Saturday, November 30, 2013

Heaven & Earth by Will Gayre

Heaven & Earth by Will Gayre.  Mainstage Theatre Company directed by Don Gay at Peacock Theatre, Salamanca Place, Hobart.  November 22-30, 2013

Reviewed by Frank McKone
November 28

Canberra critics have published reviews recently from Sydney, Melbourne and Perth.  It’s now Hobart’s turn.  Mainstage is based at the Peacock Theatre in the Salamanca Arts Centre.  The author and the director are one and the same person despite their different names.  This alone begins to explain the nature of the philosophy behind this play – that reality is so vast, indeed infinite in its possibilities, that any unexplainable experience may be as likely to have a cause outside what we regard as evidential in the scientific sense as to have a place within our concepts of the physical universe.

It’s a challenging task to make a successful drama on this kind of theme, beginning from a personal apparent déjà vu recognition of an Italian country house while driving past on a holiday trip from Tasmania.  Tourist Dan’s obsession with finding out the ‘truth’, and the apparent truth he finds and reacts to, with tragic consequences, is presented to us by his defence lawyer as a question for judgement.

If all the events are no more than a mental aberration on his part, should Dan be treated as criminally guilty of murder?  On the other hand if these events, inexplicable in normal physical terms, really happened, then who did he actually kill – and was this a criminal act?

There are reminiscences all the way from Carrie to The Maids as the ‘spirit’ world seems to have effect 80 years after the causative events on that Italian farm in World War II, but this script does not match either of those for dramatic quality.  The writer Will Gayre provides a lengthy description in the program of his recurring dream “from the age of about six until maybe twenty” of “standing in front of an old double-storied [sic] farm house with a tiled roof and cream stucco walls” which he would enter and sometimes see “people in the rooms – never anyone I recognised and they didn’t seem at all aware of my presence.”

Fictional tourist Dan speaks Gayre’s words from the program notes: “Nearly ten years later I was driving through Italy on my first major Eurpoean sojourn.  Somewhere between Pisa and Livorno I turned a corner with the river I was following and, there, sitting on the river bank was ... the villa from my dreams!

Bit by bit a story develops of two couples – Dan (Alex Rigozzi) and current girlfriend Sue (Melanie Brown), and their friends Matt (Aidan Furst) and Jo (Bryony Hindley) who also play the roles in 1940-41 of newly married Marko and Sophia.  Sophia refuses to accept Marko's being called up in the defence of his country, calls upon God – who seems unable to help her – and kills her husband rather than allow him to return to battle after his all-too-short leave.  She stabs herself, but lives for some time before dying in a mental asylum, while the local villagers believe the violence was at the hands of unknown assailants on one side or the other in the confusion of the war in Italy.

So far, so good – except that in the modern time Dan’s digital photo of the house shows a shadowy figure of a woman.  Later her image has disappeared.  Then when Sue makes seriously playful sexual approaches to Dan, some inexplicable force throws her away from him.  After an attempt to take Dan back in time by an older woman hypnotist (Carol Devereaux) with whom Dan had previously had a relationship, Sophia appears as a ghost to him, but a touch on the shoulder spins him around, and it is Jo he kills.

Matt and Sue are distraught and mystified, while it seems that Sophia had become Jo, whom the obsessed – or rather possessed – Dan had to destroy.  At this point Devereaux appears as Dan’s defence attorney to present her concluding speech to us, as the jury.

You can see the connection with Carrie, I guess, but you may be wondering why I mentioned Jean Genet’s The Maids.  The problem for Heaven & Earth is that it is far too much like the superficial idea of horror-spirit-reality in popular genre movies like Carrie, when it needs the subtleties of psychology of The Maids to support the weight of serious discussion of the nature of reality which this writer seems to want to have with us.  Images disappearing from a hard drive and a character being thrown across the stage by a mysterious force just don’t cut the mustard.

Gayre takes Shakespeare as his source – There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy – as if we, or indeed Shakespeare, might believe Hamlet’s father’s ghost to be literally real.  Nothing inexplicable happens in Hamlet.  But Shakespeare, like Genet, understood that events can overwhelm some people’s ability to hold onto reality, while their plays help us understand ourselves.  Gayre does no more than fall into the fad of questioning everything just because we can.

