Music

BALMAIN SINFONIA

Gary Stavrou conducting the Balmain Sinfonia for the Nielsen Symphony Number 1
Gary Stavrou conducting the Balmain Sinfonia for the Nielsen Symphony Number 1

This Balmain Sinfonia concert offered once again a broad range of musical genres, some audience participation and capable concert event organisation. The afternoon’s highlight was the addition of cello soloist Georg Pedersen. He showed his talent as a concerto soloist and an ensemble musician.

There was a rich Nationalistic feel to the programming also. Five of Brahms’ Hungarian Dances and Nielsen’s Symphony No 1, Op 7 acted as bookends for the concert’s more intimate or earlier pieces.

This Nationalistic theme brought an enjoyable richness to the afternoon’s listening. However for me it was the shift to an eighteenth century texture which was a welcome change of tone, colour and challenge for the orchestra. It displayed the skills of the soloist and orchestra well and was a success in stylistic accuracy.

The Balmain Sinfonia shed its grander dramatic guise for this very clear and crisp rendering of Haydn’s Cello Concerto No 1 in C major. The moments of ringing ritornelli and accompagnato sections were equally well played.

The orchestra found a delicate blend above which Pedersen could weave classical gestures. Fluent cadenzas emphasised musicality over mere vituosity and fine thematic variations were well shaped. The ‘Adagio’ movement was sung with particular beauty.

We were lucky to hear this work live and to be exposed to such stylistic contrast on the same afternoon.

Pedersen’s presence enabled the audience to be treated to the interesting Passacaglia by Norwegian string player, Johan Halvorsen, in its version for violin and cello. It was both an exciting string moment and an important part of the program’s architecture.

The Balmain Sinfonia performed at the Macquarie Theatre on Sunday September 1 at 2.30pm. Once again the Balmain Sinfonia delighted audiences with a diverse and varied performance, pleasing its loyal followers and new fans alike.

 Their next concert on December 8, containing Beethoven, Mozart, Sibelius and Mendelssohn promises the same.

MET SERIES 3

Sarah Grace conducting the TMO
Sarah Grace conducting the TMO

The Series Three concert was consistent with the TMO’s 2013 programming formula. Orchestral works and collaboration with a soloist were followed by a loved orchestral classic as a finale.

This concert’s gift to the assembled was once again its work with the guest soloist,- the diverse sensitivity and fine control from alto saxophone virtuoso Nicholas Russoniello in Concerto for Alto Saxophone and String Orchestra by Alexander Glazunov.

Russoniello is a master of his instrument and a musical communicator of exceptional standard. His fine phrasing was always well supported by the TMO.

The climax to the concert, Mozart’s Symphony No 41, ‘Jupiter’, was robustly performed. A highlight on a smaller scale were the two string orchestra works. They contained the most successful and seamlessly evocative playing of the night.

In both the Mendelssohn Capriccio and Fugue Op 81 and Mahler’s  ‘Adagietto’ from Symphony No. 5  the progression of Romantic sentiment was well illustrated in the blend of the TMO strings.

Disciplined fugal playing had great direction in the Mendelssohn excerpt. The addition of Helen Boyd’s harp to the concert and string texture helped make the sheer beauty and communication of the Mahler one of the finest moments of a fine night.

The Metropolitan Orchestra Met Series Three was performed at the Independent Theatre, North Sydney on Saturday August 31.

The fourth and final concert of the 2013 Met Season on November 2 is not to be missed. It celebrates the fifth anniversary of this orchestra with the fifth symphonies of Beethoven and Tchaikovsky and will be performed at the Eugene Goosens Centre.

 

STAR STRUCK

 

Trevor Ashley wows them in his new show STAR STRUCK
Trevor Ashley wows them in his new show STAR STRUCK

“A good heart these days is hard to find!” Also rare is a great mimic with tenor voice morphed into charismatic cross-dressing cameos. Ashley performed from his heart and talented soul, assisted by comic writing from Phil Scott and Gretel Killeen.

STAR STRUCK: A Live Cabaret Tribute to the Divas was fabulous Friday fare at The Star’s vibrant new venue. Ashley presented focused and musically refreshing impersonations. No well-costumed and coiffed diva, dead or alive, was safe from satire.

