All posts by Paul Nolan

Paul Nolan was born on the New South Wales North Coast. He has been involved with musical theatre and choral groups on the NSW North Coast and in Sydney. Paul has had poetry published in various periodicals. He is trained in classical piano and has a Bachelor of Music from the UNSW.

GRIFFIN THEATRE COMPANY PRESENTS ‘CITY OF GOLD’ AT SBW STABLES THEATRE

Above : playwright Meyne Wyatt  stars in his play City of Gold at the SBW Stables Theatre. Featured image : Meyne Wyatt, photo credit Brett Boardman.

This co-production between Queensland Theatre and Griffin Theatre Company introduces us to the profoundly direct playwriting and performance style of Meyne Wyatt. This gifted communicator cuts through politically-correct rhetoric to reveal an actually questionable, shaky status quo where cultural inequality and racism still play on routine repeat in this country.

The play opens with a scene in fierce parody of the filming of that controversal TV ad we have all seen to promote the lamb industry. That one actually starring Wyatt which neatly over-jovialises the comfort of diverse peoples now on this land as all boat people having a BBQ. This dig at the advertising industry starts the play off with signature incisive comedy and slick shock value.

This commentary on subtle racism and the industry returns in a   huge, virtuosic monologue to begin Act Two. Actor Breythe in this story and playwright Meyne deliver a rapid fire assault on the Australian existence for Aboriginal people. Especially sobering was the mention of identity and career options for a labelled ‘indigenous’ actor,  explained as problematic from the evocative red-soiled backyard set of the Griffin stage itself.

Australia pats its own back as a ‘unified’ nation with an efficiently updated outlook on issues of gender, sexuality, religion, race, disability and inclusion. We believe these to be treated carefully. So
much of this play’s text in either harsh monologue or passing reaction in dialogue highlights how our ‘advanced’ modern treatment of the Aboriginal people can still be seen and felt as lacking.

Above : Shari Sebbens delivers an outstanding performance as Carina

Surrounding the keen observations and continued reference to tensions between white and black residents in regional areas and cities alike is a huge-hearted family story of grief and ‘getting on with it’ following the death of a father.

This snapshot of survival and tragedy and frenzied attempts to escape dangerous cruelty in a racist regional mining town makes it impossible for us to look away in anger or shame at any point.

A magnetic and moving piece of theatre, City of Gold is a timely and important invasion of our safe theatrical land. Its taut emotional tessitura stretches to breaking point over the two-plus hours
it holds us in a necessary vice.

The well-cast and vibrant ensemble of actors assembled have wide and recognised experience in contemporary Australian productions. They and the subtleties of a detailed script are directed with impressive nuance by Isaac Drandic, The interactions exude humble warmth in well-paced moments of alarming emotional outpouring  from this cleverly structured work.

Wyatt’s writing in short, sharp scenes with dream sequences and flashback included are effective reiterations of genuine stresses. The storytelling is studded with reference to indigenous culture. It   highlights as  hazardous any description of people, locations and actions as ‘the other’ from both sides of the racial or geographical fence.

Such outbursts are greased with cleverly blended shades of very successful humour in our complex vernacular. The play, even though set in our apparently enlightened time, hurtles to a very sudden, shocking and undesirable denouement. This is a heartbreakingly savage  social tragedy which will shock our modern sensibilities.

Mathew Cooper stars as Matteo in City of Gold

Shining with lucid brilliance on the stage beside Meyne Wyatt, and an anchor for the story’s family is Shari Sebbens in a powerhouse performance of his sister Carina. The inclusion of such an experienced TV, film and and stage performer   in this knockout ensemble and alongside Wyatt is a key ingredient in  its impact.

Jeremy Ambrum wins hearts immediately with his layered portrayal of the cousin Cliffhanger. Heshows significant range as he uses the stage well. Rich stories result from even his smallest utterance or gesture.

Maitland Schnaars moves with stunning ease through flashback time frames. In moments of prophetic willy wagtail mime he instantly transforms the small Griffin space into a chilling immense vista.

Matt Cooper is achingly good in the role of elder brother Matteo. His portrayal shows  a laconic Wongi man who has seen too much and is justifiably trapped by the drink or anger.  It establishes him immediately to be an actor commanding the stage with dramatic deftness equal to his talented peers in this production.

The rendering of Matteo’s continued frustration is one of many poignant, honest and indisputable warnings this important theatre moment in our history delivers. All performances and confident writing make City of Gold a relevant confrontation and essential viewing.

