Music

THE BALMAIN SINFONIA

Gary Stavrou impressively conducts the Balmain Sinfonia
Gary Stavrou impressively conducts the Balmain Sinfonia

The Balmain Sinfonia made a triumphant return on the last day of June with its second concert of the year at its home, the newly refurbished Macquarie Theatre, Macquarie University, North Ryde.

This program presented a substantial and interesting array of music. The audience was treated to a nice blend of much loved works and newer music.

The opening work, Gounod’s waltz music from Faust, displayed the orchestra’s ability to speak with an elegant lilting accent. Some weakness in pitch stability and texture was only fleeting.

The Sinfonia recreated Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite No 1 successfully‘The death of Aase’ was exquisitely seamless. ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ began very broadly, but increased satisfyingly in tempo and energy leading towards  strong climax.

The concert concluded with Rachmaninov’s Symphony No 1 in D minor. Instrumental exchanges shone thanks to conductor Gary Stavrou’s fine interpretation of this sprawling work. Efforts of the percussion and wind sections were particularly notable.

Any orchestral concert is made more exciting by the inclusion of a premiere or a modern work. Here, bass trombonist Brett Page collaborated well with the Balmain Sinfonia’s strings in a nicely balanced version of Eric Ewasen’s Rhapsody for Bass Trombone and String Orchestra (1998).

Many comments at interval rejoiced in the chance to hear a major work for the bass trombone played so virtuosically. The score’s full range of possibilities for bass trombone was beautifully explored by soloist and orchestra.

This well organised and structured concert in the Macquarie Theatre pleased musically and as an arts event in general.

There were even fun giveaways and moments involving the eager audience’s participation. The next program on the first day of spring looks equally rewarding and unmissable.

 

REUBEN KAYE hosts THE RING

Reuben Kaye hosts THE RING
Reuben Kaye made a great host in THE RING

Anyone who says they are not slightly transfixed by gladiator style sport is lying. With this in mind, MC Reuben Kaye offered us a handful of talented international cabaret and burlesque stars in back to back battle.

The result was a string of live and uncensored ‘battle rounds’ from true entertainers which made that recent reality TV phenomenon look like a preschool craft class.

Slick traditional burlesque from Vespa White morphed into queer, confronting and ultimately very funny burlesque work from Betty Grumble and Aaron Manhattan.

Standout vocal visitor for the night was Natalie Gamsu, who rocketed from the stage and beyond with her riveting version of Bowie’s Space Oddity. She was ably supported by the smooth JC Thomas Band, whose loungy list of originals and clever covers linked the night’s less relaxed moments together.

The comic cabaret of Sheridan Harbridge gave me the most pleasure I have had from a voice and ukelele act for some time. She was a subtle superpower on the side of the cabaret artists. Speaking of superpowers, Reuben Kaye was a formidable force as the MC. His smile and style just became more glamorous through his performances which featured quick adult one liners, self-deprecating quips and plenty of local jokes.

His fabulous voice in a tender rendering of Men At Work’s Land Down Under was a patriotic tribute. The venue resounded with applause and the weeping of punters nostalgic for gap year backpacking days.

The Ring was a tantalizing taste of many cabaret and burlesque possibilities. It was festival-worthy and shocked many of us out of our working-week rut.

 

PHIL SCOTT IS A CABARET SURVIVOR

Phil Scott in one of his favourite impersonations as PM Rudd
Phil Scott in one of his favourite impersonations as PM Rudd

An instantly endearing raconteur, Phil Scott the incredibly gifted musician with proven satirical skills presented a spontaneous, hilarious and at times musically spellbinding summary of his career thus far.

A trip through his professional life illuminated even the darkest, most challenging corners of a challenging industry.

Hit songs were parodied with delicious humour which was often not politically correct. Comic rewriting of famous performers’ work or styles ensured successful caricatures with elastic facial expressions from Scott.

Excerpts from his Liberace show dazzled with appropriate grins, accent and keyboard fireworks during Bernstein/ Mozart/ Tchaikovsky/ Boogie mash-ups.

A cross-eyed performance as Peter Allen in hysterical comic disguise was a great moment, as was a defiant and successful Piaf rewrite, Je ne Requeste Rien from his nights as a frustrated fledgling cabaret artiste.

The clever yet tender ballad Take Another Little Piece of my Art touched us as only middle class break ups can.

The initial entry alluding to the reality TV ‘Survivor’ franchise and using camouflage costume created much less impact than ensuing choices in the night.