The highlight with regards to structure and large-venue-deserving energy came in the show’s second half. Back to back transitions with fast outfit changes from one female superstar to the next wowed the audience.

These musical and theatrical treats were ably supported by the triple-threat ‘Trevettes’, aka back-up couple Kirby and Ryan.

Hits and covers by Cher, Liza Minnelli, Bette Midler, Shirley Bassey and Tina Turner became new hits in the show-stopping hands and heels of Ashley, the ‘Trevettes’ and band.

This performance soared well beyond drag, or a collection of hilarious and dare I say ‘straight’ covers.  STAR STRUCK continued a stream of Ashley’s inimitable concept shows.

A complete standing ovation was indication that this latest instalment deserves its history repeating.

 Trevor Ashley’s STAR STRUCK played for one night only at the Star Event Centre.

LA TRAVIATA

Arnold Rutkowski as Alfredo Germont and Emma Matthews as Violetta Valery. Pic Branco Gaica
Arnold Rutkowski as Alfredo Germont and Emma Matthews as Violetta Valery.
Pic Branco Gaica

LA TRAVIATA is an audience classic opera favourite and a regular repertoire staple and this superb, ravishing revival of this sumptuous 1994 production shows why. Scandalous and shocking at the time of its 1853 premiere, the now classic tale of poor Violetta and Alfredo , of consumption and thwarted true love is based on a Dumas novel. Moshinsky , Yeargan and Hall set it  in 1877 -so bustles rather than crinolines and the start of the ‘Belle Epoque’.

 Yeargan’s designs are themed around the seasons .Act 1 with its wonderful centrepiece chandelier is softly sumptuous and  glowing . Act 2 with its grey /green and bare look with the cold garden is chilly .And Act 3 ,with its wonderful use of Vermeer like-  lighting was also impressive.

Our hero , handsome Alfredo ( Arnold Rutowski) was swoon-worthy in Act 1 especially when he reveals his love to Violetta (Un dì, felice, eterea – “One day, happy and ethereal”).Like Violetta the audience was enraptured and sighing . He perhaps had a slight problem in Act2 but was  back in fine form again for the marvellous duets etc in Act 3.

Our heroine Violetta was magnificently sung and acted by Emma Matthews who carried the demanding role wonderfully well. She acts superbly ( that she and Alfredo fall in love is very believable) yet perhaps some of the vocal coloratura seems to be really stretching  and challenging her voice. She is positively giddy ,radiant and blooming in the ‘Ah, fors’è lui’ – “Ah, perhaps he is the one”) and enchanting in the ‘ Brindisi ‘ ( the famous drinking song)  that brings Act1 to a close. Her act2 “Dite alla giovine sì bella e pura, – “Tell the young girl, so beautiful and pure,”) was fragile and moving. In Act3 her ill transformation is shocking and troubling.

Another (almost) unexpected star of the evening was  Jose Carbo as Giorgio Germont , Alfredo’s father , who sang more than superbly and was astonishing , his full throttle voice completely dominating the theatre. Elegant in a suit he stopped the show with his ‘ Pura siccome un angelo ‘– “Pure as an angel, God gave a daughter ‘ , pleading with Violetta to break off with Alfredo and ‘Di Provenza il mar, il suol chi dal cor ti cancellò? – “Who erased the sea, the land of Provence from your heart?”) angrily to Alfredo in Act2 . The scenes between Matthews and Carbo in act 2 are wrenching and performed magnificently.  He was also marvellous in the trios in Act 3 .

The chorus has a delightful time in Act 1 as guests at Violetta’s party and in Act2 Sc2 as ‘gypsies ‘ and ‘matadors’ – much fun.( in Act2 Barclay has great fun parodying ‘Strictly Ballroom’ . ) Under the very energetic and enthusiastic baton of Patrick Lange the orchestra sparkled.

An enthralling, totally believable production that moved and delighted the audience.

Running time  3 hours ( approx) including 2 intervals

Verdi’s  LA TRAVIATA runs at the Joan Sutherland Theatre Sydney Opera House in rep various dates between July 30 and August 31 2013

 

DON PASQUALE

The chorus in DON PASQUALE. Pic Branco Gaica
The chorus in DON PASQUALE. Pic Branco Gaica

This is a charming, sparkling production of Donizetti’s 1843 comic opera ‘DON PASQUALE’. It has been updated to the 1950’s , so think Fellini films, Audrey Hepburn in ‘Roman Holiday’ , Vespas, stunning glamorous dresses , the smell of a double expresso waiting for you at the outdoor cafe ……

The very light plot, Commedia Dell’Arte in style, of tricked old men, deceived lovers and uncles with a ‘moral’ for the audience at the end is all a glittering excuse for showcasing some superb singing from the four main leads.