City of Gold plays at the SBW Stables Theatre until August 31.

MUSICA VIVA PRESENTS CHOIR OF THE KING’S COLLEGE CAMBRIDGE @ CITY RECITAL HALL

Above : Conductor of the Choir of King’s College Cambridge for this Musica Viva tour, Daniel Hyde. Daniel will become the choir’s next Director of Music later this year.

Choir of King’s College Cambridge continues its long association with Musica Viva with its recent tour of Australia. The concert at City Recital Hall this week was a compelling mixture of fare from five centuries of choral tradition through to 2018. This diverse programme also saw the choir members perform in collaboration with Australian instrumentalists.

The Kings School trebles of the choir were joined in this concert by Australian harpist Alice Giles. Via this collaboration we were treated to a fine version of Benjamin Britten’s Ceremony of Carols just prior to interval. In its intended format for trebles and harp, the young voices and virtuoso harpist dazzled us with the purity of tone and austere stillness that this work is loved for. Continue reading MUSICA VIVA PRESENTS CHOIR OF THE KING’S COLLEGE CAMBRIDGE @ CITY RECITAL HALL

HOURGLASS ENSEMBLE : HEART OF AUSTRALIA @ THE UTZON ROOM

Above : Australian composer Nigel Westlake’s PianoTrio was heard in this concert. Featured image : Hourglass Ensemble pianist Anna Rutkowska-Shock.

Hourglass Ensemble is in the middle of an exciting two-concert set arranged over consecutive weekends in the Sydney Opera House’s Utzon Room. Australian works feature prominently in both programmes.

The first concert, ‘Heart of Australia’, started this journey on July 20 in breathtaking style. Two Australian compositions from the last two decades were complemented by the expressive innovations of Fauré in his full-bodied Piano Quintet No 1 in D minor.

The programme began with pianist Anna Rutkowska-Shock presenting an impressive rendering of Carl Vine’s Sonata for Piano No 1  (1990). Vine’s delicate densities and meticulous architecture of layered intricacy were in good hands here.

This was a performance of powerhouse clarity, featuring fine voice leading, even of fleeting fragments within the complex textures. The range of nuance displayed, and especially virtuosic playing on the soft end of the spectrum was exemplary.

Rutkowska-Shock dazzled us with the dexterity that this piece demands, whilst taking us on an expressive journey with a wash of artistic colour. This sonata makes sense only via decent
deciphering of the compositional structures and a combining of seemingly disparate elements is achieved with appropriate preservation of the precious momentum. This pianist had all such requirements well considered.

Rutkowska-Shock  continued to offer comprehensive keyboard vistas and a broad timbral palette to the chamber works which fleshed out the remainder of the concert. The instrumental forces and musical textures grew through the successive works.

Above: Hourglass Ensemble’s cellist James Larsen

The distinctive soundscapes of Nigel Westlake filled the Utzon Room space in his Piano Trio from 2003. Violinist Thomas Talmacs and cellist James Larsen demonstrated fine sympathetic
accompaniment. Their ensemble playing with the piano was of fine calibre here as the lines combined with precision and care.

The demands of the sparse, more melodic and quite filmic writing
from this local master of atmosphere were well met in this nicely paced performance with vividly created imagery.

For the final work on the programme, the Hourglass team members expanded to piano quintet mode
as they dug right in to the earliest composition heard on the night.

Fauré’s Piano Quintet No 1 in Dminor was an effective way with which to complete  this concert. The deeply expressive blend of
instruments at the heart of this work, with its well-constructed densities  supplied a satisfying full sound. The intricate busy tapestry heard especially in the opening composition by Carl Vine were reflected in this early twentieth century composition.

This was lush and large playing throughout, which consistently showed the ensemble’s ability to speak in a unified complex voice.  Density and clarity comfortably existed side by side. As in the stunning opening performance  of the Carl Vine sonata,  this work was continually well-crafted by the gifted players.

July 27 sees the Hourglass Ensemble return to the Utzon Room venue for another evening concert. The next programme in this set expands on the length of this concert to feature more Australian music, including the clarinet quintet ‘Songs From the Bush’ by composer Ian Munro.

MONKEY BAA THEATRE PRESENTS HITLER’S DAUGHTER @ ARA DARLING QUARTER THEATRE

Above : author of  the book, ‘Hitler’s Daughter’, Jackie French.

