Tag: Melbourne Recital Centre

Jon English’s PARIS: A ROCK ODYSSEY

A legend lives on

By Bradley Storer

Music Theatre Melbourne makes a volcanic debut with their powerhouse concert production of Jon English and David MacKay’s Paris at Melbourne Recital Centre. Assembling a phenomenal cast and combining them with the directorial talents of Neil Gooding and the musical direction of Isaac Hayward, this epic and ancient love story comes to life with incredible vivacity.

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The show has been staged in a very simple style, befitting the concert format, which brings the dynamic performances and the electric, pulsating score to the forefront with no need for distracting spectacle. Gooding has cleverly used projected text and images above the stage to fill in gaps between scenes, flowing seamlessly and provided enough detail for the audience to follow without being distracting or unnecessary. Under Hayward’s baton, the orchestra bring every bar of the score to full-bloodied life.

With such a treasure trove of actors bringing every single character to life in thrilling fashion, it can be hard to pick standouts! The princely handsome Matthew Manahan as the central character Paris brings youthful exuberance and charm to the role, as well as a voice of shocking power and range. The character of Helen of Troy is given a surprisingly sympathetic and complex portrayal in Paris, which gives Madeleine Featherby the chance to range from delicately wistful and lovestruck in one scene, to fiercely intelligence and bravery in the next, showcasing maximum control over her wide vocal range. Kerrie Anne Greenland as the princess and prophetess Cassandra is so ferociously charismatic and commanding that it can be hard to take your eyes off her whenever she appears onstage, and her belting as the city of Troy burns around her is jaw-dropping. The chorus, who remain onstage for most of the evening, are first-rate and sing magnificently in all their numbers.

Truly this production can’t be praised enough – on their opening night, the entire company received an overwhelming standing ovation that couldn’t have been more well deserved. With only four performances, you’ll be sorry if you’ve missed  out on seeing this production that showcases the best of what Australian music theatre has to offer!

Paris: A Rock Odyssey played at Melbourne Recital Centre, 31 Sturt St, Southbank, from 13 – 15th July 2017.

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Victorian Opera Presents ‘TIS PITY: AN OPERATIC FANTASIA OF SELLING THE SKIN AND TEETH

In praise of a cabaret goddess

By Bradley Storer

A sinister puppeteer dangles a dark-haired poppet on strings, twisting her to his amusement and satisfaction, as he sings of the evening ahead with hints of the debauchery and debasement to come. The star of the evening, the international cabaret star and dishevelled diva Meow Meow, misses her entrance to the Melbourne Recital Centre (of course) and is forced to drag around props and costumes before she ascends a staircase to become a glorious goddess of the ancient world. We are promised bite-sized pieces depicting the goddess’ many daughters throughout the ages, from Ancient Greece to the modern day.

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Meow Meow is, as always, a combination of high-diva glamour and self-deprecating humour, always ready with an off-the-cuff remark that never fails to make the audience laugh. Her magnificent voice is on full show here, from a gutsy alto to a light classical soprano all utilized to maximum effect throughout the night. Her leading man Kanen Breen takes on many roles in the performance, from lover to pimp to bishop, with a ghoulish visage, an elastic physicality and a thrilling tenor voice that rings to every corner of the Recital Centre.

The text of the performance, from composer and librettist Richard Mills, is quite dense and delivered at a rapid pace – the performers are miked but not amplified loud enough, so often the words blended into a flurry of sound, and climatic lines to songs were drowned out by the orchestra. The vignette structure of the performance also seems extremely rushed, with one or two sections going by so quickly and without remark that I found it hard to decipher what they were.

The show also never seems to decide quite clearly what their subject matter is. At the start of the show the proclaimed intent seems to be examining the evolving perception of prostitution throughout history, but what emerges seems to be more a comment on attitudes towards women and femininity in general rather than prostitution. While this is certainly not a problem in itself, not making the focus of the work clear only serves to add to the audience’s confusion. The inclusion of three dancers (Alexander Bryce, Patrick Weir and Thomas Johansson) as bit players to Meow Meow and Breen’s escapades, while wonderful in their dancing and delivering good performances, never seem adequately utilized enough to justify having them in the show.

