense vocal talent and technique to enhance these songs, without making it sound like an opera singer dumbing down and not sounding really at home, as can happen when opera singers venture out of their comfort zone. Louise was very comfortable in this different genre. She has charm, verve, and a great sense of rhythm as she showcases this music. I could have listened to many more songs.
Sally Greenaway trained originally as a jazz pianist and she is terrific. There is no doubt that her skill and imaginative arrangements added to the interpretation. This was a true partnership, such as you find between accompanist and singer of lieder. But this was more fun!
The stage was set in the style of a very respectable speakeasy, as I imagine they were in that time. No sleaze allowed. The lighting changes were subtle but added to the feeling that we were being transported back to another time. Don’t miss the chance to hear these top-class artists performing fabulous songs which have stood the test of time.
St Johns Church Halifax Street, 11 February
Estuudio Youth Choir – conducted by Külli Lokko
Festival Statesmen Chorus – conducted by Jonathan Bligh
When we see the words WORLDS COLLIDE we think H.G.Wells and disaster. The collision, if that is what you could call it, between Estonia and Adelaide resulted in refreshing and wonderful music. Members of both choirs are, in the main, young people, and it is fitting that their initial contact came, not by colliding, but through Facebook. There were introductions from both choir groups, talking to the audience in a relaxed and humorous way that helped set the atmosphere.
The program began with the Festival Statesmen singing three religious songs, but not in conventional settings. The arrangements by Doug Harrington and Rasmus Krigstom (Amazing Grace) David Harrington (It is Well With My Soul) and James Stevens (Nearer my God to Thee) allowed the choir to sing with a robust vigour, intricate rhythms and harmonies. Tim Bartel, guest soloist in the last hymn, is more usually heard singing in a Rock band, yet he was able to produce a full throated top C at the conclusion. Combine barbershop quartet multiplied by many, Spirituals and a touch of Gospel and you have some idea of the sound this chorus produces.
The Estuudio Youth Choir was on the very last leg of a three week tour, celebrating one hundred years of Estonia’s independence. Their sound was closer to a conventional choir, but not therefore lacking in the freshness of young voices, controlled dynamics and impeccable musicianship. They began their bracket with two songs by Arvo Pärt and then three songs in English including Enjoy the Silence, arranged by Eric Whitacre, allowing us to appreciate their clear melodic line and good diction. After the interval they returned, this time dressed in the national colours, to sing traditional songs, Forced to Marry and Ending and Going Home, both by Veljo Tormis.
The Festival Statesmen, in their final bracket sang two songs by Billy Joel, which would have pleased Billy Joel fans, and then gave a very lively performance of Moondance by Van Morrison, letting their hair down and revealing their normally choreographed presentation when not confined by an ecclesiastical setting.
Finally the two choirs combined in two numbers Mis on Immune by Pärt Uusberg and MLK (U2) arranged by Bob Chilcott. That left the capacity audience clamouring for more. It was an excellent program highlighting the joy of young people making music of a very high quality. There was no collision of worlds, but cooperation and harmony and unity.
Garden Of Unearthly Delights
Tom Gleeson, he of the ABC and “Hard Chat”, returned to the Fringe and the Garden for a sell-out season and I suspect that he has a bit of a soft spot for this gig.
There are many reasons why Gleeson stands out in the crowded stand-up market. One is that he has a perpetual smile on his face, he is having a ball onstage and that rubs off onto the audience. It’s not a chore, something that has to be done, he enjoys the interaction with the odd audience member (hello Ron!) and delivers his spiel with real enthusiasm.
Then there’s his super quick thinking and wit. He is probably as good or better simply adlibbing. Not to mention his perfect delivery.
Titled “Sure Thing”, the show, sort of drawn from personal experiences, covered a range of topics, including the family travelling to Bali and the resulting chaos that ensued, the ABC and the Catholic Church.
In a twist to the usual comedy, Gleeson finished by inviting the audience to ask him which parts of the show they thought were real and which were not. Conclusion? Some, but not too much!!
If you’re going to see comedy at the Fringe, why not simply go to the top of the comedy tree? Oh, and he’s funny, very funny.