Since 1997, children and adults of all ages have enjoyed adaptations of books at Monkey Baa Theatre performances, Here,  social and literary concepts and comments have been brought to colourful and dynamic life.

One such phenomenal success of storytelling to provoke thought and emotions during this time has been Hitler’s Daughter, based on the 1999 book by Jackie French. The original reworking of this material by Monkey Baa creatives in 2006 won its presentation a Helpmann Award amongst other accolades.

Watching this piece in its electrifyingly effective 2019 revival guise it is easy to appreciate why it was a well-deserved recipient of awards and enjoys continued audience praise. Sandra Eldridge’s joyous and sensitive directing shines once more. A strong design and acting team now bring this accessible gem to us, more penetrating in its swoop than ever.

The storytelling nature of this adaptation receives tremendous impetus through the flexibility of Imogen Ross’ flexible set  to quickly and smoothly shift from questioning minds of youth in Australia to the tension and misguided allegiance of a young girl caught up in a tense world with the Führer as Vater.

Lighting designed by Luiz Pampolha shifts fluidly to accompany the alternation between worlds. Alongside some well-structured and contrasted sound from Jed Silver, the current day musings and wartime horrors are vividly evoked. Fear and propaganda during the time of air raids and ethnic cleansing are presented with believable sensory depth.

A tremendously effective way to learn challenging history is through re-enactment. Comedy, caricature and crisis can be juxtaposed to assist with the pace of exposure also. In this play these elements work well in the ebb and flow.

The comic scenes here, often relating to domestic family routine or familiar school bus and bus stop confrontations are riotously funny moments with superb unison or ensemble comic timing.

Toby Blome’s portrayal of the character Mark, eager to pump his friend Anna for information on the plight of the perhaps daughter of Hitler,  is passionate. It bounces with relentless freshness from the stage. His super-keen thirst for detail and questioning of new information is genuinely presented. It drips with relentless curiosity and clear delivery.

This character’s role in both the book and on stage canvasses the quick changes in attitude, location and era as he darts around the versatile. Blome is superbly successful as a direct mouthpiece of the target age groups for this play. His engaging clarity makes the play’s questioning of leadership and dangerous attitudes very easy for us to relate to.

War and peace, questionable political leadership and the need for re-examining history is personified in the many characters played with chameleon-like dexterity by Joel Horwood. His awesome quick costume, stature, gender and dialect changes are impressive.

Emma Wright is exquisitely tentative and cautious as schoolgirl Anna, regaling her schoolmates in fragments of history pertaining to her maybe connection to Hitler.

Watching this actor’s range and range of characters explode then retreat back to a wistful sentimental position of schoolgirl  memory is a treat.

Her depiction of Mark’s mother is a priceless, recogniseable quotidian  school-mum fare, with subtle facts and figures about the Holocaust easy to access .

Luminous on the stage from the outset to the end is Romy Watson, stunningly suited to the characters of schoolgirl Tracey and German girl Heidi, the daughter of Hitler.

When switching to Heidi, our limping guide through the war scenes and talk of Jews, camps, the Aryan race and other assorted unbelievable concepts, she is chillingly vulnerable.

Hitler’s Daughter is a provocative, evocative morsel of theatre for audience members of any age. In its compelling revival production with foyer information panels and the chance for schools to also visitthe Sydney Jewish Museum for even more information it is a touching method of education.

History and humanity have never been so attractively packaged, responsibly treated or importantly questioned, as they are in this entertaining  production.

New bookings for primary and secondary school shows and museum experiences in Sydney are now open for early September.

 

SYDNEY YOUTH ORCHESTRA : BEETHOVEN’S FIFTH @ CITY RECITAL HALL

Above and featured image : SYO members with Chief Conductor Alexander Briger.

This winter concert from SYO in City Recital Hall was an exciting and entertaining romp through two very well known and loved orchestral works. Both well known works on this challenging programme were played with considerable energy, enunciation and elation.

The talented young orchestral players displayed formidable stamina and finesse as they were guided through some fine interpretations by conductor Alexander Briger.

To begin the afternoon, Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring Suite was explored in turn with impressive restraint and exuberance by SYO. With nice shaping of Copland’s simple, sparse language here, very accessible and detailed vistas welcomed us into a very evocative world.

This performance world’s neat excitement was awash with a myriad of colours. Smooth interest was maintained thanks to continued seamless shifts between full orchestra, the timbres of SYO’s separate instrumental groups and well-balanced solo lines pitted against the orchestra.