The production features stunning, elegant set designs by Richard Roberts where ’Sophronia’/Norina’s influence in Act 2 is indicated with changes to lamps , cushions and drapes. The  garden and fountain scene in Act2 is lovely. There is a clever use of a revolve for scene changes.

Matt Scott’s lighting designs, especially for Act 2 Sc.1 showing the stretch of hours when poor Ernesto was made homeless, were glorious. Under the dynamic, very energetic conducting of maestro Guillaume Tournaire the orchestra sparkles.

Donnizetti’s delicious , quite balletic melodies are beautifully played. Rodger Hodgman’s direction moves the show along at a cracking pace and it is light with only a few places for melancholy or pathos .

The chorus is mostly featured in the second half as assorted new servants employed by ‘Sophronia ‘ ( Norina),- they are maids, footmen, beauty therapists, jewellers etc . They are tightly moved in large blocks of quite boxed choreography, wittily commenting on the goings on.

With regards to the four leads: Conal Coad as ‘DON PASQUALE’ showcases a terrific bass voice. He has a very expressive face .He handles the very difficult breathlessly fast tongue twisting ‘patter songs’ after interval wonderfully well. We see how ‘Sophronia’s’ ( Norina’s) slap after the (fake) wedding changes everything . He turns from a seeming horrid , wicked uncle obsessed with his stamp collection, to a man beaming benevolence and forgiveness.

Our hero , passionate , tempestuous ,lovelorn Ernesto, was magnificently sung by Ji-min Park in fine  voice. His ‘Poor Ernesto’ in Act 1 , where he is despairing , homeless and gets thrown out of the closing cafe , (Cercherò lontana terra – “I shall seek a distant land ‘). was sensational. The Act 2 duet with Norina in the garden ( ‘ Tornami a dir che m’ami ‘–  ‘Say again that you love me’ ) was lush and lyrical , his solo just before ( ‘Com’è gentil ‘ – ‘How gentle’ ) simply melting .

Rachelle Durkin as Norina/ Sophronia is tremendous and gives a very strong ‘feminist’ reading of her character. Tall, lanky with wonderful red hair she agrees to the scheme for the sake of the man she loves. Her rehearsal with Dr. Malatesta in Act 1 was great fun, ‘Pronta son; purch’io non manchi – “I am ready; if I do not miss” and her sudden change from a seemingly  demure , shy trembling young woman to a confident , demanding elegant spitfire was terrific. She delighted audiences with her managing of the difficult , showy coloratura passages.

Handsome Samuel Dundas as Doctor Malatesta was smoothly charming and manipulating . He has a wonderful aria in Act 1 describing DON PASQUALE‘s  potential bride ( ‘Bella siccome un angelo ‘– ‘Beautiful like an angel ‘).

At the conclusion of the opera , the four main players discuss the moral of the story – that it’s foolish to consider marriage in old age – in a quartet entitled ‘ La moral di tutto questo – ‘The moral of all this ‘. Aaahh .. delightful romantic intrigue in Rome in summer!

Donizetti’s ‘DON PASQUALE’, with a running time of 2 hours and 40 minutes, runs at the Joan Sutherland Theatre Sydney Opera House on various dates in repertory until Thursday August 15, 2013.

TOSCA

Yonghoon Lee as Cavoradossi and Alexia Voulgoridou as Floria Tosca. Pic Prudence Upton
Yonghoon Lee as Cavoradossi and Alexia Voulgoridou as Floria Tosca. Pic Prudence Upton

This new production by John Bell for Opera Australia is controversial and is sharply dividing audiences and critics alike. It is dark, bleak and has volcanically passionate undertones.

This challenging, unsettling revival has seen the narrative reset to Rome in the 1940’s, with the Nazi occupation. Guns, death and violence everywhere – beware!