This show was a full and varied justification of Phil Scott’s reputation in the local and international cabaret scenes. It was an honest and lighthearted look at the essence of the art form, and a fantastic night out in a fine Sydney venue.

PHIL SCOTT IS A CABARET SURVIVOR played for one night only at the Slide Lounge, 41 Oxford Street, Sydney as part of Slide’s current Cabaret Festival.

 

GO YOUR OWN WAY

Catherine Alcorn impresses in her show, GO YOUR OWN WAY
Catherine Alcorn impresses in her show, GO YOUR OWN WAY

GO YOUR OWN WAY,  Catherine Alcorn’s latest show about Christine McVie from FLEETWOOD MAC  at  THE SLIDE Cabaret Festival, fresh from the Adelaide and now at the Melbourne Cabaret Festivals is a slick, musically entertaining, and amusing presentation with songs we all tapped and bopped to.

Alcorn has a great voice, more than ably supported by just a four piece band led by Isaac Hayward on keyboard, Marty Hailey on drums, Lic Cecire on rythmn and lead guitar, and a charming Tanika Stanton covering back up harmonies, and support lines, musical and other.

The sound was great throughout with great renditions that ranged from “Say That you love Me” to “Tusk” and a beautiful version of “Everywhere” to the spine tingling “Go Your Own Way”.

The show was thought provoking also.

The glamour girl singers/ writers/ performers that make popular bands like Fleetwood Mac what they are, often beam and irradiate the stage like a supernova for a time, only to  dim or fall.        What happens to them after, other than a quiet retirement to a country house in Kent and a realisation that “missing you all” never stops?

I believe Fleetwood Mac’s great power came from the band’s willingness to write about their emotions. Last night’s show provided a glimpse and a different perspective on their rollercoaster ride through the eyes of one Christine McVie. Let’s hope we get to see it back in Sydney soon.

MET SERIES 2

Brilliant percussionist Claire Edwards
Brilliant percussionist Claire Edwards

The second season concert for the Metropolitan Orchestra (TMO) at the Independent Theatre, 269 Miller Street, North Sydney, was an exciting blend of new music and classics from the eighteenth century orchestral repertoire.

This enthusiastic audience was wowed by the world premiere of Daniel Rojas’ Chamber Concerto for Marimba and Orchestra.

The atmosphere, emotion, dialogue and sense of caricature needed throughout this imaginative work were warmly realised by the orchestra. Textural variation and creation of the necessary tone colours were beautifully handled.

Virtuosic work at the marimba by the joyous gem of a percussionist Claire Edwards also brought this successful new percussion concerto to life.

TMO framed this premiere with two favourites of the orchestral repertoire. Firstly a string orchestra arrangement of Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and then the  Symphony No.104 -‘The London’ –by Haydn.

The orchestrations of both classics were given freshness by conductor Sarah-Grace Williams’ thorough interpretation and attention to layers of motivic interest across the orchestra.

Tempo choices for the faster movements of both works were extremely vibrant but did work well, with cleanly defined themes. The folk-song inspired finale of the London Symphony dazzled.

TMO offers audiences an alto saxophone concerto, Mozart’s Symphony No.41 and some Mendelssohn for Met Series 3 on August 31 and Sep 1.

As always, it will enrich Sydney’s orchestral concert scene and should not be missed.

 

2ND ANNUAL SLIDE CABARET FESTIVAL

The wonderful Bernadette Robinson
The wonderful Bernadette Robinson will present her new show during the Festival

 

The second annual Slide Cabaret Festival is currently under way at this sophisticated inner city cabaret venue.

The Festival opened on Saturday night with ARIAS ON HOLIDAY, a show by New York cabaret star Joey Arias in which the performer channels legendary jazz and blues singer, Billie Holiday.

The Festival will showcase some of our finest music theatre performers in self devised shows;- Bernadette Robinson-AN EVENING WITH BERNADETTE ROBINSON, Christie Whelan Browne- BRITNEY SPEARS: THE CABARET, Phil Scott- CABARET SURVIVOR, Catherine Alcorn- GO YOUR OWN WAY, The story of Christine McVie, Michael Griffiths- SWEET DREAMS- Songs by Annie Lennox, and Reuben Kaye- THE RING.

The Slide Lounge is located at 41 Oxford Street, Sydney close to Whitlam Square. For more information visit the Slide’s official website- http://www.slide.com.au.