SYO’s playing of ‘The Gift To Be Simple’ hymn in this work was a true highlight. It grew from initial moments of sweetly chiselled intimacy through to tutti declamations of unbridled joy. This was thanks to some impressive unison focus and charismatic tracing of line.

To conclude this concert event we had a decent serving of bold and brash Beethoven as SYO gave a powerhouse rendering of his Symphony No 5. Conductor Alexander Briger ensured there was still plenty of space amidst the rocketing tempi choices of the outer movements for nice subtleties and conversation across the orchestra.

The swoop of material developed across the various sections of the orchestra was clear despite the ambitious tempo. Despite the large orchestral forces employed there was considerable buoyancy and lightness in the playing. This resulted particularly from the realisation of Beethoven’s involved sections of character contrasts within and between movements.

The unified orchestral power spoke with a contrasting strident poetic beauty throughout the less-hectic second movement of this famous symphony. This leisurely and forward-leaning Andante con moto breathed easily as it elegantly stated its famous case . Following this interlude the large orchestra was once more harnessed to launch into faster movements where it effectively expressed Beethoven’s vibrant musical  shapes and brusque, complex thematic combinations.

This symphony was taken at such a keen pace its rendering would have greatly challenged a group of musicians of even much more collective experience  than SYO.

However, the success and safety of this orchestra getting through the substantial work owed much to the clear and driving persistence of its chief conductor as well as some admirable section and full-orchestra leading from concertmaster  Ben Tjoa.

This Beethoven performance was quite elevated and spontaneous. It was by no means a scramble despite the obvious athletic efforts and collective brave, hard work of these capable musicians. This milestone and fresh interpretation deserves repeat performances and perhaps even a chance at being recorded orbroadcast.

Here, the two large and popular landmark works of the orchestral canon were  well programmed for variety and effect. They were admirably tackled by SYO, leaving us with some fine chances to revisit these key works from Copland and Beethoven and refresh our love of them.

Sydney Youth Orchestras continue to have a busy 2019. On September 21 the SYO collaborates with Sydney Philharmonia Choirs and Festival Chorus in a performance of the Dvorák Requiem at Sydney Opera House.

 

 

THE METROPOLITAN ORCHESTRA-MET CONCERT THREE : TANGOS AND TCHAIKOVSKY.

An evening with TMO strings is always something to look forward to. Add to this the opportunity to hear the dynamic pianism and compositions of Daniel Rojas and there will be serious entertainment laid before you.

The new Rojas work to begin this concert, Libertango Suite, saw TMO strings with conductor Sarah-Grace Williams launch immediately into a South American groove, taking their cue from Rojas’ characteristically joyous energy.

This world premiere was a great showcase for the versatility of the string orchestra.  It was also an impressive vehicle for Rojas’ slick and charismatic pianistic approach to be able to blend world and classical music formats.

The collaboration between TMO  strings and Rojas brought exciting results. From the concert’s outset the combined feel of TMO strings and stylistic crossover champion Rojas saw the entire group dig in to the music with an incredibly unified verve.

A healthy respect for both the classical and South American canon of musical gesturing and performance practice was in evidence, resulting with some sparkling realisations of the separate and combined styles.

This four-movement work featured solo moments given to different string sections, particularly indulging the impressive world music flair of concertmaster Victoria Jacono-Gilmovich as well
members of the cello and bass teams.

Above : Composer and pianist Daniel Rojas.  Featured image : Daniel Rojas at the piano with TMO strings, conductor Sarah-Grace Williams and principal cellist Ezmi Pepper. Photo credit for featured image : Christopher Hayles Photography.

The four movements of this work include re-writing and arranging of Astor Piazzolla’s Libertango and Gran Tango pieces as well as two fresh explorations of related musics by Rojas. The fresh material
came in the form of the tender ‘Navegar’ in movement two and the final ‘La Gran Salsa’, with cello lines from principal cellist Ezmi Pepper sensitively intertwined with the keyboard as co-soloist here.

This satisfying new work unfolded complete with the effervescent addition of vocal exclamations and humming to unite the fervour of TMO strings with the world music experience and energy of this pianist-composer. Its solid musical integrity with a firm foot in both  South American and European traditions bridged the divide with his typically formidable compositional fireworks.

In the opening suite movement it was both a master stroke by Rojas and a thrill for lovers of Bach in the audience to hear an plaintive Latin American elaboration over the top of the familiar framework
of his Prelude in C minor from Book 1 of Bach’s Das Wohltemperierte Klavier.