There is also the problem that Don Gay, director, was not able to present the play on stage in a smoother format, rather than switching back and forth between  times and places in a repetitive and interruptive way.  Yes, it was obvious when we saw the slide of the old farmhouse that this was now 1940/41, and now it is modern times in Don and Sue’s apartment when that stone wall was turned around to become their sofa.  Too obvious.

Though the script itself makes this a technical staging problem, it could have been handled better – even in the fairly limited performing space of the Peacock Theatre – by, for example, setting aside one area for the 1940/41 period and another for modern time.  Then, with lighting and actors held in freeze positions, changes would not need actors to exit and enter, with the occasional backstage person or the actors themselves having to move props and furniture that I had to watch.  It would also allow space and time to be connected for us, for example by the force that throws Sue appearing to come from Sophia’s area on the stage, and so that the transition of Sophia into Jo might be made as Dan moves into the 1940/41 space and time.

However, if there was one aspect of the play that showed dramatic strength it was in the performance of Sophia and Jo by Bryony Hindley, backed by effective work by Aidan Furst as Marko and Matt.  Hindley, at nineteen, is written up as seeking to audition for further training.  I for one would certainly encourage her in this endeavour.

Mainstage is clearly a small-scale company, similar to the many Canberra companies like Elbow Theatre, Bohemian Productions and others now associated with the development programs offered by The Street Theatre which continue to generate new work and opportunities for practitioners, often opening up interstate and international employment.  I suppose I should conclude, then, that there are more things, indeed, at least on earth, and perhaps even in heaven, for such theatre companies to aspire to.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Festival director honoured at 23rd ACT Arts Awards

By Helen Musa

The 2013 Citynews Artist of the Year award has gone to the director of the Canberra International Music Festival, Christopher Latham, it was announced at the 23rd ACT Arts Awards took place on Tuesday, November 26  at the Canberra Museum and Gallery.

Hosted by the Canberra Critics’ Circle, with Peter Robinson as MC,  the evening also saw the announcement of the Canberra Artist of the Year, judged at the Plenary session of the Critics’ Circle and sponsored by Citynews.
2013 Citynews Artist of the Year Christopher Latham
This year the Artist of the Year was musical director Christopher Latham, honoured,  the judges wrote,  “for his visionary directing of the Canberra International Music Festival, particularly for his extraordinary ability to identify the archetypal features of Canberra’s design and lifestyle, then to construct a festival program that complements those qualities and broadens the audience appeal.  For fully engaging young and emerging music performers in the Festival program, enabling them to progress their careers by working in collaboration with respected composers and performers.”

Mr Latham said, on learning of  the award, “I am deeply moved by this award and would like to publicly thank my staff, board and especially Barbara Blackman, for their contributions and support over the last 5 years. We all share in this acknowledgement.”

The 2013 Canberra Critics’ Circle awards went to: filmmaker Clare Young; writers Lesley Lebkowicz, Irma Gold and Robert Macklin; the Scissors Paper Pen collective; dance artists Elizabeth Cameron Dalman and Liz Lea; Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds by SUPA Productions; musical theatre artists Dave Smith and Anne Somes;  musicians Adam Cook, Leisa Keen, Michael Sollis, Christopher Latham, Bradley Kunda and Matt Withers; The Musical Offering initiative; composer Sandra France and librettist Helen Nourse; visual artists Valerie Kirk Anita McIntyre, G W Bot and Wendy Teakel, Jenni Kemarre Martiniello, Eleanor Gates-Stuart, Jo Hollier, Luna Ryan and Jock Puautjimi; Canberra Contemporary Art Space; theatre artists Chrissie Shaw, Jenna Roberts and Duncan Ley; the productions The Book of Everything by REP and Pea! by serious theatre.

The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) Green Room Awards were presented by ACT Branch Secretary Michael White.

The MEAA Green Room Performer of the Year Award went to  Chrissie Shaw “for her creative tenacity in consistently producing imaginative work for herself and her peers culminating this year in writing and performing in the wonderful “Madame Bijou” at the Street Theatre.”

The MEAA Peer Recognition Award went to Peter Matheson, “in recognition of his expertise with and development of Canberra based playwrights through his dramaturgical work with the Hive and Made In Canberra programs at the Street Theatre.”