Bakehouse Theatre February 26-March 16
In association with Smokescreen Productions
Shell Shock is one of four plays which come under the umbrella title ‘Lest We Forget’. We tend to think of this phrase applying to those who died in wars, but Shell Shock brings us starkly to recognise that not all the casualties of war lie buried in some far flung field. Soldiers who return from active duty in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq have witnessed atrocities and violence, lived with the constant fear of death and seen their comrades maimed or killed. So, when a soldier leaves the army, ready to take up his or her life in civilian society it is not an easy transition.In Shell Shock we meet one such soldier who shares his experiences from the first euphoric sense of freedom, to the final despair, after his relationships have broken down, his attempt at employment has ended in disaster, his mood swings, nightmares and anger have alienated those around him and life seems to hold nothing more for him. The story is told with self deprecating humour, and an endearing lack of self-pity. There are lighter moments and humour as Tim Marriott narrates the story – a story which mirrors that of thousands of ex-soldiers. The play is adapted from a novel of the same name by Neil Watkins, and we are told afterwards that this story rebounds again and again.
Shell Shock really brings home what so many servicemen and women suffer. How can they relate to normal everyday life, where what we call ‘first world problems’ dominate the conversation? Go and see a strong performance of a superb script, and come away more aware of how crippling and widespread is the post traumatic stress suffered by those who believe that they have served their country. Has their country then served them?
Soweto Gospel Choir
To March 18
Back for a longer season than last years triumph at the Royal Croquet Club, the choir did not disappoint.
Thankfully is was not exactly the same show as last year, but the incredible energy and power remained intact. This was a show dedicated to Nelson Mandela and his presence was palpable throughout the performance.
The choir, decked in their signature bright outfits, hit the ground running, literally, with a series of African songs, all powerful stuff. They presented a range of music, from deeply African to James Brown’s “I Feel Good”, a few slower songs, probably placed so that the members could catch their breath and closed with Leonard Cohen’s majestic “Hallelujah”
More than the songs, it is the energy and passion not only in the singing, but also in the very demanding choreography, not to mention dancing and drumming in the brilliant percussion interlude. With very little in the way of breaks between numbers the choir kept up the energy level to fever pitch right to the penultimate number, letting us down slowly with the deeply moving finale.
The only downsides were a slightly muddy sound, sometimes making it hard to clearly hear the singing, and the sounds infiltrating the venue from other events.
The audience wanted more, but as Fringe show rules dictate an hour is it. Great way to spend an hour though!
St Mary’s College
There is something special seeing a local talent blossom in the the largest melting pot of jazz that is New York. And to see his talents on full display is not to be missed or forgotten.
He may not have, as yet, become a Chick Corea or Keith Jarrett, but his enormous talent was on display at this concert which took place at in the quiet environment of a school hall. After three openers featuring some of the school’s own talent it was down to business.
Sheens, playing a grand piano as opposed to the electric version he usually plays in clubs, was supported by some of the countries finest jazz musicians, San Anning on bass, Gian Slater on vocals and Tim Firth, drums.
Whilst the main part of the concert was relatively short, it featured, in its entirety, his new work, the soon to be released “American Counterpoint”, his musical take on the current American political situation. Whilst it is largely a composed piece, it is a completely cohesive and powerful musical statement.
Composed for piano, drums, bass and a string quartet, here Slater was given the part of the string quartet, well at least the first violin, and her wordless vocals drifted beautifully above the band. But it was Sheens brilliant playing that made the work gell and provided that main ingredient.
The Speakeasy, Gluttony
To March 4
Following appearances in previous Fringes and Edinburgh, the show returns to this years Fringe in the enlarged Gluttony venue. There have been some changes to the show and it’s all be better for it.
The venue is as one would expect from Gluttony, rustic with a small performance space and the audience packed closely to the stage. This adds immediacy to the performance, not to mention a punch!
It is, of course, a musical and thus there are songs. In this case, the all original songs are, well, pretty good with all four cast members singing and playing with much gusto.
In the course of the one hour show, we are treated to a sort of history of this “religion” and at times it is hard to keep up with the rapid fire script, full of one liners and a great big dollop of sarcasm. A bit of background knowledge is advised!