Such a moment was a highlight of the crossover nature of this work and this performance, as well as being a solidly impressive variation in harmonic and musicological terms also.

TMO strings next delivered Tchaikovsky at his most beautifully balletic with his Serenade for Strings Op 84. This concert’s  elegant and appropriate dance music interpretations continued in the well known waltz inspired second movement.

The ‘Elegy’ of the third movement was finely shaped and quite variegated as  was the contrasting movements of the rest of this work.

The broad strokes of this excursion into Tchaikovsky’s broad emotional arsenal and successful writing for strings alone  offered us lush timbres and consistently intelligent realisation.

Following the atmospheres produced here, TMO strings are sure to be considered amongst the clearest, richest string sounds in our city. The popular orchestra’s mighty string section repeatedly reminded us of TMO’s typical ‘precision with soul’ style of playing.

The full Metropolitan Orchestra returns to the ABC Centre on September 7, for Met Concert #4, and to perform Mahler’s Symphony No 5.

OMEGA ENSEMBLE : AMERICAN MASTERS @ CITY RECITAL HALL.

Above : Pianist Sally Whitwell played Phillip Glass during this concert. Featured image : composer Nico Muhly.

Omega Ensemble’s recent concert afforded its audience the chance to immerse itself in the delicate densities of modern American Music. Masterful composition deserves masterful playing. This was achieved easily here. The high quality of performance assisted the audience in a welcome refresh or discovery of the programmed works.

This programme had a compelling swoop, from the music of Phillip Glass and John Adams through to works from the last fifteen years by Nico Muhly. As well as preparation for this concert, Muhly has been working on an ABC Classics recording during this visit of all works featured in the concert, alongside the Phillip Glass Sonata for Violin and Piano.

The excitement and joy of this collaboration was obvious as the assembled musicians delivered Muhly’s acclaimed musical architecture and direct expression in the second half of the concert. The first half though belonged to American minimalist masters Phillip Glass and John Adams.

Who better to lead this event’s tribute to Phillip Glass’ music than pianist Sally Whitwell ? This appearance follows on from her world-premiere performances of the complete Etudes by Glass with the composer and the release of a recording of the twenty pieces on ABC Classics last year.

The two chosen etudes to open this evening, numbers 2 and 11, were executed with fine gradation of layers. There was beautiful organic movement towards any climatic moments. Glass’ reiterated, slightly changing shapes and emphases were nicely handled meditative musical ingredients here.

Quality interpretation of Phillip Glass continued when Sally Whitwell was joined by violinist Alexandra Osborne. Their performance of Glass’ Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano displayed great communication both between them as soloists.

These musicians succeeded in clearly outlining this master minimalist’s challenging and relentless motoric expression with seamless calm and pleasing contour.

Above : Omega Ensemble musicians.

Quite a highlight of the first half of the concert was the addition of Shaker Loops by John Adams in its string septet version. This was more joyous exploration by Omega Ensemble musicians of the subtleties of this work.

It was a performance brimming with energy and a clear complexities for the listener. As such an exemplary rendering of minimalism from late last century, it was style which nicely complemented the previous works by Phillip Glass. It obviously pleased the modern audience assembled.

Following interval we were able to immerse ourselves in the lush sound world of the most recent American Master in the programme, Nico Muhly. Instrumental works from 2004 (By All Means) and 2017 (No Uncertain Terms) sculpt influences from as far and wide as Weelkes, Byrd, Webern and Steve Reich into stunning Muhly-an microcosms.

The musical result of these creative structures from such an artisan as Muhly are busy textures in constant and extremely engaging flux. The continnuum of fresh ideas intersect and are emitted in fascinating streams of tonal colour combinations.

At this event these works contrasted with the reiterations of Glass and Adams but had a similar instantly contagious energy. It was a thrill to hear Muhly’s compositions live. They were played by Omega Ensemble with bold and joyous abandon.

Above : Baritone Brett Brown, who performed the world premiere of Nico Muhly’s ‘Unexpected News’ with Omega Ensemble in this concert.

The much awaited and widely publicised event in this concert was the world premiere of Muhly’s song with instrumental accompaniment, Unexpected News. This work has a directness and svelte sensuality of vocal line to match the matter of a fact description of gay rensezvous in C.P Cavafy’s poem ‘Two Young Men, 23 to 24 Years Old’.

With inimitable clear complexity once more in his writing for extended instrumental ensemble with percussion, Muhly sets the subtle explicit nature of Cavafy’s brief statements with lovely filigree from well-blended instrumental fragments.