2013 Canberra Critics’ Circle awards: full citations


For Bottom of the Lake, a full-length behind-the-scenes documentary that followed filmmaker Jane Campion and writer Gerard Lee on a shoot. The film is a tribute to Young’s observational skills, craft and integrity.
Clare Young


For her initiatives in bringing a range of dance events to Canberra and thus giving us an appreciation of the broad context in which dance operates. In particular for her input into the DANScience Festival – public lectures and films with CSIRO Discovery – and for her development of GOLD, which has opened dance into galleries and public spaces and given opportunities for professional choreographers to create for these occasions.
Liz Lea


For her adventurous collaborations, through the Mirramu Dance Company, with indigenous dancers, extending and exploring the sharing of their stories through contemporary dance, as exampled in “Morning Star”.
Elizabeth Cameron Dalman


For The Petrov Poems, published by Pitt Street Poetry, a thoroughly researched yet original and sensitive book of poetry that imagines the unseen, human story of the figures at the heart of the Cold War spy incident.
Lesley Lebkowicz


For The Invisible Thread, published by Halstead Press, 75 works in non-fiction, fiction, history and short story form by writers with a Canberra association. With its broad historical sweep over the 100 years of Canberra’s official life, this was an exemplary Centenary of Canberra project.
Irma Gold


For a robust program of events supporting writers under the age of 35, including its bi-monthly blog-site residency, bimonthly storytelling, “Fancy-Pants” book club and wordsmiths ‘meet-ups.’
The Scissors Paper Pen collective

For “Dark Paradise—Norfolk Island—Isolation, Savagery, Mystery and Murder,” published by Hatchette Australia, a racy, provocative history revealing a story too-little known.
Robert Macklin

Visual Arts

For its significant and varied year long program of curated exhibitions that responded, with insight, humour and intelligence, to the seven themes of the Canberra Centenary, showing the work of numerous, local, contemporary artists in fresh and often surprising combinations.
Canberra Contemporary Art Space

Visual Arts

For their expression of landscape and the poetics of place through ceramics, printmaking, painting and sculpture in the outstanding exhibition Marking Place curated by Peter Haynes at Canberra Museum and Gallery from November 2012 to March 2013.
Anita McIntyre, G W Bot and Wendy Teakel

Visual Arts
For her outstanding successes this year: the Telstra Art Award in the Northern Territory, the Australia Council for the Arts' National Indigenous Art Fellowship and her participation in many group shows.
Jenni Kemarre Martiniello

Visual Arts
For her exhibition StellrScope at Questacon and CSIRO Discovery in August 2013, which explored scientific innovations in Australian wheat production over the past 100 years and contributed refreshing insights into questions regarding the relationship between art, science and technology, and how these productive relationships can be used to engage a broad audience.
Eleanor Gates-Stuart

Visual Arts

For her well planned and beautifully executed exhibition Process and Possibilities at the Belconnen Arts Centre that showcased the artist passion for printmaking and was a summation of the artist’s long dedication to her art.
Jo Hollier

Visual Arts

For their exhibition of stunningly dramatic and expressive glass works Parlingarri Mamanta at the Canberra Glassworks in August this year, which was a fruitful collaboration between an artist well versed in the rich Tiwi Islands tradition and the skill and experience of a renowned glassmaker.
Luna Ryan and Jock Puautjimi

Visual Arts

For raising the profile of textiles in the Canberra community and for her own contribution to textiles practice as a tapestry weaver, teacher and facilitator.
Valerie Kirk


For the excellence, craftsmanship and impact of this crisp and highly controlled production of a very tricky music theatre classic that combined the theatre technology of the 21st Century with the music of rock and symphony and the foreboding ideas of H. G. Wells’ seminal science fiction 1898 novel.
Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds by SUPA Productions


For producing the Canberra premiere of The Phantom of the Opera, by Free Rain Theatre, a huge and complex show that involved both professional and community collaboration.
Anne Somes


For a warmly sympathetic and richly sung Jean Valjean in Canberra Philharmonic's Les Miserables. He anchored the huge work with quiet presence.
Dave Smith


For the excellence and bravery of her writing and performing in Bijou, a powerful cabaret style piece about a woman of Paris.
Chrissie Shaw


For a superbly comic Helena in A Midsummer Night's Dream presented by Queanbeyan City Council at the Q.
Jenna Roberts


for his insightful and imaginative direction of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood for Canberra Repertory.
Duncan Ley


For a bold and risky choice that explored some difficult themes in an imaginative and powerfully theatrical way.
The Book of Everything by Canberra Repertory

serious theatre’s original, creative and good humoured retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Princess on the Pea, directed by barb barnett for The Street Theatre’s Made in Canberra series, written by David Finnigan, designed by Gillian Schwab, audio design by Seth Edwards- Ellis.