Nonetheless, thoroughly entertaining.
Another bout of nostalgia for a long forgotten 70’s artist? Sorry, not here. Sure McClellan played his best known songs, “Song & Dance Man”, “Rock’n Roll Lady”, “Saturday Dance” and “The One I Love” which has just recorded by Tommy Emmanuel & Ricky Scraggs.
But far more than this he featured many songs from his recent return to live performance after many years as an advertising exec. and confirmed that his brilliant guitar playing is intact as is his superb voice. Great songs flowed on and on over the two hour plus solo show, confirming his status as one of this country’s greatest songwriters. Many of the songs come from his excellent new CD “No Intermission” and his previous release “Dancing In The Rain”.
McClellan is the complete performer, great original songs, an emotional voice and a virtuoso guitarist. He demonstrated the latter with a stunning performance of Davey Graham’s “Angie”, made famous by Bert Jansch and Paul Simon, which he bookeneded with his own “Still”. Covers were sparse but excellent, Jerry Jeff Walker’s “Mr Bojangles” and the show closer, Paul Simon’s “The Boxer”.
Also deserving a mention is the venue. Trinity Church provides very good sound in a relaxed space. Perfect.
A night to remember.
ANTHEM FOR A DOOMED YOUTH
Guy Masterson- Bakehouse Theatre February 19 – March 3
Guy Masterson, who has been bringing quality theatre to Adelaide Fringe for many years, is well known to Adelaide audiences. This year he has brought four plays under the umbrella title of Lest We Forget, and each of these plays deal in some way with war. The first of these performances is not a play as such but a selection of war poetry, selected from English, French and German poets. The poems are presented with some sound and lighting effects but the strength of the performance is in the words, and in the brilliant way that Masterson delivers them.
While most people have some idea of the horrors of trench warfare during World War I these poems highlight both the minutiae of dealing with cold, lice, and noise along with the fear, facing death, seeing friends and comrades shot or shelled, left in pieces on the battlefield. Or, they die a slow lingering death, with no hope of recovery.
The story of the first Christmas Eve of the war, when the German and British troops joined in celebrating Christmas in no-mans land introduced humour while demonstrating that these soldiers who had been trying to kill each other were just ordinary men who could have been friends under different circumstances. This piece was not by a poet but by Guy Masterson himself, showing another side to his talents. There were other moments of humour, it was not all heavy doom and gloom. These soldiers had been persuaded that they were saving their country. That made them heroes. Yet when they returned maimed, blind, shell shocked and cynical, that became their reality.
For lovers of wonderful writing delivered by a consummate actor, this performance is one that you would really appreciate. Some of the poets, such as Wilfred Owen and Sassoon are well known. Others less so, and Masterson gives us their story along with their poems.
The other plays in this series are: Mengele, Shell Shock and Between the Crosses all at Bakehouse Theatre.
For those who can remember, Rudd will need no introduction. As leader of Spectrum he was at the forefront of progressive rock in Australia in the 70’s and then with the rather more commercial Ariel. He has continued to perform in various formations ever since and in this performance he is supported by the unusual lineup of electric / acoustic bass and accordion. The man himself has a distinctive guitar sound as he plays fingerstyle, that is no plectrum.
It was an informal show before a devoted audience and all the better for it! There was much banter and background to the songs which this reviewer found riveting. After getting the obligatory “I’ll Be Gone” out the way as an opener, noting that this was a great stripped down version, he suddenly launched into the Beatles “She’s A Woman” in tribute to their influence.
From there it was a succession of selections from the back catalogue, the well known, “Superbody” and the Ariel chart topper, “Jamaican Farewell” (a suicide song, apparently) and the obscure, all presented superbly by the Mike Rudd Trio. With the presence of an accordion, a much maligned instrument, bringing rock classics to life in a trio setting sounds like a big ask, but no problem here, they brought new life into the songs and even managed to perform “I’ll Be Gone” again in a completely different arrangement.
Mike Rudd is a veteran, no question, but that doesn’t mean he’s there simply to wallow in the past, instead he has reinvented it and dressed it in new and colourful clothes.