As throughout the entire concert, musical elements were brought together cleanly by conductor Gordon Hamilton. Baritone Brett Brown delivered Cavafy’s candid text on same sex union with deliciously  animated directness.

Brown keenly communicated his well-blended lines with both us and the ensemble. The premiere was an exciting birth of this work to the world and a fitting conclusion to a fine collaboration between all assembled musicians of and the visiting master Muhly to our shores,

OPERA AUSTRALIA PRESENTS MADAMA BUTTERFLY @ SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE

Above : One of the digital sets designed by Damien Cooper. Virgilio Marino as Goro, Karah Son as Cio-Cio-San and Andeka Gorrotxategi as Pinkerton.  Featured image : Karah Son as Cio-Cio-San with Sian Sharp as Suzuki. Photo credit for both images : Prudence Upton.

The day you see Opera Australia’s current production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly will be one fine day indeed. This version creates amazing stage atmospheres from which its characters’ arrogance and anguish can unfold.

Opera Australia continues its vibrant and successful partnership with director Graeme Murphy. Ensemble members and principals alike move around the glossy contemporary set with luminous
expression and ominous tension.

Production Designer Michael Scott-Mitchell has perched a moveable glossy platform in the centre of the stage as a focus for action. It tilts up high with a border of curved spikes, and it slopes on a slippery angle of impending doom.

Central to the essence of this new production is the use of digital sets, with video and projection design by Damien Cooper. An enthralling recent addition to Opera Australia’s scenic arsenal, the ebb and flow of such excellent imagery matches the hyper-contemporary style of the static set structures.

Around the digital set design, which alternates between the ornamental and fiercely figurative, Jennifer Irwin’s brilliant costumes swathe all characters in effective shapes and textures.

The use of dark hues as a costume base complements the setand contrasts with the brighter projections. Cio-Cio-San’s angered uncle The Bonze bursting onto the stage with an origami crane on his back is a startling gem of costuming.

The female ensemble members glide around the tilted stage always interestingly and suitably costumed. There is acerbic caricature and sheer beauty in the range of outfits worn. References to period style, geisha life and turn of the century art movements float with sharp comment before our eyes.

This busy yet striking visual smorgasbord aside, the production still drips with beautiful musical moments. Thanks to conductor Massimo Zanetti, the  visual impact exists alongside beautifully woven moments of Puccini music. The score unfolds full of fine balance, rich colour and accessible verismo dialogue.

Above : Andeka Gorrotxategi as Pinkerton and Karah Son as Cio-Cio-San. Photo credit : Prudence Upton.

Cio-Cio-San emerges in her contemporary geisha outfit of shiny black PVC  bound at the waist with a mess of red cords. Soprano Karah Son takes solid command of the stage from this point on. She is vocally focussed and a believable actor. We delight in her beautifully substantial tone rising from  fleeting utterances and  more extended vocal moments alike.

Impressive flexibility of character and voice comes from Michael Honeyman in the role of Sharpless. A fine level of vocal chemistry is present in later scenes with an emotionally stretched Butterfly.
Likewise the role of Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton is sung with sweet and pure tone by Andeka Gorrotxategi.  He is continually a fine portrait of a uniformed man from the early twentieth century.

Sian Sharp in the role of Butterfly’s attendant Suzuki gives a gutsy performance above, below and on the skew fragment of stage parapet. Her moments on stage emanate with attitude,
strength, considerable humanity and a syrup-like low register to lose yourself in.

This production is Madama Butterfly as few could have typically imagined, but it works. Regarding the introduction of digital set technology, careful checking of the extent to which an opera audience can be overwhelmed visually will be a sensible aim over the next few operas which use it.

For now, opera in Australia has a bold, bright new skin. The goosebumps it gives electrify.

Madama Butterfly plays at the Dame Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House until August 10.

MUSICA VIVA PRESENT THE DORIC STRING QUARTET @ CITY RECITAL HALL

Above : Composer Brett Dean, whose String Quartet No. 3 : Hidden Agendas was premiered during this tour for Musica Viva. Featured image:  Doric String Quartet members Alex Redington (violin), Helene Clement (viola), Ying Xue (violin) and John Myerscough (cello).