For their new chamber opera From a Black Sky, set against a backdrop of devastating fires in Canberra. This full-blooded, lyrical tale of love and betrayal was told eloquently through a mature and unified palette of musical colours.
Composer Sandra France and librettist Helen Nourse.


For their collaboration as Brew Guitar Duo, now in its tenth year, their contribution as members of Guitar Trek, their innovative ‘Home BREW’ home recitals, their promotion of the art of the classical guitar through their engaging concerts and recordings featuring a diverse repertoire and their passion for commissioning and premiering compositions by Australian composers.
Bradley Kunda and Matt Withers


For her outstanding contribution to music in Canberra during concert performances as a vocalist/pianist and especially for her excellent achievement as vocal coach for the Canberra premiere production of The Phantom of the Opera.
Leisa Keen


For his visionary directing of the Canberra International Music Festival, particularly for his extraordinary ability to identify the archetypal features of Canberra’s design and lifestyle, then to construct a festival program that complements those qualities and broadens the audience appeal.  For fully engaging young and emerging music performers in the Festival program, enabling them to progress their careers by working in collaboration with respected composers and performers.
Christopher Latham


For a brilliant year of top-quality, eclectic music performances, from the most rarefied classic music to jazz and rock. For his leadership of and composition for the band the Monotremes and for arranging the music for the Centenary Symphony Music Education Project.
Adam Cook


For his innovative musical direction of the Griffyn Ensemble, which has performed themed music in venues as varied as Old Melbourne Gaol and CSIRO Discovery. For his compositions, commissioned by the Centenary of Canberra, the Australian Society for Music Education, the Swedish Embassy and the Canberra Mandolin Orchestra. For championing youth music and putting Canberra music on the international map through his work as chair of International Music Council Youth.
Michael Sollis


For the gift of music to the community to celebrate Canberra’s centenary every day during 2013. For staging and producing hundreds of performances offering audiences a wide variety of musical programs and venues. For the generosity of the musicians in performing at no cost.
The Musical Offering



Sunday, November 24, 2013


Written by Ken Ludwig
Directed by Liz Bradley
Canberra REP, Theatre 3
22 November to 7 December

Review by Len Power

Ken Ludwig, the American author of ‘The Fox On The Fairway’, Canberra Rep’s latest production, has stated that his play is a farce and was ‘written in homage to the great English farce tradition’.  If so, he needs to learn from a few more of the great ones, as ‘The Fox On The Fairway’ seems more like an ordinary American TV comedy sitcom than a classic farce.

Originally set in a golf and country club in the USA, Rep’s production is set in Melbourne, Australia.  The manager of the club, on the eve of a big golf tournament and confident that he has the best player in competition, unwisely makes a large bet on the outcome of the game with a hated rival manager of another club, not knowing that his prize player has switched clubs and is now playing for his rival.

In farce the focus is on the plot rather than the characters, with actors broadly playing wildly improbable situations escalating to a hilarious climax.  This play spends far too much time with characters standing around trading insults and not advancing the story quickly enough.  As a result it never develops any momentum and seems laboured.  While mildly amusing, the plot itself is not particularly complex and runs out of steam in the second act leading to a dull climax.

The cast try to play this as farce but there’s too much hysteria with forced acting and mugging.  Curiously, both Jim Adamik and Andrew Price as the rival club managers played their roles as if they imagined they were ten or so years older than they actually were.  The two youngest members of the cast, Martin Hoggart and Natalie Waldron, didn’t enunciate clearly enough and Bridget Black as the angry wife was stuck with a one-note character that quickly became tiresome.  Rachael Clapham had the best lines as the promiscuous Pamela and delivered them well.

