Monday, 29 May 2017

June Gig Guide

June is a rich month of music for all the ages; dive in and enjoy! 

It is particularly action-packed  for the West Australian Symphony Orchestra who will present four mainstage orchestral concerts plus the explosive energy of Education Week with its multiple concerts for children and their families. 

On June 2/3rd WASO have a colourful program planned with Stravinsky's Firebird Suite and Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun plus winner of the Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition Ayako Uehara  making her WASO debut performing Bartók’s Piano Concerto No.3. On the 9/10th the guest artist is Stefan Dohr, principal horn from the Berlin Philharmonic, performing Strauss' Horn Concerto - WOW! Then the world of jazz takes over with concerts on the 16/17th with leading Australian stage and screen stars in a modern and audacious take on all-time swing classics from Sinatra to Bublé. On the 30/1st Chopin expert Louis Lortie Plays Chopin’s Concerto no 1 in a program which also includes Dvorak's Seventh Symphony 

This year for Education Week (19-25th) WASO has invited award winning British composer and music educationist Paul Rissmann us for a week-long musical adventure exploring gorgeous children's books across a variety of  interactive programs. The concerts include school shows Sir Scallywag and the Golden Underpants, The Beat of Your Feet and The Lion Who Loved  plus a Conductor Masterclass with Ben Northey. The Rusty Orchestra is also back with a concert on the 24th June featuring community musicians playing alongside WASO players in a concert with the biggest amount of heart you're likely to hear.

If you have children come with us on Sunday 25th - we will be checking out the family concert The Beat of Your Feet, about a music-loving dog and cat and their musical adventure to find the Greatest Orchestra in the World. The concert is a mix of music, illustrated projections and audience participation, based on the book Stan and Mabel by Jason Chapman with vocals by Libby Hammer. 

Meanwhile the rest of the music community has some lovely offerings this month, including two particularly stunning vocal concerts: the Giovanni Consort singing French Chansons on the 4th, and   Voyces on the 10th celebrating their fifth anniversary with a concert of all-Australian music and the launch of their debut album Hush.

On the 11th there is a a triple whammy with the Darlington Trio offering Brahms, Musica Viva launching their national tour of the Pacifica Trio (including a world premiere by Nigel Westlake) and the experimental trio The Necks presented by Tura New Music.

Perth Chamber Orchestra (the little sister of Perth Symphony) is performing an intriguing concert in Midland on the 14th called Steampunk Mozart, which promises industrial-inspired music, food, wine, a sound installation and the magic of Mozart conducted by Jessica Gethin. Then in larger form the Perth Symphony Orchestra will also perform on the 27th with the WA Academy of Performing Arts Gospel Choir in a concert dedicated to the music of George Michael.

Also on at WAAPA this month is the second and third year students performance of 42nd Street opening on the 17th. 

Friday, 26 May 2017

Freeze Frame debuts with nineties grunge La Boheme

I just had to squeeze in one more review this month to make sure everyone heard about the debut opera by Freeze Frame Opera. WA’s new opera company promises to be to opera what 20/20 is to cricket: shaking up the opera experience with shorter, more accessible and exciting operas. The company, founded by soprano Harriet O’Shannessy, has generated much attention in Western Australia and tickets to their debut production of La Boheme sold out before the four-night season opened. Judging from the response on Thursday’s opening night the audience were not disappointed.

Puccini’s verismo opera depiction of 1830’s Parisian Bohemian life was condensed to 90 minutes and updated to the nineties. Director Rachel McDonald emphasised the grittiness and grime of the world of Mimi and Rodolfo.

Paul O'Neill (Rodolfo) and Harriet O'Shannessy (Mimi).
Photos c John Marshall, Terriffic Pictures

 Designer Robbie Harrold’s apartment set was filthy with its pizza boxes, dirty dishes, microwave popcorn and a derelict plastic Christmas tree taking me back to the student common room during my university days. The banter between Rodolfo and his three student flatmates involved food fights, beer, and bongs. Every inch of the small stage at the Camelot Theatre was used and the action often spilled into the audience. In Act 2 the theatre was transformed with a disco ball and fairy lights (Geoff Glencross) into Cafe Momus where Musetta was a singer and Rodolfo and his friends made a rowdy audience, provoking the owner and graffitiing obscenities on the chalk board. Musetta poured an entire bottle of champagne over herself during her titillating ‘Quando me’n vo’, much to the disbelieving delight of the audience and the agony of her ex-lover Marcello.