Doric String Quartet from the UK has just completed an extensive concert and educational tour of the country, playing Haydn, Beethoven and a new work by Brett Dean. These works were effective in highlighting this ensemble’s polished dramatic skill. The programme constantly displayed their abilities as musicians to communicate atmosphere along bold independent trajectories as well as via their unified quartet voice.                Continue reading MUSICA VIVA PRESENT THE DORIC STRING QUARTET @ CITY RECITAL HALL

LITTLE TRIANGLE PRESENTS ‘MURDER SHE SANG’ @ THE NEWSAGENCY CAMPERDOWN

Above : Local production company Little Triangle brought new work ‘Murder She Sang’ to Camperdown venue The Newsagency. Featured image : Caitlin Rose sang impressively in this her cabaret debut. Photo Credit : Shakira Wilson.

Little Triangle brought a slickly packaged and entertaining cabaret to the charming space at The Newsagency in Camperdown this week. It was in the form of the new Australian piece Murder She Sang, transporting us with  retro costuming and story into classical femme fatale territory with a fully scripted cabaret and a string of nicely arranged and delivered songs from the twentieth-century songbook.

Creatives Caitlin Rose and Alexander Andrews have conjured up a slice of film noir-ish retro revenge tale in this concept which entertains. The detailed and challenging rapid fire script from writer Hayden Rodgers accurately hurtles us back to the era of arsenic, Secretly dangerous spouses with handguns and racy police investigations of yesteryear.

This new work saluting such times and social structures is a compact but twisting tale. With slick costuming and lovely subtlety of delivery some shocking murderous ambitions are coquettishly
dangled before us from the lethal lying leading lady. The aptly chosen songs always emerge smoothly from the details of the storyline.

Musical accompaniment for storytelling and song moments was in very good hands with Harry Collins at the keyboard. Balance of the amplification at this venue, half-open to an annoyingly noisy foyer may have been more successful with the vocals line at a higher level.

Nevertheless, Caitlin Rose’s interpretation of songs from Sondheim, Rogers and Hart, Coleman and Zippel as well as many other luminaries of musicals and musical environments past was quite a consummate one. It consistently delivered and communicated with variety of tone and gorgeous elaboration of her character.

Accompanist and cabaret honey here worked effectively together here as they made use of the stage, each other’s personas and the link between the story, smooth segues to song lyrics and the
wide range of iconic stylistic features of the chosen music. Visual comedy, nice characterisations and a wealth of musical or vocal tone supported the situations and bold character of the leading
lady.

In this short show without interval the pair ensured the retro romp through larger than life vintage scenarios flavoured by cliché domestic crime

characters was studded with super-satisfying musical moments. These enticed us from an engaging musical style many audience members would not be often exposed to.

The offering was a fine tribute to music and storytelling from racy and tongue-in-cheek twentieth century times. Caitlin Rose’s experienced and solid svelte voice was a suitable once to maintain our interest in the difference of the older song styles.

Rose’s beautifully measured performance of ‘Sooner or Later’ stayed with me for a long time after the cabaret concluded. Her deceptively sweet delivery of all other text and music was engaging. This was one newly crafted cabaret for which modern audiences of any age would do well to pause their modern lives to soak up, celebrating the character and music of the featured era. Continue reading LITTLE TRIANGLE PRESENTS ‘MURDER SHE SANG’ @ THE NEWSAGENCY CAMPERDOWN

CD REVIEW – THE MARAIS PROJECT : THE GARDEN PARTY : CELEBRATING TWENTY YEARS OF THE MARAIS PROJECT.

The latest CD release  on  Move Records, The Garden Party (MCD 592) from The Marais Project is the group’s seventh to date, celebrating its twentieth anniversary. For two decades, viola da gamba player Jennifer Eriksson has passionately led this early-music-ensemble-with-a-difference. The Marais Project’s long history of concerts and recordings have delighted audiences and attracted a huge range of performers as it has worked on its aim to present all works in Marin Marais’ oeuvre.

This goal has never restricted the promotion of thus composer’s compositions and the viola da gamba on which he was a famous teacher and virtuoso to the mere replica of pure early music environments.

Jennifer Eriksson has updated the image and profile of her instrument  by continuously updating it in performance and ground-breaking recordings of which The Garden Party is yet one more fine example. The viola da gamba has over the years been included in performances and new arrangements of works from Marais and his contemporaries right through to inclusion in modern world music, new music as well as exciting  pop or jazz music crossover.

The current  Marais Project discography  features the subtleties of this historic string instrument’s diversity constantly being challenged and included in ensembles and works other than the French Baroque of Marais.