The set by Andrew Kay is nicely designed but the furnishings were sparse on the huge playing area.  The sofa and chairs also looked a bit cheap for an upmarket golf club.  The scene changes seemed to have been made to look like disgruntled staff of the golf club were doing them.  It was an imaginative idea, but wasn’t executed smoothly enough.  The costumes by Fiona Leach were nicely done, especially the deliberately awful golf attire.

Director, Liz Bradley, staged the show well enough and kept the pace moving, but she was hamstrung by its construction and writing.  The play was premiered at a regional theatre in the USA in 2010 but, unlike Ken Ludwig’s earlier plays, ‘Lend Me A Tenor’ and ‘Moon Over Buffalo’, never went on to Broadway.  That should have been a warning that it wasn’t up to his usual standard.  This play might be striving for a hole in one, but disappointingly only hits a bogey.

Originally broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 ‘Dress Circle’ program on Sunday 24 November 2013.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


Opera Australia and John Frost.

Director - Bartlett Sher,

Musical Director and Conductor – Stephen Gray

Crown Theatre – Perth until 8th December 2013

Performance 12th November 2013 - reviewed by Bill Stephens

A trip to Perth provided the opportunity  to take a second look at this much acclaimed production, which had just begun a four-week season in the Crown Theatre in Perth. Since my first viewing this production has undergone several significant cast changes, so it was especially interesting to see the effect of these changes on the show.   

Teddy Tahu Rhodes (Emile de Becque) - Lisa McCune (Nellie Forbush)
Lisa McCune as Nellie Forbush,  and  Teddy Tahu Rhodes as Emile De Becque still lead the company , and their performances have matured noticeably in the roles. McCune’s Nellie Forbush is as engaging and fresh as ever, but her singing seems even more confident  and nuanced. Teddy Tahu Rhodes now appears much more relaxed as De Becque and his characterisation has deepened, but he is still inclined to just ‘stand and deliver’ his two big ballads “Some Enchanted Evening” and “This Nearly was Mine”, and with a voice like his, who can blame him because both songs remain as thrilling as ever.

Mitchell Butell as Luther Billis 
Bartholomew John, replacing John O’May, brings an agreeable gruffness to the role of Captain Bracket. Mitchell Butell, the third actor to have a crack at the role of Luther Billis, after Eddie Perfect and Gyton Grantley, is delightfully knock-about, likeable and funny in the role.   

In this production, Bloody Mary is portrayed, not as a cheerful exotic islander, but more as manipulative mother, desperate to make a better life for her daughter, Liat. While there’s  sympathy for her plight, Bloody Mary is hard to like, particularly as played by Christine Anu, who brings little warmth to the role, particularly in the decidedly uncomfortable scene where she harangues the obviously ill Cable to marry Liat.  

Blake Bowden, replacing Daniel Koek as the young officer, Lieutenant Cable, is certainly handsome and sings superbly, especially  in “Younger than Springtime”,  but he hasn’t yet developed a strong enough stage presence to make his rather over-wrought rendition of “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught” the show-stopping moment it should have been.
Elsewhere, the ensemble remain as energectic as ever, providing strong vocal back-up and performing Christopher Gattelli's inventive musical stagings with  zing and enthusiasm. 

Though spacious and comfortable, the Crown Theatre is cavernous, with a very high ceiling, and large proscenium which had the affect of making the production look a bit underwhelming. The voices of the  principals were so over-amphlfied as to become disconcertingly dis-embodied at times, and the orchestra was  smaller than at the Sydney Opera House, which affected the lushness of the sound. However a second viewing allowed the opportunity to focus on the imaginative direction of Bartlett Sher and how he has refocussed many of the key moments to allow the production to flow effortlessly from scene to scene, towards the climax which remains as affecting as ever. 

After its Perth Season "South Pacific" moves on to Adelaide for a  December 29th Opening. 

Blake Bowden as Lieutenant Cable - Christine Anu as Blood Mary.





Written by David Williamson
Directed by Denis Moore
The Q, Queanbeyan - 19 November to 23 November, 2013

Reviewed by Len Power
19 November 2013

With the title of this play you feel pretty sure you know what you’re going to see – a family up in arms when their father marries a younger woman.  However, David Williamson’s, ‘When Dad Married Fury’, delivers a lot more than just a pleasant and amusing evening at the theatre.