Lachlan Lawton (Schaunard)

Large sections of the opera were cut by music director Tommaso Pollio including the street scenes from Act 2, the orchestral opening to Act 3, the role of Alcindoro and most of the repeats within arias. But the relationships remained intact, and that is the edifice on which La Boheme hangs. Pollio performed Puccini’s condensed score from a baby grand piano, sounding clean, bright and with moments of real tenderness. I admit to being surprised by how well this worked; rather than feeling like the orchestra was missing, the piano instead enhanced the intimate cabaret/music hall feel.

Within all of this colour and energy the tumultuous relationship of Mimi and Rodolfo took centre stage thanks to immersive performances by Harriet O’Shannessy and Paul O’Neill. O’Shannessy’s Mimi was shy, sweet and sung with creamy depth, although her diction was missing some consonants. Her whisper-soft phrases in the tragic final act were golden hued. O’Neill also made great use of the intimate acoustics, reining in his quite voluptuous tenor for moments of candid vulnerability, particularly in his duet ‘O buon Marcello’. The famous tenor aria ‘Che gelida manina’ was sung with seemingly endless breath supply and magnificent lingering top notes.

Sam Roberts-Smith conveyed a tormented Marcello with a relaxed vocal delivery and mellow buttery tone. Naomi Johns was a gutsy Musetta, stealing the show in all the right ways whenever she was onstage. Paull-Anthony Keightley’s philosophical Colline was a grounding presence and foil to Lachlann Lawton’s drugged, somewhat callous Schaunard.

The cast and director took many liberties with the libretto but the condensed form and colloquial translation did the job of keeping the audience abreast of the banter and poetry unfolding onstage. And the poetic moments were heart wrenching, as out of the filth and anarchy shone humour and compassion, sung with immense beauty and committed acting. Opera at its best!

This review first published in Limelight magazine May 2017.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Trouble in Tahiti up close and personal in Perth's western suburbs

There was a moment on entering Lost and Found’s production of Bernstein’s Trouble and Tahiti when I hesitated. I was walking through a stranger’s house and instinctively turned to greet Dinah in the kitchen preparing breakfast. Then I remembered this was just a set and hurried past a boy at the kitchen table to take my seat in the patio.

This is the magic of Perth opera company Lost and Found: they present opera so physically and emotionally close to the audience that the work takes on an (often uncomfortable) personal resonance. Director Thomas de Mallet Burgess likes to plumb the psychological depths of opera and so Bernstein’s exploration of a loveless marriage is set in a suburban home in Perth’s affluent western suburbs where the lure of white goods and ‘silver screens’ is just as potent as it was in 1951.

Sam and Dinah have a picture perfect life but despite their possessions and accomplishments they are trapped in a dysfunctional marriage. From my seat on the patio I could see wilted roses in a vase, Junior (Rory McLaughlin) immersed in headphones and a screen and Dinah in the kitchen, the squeak of her sneakers on the polished floorboards the only noise in the otherwise deafening silence.

Helen Sherman (Dinah) with Christopher Tonkin (Sam) in the background. All photos c Kristoffer Myhre

Tyler Hill’s set design included stacks of removalist boxes - a catalogue of unused possessions and also an innovative backdrop for the vocal trio (Bernstein’s “Greek chorus born of the radio commercial”) who functioned as removalists. Kieran Lynch, Curtis Novacsek and Rachel Singer were dressed as tradies and crooned close harmonies, jazz rhythms and sugar-coated lyrics with velveteen smoothness while ticking off items required to live the American dream: ‘Sheridan sofa, Chippendale chair, bone chinaware, real solid silver’.

The entire 45 minute opera unfolded in the living room which converted to Sam’s office, the street and a cinema. Pianist Christopher van Tuinen accompanied from the adjoining lounge, his clean technique and tender phrasing creating subtle background atmosphere. The audience sat in raked seating in the patio with the double doors to the starkly lit home (lighting by Devon Lovelady) creating a cinema screen of sorts.

One of Lost and Found’s strengths has been its casting of local world class singers. This year the company has toured a production to Victoria (and Paris in 2018) and seems to be spreading its wings, which perhaps explains the use of internationally-based singers for this show. It is disappointing for the local talent but there was no argument that Sam and Dinah were magnificently cast.

Sam was sung by Australian baritone Christopher Tonkin who is resident principal with Hannover Staatsoper and Dinah by mezzo soprano Helen Sherman who splits her time between the UK and east-coast Australia. Tonkin’s creamy baritone and sweet falsetto were a treat to listen to in close proximity while his chiselled features and contemptuous body language gave an extra arrogance to ‘There’s a Law’, sung after winning a hand ball tournament and while leaning against the patio door dressed in nothing but stars and stripes swimmers.