BECOMING TRAVIATA

Love found and then lost in BECOMING TRAVIATA
Love found and then lost in BECOMING TRAVIATA

This superb, enthralling film will have opera and theatre people agog. One of the many films of this year’s Sydney Film Festival it came under their ‘Sounds on Screen’ section. It is a fascinating insight, a unique documentary behind the scenes of an opera production- in this case LA TRAVIATA at the Aix En Provence festival of 2011, directed by Jean-François Sivadier .

Based on Alexandre Dumas’ play LA DAME AUX CAMELIAS, the Opera is a standard in the repertoire of almost every Opera Company and the protagonist, Violetta, is regarded as a major test piece of a soprano’s career.

For those unfamiliar with it, the plot of  LA TRAVIATA is briefly as follows, – Violetta, a top Parisian courtesan, finds her true love and a chance of redemption with a young man, Alfredo, but then is forced to give all that up when the young man’s father pressures her to sacrifice her love for the happiness of his family , saving Alfredo’s sister from scandal. From wild parties to pure love to a lonely death from consumption, LA TRAVIATA is about a woman’s life, intensely lived, followed by her heroic sacrifice .

Some would nitpick that film director Béziat does not give us a brief summary of the plot as above of the opera beforehand, rather he just assumes we are  opera lovers  familiar with it and he jumps straight in .Others would carp that there is no interview with Dessay and her thoughts about playing Violetta. Instead, we have a scene with a rehearsal pianist enthusiastically analysing the drama in Verdi’s music (for example when Violetta tries to steel herself to break up with Alfredo and how this is shown in the music). We also see a scene where Dessay and Sivadier analyse a single phrase – ‘E Strano’ (‘how strange’) .

Instead BECOMING TRAVIATA concentrates on Verdi’s glorious music and the fascinating intensive rehearsal process.  In the film directed by Philippe Béziat we follow renowned soprano Natalie Dessay joining forces with innovative opera and theatre director Jean-François Sivadier in their challenging, risk taking production. Orchestrally, it features the excellent London Symphony Orchestra who play Verdi’s tumultuous, passionate music gloriously. The camera work is superb with occasional tremendous use of close up.  I loved the lingering over the messy paint studio, and the shocking transformation of Dessay to a white faced very ill Violetta towards the end.

We see tech rehearsals and planning, huge (sometimes confused) chorus and also the more intimate individual rehearsals for the leads (Alfredo and Violetta especially) . Sivadier, always energetic and full of ideas, reminds Dessay that VIoletta can be in fact as heavy and demanding a role as HAMLET or Nina in Chekov’s THE SEAGULL. There are also Ophelia like references.

Director Beziat attempts to document the ‘Sivadier method’. Yes there are wonderful close ups but Sivadier’s  approach discards ‘traditional’ hoary choreography , old fashioned crinolines and a huge feature chandelier for a far more ‘Expresionistic’ almost Tanztheater approach seeking to completely emotionally involve the audience. We see the cast refine their movements, characters, articulation and gestures and how Sivadier has developed a tremendous rapport with his cast during the challenging but exciting rehearsals.

Diva Natalie Dessay is amazing and gives her all. Her ‘Sempre Libre’ is amazing in Act 1 and the shattering finale is heartbreaking. We also see her rehearse Violetta’s collapse at the end . Terribly handsome tenor Charles Castronovo (Alfredo) is magnificent and sings divinely. His solo arias ‘ De’ miei bollenti spiriti / Il giovanile ardore ‘ are wonderful and the duets exceptional. And there is the catchy well known Brindisi drinking song in Act 1 ‘Libiamo ne’ lieti calici . Alfredo’s father Giorgio Germont is marvellously played by rumbling bass – baritone Ludovic Tézier .His ‘ Pura siccome un angelo’ from Act 2 is tremendous .

Various shots of the production are interwoven with actual performance combined to create a fascinating, enthralling film. Bravo !

The complete production of this version of LA TRAVIATA was filmed and is available separately on DVD.

BECOMING TRAVIATA was part of the Sydney film Festival screening 13 and 15 June.  Running time  was 113 minutes. The documentary was screened in French with English subtitles.

 

TALE OF TWO CITIES

The Sydney Chamber Choir
The Sydney Chamber Choir who shared the program with the Adelaide Chamber Singers

Appropriate to this anniversary year, the program for this concert entitled TALE OF TWO CITIES had a particular focus on Benjamin Britten, works he would have known and been influenced by and works which have been influenced by him and his predecessors in the great English choral tradition.