The only few moments that work and connect with the audience are those where Meow Meow is left alone onstage to simply sing – in these moments, she is tender, heart-breaking and most importantly real. In the finale where Meow Meow sings about the troubles of modern times, a line about ‘building a wall’ around her heart becomes an uncomfortably contemporary parallel to the path of current politics.

Tis Pity feels like it needs re-structuring and reconsideration of its overall message before it can truly work as a theatrical piece, but having a star such as Meow Meow back on our stage is a delight worth savouring.

Venue: Melbourne Recital Centre, Elisabeth Murdoch Hall, 31 Sturt St, Southbank

Dates: 4 – 8 February

Times: 7:30pm

Tickets: $118 – $30

Bookings: melbournerecital.com.au, (03) 9699 3333

Image by Karl Giant

Tinalley String Quartet and John Bell in SPEAK LESS THAN YOU KNOW

The letters of Beethoven, alive in words and music

By Leeor Adar

A Tinalley String Quartet and John Bell collaboration is an iconic pairing that would excite any theatre or classical music aficionado.

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Tinalley’s Adam Chalabi (1st violin), Lerida Delbridge (2nd violin), Justin Williams (viola) and Michelle Wood (cello) are exceptional. Thirteen years of performing worldwide and multiple awards later, it is unsurprising Tinalley have reached the status of one of ‘Melbourne’s Most 100 Influential People’. The precision, intensity and elegance of their music do justice to the brilliance of Felix Mendelssohn and Ludwig van Beethoven.

Tinalley first treat us to Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in a minor, Opus 13. Without a doubt, this is Mendelssohn’s journey through the soaring heights of passionate love. Further inspired by the passing of Beethoven, Mendelssohn’s Opus 13 features the occasional tribute to the old master, whilst carving his own fervour into the Quartet tradition.

One can imagine walking in the night air, bathed in the moonlight during the Adagio – Allegro vivace. Into the second movement, the Adagio non lento, there is a maddening energy that is both overwhelming and reminiscent of Beethoven’s Quartet, Opus 95. Succumbing to the varying moods of Mendelssohn’s romantic Quartet so far, the third movement, Intermezzo: Allegretto con moto – Allegro di molto, is an insistent melody that intertwines rapturously. The dazzling Quartet closes with the intensity of Beethoven’s leaning, and forms an amalgamation of all previous movements with Mendelssohn’s distinct flair.

When Tinalley finishes the Quartet, I am under Mendelssohn’s spell. It is fitting that Mendelssohn’s Quartet, so inspired by Beethoven, should be the splendid gatekeeper to Beethoven and his letters.

Enter Bell, letters in hand.

Bell’s timeless, cool voice embodies Beethoven’s deeply personal letters, reflecting his tempestuous temperament. From the earnest longing for the company of his friend Karl Amenda at age 31, to a different kind of longing for his Immortal Beloved at age 42, the insight into Beethoven’s lonely, and intense emotional inner life is palpable. It is not difficult to hear how Beethoven’s music reflected the torment and passion he experienced within himself.  The audience was given some comic relief in Beethoven’s letters to his nephew’s boarding school owner. The letters show the intensity of Beethoven’s hatred towards his sister-in-law, and later, a copyist who dared fail his expectations.

Interspersed amongst the reading of the letters, Tinalley performs Beethoven’s String Quartets, with each reflecting the mood of the letters read by Bell. Conceptually devised by Anna Melville, Melville brought Beethoven to life in a way that his music alone could only do in suggestion. The rich insight his letters provide confirm the temperament of the man who shared so much in his music.

Speak Less Than You Know was an outstanding and enjoyable insight into the Quartets of two masters. I, like others in the audience, left the Melbourne Recital Centre with a renewed passion for the men and their music that existed almost two hundred years before us.

‘Speak Less Than You Know’ was performed at the Sydney Opera House and Melbourne Recital Centre across three nights.

REVIEW: Manila Street Productions Presents SONDHEIM ON SONDHEIM

Musings of the man on his music

By Bradley Storer

With Sondheim on Sondheim, Manilla Street Productions assembles a star-studded cast to perform a revue of Broadway’s most prolific living composer, an evening of Stephen Sondheim’s music intercut with projections of the man himself with a variety of anecdotes and details relating to his life and song-writing. Among the cast were leading lady of Australian music theatre Lucy Maunder, Rob Guest, Endowment winner Blake Bowden, Martin Crewes, Delia Hannah, Michael Cormick, Lisa-Marie Parker, Anton Berezin and Australian theatre legend Nancye Hayes.