Tonkin (Sam) singing There's a Law

Sherman’s secure delivery, crisp diction and fast vibrato could also melt into moments of tearful fragility. Her Island Magic tribute to the Pacific islands was sensational, sung cabaret-style in a camilla dress complete with a bubbling volcano (courtesy of a champagne bottle and some aspirin) around which she sashayed with riotous extravagance.

It was unclear whether Sam and Dinah were moving into or out of their house; rather they seemed to be waiting in between. The coldness of their home with its stark lighting and boxed possessions was a powerful metaphor of the uncertainty of their relationship. The kernel of the opera thus became the ‘talk’ Sam initiated in the final scene, where any hope of resolution was quickly avoided by his suggestion they go to the movies. Sam’s silver screen substitution for intimacy couldn’t be clearer to the audience watching with voyeuristic fascination from our cinema seats on the patio.

Trouble in Tahiti runs until May 20th. Tickets are sold out.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Women of Note at Bassendean Library and RTRFM

The public speaking gigs just keep rolling in and I'm loving it!

Bassendean Library have asked me to present at their Literary Salon on Wednesday 17th May - think musical soiree with High Tea, stunning music and scandalous stories from Australia's women composers. It's the perfect event to take your mother to for Mother's Day! I have also invited some local friends as Bassendean is just down the road from us in Guildford.

I'm heading into RTRFM tomorrow, book under my arm, to promote the Literary Salon. Tune in to 92.1FM at 10:10am to hear me chatting on Artbeat about Women of Note and why women composers are so inspiring and intrinsic to Australia's music history.

"Everything I've ever wanted to do would've been easier... had I been a boy. But never mind, I never paid much attention to it, I just marched in and there I was." Peggy Glanville-Hicks

"The world at large thinks a woman can't be creative. A woman can contribute in a special way. I don't think women want to write the same type of thing as men, but their contribution is no less important."  Margaret Sutherland

The Literary Salon is 6-8pm Wednesday 17th May at Bassendean Memorial Library. This is a free event but places are limited. Go online to book or contact 9279 2966 

Saturday, 6 May 2017

The surprise highlight of the St George's Cathedral Choral Classics

St George’s Cathedral was strung with microphones for the first of four concerts throughout the year which will be broadcast on ABC Classic FM. It’s a testimony to director Joseph Nolan and the Cathedral Consort’s national reputation as a world class choir grounded in the crisp purity of the English choral tradition. The 21-piece Consort performed a program of choral classics spanning the 16th to 21st centuries with Faure’s Requiem as the centrepiece. The pews were reversed so the ensemble could perform from the Narthex on Friday night in close proximity to Stewart Smith in the organ loft.

Two 16th century works opened the program: Victoria’s Alma Redemptoris Mater with its intervals of open fourths and fifths so perfectly tuned the harmonics prickled my skin, and the dense polyphonic energy of Gibbons’ O Clap Your Hands.  Nolan conducted with pulsing energy although the section entries were not as precisely in unison as usual.

Smith’s striking organ chords gave a Gothic darkness to the opening of Faure’s Requiem and the work was rich with dramatic poise, notably the velveteen smoothness of the Amen concluding the Offertorium and the swell of sound to illuminate ‘et lux perpetua luceat eis’ in the Agnus Dei.

But the work wasn’t the musical centrepiece I was expecting. I missed the warmth of the orchestral accompaniment; the organ registrations were brittle, phrases clipped short and the rippling accompaniment to Sanctus (famously scored for harp and violin) felt too fast and mechanical. The soloists were tentative: baritone Andrew Foote warmed into the baritone role in his second solo and Edward Micro’s treble was pure and rounded but on the edge of cracking.

Instead William Walton’s The Twelve emerged as the highlight of the program. The biting harmonies and dramatic word painting of Walton’s anthem and mini cantata were sung with vigour and unity. Foote delivered a splendidly declamatory solo and Smith exploded into brillante organ arpeggios. The Consort sung with immaculate diction and rhythmic precision and the ensemble soloists were excellent, particularly the beautifully delivered soprano duo.

The spotlight on individual Consort singers was also the highlight of Charpentier’s Te Deum, providing a rare chance to hear the different timbres within this well-blended ensemble. The organ sat more organically in this arrangement. In fact the entire second half of the program was pristine, concluding with a setting of Ubi Caritas by Perry Joyce (a tenor from the Consort) which was a warmly mellow contrast to Handel’s Zadok the Priest where the choir sang with enormous volume underpinned by Smith’s virtuosic organ semiquavers.

Tune in to ABC Classic FM to hear the broadcast of this concert on Friday 12th May at midday.

This review first published in Limelight Magazine May 2017.