The concert opened with both choirs singing Jackson’s Sanctum est verum lumen. This beautiful work opens with a great chord which the program notes describe as a nebula, but which I would describe as a nova, so powerful is its impact. This piece demonstrated how well the two choirs blended.

The next group of works was sung by the Sydney Chamber Choir. First up was a selection of Britten works from AMDG, his settings of poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins. The opening section, Deus ego amo, was beautifully crisp and the Prayer 1 section displayed the delectable harmonies for which Britten is famous and to which the choir did justice. The final section in this group was The Soldier which uses military rhythms and relies on clear articulation from the choir to work. It did.

The next work was Jackson’s Cecilia Virgo in 24 parts. The beautiful descending phrases at the beginning and end really did sound like the bell peals they were imitating.  This work also has some beautiful dissonances.

The Lament to Saint Cecilia, composed by the choir director, Stanhope, to a poem by Veronica Pamoukahglian, gave the choir a chance to show what they could do in terms of a dazzling flow of melody. I look forward to hearing more works from Mr Stanhope.

The final work in this group was Britten’s well-known and loved Hymn to Saint Cecilia, based on Auden’s Anthem for St Cecilia’s Day. It was easy to hear that the choir loved singing this. They embraced the whole work and danced through the beautiful, floating harmonies and lovely canon sections. Special mention must be made of the soprano soloist whose bell-like singing was heart-piercing.

The second half of the concert opened with both choirs singing Britten’s A Hymn to the Virgin. This work was absolutely beautiful. Hard to believe that Britten was only 16 (and sick) when he wrote it!

The next group of works were sung by the Adelaide Chamber Singers. They opened with Maclean’s Et misericordiae. Maclean is a modern Australian composer whose work I had not previously heard. In this work, I noticed the difference between the two choirs. The Adelaide choir seemed to have a richer deeper tone. However, they sang this most challenging and complex work with finesse, drawing out the inter-woven melodies. Their soprano soloist was superb in the “He has the rain…” section and was supported by some beautiful drone singing. This is a beautiful composition, but sad as you would expect in a text from Job.

The next work saw a return to Britten’s AMDG with Rosa Mystica. This section of AMDG is very different to the earlier ones. It has a lightness and resonance which the choir brought out; altogether delightful.

The final two works from the Adelaide choir were Twist’s How shall we sing in a strange land, based on a poem by Oodgeroo Noonuccal, “Song of Hope” mixed with words from Psalm 137; and Whitacre’s Leonardo dreams of his flying machine. What a contrast! The Twist composition delivered a beautiful setting for Oodgeroo Noonuccal’s words of loss and sorrow. I thought I could clearly hear the coastal, rainforest sounds you would expect from this Quandamooka woman in the melodies of the words and the song. On the other hand, the Whitacre composition was just straight out fun! And the choir thought so too! They conveyed the flying, floating nature of the work, particularly in the susurrations depicting the wind with a gentle touch of light percussion for emphasis.

The concert closed with both choirs singing Tallis’s Spem in alium. This incredibly challenging work was sung in eight small choirs of 5 to 7 singers each. I have to commend Crossin’s conducting! The best way to enjoy this music is with your eyes closed. Talk about wall-of-sound. Eat your heart out Phil Spector,Tallis is better!

TALE OF TWO CITIES, a superb program of music, performed by the Adelaide Chamber Singers along with the Sydney Chamber Choir was performed at the Great Hall, Sydney University on Sunday 16th June, 2013. This concert will be broadcast on the ABC, so do try and catch it.

 

 

MISTER OTT AT THE NEW 505 VENUE, SURRY HILLS

MISTER OTT. Pic by Yui Kasamatsu
MISTER OTT. Pic by Yui Kasamatsu

Matthew Ottignon certainly keeps himself busy. The saxophone, clarinet, flute and bass player has appeared on stage with the likes of Lou Reed and Brian Wilson, while simultaneously producing his own music and teaching. His latest project sent him to the New 505 Venue in Surry Hills for the launch of two singles with his band, MISTER OTT

Shortly after 8.30 pm on a Saturday night, one thing became apparent; it was a mystical night and the audience, sipping on Bourbon heavy cocktails in this atmospheric venue, were about to be transported on a world tour. After their opening cover of a song by the famous Ethiopian saxophonist Getatchew Mekuria, Ottignon requested that the volume be turned up on his sax. This was in time for the band’s performance of their first single released on the night, ‘ Take it Higher’, named after a lyric in James Brown’s ‘ Funky Good Time.’ The booming instrument threatened to drown out Ellen Kirkwood’s trumpet for a moment until they settled into this funky tune with clear percussion beats and a strong ending.