Sondheim on Sondheim

The structure of the show itself, songs and scenes from Sondheim’s oeuvre presented alongside exclusive interviews with the composer himself, is problematic – none of the songs can gain enough momentum to hold the audience before they are interrupted by snatches of interviews, and thus the flow of the evening drags. Sondheim himself is a charming and engaging presence onscreen, and hearing him speak on various topics is one of the joys of the performance. By the second act, the portions of Sondheim’s interview are more smartly dispersed alongside longer numbers which allow some much-needed momentum, leading to wonderful group songs like the self-parodying ‘God’, ‘Opening Doors’, ‘The Gun Song’ and ‘Smile Girls!, an Ethel Merman number cut from Gypsy.

The all-star cast seemed surprisingly tentative, too unsure to invest themselves in their individual numbers enough to perform a ‘star turn’ – which unfortunately is what revues such as this need to stay afloat. Maunder’s Act Two strip tease, ‘Ah, But Underneath’, was the closest the evening came to a show-stopper and allowed Maunder (who earlier delivers a touching performance of ‘Take Me to the World’) to unleash scintillating dance skills and charismatic sexuality, but was undercut by the entrance of the male ensemble and an oddly dissatisfying climax to the number. One of the greatest moments of the evening was the simplicity of watching Hayes grabbing a stool and taking centre stage to sing with heart-breaking simplicity the famous ‘Send in the Clowns’.

The orchestra, under the capable direction of Kellie Dickerson, were in great form, performing the new arrangements with great zest and skill – one mistake however was the choice of a slower tempo for the explosive ‘Franklin Shepherd Inc.’, a show-stopper that requires manic and frenetic energy to work, leaving Crewes’ valiant attempt to deliver the number underwhelming.

Sondheim on Sondheim unfortunately fails to deliver on the promise of its incredible cast and rich material, finding only moments here and there which capture the deep well of emotion and beauty within’s Sondheim work – the show itself has structuring issues which certainly don’t help the creative team and need more time and finesse to overcome.

Venue: Melbourne Recital Centre, Elisabeth Murdoch Hall, corner of Southbank Boulevard and Sturt St.
Date: Saturday 23rd May, 2015
Time: 2pm & 7:30pm
Tickets: A Reserve – $69, $59 Concession, B Reserve – $59, $55 Concession
Booking: www.melbournerecitalcentre.com.au, 03 9699 3333, at the box office.

REVIEW: Outer Urban Project’s URBAN CHAMBER – BEYOND

Inspiring

By Tania Herbert

In a time when it can be difficult to even turn on the television without a sea of racist vitriol, what a blessing to be able to witness diversity in all it’s forms coming together in Outer Urban Project’s Melbourne Festival work Urban Chamber – Beyond.

Outer Urban Project - Beyond

Our thematic host for the evening, poet Komninos Zeros describes himself as a “submerging artist- submerged into a sea of emerging artists”, and we are introduced to two dozen very special (mostly young) people who hail from every continent of the globe.

There’s nothing like a confident, smiling young person telling you “you are all my family” to get a warm buzz to begin an evening, and although initially feeling a little like attending a school concert, the smooth transition of artistic piece after artistic piece soon convinced the audience that they are in the presence of a particularly unique and talented collaboration.

Based around the notion of ‘Home’ as a place and a feeling, Beyond uses a massive range of creative presentation to explore this issue, and explores concepts of age, culture, and diversity to remind us that we are all different, and we are all the same. Beat box, rap, stomp, contemporary dance, classical, poetry, lyrical – and a couple of other things that defy categorisation – were appreciated both together and separately, and the merging of people and genres was inspirational.

Were there flaws? Sure. We’re speaking about young people with varying degrees of training and professional experience. But was there an abundance of talent? Absolutely.

As a not-for-profit organisation, Outer Urban Projects includes amongst its values both respect and courage. I am not quite sure what these guys do to nurture such a warm, engaged, respectful and brave group of young people, but I certainly did appreciate the opportunity to be witness to the outcome.

Whilst it’s a short run of only two nights for the Festival, I would recommend keeping this mob on your radar, as if you are looking for an opportunity to really connect with your art or support a wonderful art-based social cause, this is a great place to start. It may not be one of the showiest pieces at Melbourne Festival, but Beyond really does encapsulate the spirit of the best of Melbourne – diverse, different, and truly welcoming.

