Wednesday, 29 July 2015

August Gig Guide

August is going to be an absolute feast of Brahms. By happy coincidence St George's Cathedral have programmed an all-Brahms concert the same month as the WA Symphony Orchestra present their two week Brahms festival.

On August 14th the Cathedral will perform Brahms' Requiem with Sara Macliver and Andrew Foote, also Brahms' Alto Rhapsody for Mezzo (Fiona Campbell) and male chorus. The Rhapsody hasn't ever (to my knowledge) been performed in Perth.

WASO will host Pinchas Zukerman playing Brahms' Violin Concerto (August 21) and Zukerman and his wife cellist Amanda Forsyth in the Double Concerto for violin and cello (August 22). Garrick Ohlsson will perform Brahms' first and second Piano Concertos on August 28/29. Accross those four concerts will be spread Brahms' Four Symphonies, conducted by Asher Fisch.

It is going to be exquisite!

 The University of Western Australia delivers its ANZAC tribute this month with several war-themes concerts. On the 6th in collaboration with WAAPA is a memorial Concert for Hiroshima, on the 21st Ashley William Smith and friends will perform Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time and on the 29th a free concert of Britten's massive War Requiem will be performed at Winthrop Hall with the UWA Choral Society and Churchlands Senior High School.

The WA Academy of Performing Arts presents award-winning Polish guitarist Marcin Dylla on the 21st and on the 27th Alexandre Da Costa and the Indian Ocean Ensemble perform Saint Saens' Carnival of the Animals and an orchestral version of Shostakovich's 3rd String Quartet.

Earlier in the month Musica Viva are touring the 8-piece vocal ensemble I Fagiolini (August 3rd) and Simone Young will conduct WASO performing Faure's Requiem (August 7/8).

There is a huge range of concerts this month. I challenge you to go not just to a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, but to take a risk and check out one that doesn't interest you on paper. Perhaps you don't know the performers or don't 'like' the repertoire. Go anyway and I will put a bet on it that you will be stunningly surprised. Several of the concerts are free so you may not even have to lose any money over it!

Do post a comment and let me know what you chose this month and how you found it :-)

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

The Rabbits bag the lot at Helpmann Awards

The  Helpmann Awards were announced last night and the Perth Festival dominated WA's classical music and opera scene bagging an impressive number.

The Perth Festival production The Rabbits won every award it was nominated for (see my review for Opera Magazine below). The Opera Australia and Barking Gecko Theatre Company work, in association with WA Opera, won:

Best Costume - Gabriela Tylesova
Best Original Score - Kate Miller-Heidke and Iain Grandage
Best Presentation for Children - The Rabbits
Best New Australian Work - Miller-Heidke, Grandage and librettist Lally Katz

Another Perth Festival production Les Arts Florissants won Best Chamber and/or Instrumental Ensemble Concert for In An Italian Garden. Les Arts director William Christie won Best Individual Classical Music Performance (winning over Asher Fisch who was nominated for WASO's Beethoven Festival series).

For the full list of national awards go to


The Rabbits, a picture book by John Marsden and Shaun Tan, is the inspiration for OPERA AUSTRALIA’S most recent opera commission. Marsden’s clean poetry and Tan’s capacity to visually depict otherness and displacement prompted director John Sheedy (BARKING GECKO THEATRE COMPANY) to create an opera that is part music theatre, part puppet show and instantly engaging. The Rabbits premiered at the HEATH LEDGER THEATRE on February 13th as part of the Perth International Arts Festival.

The Marsden/Tan book uses the allegory of rabbits arriving in a land of marsupials to tell with simple directness the universal story of colonisation. Opera librettist Lally Katz introduces a narrator the Bird sung by pop artist Kate Miller-Heidke who also composed the music for the opera.

The story unfolds with an almost uncomfortable forthrightness. The numbat-like marsupials are sung with warmth and naturalness by indigenous music theatre performers Hollie Andrews, Jessica Hitchcock, Lisa Maza, Marcus Corowa and David Leha. The rabbits (Kanen Breen, Nicholas Jones, Christopher Hillier, Simon Meadows and Robert Mitchell) arrive with Gilbert & Sullivan-esque aplomb singing “English breakfast tea as we spread through the country”. They brandish flags and ride on machinery and teach marsupials to hop in a skipping rope while an accompanying tick tock musical motif makes an aural link to the clocks scattered through Tan’s paintings. The marsupials resist but are overthrown and watch helplessly as their children are removed, a moment made more wrenching by the eloquent passion of soloist Hollie Andrews.

Designer Gabriela Tylesova’s set with its blue sky backdrop and earthy floor captures both the vastness of Tan’s landscape and the detailed clutter of the encroaching rabbits. The brown padded costumes for the marsupials and the pointed masks of the rabbits are close replicas of Tan’s figures and cold fluorescent lights embedded within the rabbits’ masks (Trent Suidgeest lighting) adds further characterisation.

Miller-Heidke’s melody-driven score is performed by an onstage five-piece band led by arranger Iain Grandage. The constant musical quotations (operetta, marches, Gilbert & Sullivan) establish character and highlight the humour in the libretto but the comedy becomes almost camp, more pastiche than mystique and a long way from the aching sadness of the book.

The addition of the Bird as narrator is also problematic. Miller-Heidke (roles in Jerry Springer: The Opera; The Death of Klinghoffer) is visually and vocally spectacular but she becomes a distraction. Part of the problem is the libretto which requires the Bird to interrupt with the obvious: “They don’t speak each other’s languages”. However the Bird also provides the most mysterious and interrogating moments, such as the opera’s opening where she appears Erda-like trilling bird calls at dawn. Or when she joins the marsupials and rabbits at the close of the opera in the universal lament: “Where is the rich dark earth, warm and moist?”

The production captures the detail but only occasionally the transcendence of The Rabbits allegory. The real success is Sheedy’s creation of an all-age opera with a contemporary Australian resonance. The season sold-out weeks in advance and the opening night audience responded whole-heartedly with a standing ovation.

This review copyright Opera Magazine May 2015

Friday, 10 July 2015

Celebrity Soft Spot Fiona Campbell

Remember the last time you heard Fiona Campbell sing and you stopped breathing because it was so exquisite (well that is what happens to me anyway)?  Fiona appears with WA Opera this month singing Cherubino in the Marriage of Figaro, and promises it will be a laugh-out-loud brilliant production. She also admits to a penchant for surfing and conducting. Read on for more on WA's much-loved mezzo.

What music gets your heart racing?
Piano and Violin Concerti…Beethoven’s 5th Piano and Brahms Violin are particularly exciting.

What calms you down?
 Chopin Nocturnes

Where do you call home?
I am fortunate enough to live in this beautiful city, Perth and commute to Sydney and other locations regularly.

You sang the role of the page boy Cherubino (The Marriage of Figaro) in 2009 for West Australian Opera in an (almost) all-WA cast that included Sara Macliver and James Clayton. I remember you as being effete and endearing as Cherubino.  How do you remember the season?

With great affection. The Marriage of Figaro is one of my favourite operas, Sara and James are always brilliant to work with and made a delightful couple in this production back in 2009. I was nominated for a Helpmann Award for my portrayal of Cherubino, so it was happy days.

What can we expect from the July 2015 revival of The Marriage of Figaro, which opens on Tuesday 14th?

I can honestly say, hand on heart, that you can look forward to one of the best performances of Figaro you will ever see at His Majesty’s Theatre, or anywhere. It is a sensational cast, with beautiful ensemble singing and brilliant acting, a cast who are able to bring this masterpiece to life, with all of its intrigue, danger, poignancy and laugh out loud comedy moments.