SAX TO THE MAX
The Spire, Clayton Wesley Uniting Church, Beulah Park
18 & 25 February 4 March
The saxophone is becoming more and more accepted as a versatile instrument, which can feature in classical music as well as jazz. With this in mind four saxophonists, Lindsay Heesom, Kym Gluyas, Sylvan Elhay and Steve Eads played Baroque, with a couple of ‘ring-in’ composers. So with much enthusiasm and no small skill they presented a program that included Handel, Mozart (not quite Baroque, but near enough) and Frescobaldi. The final two items in the first half of the program were the most successful, possibly because Singlee and Gershwin wrote with the saxophone in mind, so that these works made the best use of the instruments. Marilla’s arrangement of Gershwin’s American in Paris, in particular, allowed each player to shine.
After interval the quartet was joined by two young trumpet players, Carly Cameron and Hayden King, and the addition of these instruments added an extra element of enjoyment. This was a concert which allowed people who love to play music share their passion with a very appreciative audience. A very pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
Australian String Quartet
Adelaide Town Hall February 15th 2018
The evening started with a lucid, comprehensive overview of the Brett Dean and Philip Glass Quartets given by the cellist, Sharon Grigoryan. So we were somewhat prepared for the musical experiences that followed and that was helpful as this music, especially Brett Dean’s ‘Eclipse’, is challenging and confronting.
The first piece, Philip Glass’ ‘Mishima’, is drawn from the score written for the film of that name. Each movement is an incident from the film but the music is independent, one doesn’t need to know the titles. The repetitive figures revolving around a few chords are hypnotic, a shifting miasma of sound, the blend and texture so admirably captured by the ASQ. The cello was often independent, weaving a thread through the rippling broken chords with a beautiful ethereal sound. At one point the viola joined the cello in a chorale like passage evocative of higher ideals and the ending with its driving triplets and energetic pulse inspired one to action!. The piece was performed in darkness, only the musicians’ screens showing. At the end of the piece a blue light appeared and set the mood for the brooding opening of ‘Eclipse’. I would have liked more time for the Glass atmosphere to dissipate – but that is a personal thing. We had been told in advance that there would be no break before the second work and the lightening of the stage was a good way of indicating; it also set the mood, as did the stillness of the performers. The continuity was possible thanks to technology – no changing of scores or turning pages.
We knew that this quartet was written as a response to the Tampa incident in 2001 when a Norwegian captain went to the aid of a leaking boat full of refugees in the Indian Ocean and Australian Government denied them entry. This helped understand and appreciate the abstract, discordant and explorative music. The three sections are clearly evident, but as the troubled and despairing first section exploded into the nervous, aggressive second section, the light changed to brilliant red which highlighted not only the mood but also the cello and its repetitive motives. The sounds depicted the screams, the terror, the violence of the sea and the situation. The unanimity of the quartet was admirable, one had the impression the players thought as one. After this churning, turbulent segment the mood calms and the tensions disappear. I expected the lighting to change back to the blue effect – but it didn’t! So we had to calm ourselves aurally not visually! The ending was sombre, questioning – what else can one say. The work has a profound effect on the emotions.
The interval was a time to return to normal and the Mendelssohn Quartet in D major, a favourite of the composer, was a welcome comforter. But no less demanding for the players: the running quavers of the Trio, reminiscent of his youthful “Midsummer night’s Dream” score, the linked semiquaver arpeggios in the first movement and the extreme tempo of the last movement were beautifully executed with lightness and virtuosity. Dale Barltrop’s perfect mastery of the 1st violin part which was like a violin concerto complete with cadenzas. Francesca Hiew competently brought out her solos in the difficult middle region of the instrument and the lovely contrasting semiquavers of the third movement. Stephen King revelled in the rich viola sound, sometimes in unexpected places! Sharon Grigoryan proved cello playing to be as light and effortless as on the smaller instruments. The four players united in an exuberant, dramatic, perfectly coordinated performance that left the audience enthusiastic and optimistic.