The previous six recordings have thrust it into new or changing lights. Eriksson’s playing and eagerness for experiment and collaboration has endeared Marais’ music and chosen instrument to us in a joyous kaleidoscope of musicology, reinvention and tribute to the energy of the focus composer and others and a cornucopia of contrasting musical styles, both historic and contemporary.

Above : Viola da gambist Jennifer Eriksson, founder of The Marais Project. Featured image: Detail from the cover design of The Garden Party CD – artwork by Lyndall Gerlach.

In this vein, The Garden Party boldly starts the anniversary celebration with the fluid and various reference points of its title track. In one of Eriksson’s own compositions, based on the Book IV work by Marais, Feste Champêtre’, we jump into a cosmopolitan and timeless blend of viola da gamba, violin, piano accordian, baroque guitar and double bass.

The viola da gamba as heard in Marais’ composition now speaks with fortified colour and function as the original material is tweaked with more than the occasional jazz twist in a typically delightful Marais Project melting pot.

In a similar vein, accordionist Emily-Rose Šárkova’s  arrangements of works by twentieth-century composers add to the five  new-release tracks on this recording.These Argentine composers’ works joyously conclude the celebration CD and are namely La Anunciácion by Ariel Ramirez and De Fiesta en Fiesta from Carlos Carabajal and the Rios Brothers.

Ending this CD in true party style, here with vocal lines and clapping adding to the successful blend of the same eclectic ensemble as the opening work, a high standard of sound engineering and recording expertise is obvious, giving a clear and well balanced result that is unwavering across the CD.

Above : Emily-Rose Šárkova, piano accordionist on the CD and arranger of three works on ‘The Garden Party’ recording.

As twenty years of The Marais Project concerts and recordings have shown audiences, we can expect to encounter historic instruments in their authentic environment as well as observe them taken way out of their early music comfort zone.

Marais and many composers would love such fresh collaborations and inclusions of instruments such as the viola da gamba with such altered voice in new ensemble opportunities.

Of the nine works included here, four come to us from previous Marais Project recordings. Tender Swedish folk song vocals by Pascal Herrington blend with fine accompaniment of baroque flute, violin, viola da gamba and theorbo in Tommie Andersson’s version of Om sommaren sköna, as released on the fifth CD, Smörgäsbord!

The Marais Project’s third recording, Love Reconciled brings to the party beautiful baroque vocal music from a contemporary of Marain Marais, Pierre Bouteiller. His motet for voice, viola da gamba and theorbo pays homage to works explored in the ensemble’s past to document pure French Baroque style.

The continued contributions over the last twenty years to The Marais Project concerts and CDs by early music experts soprano Belinda Montgomery, cellist Daniel Yeadon and multi-instrumentalist Tommie Andersson (here on theorbo) are highlighted in this selection.

Above : soprano Belinda Montgomery, whose recording of Pierre Bouteiller’s  motet ‘O salutaris hostia’ with viola da gambas and theorbo is included on this anniversary CD.

And what of the music of Marin Marais? We have included three full works lovingly rendered on this CD, from his 4è and 5è livres of 1717 and 1725, as well as his Pièces en Trio from 1692. The Suite No 2 in G minor from this latter publication also comes to this CD from the previous recording, Smörgäsbord!

This beautiful set of tracks included on the recording is classic Marais as Jennifer Eriksson and colleagues have made us familiar with countless times in performances of multi-movement suites and works of Marais. This suite is full of elegant discussion and expressive contrasts within and between movements.

The  inclusion of another Suite in G minor – this time from the 5è livre of Marais, pays tribute again to the Love Reconciled CD. Its multiple movements add Chris Berensen’s harpsichord to this CDs plethora of participating instruments and finely blended tone colours.

The second track on The Garden Party  and second world premiere recording as well is the substantial  Suite in E minor by Marais from Pièces de viole 4è livre. In another quality arrangement by Emily-Rose Šárkova of Marais, this time  for piano accordion and viola da gamba, this innovation impresses on the CD as much as it has audiences in the past.

J’avois crû, from the French publication of airs in 1703 is another impressive shift of colour and pace on this CD’s diverse flow. The track features the engaging voice and violin  lines of Susie Bishop, more recent collaborator with The Marais Project and also from Elysian Fields, the band in which Jenny Eriksson plays electric viola da gamba.

Congratulations to The Marais Project for not only this entertaining CD but for all its live and recorded performances which have been educating Australia and beyond in the French Baroque and its instruments in such a fresh and innovative way over the last twenty years.