The next composition of the evening was different again. This Asian-influenced tune named ‘Shalimar the Clown’ (a title of a Salmon Rushdie work), performed by Matt Ottignon with his bass-player brother Eden, wouldn’t have been out of place in some of Rushdie’s film- adapted novels.

That trip to India also inspired the second single released on the evening, ‘Mattaraja’. The song title is a construct of the Indian word, ‘Maharaja,’ and ‘Matt.’ Playing ‘Mattaraja’, the band were accompanied by two hip hop dancers, as they upped the tempo for the second half of the show. Yes, you read that right; Ethiopian scales are often blended with hip hop beats in Ottignon’s music. And did we mention that the singles were recorded on vintage analogue gear and mixed in the Tasmanian rainforest? This cultural mishmash certainly contributes to the fresh sounds heard in their music.

Ottignon is a talented multi- instrumentalist, but a feat as great as MISTER OTT requires a full and accomplished band, who did their job astoundingly well; Eden Ottignon bass, Kirkwood on trumpet, Ben Panucci on guitar, Dan Kennedy on drums and Daniel Pliner on keyboard. They were joined on the night by special guests, Steve Marin on percussion and Peter Farrar on sax.

Such is MISTER OTT’S accessibility, that Ottignon himself dislikes the generic label of jazz. Mister OTT are clearly influenced by 50s and 60s soul and jazz, but they blend this perfectly with the traditional, as well as much improvisation to create a twenty-first century sound. Many of their base tunes are similar to the sounds of popular West African outfits such as AMADOU and MARIAM. Ottignon’s aims are to create ‘new music that draws from virtually every culture, tradition and society on the planet’ and ‘gives the soul room to breathe’. With these singles, he may just have achieved his goals.

‘Take it Higher’ and ‘Mattaraja’ are available for purchase on iTunes, Amazon and all usual online MP3 stores. CD copies can be purchased at MISTER OTT gigs only. For a listing of any upcoming gigs, as well as news on Ottignon’s projects, subscribe at http://www.matthewottignon.com/.

OPERA’S TRIPLE THREAT

 

Cheryl Baker
Cheryl Baker

A hefty combined birthday party (centenary for Britten, bicentenary for both Verdi and Wagner) this concert featured the combined dazzling talents of the  Sydney Philharmonia Festival Chorus and Orchestra under conductors Brett Weymark and Anthony Pasquill and especially the magnificent voices of Cheryl Barker and Stuart Skelton.

In the theatrical world, a ‘triple threat’ is an inspiring someone who can dance, sing and act. For this concert the idea was that the operatic ‘triple threat’ combined music, drama and passion and it did so in spades.

These were tenor Stuart Skelton’s only Sydney performances this year, straight after performances in London and just before he performs in the Paris , Seattle and Melbourne ‘Ring’ cycles and has  a return performance in Berlin with Sir Simon Rattle .It was the first time he has sung excerpts from Verdi’s ‘Otello’ and he did so brilliantly . Soprano Cheryl Barker has just finished performing ‘Madama Butterfly’ for the Welsh National Opera and we will soon see her in Opera Australia’s ‘Tosca’, and as Desdemona Queensland Opera’s ‘Otello’.

The Sydney Philharmonia Festival Chorus with over three hundred voices, was sensational – a stirring , thrilling performance. They were an energised, broiling mass , at times angry , at times celebratory or reflective – a huge wave of sound.

The Orchestra was excellent, dealing with everything from the sharp , spiky Britten in the first section to the lush, rather overwhelming Wagner in the final part.

Youngest first. The wonderful opening section was selections from Britten’s ‘Peter Grimes’. ( For those of us of a particular era the ‘Sea Interludes’ from this will always be associated with Graeme Murphy’s ‘Some Rooms’.) The opening section, ’Dawn’, conjured visions of shimmering sunlight and rippling waves. Other sections were far more tempestuous. The chorus ‘Old Joe Has Gone Fishing’ to a galvanising insistent drum roll was terrific.

Stuart Skelton stopped the show with his glorious , breathtaking solo ‘Now The Great Bear and Pleiades’ . Barker sang ’Embroidery In Childhood’ exquisitely. (She wore a long elegant blue gown throughout the show , Skelton traditional theatrical black ).