Musically the production is superb, with the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra under the baton of maestro Christian Badea playing superbly.  At a couple of points one could hear hints of his ‘ Madama Butterfly’ ,  ‘Turandot ‘ and ‘ La Boheme’ – sometimes starkly dramatic , sometimes lyrically passionate.

Special mention must be made of the more than wonderful opulent Baroque church set design for Act 1. Act 2 is far more sinister, Scarpia’s  office is dominated  by a long table and huge Swastika banners. I also liked the large windows. Act 3 is even darker and greyer with a huge staircase and barbed wire as the interior of a prison camp.

As Floria Tosca, Alexia Voularidou is sensational – a riveting actress and singer and her Act 2 gown, in particular, is stunning. Alexia is every inch a diva with a pure top range.  She plays a jealous flirtatious minx , charming and delightful , in Act 1, and a strong woman out to save her lover in the other two acts.

Her duets with Cavaradossi are tremendous and her torn, pleading ‘Vissi d’arte’ full of fear and anguish in Act 2 stops the show .A quibble however would be that her murder of Scarpia , Medea like, yet also in self defence, with bloodied hands, caused squirms , murmurs and some shocked laughter in the audience.

As Cavaradossi, our tormented painter hero, Korean tenor Yonghoon Lee is in fine voice. He sings at full throttle through the entire show- I would perhaps have liked a little more light and shade.  His big aria in Act 1 ‘Recondita armonia’ is beautifully sung and his letter aria ‘E Lucevan le stelle’ in Act 3 was marvelous. In Act II, Mario’s fiery defiance of his captors includes tearing down one of the Swastika decorations, which was later used by Tosca to cover the dead Scarpia (a deft use of the “crooked cross” in place of the standard crucifix).

As Iago -like cold, malevolent Baron Scarpia, John Wegner is chillingly brilliant with a rumbling bass. He is narcissistic, confident and takes what he wants whenever he wants it. Menacing and implacable, his explosive volcanic impulses are barely controlled and hidden. His hypocritical leading of the Act 1 finale is thrilling. In Act 2 he molests the only woman officer present and no one tries to stop him. Rome trembles with fear.

Escaped prisoner Angelotti, Cavaradossi’s friend, was marvelously sung by David Parkin.  John Bolton Wood had great fun in Act1 as the sacristan, and the children’s choir was delightful. Another excellent imaginative piece of stage drama was during the introduction at the beginning of Act 3  where we see  a number of yellow-star-wearing Jewish people managing to bribe their way out of prison just in time , the ‘shepherd boy ‘ aria neatly fitting in here .

A darkly disturbing revival, thrillingly sung.   Running time is 3 hours including two intervals.

Opera Australia’s TOSCA, runs various dates in repertory at the Opera Theatre, Sydney Opera House until August 31, 2013.

 

THE MAGIC FLUTE

magic flute

Three cheers for this delightful children’s version of THE MAGIC FLUTE by Oz Opera, the educational side of Opera Australia. Bright, bold and colourful the show is enormous fun. Both adults and children loved it, with the children asking plenty of questions in the Q & A session afterwards.

The production is a heavily cut version ( just on an hour) of Mozart’s much loved opera , sung by a small cast with piano accompaniment. It is sung in English which makes it very accessible for young school kids. The complicated plot is clearly told with the famous arias included.

The small cast were magnificent, in glorious voice and they performed with relish and gusto. The show featured audience participation, with the kids helping the Lady with her spells, and acting as echoes to Papageno’s pipes.

The set was small and simple, primarily two ‘rocks’ and a couple of curtains and doors. There was a kind of panto feel to the Monster, who whilst tall, is not really scary, – rather more like Dorothy the Dinosaur.

Her Majesty the Queen of the Night (Regina Daniel) is imposing and sparkly in black and silver with long black gloves, an elegant villainess who superbly handles the famous, very difficult, showy coloratura fireworks in the big aria.