Urban Chamber – Beyond ran at the Melbourne Recital Centre on the 25th and 26th of October (6pm and 8pm), and do visit the website for more info and check out your options for supporting this lovely initiative.

http://outerurbanprojects.org

REVIEW: The Song Company Presents SHIP TO SHORE

Be sure to get on board for their next stunning concert

By Anastasia Russell-Head

Once again The Song Company triumphs with an innovative and engaging performance at the Melbourne Recital Centre. As part of their year-long exploration of the theme of “water”, the final concert in their 2012 series was devoted to sea shanties and other songs about sailors and sea-faring.

Of course, many of these songs are folk songs – like Cockles and Mussels, What Shall we do with the Drunken Sailor? and Blow the Wind Southerly – which, with their simple form of repetitive verses, presents a challenge for an “art music” ensemble – how to make this material consistently musically engaging?

The Song Company rose to this challenge in fine form, with expert arrangements incorporating interesting harmonies, stunning solos and delicious humour. It was refreshing to see a group of ostensibly classical musicians really relishing being funny!

Guest Director Ruth McCall is to be congratulated on the superb and very effective blend of fun, pathos, rowdiness and simplicity in this performance.

Of course, as is to be expected from an ensemble who brands themselves “Australia’s leading vocal ensemble” the singing was faultless. Sopranos Anna Fraser and Susannah Lawergren were stunning, and guest mezzo Virna Sanzone’s jazz training came to the fore in an inspired version of Bobby Shaftoe.

Accompanying the singers were favourites of the classical guitar scene Slava and Leonard Grigoryan, providing harmonic support throughout and punctuating the vocal numbers with virtuosic instrumental duos.

As always, these two stellar performers did not disappoint – showing supreme mastery of their instruments and musical sensitivity.  For the audience, it was a real highlight to have these two brilliant musicians sharing the stage.

It was a pity that this performance was not particularly well-attended, with many empty seats in the (albeit rather large) Elisabeth Murdoch Hall. The Song Company is new to Melbourne, having built up a devoted following in their home town of Sydney, but they are well worth seeing, and I encourage you to take the opportunity to see them next time they are around.

The Song Company’s Ship to Shore was performed on 14 November 2012 at the Melbourne Recital Centre, Elisabeth Murdoch Hall

REVIEW: Black Arm Band Present DIRTSONG

Musically superb, but connections were lost…

By Anastasia Russell-Head

A palpable sense of anticipation filled the darkened Elisabeth Murdoch Hall at the Melbourne Recital Centre, the diverse audience ready to be transported and transfixed by the music and artistry of some of Australia’s finest Indigenous musicians. And the musicians did not disappoint.

From the country-tinged vocals of Dan Sultan, to the superb and virtuosic didgeridoo playing of Mark Atkins and the soaring harmonies of an a-capella trio led by the band’s artistic director Lou Bennett, the performances were accomplished, heartfelt and beautiful.

Yet I felt a bit let-down by this performance. Having been blown away by the Black Arm Band’s inaugural production, murundak, at the Melbourne Festival in 2006, I was really looking forward to this newer show. Somehow, though, it just seemed to miss the mark slightly, and didn’t have quite the power or the energy of the earlier work.

The musicianship and talent of the performers could not be questioned – both the featured performers and the backing band were top-quality and produced excellent performances all round. The projected imagery on the backdrop was also visually engaging and often poignant.

However, this performance didn’t reach out and grab me. I was not drawn in by the performers. There was no program or translation to be able to understand the songs that, according to the publicity material, were performed in eleven different Aboriginal languages.

That is something that should be celebrated – but it’s meaningless to us, the audience, if we’re not given some context and explanation. The performers were not introduced, and the audience were not given any hint of what the songs meant to the musicians or why they were being performed that day.

It was a pity that more thought wasn’t given to the audience’s experience of this work, as the Black Arm Band is one of the most important musical ensembles in Australia today, and they have the opportunity and the talent to communicate something powerful and world-changing. Unfortunately, for this reviewer and on this day, this particular show didn’t quite live up to that promise.

Dirtsong was performed by Black Arm Band at the Melbourne Recital Centre on Saturday September 1, 2012