Back a hundred years for a selection from Verdi’s ‘Otello’ .Proud and passionate this section had aural hints of ‘Aida’, ‘Il Trovatore’ and ‘Turandot’ . It opened tempestuously, the chorus fabulous in their storm drenched yet celebratory ‘ Una Vela!Una Vela! Un Vessilo! ‘. Their ‘Viva !Evviva ! Viva il Leon di San Marco !’ was an extraordinary wall of sound.

There was a wonderful , touching duet for Chery l Barker as Desdemona and Stuart Skelton as Otello ( ‘ Gia nella  nota densa’) and Desdemona’s ‘Willow Song ‘ ( ‘ Piangea Cantando  nell’erma landa’ ) was tremendous. But Skelton brought the house down with his superb rendering of Otello’s tense death scene ‘ Nium mi Tema ‘ that was tremendously sung and acted.

After interval the third section featured excerpts from Wagner’s ‘Lohengrin’, ‘Tannhauser’ and ‘Meistersinger ‘ . Highlights included the opening now world famous ‘Wedding March ‘ or Bridal Chorus ( ‘Treulich Gefurt’ ) and Lohengrin’s amazing solo ‘ in fernem Land, unnabar euren Schritten’ ) – once again Skelton was absolutely magnificent . Various other solos were used to showcase Barker and Skelton’s tremendous talents as well as that of the chorus in this vast, rather over-rich and overpowering section. Extra horns supplemented the brass section of the Orchestra for both this Wagner and the Verdi segments.

An absolutely ravishing, glorious concert that gave one goosebumps and shivers.

OPERA’S TRIPLE THREAT played at the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House on the 8th and 9th June, 2013. Running time 2 and a half hours including one interval

 

AT LAST: THE ETTA JAMES STORY

Vika Bull and the Essential R and B Band

As bio music shows go, and each year heralds a new series of them, AT LAST: THE ETTA JAMES STORY is a  stand-out.

Everything was first class:- Josh Livings script, Vika Bull’s exceptional performance as the great Afro American singer Etta James (born Jamesetta Hawkins in 1938, died in Los Angeles in 2012), a 6 time Grammy Award winning contralto singer successfully mastered a range of musical genres including blues, rhythm and blues, soul, gospel and jazz, and the great support Vika received from a red hot seven piece band, aptly called the ‘Essential R and B Band’.

Continue reading AT LAST: THE ETTA JAMES STORY

REMEMBER ME

This program of songs for soloists, choir and small orchestra was very well put together to display the musical talents of all. The first half of the program was a collection of old and modern works on themes related to flowers and love, interspersed with selections from Dowland’s LACHRIMAE, which were selected for their relevance to the following piece. The LACHRIMAE selections gave the orchestra a chance to showcase their skills, which they did.

Continue reading REMEMBER ME

OPERAMANIA

OPERAMANIAA delightful souffle of some of opera’s greatest hits this was a lot of fun.

Direct from Russia, the Moscow Novaya Opera brings us OPERAMANIA, currently touring Australia.  Convoluted opera plots are almost completely eliminated and favourite moments from Puccini, Verdi, Bizet and Mozart are blended into a fast-moving, seamless theatrical presentation.

The company consists of ten solo singers (oh what fabulous voices!) plus four dancers from the Russian Imperial Ballet, with a large  orchestra of 44 musicians behind them, making 60 artists all up on stage.

With lightning quick costume changes for each scene, the show zips through two to five minute excerpts from over a dozen composers. The program includes two medleys. The first, comprising Chopin waltzes, Liszt’s’ Liebestraüme’ and Rachmaninov’s’ Prelude in C-sharp minor’. In the second half, a ‘Mozart medley’ includes movements from his Piano Concerto No. 21, Symphony No. 40,’ Eine kleine Nachtmusik’, and the overture to’ The Marriage of Figaro’. Phew!

It is semi staged, with great acting and singing included. And mention must be made of some of the amazing costumes in particular worn by the women – some of the gowns were akin to wonderfully textured soft sculptures.

The huge orchestra (noticeably squashed for space on the stage), under the sparkling direction of maestro Andrey Lebedev, played magnificently and had a terrific time. The featured solo piano playing of Ekaterina Koplakova was glorious. There were no surtitles but there were constantly changing visuals screened as accompaniment – which actually could be quite distracting. And there was a running visual gag throughout with the use of umbrellas.

The show opened strongly with a passionate CARMEN segment. There were many highlights throughout the show .In the first half for example from Puccini’s ‘Turandot’ , Oleg Dolgov gave a superb rendition of ‘Nessun Dorma’ .