Sarastro is mostly in beige or white (Obi Wan like) .He is aloof and scary at first with his marvellous deep bass voice but turns out to be a ‘goodie’ . What is the symbolism of the gold breastplate he wears? The Masonic ideas and symbolism are still kept in this version. Tamino still has to try the three doors, of Wisdom, Love and Truth. Hieroglyphs decorate the various door portals and the doors are painted yellow and turquoise, depicting the shift between day and night

As Papageno, Ashley Giles is brilliant, a compelling Pied Piper with his pipes and birdcage. His interaction with the children in the audience before the show started was delightful.  His motley colourful costume included a scattering of feathers to camouflage him as part of his job,- catching birds for the Queen of the Night. Papageno is played as if a Hobitt, a not very bright, impulsive homebody who does not want any adventures but gets them anyway! Papagena , his  long wished for girlfriend gloriously sung by Regina Daniel, is sort of dressed as if hippie/flower power inspired and she wears a large orange flower in her hair. Their rhythmic stuttering ‘Papageno/Papagena.. ‘ duet is charming.

As Prince Tamino Kaine Hayward is splendid , in fabulous voice and he looks like he is straight out of a fairy tale book. Princess Pamina (Alice Girle) is sweetly beautiful in a long blue gown .Once she has met and fallen in love with Tamino she proves strong, controlled and determined. At the end Tamino and Pamina wear gold and white ceremonial robes for their coronation, symbolising they have passed all of Sarastro’s tests ( silence, water, fire…) .

A splendid way of introducing young kids to opera. Bravo!

Opera Australia’s Oz Operas’ THE MAGIC FLUTE with a running time of one hour and fifteen minutes played  the Concourse Chatswood for one night only Wednesday July 10.

THE FORCE OF DESTINY

THE FORCE OF DESTINY

Love, blood, honour, revenge and an obsession with death are the main themes of this long, verbose and at times strangely disturbing work rarely seen here in Sydney.

Set in the mid eighteenth  century , this production is visually dominated by skulls and death – for a lot of the show a giant silver ( reliquary ? ) skull – at times representing Leonora’s hermit cave- is on stage .There’s also a feeling of Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘ The Red Masque of Death’ at times , also ‘Phantom of the Opera’ , with the use of the masks .The chorus also ‘play dead’ at times, and there is almost a French Revolution tumbrel like entrance for the gypsy fortune teller Preziosilla (Who can foretell death through her Tarot cards) . And most of the characters are presented as zombie like with white faces and huge dead eyes.  There are also hints of Goya’s and Delacroix’s work.

Musically the production was superb, the singing was outstanding and the orchestra was well led by Andrea Licata.

Our poor, emotionally torn and tortured heroine Leonora was tremendously sung by soprano Svetla Vassileva. It is a huge and difficult role and she handled it superbly, from her opening aria where she is being undressed and changed by her maids (‘Me pellegrina ed orfana – “Exiled and orphaned far from my childhood home”) to the  very sad ending . The sense of ritual and formality is established with Leonora in her very stiff, formal dress in the first scenes.

Riccardo Massi as our hero Don Alvaro is tall and magnificent, a splendid performance .His  ‘La vita è inferno … O tu che in seno agli angeli – “Life is a hell to those who are unhappy….Oh, my beloved, risen among the angels” ‘was glorious . As Don Carlo, Leonora’s brother hell bent on revenge, Jonathan Summers was also terrific (the duet where they ironically swear friendship  after Don Alvaro saves the life of Don Carlo in battle is wonderful ) .

From the opening dramatic chords this production makes a special emphasis and feature of Preziosilla (Rinat Shaham), manipulating and controlling all the events. She is a dynamic, rather sinister presence, a cross between Carmen and Fate, in fine voice (her big production number is  ‘Rataplan , rataplan’ in Act 3 ). However I agree with some of my colleagues who found her constant lurking around at times intrusive and unnecessary.

Special mention must be made of the wonderful singing of Giacomo Prestia as Padre Guardiano, Warwick Fyfe as Fra Melitone, and Kanen Breen as the shifty pedlar, Mastro Trebuco.

The production featured some striking visual effects – from the marvellous front curtain with the Inca like portraits, the huge giant statue of the Madonna, and the glorious chorus and huge amounts of candles for Leonora’s Act1 I aria ‘Sono giunta! … Madre, pietosa Vergine’ in the church. Special mention must be made of the wonderful singing of Giacomo Prestia as  Padre Guardiano, Warwick Fyfe as Fra Melitone, AMD Kanen Breen as Mastro Trebuco.

A testing, chilling production, an exciting way to start this year’s Winter season.