David Williamson again digs below the surface of these very Australian characters showing aspects of ourselves that we’d rather keep hidden.  Jealousy, pettiness and greed all surface in these characters as they react to a situation they didn’t see coming.  They judge their new stepmother harshly before they’ve met her and are in for quite a surprise when they get to know her.  Williamson has quite a bit of fun pointing up cultural differences between Australians and Americans here.  You can predict that Fury is going to have more substance than the family expect, but she’s not perfect either.

The cast of seven all give very strong, believable performances.  Annie Last as Fury displays the strengths and weaknesses of her character particularly well.  David James as the son, Ian, brings out every nuance of an affable Australian bloke who’s really masking a whole range of insecurities.

Director, Denis Moore, who also plays Dad, has produced a well-paced production with good, in-depth characterizations from his entire cast.  It’s nicely staged on a simple but effective set by Shaun Gurton and the costumes by Adrienne Chisholm have been well executed.

This is a funny play that makes us think about the judgements we make and the consequences of our actions on others.  David Williamson continues to be the master when it comes to showing ourselves as we really are.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

"Southern Sky" - The Griffyn Ensemble - Mt Stromlo Observatory, 15 November 2013 - Review by Clinton White

Griffyn Ensemble a tour-de-force through the universe

Sitting in an open, burnt-out telescope dome on a cloudy, rather cool and breezy night did not deter the anticipation of the suitably-dressed capacity audience or the enthusiasm of the six members of The Griffyn Ensemble for their performance of "Southern Sky" by Estonian composer, Urmas Sisask.

Director, Michael Sollis, assured the audience he had a Plan B if rain fell, but the instruments would take priority.  Fair enough, too.  Thankfully, the rain didn't come, apart from a couple of half-hearted spits here and there, so we were able to enjoy uninterrupted the 90-minute, interval-free performance in the rather spooky, ethereal surrounds.

Estonian House had commissioned "Southern Sky", sending Sisask to Australia in the mid-90s to visit observatories and experience Aboriginal rituals.  He was particularly taken with Stromlo and the prominence of bushfire in Aboriginal mythology.  He dedicated a performance of the work in Estonia in 2003 to the people of Canberra - a week before the devastating fires of January 18!

The work is presented in nine sections, all but one carrying at least two movements each.  Each movement is named after a feature of the night sky - a constellation, galaxy, cluster or even a single star.  And each carries a sub-title, some of which seem almost incongruous to the title.  A bonus - a big one, too - was the presence of astronomy practitioner and personality Fred Watson, who introduced each section and told us about the features on whose music we were about to hear.  He was wonderfully laid-back, entertaining and informative.

The music took us to all those far-away places, too.  Sometimes there was a subtle hint of Star Trek themes, especially from Wyana O'Keefe on the vibraphone.  Wyana, playing variously the vibraphone and the glockenspiel, was busy throughout, but the sounds she created, sometimes with a violin bow, were serene and expressive, weaving in and out of the lead instruments and occasionally taking the lead herself.

The consummate harpist, Meriel Owen, showed unfaltering sensitivity to the music and the others in the group.  Her interplay with Sollis in particular, when he played the mandolin or the guitar, was seemless.  There were times when there was an imperceptible transition from one to the other.  Meriel was entirely at one with her instrument, the music and her fellow musicians.

The performances of Matthew O'Keefe (clarinets) and Kiri Sollis (flutes and recorder) were totally enthralling.  There was a host of joyous rhythms, playful musical debates and echoes, and moments of sombre wistfulness.  They created musical moods, places and euphemisms with ease.  How captivating were their contributions.  O'Keefe even brought us back to earth occasionally with a masterly digeridoo dog bark or two on the bass clarinet.  There was plenty of circular breathing required from him during the whole performance, too!

The role of soprano, Susan Ellis, was less on lyrics and more on sounds - those eerie sounds that outer space conjures up in our imagination.  The clarity of her tone and her control of the sounds was quite extraordinary; it was the stuff of raised hairs on the back of the neck.  Susan's interpretation of the vocal part in the last movement in particular, sub-titled "Fading into Eternity", was especially haunting, gradually decreasing the volume until finally, muting her mouth with her hands, her voice was faint and distant, fading, as the movement required, into eternity.