In the second half Andrei Fetisov as Mephistopheles from Gounod’s  ‘ Faust’ was mesmerizing , chilling and sinister . But especially Elizaveta Soina in ‘Casta Diva’ from Bellini’s ‘Norma’ stopped the show. A vision in a white nightgown with her hair down, she was full if soaring purity and beauty yet also strong, captivating and in full control.

Elena Terentieva had some wicked fun wearing a silver and black costume as the Queen of the Night from Mozart’s magic Flute , effortlessly tossing off the bravura show off coloratura fireworks. Mention must also be made of the ‘Largo al factotum’ from Rossini’s “Barber of Seville’ as delightfully performed by Anton Vinogradov and Alexander Popov. The septet from Rossini’s “Italian Girl in Algiers’ , ‘Va Sossopra il mio cervello’ that brought the first half to a conclusion revealed great comic timing.

Ballet was also included but was rather disappointing .Because of the small stage space the dancers were quite restricted .The choreography generally was quite traditional .Special mention however must be made of the fabulous Yaroslava Araptanova, who had incredible control in her adage and was marvellous as the spirit of Pavlova in ‘The Dying Swan’ and excellent in the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ pas de deux.

If you were looking for a great way to introduce someone to opera and have terrific fun, this would be a delightful choice.     With a running time of approximately 2 hours and 10 minutes, OPERAMANIA is playing the City Recital Hall at Angel Place on two further occasions, Tuesday 16th April and Wednesday 17th April, 2013

© Lynne Lancaster

OPERAMANIA

Elena Terentieva in Mozart’s THE MAGIC FLUTE

If MTV had a classical cousin that promoted snapshots of great operas, ballets and instrumental music, then this pastiche from the Moscow Novaya Opera would definitely help ratings.

In OPERAMANIA, fourteen dramatic and comic moments from the well-known Italian, French, German and Russian repertoires are staged with awesome dramatic presence and vocal delivery. The singing is focused and passionate. Ensemble interaction and choreography is strongly characterised and interesting, following modern trends in costuming and direction.

But wait, there is more! The large orchestra which digs right into the famous accompaniments also performs five items alone, including medleys of much loved eighteenth century classics and nineteenth century polkas and marches. Even a Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto excerpt is thrown into the mix.

Katerina Kolpakova’s piano work also supports the stars of the Imperial Russian Ballet in the event’s first ballet interludes. Romantic period favourites by Chopin, Liszt and Rachmaninov are choreographed. Three Nutcracker excerpts and The ‘Grand Adage’ from The Sleeping Beauty continue the audience’s exposure to classics of Tchaikovsky’s ballet output.

The night is busy, but of such a high standard that the audience is repeatedly delighted and not confused. Outstanding solo singing pleases a bravo –shouting crowd. Yaroslav Abaimov in ‘Ah, lève-toi, soleil’ from Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet will surely continue to bring such praise. Elizaveta Soina’s ‘Casta Diva’ from Bellini’s Norma is captivating. Balletic strength and elegance is well illustrated in the ‘Grand Adage’ from Sleeping Beauty.

This event enjoyed great acoustics in the City Recital Hall, and proceeded admirably despite cramped conditions. Instead of surtitles, a rather beautifully abstract slideshow of continental portraiture and landscape was suspended above the stage. Adjusting or deleting this may have created space, however such screens are becoming popular additions to modern concerts.

This is a thrilling event to tour Australia, and maybe is the next classical music and dance mélange to require a stadium. The extended standing ovation seemed to suggest such potential.

Moscow’s Nevaya Opera’s production of OPERAMANIA is playing the City Recital Hall on two further occasions, Tuesday 16th April and Wednesday 17th April, 2013.

© Paul Nolan

14th April, 2013

Tags: Sydney Stage Reviews- OPERAMANIA, City Recital Hall, Moscow Novaya Opera, Elena Terentieva, Sydney Arts Guide, Paul Nolan

LIGHT AND GOLD- THE MUSIC OF ERIC WHITACRE

Grammy Award winner Eric Whitacre

Celebrated Grammy award winning American conductor/composer Eric Whitacre, known globally on YouTube
through his virtual choir, made his conducting debut of his own music on Saturday night with the Sydney Philharmonia Symphony Chorus and the youth choir VOX, accompanied by the Synergy Percussion and the Acacia Quartet along with Christopher Cartner on piano and organ.

LIGHT AND GOLD- THE MUSIC OF ERIC WHITACRE proved to be a special night at the Concert Hall. Whitacre was a warm host and he gently introduced each piece, providing some background, in what turned out to be a very strong program.