THE FORCE OF DETAILS runs at the Joan Sutherland Theatre, Penrith on  various dates in repertoire until Tuesday 23 July, 2013. Running time 3 hours 45 minutes including 2 intervals

 

 

 

 

AN EVENING WITH BERNADETTE ROBINSON

The wonderful Bernadette Robinson
The wonderful Bernadette Robinson

Ultimately the litmus test for the worth of any performance is the answer given to this question, posed after it, to audience members: “Are you glad you saw it?” In the case of Bernadette Robinson’s show at the Slide Lounge in Sydney, the answer would be a resounding-“Yes!”

Certainly there were a few minor faults. For example, at odd times, for whatever reason, her words were hard to understand, the song she sang for an encore was poorly chosen in that it hardly matched the fame of the songs that preceded it, and the show started half an hour late with no apology being given.

However saying that is to be curmudgeonly. In truth, nothing could dim the quality of her voice and the various ways she put it to use.

Her voice is amazing. It is clear, powerful, warm and has a great range. She can, and does, turn it to singing opera, jazz, blues and popular music at will and with consummate ease. She can, and does, effortlessly change herself from a diva to a torch singer and back to a diva.

In doing this, her acting skills match her vocal ability. Her impressions of Billie Holiday, Patsy Cline and Judy Garland are admirable. Her comic talents are well honed as well, the highlights of her performance being the singing of “I could have danced all night” as it would have been sung by no less than Barbara Streisand, Dolly Parton, Maria Callas, and Shirley Bassey, and showing how Julie Andrews would have sung to a disco beat, both of which are bitingly funny.

To boot, she is a polished entertainer. She was not only at ease on stage, only a metre from the audience, but clearly was enjoying herself. Her choice of songs was perfectly in tune with the audience’s tastes and there was variety in her material. Her back up pianist, Paul Noonan, not only enhanced the delivery of her singing, but was a talent in his own right.

In short, judging by the ovation that came at the end of Bernadette Robinson’s performance, everyone who came to see her was very, very glad that they had.

 

SWEET DREAMS: SONGS BY ANNIE LENNOX

Michael Griffiths
Michael Griffiths delivers strong versions of classic Annie Lennox songs

Tucked away behind the elaborate door of 41 Oxford Street, Darlinghurst, is an intimate venue called Slide Lounge, host to cabaret, great food and exotic theatre.  Slide is where ‘Broadway meets Burlesque’ and ‘Vaudeville and Vamp spectacularly collide’.  You can book a full dinner or settle for very tasty $8 snacks – stuffed zucchini, mini spring rolls, pear and rocket salad.  Great to see such a vibrant venue thriving.

They are currently hosting the  Annual Slide Cabaret Festival with a different local/international act each night.  I was fortunate to see Michael Griffiths on July 1st in his compassionate and humorous one man show SWEET DREAMS :  SONGS BY ANNIE LENNOX.  Griffiths has collaborated with writer/director Dean Bryant on their previous show IN VOGUE: SONGS OF MADONNA and now SWEET DREAMS.  The upcoming third show of their trilogy on legendary female singer/songwriters will be worth catching.

Griffiths takes the audience into his confidence from the moment he glides onto his piano stool and breaks into the powerful Lennox song “Missionary Man”. He uses eye contact with both lounge and mezzanine and has us laughing at his wicked innuendos.

With a fabulous song list and extracts from Lennox’s rich tales of love lived and lost, we are taken on an emotional rollercoaster.  With the uplifting songs, ’Love Is A Stranger’, ‘Sweet Dreams’ ‘There Must Be An Angel’ and ‘The Miracle of Love’ beautifully and individually arranged by Griffiths, spreading suitable joy, we are taken with equal intensity into Lennox’s darker writings, such as ‘Walking On Broken Glass’, ‘Here Comes The Rain Again’ and a beautiful heart-wrenching version of ‘Diva’.

Having just finished a season of THE JERSEY BOYS, Michael Griffiths is a talent to watch out for.  His professionalism is evident and his presentation of SWEET DREAMS, with his great voice and storytelling skills, cements his place in the cabaret and musical theatre world.

The final  show in Slide’s current Cabaret Festival takes place tomorrow night- Thursday 4th July, when Bernadette Robinson, star of the highly acclaimed SONGS FOR NOBODIES, presents her brand new show, AN EVENING WITH BERNADETTE ROBINSON.

 

 

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