MAX RIEBL – THE GREAT PRETENDER
The Studio – German Club 16-18 February
Max Riebl is an established counter tenor who can whip through the most intricate music with consummate ease and a voice as clear and untroubled by excessive vibrato as anyone could wish for. His show began with such a bravura display, which was followed by ‘The Great Pretender’. It is not easy to combine the worlds of pop and classical and for me, while the voice never failed to please, I wondered why he bothered with a Presley hit. Maybe he became bored with being brilliant in the normal counter tenor repertoire? Maybe he wanted to try something different as an alternative artist? I also wondered why he used a microphone, especially when singing with a guitar accompaniment, as his voice was powerful throughout the range, and at times the microphone distorted that sound. Was this because singers of popular music always use a microphone?
Where the pop/classical combination worked really well was in ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ a cheeky and clever marriage of both genres. Purcell’s ‘Cold Song’ from King Arthur, a masterpiece in anybody’s musical language, was the final piece and before that we heard Schubert’s Ave Maria, with a pure line and a voice of crystal clarity.
Max Riebl has a strong stage presence and when relaxed he communicates well with the audience. More personal anecdotes and composers’ backgrounds might smooth the edges between the two music worlds. However I would far rather hear Max Riebl sing Morissey than hear Sting sing John Dowland.
There didn’t seem to be a printed program so I can’t give a name to the guitarist who played two solos and supported Max splendidly. At other times the musical support came from a recorded backing.
LOVE LETTERS TO THE PUBLIC TRANSPORT SYSTEM
Holden Street Theatre 14 February – 1 March
The concept behind this performance is disarmingly simple. We love being told stories; we even love gossip, if we dare admit it; so when a young woman sits on a bus seat and talks to her audience as though they are fellow passengers all partaking in a bit of a natter, one sided as it is, we settle back and enjoy. Molly Taylor draws in her audience beginning with the story of her heartbreak. What follows is a journey through England on public transport, and as the end of this journey brings her happiness for a while, she feels compelled to write to all the drivers who facilitated this journey, in appreciation of their contribution. For fear we may feel that Molly is too centred on self, she tells us other stories of people whose lives are changed while on a bus. It is enough to inspire one to throw away the driver’s licence and head for the nearest bus stop.
Molly Taylor tells her stories with such charm and vivacity that only the most cynical or jaded person would not respond and share with her the joys and disappointments that come her way. We rejoice in her appreciation of the transport network, and feel for her when Northern Rail is the last entity to reply to her letters, she being from North of England and thus feeling this lack of prompt response personally.
Go along and be charmed, spend a delightful hour watching a show that was a sellout at Edinburgh Fringe and will surely be a sell out here as well.
Written and Directed by Henry Naylor
Holden Street Theatres 13 February to 18 March
A writer of political satire visits a war zone and is confronted by the face of suffering. He decides to practise his craft differently. Thus Henry Naylor, who was head writer for Spitting Images and Headcases, wrote his first drama-tragedy, The Collector, in 2014. This was followed by Echoes, and Angel, which have been performed in Adelaide, and finally Borders, the play which he has brought to Holden Street Theatres this year. All of these plays have dealt with aspects of war-torn Middle East, but from a very personal angle.
The essence of good drama is to challenge an audience, and bring people to question and reflect on serious issues as well as to entertain. The challenge to the playwright is to write a play which does just that without being didactic. In this Naylor has succeeded. His approach to theatre is minimalist. He relies on the quality of his writing and direction to allow excellent performances from his actors. The result is compelling and enthralling drama. Credit should also be given to the two co-directors, Michael Cabot and Louise Skanning.
The narrative revolves around two characters, Sebastian Nightingale, (Graham O’Mara) a British photojournalist who begins as a young man wanting to save the world and finishes as a society photographer, with a second wife, keeping up a lifestyle that requires a beautiful home and a rose garden. Nameless, (Avital Lvova) a young woman in worn torn Syria, is an artist who becomes an activist, forced to flee her home and become a refugee. The contrast between these two people using their creative talents in different ways is not a coincidence.
Along with these two characters each actor convincingly portrays others, who flesh out their stories. The lives of Nightingale and Nameless come together at the conclusion of the play under circumstances which are all too familiar to those who follow international news.
Borders scores highly as theatre, in its writing, the quality of the acting and in the way it challenges our complacency. It is highly recommended.
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.