Whitacre’s love of poetry and his wonderful musical arrangements of poems by E E Cummings, Octavia Paz, Greek poet Pindar, Israeli poetess Hila Plitmann (now his wife), and Charles Anthony Silvestri were highlights.

The piece HIGHER, FASTER, STRONGER, from the Olympic motto- Citrius, Altius, Fortius- composed for the 2012 BBC Proms came across strongly.

The evening ended on a high note with three wonderful pieces- a lovely rendition of COME, SWEET DEATH- music by Bach, conceived by Edwin London-, CLOUDBURST- a piece composed around an extraordinary desert storm that took place, and which featured the very effective technique of the entire Choir snapping their fingers together to simulate the sound of falling rain, and SLEEP, with the music originally set to Robert Frost’s meditative, end of life poem, STOPPING BY WOODS ON A SNOWY EVENING.

The program will be repeated next Friday at the St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parrammatta, this time however conducted by Elizabeth Scott and Anthony Pasquill. This represents the Sydney Philharmonia Choir’s first ever Western Sydney subscription season.

There will be a further Eric Whitacre Concert to be performed in Melbourne on Saturday 13th April at the Robert Blackwood Hall, Monash University, Wellington Road, Clayton.

To explore his Whitacre’s music more visit his official website on http://ericwhitacre.com. And there’s the link to his extraordinary Virtual Choir work- http://www.youtube.com/EricWhitacresVrtlChr.

(c) David Kary

1 April, 2013

Tags: Sydney Stage Reviews- LIGHT AND GOLD- THE MUSIC OF ERIC WHITACRE, Concert Hall Sydney Opera House, Sydney Arts Guide, David Kary

SYDNEY INDEPENDENT OPERA GALA CONCERT

Regina Daniel and Maia Andrews are magic together

From time to time the unacceptable question of opera’s relevance to modern society and even to the Australian musical scene is murmured. Such comment was sung down with incredible force and style during The Independent Opera’s 2013 Gala Concert. Four artists delighted a diverse audience with a variety of arias, duets and ensemble extracts.

The Sydney Independent Opera Orchestra supported the voices well. Its playing of three overtures with stable direction Steven Stanke continued the night’s display of the intense communicative power of operatic music.

Coloratura soprano Regina Daniel, soprano Maia Andrews, tenor Geoff Knight and baritone Randall Stewart illustrated the dramatic focus, interaction and levels of control required to deliver operatic moments from well-known works by Mozart, Verdi, Rossini, Bizet and Johann Strauss.

These skilful subtleties were evident in a sublime and charmingly cheeky ‘La ci darem il mano from Mozart’s Don Giovanni when portrayed by Regina and Randall. Another Mozartean gem was the beautifully blended ‘Soave sia il vento’ from Cosi fan tutte.

Fireworks on many levels ensued when Geoff Knight delivered ‘La vita è inferno’ from Verdi’s La forza del destino. His is a significant voice coupled with an unwavering stage presence. Maia Andrews’ performance of ‘Ruhe sanft mein holdes leben’ from Mozart’s Zaide was floated with controlled beauty of tone. She will make a fine contribution as Zerlina in the Sydney Independent Opera’s Don Giovanni this November.

Rousing versions of favourites from Bizet’s Carmen added to the list of the concert’s crowd pleasers. An encore of ‘Do you hear the People Sing’ from Les Misérables was also a popular way to end the expressive programme.

The four soloists, mostly trained in Australia and now all performing here as well as with the Sydney Independent Opera, pleased the listeners repeatedly. There was much amour, amore and liebe in the room on this night. This was not just for the musicians and vocalists, but for opera itself.

Sydney Independent Opera’s annual Gala Concert was performed at the Independent Theatre, 269 Miller Street, North Sydney on Friday 22nd March. 2013.

© Paul Nolan

25th March, 2013

Tags: Sydney Stage Reviews- SYDNEY INDEPENDENT OPERA GALA CONCERT, Independent Theatre North Sydney, Sydney Arts Guide, Paul Nolan

JOAN ARMATRADING IN CONCERT

The legendary, one and only, JOAN ARMATRADING

JOAN ARMATRADING (as you’ll see on Wikipedia). is “a three-time Grammy Award – nominee and has been nominated twice for Brit Awards as Best Female Artist. She also received an Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Contemporary Song Collection in 1996. In a recording career spanning 40 years she has released a total of 18 studio albums, as well as several live albums and compilations”.

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