Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Travelling LadyBlogger

Lately, it is a rare occasion indeed when this blogger finds herself at home. This is a good thing in many ways, as it provides opportunities to attend performances in many different places. However, it is nice to be home and able to relax at last!

During my travels, I was fortunate enough to attend a performance of The Wicked Voice - four 'melodramas'. Well, three melodramas and one highly melodramatic song cycle (Intended with the utmost affection for the work, it is magnificent).

First, Georg Benda's setting of Medea. A young and beautiful actress named Claire Blumer, who I understand is a recent graduate of WAAPA, assumed the title role. A tough ask for one so young, especially when one is as angelic in appearance as Ms. Blumer happens to be. There is a magnetic quality to her performance, and the range is vast. Perhaps too vast. Or, rather, too much contrast, and not enough shading. However, she is a compelling performer and one I would gladly pay to see again. She held the stage wonderfully, alone for most of the performance. Other roles were well-taken, especially the two children who were simply adorable and let out blood-curdling screams when required!
Next, Christmas Eve, whose composer escapes me at the moment. Fibich, perhaps? All the same it was wonderfully evocative music. Another beautiful young actress, Miriam Miley-Read, assumed the role of narrator. I am led to understand that Ms. Miley-Read has mostly performed in opera, and the quality of her speaking voice suggests that her singing would be equally thrilling. She is tall and striking, with beautiful large eyes, and it is difficult to take your eyes off her. Lucky, as she commanded the stage alone for the duration of this piece (about 20 mins' worth). Hers was a vastly different performance to Ms. Blumer's, subject matter notwithstanding. A dark story about two girls who see their futures in the lake - one marries, and the other dies. Ms. Miley-Read's performance was almost sprechgesang in nature, following the highs and lows of the music intimately.
After the interval was Larry Sitsky's song cycle The Jade Harp, for mezzo-soprano and fortepiano. This is a wonderful new work from one of Australia's most revered composers. Utterly theatrical and gripping. Angela Giblin, who I had not previously heard but has an excellent reputation, is an utterly superlative artist. What her voice lacks in youthful sheen is more than made up for in the range of tonal and expressive quality. She, too, is a compelling actress. Even her hairstyle is theatrical! She was dressed simply yet strikingly in a lovely black silk chinese-inspired pantsuit. The performance took her all over the stage and yet her singing remained firmly centred and always controlled. Sometimes achingly beautiful, sometimes deliberately ugly, her performance was a revelation. One that will not be forgotten. Geoffrey Lancaster's fortepiano playing is absolutely beyond reproach, and he was a wonderful partner to Ms. Giblin, bringing a wealth of artistry and expression to this exciting score.
The final work was The Water Goblin, which saw four actors on stage. For me, this was the weak link. It would have been far better to finish with the Sitsky. Four performers in a line, writhing, speaking sing-song lines... yeah. OK. Fine, and all, but I preferred the rest of it. They all performed exceptionally and received a well-deserved rousing ovation from the appreciative audience. I am so glad I was visiting friends in the vicinity, even though I attended this performance alone ("Too weird for us!" they said... what a shame!).

Now for something completely different - Opera Australia's production of My Fair Lady. I will confess to loving this show inordinately. Always have. This production did not disappoint. Reg Livermore remains an absolute master of the theatre, and his Henry Higgins has developed immensely since I last saw him in the role many years ago. Although he is getting on in years, he still has a youthful charisma that allows us to believe that Taryn Fiebig's young and beautiful Eliza could well fall for him. I think I fell for him a little myself... Ms. Fiebig has a charming soprano voice. Light and airy yet full in the lower register, it is brightly coloured and crystalline. Her Cockney accent was slightly hit-and-miss, but she was always convincingly in character and looked superb. The supporting roles were absolutely WONDERFUL. Eliza's father had us all rolling with laughter, and his cronies in "With a little bit of luck" were full of ribald enthusiasm. A highly satisfying theatrical experience which left me with an enormous smile on my face.

I happened to be passing through Sydney the weekend just gone, which left me free to attend the semifinals of the Australian Singing Competition's Mathy Awards. Quite an experience! Ridiculously talented young people with voices to die for. I wasn't equally impressed with all four chosen finalists, but one singer stood out for me immediately - Sitiveni Talei. Purely because his baritone voice is... is... um. Words defy me. Sumptuous doesn't cut it. Bright and dark in equal measure, effortlessly produced, with heroic top notes. His art song didn't impress any great depths upon me, but I luxuriated in the gorgeous voice all the same. However, his Avant de quitter ces lieux from Faust absolutely sealed the deal. One of my favourite baritone arias, delivered with ease, panache, and commitment. He has a lovely, merry face, and a charmingly unassuming stage presence. He looked rather surprised to be named as a finalist, yet I suspect nobody in the audience was in any doubt. The other finalists are Nicole Car, Michael Lampard and Sky Ingram. Of the others, Jennifer Barrington impressed with her richly coloured soprano and easy high notes. WA seems to be producing a lot of fine singers at the moment, judging by the fact that half of the ten semifinalists hail from there. Thomas Wood's tenor sounded older than his years but was pleasantly lyrical, and Sam Roberts-Smith was a worthy recipient of the Encouragement Award and could easily have been a finalist in my humble opinion. Sky Ingram, although selected for the final, did nothing for me. She looks stunning and sings rather well, but something is lacking. There's a touch of vinegar to her sound which did not impress me. I far preferred Angela Edwards' sound, although she was perhaps not quite as polished.
I guess I should talk about the other two finalists - Nicole Car and Michael Lampard. Both lovely, well-produced voices and attractive stage manner. Ms. Car seems to be doing well for herself already, and rightly so. She is an exceptional young singer.

Now, I find myself in a bit of a performance drought for the time being. It has been a wild ride.