Michael Sollis' arrangement of "Southern Sky", performed under his direction in the burnt-out ruins at Stromlo, was a tour-de-force.  What a master he is and what a giant he has become in Canberra's music scene.

A sustained applause seemed almost to get the better of this fine group of musicians, but it did draw an encore: a humorous bluesy song by Fred Watson on subjects dear to his heart, and not limited to just astronomy.  Sollis and Matthew O'Keefe provided some nice, understated improvised accompaniment.

Then, ever the promoter, Sollis spoke animatedly about The Griffyn Ensemble's 2014 season, titled "Fairy Tales".  It promises to be another year of innovative and daring music-making from this stand-out ensemble, challenging traditions and taking its audiences right outside their comfort zones, but, at the same time, appealing to all senses.  Check it out: 

Friday, November 15, 2013


Natalie Aroyan (Mimi), Garrett Sorenson (Rodolfo(
Adrian Tamburini (Colline), Jose Carbo (Marcello) 
James Clayton (Schaunard)

West Australian Opera

His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth

29th October – 9th November 2013

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

This production of “La Boheme” is the familiar Opera Conference production, with sets and costumes by Stephen Curtis, and original direction by Simon Phillips. It had several seasons at The Sydney Opera house until it was eventually replaced by the lavish new current production directed by Gale Edwards.

For this outing by West Australian Opera, the production has been meticulously rehearsed by Cath Dadd and presented with a fine cast, lead by American tenor, Garrett Sorenson, as Rodolfo, and Natalie Aroyan as Mimi, with Jose Carbo ( Marcello), James Clayton ( Schaunard), Adrian Tamburini  (Colline) and Rachel Durkin, outstanding as Musetta.

Simon Phillips' vision for this production has the action taking place in the present, and for the most part this works extremely well, but some jarring aspects still remain. Rodolfo’s use of a laptop for his writing makes the sacrifice of his manuscripts as fuel for the fire to warm his friends, a less noble gesture, as he has no doubt backed up his writings in his computer. While the moment when the set rises mid-aria to make way for the admittedly spectacular act two transition into Paddy’s Market, still jars, as does Mimi’s rather uncomfortable death propped up in a bean-bag.  

However these quibbles are more than compensated by the vitality of the Café Momus (Paddy’s Market) scene, and the realism of the early morning act three scene with its over-flowing wheelie bins of garbage, and the total commitment of each cast member towards bringing each scene to vibrant life.  

From their very opening notes, the West Australian Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Joseph Colaneri, sounded confident and secure, beautifully delineating the musical allusions which are such a notable feature this score, and bringing admirable drama and passion to the music, adding significantly to the pleasure of the carefully detailed direction.

Garrett Sorenson (Rodolfo) Natalie Aroyan (Mimi)
Garrett Sorenson was a likeable and passionate Rodolfo, with a glowing tenor voice, but with a rather disconcerting tendency to suddenly drop the volume of his singing at various times throughout the opera.

Natalie Aroyan offered a superbly sung, if somewhat tentatively acted, Mimi, while Jose Carbo, James Clayton and Adrian Tamburini, as Rodolfo’s three friends, each provided beautifully sung, energetic and thoughtfully detailed interpretations. Andrew Foote had two opportunities to shine, and he did, delightfully, as the landlord Benoit, and later as Musetta’s unfortunate cuckold, Alcindoro. 

But it's Rachel Durkin’s wonderfully idiosyncratic performance as Musetta, which deservedly steals the show. Durkin is a marvellous comedienne, blessed with a tall, thin, fashion-model’s physique, which she utilises outrageously to create a glamorous, wilful, cheeky, genuinely funny Musetta who is absolutely memorable. At the same time she negotiates the intricacies of Musetta’s famous Café Momus aria with apparently effortless panache.  Musetta’s lovemaking with Marcello later is equally funny, but then in the final scene, the warmth and concern she displays for her dying friend, Mimi and her companions, is completely believable and affecting. 
Rachel Durkin (Musetta) 

Durkin's captivating performance as Musetta, was just one of many such highlights which contributed to a very satisfying evening of opera.




Natalie Aroyan (Mimi), Jose Carbo (Marcello)
James Clayton (Schaunard), Adrian Tamburini (Colline)
Garrett Sorenson (Rodolfo)
                                                   Photos: James Rogers